What happened to the French soldiers evacuated at Dunkirk and elsewhere in 1940?

What happened to the French soldiers evacuated at Dunkirk and elsewhere in 1940?


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How many of them fought on in the Free French Forces and how many of them simply repatriated back to France?


Most of them were shipped back to France within the week. The Battle of France was not quite over and the Dunkirk evacuees were still French military.

Most French evacuees from Dunkirk had elected to be returned to the fight; the British troops had gone home to be re-equipped.

- Williams, Andrew. France, Britain and the United States in the Twentieth Century 1900-1940: A Reappraisal. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

If there is little awareness of the great numbers of French extracted from Dunkirk, there is even less that most were back in their own country in under a week.

- Alexander, Martin. "Dunkirk in Military Operations, Myths and Memories." Britain and France in Two World Wars: Truth, Myth and Memory. Ed. Robert Tombs and Emile Chabal. A&C Black, 2013.

In hindsight, this was a massive potential loss for the incipient Free France.


More than 100,000 evacuated French troops were moved to camps in various parts of south-western England, where they were temporarily lodged before being repatriated. British ships ferried French troops to Brest, Cherbourg, and other ports in Normandy and Brittany, although only about half of the repatriated troops were deployed against the Germans before the surrender of France. For many French soldiers, the Dunkirk evacuation represented only a few weeks' delay before being killed or captured by the German army after their return to France. Of the French soldiers evacuated from France in June 1940, about 3,000 joined Charles de Gaulle's Free French army in Britain. At least one ship repatriating the French soldiers to France was sunk by the Germans, with great loss of life.


The miracle of Dunkirk

Even before the Belgian capitulation, the British government had decided to launch Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the BEF by sea from Dunkirk. The admiralty had been collecting every kind of small craft to help in bringing away the troops, and the retreat to the coast now became a race to re-embark before the German pincers closed. Adm. Bertram Ramsay had overall command of the operation, and he tasked Capt. William Tennant with tactical oversight of the evacuation. Tennant, who was designated “beachmaster,” arrived at Dunkirk on May 27 to discover that Luftwaffe raids had knocked out the port facilities. Quickly determining that lifting troops directly from the beaches would be too time-consuming, he turned his attention to the breakwaters at the harbour entrance. The western breakwater proved to be unsuitable for his purposes, but the eastern breakwater was some 1,400 yards (1.3 km) long, topped with a wooden boardwalk, and wide enough for a column of troops to traverse it four abreast. Tennant directed the bulk of the evacuation efforts to the eastern breakwater, and some 200,000 troops were able to use it as an ersatz dock to board rescue ships. The remaining Allied forces had to be taken directly off the beaches, making the evacuation a slow and difficult process, extending from May 26 to June 4. At 10:50 pm on June 2, Tennant radioed Ramsay at Operation Dynamo’s Dover command post with the triumphant messsage “BEF evacuated.” Tennant and British I Corps commander Gen. Harold Alexander then toured the beach and harbour area in a motor launch, calling out with a megaphone to ensure that no BEF evacuees had been missed. In the end about 198,000 British troops were taken away, as well as 140,000 Allied troops, mainly French, though most of the equipment had to be left behind.

Reporting for the 1941 Britannica Book of the Year, retired U.S. Army officer George Fielding Eliot wrote,

No purely military study of the major aspects of the war could do justice to the skill and the heroism of the evacuation from Dunkirk. Suffice it to say only that, when it began, members of the British imperial general staff doubted that 25% of the B.E.F. could be saved. When it was completed, some 330,000 French and British troops, together with some Belgian and Dutch forces who refused to surrender, had reached haven in England.

…One of the most motley fleets of history—ships, transports, merchantmen, fishing boats, pleasure craft—took men off from the very few ports left, from the open beaches themselves, for German air attacks had virtually destroyed most port facilities.

The royal air force, including planes from the metropolitan force in England, met and asserted at least temporary air superiority over the tremendous German air forces, and the royal navy, with daring and precision, assisted by courageous French naval craft, stood close in shore and not only covered the evacuation, but took off thousands of men in overloaded destroyers and other small craft.

The evacuation could not have been achieved but for the air cover provided by fighter aircraft from the English coast, the indomitable efforts of the seacraft, and the good discipline of the troops. It was Adolf Hitler, however, who did most to make their escape possible. German panzer groups had reached and crossed the canal defense line close to Dunkirk as early as May 23, when the bulk of the BEF was still far distant from the port, but they were stopped by Hitler’s order on May 24 and actually pulled back to the canal line just as Guderian was expecting to drive into Dunkirk.

That “miraculous” intervention, which brought salvation to the British, was prompted by several factors. German Generals Kleist and Günther von Kluge contributed to it by expressing anxiety about the British tank counterattack at Arras and by overestimating its scale. Gen. Gerd von Rundstedt contributed by impressing on Hitler the need to conserve the armoured divisions for the next stage of the offensive. Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring contributed by insisting that his air forces could deliver the coup de grace at Dunkirk and prevent any escape by sea. Hitler himself was greatly influenced by his memories of marshy Flanders in World War I and thus became needlessly fearful of his tanks becoming bogged if they drove any farther north. Some of his generals who talked with him, however, felt that his halt order was also the result of a belief that Great Britain would be more willing to make peace if its pride was not wounded by seeing its army surrender.

Three days passed before Walther von Brauchitsch, the German army’s commander in chief, persuaded Hitler to withdraw his veto and to allow the armoured forces to advance. They now met stronger opposition, however, and almost immediately Hitler stopped them again, ordering them to move south in advance of attack on the Somme-Aisne line. Reichenau’s army followed, leaving Gen. Georg von Küchler’s Eighteenth Army to pacify the north, where more than 1,000,000 prisoners had been taken in the three weeks’ campaign, at a cost of 60,000 German casualties.


What happened at the Battle of Dunkirk?

Dunkirk evacuation, (1940) in World War II, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and other Allied troops from the French seaport of Dunkirk (Dunkerque) to England. When it ended on June 4, about 198,000 British and 140,000 French and Belgian troops had been saved.

One may also ask, what happened after the Battle of Dunkirk? France Surrenders From the day of the German invasion on May 10 through the evacuation of Dunkirk, France had lost 24 infantry divisions, including six of seven motorized divisions. The British had withdrawn all but two divisions south of Dunkirk, and the Belgian Army had surrendered.

In this way, who won the battle of Dunkirk?

The BEF lost 68,000 soldiers (dead, wounded, missing, or captured) from 10 May until the armistice with France on 22 June. 3,500 British were killed and 13,053 wounded. All the heavy equipment had to be abandoned.


Aftermath

The Dunkirk evacuation was not less than a miracle for the Allied forces. The British press presented the evacuation as a ‘disaster turned into triumph’. A total of 338,226 troops landed from Dunkirk.

But it could not hide the fact that the British had suffered a terrible defeat the BEF had been saved but had to leave behind all the artillery, tanks, equipment, heavy machinery, and transport.

And we cannot ignore the fact that 50,000 British soldiers were unable to escape of which 11,000 were killed and the rest were made prisoners of the war.

The Germans marched into Paris on 14 th June and France surrendered 8 days later. 100,000 French troops evacuated from Dunkirk and were shuttled in various parts of South England and were temporarily lodged before being repatriated.

On 5 th June 1940, Hitler stated ‘Dunkirk has fallen, 40,000 French and English troops are all that remains of the formerly great armies. Immeasurable qualities of material have been captured. The greatest battle in the history of the world has come to an end’.


Contents

In September 1939, after Nazi Germany invaded Poland, the United Kingdom sent the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to aid in the defence of France, landing at Cherbourg, Nantes, and Saint-Nazaire. By May 1940 the force consisted of ten divisions in three corps under the command of General John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort. [10] [11] Working with the BEF were the Belgian Army and the French First, Seventh, and Ninth Armies. [12]

During the 1930s, the French had constructed the Maginot Line, a series of fortifications along their border with Germany. This line had been designed to deter a German invasion across the Franco-German border and funnel an attack into Belgium, which could then be met by the best divisions of the French Army. Thus, any future war would take place outside of French territory, avoiding a repeat of the First World War. [13] [14] The area immediately to the north of the Maginot Line was covered by the heavily wooded Ardennes region, [15] which French General Philippe Pétain declared to be "impenetrable" as long as "special provisions" were taken. He believed that any enemy force emerging from the forest would be vulnerable to a pincer attack and destroyed. The French commander-in-chief, Maurice Gamelin, also believed the area to be of a limited threat, noting that it "never favoured large operations". [16] With this in mind, the area was left lightly defended. [13]

The initial plan for the German invasion of France called for an encirclement attack through the Netherlands and Belgium, avoiding the Maginot Line. [17] Erich von Manstein, then Chief of Staff of the German Army Group A, prepared the outline of a different plan and submitted it to the OKH (German High Command) via his superior, Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt. [18] [19] Manstein's plan suggested that panzer divisions should attack through the Ardennes, then establish bridgeheads on the Meuse River and rapidly drive to the English Channel. The Germans would thus cut off the Allied armies in Belgium. This part of the plan later became known as the Sichelschnitt ("sickle cut"). [19] [20] Adolf Hitler approved a modified version of Manstein's ideas, today known as the Manstein Plan, after meeting with him on 17 February. [21]

