Battle of Dunkirk

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Battle of Dunkirk
Part of the Battle of France in the Second World War
Soldiers were strafed and bombed by German aircraft while awaiting transport. [1]
Date26 May – 4 June 1940

German tactical victory

Allied forces withdraw to Britain

Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom

Flag of France (1794-1958).svg  France

Flag of Belgium (civil).svg  Belgium
Canadian Red Ensign (1921-1957).svg  Canada
Flag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Germany
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Lord Gort
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg Maxime Weygand
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg Georges Blanchard
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg René Prioux
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg J. M. Abrial [2]
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Gerd von Rundstedt
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Fedor von Bock
Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg Ewald von Kleist (Panzergruppe von Kleist)
approx. 400,000
338,226 evacuated
approx. 800,000
Casualties and losses
  • (Estimated total)
    61,774 total killed and wounded
  • British
    *~3,500 killed during the evacuation
    *63,879 vehicles including tanks and motorcycles
    *2,472 field guns
    6 destroyers
    *23 destroyers damaged [3]
    *89 transport ships [3]
    *177 aircraft destroyed or damaged in total [4]
    *127 belonged to RAF Fighter Command. [5]
  • French
    *18,000 killed, 35,000 captured
    *3 destroyers
(Estimated total)
*20,000 killed and wounded
*100 tanks
*240 aircraft in theatre [6]
*156 aircraft on Dunkirk front [7]
Civilian casualties: 1,000 civilians killed during air raids

The Battle of Dunkirk (French: Bataille de Dunkerque) was fought in Dunkirk (Dunkerque), France, during the Second World War, between the Allies and Nazi Germany. As the Allies were losing the Battle of France on the Western Front, the Battle of Dunkirk was the defence and evacuation to Britain of British and other Allied forces in Europe from 26 May to 4 June 1940.

Dunkirk Subprefecture and commune in Hauts-de-France, France

Dunkirk is a commune in Nord, a French department in northern France. It is the northernmost city in France, lying 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from the Belgian border. It has the third-largest French harbour. The population of the commune at the 2016 census was 91,412.

French Third Republic Nation of France from 1870 to 1940

The French Third Republic was the system of government adopted in France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed during the Franco-Prussian War, until 10 July 1940 after France's defeat by Nazi Germany in World War II led to the formation of the Vichy government in France.

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the United Nations from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.


After the Phoney War, the Battle of France began in earnest on 10 May 1940. To the east, the German Army Group B invaded the Netherlands and advanced westward. In response, the Supreme Allied Commander—French General Maurice Gamelin—initiated "Plan D" and entered Belgium to engage the Germans in the Netherlands. The plan relied heavily on the Maginot Line fortifications along the German–French border, but German forces had already crossed through most of the Netherlands before the French forces arrived. Gamelin instead committed the forces under his command, three mechanised armies, the French First and Seventh Armies and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), to the River Dyle. On 14 May, German Army Group A burst through the Ardennes and advanced rapidly to the west toward Sedan, then turned northward to the English Channel, using Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein's plan Sichelschnitt under the German strategy Fall Gelb, effectively flanking the Allied forces. [8]

Phoney War early period of World War II

The Phoney War was an eight-month period at the start of World War II, during which there was only one limited military land operation on the Western Front, when French troops invaded Germany's Saar district. The Phoney period began with the declaration of war by the United Kingdom and France against Nazi Germany on 3 September 1939, and ended with the German invasion of France and the Low Countries on 10 May 1940. Although there was no large-scale military action by Britain and France, they did begin economic warfare, especially with the naval blockade, and shut down German surface raiders. They created elaborate plans for numerous large-scale operations designed to swiftly and decisively cripple the German war effort. These included opening an Anglo-French front in the Balkans, invading Norway to seize control of Germany's main source of iron ore and a strike against the Soviet Union, to cut off its supply of oil to Germany. Only the Norway plan came to fruition, and it was too little too late in April 1940.

Battle of France Successful German invasion of France in 1940

The Battle of France, also known as the Fall of France, was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries during the Second World War. France had previously invaded Germany in 1939. In the six weeks from 10 May 1940, German forces defeated Allied forces by mobile operations and conquered France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, bringing land operations on the Western Front to an end until the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944. Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940 and invaded France over the Alps.

Army Group B was the title of three German Army Groups that saw action during World War II.

A series of Allied counter-attacks—including the Battle of Arras—failed to sever the German spearhead, which reached the coast on 20 May, separating the BEF near Armentières, the French First Army, and the Belgian Army further to the north from the majority of French troops south of the German penetration. After reaching the Channel, the German forces swung north along the coast, threatening to capture the ports and trap the British and French before they could evacuate to Britain.

