A weather fore­cast that changed ev­ery­thing

Cape Breton Post - - WEATHER - CINDY DAY Chief Me­te­o­rol­o­gist Cindy Day

Some­one once said, if it wasn’t for the weather, most Cana­di­ans wouldn’t be able to start a con­ver­sa­tion. Well, if not for very con­cise wartime weather re­ports, you and I may not be en­joy­ing the free­dom we do each and ev­ery day.

A few years ago, I had the plea­sure of meet­ing an amaz­ing gen­tle­man. I will never for­get the af­ter­noon I spent with John En­twistle.

Mr. En­twistle was a nav­i­ga­tor in the Royal Air Force dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. Af­ter his first tour, he took a course in me­te­o­rol­ogy and was trans­ferred to the Met Squadron based at Tiree in the In­ner He­brides, off the west coast of Scot­land.

He flew dis­patches also known as sor­ties with the 518 Met Squadron on the me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal re­con­nais­sance flight Bis­muth – 500 miles out over the At­lantic – send­ing back weather ob­ser­va­tions taken ev­ery 50 miles. The task of the air­crews was to climb and de­scend while record­ing and trans­mit­ting de­tails of tem­per­a­ture, pres­sure and hu­mid­ity, as well as wind ve­loc­ity, pres­ence of cloud and rain at dif­fer­ent at­mo­spheric lev­els.

When we sat down to talk about his wartime ex­pe­ri­ences, he spoke like it was yes­ter­day. There was sad­ness in his voice, but also a great deal of pride. He re­counted …

“… rain fell from over­cast skies and gale force winds drove large waves on to the beaches of Nor­mandy as dawn broke on Mon­day, June 5th, 1944.

“Eisen­hower had ten­ta­tively se­lected June 5th as the date for the as­sault. On June 4th, con­di­tions were clearly un­suit­able for a land­ing; wind and high seas would make it im­pos­si­ble to launch land­ing craft, and low clouds would prevent air­craft from find­ing their tar­gets.

“Only a few days in each month were suit­able for launch­ing the op­er­a­tion, be­cause both a full moon and a spring tide were re­quired; the light from the moon was to il­lu­mi­nate nav­i­ga­tional land­marks and the high wa­ter lev­els were to pro­vide the deep­est pos­si­ble wa­ter to safely nav­i­gate over de­fen­sive ob­sta­cles placed by the Ger­mans in the surf on the sea­ward ap­proaches to the beaches.

“It seemed pos­si­ble that ev­ery­thing would have to be can­celled and the troops re­turned to their camps. At a vi­tal meet­ing on June 5th, Eisen­hower’s chief me­te­o­rol­o­gist – Group Cap­tain J.M. Stagg – said he be­lieved that con­di­tions would be marginally favourable. On the strength of Stagg’s fore­cast, Eisen­hower or­dered the in­va­sion to pro­ceed!

“The Ger­mans mean­while took com­fort from the ex­ist­ing poor con­di­tions, which were worse over North­ern France than over the Chan­nel it­self, and be­lieved no in­va­sion would be pos­si­ble for sev­eral days. Some troops stood down, and many se­nior of­fi­cers were away for the week­end.

“The Bis­muth me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal flights on June 4th and June 5th, 1944 pro­vided the weather in­for­ma­tion that gave the ‘all clear’ for the D-Day in­va­sion of Eu­rope on June 6th. Fol­low­ing that, 518 Met squadron was awarded a crest – the motto read ‘THANN IUCHAIR AGAINME,’ Gaelic for ‘we hold the key’!”

Mr. En­twistle com­pleted 116 sor­ties and was re­leased by the RAF in 1948. That’s when he em­i­grated to Canada. John passed away in 2016. Mr. En­twistle al­ways wrote a let­ter or called a few days be­fore Re­mem­brance Day. I miss those let­ters, but I have beau­ti­ful mem­o­ries of that af­ter­noon spent lis­ten­ing to a kind gen­tle­man who gave so much, so that we could be free.

A photo I will for­ever cher­ish, taken in the fall of 2010, fol­low­ing a lovely af­ter­noon with Mr. En­twistle at the Avi­a­tion mu­seum in Shear­wa­ter, N.S.

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