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Saturday 24 August 2019

'My weather report saved thousands of D-Day lives', says Maureen (96)

Maureen Sweeney
Maureen Sweeney

A 96-year-old woman has told how her handwritten weather report delayed D-Day - and saved the lives of thousands of Allied troops.

As part of her duties as a post office assistant, a young Maureen Sweeney spent the night of June 3, 1944, taking vital readings at Blacksod weather station on Ireland's west coast.

These readings gave the Allies two days' advance warning of what the weather would be like on the landing beaches of Normandy, 500 miles away.

Her extraordinary - and previously unknown - role in altering the course of World War II is detailed in a new RTE documentary.

Although Ireland was neutral in the war, the film sheds light on how taosieach Eamon de Valera allowed Irish weather reports to be passed to the Allies, a move that proved pivotal.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, then supreme commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces, originally planned D-Day for June 5.

But Maureen's June 3 readings showed that a storm would hit the landing beaches on that day.

Hitler

This prompted Eisenhower to delay the amphibious assault on Hitler's Fortress Europe by 24 hours

In the documentary, Maureen examines her handwritten notes and says: "They're my figures. The 3rd of June was my birthday.

"I'm very, very happy about it, that we did give the right readings. I felt proud that it was from Blacksod."

One of the country's best known weather forecasters, Ger Fleming, reveals how Maureen took down her readings at 1am.

"She's out on her 21st birthday, at one in the morning, doing a weather observation and what does she spot? A change in pressure.

"The pressure falling away was the red flag."

The documentary reveals how Eisenhower had no choice but to stall the landings.

D-Day veteran Joe Cattini, also 96, said the 160,000 men who landed in Normandy on June 6 owed a debt of gratitude to Maureen.

"If it hadn't been for her reading of the weather, we would have perished in the storms," he said.

Maureen told the documentary how she answered an ad for a post office assistant at Blacksod, but realised only when she arrived that her duties included carrying out weather observations for the UK's Met Office.

"It was only every six hours pre-war, but then they found out our weather reports in Blacksod were the first indication of good or bad weather coming in from the Atlantic]and they made it hourly. You would have only one finished when it was time to do another."

Maureen sent her readings to Ballina, Co Mayo, where they were sent to Dublin, and then to the UK meteorological office in Dunstable, 30 miles north of London.

Looking back, Maureen said she had no idea in June 1944 that her readings halted the invasion.

"Poor old Eisenhower. He was commander in chief. All the proposals had to go through him. He had the whole world, I suppose, to consider."

Storm Front In Mayo - The Story Of The D-Day Forecast will be shown on RTE1 on Thursday at 10.15pm

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