Battle of Dunkirk
Overview
 
The Battle of Dunkirk was a battle in the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 between the Allies
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 and Germany. A part of the Battle of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

 on the Western Front
Western Front (World War II)
The Western Front of the European Theatre of World War II encompassed, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and West Germany. The Western Front was marked by two phases of large-scale ground combat operations...

, the Battle of Dunkirk was the defence and evacuation of British and allied forces in Europe from 26 May–4 June 1940.

After the Phoney War, the Battle of France began in earnest on 10 May 1940. To the east, the German Army Group B
Army Group B
Army Group B was the name of three different German Army Groups that saw action during World War II.-Battle for France:The first was involved in the Western Campaign in 1940 in Belgium and the Netherlands which was to be aimed to conquer the Maas bridges after the German airborne actions in Rotterdam...

 invaded and subdued the Netherlands and advanced westward through Belgium.
Encyclopedia
The Battle of Dunkirk was a battle in the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 between the Allies
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 and Germany. A part of the Battle of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

 on the Western Front
Western Front (World War II)
The Western Front of the European Theatre of World War II encompassed, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and West Germany. The Western Front was marked by two phases of large-scale ground combat operations...

, the Battle of Dunkirk was the defence and evacuation of British and allied forces in Europe from 26 May–4 June 1940.

After the Phoney War, the Battle of France began in earnest on 10 May 1940. To the east, the German Army Group B
Army Group B
Army Group B was the name of three different German Army Groups that saw action during World War II.-Battle for France:The first was involved in the Western Campaign in 1940 in Belgium and the Netherlands which was to be aimed to conquer the Maas bridges after the German airborne actions in Rotterdam...

 invaded and subdued the Netherlands and advanced westward through Belgium. In response, the Supreme Allied Commander—French General Maurice Gamelin
Maurice Gamelin
Maurice Gustave Gamelin was a French general. Gamelin is best remembered for his unsuccessful command of the French military in 1940 during the Battle of France and his steadfast defense of republican values....

—initiated "Plan D" which relied heavily on the Maginot Line
Maginot Line
The Maginot Line , named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, was a line of concrete fortifications, tank obstacles, artillery casemates, machine gun posts, and other defences, which France constructed along its borders with Germany and Italy, in light of its experience in World War I,...

 fortifications. Gamelin committed the forces under his command, three mechanised armies, the French First and Seventh and the British Expeditionary Force
British Expeditionary Force (World War II)
The British Expeditionary Force was the British force in Europe from 1939–1940 during the Second World War. Commanded by General Lord Gort, the BEF constituted one-tenth of the defending Allied force....

 (BEF) to the River Dyle. On 14 May, German Army Group A
Army Group A
Army Group A was the name of a number of German Army Groups during World War II.-Western Front, 1940:During the German invasion of the Low Countries and France Army Group A was under the command of General Gerd von Rundstedt, and was responsible for the break-out through the Ardennes...

 burst through the Ardennes
Ardennes
The Ardennes is a region of extensive forests, rolling hills and ridges formed within the Givetian Ardennes mountain range, primarily in Belgium and Luxembourg, but stretching into France , and geologically into the Eifel...

 and advanced rapidly to the west toward Sedan
Sedan, France
Sedan is a commune in France, a sub-prefecture of the Ardennes department in northern France.-Geography:The historic centre is built on a peninsula formed by an arc of the Meuse River. It is around from the Belgian border.-History:...

, then turned northward to the English Channel, in what Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein was a field marshal in World War II. He became one of the most prominent commanders of Germany's World War II armed forces...

 called the "sickle cut" (known as "Plan Yellow" or the Manstein Plan
Manstein Plan
The Manstein Plan was the primary war plan of the German Army during the Battle of France in 1940.-Overview of the Plan:Developed by German Generalleutnant Erich von Manstein, the plan greatly modified the original 1939 versions by Franz Halder of the invasion plan known as Fall Gelb...

), effectively flanking the Allied forces.

A series of Allied counter-attacks—including the Battle of Arras
Battle of Arras (1940)
The Battle of Arras took place during the Battle of France, in the early stages of World War II. It was an Allied counterattack against the flank of the German army, that took place near the town of Arras, in north-eastern France. The German forces were pushing north toward the channel coast, in...

