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Dunkirk: the Battle & Evacuation


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Caleb
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« on: March 23, 2008, 03:51:51 am »



A famous image of Dunkirk: "A British soldier fires at German aircraft strafing him on Dunkirk's beaches

The Battle of Dunkirk was the defense and evacuation of the British and Allied forces that had been separated from the main body of the French defenses by the German advance.

After the seven months of the Phoney War, the Battle of France began in earnest on May 10, 1940. To the east, the German Army Group B invaded and subdued the Netherlands and advanced westwards through Belgium. On the 14 May, Army Group A burst through the Ardennes region and advanced rapidly to the west toward Sedan, then turned northwards to the English Channel, in what Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein called the "sickle cut" (known as the Manstein Plan).

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 British Expeditionary Force 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 Germans swung north along the coast, threatening to capture the ports and trap the British and French forces before they could evacuate to Britain.

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Caleb
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« Reply #1 on: March 23, 2008, 03:53:51 am »

On May 24, Hitler visited General Gerd von Rundstedt's headquarters at Charleville. Von Rundstedt advised him that the infantry should attack the British forces at Arras, where they had shown themselves capable of significant action, while Kleist's armour held the line West and South of Dunkirk in order to pounce on the Allied Forces retreating before Army Group B. This order allowed the Germans to consolidate their gains and prepare for a southward advance against the remaining French forces. In addition, the terrain around Dunkirk was considered unsuitable for armour, so the destruction of the Allied forces was initially assigned to the Luftwaffe and the German infantry organised in Army Group B. The true reason for Hitler's decision to halt the German armour is a matter of debate. The most popular theory is that Von Rundstedt and Hitler agreed to conserve the armour for future operations further South - namely for Operation Fall Rot.

On May 25, 1940, General Lord Gort, the commander of the BEF, decided to evacuate British forces. From 25 May to 28 May, British troops retreated about 30 miles northwest into a pocket along the France-Belgian border extending from Dunkirk on the coast to the Belgian town of Poperinge. The Belgians surrendered on 28 May, followed the next day by elements of the French 1st Army trapped outside the Dunkirk Pocket.

Starting on May 27, the evacuation of Dunkirk began. The German Panzer Divisions were ordered to resume their advance on the same day, but improved defenses halted their initial offensive, although the remaining Allied forces were compressed into a five km wide coastal strip from De Panne through Bray-Dunes to Dunkirk by 31 May.

A total of five nations took part in the evacuation from Dunkirk — Britain, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Poland.

« Last Edit: March 23, 2008, 03:54:33 am by Caleb » Report Spam   Logged
Caleb
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« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2008, 03:55:09 am »

The defense of the perimeter led to the loss or capture of a number of British Army units such as the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment who were involved in the Le Paradis massacre on 26 May. More than 35,000 French soldiers were made prisoners. Nevertheless, in the nine days from 27 May to 4 June, 338,226 men left France, including 120,000 French and Belgian troops, together with a small number of Dutch troops.

Number of men rescued (in chronological order):

27 May (7669 men)
28 May (17,804 men)
29 May (47,310 men)
30–31 May (120,927 men)
1 June (64,229 men)
2–4 June (up to 54,000 men)
In accordance with military principle where priority is given to men over arms, the Allies left behind 2,000 guns, 60,000 trucks, 76,000 tons of ammunition and 600,000 tons of fuel supplies.

10,252 Belgian soldiers lost
42,000 wounded
8,467 missing
1,212,000 Dutch, Belgian, French and British prisoners taken
30,000 British died
338,226 men saved in the evacuation
The Germans gained:

1,200 field guns
1,250 anti-aircraft guns
11,000 machine guns
25,000 vehicles
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Caleb
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« Reply #3 on: March 23, 2008, 04:06:32 am »



British fisher rescuing allied troops escaping from Dunkirk in a trawler (France, 1940). Screenhot taken from the 1943 United States Army propaganda film Divide and Conquer (Why We Fight #3) directed by Frank Capra and partially based on news archives, animations, restaged scenes and captured propaganda material from both sides.
« Last Edit: March 23, 2008, 04:07:45 am by Caleb » Report Spam   Logged
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« Reply #4 on: March 23, 2008, 04:07:14 am »

The successful evacuation of 338,000 Allied troops from Dunkirk ended the first phase in the Battle of France. It provided a great boost to British morale, but left the remaining French to stand alone against a renewed German assault southwards. The British 51st (Highland) division was left behind by the British to cover the allied retreat. The division was made up of the Black Watch, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Gordon Highlanders, Seaforth Highlanders and Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. Many were captured or killed. German troops entered Paris on June 14 and accepted the surrender of France on 22 June.

A marble memorial was established at Dunkirk (Dunkerque), it translates in English 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 loss of so much materiel on the beaches meant that 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. Troops falling back from Dunkirk were told by their officers 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 numbers of obsolete bus and coach models from UK scrapyards to press them into use as troop transports. Some of these antique 1930s workhorses (some with only rear-wheel braking, which made them illegal for use on British roads) were still in use as late as the North African campaign some two years later.