On 10 May, Germany invaded Belgium and the Netherlands. [22] Army Group B, under Generaloberst Fedor von Bock, attacked into Belgium, while the three panzer corps of Army Group A under Rundstedt swung around to the south and drove for the Channel. [23] The BEF advanced from the Belgian border to positions along the River Dyle within Belgium, where they fought elements of Army Group B starting on 10 May. [24] [25] They were ordered to begin a fighting withdrawal to the Scheldt River on 14 May when the Belgian and French positions on their flanks failed to hold. [26] During a visit to Paris on 17 May, Prime Minister Winston Churchill was astonished to learn from Gamelin that the French had committed all their troops to the ongoing engagements and had no strategic reserves. [27] On 19 May, Gort met with French General Gaston Billotte, commander of the French First Army and overall coordinator of the Allied forces. Billotte revealed that the French had no troops between the Germans and the sea. Gort immediately saw that evacuation across the Channel was the best course of action, and began planning a withdrawal to Dunkirk, the closest location with good port facilities. [28] Surrounded by marshes, Dunkirk boasted old fortifications and the longest sand beach in Europe, where large groups could assemble. [29] On 20 May, on Churchill's suggestion, the Admiralty began arranging for all available small vessels to be made ready to proceed to France. [30] After continued engagements and a failed Allied attempt on 21 May at Arras to cut through the German spearhead, [31] the BEF was trapped, along with the remains of the Belgian forces and the three French armies, in an area along the coast of northern France and Belgium. [32] [33]

Without informing the French, the British began planning on 20 May for Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the BEF. [29] [30] This planning was headed by Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay at the naval headquarters below Dover Castle, from which he briefed Churchill as it was under way. [34] Ships began gathering at Dover for the evacuation. [35] On 20 May, the BEF sent Brigadier Gerald Whitfield to Dunkirk to start evacuating unnecessary personnel. Overwhelmed by what he later described as "a somewhat alarming movement towards Dunkirk by both officers and men", due to a shortage of food and water, he had to send many along without thoroughly checking their credentials. Even officers ordered to stay behind to aid the evacuation disappeared onto the boats. [36]

On 22 May, Churchill ordered the BEF to attack southward in coordination with the French First Army under General Georges Blanchard to reconnect with the remainder of the French forces. [37] This proposed action was dubbed the Weygand Plan after General Maxime Weygand, appointed Supreme Commander after Gamelin's dismissal on 18 May. [38] On 25 May, Gort had to abandon any hope of achieving this objective and withdrew on his own initiative, along with Blanchard's forces, behind the Lys Canal, part of a canal system that reached the sea at Gravelines. [39] Sluice gates had already been opened all along the canal to flood the system and create a barrier (the Canal Line) against the German advance. [40]

Battle of Dunkirk Edit

By 24 May, the Germans had captured the port of Boulogne and surrounded Calais. [32] The engineers of the 2nd Panzer Division under Generalmajor Rudolf Veiel built five bridges over the Canal Line and only one British battalion barred the way to Dunkirk. [42] On 23 May, at the suggestion of Fourth Army commander Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge, Rundstedt had ordered the panzer units to halt, concerned about the vulnerability of his flanks and the question of supply to his forward troops. [43] [44] [45] [46] He was also concerned that the marshy ground around Dunkirk would prove unsuitable for tanks and he wished to conserve them for later operations (in some units, tank losses were 30–50 per cent). [47] [48] Hitler was also apprehensive, and on a visit to Army Group A headquarters on 24 May, he endorsed the order. [47] [46]

Air Marshal Hermann Göring urged Hitler to let the Luftwaffe (aided by Army Group B [49] ) finish off the British, to the consternation of General Franz Halder, who noted in his diary that the Luftwaffe was dependent upon the weather and aircrews were worn out after two weeks of battle. [50] Rundstedt issued another order, which was sent uncoded. It was picked up by the Royal Air Force (RAF) Y service intelligence network at 12:42: "By order of the Fuhrer . attack north-west of Arras is to be limited to the general line Lens–Bethune–Aire–St Omer–Gravelines. The Canal will not be crossed." [51] [52] Later that day, Hitler issued Directive 13, which called for the Luftwaffe to defeat the trapped Allied forces and stop their escape. [53] At 15:30 on 26 May, Hitler ordered the panzer groups to continue their advance, but most units took another 16 hours to attack. [54] The delay gave the Allies time to prepare defences vital for the evacuation and prevented the Germans from stopping the Allied retreat from Lille. [55]

The halt order has been the subject of much discussion by historians. [56] [57] Guderian considered the failure to order a timely assault on Dunkirk to be one of the major German mistakes on the Western Front. [58] Rundstedt called it "one of the great turning points of the war", [59] and Manstein described it as "one of Hitler's most critical mistakes". [60] B. H. Liddell Hart interviewed many of the generals after the war and put together a picture of Hitler's strategic thinking on the matter. Hitler believed that once Britain's troops left continental Europe, they would never return. [61] [ page needed ]

26–27 May Edit

The retreat was undertaken amid chaotic conditions, with abandoned vehicles blocking the roads and a flood of refugees heading in the opposite direction. [62] [63] Due to wartime censorship and the desire to keep up British morale, the full extent of the unfolding disaster at Dunkirk was not initially publicised. A special service attended by King George VI was held in Westminster Abbey on 26 May, which was declared a national day of prayer. [64] [65] The Archbishop of Canterbury led prayers "for our soldiers in dire peril in France". Similar prayers were offered in synagogues and churches throughout the UK that day, confirming to the public their suspicion of the desperate plight of the troops. [66] Just before 19:00 on 26 May, Churchill ordered Dynamo to begin, by which time 28,000 men had already departed. [29] Initial plans called for the recovery of 45,000 men from the BEF within two days, at which time German troops were expected to block further evacuation. Only 25,000 men escaped during this period, including 7,669 on the first day. [67] [68]

On 27 May, the first full day of the evacuation, one cruiser, eight destroyers, and 26 other craft were active. [69] Admiralty officers combed nearby boatyards for small craft that could ferry personnel from the beaches out to larger craft in the harbour, as well as larger vessels that could load from the docks. An emergency call was put out for additional help, and by 31 May nearly four hundred small craft were voluntarily and enthusiastically taking part in the effort. [70]

The same day, the Luftwaffe heavily bombed Dunkirk, both the town and the dock installations. As the water supply was knocked out, the resulting fires could not be extinguished. [71] An estimated thousand civilians were killed, one-third of the remaining population of the town. [72] RAF squadrons were ordered to provide air supremacy for the Royal Navy during evacuation. Their efforts shifted to covering Dunkirk and the English Channel, protecting the evacuation fleet. [73] The Luftwaffe was met by 16 squadrons of the RAF, who claimed 38 kills on 27 May while losing 14 aircraft. [71] [74] Many more RAF fighters sustained damage and were subsequently written off. On the German side, Kampfgeschwader 2 (KG 2) and KG 3 suffered the heaviest casualties. German losses amounted to 23 Dornier Do 17s. KG 1 and KG 4 bombed the beach and harbour and KG 54 sank the 8,000-ton steamer Aden. Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers sank the troopship Cote d' Azur. The Luftwaffe engaged with 300 bombers which were protected by 550 fighter sorties and attacked Dunkirk in twelve raids. They dropped 15,000 high explosive and 30,000 incendiary bombs, destroying the oil tanks and wrecking the harbour. [75] No. 11 Group RAF flew 22 patrols with 287 aircraft this day, in formations of up to 20 aircraft. [76]

Altogether, over 3,500 sorties were flown in support of Operation Dynamo. [74] The RAF continued to inflict a heavy toll on the German bombers throughout the week. Soldiers being bombed and strafed while awaiting transport were for the most part unaware of the efforts of the RAF to protect them, as most of the dogfights took place far from the beaches. As a result, many British soldiers bitterly accused the airmen of doing nothing to help, reportedly leading to some army troops accosting and insulting RAF personnel once they returned to England. [41]

On 25 and 26 May, the Luftwaffe focused their attention on Allied pockets holding out at Calais, Lille, and Amiens, and did not attack Dunkirk. [72] Calais, held by the BEF, surrendered on 26 May. [77] Remnants of the French First Army, surrounded at Lille, fought off seven German divisions, several of them armoured, until 31 May, when the remaining 35,000 soldiers were forced to surrender after running out of food and ammunition. [78] [79] The Germans accorded the honours of war to the defenders of Lille in recognition of their bravery. [80]

28 May – 4 June Edit

The Belgian Army surrendered on 28 May, [81] leaving a large gap to the east of Dunkirk. Several British divisions were rushed in to cover that side. [82] The Luftwaffe flew fewer sorties over Dunkirk on 28 May, switching their attention to the Belgian ports of Ostend and Nieuwpoort. The weather over Dunkirk was not conducive to dive or low-level bombing. The RAF flew 11 patrols and 321 sorties, claiming 23 destroyed for the loss of 13 aircraft. [76] On 28 May, 17,804 soldiers arrived at British ports. [68]

On 29 May, 47,310 British troops were rescued [68] as the Luftwaffe ' s Ju 87s exacted a heavy toll on shipping. The British destroyer HMS Grenade was sunk and the French destroyer Mistral was crippled, while her sister ships, each laden with 500 men, were damaged by near misses. British destroyers Jaguar and Verity were badly damaged but escaped the harbour. Two trawlers disintegrated in the attack. Later, the passenger steamer SS Fenella sank with 600 men aboard at the pier but the men were able to get off. The paddle steamer HMS Crested Eagle suffered a direct hit, caught fire, and sank with severe casualties. The raiders also destroyed the two rail-owned ships, the SS Lorina and the SS Normannia. [83] Of the five major German attacks, just two were contested by RAF fighters the British lost 16 fighters in nine patrols. German losses amounted to 11 Ju 87s destroyed or damaged. [84]