—failed to sever the German spearhead, which reached the coast on 20 May, separating the British Expeditionary Force
British Expeditionary Force (World War II)
The British Expeditionary Force was the British force in Europe from 1939–1940 during the Second World War. Commanded by General Lord Gort, the BEF constituted one-tenth of the defending Allied force....

 (BEF) near Armentières
Armentières
Armentières is a commune in the Nord department in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in northern France. It is part of the Urban Community of Lille Métropole, and lies on the Belgian border, northwest of the city of Lille, on the right bank of the river Lys....

, the French 1st Army, and the Belgian Army
Belgian Army
The Land Component is organised using the concept of capacities, whereby units are gathered together according to their function and material. Within this framework, there are five capacities: the command capacity, the combat capacity, the support capacity, the services capacity and the training...

 further to the north from the majority of French troops south of the German penetration. After reaching the Channel, the Germans swung north along the coast, threatening to capture the ports and trap the British and French forces before they could evacuate to Britain.

In one of the most widely-debated decisions of the war, the Germans halted their advance on Dunkirk. Contrary to popular belief, what became known as "the Halt Order" did not originate with Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

. Gerd von Rundstedt
Gerd von Rundstedt
Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt was a Generalfeldmarschall of the German Army during World War II. He held some of the highest field commands in all phases of the war....

 and Günther von Kluge
Günther von Kluge
Günther Adolf Ferdinand “Hans” von Kluge was a German military leader. He was born in Posen into a Prussian military family. Kluge rose to the rank of Field Marshal in the Wehrmacht. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords...

 suggested that the German forces around the Dunkirk pocket should cease their advance on the port and consolidate, to avoid an Allied break. Hitler sanctioned the order on 24 May with the support of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht was part of the command structure of the armed forces of Nazi Germany during World War II.- Genesis :...

(OKW). The army were to halt for three days, giving the Allies time to organise an evacuation and build a defensive line. Despite the Allies' gloomy estimates of the situation, with Britain discussing a conditional surrender to Germany, in the end over 330,000 Allied troops were rescued.

Prelude

On 10 May 1940, Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 became Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

 of Britain. By 26 May, the British Expeditionary Force
British Expeditionary Force (World War II)
The British Expeditionary Force was the British force in Europe from 1939–1940 during the Second World War. Commanded by General Lord Gort, the BEF constituted one-tenth of the defending Allied force....

 (BEF) and the French First Army
French First Army
The First Army was a field army of France that fought during World War I and World War II. It was also active during the Cold War.-First World War:...

 were bottled up in a corridor to the sea, about 60 mi (96.6 km) deep and 15–25 mi (24.1–40.2 km) wide. Most of the British were still around Lille
Lille
Lille is a city in northern France . It is the principal city of the Lille Métropole, the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country behind those of Paris, Lyon and Marseille. Lille is situated on the Deûle River, near France's border with Belgium...

, over 40 mi (64.4 km) from Dunkirk, and the French still further south. Two massive German armies flanked them: General Fedor von Bock
Fedor von Bock
Fedor von Bock was a German Generalfeldmarshall who served in the Wehrmacht during the Second World War. As a leader who lectured his soldiers about the honor of dying for the German Fatherland, he was nicknamed "Der Sterber"...

's Army Group B was to the east, and General Gerd von Rundstedt
Gerd von Rundstedt
Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt was a Generalfeldmarschall of the German Army during World War II. He held some of the highest field commands in all phases of the war....

's Army Group A to the west. (Both these officers were later promoted to Field Marshal.)

Halt order

On 24 May, Hitler had visited General von Rundstedt's headquarters at Charleville
Charleville-Mézières
Charleville-Mézières is a commune in northern France, capital of the Ardennes department in the Champagne-Ardenne region. Charleville-Mézières is located on the banks of the Meuse River.-History:...