Battle of Arras (1940)

The Battle of Arras, took place on 21 May 1940, during the Battle of France in the Second World War. British and French tanks and infantry advanced south from Arras to force back German armoured forces, which were advancing westwards down the Somme river valley towards the English Channel, to trap the Allied forces in northern France and Belgium. The Anglo-French attack made early gains and panicked some German units but was repulsed after an advance of up to 6.2 mi (10 km) and forced to withdraw after dark to avoid encirclement.

Armentières Commune in Hauts-de-France, France

Armentières is a commune in the Nord department in the Hauts-de-France region in northern France. It is part of the Urban Community of Lille Métropole.

In one of the most debated decisions of the war, the Germans halted their advance on Dunkirk. Contrary to popular belief, what became known as the "Halt Order" did not originate with Adolf Hitler. Generalobersten (Colonel-Generals) Gerd von Rundstedt and Günther von Kluge suggested that the German forces around the Dunkirk pocket should cease their advance on the port and consolidate to avoid an Allied breakout. Hitler sanctioned the order on 24 May with the support of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht . The army was to halt for three days, which gave the Allies sufficient time to organise the Dunkirk evacuation and build a defensive line. While more than 330,000 Allied troops were rescued, [9] British and French military forces nonetheless sustained heavy casualties and were forced to abandon nearly all their equipment. The British Expeditionary Force alone lost some 68,000 soldiers during the French campaign.

Adolf Hitler Leader of Germany from 1934 to 1945

Adolf Hitler was a German politician and leader of the Nazi Party. He rose to power as Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and later Führer in 1934. During his dictatorship from 1933 to 1945, he initiated World War II in Europe by invading Poland on 1 September 1939. He was closely involved in military operations throughout the war and was central to the perpetration of the Holocaust.

<i>Generaloberst</i> General officer rank

Generaloberst, in English colonel general, was, in Germany and Austria-Hungary—the German Reichswehr and Wehrmacht, the Austro-Hungarian Common Army, and the East German National People's Army, as well as the respective police services—the second highest general officer rank, ranking as equal to a 4 star full general but below general field marshal. It was equivalent to Generaladmiral in the Kriegsmarine until 1945, or to Flottenadmiral in the Volksmarine until 1990. The rank was the highest ordinary military rank and the highest military rank awarded in peacetime; the higher rank of general field marshal was only awarded in wartime by the head of state. In general, a Generaloberst had the same privileges as a general field marshal.

Gerd von Rundstedt German Field Marshal during World War II

Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt was a German field marshal in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II.


On 10 May 1940, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. By 26 May, the BEF and the French 1st Army were bottled up in a corridor to the sea, about 60 miles (97 km) deep and 15 miles (24 km) wide. Most of the British forces were still around Lille, over 40 miles (64 km) from Dunkirk, with the French farther south. Two massive German armies flanked them. General Fedor von Bock's Army Group B was to the east, and General Gerd von Rundstedt's Army Group A to the west. Both officers were later promoted to field marshal. [8]

Winston Churchill Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during most of World War II

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British politician, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, for the last of his career he was a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 was a member of the Liberal Party.

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Head of UK Government

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, until 1801 known as the Prime Minister of Great Britain, is the head of government of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister directs both the executive and the legislature, and, together with the Prime Minister's Cabinet,, is accountable to the Monarch, to Parliament, to the Prime Minister's political party and, ultimately, to the electorate for the policies and actions of the executive and the legislature.

Lille Prefecture and commune in Hauts-de-France, France

Lille is a city at the northern tip of France, in French Flanders. On the Deûle River, near France's border with Belgium, it is the capital of the Hauts-de-France region, the prefecture of the Nord department, and the main city of the European Metropolis of Lille.

Halt order

Quotes on the halt order

During the following days... it became known that Hitler's decision was mainly influenced by Goering. To the dictator the rapid movement of the Army, whose risks and prospects of success he did not understand because of his lack of military schooling, became almost sinister. He was constantly oppressed by a feeling of anxiety that a reversal loomed...

Halder, in a letter of July 1957. [10]

Major L. F. Ellis wrote:

The day's entry concludes with the remark: "The task of Army Group A can be considered to have been completed in the main"—a view which further explains Rundstedt's reluctance to employ his armoured divisions in the final clearing-up stage of this first phase of the campaign. [11]

Franz Halder wrote in his diary on 30 May:

Brauchitsch is angry ... The pocket would have been closed at the coast if only our armour had not been held back. The bad weather has grounded the Luftwaffe and we must now stand and watch countless thousands of the enemy get away to England right under our noses. [12]

On 24 May, Hitler visited General von Rundstedt's headquarters at Charleville. The terrain around Dunkirk was thought unsuitable for armour. Von Rundstedt advised him the infantry should attack the British forces at Arras, where the British had proved capable of significant action, while Kleist's armour held the line west and south of Dunkirk to pounce on the Allied forces retreating before Army Group B. Hitler, who was familiar with Flanders' marshes from the First World War, agreed. This order allowed the Germans to consolidate their gains and prepare for a southward advance against the remaining French forces.

