75 years since the Miracle of Dunkirk

June 2, 2015

Operation Dynamo, also known as the “Miracle of Dunkirk” is widely regarded one of the most significant events British military history. Today, reference is still made to the “Spirit of Dunkirk” when it comes to encompassing a never-say-die attitude and refusal to give up against all odds.

In essence, Operation Dynamo is a strange event to have so ingrained in the national conscience. A plucky response to the failure to prevent Germany’s military expansion and mobilisation across Europe at the start of the Second World War, it functions as neither an awful tragedy nor a flawless victory.

After Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, marking the beginning of the Second World War, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was sent to aid in the defense of France. Germany invaded Belgium and the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, then attacked France through the Ardennes heading towards the English Channel. By 21 May, the German forces had trapped the BEF, the remains of the Belgian forces, and three French armies in an area along the northern coast of France. Commander of the BEF General John Vereker immediately saw that evacuation across the Channel was the best course of action, and began planning a withdrawal to Dunkirk, the closest location with good port facilities.

If you’re planning a trip to France to learn more about the events of the Second World War, then Dunkirk is an important stop, with a history which includes some of the most noteworthy events of both World Wars.

Somehow, the allied forces managed to beat a hasty retreat and escape from Dunkirk port. On the first day of the evacuation, around 7,669 men were evacuated, but by the end of the 8th day, a total of 338,226 soldiers had been rescued by a hastily-assembled fleet of over 800 boats. Many of the troops had to wade out from the beaches, waiting for hours in the freezing-cold, shoulder-deep water.

2015 marks 75 years since Operation Dynamo and to commemorate this there are a number of events taking place throughout the summer, and a museum dedicated to the event set to open in September. You can also pay a visit to the Dunkirk War Museum, open every day.  The Dunkirk Cemetery and Memorial is also just outside of the city, and commemorates soldiers who served in the First and Second World Wars, from both France and the UK.

 

Image credit: Soldiers with their life jackets @ archives_municipales

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