On This Day

Miracle of Dunkirk

British troops await evacuation at Dunkirk
British troops await evacuation at Dunkirk

Historical Context

The German invasion of France proceeded with unprecedented speed in May 1940, catching the French and the British Expeditionary Force off by guard. The German hook through France from the Ardennes had trapped more than 300,000 British troops on the beaches at the port of Dunkirk on France's northern coast, as well as Belgian and French troops.

The decision to halt an immediate attack on the British troops has been the subject of much speculation, including the unfounded assertion that Adolf Hitler did not want to destroy the Allied troops so that he could negotiate a peace deal with London. In reality, German commanders were worried about supply, and the potential effect on tanks operating in the area. Attacking the troops was left to the Luftwaffe.

In any case the ground troops were ordered on the move again on 28 May, four days after the halt order, the delay giving the Allies time to prepare an evacuation. In eight days over 320,000 troops were evacuated, by a combination of naval ships and hundreds of merchant marine, leisure vessels and other civilian boats that became known as the Little Ships of Dunkirk.

Winston Churchill called the evacuation a "miracle of deliverance" but the entire Dunkirk failure a "colossal military disaster." On 4 June, the last day of the evacuation, he made his famous "we shall fight on the beaches" speech to the House of Commons.

Photo Info

Photographer: Unknown
Location taken: Dunkirk, France

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Related Events

  • 1940-05-27 British and Allied forces begin the evacuation of Dunkirk (Operation Dynamo) during WWII
  • 1940-05-31 Major General Bernard Montgomery leaves Dunkirk
  • 1940-06-02 Heavy German bombing on Dunkirk beach
  • 1940-06-03 Last British and French troops evacuated from Dunkirk
  • 1940-06-04 British complete the "Miracle of Dunkirk" by evacuating 338,226 allied troops from France via a flotilla of over 800 vessels including Royal Navy destroyers, merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure craft and even lifeboats

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