Charleville-Mézières Prefecture and commune in Grand Est, France

Charleville-Mézières is a commune in northern France, capital of the Ardennes department in the Grand Est region. Charleville-Mézières is located on the banks of the Meuse River.

World War I 1914–1918 global war starting in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the resulting 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring asked for the chance to destroy the forces in Dunkirk. The Allied forces' destruction was thus initially assigned to the air force while the German infantry organised in Army Group B. Von Rundstedt later called this "one of the great turning points of the war." [13] [14] [15]

The true reason for the decision to halt the German armour on 24 May is still debated. One theory is that Von Rundstedt and Hitler agreed to conserve the armour for Fall Rot ("Case Red"), an operation to the south. It is possible that the Luftwaffe's closer ties than the army's to the Nazi Party contributed to Hitler's approval of Göring's request. Another theory—which few historians have given credence—is that Hitler was still trying to establish diplomatic peace with Britain before Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the Soviet Union). Although von Rundstedt after the war stated his suspicions that Hitler wanted "to help the British", based on alleged praise of the British Empire during a visit to his headquarters, little evidence that Hitler wanted to let the Allies escape exists apart from a self-exculpatory statement by Hitler himself in 1945. [13] [15] [16] The historian Brian Bond wrote:

Few historians now accept the view that Hitler's behaviour was influenced by the desire to let the British off lightly in [the] hope that they would then accept a compromise peace. True, in his political testament dated 26 February 1945 Hitler lamented that Churchill was "quite unable to appreciate the sporting spirit" in which he had refrained from annihilating [the] British Expeditionary Force, at Dunkirk, but this hardly squares with the contemporary record. Directive No. 13, issued by the Supreme Headquarters on 24 May called specifically for the annihilation of the French, English and Belgian forces in the pocket, while the Luftwaffe was ordered to prevent the escape of the English forces across the channel. [17]

Whatever the reasons for Hitler's decision, the Germans confidently believed the Allied troops were doomed. American journalist William Shirer reported on 25 May, "German military circles here tonight put it flatly. They said the fate of the great Allied army bottled up in Flanders is sealed." BEF commander Lord Gort agreed, writing to Anthony Eden, "I must not conceal from you that a great part of the BEF and its equipment will inevitably be lost in the best of circumstances". [15]

Hitler did not rescind the Halt Order until the evening of 26 May. The three days thus gained gave a vital breathing space to the Royal Navy to arrange the evacuation of the British and Allied troops. About 338,000 men were rescued in about 11 days. Of these some 215,000 were British and 123,000 were French, of whom 102,250 escaped in British ships. [18]


"Fight back to the west"

Map of the battle 21May-4June1940-Fall Gelb.svg
Map of the battle

On 26 May, Anthony Eden told General Lord Gort, Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the BEF, that he might need to "fight back to the west", and ordered him to prepare plans for the evacuation, but without telling the French or the Belgians. Gort had foreseen the order and preliminary plans were already in hand. The first such plan, for a defence along the Lys Canal, could not be carried out because of German advances on 26 May, with the 2nd and 50th Divisions pinned down, and the 1st, 5th and 48th Divisions under heavy attack. The 2nd Division took heavy casualties trying to keep a corridor open, being reduced to brigade strength, but they succeeded; the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 42nd Divisions escaped along the corridor that day, as did about one-third of the French First Army. As the Allies fell back, they disabled their artillery and vehicles and destroyed their stores. [19] [20] [21]

On 27 May, the British fought back to the Dunkirk perimeter line. The Le Paradis massacre took place that day, when the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf machine-gunned 97 British and French prisoners near the La Bassée Canal. The British prisoners were from the 2nd Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment, part of the 4th Brigade of the 2nd Division. The SS men lined them up against the wall of a barn and shot them all; only two survived. Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe dropped bombs and leaflets on the Allied armies. The leaflets showed a map of the situation. They read, in English and French: "British soldiers! Look at the map: it gives your true situation! Your troops are entirely surrounded – stop fighting! Put down your arms!" To the land- and air-minded Germans, the sea seemed an impassable barrier, so they believed the Allies were surrounded; but the British saw the sea as a route to safety. [22] [23]

Besides the Luftwaffe's bombs, German heavy artillery (which had just come within range) also fired high-explosive shells into Dunkirk. By this time, over 1,000 civilians in the town had been killed. This bombardment continued until the evacuation was over. [20]