. Von Rundstedt advised him the infantry should attack the British forces at Arras, where they had proved capable of significant action, while Kleist's armour held the line west and south of Dunkirk in order to pounce on the Allied forces retreating before Army Group B. This order allowed the Germans to consolidate their gains and prepare for a southward advance against the remaining French forces. The terrain around Dunkirk was considered unsuitable for armour, so the Allied forces' destruction was initially assigned to the Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

and the German infantry organised in Army Group B
Army Group B
Army Group B was the name of three different German Army Groups that saw action during World War II.-Battle for France:The first was involved in the Western Campaign in 1940 in Belgium and the Netherlands which was to be aimed to conquer the Maas bridges after the German airborne actions in Rotterdam...

. Von Rundstedt later called this "one of the great turning points of the war."

The true reason for Hitler's decision to halt the German armour on 24 May is a matter of debate. One theory is that Von Rundstedt and Hitler agreed to conserve the armour for Fall Rot, an operation to the south. Another theory—which has recently been disputed—was that Hitler was still trying to establish diplomatic peace with Britain before Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

. Brian Bond
Brian Bond
Brian James Bond is a British military historian and professor emeritus of military history at King's College London.-Early life and education:...

 stated:

Few historians now accept the view that Hitler's behaviour was influenced by the desire to let the British off lightly in hope that they would then accept a compromise peace. True, in his political testament dated 26 February 1945 Hitler lamented that Churchill was "quite unable to appreciate the sporting spirit" in which he had refrained from annihilating the BEF at Dunkirk, but this hardly squares with the contemporary record. Directive No. 13, issued by the Supreme Headquarters on 24 May called specifically for the annihilation of the French, English and Belgian forces in the pocket, while the Luftwaffe was ordered to prevent the escape of the English forces across the channel.


Whatever the reasons for Hitler's decision, he did not rescind it until the evening of 26 May. The three days thus gained gave a vital breathing space to the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 to arrange to evacuate the British and Allied troops. About 338,000 men were saved in about 11 days. About 215,000 were British, 123,000 were French — of whom 102,250 escaped in British ships.

"Fight back to the west"

On 26 May, Anthony Eden
Anthony Eden
Robert Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon, KG, MC, PC was a British Conservative politician, who was Prime Minister from 1955 to 1957...

—the Secretary of State for War—told General Gort that he might need to "fight back to the west", and ordered him to prepare plans for the evacuation. Gort had foreseen the order and preliminary plans were already in hand. The first such plan, for a defence along the Lys Canal, could not be carried out because of German advances on 26 May, with 2nd Division and 50th Division pinned down, and 1st, 5th and 48th Divisions under heavy attack. 2nd Division took heavy casualties trying to keep a corridor open, being reduced to a brigade strength, and they succeeded; 1st, 3rd, 4th and 42nd Division escaped along the corridor that day, as did about one-third of the French 1st Army. As the Allies fell back, they disabled their artillery and vehicles and destroyed their stores.

On 27 May, the British fought back to the Dunkirk perimeter line. The Le Paradis massacre
Le Paradis massacre
The Le Paradis massacre was a war crime committed by members of the 14th Company, SS Division Totenkopf, under the command of Hauptsturmführer Fritz Knöchlein...

 took place that day, when the 3. SS Division Totenkopf
3rd SS Division Totenkopf
The SS Division Totenkopf , also known as 3. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Totenkopf and 3. SS-Panzer-Division Totenkopf, was one of the 38 divisions fielded by the Waffen-SS during World War II. Prior to achieving division status, the formation was known as Kampfgruppe Eicke...

 machine-gunned 97 British prisoners near the La Bassée Canal.
Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe dropped bombs and leaflets on the Allied armies. The leaflets showed a map of the situation. They read, in English and French: "British soldiers! Look at the map: it gives your true situation! Your troops are entirely surrounded — stop fighting! Put down your arms!" The Allied soldiers mostly used these as toilet paper. To the land- and air-minded Nazis, the sea seemed an impassable barrier, so they really did think the Allies were surrounded; but the British saw the sea as a route to safety.

As well as the Luftwaffes bombs, German heavy artillery (which had just come within range) also fired high-explosive shells into Dunkirk. By this time, the town contained the bodies of over 1,000 civilian casualties. This bombardment continued until the evacuation was over.

The Battle of Wytschaete

Gort had sent General Adam ahead to build the defensive perimeter around Dunkirk, and General Brooke was to conduct a holding action with 3rd, 4th, 5th and 50th Divisions along the Ypres-Comines canal as far as Yser while the rest of the BEF fell back. The Battle of Wytschaete is the name of the toughest action Brooke was to face in this role.

