Storm clouds to part once again for D-Day

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IF HISTORY repeats itself today, as weather forecasters say it will, dark rain clouds lowering over the Channel will part to allow at least an interval of sunshine over the D-Day flotilla sailing to France.

In June 1944, bad weather forced Eisenhower and Montgomery to postpone the greatest amphibious assault in military history and wait for a break in the clouds and calm in the Channel. It was early in the morning of 5 June that Group Captain Stagg, the chief meteorological officer, predicted clear conditions, and the order to invade on 6 June was given.

Yesterday, on the South Coast and in Normandy, strong winds and driving rain spoiled many commemorative events, but the London weather centre promised that dry weather and a good deal of sunshine would again arrive just in time. 'We are going through an authentic patch of June 1944 weather,' said a spokeswoman.

Today's D-Day flotilla, led by the Royal Yacht Britannia and including the US aircraft carrier George Washington and the liners QE2 and Canberra, sails for France in the afternoon after a 'drumhead' service in Portsmouth - the traditional service for troops going into battle - a review off Spithead and a flypast of aircraft, historic and modern.

In mid-Channel, wreaths will be laid in memory of the many who died at sea during Operation Overlord.

Among those attending are President Bill Clinton, King Harald of Norway, King Albert of Belgium, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, President Francois Mitterrand of France, President Lech Walesa of Poland, Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating and New Zealand Prime Minister Jim Bolger.

By mid-afternoon attention will switch to Normandy: 1,000 British, French and Canadian paratroopers will drop into the area around Pegasus Bridge, in remembrance of the daring night raid to secure the Orne canal before the troops landed on the beaches.

Last night, at a banquet at Portsmouth Guildhall attended by 600 veterans, the Queen set a tone of solemn remembrance for the occasion. She spoke movingly of the young men who gave their lives in the air, at sea and on the beaches.

After praising the great boldness of the D-Day plan, the Queen said: 'All the planning and the force of arms would, however, have fallen short had it not been for the heroism of those who took part. They were predominantly young men, some of them very young.'

She spoke of the losses - 10,000 casualties on D-Day rising to 37,000 by the autumn. 'A great debt is owed to those who made that sacrifice, to all those who fought in the campaign and, not least, to the men and women of the auxiliary organisations who, in diverse ways and with selfless dedication, made the operation possible.'

Earlier, John Major and Mr Clinton had set the commemorations in motion at a ceremony among the graves of nearly 4,000 fallen US servicemen in the Cambridge American Military Cemetery. Mr Clinton, looking back on the co-operation that made possible the invasion of Europe in 1944, spoke warmly of the historic bonds between the US and Britain.

'Amid the horror, the British looked West for help,' he said. 'Then the Yanks came, deepening one of history's profoundest bonds. America gave to England an infusion of arms and men . . . the British gave our troops the feeling that they were not so far from home after all. At every level, Yanks and Brits worked together like family.'

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