The Missouri River and D-Day

Jan 12, 2016

It seems like Almost Yesterday that American, British, and Canadian military forces invaded Adolf Hitler’s “Fortress Europa,” initiating the campaign that brought an end to World War II in Europe.

Allied commanders agreed upon a June 1944 invasion across the English Channel, the largest amphibious operation in military history, requiring 7000 ships and transports to move 135,000 Allied troops from England to the Normandy beaches.

Many of the necessary landing craft were constructed at the Darby shipyard in Kansas City. Some of these were moved down the Missouri River, down the Mississippi, and across the Atlantic to English harbors in late 1943. The last group was scheduled to be moved in January 1944.

But, as often happens in Missouri during the winter months, a combination of river ice and little rain resulted in low water on the Missouri River. By late December and early January, a large number of landing craft tanks (LCT’s) remained in the Darby shipyard, waiting for higher water.

The success of Operation Overlord depended upon these transports. Worried Allied leaders ordered the release of water from dams on the upper Missouri. But this failed. An alternate plan was developed to place the LCT’s on huge wheels and move them over land, but the bridges were too small. This became a wartime crisis.

But on January 16 and 17, 1944, a weather front moved across the Rocky Mountains bringing rain and warmer weather. This broke up the ice jams on the Missouri and the river rose dramatically. The Kansas City Star announced, “The river is up for war.”

By January 23, the “delayed” LCT’s began to pass under the Eads Bridge in St. Louis … on their way to England and Allied victory.