On 26 May, the Germans made probing attacks and reconnaissance in force against the British position. At dawn on 27 May, they launched a full-scale attack with three divisions south of Ypres. A confused battle followed, where because of forested or urban terrain, visibility was low, and because the British at that time used no radios below battalion level and the telephone wires were cut, communications were poor. The Germans used infiltration tactics to get among the British, who were beaten back.

The heaviest fighting was in the 5th Division's sector. Still on 27 May, Brooke ordered Major-General Montgomery
Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein
Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG, GCB, DSO, PC , nicknamed "Monty" and the "Spartan General" was a British Army officer. He saw action in the First World War, when he was seriously wounded, and during the Second World War he commanded the 8th Army from...

to extend his 3rd Division's line to the left, thereby freeing 10th and 11th Brigades of 4th Division to join the 5th Division at Messines Ridge. 10th Brigade arrived first, to find the enemy had advanced so far they were closing on the British field artillery. Between them, 10th and 11th Brigades cleared the ridge of Germans, and by 28 May they were securely dug in east of Wytschaete.

That day, Brooke ordered a counterattack to be spearheaded by two battalions, the 3rd Grenadier Guards
Grenadier Guards
The Grenadier Guards is an infantry regiment of the British Army. It is the most senior regiment of the Guards Division and, as such, is the most senior regiment of infantry. It is not, however, the most senior regiment of the Army, this position being attributed to the Life Guards...

 and the 2nd North Staffordshires
North Staffordshire Regiment
The North Staffordshire Regiment was an infantry regiment of the British Army, which was in existence between 1881 and 1959. It can date its lineage back to 1756 with the formation of a second battalion by the 11th Regiment of Foot, which shortly after became the 64th Regiment of Foot...

. The North Staffords advanced as far as the Kortekeer River, while the Grenadiers reached the canal itself, but could not hold it. The counterattack did successfully disrupt the Germans, holding them back a little longer while the BEF retreated.

Action at Poperinge

The route back from Brooke's position to Dunkirk passed through the town of Poperinge
Poperinge
Poperinge is a municipality located in the Belgian province of West Flanders, Flemish Region, and has a history going back to mediaeval times. The municipality comprises the town of Poperinge proper and surrounding villages. The area is famous for its hops and lace.-The town:Poperinge is situated...

 (known to most British sources as "Poperinghe"), where there was a bottleneck at a bridge over the Yser canal. Most of the main roads in the area converged on that bridge. On 27 May, the Luftwaffe bombed the resulting traffic jam thoroughly for two hours, destroying or immobilising about 80% of the vehicles. Another Luftwaffe raid—on the night of 28/29 May—was illuminated by flares as well as the light from burning vehicles. The 44th Division in particular had to abandon many guns and lorries, losing almost all of them between Poperinge and the Mont.

The German 6. Panzerdivision could probably have destroyed the 44th Division at Poperinge on 29 May, thereby cutting off 3rd Division and 50th Division as well. Thompson calls it "astonishing" that they did not, but they were distracted by investing the nearby town of Cassel.

Belgian surrender

Gort had ordered Sir Ronald Adam, 3rd Corps Commander, and French General Falgade, to prepare a perimeter defence of Dunkirk. The perimeter was semicircular, with French troops manning the western sector and British troops the eastern. It ran from Nieuport
Nieuwpoort, Belgium
Nieuwpoort is a municipality located in Flanders, one of the three regions of Belgium, and in the Flemish province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the city of Nieuwpoort proper and the towns of Ramskapelle and Sint-Joris. On January 1, 2008 Nieuwpoort had a total population of 11,062....

 in the east via Furnes
Veurne
Veurne is a city and municipality in the Belgian province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the town of Veurne proper and the settlements of Avekapelle, Booitshoeke, Bulskamp, De Moeren, Eggewaartskapelle, Houtem, Steenkerke, Vinkem, Wulveringem, and Zoutenaaie.-Origins in the 15th...

