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On the evening of June 5, 1944, paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division struggled into the last of their heavy combat gear and parachutes. They then waddled to waiting transport airplanes that would fly them over Normandy, France. There, they would parachute into enemy held territory, securing the flanks of the landing area for the main force of Allied troops sailing across the English Channel to liberate Europe from the Nazis.
Combat Weather Observer
Among the paratroopers emplaning that night was Birmingham, Michigan native Staff Sergeant Charles J. Straub. Straub was a combat weather observer attached to the 502d Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st. His mission, along with the two other combat weather observers attached to airborne units, was to gather weather data directly from the Normandy battlefield.
Eisenhower and the Weather
General Eisenhower relied on weather reports from his headquarters meteorologists to make his fateful decision to go ahead with the Normandy landings despite the threat of bad weather. As the invasion unfolded, Allied commanders would need detailed, accurate and timely weather data because the soldiers landing on the Normandy beaches were supplied completely by sea. Foul weather could delay supply shipments and ground supporting fighter planes, endangering the offensive in its first critical days.
The Chief of Staff for Supreme Allied Headquarters had directed the Army Air Corps to work closely with commanders on the ground to provide weather reports of local conditions. Straub, and the other combat weather observers of the 21st Weather Squadron, were trained in combat tactics and were to be as close to ground operations as a meteorologist could get. “We took what you might call the short course in parachute training,” Straub recalled. “We were shown the techniques for a week, and then on the last day we had to make five jumps to qualify.”
First of the Combat Weathermen in Normandy
Straub was the first of the combat weathermen in Normandy, jumping from six hundred feet carrying his weapon, a small radio and a psychrometer. As Straub made his way to a rally point with other American paratroopers, he was wounded by enemy rifle fire, and then knocked unconscious by a grenade. Carried back to an American aid station in a stretcher fashioned from a parachute, Straub took cover from enemy shelling with other wounded paratroopers in the basement of a deserted house. With no food, little water and limited medical supplies, the men held out until they were evacuated six days later. Although he was not able to collect and relay weather data to Allied headquarters, Straub’s fellow combat weathermen helped fight off German counter attacks, then began taking weather observations from the battlefield.
Today’s Combat Weathermen
Today the proud tradition of D-Day’s combat weather observers is carried on by U.S. Air Force Special Operations Weather Teams, who are trained to fight alongside Air Force and Army special operations troops while collecting weather data essential to the planning and success of their missions.
Michigan Statehood Day
Come to a Michigan Statehood Day Celebration commemorating the 70th Anniversary of D-Day and Michigan’s contribution to World War II at the Michigan Historical Museum, Lansing, Saturday, January 25th, 2014 from 10-4pm.
More on Weather
The Lake Effects weather exhibit, examining Michigan Weather, will be on display at the Michigan Historical Museum through August 24, 2014.
To learn more about D-Day click U.S. Army’s D-Day webpage.