Countdown to D-Day

Late in the evening of June 4, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower met with his principal staff, perhaps presiding over one of the most important councils of war in military history. The sounds of rain and the howling of wind raging outside could be heard by the assembled generals, admirals, and air marshals. Eisenhower’s trademark smile was missing, replaced by the air of solemnity.

Although the weather was horrendous, Ike’s 28-year-old chief weatherman had his latest prediction — the rain would stop before daybreak, June 5, and there would be 36 hours of more or less clear weather. Winds would moderate, he believed. This was arguably the most important weather prediction in history: A mistaken forecast for D-Day could turn the entire tide of the war in Europe against the allies.

Ike had to make a decision … his generals told him if Overlord was to proceed on Tuesday, June 6, he needed to issue provisional warnings within a half-hour on the night of June 4. Here is a dramatic description of the tenseness and drama in that meeting room by one Eisenhower biographer, given later by many who were in the room that day, as well as by Ike himself:

“Eisenhower began pacing the room, head down, chin on his chest, hands clasped behind his back. Suddenly he shot out his chin at his chief of staff, General Walter B. Smith. “What do you think?” Ike demanded. “It’s a helluva gamble,” Smith replied, “but it’s the best possible gamble.”

Eisenhower paced some more, stopped, looked at his deputy, Air Marshal Arthur Tedder, and asked his opinion. Tedder thought it was “chancy” and wanted to postpone again. Eisenhower turned to General Montgomery and asked, “Do you see any reason for not going tomorrow?” Montgomery looked Eisenhower in the eye and replied, “I would say…go!”

Eisenhower asked all 14 men in the room for their view: they split right down the middle — seven to seven — on going on the sixth or postponing again. Only Eisenhower could decide. Smith was struck by “the loneliness and isolation of a commander at a time when such a momentous decision was to be taken with him, with full knowledge that failure or success rests on his individual decision.”

Eisenhower paced again, chin tucked on his chest. His staff was tense. His men were tense. The secrecy that the Allies had worked so hard to maintain was fragile … He stopped and asked the key question almost rhetorically: “Just how long can you hang this operation on the end of a limb and let it hang there?”

No one spoke up to answer the question. There was only silence except for the wind rattling the French doors. It hardly seemed possible that such an amphibious attack could be launched in such weather.

At 21:45 hours, 9:45 p.m., Eisenhower made his decision and uttered, again, perhaps the most famous 3 words in military history. He said: “OK. Let’s go.”

Within seconds the room emptied as men scrambled to set the invasion – Overlord – in motion.

A signal — which read “Halcyon plus 5 finally and definitely confirmed — code for June 6, 1944 — was quickly sent to the Combined Chief of Staff…

 D-Day was on…