Battle of Wytschaete

Gort had sent Lieutenant General Ronald Adam, commanding III Corps, ahead to build the defensive perimeter around Dunkirk. Lieutenant General Alan Brooke, commanding II Corps, was to conduct a holding action with the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 50th Divisions along the Ypres-Comines canal as far as Yser, while the rest of the BEF fell back. The battle of Wytschaete, over the border in Belgium, was the toughest action Brooke faced in this role. [24]

On 26 May, the Germans made a reconnaissance in force against the British position. At mid-day on 27 May, they launched a full-scale attack with three divisions south of Ypres. A confused battle followed, where visibility was low because of forested or urban terrain and communications were poor because the British at that time used no radios below battalion level and the telephone wires had been cut. The Germans used infiltration tactics to get among the British, who were beaten back. [25]

The heaviest fighting was in the 5th Division's sector. Still on 27 May, Brooke ordered the 3rd Division commander, Major-General Bernard Montgomery, to extend his division's line to the left, thereby freeing the 10th and 11th Brigades, both of the 4th Division, to join the 5th Division at Messines Ridge. The 10th Brigade arrived first, to find the enemy had advanced so far they were closing on the British field artillery. Between them, the 10th and 11th Brigades cleared the ridge of Germans, and by 28 May they were securely dug in east of Wytschaete. [26]

That day, Brooke ordered a counterattack. This was to be spearheaded by two battalions, the 3rd Grenadier Guards and 2nd North Staffordshire Regiment, both of Major-General Harold Alexander's 1st Division. The North Staffords advanced as far as the Kortekeer River, while the Grenadiers reached the canal itself, but could not hold it. The counterattack disrupted the Germans, holding them back a little longer while the BEF retreated. [27]

Action at Poperinge

The route back from Brooke's position to Dunkirk passed through the town of Poperinge (known to most British sources as "Poperinghe"), where there was a bottleneck at a bridge over the Yser canal. Most of the main roads in the area converged on that bridge. On 27 May, the Luftwaffe bombed the resulting traffic jam thoroughly for two hours, destroying or immobilising about 80 percent of the vehicles. Another Luftwaffe raid, on the night of 28–29 May, was illuminated by flares as well as the light from burning vehicles. The British 44th Division in particular had to abandon many guns and lorries, losing almost all of them between Poperinge and the Mont. [28]

The German 6. Panzerdivision could probably have destroyed the 44th Division at Poperinge on 29 May, thereby cutting off the 3rd and 50th Divisions as well. The historian and author Julian Thompson calls it "astonishing" that they did not, but they were distracted, investing the nearby town of Cassel. [29]

Belgian surrender

Gort had ordered Lieutenant General Adam, commanding III Corps, and French General Fagalde to prepare a perimeter defence of Dunkirk. The perimeter was semicircular, with French troops manning the western sector and British troops the eastern. It ran along the Belgian coastline from Nieuwpoort in the east via Veurne, Bulskamp and Bergues to Gravelines in the west. The line was made as strong as possible under the circumstances. On 28 May the Belgian army fighting on the Lys river under the command of King Leopold III surrendered. This left a 20 mi (32 km) gap in Gort's eastern flank between the British and the sea. The British were surprised by the Belgian capitulation, despite King Leopold warning them in advance. [30] [31] As a constitutional monarch, Leopold's decision to surrender without consulting the Belgian government led to his condemnation by the Belgian and French Prime Ministers, Hubert Pierlot and Paul Reynaud. Gort sent the battle-worn 3rd, 4th and 50th Divisions into the line to fill the space the Belgians had held. [32]

Defence of the perimeter

British prisoners of war with a Panzer I German tank Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B14898, Calais, britische Kriegsgefangene.jpg
British prisoners of war with a Panzer I German tank

While they were still moving into position, they ran headlong into the German 256th Division, who were trying to outflank Gort. Armoured cars of the 12th Lancers stopped the Germans at Nieuport itself. A confused battle raged all along the perimeter throughout 28 May. Command and control on the British side disintegrated, and the perimeter was driven slowly inwards toward Dunkirk. [32]

Meanwhile, Erwin Rommel had surrounded five divisions of the French First Army near Lille. Although completely cut off and heavily outnumbered, the French fought on for four days under General Molinié in the Siege of Lille (1940), thereby keeping seven German divisions from the assault on Dunkirk and saving an estimated 100,000 Allied troops. [32] In recognition of the garrison's stubborn defence, German general Kurt Waeger granted them the honours of war, saluting the French troops as they marched past in parade formation with rifles shouldered. [33]

