The Untold Story Behind D-Day


By U.S. Senator Deb Fischer

On June 6th, 1944, the land, air, and sea forces of the Allied stormed the beaches of Normandy to dislodge German troops from the French coast and ultimately liberate western Europe. D-Day marked the beginning of the end of World War II.

But it almost didn’t happen.

Crossing the English Channel — much less moving multiple divisions and their equipment across the treacherous stretch — was a notoriously difficult feat. To achieve success that day, the sky, sea, and weather all had to cooperate. Air operations needed clear skies and a full moon for visibility. Naval operations needed calm winds and seas. Ground operations needed low tide so they could see the obstacles the Germans concealed on Normandy’s beaches. Only three days in the month of June were predicted to have those conditions.

The entire operation — and the fate of Europe — hinged upon the calculations of General Eisenhower’s British-American Meteorological Team, made up of experts including America’s Army Air Forces Weather Wing. That wing is now known as the 557th Weather Wing, and its home is Nebraska’s own Offutt Air Force Base.

The Meteorological Team couldn’t influence the weather, but they could influence the day of the invasion. Based on their expertise, they advised that D-Day should occur between June 5th and 7th. Eisenhower chose the 5th.

But as June 5th approached, the meteorologists grew concerned. Weather conditions near the English Channel were already unstable, and the team forecasted they would worsen on the appointed day. But they also predicted storms would break the following day, June 6th.

Discussions were tense and urgent. Some officials wanted to follow through with June 5th, and some wanted to postpone the operation for longer than just a day. Postponing the invasion even by hours came with risks — the longer the delay, the more difficult it was to keep the operation a secret. The Meteorological Team kept pushing for June 6th. Finally, on June 4th, Eisenhower agreed to postpone the invasion by 24 hours. The new D-Day was June 6th.

The weather was still unpredictable on the 6th. The winds blew furiously and the seas were rough, getting in the way of aircraft and bringing the tide in too early. But in retrospect, we know the meteorology experts chose the right day. June 6th was calmer than the days before. Postponing D-Day for longer than that would’ve sent troops into a severe storm that struck the channel on June 19th.

Today, our 557th Weather Wing still works behind the scenes to protect our troops. It investigates and predicts conditions to determine when we should hold back and when we should fight. The work of the Weather Wing often goes unnoticed, but it saves lives and even determines the fate of nations.

On this 80th anniversary of D-Day, I am especially grateful for the military forces based right here in Nebraska. Along with the Weather Wing, we host U.S. Strategic Command and the 55th Wing. The individuals serving here have defended our nation for decades, and they continue that work every day. Eighty years later, we remain free and prosperous because of the talent and sacrifice of men and women like these.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.