On 30 May, Churchill received word that all British divisions were now behind the defensive lines, along with more than half of the French First Army. [78] By this time, the perimeter ran along a series of canals about 7 miles (11 km) from the coast, in marshy country not suitable for tanks. [85] With the docks in the harbour rendered unusable by German air attacks, senior naval officer Captain (later Admiral) William Tennant initially ordered men to be evacuated from the beaches. When this proved too slow, he re-routed the evacuees to two long stone and concrete breakwaters, called the east and west moles, as well as the beaches. The moles were not designed to dock ships, but despite this, the majority of troops rescued from Dunkirk were taken off this way. [86] Almost 200,000 troops embarked on ships from the east mole (which stretched nearly a mile out to sea) over the next week. [87] [88] James Campbell Clouston, pier master on the east mole, organised and regulated the flow of men along the mole into the waiting ships. [89] Once more, low clouds kept Luftwaffe activity to a minimum. Nine RAF patrols were mounted, with no German formation encountered. [90] The following day, the Luftwaffe sank one transport and damaged 12 others for 17 losses the British claimed 38 kills, which is disputed. The RAF and Fleet Air Arm lost 28 aircraft. [90]

Of the total 338,226 soldiers, several hundred were unarmed Indian mule handlers on detachment from the Royal Indian Army Service Corps, forming four of the six units of Force K-6 transport. Cypriot muleteers were also present. Three units were successfully evacuated and one captured. [91] [92] [93] Also present at Dunkirk were a small number of French Senegalese soldiers and Moroccans. [2] [94]

The next day, an additional 53,823 men were embarked, [9] including the first French soldiers. [95] Lord Gort and 68,014 men were evacuated on 31 May, [96] leaving Major-General Harold Alexander in command of the rearguard. [97] A further 64,429 Allied soldiers departed on 1 June, [68] before the increasing air attacks prevented further daylight evacuation. [98] The British rearguard of 4,000 men left on the night of 2–3 June. [99] An additional 75,000 French troops were retrieved over the nights of 2–4 June, [68] [100] before the operation finally ended. The remainder of the rearguard, 40,000 French troops, surrendered on 4 June. [99] Churchill made a point of stating in his "We shall fight on the beaches" address in the House on 4 June that the evacuation had been made possible through the efforts of the RAF. [41]

Evacuation routes Edit

Three routes were allocated to the evacuating vessels. The shortest was Route Z, a distance of 39 nautical miles (72 km), but it entailed hugging the French coast and thus ships using it were subject to bombardment from on-shore batteries, particularly in daylight hours. [101] [102] Route X, although the safest from shore batteries, travelled through a particularly heavily mined portion of the Channel. Ships on this route travelled 55 nautical miles (102 km) north out of Dunkirk, proceeded through the Ruytingen Pass, [103] and headed towards the North Goodwin Lightship before heading south around the Goodwin Sands to Dover. [101] [102] The route was safest from surface attacks, but the nearby minefields and sandbanks meant it could not be used at night. [104] The longest of the three was Route Y, a distance of 87 nautical miles (161 km) using this route increased the sailing time to four hours, double the time required for Route Z. This route followed the French coast as far as Bray-Dunes, then turned north-east until reaching the Kwinte Buoy. [105] Here, after making an approximately 135-degree turn, the ships sailed west to the North Goodwin Lightship and headed south around the Goodwin Sands to Dover. [101] [102] Ships on Route Y were the most likely to be attacked by German surface vessels, submarines, and the Luftwaffe. [106]

You knew this was the chance to get home and you kept praying, please God, let us go, get us out, get us out of this mess back to England. To see that ship that came in to pick me and my brother up, it was a most fantastic sight. We saw dog fights up in the air, hoping nothing would happen to us and we saw one or two terrible sights. Then somebody said, there's Dover, that was when we saw the White Cliffs, the atmosphere was terrific. From hell to heaven was how the feeling was, you felt like a miracle had happened.

Ships Edit

The Royal Navy provided the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Calcutta, 39 destroyers, and many other craft. The Merchant Navy supplied passenger ferries, hospital ships, and other vessels. Britain's Belgian, Dutch, Canadian, [4] Polish, [108] and French allies provided vessels as well. Admiral Ramsay arranged for around a thousand copies to be made of the required charts, had buoys laid around the Goodwin Sands and down to Dunkirk, and organised the flow of shipping. [104] Larger ships such as destroyers were able to carry about 900 men per trip. The soldiers mostly travelled on the upper decks for fear of being trapped below if the ship sank. [109] After the loss on 29 May of 19 British and French navy ships plus three of the larger requisitioned vessels, the Admiralty withdrew their eight best destroyers for the future defence of the country. [110]

Little ships Edit

A wide variety of small vessels from all over the south of England were pressed into service to aid in the Dunkirk evacuation. They included speedboats, Thames vessels, car ferries, pleasure craft, and many other types of small craft. [112] The most useful proved to be the motor lifeboats, which had a reasonably good capacity and speed. [112] Some boats were requisitioned without the owner's knowledge or consent. Agents of the Ministry of Shipping, accompanied by a naval officer, scoured the Thames for likely vessels, had them checked for seaworthiness, and took them downriver to Sheerness, where naval crews were to be placed aboard. Due to shortages of personnel, many small craft crossed the Channel with civilian crews. [113]

The first of the "little ships" arrived at Dunkirk on 28 May. [109] The wide sand beaches meant that large vessels could not get anywhere near the shore, and even small craft had to stop about 100 yards (91 m) from the waterline and wait for the soldiers to wade out. [114] In many cases, personnel would abandon their boat upon reaching a larger ship, and subsequent evacuees had to wait for boats to drift ashore with the tide before they could make use of them. [115] In most areas on the beaches, soldiers queued up with their units and patiently awaited their turn to leave. But at times, panicky soldiers had to be warned off at gunpoint when they attempted to rush to the boats out of turn. [116] In addition to ferrying out on boats, soldiers at De Panne and Bray-Dunes constructed improvised jetties by driving rows of abandoned vehicles onto the beach at low tide, anchoring them with sandbags, and connecting them with wooden walkways. [117]

Analysis Edit

Troops landed from Dunkirk
27 May – 4 June [68]
Date Beaches Harbour Total
27 May 7,669 7,669
28 May 5,930 11,874 17,804
29 May 13,752 33,558 47,310
30 May 29,512 24,311 53,823
31 May 22,942 45,072 68,014
1 June 17,348 47,081 64,429
2 June 6,695 19,561 26,256
3 June 1,870 24,876 26,746
4 June 622 25,553 26,175
Totals 98,671 239,555 338,226

Before the operation was completed, the prognosis had been gloomy, with Churchill warning the House of Commons on 28 May to expect "hard and heavy tidings". [118] Subsequently, Churchill referred to the outcome as a miracle, and the British press presented the evacuation as a "disaster turned to triumph" so successfully that Churchill had to remind the country in a speech to the House of Commons on 4 June that "we must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations." [9] Andrew Roberts comments that the confusion over the Dunkirk evacuation is illustrated by two of the best books on it being called Strange Defeat and Strange Victory. [119]

Three British divisions and a host of logistics and labour troops were cut off to the south of the Somme by the German "race to the sea". At the end of May, a further two divisions began deploying to France with the hope of establishing a Second BEF. The majority of the 51st (Highland) Division was forced to surrender on 12 June, but almost 192,000 Allied personnel, 144,000 of them British, were evacuated through various French ports from 15 to 25 June under the codename Operation Ariel. [120] Remaining British forces under the Tenth Army as Norman Force retreated towards Cherbourg. [121] The Germans marched into Paris on 14 June and France surrendered eight days later. [122]

The more than 100,000 French troops evacuated from Dunkirk were quickly and efficiently shuttled to camps in various parts of south-western England, where they were temporarily lodged before being repatriated. [123] British ships ferried French troops to Brest, Cherbourg, and other ports in Normandy and Brittany, although only about half of the repatriated troops were redeployed against the Germans before the surrender of France. For many French soldiers, the Dunkirk evacuation represented only a few weeks' delay before being killed or captured by the German army after their return to France. [124] Of the French soldiers evacuated from France in June 1940, about 3,000 joined Charles de Gaulle's Free French army in Britain. [125]

In France, the unilateral British decision to evacuate through Dunkirk rather than counter-attack to the south, and the perceived preference of the Royal Navy for evacuating British forces at the expense of the French, led to some bitter resentment. According to Churchill, French Admiral François Darlan originally ordered that the British forces should receive preference, but on 31 May, he intervened at a meeting in Paris to order that the evacuation should proceed on equal terms and that the British would form the rearguard. [126] In fact, the 35,000 men who finally surrendered after covering the final evacuations were mostly French soldiers of the 2nd Light Mechanized and the 68th Infantry Divisions. [127] [128] Their resistance allowed the evacuation effort to be extended to 4 June, on which date another 26,175 Frenchmen were transported to England. [68]

The evacuation was presented to the German public as an overwhelming and decisive German victory. On 5 June 1940, Hitler stated, "Dunkirk has fallen! 40,000 French and English troops are all that remains of the formerly great armies. Immeasurable quantities of materiel have been captured. The greatest battle in the history of the world has come to an end." [a] [129] Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (the German armed forces high command) announced the event as "the greatest annihilation battle of all time". [130]


What Really Happened at Dunkirk? What the Movie Missed

A quarter-million troops of the British Expeditionary Force, together with about 140,000 French and Belgian soldiers, were safely evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk, France between May 26 and June 4, 1940, in one of the largest successful maritime evacuations of trapped armies in military history.