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Caleb
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« Reply #5 on: March 23, 2008, 04:08:31 am »



British troops evacuating Dunkirk's beaches
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« Reply #6 on: March 23, 2008, 04:09:30 am »



Battle of Dunkirk memorial.
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« Reply #7 on: March 23, 2008, 04:11:33 am »

The Dunkirk evacuation, codenamed Operation Dynamo by the British, was the large evacuation of Allied soldiers from May 26 to June 4, 1940, during the Battle of Dunkirk. British Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay planned the operation and briefed Winston Churchill in the Dynamo Room (a room in the naval headquarters below Dover Castle which contained the dynamo that provided the electricity), giving the operation its name.[1]

In nine days, more than three hundred thousand (331,226) soldiers — 192,226 British and 139,000 French — were rescued from Dunkirk, France and the surrounding beaches by a hastily assembled fleet of eight hundred and sixty boats. These craft included the famous "Little Ships of Dunkirk", a mixture of merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure craft and RNLI lifeboats, whose civilian crews were called into service for the emergency. These small craft ferried troops from the beaches to larger ships waiting offshore, which were mainly large destroyer ships. Though the "Miracle of the Little Ships" is a prominent folk memory in Britain (and a great morale booster for the time), over 80% of the evacuated troops actually embarked from the harbour's protective mole onto the 42 destroyers and other large ships.

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« Reply #8 on: March 23, 2008, 04:12:44 am »



French troops rescued by a British merchant ship at Dunkirk
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« Reply #9 on: March 23, 2008, 04:15:30 am »



Initial plans called for the recovery of 45,000 men from the British Expeditionary Force within two days, at which time it was expected that German troops would be able to block further evacuation. Only 25,000 men escaped during this period, including 7,000 on the first day. Ten additional destroyers joined the rescue effort on May 27 and attempted rescue operations in the early morning, but were unable to closely approach the beaches, although several thousand were rescued. However, the pace of evacuation from the shrinking Dunkirk pocket increased steadily.

On May 29, 47,000 British troops were rescued in spite of the first heavy air attack from the Luftwaffe in the evening. The next day, an additional 54,000 men were embarked, including the first French soldiers. 68,000 men and the commander of the BEF evacuated on May 31. A further 64,000 Allied soldiers departed on June 1, before the increasing air attacks prevented further daylight evacuation. The British rearguard departed the night of June 2, along with 60,000 French soldiers. An additional 26,000 French troops were retrieved the following night before the operation finally ended.

Two French divisions remained behind to protect the evacuation. Though they halted the German advance, they were soon captured. The remainder of the rearguard, largely French, surrendered on June 3, 1940. The next day, the BBC reported, "Major-General Harold Alexander [the commander of the rearguard] inspected the shores of Dunkirk from a motorboat this morning to make sure no-one was left behind before boarding the last ship back to Britain."

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« Reply #10 on: March 23, 2008, 04:16:54 am »



British troops escaping from Dunkirk in lifeboats.
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« Reply #11 on: March 23, 2008, 04:19:06 am »



Royal Navy gunner covering retreating troops at Dunkirk (1940).
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« Reply #12 on: March 23, 2008, 04:21:16 am »

Despite the success of this operation, all the heavy equipment and vehicles were abandoned and several thousand French troops were captured in the Dunkirk pocket. Six British and three French destroyers were sunk, along with nine large boats. In addition, 19 destroyers were damaged. Over 200 of the Allied sea craft were sunk, with an equal number damaged. Winston Churchill revealed in his volumes on WWII that the Royal Air Force played a most important role protecting the retreating troops from the Luftwaffe. Without the support of the RAF, the allies would not have had such a successful evacuation. Churchill also said that the sand on the beach softened the explosions from the German bombs. The RAF lost 474 planes, compared to 132 for the Luftwaffe. However, the retreating troops were largely unaware of this vital assistance because the weather was too foggy to see them, and many bitterly accused the airmen of doing nothing to help. The French also lost a large number of ships that had nothing to do with the evacuation. Many French naval ships were idle in ports. To stop the Germans from being able to use these ships, British bomber planes were sent in to destroy the French ships.

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« Reply #13 on: March 23, 2008, 04:38:30 am »



British & French prisoners at Dunkirk, June 1940.
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« Reply #14 on: March 23, 2008, 04:40:05 am »

Major ships lost

The Royal Navy's most significant losses in the operation were six destroyers:

Grafton, sunk by U-62 on 29 May;
Grenade, sunk by air attack off the east pier at Dunkirk on 29 May;
Wakeful, sunk by a torpedo from a Schnellboot (E-boat) S-30 on 29 May;
Basilisk, Havant, and Keith, sunk by air attack off the beaches on 1 June.
The French Navy lost three destroyers:

Bourrasque, mined off Nieuport on 30 May;
Sirocco, sunk by the Schnellboot S-23 and S-26 on 31 May;
Le Foudroyant, sunk by air attack off the beaches on 1 June.
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