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When Group Captain James Stagg of the Royal Air Force (RAF) met Eisenhower on the evening of 4 June, he and his meteorological team were unable to give him a firm enough assurance that the weather would improve enough for the invasion to proceed on 6 June.
Postponement and Recall
The next available dates with the required tidal conditions (but without the desirable full moon) would be two weeks later, from 18 to 20 June. Postponement of the invasion would require recalling men and ships already in position to cross the Channel, thereby increasing the chance that the invasion plans would be detected. Nevertheless, after much discussion with the other senior commanders, Eisenhower decided that the invasion should go ahead 18-20 June.
As feared the Germans spotted the enemy movement and were put on high alert.
D-Day18 June 1945
On 18 June the landings went ahead without, apart from on Omaha Beach, major casualties and the Allies appeared to have secured a foothold on the Continent.
The next four days would ensure that the D-Day invasion would count as one of the greatest military disasters of all time.
The Greatest Storm In Forty Years
Without any warning on 19 June a major storm battered the Normandy coast for four days, making further reinforcements impossible. Those beach landings attempted as the storm blew up lay smashed on the steel tank traps. Their cargoes, human and mechanical moved and groaned under the pressure of the wind and sea in a terrible imitation of a gigantic wounded beast. Some escaped, but every day a fresh scum of corpses would wash up on the shore and cling to the barbed wire.
Meanwhile the Germans brought down all the fire power they could muster, Hitler having finally conceded that Normandy was where the main invasion was taking place, and that it was the best chance of destroying the Western Allies and far more decisively so than at Dunkirk.
At sea the great Armada had been tossed about, not without some considerable disorder. The relatively tightly packed ships experienced a number of collisions, and it is not surprising that any supporting fire they gave was highly inaccurate and often self-defeating. Before the storm ended 500 ships had been lost.
As the storm subsided on 23 June and the first attempts at reinforcement began, the invading troops found their way almost impassable. Their ‘funnies’ had been designed to take on the German defensive fortifications, not hundreds of battered landing craft, tanks and human carnage that with the steel and concrete remains of a Mulberry harbour had formed into a terrible barrier.
Once the scale of the destruction of allied forces was fully understood as well as the immense difficulty of reinforcement, the invasion was ‘postponed’ and the remaining troops ashore ordered to surrender. They would spend the rest of the war in POW camps scattered throughout Germany.
The fleet, essentially intact, returned to port to lick its wounds. The Army had lost men, but retained the better part of its armed forces, including their arms.
The Allies had to reconsider its invasion strategy. On top of everything the element of surprise had been lost. An ever keen proponent of the ‘underbelly’ strategy of attacking through Italy and the Balkans and never keen on the Normandy strategy, Winston Churchill convinced the Allies to concentrate on southern Europe with renewed vigour.
It was a long hard struggle and although progress was slow, the Western Allies succeed in holding down numbers of divisions of German troops as the Soviets moved inexorably to Berlin.
It was in August 1945 that the Western Allies decided to employ an atomic bomb in the hope of bringing the war to a swift close. A single bomb exploded over the Reich’s Chancellery destroyed the German capital and turned Hitler and his generals to radioactive gas in seconds.
The German surrender was not immediate, but a second bomb dropped on the industrial Ruhr brought a swift and unconditional response.
The Post-War Map
The Soviets occupied Poland and much of Eastern Germany, Romania and Bulgaria; the Western Allies controlled most of southern Europe including Italy, Greece, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Southern Germany. It was these military occupations that formed the basis of the Cold War frontiers.