Thursday, May 27, 2010


Today is the 70th anniversary of the what Winston Churchill called the Miracle of Dunkirk. It's a day that arguably saved Western civilization and is definitely worth recalling.

After the German and Soviet invasion of Poland and the British and French declaration of war in 1939, there was a period of relative calm dubbed 'the phony war' during which British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain uttered a gaffe that would come back to haunt him even more than 'peace in our time' - "Hitler has missed the bus in Europe."

The war started anew in May 1940. To the east, the German Army Group B invaded athe Netherlands, culminating in the Dutch surrender after the German bombing of Rotterdam. Hitler's armies then advanced westwards through Belgium and cut through to the Channel after the British and French lines collapsed and they were forced to retreat. After reaching the Channel, the Germans pushed north along the coast, threatening to capture the ports and trap the British and French forces between the German Army and the sea.

The French government was on the verge of collapse, and in Britain, Neville Chamberlain was deposed and Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. Things were so dire that the French were already preparing to sue for terms and even the British were even discussing approaching Hitler about a conditional surrender.

By May 26th, the British and the French forces were trapped in a corridor about 60 miles deep and 15–25 miles wide with their backs to the water,with two massive German armies flanking them, General Fedor von Bock's Army Group B in the east and General Gerd von Rundstedt's Army Group A to the west. It seemed certain that the British and French armies were doomed.

In the midst of all that, something extraordinary happened.

For reason that are still debated, Hitler decided to halt his panzers for three days(most likely to consolidate his supply lines, because the advance had been so rapid) and to let the Luftwaffe bomb and strafe the troops on the beach while he readied his armies for a final push.

During that time, the British issued a call for literally anything that would float and was capable of making the cross Channel trip - yachts,ferryboats, fishing boats,barges, tugs, pleasure boats, and whatever could be spared from the Royal Navy.

Between May 27th, 1940 and June 4th, 338,226 men were rescued off the beaches by 861 vessels, many of whom made multiple trips. 243 of them were sunk during the operation. As Churchill later said, "The little ships of England brought the army home."

Since the docks at Dunkirk had been bombed by the Luftwaffe and were unusable, the British vessels had to use the sea walls protecting the harbor entrance and even the beach itself as landing points.Many of the smaller vessels played a major role in the operation's success because they were able to reach much closer in the beachfront shallows than the larger craft and were able to pick up troops who were waiting out in the water and shuttle them to larger craft waiting further offshore.

All of this was done with the Luftwaffe overhead, although the British RAF flew numerous sorties in an effort to keep the Luftwaffe of the evacuation's neck. In the end, the estimates on RAF losses range from 106 to 170 planes, with Luftwaffe losses estimated between 135 and 240 aircraft.

While Dunkirk was in essence a successful retreat, it was an incredible boost to British morale in a dark time. It saved the British Army, along with a number of French, Polish, Belgian and Dutch troops who later became the battle hardened nucleus of the Allied fighting forces that later freed Europe.

The presence of that Army in England also likely deterred Hitler from invading Britain by sea, setting the stage for the Battle of Britain between the RAF and the Luftwaffe, which ended in a Nazi defeat.

Today, a marble memorial stands in Dunkirk in memory of a time when free men took their destiny in their hands and refused to bow to the forces of totalitarian barbarism.

The inscription translates into 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."

What happened at Dunkirk - and afterwards - is well worth remembering in our own time.


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B.Poster said...

This is a very inspiring story!! Thank you for sharing it!!! I did not know about this!!

This actually has significant relevance to our own time. I'm thinking about the term "successful retreat." Where our troops are currently stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan they are surrounded by hostile forces or poetenially hostile forces that could turn on us in an instant. Needless to say the supply lines to these troops are extremely precarious. In Iraq, we could find oursevles outflanked by hostile forces from Iran, Syria, Saudia Arabia, and Turkey at a moments notice. In afghanistan, the situation is not much better.

We could find ourselves surrounded by Pakistan and Taliban forces with no way out and the supply lines cut off to our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our brave warriors would have to fight their out of a trap set by better armed and better supplied forces on all sides. This sounds like a simillar situation to what the British and the french faced only much tougher thant theirs was.

The logisitics involved in such a situation would be far tougher than what the British faced. I pray the military leaders have prepared for such a contingency. It appears the successful retreat by the British increased morale. I have no doubt that an American withdrawl from Iraq and Afghanistan would have the same effect for our brave warriors and for the Aemrican people. Morale would go up substantially among the Aemrican people and our troops.

The scenario I mention is pretty much inevitable. As such, I would suggest pulling our men and women out now before enemy springs this trap on us. If I know its coming, then I know our military commanders know it is coming. Furthermore, if I know we don't have adequate resources to overcome this, then our military commanders know this as well.

As such, if they have any honor at all, they are currently begging the Commander in Chief and have been for some time to order the "successful retreat." If we do it now, our odds are better of success. This withdrawl would have the effect of preserving what we have left of our fighting capability and it would increase the morale of the Aemrican people and our fighting men and women.

When the enemy springs this trap on us, the logisitics of a retreat will be far tougher than what the British faced, however, I think it is doable. If we began our redeployment now, we would have a better chance. It should be done without delay. Where is the leadership to get this done?

Anonymous said...

Don't they quote RAF losses at about 450 aircraft?

Freedom Fighter said...

I believe the figures your using are for the Battle of Britain.


Gerald said...

War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.