The defence of the Dunkirk perimeter held throughout 29–30 May, with the Allies falling back by degrees. On 31 May, the Germans nearly broke through at Nieuport. The situation grew so desperate that two British battalion commanders manned a Bren gun, with one colonel firing and the other loading. A few hours later, the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards of the 3rd Division, rushed to reinforce the line near Furnes, where the British troops had been routed. The Guards restored order by shooting some of the fleeing troops and turning others around at bayonet point. The British troops returned to the line and the German assault was beaten back. [34]

In the afternoon, the Germans breached the perimeter near the canal at Bulskamp, but the boggy ground on the far side of the canal and sporadic fire from the Durham Light Infantry halted them. As night fell, the Germans massed for another attack at Nieuport. Eighteen RAF bombers found the Germans while they were still assembling and scattered them with an accurate bombing run. [35]

Retreat to Dunkirk

Also on 31 May, General Von Kuechler assumed command of all the German forces at Dunkirk. His plan was simple: launch an all-out attack across the whole front at 11:00 on 1 June. Strangely, Von Kuechler ignored a radio intercept telling him the British were abandoning the eastern end of the line to fall back to Dunkirk itself. [36]

The morning of 1 June was clear—good flying weather, in contrast to the bad weather that had hindered air operations on 30 and 31 May (there were only two-and-a-half good flying days in the whole operation.) Although Churchill had promised the French that the British would cover their escape, on the ground it was the French who held the line whilst the last remaining British soldiers were evacuated. Enduring concentrated German artillery fire and Luftwaffe strafing and bombs, the French stood their ground. On 2 June (the day the last of the British units embarked onto the ships), [Notes 1] the French began to fall back slowly, and by 3 June the Germans were about 2 miles (3.2 km) from Dunkirk. The night of 3 June was the last night of evacuations. At 10:20 on 4 June, the Germans hoisted the swastika over the docks from which so many British and French troops had escaped. [38] [39] [40]

The desperate resistance of Allied forces, especially the French 12th Motorised Infantry Division from the Fort des Dunes, had bought time for the evacuation of the bulk of the troops. The Wehrmacht captured some 35,000 soldiers, almost all of them French. These men had protected the evacuation until the last moment and were unable to embark. The same fate was reserved for the survivors of the French 12th Motorised Infantry Division (composed in particular of the French 150th Infantry Regiment); they were taken prisoner on the morning of 4 June on the beach of Malo-les-Bains. The flag of this regiment was burnt so as not to fall into enemy hands. [41]


The War Office made the decision to evacuate British forces on 25 May. In the nine days from 27 May to 4 June, 338,226 men escaped, including 139,997 French, Polish, and Belgian troops, together with a small number of Dutch soldiers, aboard 861 vessels (of which 243 were sunk during the operation). B. H. Liddell Hart wrote that Fighter Command lost 106 aircraft over Dunkirk and the Luftwaffe lost about 135, some of which were shot down by the French Navy and the Royal Navy. MacDonald wrote in 1986 that the British losses were 177 aircraft and German losses 240. [38] [40] [42]

The docks at Dunkirk were too badly damaged to be used, but the east and west moles (sea walls protecting the harbour entrance) were intact. Captain William Tennant—in charge of the evacuation—decided to use the beaches and the east mole to land the ships. This highly successful idea hugely increased the number of troops that could be embarked each day, and on 31 May, over 68,000 men were embarked. [20] [38]

The last of the British Army left on 3 June, and at 10:50, Tennant signalled Ramsay to say "Operation completed. Returning to Dover". Churchill insisted on coming back for the French and the Royal Navy returned on 4 June, to rescue as many as possible of the French rearguard. Over 26,000 French soldiers were evacuated on that last day, but between 30,000 and 40,000 more were left behind and captured by the Germans. Around 16,000 French soldiers and 1,000 British soldiers died during the evacuation. 90% of Dunkirk was destroyed during the battle. [43]


Troops evacuated from Dunkirk, Dover, 31 May 1940 Wounded British soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk make their way up the gangplank from a destroyer at Dover, 31 May 1940. H1623.jpg
Troops evacuated from Dunkirk, Dover, 31 May 1940
Battle of Dunkirk memorial Memorial at Dunkerque.jpg
Battle of Dunkirk memorial

Following the events at Dunkirk, the German forces regrouped before commencing operation Fall Rot , a renewed assault southward, starting on 5 June. Although the French soldiers who had been evacuated at Dunkirk returned to France a few hours later to stop the German advance and two fresh British divisions had begun moving to France in an attempt to form a Second BEF, the decision was taken on 14 June to withdraw all the remaining British troops, an evacuation called Operation Ariel. By 25 June, almost 192,000 Allied personnel, 144,000 of them British, had been evacuated through various French ports. [44] Although the French Army fought on, German troops entered Paris on 14 June. The French government was forced to negotiate an armistice at Compiègne on 22 June.

