Operation Dynamo: The Miracle of Dunkirk

This is a repeat post. Just recently I watched the movie, Darkest Hour (2017), about the period leading up to the rescue of the British soldiers at Dunkirk and Churchill’s famous speech (see below).

Although, like all movies, not everything is true and accurate (for instance, Elizabeth Layton did not go to work for Churchill until the next year), the basics of history are true. Churchill, a flawed man (which one of us is not?), fought opposition in his government to continue fighting against Hitler, as many wished to pursue a negotiated peace through Mussolini with the Germans. We all know what happened next.

I believe that God led the man, Churchill, to be his very best person, and gave him the strength to lead the British people through years of deprivation to their eventual victory. If they had not won the war, it would have been the end of the British Empire and the free countries of Europe, which Churchill knew very well. I don’t think that Britain could have won without God and without Churchill.

DLS in action 1940 (KM Group)As odd as this may seem, I had never heard of the Dunkirk boat lift until 2012, 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.


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:

I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight 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.


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10 Responses to Operation Dynamo: The Miracle of Dunkirk

  1. Menagerie says:

    Awesome post. Thank you Stella. I’ve said it so many times, but Churchill is one of the best examples. God calls forth great men and women to lead in the face of desperate threats.

    Most times the people have embraced and followed those leaders. Will we?

    Liked by 4 people

    • stella says:

      Thanks, Menage! I think that if we don’t know and understand our history, we can’t possibly make good decisions in the present. I am still a student, learning more every day.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. stella says:

    I have now – since writing this post – watched the movie “Dunkirk”. I highly recommend it! Here is the review of the movie by blancolirio from 2018:

    Liked by 3 people

    • Gary says:

      The pilot (played by Tom Hardy) is a true story as well.

      Churchill, one of the greatest leaders of all time. His statue in front of our U.K. Embassy has always been among my favorite statues, his pose places one foot on British soil, and the other on Embassy property which we all know is considered U.S. property.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. jeans2nd says:

    We were never taught much of WWII. This was the height of the Cold War and “The New Math.” Our friends were from Italy, Romania, East Germany, etc., some of whom came into our class not even speaking English. No ESL for them. Some of our classmates sat in the back of the class with them and translated/taught them English.

    So, we learned USSR hate instead, and practiced nuclear drills by lining up in the halls leaning against the walls. Knowing what I knew re: nuclear from Dad, even I knew that exercise was worthless.

    Dunkirk? Boat lift? Nah. Never learned of any of it, just learned about Uncle Al who served with Patton’s Hell on Wheels, came home and drank himself to death.

    Listening to the veteran and the Churchill clip were awe-inspiring. Such courage.
    The background music was too loud, though, and made it difficult to hear the words.
    Thanks for another great piece of education and history, Stella.

    Liked by 1 person

    • stella says:

      I just watched a very educational video of Victor Davis Hanson speaking about WWII at Hillsdale College. You would probably enjoy that too.

      Liked by 2 people

      • jeans2nd says:

        Thank you, much appreciated.
        We were never even taught about the Russians being a big part of winning WWII. The U.S. and Britain won the war which was fought to end communism and fascism, and we all knew the Russians were communists.

        So many years lacking the truth. Today’s kids are in for a rude awakening.

        Liked by 1 person

        • stella says:

          Look up the “lend/lease” program. The USA provided much military gear to Britain and Russia before we entered the war.

          Here’s a link to a post I wrote some time ago. The book I linked is really interesting (Freedom’s Forge).

          The Arsenal Of Democracy – Where are we now?

          Liked by 2 people

          • jeans2nd says:

            Thank you again. We learned Lend/Lease in college Macro/Micro economics, but supplies were provided only to Britain, and China iirc.. We never learned about Russia.

            But we did have Tom Hayden at a (required to attend) Convocation speaker.
            Being under age 18, Mom and Dad made certain their Evil Daughter missed that Convocation.
            Checking out that linked post this afternoon, thx again.

            Liked by 2 people

  4. czarina33 says:

    The USSR contributed by protecting themselves. They suffered unimaginable losses, but Stalin really was about his own power and had no concern for the masses. There are recent movies about the seige at Stalingrad. Czar and I watched one in Russian (subtitled) just last fall.

    Hitler made two huge mistakes. One was trying to fight a war on two fronts. The other was not learning from history (see many recent posts about omissions in the education system): Hitler ignored what happened to Napoleon when he tried to fight a war against Russia in the winter….

    Liked by 1 person

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