Operation Dynamo: The Miracle of Dunkirk

DLS in action 1940 (KM Group)As odd as this may seem, I had never heard of the Dunkirk boat lift until four years ago, when I watched the movie, Mrs. Miniver (1942, Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon).

Of course, when it happened I wasn’t born yet, and the U.S. had not yet entered the war in Europe, but this is truly a story worth knowing.

It is a story of the pluck and determination of the British people. In this week late in May, 1940, The British grabbed an opportunity in defeat, surviving to continue the fight against Hitler. Were it not for the evacuation of more than 300,000 troops over a period of a week, the British would almost certainly have lost the war.

The British Expeditionary Forces were trapped at Dunkirk in France by the German army. Wikipedia’s summary of the circumstances:

The Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo, also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, between 27 May and 4 June 1940, during World War II. The operation was decided upon when large numbers of Belgian, British, and French troops were cut off and surrounded by the German army during the Battle of France. In a speech to the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the events in France “a colossal military disaster”, saying “the whole root and core and brain of the British Army” had been stranded at Dunkirk and seemed about to perish or be captured. In his ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech on 4 June, he hailed their rescue as a “miracle of deliverance”.

Beginning in the third week of May, 1940, Lord Gort raised the possibility of an evacuation from Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne. Admiral Bertram Ramsey was put in command of the possible evacuation operations, under the code name “Dynamo”.

A big problem was that, although there were destroyers and passenger ferries to move the troops, the shallow waters at Dunkirk meant that a number of small craft were needed to move the troops from the beaches to the larger craft. Because Dunkirk was under heavy bombardment by the German army, the harbor could not be used.

To solve the problem, 700 “little ships” were enlisted to help with the effort. A wide variety of small vessels from all over the south of England were pressed into service to aid in the Dunkirk evacuation. Here is a partial account by Wikipedia, Little Ships of Dunkirk:

On 27 May, the small-craft section of the British Ministry of Shipping telephoned boat builders around the coast, asking them to collect all boats with “shallow draft” that could navigate the shallow waters. Attention was directed to the pleasure boats, private yachts and launches moored on the River Thames and along the south and east coasts. Some of them were taken with the owners’ permission – and with the owners insisting they would sail them – while others were requisitioned by the government with no time for the owners to be contacted. The boats were checked to make sure they were seaworthy, fueled, and taken to Ramsgate to set sail for Dunkirk. They were manned by Naval Officers, Ratings and experienced volunteers. Very few owners manned their own vessels, apart from fishermen and one or two others.

the-british-army-in-the-uk-evacuation-from-dunkirk-may-june-1940-picture-id154423126When they reached France, some of the boats acted as shuttles between the beaches and the destroyers, ferrying soldiers to the warships. Others carried hundreds of soldiers each back to Ramsgate, protected by the Royal Air Force from the attacks of the Luftwaffe.

DailyMailDunkirkCasualties

The BEF lost 68,000 soldiers (dead, wounded, missing, or captured) from 10 May until the surrender of France on 22 June. 3,500 British were killed and 13,053 wounded. All the heavy equipment had to be abandoned. Left behind in France were 2,472 guns, 20,000 motorcycles, and almost 65,000 other vehicles; also abandoned were 416,000 short tons (377,000 t) of stores, more than 75,000 short tons (68,000 t) of ammunition and 162,000 short tons (147,000 t) of fuel. Almost all of the 445 British tanks that had been sent to France with the BEF were abandoned.

Six British and three French destroyers were sunk, along with nine other major vessels. In addition, 19 destroyers were damaged. Over 200 British and Allied sea craft were sunk, with a similar number damaged. The Royal Navy’s most significant losses in the operation were six destroyers.

Read more at Wikipedia, Little Ships of Dunkirk, and Dunkirk evacuation.

On June 4, 1940, Winston Churchill gave one of his most famous speeches before Parliament:

It ends with this stirring passage:

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight 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, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

churchill2

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43 Responses to Operation Dynamo: The Miracle of Dunkirk

  1. ImpeachEmAll says:

    Like

  2. czarowniczy says:

    A lot of people believe that Divine intervention was at play at Dunkirk. The weather and seas held calm, notvswaping the small boats on their way or as they were filled with evacuating troops. The Wehrmacht stopped for three days, they could have crushed the troops on the shore, allowing thecrescue. The Luftwaffe failed miserably at crushing the troops on shore or halting the evacuation. In all the come-as-you-are evacuation is unparalleled and saved Britain and the war.
    BTW, another conveniently almost forgotten fact of the war was that the Brits lodt so much equipment at Dunkirk that it was feared that a pending German invasion couldn’t be dealt with as there weren’t enough guns forbthe military and the home guard. The Brits had draconian anti-gun laws in place so they couldn’t turn to the civilian gun owners for wepons, instead an American group, American Committee for Defense of British Homes, put out a national call for US private citizens to donate rifles, pistols and/or shotguns to aid British defense. They were sent to Britain along with military arms from the US government. Ironic that US gun ownership, enshrined in the Constitution largely due to the Brit colonial government dnying involuntary subjects the right to bear arms, had to take weapons from us to save the Royal Arse.