, Bulskamp
Veurne
Veurne is a city and municipality in the Belgian province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the town of Veurne proper and the settlements of Avekapelle, Booitshoeke, Bulskamp, De Moeren, Eggewaartskapelle, Houtem, Steenkerke, Vinkem, Wulveringem, and Zoutenaaie.-Origins in the 15th...

 and Bergues
Bergues
Bergues is a commune in the Nord department in northern France.It is situated to the south of Dunkirk and from the Belgian border. Locally it is referred to as "the other Bruges in Flanders"...

 to Gravelines
Gravelines
Gravelines is a commune in the Nord department in northern France.It lies at the mouth of the river Aa 15 miles southwest of Dunkirk. There is a market in the town square on Saturdays. The "Arsenal" approached from the town square is home to an extensive and carefully displayed art collection....

 in the west. The line was as strong as it could be made under the circumstances, but on 28 May the Belgian army surrendered, leaving a 20 mi (32.2 km) gap on Gort's eastern flank between the British and the sea. The British learned of the Belgian capitulation on 29 May.

His Majesty King George VI
George VI of the United Kingdom
George VI was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death...

 sent Gort a telegram that read:
Gort realised he could not afford that gap. He threw the battle-worn 3rd, 4th and 50th Divisions into the line to fill it.

Defence of the perimeter

While they were still moving into position, they ran headlong into the German 256th Division who were trying to flank Gort. Armoured cars of the 12th Lancers stopped the Germans at Nieuport itself. A confused battle raged all along the perimeter throughout 28 May. Command control on the British side disintegrated, and the perimeter was driven slowly inwards toward Dunkirk.

Meanwhile, Erwin Rommel
Erwin Rommel
Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel , popularly known as the Desert Fox , was a German Field Marshal of World War II. He won the respect of both his own troops and the enemies he fought....

 had surrounded five divisions of the French 1st Army near Lille. Though completely cut off, the French fought on for four days under General Molinié, thereby keeping seven German divisions from the assault on Dunkirk and saving a further 100,000 Allied troops.

The defence of the perimeter held throughout 29-30 May, with the British falling back by degrees. On 31 May, the Germans nearly punched through at Nieuport, and the situation grew so desperate that two British battalion commanders had to personally man a Bren gun, with one Colonel firing and the other loading. A few hours later, the 2nd Bn Coldstream Guards rushed to reinforce the line near Furnes, where the British troops had been routed. The 2nd Bn Coldstream Guards restored order by shooting some of the fleeing troops, and turning others around at bayonet point. The British troops returned to the line, and the German assault was beaten back.

In the afternoon of the same day, the Germans breached the perimeter near the canal at Bulskamp but the boggy ground on the far side of the canal, with sporadic fire from the Durham Light Infantry
Durham Light Infantry
The Durham Light Infantry was an infantry regiment of the British Army from 1881 to 1968. It was formed by the amalgamation of the 68th Regiment of Foot and the 106th Regiment of Foot along with the militia and rifle volunteers of County Durham...

, halted them. As night fell, the Germans massed for another attack at Nieuport. Eighteen RAF bombers found the Germans while they were still assembling, and scattered them with an accurate bombing run.

Retreat to Dunkirk

Also on 31 May, General Von Kuechler assumed command of all the German forces at Dunkirk. His plan was simple: he would launch an all-out attack across the whole front at 11:00 on 1 June. So focused was Von Kuechler on this plan that he paid no attention to a radio intercept telling him the British were abandoning the eastern end of the line to fall back to Dunkirk itself.

1 June dawned fine and bright — good flying weather, in contrast to the bad weather that had hindered airborne operations on 30 and 31 May. (There were only two and a half good flying days in the whole operation.) Although Churchill had promised the French that the British would cover their escape, on the ground it was the French who held the line while the last remaining British were evacuated. Despite concentrated artillery fire and Luftwaffe strafing and bombs, the French stood their ground. On 2 June (the day the last of the British units embarked onto the ships), the French began to fall back slowly, and by 3 June the Germans were two miles from Dunkirk. The night of 3 June was the last night of evacuations. At 10:20 on 4 June, the Germans hoisted the swastika over the docks from which so many British and French troops had escaped under their noses.

