The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
 BlogviewJames Thompson Archive
Pressure: Eisenhower's Decison
🔊 Listen RSS
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New ReplyRead More
ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
AgreeDisagreeLOLTroll
These buttons register your public Agreement, Disagreement, Troll, or LOL with the selected comment. They are ONLY available to recent, frequent commenters who have saved their Name+Email using the 'Remember My Information' checkbox, and may also ONLY be used once per hour.
Ignore Commenter Follow Commenter
Search Text Case Sensitive  Exact Words  Include Comments
List of Bookmarks

Pressure and Ike

This play is about James Stagg who was in overall charge of predicting the weather for the D-Day landings. He had four days in which to provide his advice, and was up against a successful American forecaster, who already had the ear of the Supreme Commander, Dwight Eisenhower.

You may quail at the thought of any play being based on a weather forecast, the main prop being a pressure chart of the Northern Atlantic, and all the action being in a sparsely furnished room, the few props being weather recording instruments. Sure, there is a romantic story about Ike’s relationship with Kay Summersby, his car driver, who was also his lover and general therapist, but this is a play about the difficulty of communicating science.

Pressure Ike-Stagg

Since this is a London play ending at the close of August, I doubt my explanations will spoil anything for most of you, but it is a lovely story about the dilemmas of being an expert witness. Whatever the cost, or the pressure to give the desired answers to power, predictive accuracy is the scientific goal, and James Stagg stuck to his guns, on the basis of a gut feeling about imperfect data, guided by a general three-dimensional model for which he had only partial support.

James Stagg

David Haig wrote the play, and takes the part of James Stagg. Malcolm Sinclair is a very convincing General Eisenhower and Laura Rogers a charming, long-suffering Kay Summersby. All the players were excellent, so one can suspend belief and just enjoy the story.

James Stagg had to explain that in his view all forecasts based on historical records were dubious, and all forecasts based on air pressure charts were flawed because they were two dimensional. He had to explain a recently observed phenomenon (which all of us now take for granted) based on two pilots who reported that they had completed their flights from America to England particularly quickly, because at high altitude they had benefited from a very high tail wind of about 130 miles per hour. This was, as the American forecaster pointed out, a very small sample.

Stagg argued that this jet stream, as we now call it, would pull in the Atlantic storms to the Channel on the intended D day of 5th June. The American argued that the fast moving northward good weather from the Azores would triumph, and that the jet stream was an irrelevance in the general picture. After frenzied discussion the invasion was postponed, possibly for weeks, with potentially lethal military effects because the element of surprise would be lost and the deception plan rendered useless, since there were few practicable days when the tides were favourable. Stagg thought he could see a one day pause in the storm, so Eisenhower took the gamble, and the invasion took place the following day, 6th June 1944.

The attraction of this story should be obvious to all researchers. It was an instance when history turned on a complex point of meteorology, and the supposedly supreme command was subservient to the weather. It is not often that governments ask for true advice, and unusual that they want the real answer, even if it is highly unpleasant. War is a hard taskmaster. Of course, it has another parallel in the climate change debate: who does one trust to make the correct predictions, in this case for events that may take decades to be tested?

Will a government ever ask psychometricians for advice, and change policies as a result? In my view that is highly unlikely. So, it is entertaining to find that at least one weatherman had his day in court and changed the course of history.

 
Hide 8 CommentsLeave a Comment
Commenters to Ignore...to FollowEndorsed Only
Trim Comments?
    []
  1. dearieme says:

    How well did they do the accents? Did Ike speak as a midwesterner, Stagg as a Scot?

    How about heights? I don’t know how tall Stagg was but his son Peter was like a ruddy lighthouse. Did Stagg tower over the other fellows in real life? Could it have mattered? David Haig, a fine actor, doesn’t tower.

    (You may see what I am alluding to.)

    Anyway, it may be stating the bloody obvious, but it was an extraordinary stroke of luck that Ike was available to be Supreme Commander and Montgomery to be commander of all land forces. Even more remarkable was that these two were appointed to those two posts.

    It’s a bit like Einstein being perfectly equipped to be a theoretical physicist. Ike, a general who had never seen action, was the perfect choice for his job. Monty, in spite of his appalling vanity, was the ideal, cautious, professional master of detail to plan the landings.

    And to this list of successful appointments we should perhaps add Stagg. Fair enough: good things come in threes.

    • Replies: @Sean
  2. res says:

    Has any modern meteorologist gone back and looked at the data to assess just how lucky the Allies were with the weather/forecast outcome? The expected bad weather was a blessing in disguise given that it put the Germans off guard.

