Dunkirk 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of the German forces in their equipment, transport and fire power; which was far superior too much of the allies outdated equipment.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. 1. 2. 3. 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. 4. 5. 6. 7. 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. 8. 9. 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. 10. 11. 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. 12. 13. 14. How did the British people view the evacuation of Dunkirk? How did the Prime Minister view Dunkirk? What did this ‘miracle’ mean for Britain?