(One of a series of daily posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)
Readers Note: A number of you have commented recently with questions, information, etc. I’ll respond to them in the next two posts.
Yesterday’s post concerned a message President Roosevelt sent Churchill on September 22, 1940: the Germans would invade England at 3 p.m. that day. But the message had been garbled: Roosevelt had actually said what was then French Indo-China would be invaded that day by the Japanese, as indeed it was.
In any case, those of you who read yesterday’s post will recall that upon receipt of the message Churchill phoned Anthony Eden, the Secretary of State for War, who was then at his country home on the south coast of England. Eden told Churchill the weather was too wet and windy for an invasion.
A little while later, Eden climbed a hill near his home, looked out at the Channel and got back in touch with Churchill to again say the channel waters were too rough; there would be no invasion that day.
Eden’s actions and assurances to Churchill brought to mind some events Cornelius Ryan recounts in The Longest Day (Simon & Schuster, 1959). On June 4, 1944 Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, commanding the German defenses on the north coast of France, had gotten up at about 4 a. m. at his headquarters near the northern coast of France.
Rommel began reviewing intelligence and weather reports in order to assure himself there would be no Allied invasion during the next few days. He was planning a brief trip to Germany to see Hitler and also to be with his wife on her birthday, June 6.
In the west the weather had been bad for several days, and it promised to be even worse. The 5 a. m. report, prepared by Colonel Professor Walter Stobe, the Luftwafe’s chief meteorologist in Paris, predicted increasing cloudiness, high winds and rain. Even now a twenty-to thirty-mile-an-hour wind was blowing in the Channel. To Rommel, it seemed hardly likely that the Allies would dare launch their attack during the next few days. (p. 21)At 7 a. m. Rommel left his headquarters for Germany.
At the same time Rommel began his journey, the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, was sleeping at his forward headquarters in England close to the Channel and not far from Eden’s county home.
In England it was 8 a.m. In a house trailer in a wood near Portsmouth, [Eisenhower] was sound asleep after having been up nearly all night. For several hours now coded messages had been going out by telephone, by messenger and by radio from his headquarters nearby.Just as for Rommel, June 6 was a day which held great personal significance for Eisenhower. He knew his only son, John, would graduate West Point that day.
Eisenhower, at about the time Rommel got up, had made a fateful decision: Because of unfavorable weather conditions he had postponed the Allied invasion by twenty-four hours. If conditions were right, D Day would be Tuesday, June 6. (p. 38)