World War II: Dunkirk--Operation Dynamo (May 26-June 4, 1940)


Figure 1.--Dunkirk was a deliverence for the BEF and Britain. As Churchill told the Commons, it was not a victory, but it was key to German's eventual defeat. The BEF was largely formed of professional soldiers, not civilan volunteers and conscriptees. The BEF would form the professional core of the British Army that would fight the Germans in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy as well as land in Normandy to liberate Western Europe. Without the BEF, Britain would have had difficulty continuing the War.

As the German Panzers cut across France, the British decided to evacuate the BEF. About 400,000 British an French soldiers began to fall back on French port of Dunkirk on the Belgian border. At this time the BEF was still within Hitler's grasp. It was not just the number of men that were at stake. The BEF was the professional core--the heart of the British Army. The men of the BEF would be the officers and NCOs of the British army that would eventually play an important role in defeating the Germans. The loss of the BEF would have crippled the British war effort if not forced the British to seek terms. Churchill warned the Commons that it 'should prepare itself for hard and heavy tidings'. The Panzers were only a few miles south of Dunkirk and facing no serious opposition. Von Rundstedt/Hitler (historians differ) ordered the Panzers to halt. Some believe that Hitler hoped this gesture would help convince the British to comes to terms, other believe that is was just as it was described at the time, a needed pause to regroup and prepare for a more coordinated assault. [Davidson, p. 408 and Fest, p. 630.] What ever the reason, this 48-hour respite allowed the British to organize a defensive perimeter around Dunkirk and begin an almost miraculous evacuation. Although King Leopold III surrendered the Belgian Army, the French First Army delayed the Germans. The BEF fell back toward Dunkirk, abandoning their equipment along the roads. Nearly 340,000 men were evacuated from Dunkirk, including French and Dutch soldiers. This is even more important that it sounds as almost all if the British soldiers were regulars and would form the corps of the future British Army that would play such an important role in the War. All of the BEF's equipment, however, was lost and there were no replacements for the lost equipment waiting for them back in England.

Blitzkrieg: France (May-June 1940)

The Germans proceeded to conquer virtually all of Western Europe. After a few months of the "Phony War", France's turn came. The Germans struck on a wide front against the neutral Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The terror bombing of Rotterdam convinced the already hard-pressed Dutch Army to surrender. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) rushed north to aid the Dutch. The Germans then struck in the Belgian Ardennes which allowed them to avoid the formidable Maginot Line. The French and Belgians considered the Ardennes impassable to tanks. The Germans managed to easily penetrate the rough terrine, crossed two substantial rivers, and the XIX Panzer Corps rapidly reached the English Channel--cutting the BEF off from the French and rendering the Maginot Line useless. The French entrenched behind the Maginot Line simply could not cope with the explosive highly mobile style of Blitzkrieg warfare. The Panzers surrounded the Belgian Army which King Leopold III surrendered. The BEF was within Hitler's grasp. Paris soon fell and the French signed a NAZI imposed armistice. The collapse of France after only a few weeks was a disaster of immense proportions. It was the French Army that had provided the bulk of the allied War Western Front in World War I. The German victory was not accomplished with massively superior numbers or weaponry. In fact they had fewer men and tanks. What they had was a superior tactical doctrine. The Germans were amazed to find, for example, that French tanks were not even equipped with radios, and a more disciplined fighting force. NAZI propaganda began to describe Hitler as " Der grösste Feldherr Allerzeiten " (the greatest field commander of all time). [Davidson, p. 483.]

Churchill Becomes Prime Minister (May 10, 1940)

Just as the NAZI blow in the West came, Prime Minister Chamberlain resigned. His position in Parliament had become untenable. "Go! In the name of God go!" shouted one MP. It was expected that Foreign Minister Lord Halifax would replace him. But Halifax declined. It is not know why he declined nor has he ever explained. Perhaps he realized he was not up to the job. Instead the Commons turned to Churchill. Later Churchill wrote, "At last I had the authority to give direction over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial." Never has a British prime minister taken office in such a crisis. The news was bad and would get worse. Ambassador Bullit in Paris and Ambassador Kennedy in London cabled Washington with reports that got worse day by day. Neither had confidence in Churchill or the British. As the weight of the NAZI offensive fell upon France, Churchill attempted as best he could to keep the French in the War.