Evacuation

The War Office made the decision to evacuate British forces on 25 May. In the nine days from 27 May-4 June, 338,226 men escaped, including 139,997 French, Polish and Belgian troops, together with a small number of Dutch soldiers, aboard 861 vessels (of which 243 were sunk during the operation). Liddell Hart says British Fighter Command lost 106 aircraft dogfighting over Dunkirk, and the Luftwaffe lost about 135 — some of which were shot down by the French Navy and the Royal Navy; but MacDonald says the British lost 177 aircraft and the Germans lost 240.

The docks at Dunkirk were too badly damaged to be used, but the East and West Moles
Mole (architecture)
A mole is a massive structure, usually of stone, used as a pier, breakwater, or a causeway between places separated by water. The word comes from Middle French mole and ultimately Latin mōlēs meaning a large mass, especially of rock and has the same root as molecule.Historically, the term "mole"...

 (sea walls protecting the harbour entrance) were intact. Captain William Tennant
William Tennant (Royal Navy officer)
Admiral Sir William George "Bill" Tennant KCB CBE MVO DL was a British naval officer. He was lauded for overseeing the successful evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. Tennant subsequently served as captain of the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, when it searched for German capital ships in the Atlantic...

—in charge of the evacuation—decided to use the beaches and the East Mole to land the ships. This highly successful idea hugely increased the number of troops that could be embarked each day, and indeed at the rescue operation's peak, on 31 May, over 68,000 men were taken off.

The last of the British Army left on 3 June, and at 10:50, Tennant signalled Ramsay to say "Operation completed. Returning to Dover." However, Churchill insisted on coming back for the French, so the Royal Navy returned on 4 June in an attempt to rescue as many as possible of the French rearguard. Over 26,000 French troops were lifted off on that last day — but between 30,000 and 40,000 French soldiers were left behind and forced to surrender to the Germans.

Aftermath

Although the events at Dunkirk gave a great boost to British morale, they also left the remaining French to stand alone against a renewed German assault southward. German troops entered Paris on 14 June and accepted the French surrender on 22 June.

The Dean of St Paul's
Dean of St Paul's
The Dean of St Paul's is the head of the Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral in London, England in the Church of England. The most recent Dean, Graeme Knowles, formerly Bishop of Sodor and Man, was installed on 1 October 2007 and resigned on 31 October 2011...

 was first to call the battle the "Miracle of Dunkirk" (on 2 June).

A marble memorial to the battle stands at Dunkirk ( Dunkerque). It translates in English as: "To the glorious memory of the pilots, mariners, and soldiers of the French and Allied armies who sacrificed themselves in the Battle of Dunkirk, May–June 1940."

The loss of materiel
Materiel
Materiel is a term used in English to refer to the equipment and supplies in military and commercial supply chain management....

 on the beaches was huge. The British Army left enough equipment behind to equip about eight to ten divisions. Left behind in France were, among huge supplies of ammunition, 880 field guns, 310 guns of large calibre, some 500 anti-aircraft guns, about 850 anti-tanks guns, 11,000 machine guns, nearly 700 tanks, 20,000 motorcycles and 45,000 motor cars and lorries. Army equipment available at home was only just sufficient to equip two divisions. The British Army needed months to re-supply properly and some planned introductions of new equipment were halted while industrial resources concentrated on making good the losses. Officers told troops falling back from Dunkirk to burn or otherwise disable their trucks (so as not to let them benefit the advancing German forces). The shortage of army vehicles after Dunkirk was so severe that the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) was reduced to retrieving and refurbishing numbers of obsolete bus and coach models from British scrapyards to press them into use as troop transports. Some of these antique workhorses were still in use as late as the North African campaign of 1942.

"Dunkirk Spirit"

British propaganda later exploited the successful evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, and particularly the role of the "Dunkirk little ships", very effectively. Many of the "little ships" were private vessels such as fishing boats and pleasure cruisers, but commercial vessels such as ferries also contributed to the force, including a number from as far away as the Isle of Man
Isle of Man
The Isle of Man , otherwise known simply as Mann , is a self-governing British Crown Dependency, located in the Irish Sea between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, within the British Isles. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann. The Lord of Mann is...

 and Glasgow
Glasgow
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and third most populous in the United Kingdom. The city is situated on the River Clyde in the country's west central lowlands...

