During the next five years, Churchill and the British leadership were able to expand the size of the British army, add new planes to the resources of the RAF, repair and replace the ships lost at Dunkirk and reestablish the British Navy as one of the most powerful in the world. This Is What Happened After the Rescue. Trump's Presidency Divided Families. Dunkirk is filled with fictional characters, but it's based on the true events of that week in the summer of 1940. The evacuation of the British Expeditionary Forces from the beach at Dunkirk, France, 26 May to 4 June 1940. By the time he resumed attacks, the evacuation had begun. When the Allied forces landed in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944, three of the eight divisions that took part were British. Ring in the new year with a Britannica Membership. After Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 Western Europe entered a stalemate period which became known as the “Phoney War”. As the film depicts early on, pilots had to carefully conserve fuel on the Channel crossing and, even then, could only operate for less than an hour over Dunkirk itself. Commander Weygand, however, opposed such a move and vowed to remain on French soil to defend his homeland. Kleist’s southern flank was progressively lined by his motorized divisions, which in turn were relieved by the infantry corps that were marching on as fast as possible. British, French, Canadian, and Belgian troops had been forced back to Dunkirk by the advancing German army. Told from the perspective of the decision makers and the soldiers on the ground, this series offers a tr… Some members of the British government, beginning to regret the rise of the uncompromising Churchill, considered what sort of an agreement might be reached with the German leader. "A miracle" - is the best description of what happened at Dunkirk in May and June 1940. Weygand did not arrive until May 19, and thus for three critical days the Supreme Command was without direction. By signing up you are agreeing to our. * The request timed out and you did not successfully sign up. Tennant observed that evacuating troops directly from the beach would be an arduous and potentially costly process. With their country overrun and their backs to the sea, in a small strip crowded with refugees, the Belgians were driven to sue for an armistice that evening. 19 Jan 2021. In the frigid winter of 1944–45, on a forced march of nearly a thousand miles from Poland to just outside of Berlin, Waite almost died. Allied assistance had disappeared. Even if the French had been able to mount a counteroffensive, they would not have found it easy to crush the invader. As the days proceeded, Rommel simply directed his Panzers around the remaining Hedgehogs, and the French were unable to mount an effective counterattack. By evening more reassuring reports had come from the Aisne, and Reynaud broadcast a denial of “the most absurd rumours that the government is preparing to leave Paris.” At the same time, he seized the opportunity to replace Gamelin and for that purpose summoned Gen. Maxime Weygand from Syria. The ones they left behind: Never-before-seen German photos offer a haunting glimpse of what happened to 80,000 Allied troops who failed to escape Dunkirk By Harvey Day For Mailonline The next day, however, orders came from the British Cabinet that the BEF was to march south on Amiens. However, for many troops, Dunkirk was only the beginning. The Dunkirk evacuation moved about 340,000 British, French, and Belgian (Allied) soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France, across the English Channel to England. The French were further hampered by a lack of strategic clarity. As the war dragged on, forced marches became more common, sometimes with very little food or none at all — one British battalion reported receiving only two sugar lumps and two tablespoons of a mixture of carrots and potatoes a day. The agreement divided France into two parts, the northern half under direct German occupation and the south under a puppet regime led by Pétain. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”. He was moved from place to place and kept prisoner on a farm in Poland and forced to work the fields with Nazi guards watching. Updated: March 26, 2018 2:27 PM ET | Originally published: July 21, 2017 6:29 PM EDT. An unexpected error has occurred with your sign up. The next day they crossed the Meuse, and on May 15 they broke through the French defenses into open country, turning westward in the direction of the English Channel. They destroy lives, expend countless resources and often push humanity into dark realms. “The Kommandant, a German we called the ‘Purple Emperor,’ told us, ‘If you look out of the window you are going to be shot.’ One officer said he was still going to do it — and he was shot. Get a Britannica Premium subscription and gain access to exclusive content. On May 19 Gen. John Gort, commander in chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), began to consider the necessity of evacuating his forces by sea and the preparatory steps that such an endeavour would require. After this flash in the pan the Allied armies in the north made no further effort to break out of the trap, while the belated relieving push from the south was so feeble as to be almost farcical. When it ended on June 4, about 198,000 British and 140,000 French and Belgian troops had been saved. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. The French fought as well as they could, relying on small groups of troops and armaments gathered into tight factions called “Hedgehogs.” From June 5 to June 7, these pockets of resistance slowed the Germans as they crossed the marshes of the Somme River at Hangst in the west and at Péronne in the east. Their sacrifice had brought the salvation of the British nation. The 73-year-old veteran of World War I was better at expounding outdated theory than grasping the realities of a rapidly changing, increasingly motorized battlefield. Two were dropped from the air and one arrived by ship and stormed the beaches beside its American allies. Gort argued that such a long-range drive in reverse was not practicable, either tactically or administratively. Please attempt to sign up again. Between May 26 and June 4, 1940, some 340,000 Allied troops were evacuated from the French seaport of Dunkirk to England. It was redemption. As noted by Longden: “These dreadful days were never forgotten by those who endured them. The crimes began as Dunkirk was being evacuated. They were forced into a barn and massacred with grenades. From the day of the German invasion on May 10 through the evacuation of Dunkirk, France had lost 24 infantry divisions, including six of seven motorized divisions. Dunkirk was a critical turning point in World War II. However, once you know what happened in Dunkirk, it all makes sense. All he could manage was an attack by two divisions, which had just been rushed south to Arras, led by a brigade of infantry tanks, the only armoured troops he had. On May 29 there was an unexpected change of fate; the German army stopped its advance on Dunkirk and the panzer divisions were called back. Instead, 20 German planes were damaged and another 60 shot down. The new French commander, Maxime Weygand, transferred soldiers from the Maginot Line, but could muster only 43 infantry divisions to face the Third Reich’s 104. Updates? The victory that followed was sweet for all involved, but for the British, it was more than that. They had fought the battles to ensure the successful evacuation of over 300,000 fellow soldiers. William Tennant with its tactical oversight. German dictator Adolf Hitler’s blitzkrieg strategy depended on maintaining concentrated forward momentum in its invasion of France and Belgium; Germany had overrun the region by May 1940. More dangerous still was the backdoor approach of Guderian, whose armoured forces were sweeping north past Boulogne and Calais. Corrections? By the next day motorized divisions had taken over the line of the Somme from Péronne to Abbeville, forming a strong defensive flank. Gen. Georg-Hans Reinhardt swung south of the British rear position at Arras, headed for the same objective—the last escape port that remained open for the British. They determined that the beach at the French seaport of Dunkirk would best serve this purpose. On May 10 German tanks crossed Luxembourg to the southeastern border of Belgium, and by the evening of May 12 the Germans were across the Franco-Belgian frontier and overlooking the Meuse River. The assault failed to produce the desired results, with the British capital escaping serious harm. The British light tanks proved to be surprisingly effective against German antitank weapons, and this small drive into the corridor momentarily shook the nerve of the German High Command. The Luftwaffe bombed the beach throughout the evacuation, significantly slowing down the process. Wars are terrible and brutal things. Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article (requires login). Hundreds of thousands of troops were rescued from the German advance in the nick of time. British soldier Charlie Waite’s story was not uncommon. As described in Dunkirk: The Men They Left Behind, by Sean Longden, some were summarily executed. When this riposte was launched on May 21, it comprised no more than two tank battalions backed by two infantry battalions, while elements of one French light mechanized division covered its flanks. But you took it because it was part of life. Gen. Paul Ludwig von Kleist surprised the Allies by advancing through Luxembourg and into France over the course of five days. A Battle of Britain hero thought to have been the real life inspiration for Tom Hardy's