British Expeditionary Force (BEF)

Lord John Gort (1886- ), a member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and World War I hero, was placed in command of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) deployed to France and Belgium (1940). He was a highly respected officer who had commanded the Staff College. Interestingly the BEF was the only fully mechanized force involved in the campaign. The Wehrmacht had a powerful mechanized force, but a substantial part of the Wehrmacht was still not mechanized and relied on horse-power. (This was still the case a year later when Hitler launched Barbarossa.) Despite the example of Poland, Gort and his command were unprepared for Blitzkrieg when the Germans launched their Western Offensive (May 10). The Germans struck first at the Dutch and Belgians. Gort ordered the BEF away from prepared defenses to assist the Dutch. The Dutch Army, however, after the bombing of Rotterdam surrendered before the BEF could reach them.

German Advances

The Panzers broke through at Sedan and drove to the Channel. The Panzers were led by legendary German tank commander General Heinz Guderian. He crossed the Meuse (May 14) and opened a 50-mile gap in the Allied front. The Panzers with Rommel in command of one division reached the Channel (May 20). The BEF, Belgians, and French First army, was cut off from the rest of the French Army. This left the position of the BEF untenable.

Decision to Evacuate

As the Panzers cut across France, the British unilaterally decided to evacuate the BEF and French troops fighting with them. Churchill who had just become prime minister 2 weeks earlier ordered the activation of Operation Dynamo. From the beginning, he was determined to evacuate French as well as British troops. [Churchill, Memoirs, 1959, p. 278.] Once the decision was made to evacuate, Lord Gort deployed units away from Dunkirk and on the beaches to the east of the town. His strategy was to hold the Germans away from Dunkirk so the evacuation could proceed. Gort was re-called to Britain during the evacuation. (Roosevelt would later discuss this with Churchill as he considered recalling MacArthur from Corregidor.) Gort never received another combat command.

Britain's Decision (May 28, 1940)

Britain faced what many felt was certain defeat. At this time Britain could have made a deal with Hitler. Lord Halifax thought Britain had little choice. Halifax was Britain's Foreign Secretary and had supported Chamberlain's policy of appeasement to avoid another war with Germany. One of the unanswered questions about the War is why Halifax did not replace Chamberlain as prime minister. He was next in line and could have been prime minister rather than Churchill, yet he declined. No one knows why. Some believe he thought he was not up to the task. It may well be that as the German Wester offensive fell (May 10) that he did not want to be the prime minister presiding over a defeated Britain. Hitler admired the British. He would have offered an arrangement more attractive than that offered France. Britain could have kept its fleet and much of the Empire. Hitler in the end did not want war with Britain. He wanted to secure his western front so he could focus on the Soviet Union in the east. Churchill refused, however, to treat with Hitler and the NAZIs. He was determined to resist as dire as the circumstances. Halifax and others in the war Cabinet believed that Britain should deal with Hitler. Churchill was narrowly able to bring the War Cabinet with him. There would be no British Vichy. There was some support in Britain for reaching an understanding with Hitler. Some of the moneyed class saw Hitler and the NAZIs as a way of controlling the working class and confronting Bolshevism. In the end Britain would be saved, not by the gentry, but the minors, workers, and common people often living in squalid city slums. [Jesson] That commitment was to be shown by London's East End when the Blitz commenced. Churchill after the RAF had defeated the Luftwaffe and defeat was no longer eminent, replaced Halifax with a close ally, Anthony Eden. Halifax was disposed of by being made ambassador to the United States, a deft political move.

