A weather forecaster for the Army Air Corps, Terry Waters drew a weather map for the Allied invasion of Normandy. Waters said bad weather on the continent prevented German planes from flying over to defend the French beaches.
By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer
Malibu resident Terry Waters said Operation Overlord, better known to the world as D-Day, would not have been a success had it not been for the terrible weather on the continent. Waters was a weather forecaster for the Army Air Corps during World War II, and drew one of the weather maps for the June 6, 1944 invasion of Normandy on the coast of France. The Allied victory that day was the most significant steppingstone toward its eventual victory in World War II. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the invasion.
Waters, 83, said thunderstorms and severe rain plagued the European continent on D-Day. German planes were unable to take off, because the bad weather meant they would not have been able to land after their missions were complete. Because of this, Waters said very few German planes ever reached the beaches of Normandy to combat the Allied invasion.
“If we had not had that terrible weather, the Germans would have been able to attack them [the Allies] on the beaches,” Waters said. “It would have been devastating, and they [the Allies] probably would not have won.”
D-Day was an invasion on a massive scale never seen before or since. More than 155,000 Allied troops came to the French shore through air and sea. The Allies suffered 10,000 casualties in the battle, with 2,500 soldiers losing their lives. But by the end of the day, the mostly American, Canadian and British troops had penetrated the German defenses and moved inland. They then moved through France throughout the summer, liberating Paris on Aug. 25.
Although tradition had the person who made the weather forecast ride in the lead plane on a mission, Waters did not take part in the D-Day flight because an officer who outranked him said he wanted to go. Waters remained at the British Air Force Base where he was stationed. There, he saw the thousands of planes take off for the invasion. While he watched, an officer came up to him with three frightened soldiers at his side. The officer told Waters that the soldiers refused to come on the mission, and ordered Waters to stay with the men before military police could arrive to take them to jail.
“They were kids, 18 years old,” Waters said. “They just figured that was it; they were going to get killed, so they refused to get on the plane. They cried like hell, poor guys.”
Water’s wife, Beatrice, who he met at the Air Force base’s club where as a Red Cross worker she organized dances and other social events for the enlisted men, recalled that day herself.
She said she was nervous because of the significance of the battle, and didn’t know whether the friends she had made would be coming back. “I remember when the planes took off, and when they were coming back. It was very traumatic.”
The two married in England in 1944.
The person who went on the D-Day flight in place of Waters, Lt. Sam Comer, told Waters of a frightening ordeal. When the plane reached Normandy, all the paratroopers aboard jumped off. During that time, a German on the ground shot the plane with a machine gun. It was damaged, but the pilot turned the plane around, and headed back for England. Soon, those on the plane realized one of the engines had stopped working. Adding to the problems, the fuel pump for the working engine was not functioning.
“The co-pilot started yelling, ‘What do we do? What do we do?'” said Waters, retelling the story. “Comer then said, ‘Shut up,'” and he soon figured out how to solve the problem.”
As the plane continued to lose altitude, nearly crashing into the English Channel, Comer was able to force the fuel from the damaged engine into the working one. He was able to stabilize the plane long enough for it to reach England.
Waters remained in the military until November 1946. He said the military, impressed with his forecasting skills, tried almost everything to get him to stay. But he refused all offers, even enticing ones that would have put him on the path to eventually be the head forecaster for all the Armed Forces.
“I told them, ‘I’ve had enough killing. I don’t want any more killing in my life,'” Waters said.
Had D-Day not been a success, World War II may have had a different conclusion, and history would have taken a different path. But Waters said that never crossed the minds of those planning the invasion.
“There wasn’t any thought about failing,” Waters said. “We were going to make it work somehow.”