Most other marooned armies would likely have surrendered or been slaughtered on the beach by the seasoned German Panzers.

The amazingly successful withdrawal allowed Britain to remain actively in the war, and gave inspiration for another quarter-million trapped British and French soldiers to escape across the Channel in the next three weeks.

Churchill, in the Periclean fashion of mixing encouragement with realist caution, reminded the beleaguered British people that such defiance presaged successful British resistance to Hitler&mdashwhile also reminding them that victory is never won through retreats.

There is much to be said for the current blockbuster movie Dunkirk , directed by Christopher Nolan. The cinematography of battle is excellent. The themes of confusion, paradox, irony, and unintended consequences in war are well captured through the mostly visual daylong odyssey of "Tommy" (Fionn Whitehead).

In near continual silence (dialogue is scant in Dunkirk ), Tommy seems to escape one disaster only to fall into another, in his Odysseus-like effort to get across the water to home.

The movie also presents well the tripartite nature of the British&mdashand French&mdashresistance at Dunkirk, especially the deadly fighting above the sea between British Spitfires and German Bf109 fighters, Stuka dive bombers, and Heinkel He 111 medium bombers that so shocked the Germans, who had assumed that supposedly inferior British pilots and planes (with their fuel worries) would ensure the Luftwaffe rapid air supremacy.

There is an eerie slaughter on and below the ocean, as Royal Navy warships and British civilian craft struggle to save tens of thousands of British and French soldiers before they are blown apart by German subs and bombers.

The frenzy on the beaches, contrasted with the stiff-upper-lip cool of the British officer corps, is moving, even as the German ground troops around Dunkirk&mdashwho are almost never seen or heard on the ground and appear wraith-like in the film&mdashslowly squeeze the beaten British Expeditionary Force into the last few acres of sanctuary.

In general, any time Western cinema offers up history&mdashas opposed to suburban psychodramas, space yarns, zombies, comic book heroes, car crashes, or evil corporate conspiracies&mdashwe should applaud.

The heroism of the British rescue fleet, the professionalism and courage of the RAF pilots, and the defiant defeated on the beaches of Dunkirk resonate through the entire film. It is a fine and fitting thing for popular culture to remember a courageous past at a time when millions of residents and citizens in the West&mdashin the United Kingdom and the United States in particular&mdasheither are ignorant of their own history or deprecate it as a melodrama of oppressive "isms" and "ologies".

Watching Dunkirk should also remind contemporary Western critics that the triumph of Nazi Germany and its eventual Axis partners would have aborted the freedom, material bounty, and security that a billion people now take for granted in the West.

But all that said, a good movie could have easily become a great film. Military history, whether written or visual, requires a mixture of both strategic and tactical narrative with first-hand "face of battle" portrayals of those doing the actual killing and dying. Dunkirk is good on the latter count, and completely wanting on the former.

Even a brief two-minute shot of a last-ditch conference between trapped British Expeditionary Force generals, or between stalled German Panzer commanders just miles away, or a conversation of grand strategy back in London between Churchill and his new cabinet, or even a few seconds of rantings of Adolf Hitler to his general staff, could have conveyed what was at stake.

And just five minutes of that background story would have made two hours of poignant resistance all the more remarkable.

The facts are these: The "phony war" laxity of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain collapsed on May 10, 1940 when the Wehrmacht in complete surprise blasted through the Ardennes forest on a pathway conventionally deemed too rugged for heavy vehicles.

Unlike in World War I, when allied resistance stopped the surprise German assault and ensured for four years that the Germans would never get much more than 70 miles into France, Hitler's 1940 attack on Western Europe would be wrapped up in six weeks, and the fate of the European democracies sealed within days of the invasion.

Indeed, within hours, the newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill was faced with disastrous choices: either keep the fleet and the air force engaged and the army on French soil to bolster collapsing French morale and save a base in Europe for eventual counter-offensives, or pull them all out from a lost cause, and with luck just possibly save Britain from Hitler's next round of attack.

Churchill chose to gamble, keeping British troops engaged as long as the fate of France was realistically in the balance&mdashbut not long enough to forfeit the entire army, and much of the fleet and air force so necessary to stop Hitler's impending effort to bomb and blockade Britain in preparation for an invasion that supposedly would duplicate the six-week victory in France.

The fight over the beaches at Dunkirk was a prelude to the Battle of Britain&mdashand a warning to the Third Reich that it had at last butted up against an enemy that would neither give in nor collapse.

The ultimate irony of Dunkirk was that a previously unstoppable Blitzkrieg suddenly sputtered to an unenforced halt just miles from the Atlantic when it was on the verge of annihilating British land power and thereby perhaps ensuring, at least psychologically, a defeat of the only remaining major enemy of the Third Reich.

Historians still argue about what happened. Were German field generals exhausted after the frenzied and costly pace of the prior two weeks?

Or was the stoppage of Germany's pursuit the work of the unstable Hermann Goring and his Luftwaffe that demanded a glorious coup de grâce, by bombing the collapsing ring of Allied soldiers to smithereens&mdashas a forewarning of what shortly would follow in a blitz over London?

Or was the culprit the loss of nerve of the often passive-aggressive Hitler?

We forget both that, even in his lightning victories, the Fuhrer often proved tentative and fearful under stress&mdashand that the Wehrmacht suffered over 45,000 killed and missing, and over 100,000 wounded, in its supposedly easy walk-over of France.

Or was Hitler deluded enough to believe that Churchill was representative of a suspect aristocratic class eager to make peace if it could keep its overseas Empire, as Germany swallowed the European mainland?

It is unlikely, but not impossible, that Hitler felt a terrified but relieved Britain would be eager to end the war formally if its expeditionary army was not decimated by German armor and artillery.

Even after the evacuation, when the Germans in a few hours reached the French coast, the war for Europe was assumed to be won. Britain surely would concede to save its homeland from the sort of brutality unleashed on Poland and France.

The Soviet Union, after witnessing such frightening German armored advances, surely had no intention of reneging on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 23, 1939 that was helping to fuel and feed the Wehrmacht's conquests with Russian supplies.

As for the United States during Dunkirk&mdashwhile the Roosevelt administration was, at least on the sly, eager to replenish British exhausted armament stocks, it nonetheless had no intention of joining what was felt to be a lost cause.

Indeed, the United States probably would not have declared war on Germany, even after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, had not Hitler nearly inexplicably first declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941.

In contrast, the survival of the British army at Dunkirk, and of the retiring British fleet and air force&mdashalong with the miraculous ongoing retooling of the British munitions industry&mdashmeant that Britain and its empire were able, well before Pearl Harbor, to muster enough manpower in a few months to stop the Italians in Eastern and Northern Africa, to save Malta, to fight the Germans in Greece, to begin bombing occupied Europe, to shortly win the air war over Britain, and to begin to check the U-boat offensive.

It is perhaps unfair to critique Dunkirk 's focus on the common soldier and the near anonymous killing swirling about him. But even here, greater detail would have enhanced the film's emphases on the personal experience of battle.

In the movie, the sheer tapestry of the British rescue effort never fully unfolds. In fact, well over 800 British warships, merchant marine boats, fishing trawlers, and yachts formed a huge armada that dotted the horizon off the Dunkirk coast. Yet that vast maritime landscape is never captured by the film's portrait of a seemingly smallish private flotilla.

The film also shows the littered beaches of Dunkirk, but again the effect of the screen's occasional flotsam and jetsam is understatement. In fact, the wreckage of the British army was unimaginable.

Almost all of its artillery&mdashwell over 2,000 field guns of various sizes&mdashover 60,000 wheeled vehicles, 700 tanks, and over 11,000 machine guns, were lost, much of them left scattered on the beach, a reality that again is hardly captured by the film.

While British pluck shines through the film, the British achievement is underappreciated precisely because of the utter dearth of both strategic context and even brief portrayals of the Germans on the ground.

The expeditionary armies of the Germans in Tunisia in summer 1943 were faced with the same dilemma&mdashand in contrast surrendered a near similarly sized army. The Russians lost entire trapped armies on at least three occasions that were twice the size of those evacuated at Dunkirk.

The Japanese never evacuated on a similar scale any of their often-encircled expeditionary forces. The sheer audacity and skill of the British, and so early in the war, went mostly unrivaled throughout World War II&mdasha sort of reverse D-Day embarkation of comparable magnitude, but without the resources, planning, and four years of favorable warring and German attrition.

Finally, the miracle at Dunkirk reminds us of the underappreciated but pivotal British role in World War II. We often reduce the Allied victory to the blood of Russian manpower and the treasure of American supply. And there is much truth to both those generalizations.

But spiritually, we should remind ourselves that Britain was the only major power on either side to both begin the global war on its first day and continue to fight it until its last, six years later.