The loss of materiel on the beaches was huge. The British Army left enough equipment behind to fit out about eight to ten divisions.[ citation needed ] Discarded in France were, among other things, huge supplies of ammunition, 880 field guns, 310 guns of large calibre, some 500 anti-aircraft guns, about 850 anti-tank guns, 11,000 machine guns, nearly 700 tanks, 20,000 motorcycles and 45,000 motor cars and lorries. Army equipment available at home was only just sufficient to equip two divisions.[ citation needed ] The British Army needed months to re-supply properly, and some planned introductions of new equipment were halted while industrial resources concentrated on making good the losses. Officers told troops falling back from Dunkirk to burn or otherwise disable their trucks (so as not to let them benefit the advancing German forces). The shortage of army vehicles after Dunkirk was so severe that the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) was reduced to retrieving and refurbishing obsolete buses and coaches from British scrapyards to press them into use as troop transports.[ according to whom? ] Some of these antique workhorses were still in use as late as the North African campaign of 1942. [45]

On 2 June, the Dean of St Paul's, Walter Matthews, was the first to call the evacuation the "Miracle of Dunkirk".

It was remembered that the Archbishop of Canterbury had announced that the Day of National Prayer might well be a turning point, and it was obvious to many that God had answered the nation's collective prayer with the 'miracle of Dunkirk'. The evidence of God's intervention was clear for those who wished to see it; papers had written of calm seas and the high mist which interfered with the accuracy of German bombers. [46]

A marble memorial to the battle stands at Dunkirk. The French inscription is translated as: "To the glorious memory of the pilots, mariners, and soldiers of the French and Allied armies who sacrificed themselves in the Battle of Dunkirk, May–June 1940."

The missing dead of the BEF are commemorated on the Dunkirk Memorial.

"Dunkirk Spirit"

British troops embarking from Dunkirk's beaches DUNKIRK1940.jpg
British troops embarking from Dunkirk's beaches

British press later exploited the successful evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, and particularly the role of the "Dunkirk little ships", very effectively. Many of them were private vessels such as fishing boats and pleasure cruisers, but commercial vessels such as ferries also contributed to the force, including a number from as far away as the Isle of Man and Glasgow. These smaller vessels—guided by naval craft across the Channel from the Thames Estuary and from Dover—assisted in the official evacuation. Being able to move closer into the beachfront shallows than larger craft, the "little ships" acted as shuttles to and from the larger ships, lifting troops who were queuing in the water, many waiting shoulder-deep in water for hours. The term "Dunkirk Spirit" refers to the solidarity of the British people in times of adversity. [47]

Dunkirk Medal

A commemorative medal was established in 1960 by the French National Association of Veterans of the Fortified Sector of Flanders and Dunkirk on behalf of the town of Dunkirk. [48] The medal was initially awarded only to the French defenders of Dunkirk, but in 1970 the qualification was expanded to include British forces who served in the Dunkirk sector and their rescue forces, including the civilians who volunteered to man the "little ships". [49]

The design of the bronze medal included the arms of the town of Dunkirk on one side, and "Dunkerque 1940" on the reverse side.

See also

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The Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo, also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers during World War II from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, in the north of France, between 26 May and 4 June 1940. The operation commenced after large numbers of Belgian, British, and French troops were cut off and surrounded by German troops during the six-week long Battle of France. In a speech to the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called this "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".

Operation Cycle

Operation Cycle is the name of the evacuation of Allied troops from Le Havre, in the Pays de Caux of Upper Normandy from 10–13 June 1940, towards the end of the Battle of France, during the Second World War. The operation was preceded by the better known rescue of 338,226 British and French soldiers from Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo (26 May – 4 June). On 20 May, the Germans had captured Abbeville at the mouth of the Somme and cut off the main Allied armies in the north. South of the river, the Allies improvised defences and made local counter-attacks, to dislodge the Germans from bridgeheads on the south bank and re-capture river crossings for an advance northwards to regain contact with the armies in northern France and Flanders.

Operation Aerial Second World War evacuation from ports in western France

Operation Aerial was the evacuation of Allied forces and civilians from ports in western France from 15 to 25 June 1940 during the Second World War. The evacuation followed the military collapse in the Battle of France against Nazi Germany, after Operation Dynamo, the evacuation from Dunkirk and Operation Cycle, an embarkation from Le Havre, which finished on 13 June. British and Allied ships were covered from French bases by five Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter squadrons and assisted by aircraft based in England, to lift British, Polish and Czech troops, civilians and equipment from Atlantic ports, particularly from St Nazaire and Nantes.