Dunkirk

Dunkirk was a Channel port in northern France near the Belgian border. It was primarily a fishing port. The evacuation was conducted from the harbor and beaches near to Dunkirk. Dunkirk because of its relatively small harbor was not the port of choice to evacuate the BEF. The fast moving German Panzers, however, had taken or cut the BEF off from other ports. The Germans seized both Boulogne and Calais with their important ports. The BEF found itself in the position that Dunkirk was the wide beaches nearby as the only remaining coastal area still in Allied hands.

Operation Dynamo

Admiral Ramsey was put in charge of Operation Dynamo. Beginning on May 20 from his headquarters in Diver, Ramsey began gathering the needed shipping. Ramsey deployed 693 ships (39 Destroyers, 36 Minesweepers, 77 trawlers, 26 Yachts and a variety of other small craft). The actual number of vessels involved is a matter of some disagreement some authors used a slightly larger figure--850 vessels. [Sebag-Montefiore] They were not all British, Dutch, Belgian, and French ships were also involved.

Race to Dunkirk

About 400,000 British and French soldiers began to fall back on Dunkirk. As the BEF fell back they abandoned their equipment along the roads.

The Little Ships/Small Boats

Churchill ordered Admiral Ramsay at Dover to begin amassing small vessels 'in readiness to proceed to ports and inlets on the French coast' (May 20). A wide range of privately owned boats were mobilized for the evacuation. They included motor yachts, fishing boats (smacks and trawlers),cockle boats, lifeboats, paddle steamers, Thames barges, tugs, and many other types of craft. It was without doubt the oddest collection of shipping put together for a World War II operation. The "little ships", many actually boats, are a major part of what has come down as the legend of Dunkirk. Any thing that was serviceable enough to get across the Channel was employed. Many of these ships were commandeered and sailed by Royal Navy personnel. Many of the ships were manned by their owners and other civilians anxious to help the beleaguered BEF and avert disaster.

The Stakes

At this time the BEF was still within Hitler's grasp. It was not just the number of men that were at stake. The BEF was the professional core--the heart of the British Army. The men of the BEF would be the officers and NCOs of the British army that would eventually play an important role in defeating the Germans. The loss of the BEF would have crippled the British war effort if not forced the British to seek terms.

Britain Braces

Vice Admiral Ramsay was placed in charge of Operation Dynamo. He dispatched sent destroyers and transport ships to evacuate the men. Naval planners were not optimistic about what could achieved. They at first thought that only about 30,000 men could be safely brought back across the Channel. [Knowles] Churchill sites an estimate of 45,000 men. He warned the Commons that it "should prepare itself for hard and heavy tidings". [Churchill, Finest,1948, pp. 99-101.]

Dunkirk Defenses

Many popular accounts of Dunkirk focus on the small boats, undoubtedly an important part of the Dunkirk story. Their heroics, however, would have been for naught had the Dunkirk pocket not have held off the advancing Panzers to give the Royal Navy the tine needed to carry out the evacuation. The British soldiers who held back the Panzers were out-gunned and out-manned, but as one historian maintains, were "the true heroes of Dunkirk". [Sebag-Montefiore] Units defending the pocket were ordered to fight to the last man. And there were considerable casualties. The British suffered 25,000 casualties, killed or wounded. Another 41,000 Britons were captured or missing.