. These smaller vessels—guided by naval craft across the Channel from the Thames Estuary
Thames Estuary
The Thames Mouth is the estuary in which the River Thames meets the waters of the North Sea.It is not easy to define the limits of the estuary, although physically the head of Sea Reach, near Canvey Island on the Essex shore is probably the western boundary...

 and from Dover—assisted in the official evacuation. Being able to reach much closer in the beachfront shallows than larger craft, the "little ships" acted as shuttles to and from the larger craft, lifting troops who were queuing in the water, many waiting shoulder-deep in water for hours. The term "Dunkirk Spirit" still refers to a popular belief in the solidarity of the British people in times of adversity.

In popular culture

The battle and the evacuation were re-enacted in the films Dunkirk
Dunkirk (film)
Dunkirk is a 1958 British war film directed by Leslie Norman and starring John Mills, Richard Attenborough and Bernard Lee. It was based on two novels: Elleston Trevor's The Big Pick-Up and Lt. Col. Ewan Hunter and Maj. J. S...

(1958) and Weekend at Dunkirk (1964), as well as in the BBC docudrama Dunkirk
Dunkirk (TV series)
Dunkirk is a 2004 BBC television docudrama about the Battle of Dunkirk and the Dunkirk evacuation in World War II.-Awards:*BAFTA Awards 2005**Won: Huw Wheldon Award for Specialist Factual: Robert Warr & Alex Holmes...

(2004).

The novel Dunkirk Crescendo (2005) by Bodie Thoene, as part of the Zion Covenant series, features the Dunkirk evacuation, starting in the beginning of May before Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister, and ending on 4 June when the evacuation ends.

In C. J. Sansom
C. J. Sansom
Christopher John "C.J." Sansom is a British writer of crime novels. He was born in 1952 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was educated at the University of Birmingham, where he took a BA and then a PhD in history. After working in a variety of jobs, he decided to retrain as a solicitor...

's novel, Winter in Madrid
Winter in Madrid
Winter in Madrid is a spy novel written by C. J. Sansom. The setting is just after the Spanish Civil War in 1940. The main character is a wounded veteran, Harry Brett. He received his wounds during the Dunkirk withdrawal....

(2006), the protagonist recalls his involvement in the Dunkirk evacuation, setting the scene for the remaining narrative.

The evacuation from Dunkirk was featured in the novel Atonement
Atonement (novel)
Atonement is a 2001 novel by British author Ian McEwan.On a fateful day, a young girl makes a terrible mistake that has life-changing effects for many people...

and the 2007 film adaptation
Atonement (film)
Atonement is a 2007 British romantic suspense war film directed by Joe Wright. It is a film adaptation of the 2001 novel of the same name by Ian McEwan. The film stars James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, and Saoirse Ronan. It was produced by Working Title Films and filmed throughout the summer of 2006...

, which included a continuous five-minute scene of the protagonist walking down the chaotic beach.

In Elizabeth Bowen
Elizabeth Bowen
Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen, CBE was an Irish novelist and short story writer.-Life:Elizabeth Bowen was born on 7 June 1899 at 15 Herbert Place in Dublin, Ireland and was baptized in the nearby St Stephen's Church on Upper Mount Street...

's novel The Heat of the Day, Robert Kelway (the protagonist's lover and the man whose potential espionage fuels the plot) is wounded at the Battle of Dunkirk, which causes him to limp when he feels like a wounded man.

See also

  • Military history of the United Kingdom during World War II
    Military history of the United Kingdom during World War II
    Britain along with most of its dominions and Crown colonies, and British India, declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939. War with Japan began in 1941, after it attacked British colonies in Asia...

  • British Army during World War II
    British Army during World War II
    The British Army during the Second World War was, in 1939, a volunteer army, that introduced limited conscription in early 1939, and full conscription shortly after the declaration of war with Germany. During the early years of the war, the army suffered defeat in almost every theatre in which it...

  • Harold Marcus Ervine-Andrews
    Harold Marcus Ervine-Andrews
    Lieutenant Colonel Harold Marcus Ervine-Andrews VC was an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces...


External links

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