The Timeline of the Battle of France or the Fall of France covers the period during [World War 2] from the first military actions between Germany and France and to the armistice signed by France. In about six weeks from May 10, 1940 through June 25, 1940 Nazi Germany had also conquered Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg, adding these four countries to its third Reich. Nazi Germany planned to use forces that would distract the Allies that would enter Belgium which would make French and British troops leave their current position. Germany would also use a second force to navigate the Ardennes Forest and move around the Maginot Line. Germany had a very simple and strategic plan take the Netherlands and Luxembourg before invading France and Belgium. The plan focused on eliminating any resistance that remained, capturing Paris, crossing the English Channel and then invading Great Britain.

Le Paradis massacre

The Le Paradis massacre was a war crime committed by members of the 14th Company, SS Division Totenkopf, under the command of Hauptsturmführer Fritz Knoechlein. It took place on 27 May 1940, during the Battle of France, at a time when troops of British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were attempting to retreat through the Pas-de-Calais region during the Battle of Dunkirk.

Siege of Calais (1940) 1940 battle

The Siege of Calais (1940) was a battle for the port of Calais during the Battle of France in 1940. The siege was fought at the same time as the Battle of Boulogne, just before Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) through Dunkirk. After the Franco-British counter-attack at the Battle of Arras, German units were held back to be ready to resist a resumption of the counter-attack on 22 May, despite the protests of General Heinz Guderian, the commander of the XIX Armee Korps, who wanted to rush north up the Channel coast to capture Boulogne, Calais and Dunkirk. An attack by part of the XIX Armee Korps was not authorised until 12:40 a.m. on the night of 21/22 May.

23rd (Northumbrian) Division

The 23rd (Northumbrian) Division was an infantry division of the British Army, which fought briefly in the Battle of France during the Second World War. In March 1939, after the re-emergence of Germany as a European power and its occupation of Czechoslovakia, the British Army increased the number of divisions within the Territorial Army by duplicating existing units. The 23rd (Northumbrian) Division was formed in October 1939, as a second-line duplicate of the 50th (Northumbrian) Motor Division. It was made up of two brigades, unlike regular infantry divisions that were composed of three, with the battalions hailing from the north of England.

This is a timeline of events that stretched over the period of World War II.

Siege of Lille (1940) Military battle

The Siege of Lille or Lille Pocket was a Second World War battle fought during the Battle of France. It took place from 28 to 31 May 1940, in the vicinity of Lille. It involved about 40,000 men of the French IV Corps and V Corps, part of the First Army, after the III Corps managed to retreat to the Lys river with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) divisions nearby. The surrounded portion of the army fought seven German divisions, including three armoured divisions, that were attempting to cut off and destroy the Allied armies in the Battle of Dunkirk. The defence of Lille was of great assistance to the Allied troops retreating into the Dunkirk perimeter.

British Expeditionary Force (World War II) British Army in Western Europe from 1939 to 1940

The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was the name of the British Army in Western Europe during the Second World War from 2 September 1939 when the BEF GHQ was formed until 31 May 1940, when GHQ closed down. Military forces in Britain were under Home Forces command. During the 1930s, the British government planned to deter war by rearming from the very low level of readiness of the early 30s and abolished the Ten Year Rule. The bulk of the extra money went to the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force but plans were made to re-equip a small number of Army and Territorial Army divisions for service overseas.

Battle of Belgium battle

The Battle of Belgium or Belgian Campaign, often referred to within Belgium as the 18 Days' Campaign, formed part of the greater Battle of France, an offensive campaign by Germany during the Second World War. It took place over 18 days in May 1940 and ended with the German occupation of Belgium following the surrender of the Belgian Army.

Battle of the Lys (1940) major battle between Belgian and German forces during the German Invasion of Belgium of 1940

The Battle of the Lys was a major battle between Belgian and German forces during the German Invasion of Belgium of 1940 and the final major battle fought by Belgian troops before their surrender on 28 May. It was the bloodiest of the 18 Days' Campaign. The battle was named after the river Leie, where the battlefield was situated.

The following events occurred in May 1940:

Battle of Boulogne Battle for the port and town of Boulogne-sur-Mer during 1940

The Battle of Boulogne was the defence of the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer by French, British and Belgian troops, during the Battle of France of the Second World War in 1940. The battle was fought at the same time as the Siege of Calais, just before Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) through Dunkirk. After the Franco-British counter-attack at the Battle of Arras German units were held ready to resist a resumption of the attack on 22 May, despite the protests of General Heinz Guderian, the commander of XIX Corps, who wanted to rush north up the Channel coast to capture Boulogne, Calais and Dunkirk. An attack by part of the XIX Corps was not authorised until 12:40 p.m. on 22 May, by when the Allied troops at Boulogne had been reinforced from England by most of the 20th Guards Brigade.