Panzers Halted

The Panzers were only a few miles south of Dunkirk and facing no serious opposition. Von Rundstedt/Hitler (historians differ) ordered the Panzers to halt. Some believe that Hitler hoped this gesture would help convince the British to comes to terms. Or that a BEF surronded in a pocket would be a strong bargaining tool, in essence a hostage. [Costello] Hitlernever considered a sea evacuation, in par because Göring assured him the Luftwaffe could control the air. Other believe that Von Rundstedt gave the order and Hitler meerly validated it. And that is was just as it was described at the time, a needed pause to regroup and prepare for a more coordinated assault. [Davidson, p. 408 and Fest, p. 630.] This is probably a question which vannot be answered with any surity. Hitler often gave oral orders. And at the time no one in OKW was going to bring up the matter. It would have been a career ender. What ever the reason, this 48-hour respite allowed the British to organize a defensive perimeter around Dunkirk and begin an almost miraculous evacuation. The Luftwaffe was the primary German force attempting to stop the evacuation. The Wehrmacht despite moving on Dunkirk never launched a full-scale attack. Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstadt, the German commander in France at the time, wrote after the War that Hitler's failure to smash the Dunkirk pocket was his first fatal mistake of the war. Rundstadt has to share some of the blame. The Germans after the War had a habit of blaming Hitler for everything that went wrong. He was in fact concerned over the aggressive tactics of Guderian's Panzers. Rommel's Division became known as the Ghost Division because Rundstadt often lost contact with it. Rundstadt wanted the Panzers to slow so the infantry could catch up. Hitler supported Rundstadt. Interestingly Hitler and Rundstadt 4 years later by deploying the Panzers away from the Normandy beachhead and restricting their commitment to the battle which played a major role in the success of the Normandy D-Day invasion (1944).

The Luftwaffe

The Luftwaffe had played a major role in the German victory in Poland and in the smashing the Dutch. Reich Marshall Göring was not a professional military man. He also had a tendency to boast. At this stage of the War, he had enormous prestige with Hitler. Both Hitler and Göring overestimated what could be accomplished with air power. Without consulting his generals, Göring offered to smash the Allied Dunkirk pocket. Hitler and Runstadt concerned that the Panzers were over extended, accepted Göring's offer to 'finish' the Dunkirk pocket from the air. Göring at this stage was at the height of his power. The Luftwaffe had performed brilliantly in both Poland and France. The Luftwaffe did inflict heavy losses on the British evacuation fleet, but it failed to prevent the evacuation. Looking at the long lines of men lined up on the beech, it is difficult to understand how the Luftwaffe could have failed. There were a number of reasons. One factor was that the sand on the beach had the impact of dampening the impact of high-explosive bombs. The men lined up, however, would have been vulnerable to strafing attacks if the Luftwaffe had gained air superiority over the beach. The major reason for the Luftwaffe's failure was the RAF, largely unheareled at the time.

The RAF

The BEF evacuees arriving back from Dunkirk complained bitterly that the RAF was absent from the beaches over Dunkirk. This is largely true, but highly misleading. It is true that the French Air Force played no role in the Dunkirk evacuation, but this is not true of the RAF. Hugh Dowding who commanded Fighter Command had convinced the War Cabinet not to refuse frantic French requests to commit further RAF fighter squadrons to the defense of France . He was already preparing for the Battle of Britain. To save the BEF, however, he was willing to commit Fighter Command for the first time in full strength. Dowding had two options. He could maintain a small force of fighters over the beach at all times. This would mean that the RAF force would be at all times a small force and outnumbered and under attack by the Luftwaffe. Or he could commit the RAF in force for shorter periods. He chose the later. It meant as a result of the RAF tactics and the weather, from the perspective of the men on the ground that there was no RAF air cover. There actually were major battles between the RAF and Luftwaffe, but they occurred away from the beaches out of site. The result was that large numbers of Luftwaffe fighters and bombers were kept off the beaches. If this had not occurred, it is difficult to see how the Royal Navy could have pulled off the evacuation. The RAF had not yet developed methods for accurately assessing German losses. Thus the initial accounting exaggerated German losses. Modern assessments still show an RAF victory. They are believed to have shot down 132 Luftwaffe planes. (Numbers vary somewhat in different accounts with some sources giving the Luftwaffe a slight edge.) This was accomplished with the loss off 99 RAF planes (including 42 spitfires). It was the first Allied victory in the air. More important than the loss of planes of course was that Luftwaffe air operations were disrupted.

