On This Day 76 Years Ago – 700 Little Ships Sailed to Rescue 338,000 Soldiers Trapped on the Beaches at Dunkirk

On 26th May 1940 the 700 Little Ships of Dunkirk sailed from Ramsgate in England to Dunkirk in France between 26th May and 4th June 1940 as part of Operation Dynamo, helping to rescue more than 338,000 British and French soldiers who were trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk during the Second World War.

198,000 of the troops were part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) of the British Army in Europe from 1939 to 1940 during early stages of the Second World War. Commanded by General Lord Gort, the BEF constituted 10 percent of the defending Allied force. The other 140,000 troops were French. Without the Evacuation of Dunkirk all these troops would have been killed or captured by the German Army and the war could easily have been lost as a result!

No purely military study of the major aspects of the war could do justice to the skill and the heroism of the evacuation from Dunkirk. Suffice it to say only that, when it began, members of the British imperial general staff doubted that 25% of the BEF could be saved. When it was completed, some 330,000 French and British troops, together with some Belgian and Dutch forces who refused to surrender, had reached haven in England.

One of the most motley fleets of history – ships, transports, merchantmen, fishing boats, pleasure craft – took men off from the very few ports left, from the open beaches themselves, for German air attacks had virtually destroyed most port facilities.

The royal air force, including planes from the metropolitan force in England, met and asserted at least temporary air superiority over the tremendous German air forces, and the royal navy, with daring and precision, assisted by courageous French naval craft, stood close in shore and not only covered the evacuation but took off thousands of men in overloaded destroyers and other small craft.

With Dunkirk, the disastrous defense of the Low Countries ended in a brief flash of glory for the Allies. Yet the brilliance of the evacuation could not hide the fact that the British had suffered a terrible defeat and that Britain itself was in dire peril. The BEF had been saved, but almost all of its heavy equipment, tanks, artillery, and motorized transport had been left behind. Britain was helpless in the face of a seemingly all-conquering foe that stood just a few miles away, across the open water of the English Channel.

 

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Boats carrying troops at Dunkirk in 1940! Click on the picture for more information about the Dunkirk evacuation . . .
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The Little Ships of Dunkirk arrive back in Britain carrying rescued troops! Click on the picture for more information about what actually happened . . .

 

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