character in the film Dunkirk has been revealed after his bravery medals emerged for sale. More than 930 ships took part in the evacuation. To lower officer morale, the Nazis told British officers that they would lose their rank and be sent to the salt mines to work. He now decided to withdraw to the line of the Oise, 30 miles (48 km) farther back, and to block the Germans there. He quickly replaced the equipment lost in France. The immediate context of the Dunkirk evacuation was Germany’s invasion of the Low Countries and northern France in May 1940. Please select which sections you would like to print: While every effort has been made to follow citation style rules, there may be some discrepancies. Brilliantly spinning the defeat at Dunkirk into an expression of the “Dunkirk spirit,” Churchill urged his people to display the grit of the British troops and the can-do attitude of civilians who volunteered their ships for the rescue operation. Yet they had been forgotten while those who escaped and made their way back home were hailed as heroes.”. However, Dunkirk’s beach was too shallow for Royal Navy battleships to safely approach, so the British admiralty assembled approximately 700 civilian craft that would transport troops to battleships waiting in the North Sea. To remedy this, he directed the soldiers to board rescue ships from a 1,400-yard (1.3-km)-long breakwater to the east. The remaining obstacles that could have blocked the advance were not manned in time. On June 4 Prime Minister Winston Churchill roused his country by declaring: “[We] shall not flag or fail. Hulton Archive/Getty. Some were killed. While the governments and commanders got into a tangle of divergent views and orders, the cut-off armies in the north fell back on a slant closer to the coast under increasing pressure from Gen. Walther von Reichenau’s advance through Belgium. Once again he was too late, for the German panzer divisions outran his retreating troops and were across that barrier on May 17. On May 10 the German blitzkrieg attack on the Netherlands began with the capture by parachutists of key bridges deep within the country, with the aim of opening the way for mobile ground forces. The French government panicked and nearly evacuated Paris; their worries were compounded by further German advances into Belgium on May 17. What happened at Dunkirk in May and June 1940 must rank as one of the greatest maritime evacuations in history, let alone World War II.Soldiers, sailors, and civilians were caught up in the events of those desperate days in the race against time to save Allied armies trapped in France. The Battle of Arras and the Belgian surrender, https://www.britannica.com/event/Dunkirk-evacuation, Social Studies for Kids - The Dunkirk Evacuation, Military History Encyclopedia on the Web - Dunkirk Evacuation, Dunkirk evacuation - Children's Encyclopedia (Ages 8-11). Newly fortified, British soldiers fought against advances in North Africa and the Middle East by the Axis forces. France did not have the strength to mount an immediate counteroffensive. This weakened German side made it possible for the Allies to rescue 30,000 men, w… During the evacuation, 126 civilian sailors were killed. Together with the civilians who aided the Royal Navy, they saved countless lives. The opposite was the case. Fall of France The Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo and 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. Instead of four armored divisions equipped with 200 tanks each, the country now had three, each equipped with 40. Even before the German military forced Belgium’s surrender on May 28, 1940, the British government had been quietly preparing for an evacuation of its ground forces and other Allied troops under the code name Operation Dynamo. Premier Paul Reynaud favored a Dunkirk-like evacuation to North Africa, where the army could be protected by the French Fleet and the Royal Navy while it reconstituted itself, gathered additional forces from the French colonial empire and took delivery on a fleet of planes from the U.S. When, on May 15, French commander-in-chief Maurice Gamelin received an alarming report that the Germans were crossing the Aisne between Rethel and Laon, he told the government that he had no reserves between that sector and Paris and could not guarantee the security of the capital for more than a day. Consequently, three of Gort’s divisions were withdrawn from the front and sent south to strengthen the line of canals that covered Dunkirk and the Allies’ rear. A 20-year-old from Essex, Waite was captured on May 20. 