It was also the only major power to fight the Third Reich alone, which it did courageously between June 25, 1940 and June 22, 1941. It was the only Allied nation to declare war on the Axis for the principled promise to an ally, Poland, rather than because it was either surprise-attacked or had war declared on it first.

British genius gave the Allies everything from sonar to Firefly Sherman tanks to the Ultra intercepts to the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine in the superb American P-51 Mustang.

In sum, Dunkirk is an impressive postmodern glimpse of a premodern nightmare, but a view nonetheless that is without a strategic or political&mdashor much of any&mdashcontext. Such a landmark event is diminished to a story about any war, rather than the singular British existential struggle to stop Nazi Germany.


What happened to the French soldiers of Dunkirk during the British evacuation?

My grandfather told stories of French soldiers who were trying to escape Dunkirk shot dead or deliberately drowned by the British, are there any records of this?

A total of 143,620 French troops were evacuated to the UK from Dunkirk, in both English and French ships. Of these, the majority (100,000-120,000) were returned to France to continue the fight. They were shipped to ports like Cherbourg in order to rejoin French forces fighting along the line of the Seine. However, most of these troops were evacuated over the last few days of the evacuation, after the majority of the British troops were evacuated. In addition, a significant number of French troops were evacuated to unconquered France in ships hired by the French government, or in French naval vessels. One such example was the Norwegian steamer Hird. She was a timber-carrying merchant which had stopped off in Dunkirk harbour just before the invasion of France began. Once the evacuation began, she was hired by the French government to carry troops out of the pocket. She departed Dunkirk harbour on the night of the 28th-29th May 1940, carrying a load of 3,000 troops (mainly French, but with a few British aboard).

Given these facts, and the fact that the French First Army formed the majority of the perimeter of the pocket, rather than being present on the beaches, there seems little basis for British soldiers taking such extreme actions against French troops. In my reading, I've not come across any such stories. That said, there are occasional stories of officers commanding small boats firing warning shots to prevent soldiers (both British and French) swamping their craft. There are also stories of accidental drownings, where small craft overturned, or larger ships manoeuvred to avoid air attack while taking on troops from smaller craft, throwing men into the water. However, the books I've read on the topic focus highly on the British experience, and so could be argued to have played down any such events.


Contents

On 10 May 1940, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. By 26 May, the BEF and the French 1st Army were bottled up in a corridor to the sea, about 60 miles (97 km) deep and 15 miles (24 km) wide. Most of the British forces were still around Lille, over 40 miles (64 km) from Dunkirk, with the French farther south. Two massive German armies flanked them. General Fedor von Bock's Army Group B was to the east, and General Gerd von Rundstedt's Army Group A to the west. Both officers were later promoted to field marshal. [8]

During the following days. it became known that Hitler's decision was mainly influenced by Goering. To the dictator the rapid movement of the Army, whose risks and prospects of success he did not understand because of his lack of military schooling, became almost sinister. He was constantly oppressed by a feeling of anxiety that a reversal loomed.

The day's entry concludes with the remark: "The task of Army Group A can be considered to have been completed in the main"—a view which further explains Rundstedt's reluctance to employ his armoured divisions in the final clearing-up stage of this first phase of the campaign. [11]

Franz Halder wrote in his diary on 30 May:

Brauchitsch is angry . The pocket would have been closed at the coast if only our armour had not been held back. The bad weather has grounded the Luftwaffe and we must now stand and watch countless thousands of the enemy get away to England right under our noses. [12]

On 24 May, Hitler visited General von Rundstedt's headquarters at Charleville. The terrain around Dunkirk was thought unsuitable for armour. Von Rundstedt advised him the infantry should attack the British forces at Arras, where the British had proved capable of significant action, while Kleist's armour held the line west and south of Dunkirk to pounce on the Allied forces retreating before Army Group B. Hitler, who was familiar with Flanders' marshes from the First World War, agreed. This order allowed the Germans to consolidate their gains and prepare for a southward advance against the remaining French forces.

Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring asked for the chance to destroy the forces in Dunkirk. The Allied forces' destruction was thus initially assigned to the air force while the German infantry organised in Army Group B. Von Rundstedt later called this "one of the great turning points of the war." [13] [14] [15]

The true reason for the decision to halt the German armour on 24 May is still debated. One theory is that Von Rundstedt and Hitler agreed to conserve the armour for Fall Rot ("Case Red"), an operation to the south. It is possible that the Luftwaffe's closer ties than the army's to the Nazi Party contributed to Hitler's approval of Göring's request. Another theory—which few historians have given credence—is that Hitler was still trying to establish diplomatic peace with Britain before Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the Soviet Union). Although von Rundstedt after the war stated his suspicions that Hitler wanted "to help the British", based on alleged praise of the British Empire during a visit to his headquarters, little evidence that Hitler wanted to let the Allies escape exists apart from a self-exculpatory statement by Hitler himself in 1945. [13] [15] [16] The historian Brian Bond wrote:

Few historians now accept the view that Hitler's behaviour was influenced by the desire to let the British off lightly in [the] 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] British Expeditionary Force, 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. [17]

Whatever the reasons for Hitler's decision, the Germans confidently believed the Allied troops were doomed. American journalist William Shirer reported on 25 May, "German military circles here tonight put it flatly. They said the fate of the great Allied army bottled up in Flanders is sealed." BEF commander General Lord Gort VC commander-in-chief (C-in-C) of the BEF agreed, writing to Anthony Eden, "I must not conceal from you that a great part of the BEF and its equipment will inevitably be lost in the best of circumstances". [15]

Hitler did not rescind the Halt Order until the evening of 26 May. The three days thus gained gave a vital breathing space to the Royal Navy to arrange the evacuation of the British and Allied troops. About 338,000 men were rescued in about 11 days. Of these some 215,000 were British and 123,000 were French, of whom 102,250 escaped in British ships. [18]

"Fight back to the west" Edit

On 26 May, Anthony Eden told Gort that he might need to "fight back to the west", and ordered him to prepare plans for the evacuation, but without telling the French or the Belgians. 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 the 2nd and 50th Divisions pinned down, and the 1st, 5th and 48th Divisions under heavy attack. The 2nd Division took heavy casualties trying to keep a corridor open, being reduced to brigade strength, but they succeeded the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 42nd Divisions escaped along the corridor that day, as did about one-third of the French First Army. As the Allies fell back, they disabled their artillery and vehicles and destroyed their stores. [19] [20] [21]

On 27 May, the British fought back to the Dunkirk perimeter line. The Le Paradis massacre took place that day, when the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf machine-gunned 97 British and French prisoners near the La Bassée Canal. The British prisoners were from the 2nd Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment, part of the 4th Brigade of the 2nd Division. The SS men lined them up against the wall of a barn and shot them all only two survived. 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!" To the land- and air-minded Germans, the sea seemed an impassable barrier, so they believed the Allies were surrounded but the British saw the sea as a route to safety. [22] [23]

Besides the Luftwaffe ' s bombs, German heavy artillery (which had just come within range) also fired high-explosive shells into Dunkirk. By this time, over 1,000 civilians in the town had been killed. This bombardment continued until the evacuation was over. [20]

Battle of Wytschaete Edit

Gort had sent Lieutenant General Ronald Adam, commanding III Corps, ahead to build the defensive perimeter around Dunkirk. Lieutenant General Alan Brooke, commanding II Corps, was to conduct a holding action with the 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, over the border in Belgium, was the toughest action Brooke faced in this role. [24]

On 26 May, the Germans made a reconnaissance in force against the British position. At mid-day on 27 May, they launched a full-scale attack with three divisions south of Ypres. A confused battle followed, where visibility was low because of forested or urban terrain and communications were poor because the British at that time used no radios below battalion level and the telephone wires had been cut. The Germans used infiltration tactics to get among the British, who were beaten back. [25]

The heaviest fighting was in the 5th Division's sector. Still on 27 May, Brooke ordered the 3rd Division commander, Major-General Bernard Montgomery, to extend his division's line to the left, thereby freeing the 10th and 11th Brigades, both of the 4th Division, to join the 5th Division at Messines Ridge. The 10th Brigade arrived first, to find the enemy had advanced so far they were closing on the British field artillery. Between them, the 10th and 11th Brigades cleared the ridge of Germans, and by 28 May they were securely dug in east of Wytschaete. [26]

That day, Brooke ordered a counterattack. This was to be spearheaded by two battalions, the 3rd Grenadier Guards and 2nd North Staffordshire Regiment, both of Major-General Harold Alexander's 1st Division. The North Staffords advanced as far as the Kortekeer River, while the Grenadiers reached the canal itself, but could not hold it. The counterattack disrupted the Germans, holding them back a little longer while the BEF retreated. [27]

Action at Poperinge Edit

The route back from Brooke's position to Dunkirk passed through the town of Poperinge (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 percent 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 British 44th Division in particular had to abandon many guns and lorries, losing almost all of them between Poperinge and the Mont. [28]

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

Belgian surrender Edit

Gort had ordered Lieutenant General Adam, commanding III Corps, and French General Fagalde 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 along the Belgian coastline from Nieuwpoort in the east via Veurne, Bulskamp and Bergues to Gravelines in the west. The line was made as strong as possible under the circumstances. On 28 May the Belgian army fighting on the Lys river under the command of King Leopold III surrendered. This left a 20 mi (32 km) gap in Gort's eastern flank between the British and the sea. The British were surprised by the Belgian capitulation, despite King Leopold warning them in advance. [30] [31] As a constitutional monarch, Leopold's decision to surrender without consulting the Belgian government led to his condemnation by the Belgian and French Prime Ministers, Hubert Pierlot and Paul Reynaud. Gort sent the battle-worn 3rd, 4th and 50th Divisions into the line to fill the space the Belgians had held. [32]