    Liked by 4 people

    • stella says:

      Thanks for the info about the American Committee for Defense of British Homes! That just adds to this fascinating story.

      Liked by 3 people

      • czarowniczy says:

        That uncomfortable fact seems to have fallen right out of the WWII story, maube the POtuS will reference it when he grovels at Hiroshima. Then again, considering his coddling of ISIS,or whatever the hell we’re calling it today, the POtuS can overlook the Rape of Nanking, the destruction of Manchuria, the Philippines, Korea and the millions of dead in the Japanese WWII wake.

        Liked by 4 people

    • Howie says:

      Obama would have surrendered.

      Like

    • tessa50 says:

      One thing I have always wondered is why did the germans stop? Why didn’t they deliver the killing blow? I sure don’t think Hitler had a humane bone in his body, so what was he doing?

      Like

      • stella says:

        It may have been generals in the field who made errors in judgement, and later blamed it all on high command/Hitler. Or Hitler made the decisions based on faulty information. Or Hitler felt sorry for the British. Somehow, the last wouldn’t be the one I’d choose, but that’s just me. Especially since the Germans had no problem at other times bombing and killing British subjects.

        Liked by 1 person

        • czarowniczy says:

          I believe it was the generals in the field and Goering. Fat G believed the Luftwaffe could do the job and the generals in the field, no great Goering lovers, were busy consolidating holdings, securing territories and all of those command and control-related issues that came from that lightening advance and defeat. They were more than glad to let Goering throw himself on his sword and thry needed the down-time. I also believe that they were not all that ready to slaughter a troop of beaten and largely defenseless enemy, the generals were still largely traditional Prussian stock. No one thought the Brits would attempt, never mind pull off, what they did.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. MaryfromMarin says:

    Thank you for posting this, stella. I remember learning a little about this while watching an episode of “Foyle’s War”, a very interesting TV series set in southern England just before, during, and after WWII.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Howie says:

    Just imagine if it was going on right here right now. WHAT WOULD YOU DO? Planes dropping bombs on your house and all.

    Like

  5. Col.(R) Ken says:

    I was schooled in this event by my father, Roosevelt wanted in this war, and this was added too the list “FDR” knew the Japanese were going too attack Peal Harbor.

    Like

    • stella says:

      Nevertheless, Germany declared war on the United States. I know about the lend/lease program, which was Roosevelt’s way to aid Britain and Russia prior to our entry into the war. I’m not so sure that FDR knew about the Japanese attack.

      Like

      • czarowniczy says:

        There were indications the Japanese wanted to attack Pearl years before it happened, they wanted the US’s primary base to wage war on Japan neutralized. Had the US carriers not been out to sea and the Japanese not failed to attack the US submarines and their support facilities we’d have been in a real pickle.
        Gen Billy Mitchell wrote a report in 1924 that predicted the Japanese attack on
        Pearl Harbor but, as he’d PO’d a lot of the military by proving aircraft could sink battleships, it was largely ignored. There were also hints that the Japanese were practicing the attack long before it avtually ever happened. You don’t launch something that large and that important a whim, and you also had the infrequently mentioned Japanese spotters on the hills around Pearl who aided, they didn’t come in over the weekend before.
        I’m sure Roosevelt wanted the US in the war, look at the US/Brit lend-lease and the US to Russia Archangel runs, all begun well before the US was officially engaged in the war. The US was still in peacenik mode from the costs of WW and FDR was undoubtedly trying to find a way to save European aristocracy.

        Like

        • Col.(R) Ken says:

          A little known fact about FDR, he loved gossip. People who traveled the world in the 30s , (these people were in FDRs social circle), after their overseas trips were invited to White House and FDR would chat with these people. Today, one would call this a debriefing.

          Like

          • czarowniczy says:

            I’d argue that the Department of the Navy doing all it could to torpedo Billy Mitchell and his official report predicting the attack on Pearl should have been read by FDR. It was published as a book on the civilian market and created quite a stir so ignorance of it is no excuse. The sheer strategic importance of Hawaii to the US defense in the Pacific is obvious. Those possessions went back to the days when naval ships were coal-powered and you needed bases to refit and recoal. The US needed Pearl as it was the only major docking and repair port until you got to the US west coast. Note how quickly Japan attacked the US and British bases after Pearl to limit our abilities to project power.
            FDR had to know and there should be a special place in gell for him.
            We miss you, FDRinHell…..

            Liked by 1 person

        • Col.(R) Ken says:

          Czar, remember the Japanese modified their air delivery torpedos due to the shadow depth of Peal.

          Like

          • czarowniczy says:

            Thry also didn’t exclusively use regular bombs to attack the battleships as they would not have penetrated the decks or hulls. They took armor-piercing naval artillery shells and put fins on them turning them into bombs that could go deeply through the decks and hulls.
            Torpedos would have had a hard time sinking some of the newer battleships at Pearl as they had thick armor belts and a keel design that resisted breaking when a torpedo went and detonated under it. The cleaned and enhanced films of the older Arizona are taken to show the killer hit was a bomb that went down her somke stack and into her boilers.
            Japanese blew it when they didn’t destroy the subs and missed the aircraft carriers, but then perhaps there was Divine intervention there too.

