To be strictly pedantic my title should read 'The most momentous decision of WWII taken by the allies' because it was Hitler who took the most important ones and, happily, they were almost all wrong. However, this day 70 years ago the mightiest, but nevertheless fragile, armada the world has ever seen was launched from Britain across the Channel and into occupied France. Such a collossal, sea and airborne military juggernaut had never been seen before - or since! The sheer complexity of moving this monstrous military machine is difficult to comprehend. Today we tend to concentrate on the 'sharp end' but the logistical planning and execution, all carried out before the age of the computer, almost defies description. The aim was that on Day 1 nearly 160,000 men along with their tanks, guns, fuel, ammo, rations and transport had to be delivered on time and in the right place by sea and by air - and then there were another 700,000 to be delivered in the days that followed. Everything, every single piece of this massive, articulated war-machine, had to move in synchonisation with all its other moving parts - or chaos and destruction would follow. Needless to say, with all the inevitability of a typical English summer, experienced early in life by countless disappointed English children on just about every beach holiday they ever went on, the weather turned nasty and the juggernaut looked as though it might either shudder to a halt or simply fall in the sea and chaos would rule the day.
The date chosen for various specific military reasons to do with time and tide and moonlight was the 5th of June. The weather was appalling and a 24-hour postponement became inevitable. It is fair to say that morale amongst the allied leadership, political as well as military, was dismal. Churchill, always mercurial in his emotions, was downcast and pessimistic. Brooke, perhaps the greatest military thinker amongst the entire hierarchy, was deeply worried and pessimistic. The Air Chiefs glumly warned that they could not guarantee air superiority over the beaches.
Amonst these military and political giants emerged the somewhat more lowly figure of Gp. Capt. Stagg RAF. He was the commander of the RAF weather forecasting department. His team of meteorologists studied the reports sent in by weather seeking aircraft and, without benefit of computers or satellites, advised that there would be a brief - and relative! - lull for the 6th and 7th June. At that point all eyes, metaphorically speaking, turned towards Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander and the question was simple and the answer potentially deadly - do we go in or not?
Amongst many others, he asked Montgomery, his deputy, for his opinion which was crisp and to the point and typical of the man "I would say - GO!" Eisenhower knew that if the invasion ended in a shambles and a defeat there would not be a second chance until possibly the following year and perhaps, given the pull of Americna interests in the Far East, never. That would have left the Soviet Union to slowly crush Hitler's Germany on its own and thus dominate all of Europe. At 21.45 hours on the night of 4th of June, Eisenhower took his decision and some indication of his doubts - and surely he was entitled to them - may be discerned from his perhaps less than inspiring words, "I don't see how we can possibly do anything else."
A truly momentous decision taken by a very human and a very great war leader.
I was reminded of the details by Carlo D' Este's excellent single volume history "Decision in Normandy".