War with Hitler: The Dunkirk Evacuation

Adolf Hitler.
Hitler dancing a jig after France’s surrender in June of 1940.
The three main shipping routes during the Dunkirk Evacuation shown in red.
Parts of the fleet of small British boats used to evacuate soldiers from France to Britain.
The White Cliffs of Dover.
Warship filled with French troops capsizing while evacuating Dunkirk.
A British military helmet and a transport vehicle — the type of equipment left behind in Dunkirk.

During World War II, the United Kingdom had a military defense pact with France. Therefore, when Hitler’s Germany invaded France in this war, Britain felt obliged to come to their ally’s rescue. As a result, in 1940, large contingents of British troops were sent to France to help repel the German forces.

The numerous British re-enforcements notwithstanding, Germany’s extremely powerful and aggressive military caught the Anglo-French alliance off guard. Overwhelmed by the German armed forces, large numbers of British, French and other Allied troops were quickly hemmed in, and soon found themselves surrounded in the northern French city of Dunkirk.

Hundreds of ships

Desperate to save the hundreds of thousands of besieged soldiers at Dunkirk, Britain decided to commission everything from large warships to small fishing boats to try to carry the Allied soldiers to safety across the English Channel. Still though, even with this many watercrafts, the rescue operation was not going to be easy. This was because much of the waters that the rescue boats would have to cross were controlled by the German military, a circumstance that made any British passage to and from Dunkirk highly perilous.

A miracle and a tragedy

Despite the danger, the rescue mission got underway. Zigzagging through clusters of mines and under heavy German bombardment, many hundreds of British ships shuttled across the dreadful strait for an entire week. In this way, as by a miracle, over three hundred thousand soldiers of primarily British and French nationality were rescued, leading to the campaign later being called the Miracle of Dunkirk. However, the Dunkirk evacuation is also remembered by Britons as an enormous tragedy. This is because the Allied coalition lost tens of thousands of men to superior German forces on the Dunkirk shores and Britain, humiliatingly, had to leave most of their military equipment behind.