            Like

      • Col.(R) Ken says:

        Stella this book does not provide the Smoking Gun on FDR, it’s close. This link was provided by FDR over at the neighbors…..
        “Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor. By Robert B. Stinnett. New York: The Free Press, 2000, 386 pages. $26.00. Reviewed by Dr. Conrad Crane, Research Professor of Military Strategy, US Army War College.”

        Like

  6. shiloh1973 says:

    We actually studied this in high school back in the mid seventies. I found all of it fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • czarowniczy says:

      I was young enough to live it. Two people my father was stationed with were Jap POWS, obe from the Bataan Death March. When I went into the military there were stil WWII US vets serving and I also ran into serving US military members who were members of the WWII Getman military. Our neighbor in West Palm was an enlisted USAF cook who was Philippine and an exmember of a mixed US-Filipino guerrilla unit that was cutoff after the Jap invasion.
      Light years ago.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. ImpeachEmAll says:

    Death is not fascinating and
    Hitler is not Divine intervention.

    Spend 10 minutes to watch.
    Start around 28.00 minutes.

    Like

    • stella says:

      Any particular reason you feel it is necessary to post the same thing twice?

      Liked by 1 person

      • czarowniczy says:

        Aw common, if it were good fresh it’s still gonna be good as seconds.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ImpeachEmAll says:

        Some of the comments bothered me.

        Some need a second exposure.
        Some need more to understand.
        Some will never understand.

        Around 30 to 35 minutes, the reason
        for halting the advance is given. It was
        not Divine intervention. It was a power
        struggle. Hitler being Hitler. WP seems
        to have its own power play. The second
        posting of the video was supposed to
        start around 28:00 minutes.

        Sorry if you were offended; not
        my intention. The second post
        allowed my mind to sleep.

        Those seeking some insight into
        war might enjoy American Iliad:
        The History of the 18th Infantry
        Regiment in World War II.

        http://www.amazon.com/American-Iliad-History-Infantry-Regiment/dp/0971765057/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1463031317&sr=1-2-fkmr1&keywords=wwII+history+by+bob+baumer

        Like

        • stella says:

          Just a thought – if you believe in God, divine intervention is not ruled out, as the acts of men do not live in a vacuum. If you don’t believe in God, then you have a different take on things. It doesn’t mean that you are correct, and others are incorrect. It also doesn’t mean that we (specifically “I”) weren’t aware of Hitler’s (or his generals’ explanation that SAID it was Hitler’s decisions alone) actions concerning Dunkirk.

          Even if Hitler was completely in control of German troop actions and everything else going on at Dunkirk, he still didn’t control the seas, the weather, and other things that affected the evacuation.

          More to the point, it would have been better to just SAY what you just said, rather than attempting to be oblique about it. I don’t like it when someone attempts to maneuver me, or assumes that I am either ignorant or stupid.

          Liked by 1 person

        • stella says:

          Read your own words: “Some need more to understand. Some will never understand.”

          You ASSUMED that some of the rest of us are ignorant or, worse, stupid. Not nice. I asked you for an explanation, and you confirmed why I was annoyed in the first place.

          I am not permanently annoyed, but I want to make myself clear. Shall we go forward with that understanding?

          Liked by 1 person

          • ImpeachEmAll says:

            Yes.

            Like

          • tessa50 says:

            I sure wish I had read this exchange before I asked czar my question, as I feel stupid now. I didn’t watch the video.

            Like

            • stella says:

              It happens to all of us. Don’t take it too hard!

              Liked by 1 person

            • lovely says:

              No need to feel stupid Tessa. We are all learning, none of us know everything about everything, that’s why we are here for the community, an exchange of ideas and knowledge. I hadn’t known about much of this before Stella’s post.

              And nothing to do with Tessa’s comment but politeness in general.

              1) I think it is far better in the pursuit of sharing out knowledge to not assume stupidity of anyone here since IMO Stella has the best and brightest here and 2) not to constantly say “Well that’s not really 100% accurate” . Sometimes people speak in generalities and we don’t mean “this is exactly how it is always or this is unprecedented”, we are just chatting. I come from a family where every word is measured and in all honesty it makes conversations an eggshell experience rather than fun, communicative and informative.

              Just my opinion.

              Liked by 3 people

              • lovely says:

                Sorry for the typos;

                I come from a family where every word is measured and in all honesty it makes conversations an eggshell experience which can be less than fun, communicative and informative, as you just start thinking about how you should word something so someone doesn’t nitpick a certain portion of your point over semantics or to broaden what I am trying to say.

                In other words let’s not sweat the small stuff 🙂

                Liked by 3 people

  8. tessa50 says:

    I enjoyed this post very much. Thanks, Stella.

    Liked by 1 person

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