Defence of the perimeter Edit

While they were still moving into position, they ran headlong into the German 256th Division, who were trying to outflank Gort. Armoured cars of the 12th Royal Lancers stopped the Germans at Nieuwpoort itself. A confused battle raged all along the perimeter throughout 28 May. Command and control on the British side disintegrated, and the perimeter was driven slowly inwards toward Dunkirk. [32]

Meanwhile, Erwin Rommel had surrounded five divisions of the French First Army near Lille. Although completely cut off and heavily outnumbered, the French fought on for four days under General Molinié in the Siege of Lille, thereby keeping seven German divisions from the assault on Dunkirk and saving an estimated 100,000 Allied troops. [32] In recognition of the garrison's stubborn defence, German general Kurt Waeger granted them the honours of war, saluting the French troops as they marched past in parade formation with rifles shouldered. [33]

The defence of the Dunkirk perimeter held throughout 29–30 May, with the Allies falling back by degrees. On 31 May, the Germans nearly broke through at Nieuwpoort. The situation grew so desperate that two British battalion commanders manned a Bren gun, with one colonel firing and the other loading. A few hours later, the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards of the 3rd Division, rushed to reinforce the line near Furnes, where the British troops had been routed. The 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. [34]

In the afternoon, the Germans breached the perimeter near the canal at Bulskamp, but the boggy ground on the far side of the canal and sporadic fire from the Durham Light Infantry halted them. As night fell, the Germans massed for another attack at Nieuwpoort. Eighteen RAF bombers found the Germans while they were still assembling and scattered them with an accurate bombing run. [35]

Retreat to Dunkirk Edit

Also on 31 May, General Von Kuechler assumed command of all the German forces at Dunkirk. His plan was simple: launch an all-out attack across the whole front at 11:00 on 1 June. Strangely, Von Kuechler ignored a radio intercept telling him the British were abandoning the eastern end of the line to fall back to Dunkirk itself. [36] During the night of 31 May/1 June 1940, Marcus Ervine-Andrews won the Victoria Cross in the battle when he defended 1,000 yards (910 m) of territory. [37]

The morning of 1 June was clear—good flying weather, in contrast to the bad weather that had hindered air 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 whilst the last remaining British soldiers were evacuated. Enduring concentrated German artillery fire and Luftwaffe strafing and bombs, the outnumbered French stood their ground. On 2 June (the day the last of the British units embarked onto the ships), [Notes 1] the French began to fall back slowly, and by 3 June the Germans were about 2 miles (3.2 km) 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. [39] [40] [41]

The desperate resistance of Allied forces, especially the French forces, including the French 12th Motorised Infantry Division from the Fort des Dunes, had bought time for the evacuation of the bulk of the troops. The Wehrmacht captured some 35,000 soldiers, almost all of them French. These men had protected the evacuation until the last moment and were unable to embark. The same fate was reserved for the survivors of the French 12th Motorised Infantry Division (composed in particular of the French 150th Infantry Regiment) they were taken prisoner on the morning of 4 June on the beach of Malo-les-Bains. The flag of this regiment was burnt so as not to fall into enemy hands. [42]

The War Office made the decision to evacuate British forces on 25 May. In the nine days from 27 May to 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). B. H. Liddell Hart wrote that Fighter Command lost 106 aircraft over Dunkirk and the Luftwaffe lost about 135, some of which were shot down by the French Navy and the Royal Navy. MacDonald wrote in 1986 that the British losses were 177 aircraft and German losses 240. [39] [41] [43]

The docks at Dunkirk were too badly damaged to be used, but the east and west moles (sea walls protecting the harbour entrance) were intact. Captain William Tennant—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 on 31 May, over 68,000 men were embarked. [20] [39]

The last of the British Army left on 3 June, and at 10:50, Tennant signalled Ramsay to say "Operation completed. Returning to Dover". Churchill insisted on coming back for the French, and the Royal Navy returned on 4 June to rescue as many as possible of the French rearguard. Over 26,000 French soldiers were evacuated on that last day, but between 30,000 and 40,000 more were left behind and captured by the Germans. Around 16,000 French soldiers and 1,000 British soldiers died during the evacuation. 90% of Dunkirk was destroyed during the battle. [44]


The Miracle of Dunkirk in rare pictures, 1940

Allied troops wade to evacuation ships off the beach at Dunkirk.

Dunkirk was the largest of the multiple evacuations of British, French and Belgian troops from Northern France following the Allied loss of the Battle of France. Over the course of the evacuation, 330,000 men were transported from Dunkirk and the surrounding beaches to the UK. The operation has become somewhat of a legend in Great Britain, thanks to the contribution of a large contingent of small boats (mostly pleasure cruisers, powerboats and fishing boats) crewed by civilians. These assisted in carrying troops from the beaches to ships waiting offshore, and were lionised by the media, looking to boost morale following the fall of France.

The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had deployed to France in September 1939. There, they joined the majority of the French army’s mobile forces along the Belgian border. The Allies assumed that any German attack on France would be forced through Belgium by the Maginot Line.

The British and French forces would, in such an event, advance into Belgium and meet the German thrust there. On the 10th May 1940, the Germans attacked Belgium and the Netherlands, and the Allies moved to counteract this. However, this was not the main German thrust. Instead, this would come through the hills and woods of the Ardennes. This was thought to be poor terrain for an armoured attack, and so had been poorly defended, so that the French force in Belgium could be as strong as possible.

The Allied force in Belgium were originally deployed to hold the line of the Dyle river, but were ordered to retreat to the Escaut on the 14th. As they did so, the Germans pushed weak French forces back from the Meuse, and foiled several French counterattacks.

By the 20th, German units had reached the sea near Abbeville, trapping the Allied First Army Group in Belgium and the Pas de Calais. The Allies made several attempts to break out of the pocket, most notably the battle of Arras, but all came to nought. On the 23rd May, Lord Gort, the BEF’s commander decided that the pocket could not be held, and began preparations for a withdrawal of his force.

Meanwhile, the Germans began their strike up the French coast, beginning attacks towards Boulogne on the 22nd-23rd, and Calais on the 23rd. Dunkirk was the only port through which the Allied pocket could be supplied or evacuated. While the Germans made plans to attack it, on the 24th, an order to halt was given.

This was given for several reasons partly to allow the Germans to consolidate logistics for their forward units, partly because the British counterattack at Arras had demonstrated weaknesses in the German position that needed to be shored up, and partly because of the influence of Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe, who wished to demonstrate the power of his air force.

This gave the Allies time to withdraw, in the two days before the order was rescinded. A fighting withdrawal was carried out, and on the 26th, the British government made the decision to evacuate the BEF, though a portion of its rear-area troops had already been withdrawn.

At 18:57 on the 26th, the Admiralty ordered Admiral Bertram Ramsay, the Royal Navy officer commanding Dover Command, to carry out the evacuation (though transports had been crossing the Channel since 15:00), under the code-name Operation Dynamo. At this time, two ships were crossing between Dunkirk and Dover every four hours, carrying roughly 1300 men each trip.

Meanwhile, the Army was setting up a perimeter around the port. On the 27th, the Germans set up coastal batteries covering part of the main route between Dunkirk and Dover, meaning that transports had to take a longer route. Despite this, the rate of sailings was increased to 2 ships every 3.5 hours. Captain W. G. Tennant was transported to Dunkirk to act as the RN’s representative ashore.

Finally, attempts were begun to lift troops off the beaches east of Dunkirk. Five transports began to travel this route, and during the night, 17 drifters were deployed, To assist this, Ramsay began pressing for as many powerboats and launches to be passed to him. In the evening on the 27th, fears began to develop that the British forces inland might be cut off from Dunkirk.

This caused a minor panic, and the RN began to send as many craft as possible to take troops off the beaches. Overnight, the transport Queen of the Channel was bombed and sunk. On the 28th, the developing situation meant that Dunkirk harbour could be reopened, but only to warships and small vessels in daylight. The large ferries and similar transports were directed to the beaches in daylight, but could reenter the port at night.

Oil tanks burn on Dunkirk beach.

The evacuation became a 24-hour endeavour. Ramsay received significant support from the rest of the RN on the 28th, receiving several flotillas of minesweepers, and every available destroyer from the Western Approaches and Portsmouth Commands. On the 29th, a new route into Dunkirk was swept of German mines, allowing British transports to re-enter the port without fear of the coastal batteries.

The situation on the ground also stabilised somewhat, with the perimeter becoming more secure as more Allied troops packed into it. The German Luftwaffe made several attempts to bomb the town and the ships, but RAF air cover saw most of these attacks off.

However, there were losses the British destroyer Wakeful was torpedoed by the torpedo boat S-30, with the loss of 600 men. While rescuing survivors from Wakeful, HMS Grafton was hit by a torpedo from the submarine U-62, though all but 16 men made it off her. In the ensuing confusion, the minesweeping trawler Comfort was accidentally fired upon by Grafton and Lydd, before being rammed by the latter ship.

