Last week we looked at the decision that Harry Truman made to drop the atomic bomb.  I agreed that the decision to do was a no brainer.  By dropping the bomb and ending the war early the lives of half a million young men and countless civilians were saved.  Truman later confessed it was not a difficult decision and he would do it again if he had to.

A year earlier another key decision had to be made.  This was not as easy and it had to be gut wrenching.  One of those decisions that required weighing pros and cons of a multitude of subjects and then coming to a final decision.  The decision would not mean if men lost their lives.  Instead it meant how many would die and this was being weighed against winning the war in Europe.  The man with the ultimate decision resting on his shoulders was Dwight D. Eisenhower and the ultimate decision was to begin the invasion of Fortress Europe, better known as D-Day.

Seventy-two years ago this week American, British, Canadian, Free French, Free Polish and troops from other nations landed on the beaches of Normandy to free Europe from Nazi domination.  Proclaimed as “The Longest Day”, the decision to launch the attack took a large amount of courage from a man that took the lives of the young military men and women under his control very seriously.

The operation had been planned for over a year.  Deception was key to the success.  Eisenhower had built a fictitious army around General George Patton.  Inflatable tanks were placed in this fake army location and information leaked out that Patton would invade at Calais on the French coast.  Germany saw Patton as the top American General and knew he would lead the attack.  Nothing was further from the truth and the true invasion force formed far away from Patton.

The invasion was first scheduled for May 1st.  Eisenhower insisted that the number of men be expanded by 66 % and airborne units would be added to the initial invasion.  Since the beaches of Normandy had no good locations to unload supplies following the invasion, a huge portable harbor made of concrete called Mullberry’s were invented.  This invasion would be their first real test.  A special tank was built that could be used on the beaches and again this invasion would be the first test.

Planning was gigantic.  Over a million troops had to be housed, trained, fed and equipped for a massive assault.   Everything from toilet paper to rifles and ammunitions to caskets had to be obtained, warehoused, inventoried and made ready for quick deployment.  Insurance papers had to be prepared while the chaplains, the “sky pilots” prepared the young men for a potential final journey.  Everything had to be ready.  Nothing was left to fate and the future of the free world was held in the balance.

As good as the Allied experts were at preparing the men and women for the invasion there is still one part that man cannot control, Mother Nature.  Because of the landing site and the obstacles placed in the water the landing had to take place at a certain time of day when the moon is just right, the tides are at the highest point and the weather allows the crossing of the English Channel at just the right time.  There were only a couple of days each month when everything can come together and then the weather must cooperate.  If anything goes wrong, the landing would be catastrophic.  If the invasion is delayed it would be weeks  before the invasion could proceed.  This would pose the problem of Germany learning secrets of the invasion while the invasion troops would be losing its’ edge as they sat for a month waiting to invade.

The weather was not cooperating.  The invasion was set for June 5th but high seas would not allow for launching the landing craft without massive loss of life and equipment.  Clouds would not allow planes to see their targets or drop zones for the paratroopers.  Also the moon needed to be full so that landing craft could see obstacles and the landing had to take place over a couple of hours so as to be at the highest tide possible.  The landing was postponed.  Troops stood down and waited.  Then members of the British Royal Air Force told Eisenhower that June 6th may be good enough for the invasion.  If June 6th was not going to be D-Day, conditions would not be adequate for two more weeks.  Ships would have to be recalled and everything started over again.  Eisenhower weighed all the information and finally gave a thumbs up for June 6th.  The rest is history.   He had already drafted the notice that the landing was a failure and he had to pull the troops back from the beaches; fortunately, this never had to be used.

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