Belgian Surrender (March 28)

Belgium remained strictly neutral, but was invaded by the Germans for a second time (May 10, 1940). The Germans struck at both the Netherlands and Belgium at the same time. It was the start of the long anticipated German offensive in the West. After a few months of the "Phony War", it was the turn of the Low Lands and France. The German initiated their long awaited western campaign on a wide front against the neutral Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The Luftwaffe played a key role in the German success in the west. King Leopold before the War had promoted the construction of important defensive fortifications from Antwerp to Namur in front of the German border. These defenses were quickly taken by the Germans. The British Expeditionary Force rushed north to assist the Dutch. This meant that they were not present in force to opposed the Germans when they broke through in the Ardennes. Leopold, with the bulk of the Belgian Army, was surrounded by the Germans, and capitulated (March 28). Leopold ordered his army to surrender and refused to flee with officials to form a government-in-exile in England. His actions were resented by some Belgians. His surrender at a crucial point in the battle for the low countries left a critical gap in the Allied ring around Dunkirk and could have made the evacuation impossible if the Germans had pressed their attack.

French First Army

The French First Army delayed the Germans.

Evacuation Begins

Admiral Ramsey activated Operation Dynamo (May 26). The evacuations were conducted from the Dunkirk port and its adjoining beaches. The and the first men from the BEF were brought home at night (May 26). The initial evacuations did not go well. Luftwaffe attacks sunk ships in the small harbor. The harbor was thus partially blocked by sunken ships. The Royal Navy had to shift to the surrounding beaches. The next day a call went out for small craft (May 27). The Navy found quite a number. Churchill writes, "... a great tide of small vessels began to flow towards the sea, first to our Channel ports, and thence to the beaches of Dunkirk and the beloved Army." [Churchill, Finest, 1948, p. 101.] Taking the men off the beaches was at first thought to be impossible because the water was so shallow. Here the fleet of little ships proved to be a God-send. The little ships with their shallow draft could go close enough in that the men could wade to them. They ferried the men off to the destroyers and other ships waiting offshore in deeper water. Some of the larger boats were able to taken men back across the Channel on their own.

French British Differences

The Dunkirk evacuation was a unilateral British decision. There were other options. The British and French troops in the Dunkirk pocket could have tried to breakout by attacking o the south. The surrender if the Belgian Army, however, probably made that impossible. The apparent preference the Royal Navy gave to British forces caused complaints by the French and some lingering resentment. Churchill insists that he was concerned from the beginning about embarking French as well as British troops. [Churchill, Memoirs, 1959, p. 278.] He reports this was because the administrative troops behind the front-line combat troops were mostly British. that French Admiral François Darlan agreed that the British troops should be given preference. Churchill flew to Paris and intervened at a meeting in Paris to order that the evacuation should proceed on equal terms and the British would form the rearguard (May 31). [Churchill, Memoirs, 1959, pp. 279-280.] Churchill writes, 'Bras dessus bras dessous." Marshall Pétain showed up at these meetings for the first time. As it turned out, the 35,000 men who finally surrendered to the Germans after protecting the evacuation were largely French French. Their desperate resistance allowed to extend the evacuation effort through June 4 and were the real heroes of Dunkirk.

Result

Nearly 340,000 men were evacuated from Dunkirk, including French and some Dutch soldiers. About 140,000 of the total were French troops. All heavy equipment was abandoned and left in France. This is even more important than it sounds as almost all of the British soldiers were regulars and would form the corps of the future British Army that would play such an important role in the War. The British War Cabinet had already decided to continue the War, but that would have been difficult without the Army. All of the BEF's equipment, however, was lost and there was no replacements for the lost equipment waiting for them back in England. Thus for several months the British had little to resist a German invasion beyond the RAF.

