Bill Kirby: News about D-Day hit streets 3 days early

There is a glory in a great mistake.


– Nathalia Crane

In three days we celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, one of the remarkable feats of modern warfare. But D-Day’s success is made more remarkable by the fact that Hitler and his boys should have known it was about to happen.

That’s because it had been reported three days earlier around the world, including the front page of The Augusta Chronicle, when the Associated Press sent out a news “flash” that the Allies were landing in France.

Not only The Chronicle but also radio stations across America reported the news June 3, 1944. At the Polo Grounds in New York, the Giants baseball game was halted for a one-minute moment of silence for the troops. Newspaper and radio station switchboards were jammed with callers seeking details. Soon they got them.

It was a mistake, the Associated Press hastily reported. Joan Ellis, 22, a British Teletype operator in the AP London bureau, had been “practicing” her typing and made up a story about the Allies invading France. Why she did not practice typing about the “quick brown fox jumping over the lazy dog” was not addressed. Nor was the fact that she had been an operator for four years in the British military, and as such, probably didn’t need to practice much.

Her news flash, however, inspired a quick explanation.

“It moved without authority of censors and without knowledge of the editorial staff,” the AP said in a statement.

Within two minutes, AP moved quickly to kill the message and formally admit its mistake. In case anyone missed the story, The Chronicle’s lead editorial the following Monday was titled “False Flash,” and it discussed how such false reports sometimes take place in modern journalism.

“Newspapermen,” we said, “can understand such a ridiculous failure … It would seem that the Grem­lins are always aboard when the stakes are highest.”

So that was that. Official­ly, the Allies had not invaded France. Nothing was going on. Nothing to see. Hitler and his bunker mates could go back to worrying about the Russian front and telling Mussolini jokes.

Until the next day, June 6, 1944, when Dwight Eisen­hower and 150,000 pals hit the beaches of France.

I imagine Adolf greeted the news by discounting it.

“No, there’s no invasion,” I suspect he told an aide. “The AP said it was all a big mistake … The Augusta Chronicle even wrote an editorial about it.”

Ten months later, the war would be over and Hitler would be dead. In journalism that spring of 1945, Harold Boyle, of the Associated Press, received the Pulitzer Prize for war coverage.

Not bad considering he’d been scooped on the D-Day invasion by a 22-year-old typist who reported the biggest story of the year three days before anyone else.