As Hurricane Sandy socks it to the eastern seaboard of North America, we put it to @ThisIsWarBlog Twitter followers to name some examples of instances in which severe weather changed the outcome of a battle. Here’s what we heard in this blog’s first-ever ‘crowd sourced’ article. Enjoy!
Both @rstorring1 and @fairy_aware pointed out that the Normandy Invasion of 1944, was actually planned to kick off on June 5, 1944, but was postponed 24 hours because of poor weather conditions. Low-clouds, high winds and stormy seas in the English Channel would have made the combined airborne and amphibious assault on Hitler’s vaunted Atlantic Wall impossible. The D-Day planners knew weather might be a factor in the timing of the operation, so as far back as April, the Allies had positioned a weather-monitoring vessel, HMS Grindall, in the Atlantic to report on atmospheric conditions every 15 minutes. Gen. Eisenhower was eyeing a few tentative dates all that spring in which a fuller moon would provide the necessary visibility for the nighttime airborne drops and the tides would be suitable for the plan’s daybreak amphibious landings. June 5 offered both of these. Unfortunately, the appearance of a low-pressure area over the channel from June 4 to 5 forced Allied commanders to put the invasion on hold. If the poor weather conditions persisted for too many days, the vital tide and moon conditions wouldn’t return until July, by which time details of the invasion’s target area might have leaked throwing the entire plan into jeopardy. On the evening of June 5, Eisenhower was meeting with Allied commanders to discuss the crisis when word arrived that a high-pressure area had been detected behind the storm; conditions could be expected to improve on June 6. The invasion was green lighted and the rest is history.
Another follower named @6to5against correctly pointed out that a winter storm howling through the Celtic Sea put Napoleon’s 1796 invasion plans of Ireland on ice. Hoping to leverage growing unrest against British rule on the island, Bonaparte organized a fleet of 43 warships to convey a landing force of 14,000 French infantry to Bantry Bay near Cork. Once ashore, the invading troops would link up with Irish rebels and move east on Dublin. The expedition put to sea from Brest on Dec. 15 of that year, but as the invasion force closed on the Irish coast, a severe winter storm blew in and scattered the fleet. The operation had to be scrubbed. According to an article by Richard Cavendish on the web site, History Today, this French failed landing occurred almost 200 years to the day after a similar Spanish bid to seize Ireland from the English was thwarted by another brutal blizzard.
@GaryOkeefe1 reminded us that Spain’s attempt to subdue not Ireland but England itself in 1588 was also affected by weather. Although it was a flotilla of fast galleons under the command of Sir Francis Drake and Sir Martin Frobisher (not a storm) that broke up the Spanish fleet of 22 galleons and 108 armed merchant vessels, Mother Nature still managed to wreak havoc on the Armada as it sailed for home. The mauled Spanish invasion force fled from the English Channel eastwards with the winds into the North Sea and planned to return to Spain by sailing around the top of Scotland and down the west coast of Ireland. Unfortunately for the would-be invaders, a series of nasty storms blowing in from the Atlantic dashed the remaining Spanish warships on the rocky coastline of the Emerald Isle destroying more than 50 vessels and leaving 20,000 soldiers and sailors dead. Those survivors who did make it ashore were hunted down and killed by local inhabitants.
Bad storms on the other side of the Atlantic also delayed and then later broke up the Union navy’s attempt in late 1864 to capture a vital Confederate port and coastal stronghold at Wilmington, North Carolina. In fact, the planned mid-December amphibious landings against Fort Fisher, the South’s final remaining ocean port, had to be postponed twice due to foul weather. When the Yankees finally began landing troops on the shore near the Confederate positions between Dec. 23 and 27, a final gale force blast scattered the landing boats — an unexpected Christmas gift for the south. The entire operation was called off and restaged in 1865.
Also from the American Civil War, @5DaysInJuly pointed out that heavy downpours before and during the July 17, 1863 Battle of Honey Springs actually helped the Union win the day and ultimately gain control of the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). When northern units under the command of Gen. James Blunt moved against the the 3,000-strong Confederate 1st Native Brigade at the outset of the battle, the Union troops quickly discovered that the Rebs couldn’t shoot back — the rain had soaked their powder. Realizing that he had the enemy at a disadvantage, Blunt ordered his equally-sized army of pro-northern natives, black troops and Union regulars smash headlong into the Confederate lines. More than 600 Confederates were killed.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t bad weather, but clear skies and sunshine that prevented the Nazis from launching their fateful Ardennes Offensive in 1944. Germany needed a thick blanket of cloud to cover Hitler’s surprise assault on the Allied lines in Belgium. Without it, the 200,000 men and 350 tanks, set aside for the last ditch thrust towards Antwerp would be at the mercy of Allied fighters and bombers. With their forces gathered, dwindling fuel and ammunition stockpiled and reserves waiting, the German high command just needed Mother Nature to cooperate. In fact, they waited nearly two weeks for the weather to worsen. Then on Dec. 16, it did just that – an area of low pressure settled onto north-western Europe grounding the Allied air force and giving the Germans a window of opportunity to launch their final offensive of the war. Although their initial onslaught sent the Americans reeling, the Allies regained the initiative in the days following the attack and managed to push the Nazis back into Germany. Within months, the war would be over.
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