Dunkirk - History

Dunkirk, and the evacuation associated with the troops trapped on Dunkirk, was called a
"miracle of deliverance" by Winston Churchill. As the Germans swept through Western
Europe in the spring of 1940, using Blitzkrieg tactics, the French and British armies could
not stop the onslaught. For the people in Western Europe, World War Two was about to
start for real. The "Phoney War" was now over. The British, French and Belgium governments
had seriously underestimated the strength of the German forces in their equipment,
transport and fire power; which was far superior too much of the allies outdated equipment.
Consequently the British Expeditionary Force, as well as the French and Belgian forces,
found themselves defending positions against overwhelming odds.
Before long, with the Germans effectively cutting
off nearly all of the escape routes to the channel,
the BEF found itself desperately retreating to
the harbour and beaches of Dunkirk. The
advancing German Army trapped the British and
French armies on the beaches around Dunkirk.
330,000 men were trapped here and they were a
sitting target for the Germans. The British
troops, led by Lord John Gort, were professional
soldiers from the British Expeditionary Force;
trained men that we could not afford to lose.
These troops were desperately needed back on
the home shores to help defend against a possible
Nazi invasion.
How many British and French soldiers were trapped on the beaches around Dunkirk?
What was the operation called to rescue the soldiers form the Dunkirk beaches?
Why were the soldiers at Dunkirk so special?
Admiral Ramsey, based in Dover, formulated Operation Dynamo to get off of the beaches as
many men as was possible. He sent destroyers and transport ships to evacuate the troops,
but they only expected to have time to lift off about 30,000 troops. However, before long,
the harbour became partially blocked by ships sunk in consistent attacks from enemy
aircraft. It became necessary to take the troops off
the nearby beaches as well, something that was
thought to be an almost impossible task because the
beach at Dunkirk was on a shallow slope so no large
boat could get near to the actual beaches where the
men were.
Therefore, from May 26th 1940, smaller boats were
needed to take on board men who would then be
transferred to larger ships based further off shore
which then brought them back to a port in southern
Britain, but thousands of troops came all the way back to England in some of these boats.
A variety of motor boats, fishing smacks, trawlers, lifeboats,
paddle steamers and many other types of craft came over
the channel to assist in the escape. 800 of these legendary
"little ships", many of them, privately owned, were used.
Although a large number of these ships were taken across
the channel by navy personnel - many were also taken over by
their owners and other civilians, all eager to help in what had
become a catastrophe. It is thought that the smallest boat to
make the journey across the Channel was the Tamzine - an 18
feet open topped fishing boat now on display at the Imperial
War Museum, London.
Why could no large boat get near to the beaches?
How then were they going to rescue the soldiers?
How many small boats made it across the channel?
What was the name and size of the smallest boat to make the journey to Dunkirk?
Despite attacks from German fighter and bomber planes, the Germans never launched a fullscale attack on the beaches of Dunkirk. Panzer tank crews awaited the order from Hitler
but it never came. In his memoirs, Field Marshall Rundstadt, the German commander-in-chief
in France during the 1940 campaign, called Hitler's failure to order a full-scale attack on the
troops on Dunkirk his first fatal mistake of the war. That 338,000 soldiers were evacuated
from the beaches at Dunkirk would seem to uphold this view.
What did Field Marshall Rundstadt call Hitler’s failure to order a full scale attack?
How many soldiers were evacuated from Dunkirk?
One of the reasons put forward for
Hitler not ordering an attack was
that he believed that Britain had
suffered from the might of the
Germany once and that this
experience would be sufficient for
Britain to come to peace terms with
Hitler. The total destruction of the
British Expeditionary Force might
have created such a climate of
revenge in Britain that our
involvement would be prolonged. That
is one idea put forward for why
Hitler did not order a full-scale attack on the beaches of Dunkirk - however, we will never
know the true reason.
What reason has been put forward for Hitler not attacking the soldiers at Dunkirk?
What effect may it had on Britain if Hitler had attacked the beaches at Dunkirk?
The escape captured the minds and hearts of
the British people at a time when it looked
probable that we to would soon be invaded. It
seemed like a victory in just getting the troops
back - over a third of a million of them - to
fight another day. The new Prime Minister
Winston Churchill had to remind the British
people that ‘wars are not won by evacuations’.
Britain now stood alone against the power of
Nazi Germany.
How did the British people view the
evacuation of Dunkirk?
How did the Prime Minister view Dunkirk?
What did this ‘miracle’ mean for Britain?
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