How particularly moving and at the same time, wonderful it has been to watch and listen to accounts and experiences as recounted by some of the 250 D-Day Normandy veterans being hosted by the Royal British Legion over the past few days for the 75th anniversary commemorations.
There ages, between 91 and 101, have done little to dim their memories and this week, on board the MV Boudicca, a ship chartered by the Royal British Legion, they have been observing the 75th commemorations of the Normandie D-Day landings from both sides of the English Channel.
D-Day landings to five beaches of Normandy On June 6th 1944 marked the turning point of the war in Europe and we will never forget what the 160,000 allied soldiers achieved. Many would give their lives in the process and even when those that remain with us to this day are gone it is surely right that we should always remember those who gave their lives for us so that we may live in freedom. Remembrance is a duty that we should all embrace.
With the veterans having already visited Dunkirk earlier this week and yesterday, observing a military demonstration in Poole given by Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel, they together with Her Majesty the Queen, no fewer than fifteen world leaders including the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump will, hosted by the Prime Minister, Theresa May from the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth, be present to attend a range of national commemorative D-Day event in Portsmouth. There will also be a flypast of Spitfire aircraft and Royal Air Force Red Arrow aerobatic team.
16 signatories including the UK, USA, France, Canada and Australia have today announced a renewed a commitment to work together to ‘resolve international tensions peacefully’ pledging to ensure that the ‘unimaginable horror’ of World War 2 is not repeated.
Also of note today and recalling the 800 plus number of aircraft used in the D-Day landings will be a fleet of 30 C-47 Dakota aircraft taking to the skies from Duxford aerodrome following a route around the south-east of England before recreating the route across the English Channel before proceeding to drop 250 parachutists in Normandy’s historic drop zone.
Tomorrow it is intended that the D-Day veterans on board MV Boudicca will sail from Portsmouth to Le Havre for various ceremonies at Bayeux cathedral and war cemetery before visiting landing beaches and locations of battles in and around Normandie.
Each of the veterans has his own personal memories and stories to tell and I suspect, although I do not know it, that each may wonder why, 75 years on, why so much effort is being put in by the Royal British Legion and the Nation to remember this hugely important event. It is done not only to show that we do remember and with grateful thanks what they did on our behalf but also as a reminder that we must ensure that such conflicts are never allowed to happen again.
I have been humbled by how each of those interviewed by BBC have in their own way said that all they were doing was their duty. Even the title I have chosen for this piece came from the lips of a veteran who said that remembrance was a duty.
And so it is that under the leadership of Dwight D Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces and his team of Generals, Omar Bradley from the US and Bernard Montgomery and Trafford Leigh-Mallory 150,000 allied soldiers from countries including the United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, Australia and others set off in an invasion force that began on the night of June 6th 1944 in what through the whole exercise would be 6,000 ships together with gliders and planes destined for the beaches of Normandie. Many would lose their lives and we must never forget that they went so that we may live in freedom.
The overall military operation was known as ‘Operation Overlord’ whilst the actual landings in Normandie were called ‘Operation Neptune’. To achieve the set objective Allied Commanders had decided that they would need the light of a full moon and a high tide. You may find my account of what follows of interest:
General Eisenhower had originally planned the D-Day landings to take place on the night of June 5th. However, despite the view from the US meteorologist that he brought over with him who believed that the weather on evening of June 5th would be fine General Eisenhower was, after much argument between the UK and US meteorologists, thankfully to be dissuaded from going on the night of the 5th June – this on the advice and knowledge of the senior Royal Air Force meteorologist allocated to Allied Supreme Command, Group Captain James Martin Stagg.
It recalling the story we need to be aware that this was very early days in the understanding of the ‘jet stream’ and of how this affects weather. Whilst his US colleague had little if any understanding of the jet stream let alone of Atlantic weather systems, Group Captain Stagg certainly did.
Receiving new weather information every hour Stagg forecast that a severe Atlantic storm would, rather than move northwards would in this case sink southwest and be over the English Channel on the night of the 5th June at the worst possible time. If the landings attempt had already started by then the consequences in respect of loss of life would have devastating as it also would for the overall mission.
Thus it was Group Captain Stagg who not only potentially saved the lives of thousands of allied troops through persuading General Eisenhower to wait but who also presented to him the short weather window of opportunity that he believed would present itself on the night of the 6th June – the night when a full moon and high tide would be available. It was also a huge credit to General Eisenhower that he chose not to take the advice of his own meteorologist.
CHW (London – 5th June 2019)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785