During the afternoon, Dunkirk Harbour came under heavy attack by German divebombers, sinking HMS Grenade, and damaging multiple other ships. This effectively caused the closure of the port, and the withdrawal of most of the RN’s modern destroyers from the operation.

On the 30th, attempts were made to speed evacuation from the beaches. The Army constructed a pier of lorries on the beach at Bray. This was too unstable for use by larger ships, but was invaluable for small boats. With much of Dunkirk’s harbour facilities destroyed by German bombing on the 29th, Tennant ordered the troops to be loaded onto ships from the harbour’s protective moles, greatly speeding the evacuation.

The withdrawal of the modern destroyers was found to have unacceptably reduced the available lift capacity, and so Ramsay protested vigorously. He succeeded, and reclaimed six of them. On the 31st, the evacuation was broadened to French troops – all men previously lifted from the beaches had been members of the BEF. Evacuation work continued throughout the day, hampered somewhat by German shelling, and by onshore wind. However, the first civilian craft began to arrive.

Allied minesweepers work to clear the English Channel while a convoy of evacuation ships head for Dunkirk.

The Admiralty’s Small Vessels Pool, which had been set up at the start of the war as a registry of small craft for such uses, had been busy inspecting suitable craft, and sending them over with or without their owners. These craft would prove to be invaluable in the evacuation of troops from the beaches.

They were used to shuttle troops out to the large transports and destroyers, which had too deep a draft to come into the beaches themselves. These civilian boats were joined by a motley collection of small naval boats, landing craft, RAF recovery launches, and a London fire-boat. In the afternoon, the Army informed Ramsay that its plan had changed somewhat, and that the final contingents were to come off in a completely different position than originally planned.

The early hours of 1st June saw further heavy German air attacks, which would continue throughout the day. These would sink three British destroyers, Basilisk, Havant and Keith, though thankfully with few casualties. In addition, German shore batteries were moved into position to shell the main route remaining out of Dunkirk harbour. This led to the abandonment of daylight evacuation. Even so, 60,000 troops were evacuated on the 1st. The 2nd proceeded much as the 1st.

The hospital ship Paris was sunk while attempting to recover wounded men from Dunkirk harbour. She would be the last ship to make the journey, with the remaining troops coming over the beaches. By 23:30 on the 2nd, Tennant was able to send the message that the BEF had been evacuated.

During the night of the 3rd, and the early hours of the 4th, 27,000 French troops were lifted off the beach at Dunkirk. After this, the Germans managed to break through the weak perimeter. They failed to capture many British or French troops, but did capture large amounts of equipment and materiel, which the Allies had been forced to abandon.

Overall, Dunkirk was a triumph of naval organisation. Ramsay successfully directed a hugely complex operation, and exceeded expectations thoroughly. He would become one of the RN’s experts in amphibious operations, and (aptly) commanded the Allied fleet that landed at Normandy in 1944.

Operation Dynamo saw the rescue of a significant portion of the pre-war British army, who would go on to fight in several other major campaigns. Without them, the British war effort would have been significantly hampered.

British Expeditionary Forces wade out to one of the “little ships” aiding the evacuation.

British Expeditionary Forces queue up on the beach at Dunkirk to await evacuation.

British and French troops await evacuation on the beach at Dunkirk.

British Expeditionary Forces view the German bombardment of Dunkirk from an evacuation transport.

The town of Dunkirk while under bombardment.

A British ship rescues soldiers from a landing craft sunk during the evacuation.

British and French soldiers arrive safely at a British port.

British Expeditionary Forces queued up on the beach at Dunkirk as they await evacuation.

British and French troops wade out to evacuation ships off Dunkirk beach.

Allied soldiers climb aboard a ship during the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Discarded coats and equipment litter the beach at Dunkirk.

Crew members of the French destroyer Bourrasque, sunk by a mine at Dunkirk, are hauled aboard a British vessel from their sinking life raft.

Some of the last troops to be evacuated crowd aboard two civilian boats.

A British destroyer carries evacuees home while Dunkirk burns and the rearguard continues to fight.

Allied troops crowd aboard ships during the evacuation of Dunkirk.

A wounded Frenchman arrives at Dover after being evacuated from Dunkirk.

A beached torpedo lies among other abandoned equipment after the Allied evacuation.

Abandoned trucks and equipment line the beach after the Allied evacuation.

A German cameraman records the departure of the last Allied troops from Dunkirk.

French troops are taken prisoner by the Germans at Dunkirk.

British soldiers sleep aboard a train after escaping from Dunkirk.

British Expeditionary Forces safely arrive back in England.

Allied soldiers enjoy food and drink upon returning to Britain.

British troops arrive safely back in London.

Children greet returning British soldiers.

A trainload of British Expeditionary Force soldiers arrives back in London.

A soldier of the British Expeditionary Force is greeted by his girlfriend upon arriving back home.

(Photo credit: Hulton Archive / Davis / Topical Press Agency / Getty Images).


Dunkirk (2017)

In the Dunkirk movie, the Royal Air Force pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) engages in aerial battles to help prevent the Luftwaffe from assaulting the men stranded on the beach and sinking the boats in the water. In researching the Dunkirk true story, we discovered that while the character Farrier is not directly based on an actual person, his experience most closely resembles that of Alan Christopher "Al" Deere (pictured below), a New Zealand Spitfire pilot. Deere's plane was hit in the cooling system by the rear gunner of a German Dornier, and like Tom Hardy's character in the movie, Deere crash-landed on the beach. He landed wheels up on the water's edge and gashed his eyebrow in the process.

After a woman in a nearby cafe helped Al Deere with his bleeding eyebrow, he made his way to the soldiers waiting on the mole and eventually onto a ship. Many of the soldiers he encountered were angry, "Where the hell have you been?" they asked of the air force. Toward the end of the movie, RAF pilot Collins (Jack Lowden), is asked this by a soldier. Mark Rylance's character, Mr. Dawson, overhears and reassuringly tells Collins, "I know where you've been."

Did the soldiers on the beach really accuse the Royal Air Force of not doing enough to help them?

When did the evacuation of Dunkirk take place?

The evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo, took place on the beaches around Dunkirk, France from May 27 to June 4, 1940.

Why was the Dunkirk evacuation called Operation Dynamo?

In fact-checking the Dunkirk movie, we learned that Operation Dynamo was named after the dynamo room that generated electricity for the British Naval Headquarters located in the secret tunnels underneath Dover Castle. The tunnels are buried deep within the rock of the White Cliffs of Dover and are where the Dunkirk rescue was planned. The dynamo room contained a dynamo, an early electrical generator. The tunnels opened for tours in 2011.

Did Germany really drop propaganda flyers on the pinned down soldiers at Dunkirk?

Yes. The Germans dropped propaganda leaflets on the Allied soldiers who were cornered at Dunkirk. The closest example we could find to the menacing fictional flyer shown in the movie is pictured below on the left. The filmmakers appear to have dramatized it a little for the screen but the overall look is fairly close (minus the color). Other leaflets were dropped as well, some without graphics, that echoed a similar message. Some Dunkirk flyers even tried to convince the trapped soldiers that they would be treated humanely. "Do you really believe the nonsense, that Germans kill their prisoners? Come and see yourselves the contrary!" Of course, in many cases the Germans did execute their captives.

How did close to 400,000 Allied soldiers end up being pinned down at Dunkirk, France?

In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland by way of a blitzkrieg to start WW2, and the British Empire and France declared war on Germany. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) went to France to help the country defend against the Germans, who invaded the Netherlands and Belgium on May 10, 1940. At the same time, three German Panzer corps pushed rapidly into France through the rugged terrain of the Ardennes Forest. The German Blitzkrieg ("lightning war") drove British, French and Belgian forces west and northward toward the English Channel. Hitler's sights were set on eliminating the retreating Allied forces that soon found themselves pinned down at Dunkirk with nowhere to go. -Daily Mail Online

Did the British Admiralty really give the order that private boats were to assist in the evacuation of Dunkirk?

Yes. On May 14, 1940, the BBC delivered a nationwide announcement from the British government: "The Admiralty have made an order requesting all owners of self-propelled pleasure craft between 30ft and 100ft in length to send all particulars to the Admiralty within 14 days from today if they have not already been offered or requisitioned." The boats, which included everything from small boats to large pleasure yachts, were often manned by the members of the Royal Navy. However, while exploring the Dunkirk true story, we learned that in many cases, due to a shortage of naval personnel, the owners of the boats took them to Dunkirk themselves. Some decided outright to captain their own boats like Mark Rylance's character Mr. Dawson does with his boat the Moonstone in the movie. In all, a total of about 700 private vessels assisted in the evacuation. They became known as the Little Ships of Dunkirk and were largely used to ferry soldiers out to the bigger boats that could not get close to the beach.

Interestingly, one of the private boats, a 62ft naval pinnace named Sundowner, was skippered by Charles Lightoller, the highest ranking officer to have survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Lightoller had also commanded a destroyer during World War I.

How far away is Dunkirk, France from Great Britain?

Located at the northern tip of France near the border with Belgium, Dunkirk sits on the English Channel at one of the waterway's narrowest points. This allowed British rescue vessels, including private boats and yachts, to reach France in less time. Most of the evacuation boats departed from Dover, England. Three evacuation routes were used, with the shortest being 39 nautical miles and taking roughly 2 hours to reach the stranded soldiers on the beaches. On a side note, the closest point across the English channel is 20.7 miles and is just south of Dunkirk at Cap Gris Nez, a cape near Calais in the French département of Pas-de-Calais. From there, one can see the White Cliffs of Dover across the English Channel's Strait of Dover.

