What Happened on the Eve of D-Day?

On June 5, 1944, the night of what was supposed to be D-Day, the five massive fleets heading for the French coast suddenly stopped and turned around—but why? 

Giles Milton
7-minute read
Episode #77

He immediately showed the message to his fellow radioman, Mort Rubin. "Jesus Christ!" said Rubin. The message informed them that D-Day had been postponed. The weather was too bad. Troops could not be landed in such conditions and the air force was unable to fly. The entire fleet was told to turn in its tracks and head back to England.

Rubin was sceptical. "Could this be a fake message sent by the Germans?" he wondered. "If so, it was certainly a beauty." Even if it was genuine, it was every captain’s nightmare.

There was also the real possibility that some of the ships wouldn’t receive it and Rubin had visions of "a lone destroyer or minesweeper going in on its own private war and tipping our hand to the Germans." It was imperative to inform the rest of the fleet.

The message informed them that D-Day had been postponed.

Still in the vanguard was Howard Vander Beek’s LCC 60, which had been quick to pick up the coded Post Mike One postponement message. Within seconds of confirming its veracity, the craft swung back towards England in the hope that the hundreds of other vessels would follow suit.

In such choppy seas, this was a procedure fraught with complications. Many vessels were towing tugs, entailing "seamanship of a high order." One false maneuver could easily result in tow-lines getting fouled around the screws.

But as the weakest of dawns began to lick away the darkness, the mighty Force U performed perhaps the greatest U-turn in history, wheeling through a gigantic semicircle and heading slowly back to England.

There was bitter disappointment aboard the LCC 60. Howard Vander Beek’s men were "exhausted, saltwater-soaked, and hungry." For more than 18 hours they had been pitched up crests and lurched into troughs, as if they were riding some sort of liquid bucking-bronco.

Now, they were heading back to England and had no idea when they would next be setting sail.

In the event, they didn't have to wait long. Within a few hours they would be putting to sea once againand this time D-Day was definitely on.

I hope you enjoyed this episode of Unknown History. In the next episode, we’ll be meeting Denis Edwards and his band of elite comrades who were tasked with one of the most daring operations to take place on D-Day.


About the Author

Giles Milton

Giles Milton is a writer and historian who graduated from the University of Bristol. He is an internationally bestselling author of nine works of narrative non-fiction and three novels. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages and serialized by the BBC.