    More on the D-Day weather forecast: https://medium.com/@wwnorton/the-weather-on-d-day-85ea0491a14f

    This is an interesting take on the decision making process on both sides:

    Lettau was confident—and right—that there would be a force 4 wind on June 5, 6, and 7. Ergo, there could be no invasion. What the Germans failed to find out was that the Allies thought force 4 was just fine.

    Just as important, Lettau did not have the benefit of colleagues to disagree with him. As contentious and nasty as the infighting had been among the three groups of Allied forecasters, each team got a vote, so the most persuasive case was likely to prevail. The Americans were most sanguine, believing they could forecast a week or better into the future by comparing weather maps for the previous days. The Met Office forecasters, using ground and upper-air observations and seeking to map the progress of fronts, believed they could go forward only a day or two at best. The naval meteorological service focused on wave heights and their effects on the invading landing craft. Among them, they came up with an ensemble forecast that allowed the generals to make intelligent decisions.

    So the committee approach appears to have worked better. What do people here think about that? I am a bit surprised, to be honest.

    The weather war in Europe was an interesting aspect of WWII. The Germans were at a disadvantage there because the fronts generally moved in from areas they did not hold. Though U boats, ships, and planes were able to help with that. As were some land outposts acquired in the Arctic.

    https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/the-weather-war-of-wwii/

    Will a government ever ask psychometricians for advice, and change policies as a result? In my view that is highly unlikely. So, it is entertaining to find that at least one weatherman had his day in court and changed the course of history.

    Nice tie in. How much value do you think psychometricians would add over just being willing to open their eyes and stop listening to the blank slate academy?

  3. @res

    “Nice tie in. How much value do you think psychometricians would add over just being willing to open their eyes and stop listening to the blank slate academy?”

    Ehh – James Thompson might be musing here about a government that is asking the right psychometricians (= those really knowing what’s up in this field) for advice, no?

    “Lettau was confident—and right—that there would be a force 4 wind on June 5, 6, and 7. Ergo, there could be no invasion. What the Germans failed to find out was that the Allies thought force 4 was just fine.”

    - There might (might!) even have been some German military wanting to be defeated (Hitler’ s order to destroy Paris did not go down too well with some of them (that’s why Paris did survive, as far as I know).

    I know of one Reinhard Lettau, a literary scientist, friend of Herbert Marcuse and at his time (70ies mostly) well known German-American essayist (“Täglicher Faschismus” – “Everday Fascism”) and critic of the American engagement in Vietnam. I always wondered, what had made him so mad and unforgiving and narrow and – triumphant marxist… – – – – Now I might want to look up who his father was…

  4. @res

    thanks for very interesting links.
    James

  5. m___ says:

    Will a government ever ask psychometricians for advice,

    Large chunk data analysis, done by software running on computer hardware, already should have it’s day in court many times over. Google (Alphabet, Smith whatever) has it’s seat at Deep State and White House decision making. Seen the outcome, there could be a little ambitious Jew hiding in the server closet.

  6. Sean says:
    @dearieme

    Anyway, it may be stating the bloody obvious, but it was an extraordinary stroke of luck that Ike was available to be Supreme Commander and Montgomery to be commander of all land forces.

    Eisenhower said consulting Bernard Baruch about his career was the wisest thing he ever did. Montgomery was Alan Brooke ‘s protoge

    Eisenhower and Montgomery were competent, but the overwhelming superiority of the forces they commanded makes it foolish to assume there were not quite a few others who would have done an equally good job. How they would have coped with fighting against the odds, under which conservative safety first generalship could not possibly succeed is anyone’s guess. For example Bernard Montgomery insisted on having a good night’s sleep, Rommel pushed himself to the limit, and beyond. Horses for courses, although Montgomery’s caution perhaps made him a rarer horse than he should have been and in that sense he was a find.

  7. polistra says:

    Pollsters ARE psychometricians. Same testing methods, same statistical methods. Only the title is different.

  8. Laughing.

    Given the value and the role tat weather has played in the chimes of historical military and strategic events —

    a play on the subject is unique and well chosen in my view.

Current Commenter
says:

Leave a Reply - Comments on articles more than two weeks old will be judged much more strictly on quality and tone


 Remember My InformationWhy?
 Email Replies to my Comment
Submitted comments become the property of The Unz Review and may be republished elsewhere at the sole discretion of the latter
Subscribe to This Comment Thread via RSS Subscribe to All James Thompson Comments via RSS