Individual Accounts

Among the small boats that came to the rescue of the BEF were a number of youths. Perhaps the youngest was Albert Barnes who was only 14 years old at the time. Albert had left school to take a job as a galley boy on the docking tugboat Sun XII. He reported for work one morning and without any advance warning was told the tug was headed to France towing two sailing barges loaded with ammunition and drinking-water. There was no time to tell his parents. When they arrived in Dunkirk, the evacuation was in full swing. Albert reported seeing "sunken vessels everywhere". He describes, "Bodies floating, bombs and shells going off. And the noise - it was absolutely horrific. Till then the loudest bangs I'd heard had been on Bonfire Night. .... We saw some pretty bad sights. .... Mr Barnes recalls the thousands of soldiers trapped on the beach. "And I remember the dead ones too because they were floating everywhere. .... I was very frightened, terrified in fact, because there were German dive-bombers all around us. Being rescue tugs we saw some pretty bad sights, especially seeing tankers go up. That's something I'll never forget - watching a tanker go from a ship to a mass of flames. I was very frightened, terrified in fact, because there were German dive-bombers all around us. But we just got on with the job." Two weeks later Albert returned home. "'Where the hell have you been?' his mother asked. He told ger, "I've been to France' because Dunkirk wasn't well known in those days. She looked amazed and said 'You've never been to Dunkirk?' and I said, 'Oh that's it, that's the place.' 'Oh my God' she said." [Lewis]

Churchill Addresses the Commons

The British papers treated Dunkirk was a victory. It was not victory, only a narrow escape. But perhaps the most important escape in history. Churchill spoke to the Commons a few days later stressing in no uncertain terms what was to come. "Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a minute believe, this island or a large part of it were subjected and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old." (June 4, 1940)

French Soldiers Evacuated

Some 140,000 French troops were evacuated along with the British t Dunkirk, about a third of the men evacuated. After they arrived in Britain they were moved by rail to Army camps scattered throughout southwestern England. Here they were temporarily billeted. We believed that the men were given the choice to remain in Britain and continue the war there, but we do not yet have details on this. Almost all of the French soldiers chose to be repatriated. British ships ferried those French troops choosing to return to France to Brest, Cherbourg, and other ports in Normandy and Brittany still in French hands. The French only deployed about half of the repatriated men against the advancing Germans before they surrendered to the Germans (June 22). Thus the Dunkirk evacuation for the French only delayed becoming POWs by three weeks. Dunkirt did not prove to be a salvation, but represented only a few weeks' delay before being made POWs by the German army after their return in France. [Mordal, p. 496.] Only about 3,000 French troops chose to stay in Britain and continue the War. [Nadeau and Barlow, p. 89.] It is not clear, however, how well they understood that the French Government was about to surrender to the Germans or what instructions they were given by their commanders. Despite this very large influx of French troops, DeGualle at the end of the year was still a very lonely figure with only about 7,000 men joining with him. The French shocked by defeat generally turned Marshall Pétain and his Vichy regime.

Mistreatment and Atrocities

About six out of every seven men in the Dunkirk pocket were successfully evacuated. The rest became POWs. Most of these men had to endure forced marches into the Reich. The men after the War reported brutal treatment by their guards. This was overseen by the Wehrmacht, not the SS. There were reports of beatings, starvation, and even executions. The German campaign in the West, with the exception of Luftwaffe terror bombing and strafing of refugees, is generally depicted as observing the rules of war. One author notes that the Germans in the Dunkirk campaign massacred prisoners. [Sebag-Montefiore] The British POWs reported after the War that the French POWs were given preferential treatment. [Longden, p. 367.] The British even complained that the German guards kicked over buckets of water that had been left at the roadside by Belgian civilians. [Longden, p. 361.] Many of the POWs were marched to the town of Trier, across the Moselle from Luxembourg. For many it was a march of 20 days. Some were marched to the river Scheldt and then sent on by barge to the Ruhr. The POWs were then transported rail to POW camps scattered throughout the Reich. Most of the enlisted me under the rank of corporal were forced to worked in German war industry and agriculture in violation of the Geneva Convention.