Were mines really a concern for the evacuating vessels?

Did the Royal Air Force (RAF) send fighters inland to push back Germany's aerial assault on the beaches around Dunkirk?

Yes. RAF pilots like the fictional character Farrier (Tom Hardy) flew Spitfire and Hurricane fighters and attacked approaching German fighter planes in an effort to protect the Allied soldiers on the beaches until they could be rescued.

Had most of the town of Dunkirk been destroyed?

Yes. During our research into the true story behind the Dunkirk movie, we learned that German bombardment had left much of the town of Dunkirk in ruins as Nazi forces closed in. After the water supply was knocked out, fires burned uncontrollably. In an attempt to avoid the German aerial assault and put themselves in the best potential position for rescue, Allied soldiers hid in the sand dunes on the beaches.

Where can I learn about the eyewitness accounts that inspired the movie?

Joshua Levine, the historical consultant for the movie, wrote the book Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture, which explores the gripping true stories that inspired the Christopher Nolan film. The book relays eyewitness accounts that were shared by both veterans and civilians. It's definitely a worthwhile read, especially the parts that confirm the things that are seen in the film. The book draws largely from Levine's 2011 book, Forgotten Voices of Dunkirk, which is a collection of firsthand accounts that are both humorous and tragic. Director Nolan used Levine's Forgotten Voices in his research for the movie.

Did Christopher Nolan attempt to adhere strictly to the facts when writing the Dunkirk script?

Are the main characters in the movie based on real people?

No. Much in the same vein as Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, director Christopher Nolan chose to create fictional characters for his film. Some were inspired in part by actual eyewitness stories but were not slavishly based on real people. Nolan explained that he had first worked out "a precise mathematical structure" for the story, which involved telling it from three perspectives: the land (soldiers on the beach), the sea (boats assisting in the evacuation), and the air (fighter planes). The best way to maintain that structure was to create fictional characters who could be utilized freely for the greatest benefit of the story.

Did some of the men really try to either swim to the boats or across the English Channel?

Yes. Like the British soldier does in the movie, some of the men really did strip off their gear and try to make a lengthy swim toward the boats, while others went as far as trying to swim the English Channel, which was ultimately committing suicide. However, most men accepted their own limitations and opted to stay on the beach and wait for the "little ships."

Did the British really not send all of their destroyers and planes to help at Dunkirk?

In analyzing the fact vs. fiction in the Dunkirk movie, we discovered that Britain really did hold back some of their ships and planes from assisting at Dunkirk. They even called back some of their destroyers that were already there. Britain had a justifiable reason to do so. They wanted to be prepared for a German invasion of Britain and their primary means of defense was the Royal Navy. Regardless, they still lost significant numbers during the evacuation, including six destroyers and 145 planes.

How many soldiers were rescued during the evacuation of Dunkirk?

"There are 400,000 men on this beach," says Kenneth Branagh's character in the movie. Of those men, an estimated 338,000 Allied soldiers were rescued during the evacuation, which was officially known as Operation Dynamo. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and government officials had at first predicted that it would only be possible to rescue around 45,000 men before German forces blocked further evacuations. British citizens helped to shatter that estimate by offering their own boats to help assist in the Dunkirk rescue. It also helped that Hitler made the mistake of holding off a ground attack.

Did some soldiers really panic and try to rush the boats out of turn?

Yes, the Dunkirk movie true story confirms that things did become chaotic at times, with some soldiers who were waiting in line with their units desperately jumping out of line and making a dash for the boats. These soldiers were warned off at gunpoint. Men who were there recalled not being proud of such moments, but it was hard to resist when everyone was so desperate to survive.

How many British soldiers were killed during the evacuation of Dunkirk?

Approximately 11,000 British soldiers lost their lives during the evacuation from Dunkirk, also known as Operation Dynamo. An additional 40,000 soldiers were captured or imprisoned. In all, around 90,000 Allied soldiers were either wounded, killed or taken prisoner. -Daily Mail Online

How many boats were lost during the evacuation of Dunkirk?

The Germans destroyed 177 Allied aircraft and sunk more than 200 ships, including six British and three French destroyers. Still, the British managed to rescue approximately 338,000 soldiers from the beaches around Dunkirk, and Allied planes shot down 240 German aircraft.

Would Germany really have won WW2 if the evacuation from Dunkirk had failed?

Why didn't Hitler send in ground troops to take out the pocket of Allied soldiers trapped at Dunkirk?

Though this has been a subject of debate among historians, many believe that the reason Hitler halted his ground forces was because of Nazi commander Hermann Göring, who was the head of the Luftwaffe, Germany's air force. Anxious to claim the glory of defeating the British, Göring convinced Hitler to allow the German air force to eliminate the Dunkirk pocket. It proved to be one of the greatest military blunders of WW2, as most of the trapped men escaped across the English Channel to Britain. It was evidence that air power alone could not single-handedly eradicate ground forces. -The German Blunder at Dunkirk

Hitler was also in favor of using the air force because he could preserve his tanks and men on the ground, which he had plans to direct elsewhere. James D'Arcy's character, Captain Winnant, echoes this in the movie when he says, "Why waste precious tanks when they can pick us off from the air like fish in a barrel." There was also a concern that the marshy ground around Dunkirk might be difficult for tanks. In addition, German ground forces needed time to rest and regroup after suffering heavy losses during the invasion of France.

Another theory was that Hitler held off sending in ground forces because he was showing compassion toward the British in hopes that Churchill would join Germany's fight against Russia. This far-fetched theory is not widely supported by historians, as Britain had already declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939 and Hitler would have little reason to believe Britain would ever switch sides. Furthermore, Hitler's Directive 13 contradicts this, as it called for the Luftwaffe to defeat the cornered Allied soldiers and prevent their escape.

Was Hitler's halt order the only reason German ground forces didn't reach more Allied soldiers waiting on the beaches?

No. The halt order, which was approved by Hitler and issued by the German High Command on May 22, 1940, was rescinded four days later on May 26. As we were fact-checking the Dunkirk movie, we discovered that one big reason so many Allied soldiers were able to make it off the beaches around Dunkirk was because of 40,000 soldiers of the French First Army, who were able to delay the Germans at the Siege of Lille from May 28-31. They battled seven German divisions, including three armored divisions. Winston Churchill called the First Army's effort a "splendid contribution," which hardly summed up its significance in allowing the British Expeditionary Force time to evacuate the beaches. When food and ammunition ran out, a surrender was negotiated and 35,000 men marched into captivity.

Other British and French rearguard units assisted in holding other areas of the perimeter as well, and in the end, it was mostly French soldiers who surrendered after covering the final Dunkirk evacuations.

Was Kenneth Branagh's character based on a real person?

It is likely that the movie's Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) was inspired by the real-life Captain William Tennant, who arrived on the beaches of Dunkirk via the destroyer HMS Wolfhound. His assignment was to oversee the evacuation and organize the men waiting on the beaches. Like Commander Bolton in the movie, Tennant stayed right up until the last ships departed on June 2, 1940. He was heralded for his efforts at Dunkirk and was nicknamed "Dunkirk Joe" by the sailors under him. -BBC

William Tennant's noteworthy experiences in WW2 didn't end at Dunkirk. He was captain of the battlecruiser Repulse, which was sunk by the Japanese after a commendable campaign. Later as an admiral, Tennant was put in charge of naval transport for the Normandy invasion, which involved supervising the setup of two Mulberry harbors (portable harbors) for the rapid offloading of supplies during the invasion. He also oversaw the laying of the Pluto pipelines across the channel to send fuel supplies from England to France to support the Allied forces.

Did the soldiers who were rescued feel like they had let their country down?

Was the evacuation from Dunkirk considered a success?

Yes. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill described it as "a miracle of deliverance," inspiring him to declare to the House of Commons of Parliament on June 4, 1940, "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!" However, in the same speech, Churchill also cautioned, "We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations."

Have there been any other English-language feature films made about the WW2 Dunkirk evacuation?

Yes, just one, the 1958 British war movie Dunkirk starring Richard Attenborough, John Mills and Bernard Lee. That film was based on two novels about Operation Dynamo, Elleston Trevor's The Big Pick-Up and Lt. Col. Ewan Hunter and Maj. J. S. Bradford's book Dunkirk. Its story is told primarily from the perspectives of two characters, a newspaper reporter named Charles Foreman (Bernard Lee) and a soldier named Corporal "Tubby" Binns (John Mills). The reporter ends up taking out his own private boat to help aid in the Dunkirk rescue. Watch the Dunkirk 1958 movie trailer.

Was the Christopher Nolan film actually shot in Dunkirk, France?

Yes. While investigating the Dunkirk true story, we learned that the movie was actually filmed on location in Dunkirk, France, as well as several other locations, including Urk, Netherlands Dorset, United Kingdom and Rancho Palos Verdes, United States. The evacuation in the film was shot at the same historical Dunkirk location where the real evacuation took place. Twelve boats used in the filming had actually taken part in the real Dunkirk evacuation.

Dive deeper into the Dunkirk movie's true story by watching the videos below, including a documentary about the evacuation and the German blunders at Dunkirk.



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