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The Dunkirk evacuation was one of the largest operations of World War II and one of the main factors that allowed the Allies to continue fighting.
It was the largest military evacuation in history, which took place between May 27 and June 4, 1940. The evacuation, known as Operation Dynamo, saved an estimated 338,000 Allied troops from northern France. But 11,000 British were killed in the operation – and another 40,000 were captured and imprisoned.
Described by Wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill as a “miracle of liberation,” it is considered one of many events in 1940 that defined the eventual outcome of the war.
World War II started after Germany invaded Poland in 1939, but there was little action on the land for several months. But in the early 1940s Germany invaded Denmark and Norway and then launched an offensive against Belgium and France in Western Europe.
Hitler’s troops quickly advanced, captured Paris – which they never achieved in World War I – and headed for the Channel.
They reached the coast towards the end of May 1940 and retreated allied troops, including several hundred thousand troops of the British Expeditionary Forces. Military leaders soon realized that it was impossible for them to remain in mainland Europe.
The Dunkirk evacuation was one of the largest operations of World War II and one of the main factors that allowed the Allies to continue fighting. A ship full of troops leaves for home while Dunkirk burns in the background
The operational command fell on Bertram Ramsay, a retired Vice Admiral who was recalled to enlist in 1939. From a room deep in the cliffs near Dover, Ramsay and his staff joined Operation Dynamo, a daring Royal Navy rescue mission to recruit troops from the beaches around Dunkirk and back to Britain.
The call went out on May 14, 1940. The BBC made the announcement: ‘The Admiralty has ordered all owners of 30 to 100 foot motorized pleasure craft to send all data to the Admiralty within 14 days from today if they have not yet been offered or advanced. ‘
All kinds of boats were requisitioned – from those on the Thames to pleasure yachts – and crewed by navy personnel, although in some cases the boats were taken to Dunkirk by the owners themselves.
They sailed from Dover, the nearest point, to allow for the shortest crossing. Operation Dynamo took action on May 29.
When they arrived in Dunkirk, they faced chaos. Soldiers hid in sand dunes from an air raid, much of the city of Dunkirk was destroyed by the bombing and German troops approached.
It was the largest military evacuation in history and took place between May 27 and June 4, 1940. The evacuation, known as Operation Dynamo, saved an estimated 338,000 Allied troops from northern France. But 11,000 British were killed in the operation – and another 40,000 were captured and imprisoned
Above them, RAF Spitfire and hurricane fighters went inland to attack German fighter planes to send them off and protect the men on the beaches.
When the small ships arrived, they were referred to different sectors. Many didn’t have radios, so the only communication methods were shouting at people on the beach or semaphore.
The space was so tight that the decks were full that soldiers could only carry their guns. A huge amount of equipment, including airplanes, tanks and heavy cannons, was left behind.
The small ships were meant to take soldiers to the larger ships, but some eventually brought people back to England. The evacuation lasted several days.
Prime Minister Churchill and his advisers expected it would be possible to save just 20,000 to 30.00 men, but by June 4, more than 300,000 had been saved.
The exact number was impossible to measure – although 338,000 is an accepted estimate – but it is believed that up to 400,000 British, French and Belgian troops were rescued during the week – men who would return to fight in Europe and eventually the would help to win war.
But there were also heavy casualties, with approximately 90,000 killed, wounded or captured. A number of ships have also been lost to enemy actions, grounded and broken down. Despite this, Dunkirk was considered a success and a great boost to morale.
In a famous speech to the House of Commons, Churchill praised the ‘Dunkirk miracle’ and decided that Britain would continue fighting: ‘We will fight on the beaches, we will fight on the landing sites, we will fight in the fields and in the streets, we will fight in the hills. We will never surrender! ”