The Battle of the Ypres–Comines Canal was a battle of the Second World War fought between the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and German Army Group B during the BEF's retreat to Dunkirk in 1940. Part of the Battle of Belgium and the much larger Battle of France, it started in the afternoon of 26 May and reached its maximum intensity on 27 and 28 May. Locally it is referred to as the Battle of the Canal and it is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Battle of Wytschaete. Its official British Army name, which is borne on the battle honours of a number of regiments, is that given here.

Historiography of the Battle of France

The Historiography of the Battle of France describes how the German victory over French and British forces in the Battle of France had been explained by historians and others. Many people in 1940 found the fall of France unexpected and earth shaking. Alexander notes that Belgium and the Netherlands fell to the German army in a matter of days and the British were soon driven back to the British Isles,

But it was France's downfall that stunned the watching world. The shock was all the greater because the trauma was not limited to a catastrophic and deeply embarrassing defeat of her military forces – it also involved the unleashing of a conservative political revolution that, on 10 July 1940, interred the Third Republic and replaced it with the authoritarian, collaborationist Etat Français of Vichy. All this was so deeply disorienting because France had been regarded as a great power....The collapse of France, however, was a different case.



  1. Major General Harold Alexander, commanding I Corps, was one of the last to leave. Just before midnight on 2 June, Ramsay received the signal: "BEF evacuated". [37]


  1. Shirer 1960, Footnote, p. 736.
  2. "HyperWar: The War in France and Flanders 1939–1940 [Chapter XII]". Archived from the original on 9 August 2017.
  3. 1 2 Hooton 2010, p. 71.
  4. Murray 2002 (1985 ed.) p. 42.
  5. Frank's 2008, ok. 33–39.
  6. Murray 2002 (1985 ed.strategy for defeat) p. 42.
  7. Frank's 2008, p. 160.
  8. 1 2 MacDonald 1986, p. 8.
  9. Frieser 2005, pp. 291–92.
  10. Shirer 1959, p. 879.
  11. Butler 2009, p. 151.
  12. Shirer 1959, p. 883.
  13. 1 2 Taylor and Mayer 1974, p. 60.
  14. Shirer 1959, p. 877.
  15. 1 2 3 Atkin 1990, p. 120.
  16. Kershaw 2008, p. 27.
  17. Bond 1990, pp. 104–05.
  18. Lord 1983, p. 148.
  19. Liddell Hart 1970, p. 40.
  20. 1 2 3 MacDonald 1986, p. 12.
  21. Sebag-Montefiore 2006, p. 250.
  22. Lord 1982, pp. 74–76.
  23. Shirer 1959, p. 882.
  24. Thompson 2009, pp. 174–178.
  25. Thompson 2009, p. 179.
  26. Thompson 2009, pp. 182–183.
  27. Thompson 2009, pp. 183–184.
  28. Thompson 2009, pp. 186–192, 215.
  29. Thompson 2009, p. 219.
  30. Anderson, Professor Duncan. "Day of National Prayer." Archived 19 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine BBC. Retrieved: 30 July 2009.
  31. Sebag-Montefiore 2006, p. 303.
  32. 1 2 3 Liddell Hart 1970, p. 41.
  33. Fermer, Douglas (2013). Three German Invasions of France: The Summer Campaigns of 1870, 1914, and 1940. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military. p. 208. ISBN   9781781593547.
  34. Lord 1982, p. 199.
  35. Lord 1982, p. 200.
  36. Lord 1982, p. 210.
  37. MacDonald 1986, p. 18.
  38. 1 2 3 MacDonald 1986, p. 16.
  39. Lord 1982, p. 246.
  40. 1 2 Liddell Hart 1970, p. 46.
  41. Page 180 – Dunkirk, 1940: a history, Robert Carse, Prentice-Hall, 1970 – Biography & Autobiography – 214 pages Archived 1 August 2017 at the Wayback Machine
  42. Shirer 1959, p. 884.
  43. Lord 1982, pp. 267–269.
  44. Butler 2009, pp. 296–305.
  45. Postan 1952, Chapter IV.
  46. Anderson, Professor Duncan. "Miracle' at Dunkirk/" Archived 31 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine , writing BBC. Retrieved: 30 July 2009.
  47. Rodgers, Lucy. "The men who defined the 'Dunkirk spirit'." Archived 24 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine BBC, 14 May 2010. Retrieved: 30 July 2010.
  48. "Medals: campaigns, descriptions and eligibility". Archived from the original on 23 June 2017. Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  49. "Dunkirk Medal (1940)". Archived from the original on 9 August 2017. Retrieved 11 July 2017.


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Coordinates: 51°02′03″N2°22′37″E / 51.0343°N 2.37682°E / 51.0343; 2.37682