Ike: World War II’s Indispensable General, Part 4: The Great D-Day Decision
Southwick House, Eisenhower’s Headquarters
The weather that day provided no hint of what was to come. At the morning briefing the SHAEF weathermen had already wrangled for hours over the Atlantic depressions and their probable impact on D-Day. Other than to note that the present good weather would begin changing over the weekend with increasing winds and clouds, the Friday morning briefing offered no assessment of its impact on D-Day, nor was one demanded by Eisenhower or the other participants. The weathermen had bought themselves nearly twelve hours to refine their own conclusions. The wrangling continued, until shortly before the evening briefing, and still there was no consensus. As Stagg would later write, “Had it not been fraught with such potential tragedy, the whole business was ridiculous. In less than half-an-hour I was expected to present to General Eisenhower an ‘agreed’ forecast for the next five days . . . [when] no two of the expert participants . . . could agree on the likely weather even for the next 24 hours.” Like it or not, it was now up to Stagg what to report. What made his task all the more difficult was that he had been warned by Britain’s premier civilian meteorologist that predicting the weather in the Channel for even a one or two day period was virtually impossible.
The second briefing convened at 9:30 P.M. that evening, again attended by all the key players and senior staff officers. “Well, Stagg, what have you for us this time?” said Eisenhower. Although inwardly uneasy, this time there could be no equivocation. What Stagg had to report was troubling. The chief meteorologist disclosed that a series of depressions moving in from the west would make the weather in the Channel for the next three of four days “potentially full of menace” in the form of completely overcast skies and winds of up to Force 4 or 5, and a cloud cover of five-hundred feet to as low as zero. The seriousness of the occasion could be read in their faces and in the almost deathlike silence. Eisenhower ruled there would be no change of plan that day and authorized the Navy to proceed with all necessary preliminary operations.