Importance

Dunkirk was central to the Allied World War II victory and even more so to the survival of Western Democracy after the War. The BEF was essentially the British Army. Without the BEF back in England, even the heroics of the RAF might not have been sufficient to save Britain. And it was the BEF that would serve as the experienced skeleton of the British Army that would invade France with the Americans and drive east into the Reich. Without the BEF, even if Britain managed to survive, and that is a big if, Britain would have had to build a new army largely with inexperienced new recruits. The British gradually became a junior ally as America steadily expanded its army. But it was a very important and experienced junior partner. British experience and support was key to the Allied victory in North Africa. Had it not been for the British, America might have attempted an invasion in 1943 which almost certainly would have either failed or have been enormously costly. American commanders came to criticize the British, in part because of ill-will generated by Montgomery. And it is probably true that the British were more cautious than the Americans. Here military historians discuss and debate this in great detail, but the British Army created around the survivors of the BEF was key to the Allied effort in the difficult period before D-Day and before the American Army became an experienced, battle hardened force. And without the BEF and Britain's survival, America would have found it difficult if not impossible to even attempt to reenter the Continent. That would have meant that World War II would have left all of Europe in the hands of either Hitler or Stalin--an outcome that is too frightening to even contemplate.

Unsung Heros

There were coutless heros whose sacrifice made the Dunkirk evacuatiin possible. Normally the cedit goes to the Royal Navy and the small ships. And they certainly deserve accolades for all that they accomplished. In fact, however, the success was much more of a mixed arms and Allied effort than is commonly reported. Surely the steadfast and disciplined performance of the BEF under enormous German pressure was critical to the evacuation. The RAF was criticised by many of th men on the beaches for being absent. In fact, RAF Fighter Command played a major role in breaking up attacking Luftwaffe formations, preventung them from getting through to the beaches. The RAF did most of this out of sight of the men exposed on the beaches who only saw the German planes that bombed and straffed them after getting through the RAF patrols. The RAF took substanial losses in this effort. The RAF lost 145 aircraft, includung more than 40 Spitfires. This was of great concern to Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, commanding Fighter Command and already preparing for the Luftwaffe assault to come. The performance of the outnumbered and out-gunned French First Army played a major role in slowing down the German advance on Dunkirk. And almost absent from Dnkirk accounts is the performance of the French Navy. The Royal Navy and Fench navies both went in close to protect the men on the beach and and take on men. The Royal Navy lost six destroyers and the smaller French Navy three destroyers (Bourrasque, Sirocco,and Le Foudroyant).

Sources

Churchill, Winston. Their Finest Hour (Houghton Mifflin: Boton, 1948), 751p. This is of course Churchill's memoirs on World War II. Churchill summarized the book as "How the British people held the fort ALONE till those who hitherto had been half blind were half ready."

Churchill, Winston S. Memoirs of the Second World War (Bonanza Books: New York, 1978), 1065p. This is the abrudged compendium of his World war II books,

Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.

Dunkirk, John. Ten Days to Destiny.

Fest, Joachim C. Hitler (Vintage Books: New York, 1974), 844p.

Knowles, David J. Escape From Catastrophe, 1940 Dunkirk.

Lewis, Nigel. "One boy's terrifying mission," BBC News, May 27, 2000.

Longden, Sean. Dunkirk: The Men They Left Behind (London: Constable and Robinson, 2009.)

Mordal, Jacques. Dunkerque (Paris: Editions France Empire, 1968).

Nadeau, Jean-Benoît and Julie Barlow. Sixty million Frenchmen can't be wrong: why we love France but not the French (Sourcebooks, Inc.: 2003).

Sebag-Montefiore, Hugh. Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man (Harvard, 2006). This is a vey British account of Dunkirk focusing on the British fighting to maintain the Dunkirk pocket.







CIH -- WW II







Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main World War II campaign page--first phase]
[Return to Main World War II campaign page]
[About Us]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]





Created: 1:23 PM 7/19/2004
Spell checked: 1:39 AM 10/18/2012
Last updated: 2:42 AM 8/29/2017