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 … Several factors were at play, one potentially being Hitler’s belief that the British would more readily negotiate if he exhibited clemency. Hitler tentatively planned for a British invasion, code-named Operation Sea Lion, but he knew that such an incursion would be risky, difficult and very costly, and so he waited for a British peace offer. Omissions? Please refer to the appropriate style manual or other sources if you have any questions. In this article we are going to take a look at the amount of equipment that was left in France, the amount of equipment remaining in the United Kingdom and the ability of the United Kingdoms industry to replace the losses suffered. This was happening all the time. A third of a million British soldiers were facing annihilation but just days later the majority had been rescued. The prevailing confusion was increased by Weygand’s arrival to take over supreme command. The 7th Panzer Division, led by Erwin Rommel, finally broke through in the west and charged 20 miles south of the Somme to cut off one British division, which retreated and later evacuated. During World War II, in May–June 1940, the British Expeditionary Force and other Allied troops, cut off by the Germans, were evacuated from Dunkirk to England by naval vessels and hundreds of civilian boats. German troops and French prisoners of war crossing the Meuse River after the Battle of Sedan, May 15, 1940. Dunkirk's timeline is so intricately woven that it would take a whole other article to fully explore, but to explain the ending we do need to have a strong grounding of everything that's happened thus far, so here's a quick recap.. Dunkirk has been the site of many European battles because of its location near the sea. There are going to be some Dunkirk spoilers, so go and watch it and then come back. Although it takes place in one of the most dramatic chapters of World War II, Dunkirk isn’t really about conflict, or violence, or the horrors of combat. Naval vessels and hundreds of civilian boats were used in the evacuation, which began on May 26. The following is an excerpt from TIME-LIFE’s new special edition, World War II: Dunkirk, available on Amazon. Allied planners had hoped to check the Germans at the Dyle Line—a defensive line that ran from Antwerp south to the French frontier, north of Sedan—but by May 16 Gamelin had determined that such a stand was impracticable. The following is an excerpt from TIME-LIFE’s new special edition, World War II: Dunkirk, available on Amazon. None of this might have happened but for the miracle of Dunkirk. When the Belgians’ extended right flank, adjoining the British, gave way under pressure from Reichenau, these two divisions were rushed north again. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. After Gamelin’s startling message, French Premier Paul Reynaud hastily decided to move the seat of government from Paris to Tours. You are fighting to keep alive.”. His grandiloquent orders had no more chance of being translated into practical terms than those of Reynaud or new British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Dunkirk evacuation, (1940) in World War II, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and other Allied troops from the French seaport of Dunkirk (Dunkerque) to England. While Allied leaders were still hoping for an attack that would cut off the expanding “bulge,” German armoured forces raced to the Channel and cut off the Allied forces in Belgium. Beginning on May 26th and ending on June 4th, the plan was to evacuate at least 45,000 troops -- the number thought to be needed to protect England from invasion -- but in the end more than 300,000 … The scene on the pier in Dunkirk. Dunkirk. The POWs were denied food and medical treatment. The Battle of Dunkirk, and subsequent evacuation of the French seaside town, … Encyclopaedia Britannica's editors oversee subject areas in which they have extensive knowledge, whether from years of experience gained by working on that content or via study for an advanced degree.... British and other Allied troops wading through the water to board ships at Dunkirk, France, 1940. That same day, Gen. Henri Giraud assumed command of the French Ninth Army and drew up a plan for a counteroffensive on a line 25 miles (40 km) west of the Meuse. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook . Here's a Formula That Explains Where We Need to Invest in Climate Innovation, Sign up to receive the top stories you need to know now on politics, health and more, © 2021 TIME USA, LLC. On May 28, the SS Totenkopf Division marched about 100 members of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment, which had just surrendered, to a pit in a farm in Le Paradis and murdered them with machine gun spray. And in July, when Hitler’s bombers began attacking English cities in an effort to force surrender, Churchill prepared the nation for the three-month-long siege that would come to be called the Battle of Britain. You accepted it. Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest . Churchill was having none of it. 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