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Dunkirk or Dunkerque as its officially called is a small port town in Northern France. Back in 1940 the beaches and surrounding areas of Dunkirk were to see a bloody fight. A fight that at the time was a defeat for the British and French troops who had tried valiantly to stop the Blitzkrieg or Lightening War. The German Wehrmacht, in 2 huge Army Groups, threw everything at the opposing troops. The Germans had rather cleverly gone round the French fortifications at the Maginot Line, and came full throttle through the Ardennes taking the British and French forces by surprise.
After the initial surprise the allied forces where regrouped and came into contact with the Wehrmacht giving them a bloody nose at various places in Northern France. But as the Germans advanced it became obvious that the allies were no match for the rapidly advancing German forces. Outgunned, manned and, at some stages out fought, the BEF, French and what was left of the Belgian armies streamed westwards towards the coast.
Back in Britain it became apparent that the BEF would be wiped out if they didn’t do something. If the British Army were to be wiped out, Great Britain itself would have nothing to face the German Army as they streamed across the channel. It was agreed that, no matter how many men they could save on the beaches, one man was better than none. Operation Dynamo was put into place with the Royal Navy sending masses of her ships to the port of Dunkirk to get the troops back onto British soil.
A Brave Rearguard
As the BEF, French and Belgian troops massed at the beaches of Dunkirk some where taking a rear guard action to try and stop the German tide from capturing the men. They fought bravely, side by side no matter which country they were from in order to get as many men off the beaches at Dunkirk. Day after day the German’s, already at the gates of Dunkirk hammered the beaches and town with aircraft, artillery and tank fire. Many soldiers lost their lives in and around Dunkirk but many, many more could have been lost had it not been for a heroic rearguard.
The Royal Navy took thousands of men off the beaches at Dunkirk at a very high price. Nearly 700 ships off all shapes, sizes and classes took to the beaches of Dunkirk. They ranged from destroyers, minesweepers, yachts and even pleasure craft, whose previous outings had been to take people on pleasure trips up and down rivers, where now pressed into action. These “Little Ships” where a valuable asset to the Royal Navy as they could ferry men from the beaches to the bigger ships waiting offshore. Without these Little Ships many more men would have lost their lives or been captured when the Germans finally took Dunkirk.
The Wehrmacht surrounded Dunkirk then did something many historians are still arguing over; they stopped their advance. It’s not really clear why they stopped, some rumours say Hitler, realising Britain was on its knees, had hoped they would sue for peace as he didn’t want to fight Britain. Others say the order came from his generals on the frontline and which Hitler seconded. Whatever the reason it was Hitler’s first great mistake. It also gave the men on those blood soaked beaches a chance of getting onto a ship and back to Blighty, along with French and Belgian forces.
After the battle Britain took stock of what had happened. The allies lost some 50,000 dead, wounded or captured men. They had left all their heavy equipment behind in and around Dunkirk and they expected Hitler to invade at any moment.
From the Jaws of Defeat Came Victory
Operation Dynamo was put into place in order to get as many men home as possible. In truth the men who masterminded this audacious plan only expected about 30,000 troops to be saved. In the end the Royal Navy pulled over 338,000 men off those beaches. Included in that figure were some 140,000 French and Belgian troops, all men itching to get back into the thick of it and take on the might of the German Wehrmacht. They would have their day, but not in 1940. Instead they were rearmed and turned into a fighting machine that turned the tide of war and retook Europe from a dictator and madman. Without Operation Dynamo and the sacrifices all those men made on those beaches or in and around the area of Dunkirk, Europe would be a lot different today, and not one most of us would be alive to see. Those men gave everything, the least we can do is remember them and never forget.