The Second World War, also known as Hitler’s war, was a war of movement and speed. Hitler had trained his troops to carry out ‘Blitzkrieg’- lightning war, which meant, quick, skilled and heavy artillery tactics were used by the German army. Before the war Hitler had joined forces with Austria-Hungary and taken over Czechoslovakia, September 1939 he had conquered Poland-, which marked the beginning of the war, in April 1940, both Norway and Denmark had fallen and on the 10th May the German army simultaneously invaded Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. France was his next target.
By the 27th of May the German Army had successfully advanced towards the beaches of Dunkirk and with help from their Luftwaffe, had been able to trap the BEF there. Fortunately the British Government launched Operation Dynamo, an evacuation plan that any seaworthy man and ship would sail to the beaches and rescue the soldiers. The evacuation continued for a whole week and in the aftermath a myth was born; was this evacuation a triumph or a disaster for the British government? In this essay I am going to explain the causes, events and results of the evacuation. A main problem that the BEF faced was that their weaponry was inferior.
The Germans were able to strike deep into France with the help of it’s Luftwaffe and the BEF, lacking the arms and means for mobility, couldn’t cope with the German attack. This was the main reason why the Germans were able to encircle the allied forces at Dunkirk, and why they were able to sweep across France so quickly. Also, Hitler’s ‘lightning war’ stunned the allied forces. By May 1940, Hitler had control of most of Europe, between September 1939 and May 1940 Hitler had conquered Poland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg and this was all due to Hitler’s mobilisation of his army and his Lightning War tactics.
As the German Army were skilled at these fast, precise tactics it was easy for them to push the allied forces back to the beaches and therefore forcing them to abandon many weapons and carry out an evacuation. The evacuation lasted for a week, beginning 27th May and ending 4th June 1940, during which time hundreds of British ships, small and large, war and pleasure, sailed back and forth transporting the soldiers to safety. These ships that were sent out by the government, following Operation dynamo, made several trips carrying soldiers back to England but not all of them made it home.
All through the evacuation the German army persisted to attack and the Luftwaffe managed to sink over 200 vessels and damage a further 200. But the evacuation continued and by the end of the week over 330,000 soldiers had been saved. After the evacuation was over a myth was born; was this evacuation a victory or a defeat for Britain? Britain had paid a heavy price for the rescue, Numerous ships had been destroyed, casualties amounted to 68,000, thousands of pounds worth of artillery had been captured and within days they had lost their ally.
But, they didn’t suffer a total defeat, they had managed to save most of their army, German casualties amounted to 138, 108, but most importantly British morale had soared. The evacuation resulted in, France finally surrendering; 22nd June 1940 the Government of France called for an armistice, which left Britain without an ally. Churchill rejected Hitler’s peace arrangements and gained more support from America, because the evacuation showed the British to be strong and non-defeatist. French-British ties had been stretched but the nation had been brought together and American strings had been tied.
Britain set up the LDV, local defence volunteers, invasion preparations such as laying beach fortifications were made and Britain got ready for ‘total war’. Despite the losses suffered after the evacuation of Dunkirk, Britain, five years later, went on to win the war. When assessing the outcome of this evacuation I think that this factor is most definitely overlooked. Dunkirk gave the people a New Hope, the army was saved and the much-needed support of America was founded. Although France was forced to surrender and weapons of war/ships had been lost, I agree with the statement ‘Dunkirk was the beginning of the end of the Third Reich’.