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The Evacuation of Dunkirk


“So long as the English tongue survives, the word Dunkirk will be spoken with reverence. In that harbour, such a hell on earth as never blazed before, at the end of a lost battle, the rags and blemishes that had hidden the soul of democracy fell away. There, beaten but unconquered, in shining splendour, she faced the enemy, this shining thing in the souls of free men, which Hitler cannot command. It is in the great tradition of democracy. It is a future. It is victory.” New York Times, 1 June 1940

“For us Germans the word “Dunkirchen” will stand for all time for victory in the greatest battle of annihilation in history. But, for the British and French who were there, it will remind them for the rest of their lives of a defeat that was heavier than any army had ever suffered before.” Der Adler, 5 June 1940 (Source)

The Battle of Dunkirk. The Dunkirk Evacuation. Code Name: Operation Dynamo.

After declaring war on Germany, Britain sent the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to help defend France. The problem, though, was that while France had the Maginot Line between them and Germany, they stupidly believed that the Ardennes forest was “impenetrable.”

So what did Germany do?

On May 10, 1940, the German army attacked Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg. Fighting continued for four days until the Allies were forced to push back when France and Belgium positions failed to hold. 

On May 12, though, Germany entered France through none other than the Ardennes forest.

“The Germans advanced in an arc westward from the Ardennes in Belgium, along France’s Somme River, and to the English Channel, cutting off communication between the Allies’ northern and southern forces” (Source). The Allies were quickly finding themselves surrounded and trapped against the northern coast of France. By the 19th, British commander, General Viscount John Gort, was considering a BEF withdrawal by sea. However, the Allies decided to launch a counterattack on the 21st. By the 24th, German army commander in chief, Walther von Brauchitsh was ready to take Dunkirk. It was actually Hitler who prevented the attack, having been convinced by Hermann Göring that the Luftwaffe “could destroy the Allied forces trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk” (Source). 

Evacuation Dynamo was initiated on May 26th. They expected to have 48 hours to evacuate what they hoped would be 45,000 troops. However, the following day, King Leopold III of Belgium surrendered to Germany. As a result, Germany “resumed the land attack on Dunkirk” (Source). The break in fighting had allowed Britain to fortify their defenses, but they did not last long under advancing Germans. “As there were not enough ships to transport the huge masses of men stranded at Dunkirk, the British Admiralty called on all British citizens in possession of sea-worthy vessels to lend their ships to the effort. Fishing boats, pleasure yachts, lifeboats, and other civilian ships raced to Dunkirk, braving mines, bombs, and torpedoes” (Source). Some 933 ships took part.

Between the Luftwaffe and the counterattacks (some 3,500 missions) from the RAF, the Dunkirk harbor was beyond use. “Small civilian vessels had to ferry the soldiers from the beaches to the warships waiting at sea. But for nine days, the evacuation continued, a miracle to the Allied commanders who had expected disaster” (Source).

The battle ended on June 4, with the German army closing in. “With Western Europe abandoned by its main defenders, the German army swept through the rest of France, and Paris fell on June 14” (Source). On May 22, the armistice at Compiegne was signed by Henri Petain. “Germany annexed half the country, leaving the other half in the hands of their puppet French rulers” (Source).

“The inability for the German army to move on the survivors of Dunkirk is noted by many historians as one of the most critical mistakes Hitler made, one that that Rundstedt even called ‘one of the great turning points of the war’” (Source).

Casualties & Losses:

British: 198,000 troops were rescued; 68,000 dead, even more ended up MIA or as POWs. French: 140,000 troops were rescued; 290,000 dead. Germans: 27,074 dead; 111,034 wounded. Additionally, Britain lost some six destroyers, five minesweepers, eight transport ships, and a further 200 vessels had been sunk or badly damaged. They also left behind hundreds of thousands of guns, vehicles, and ammunition in what was now German territory.

[Below: Troops awaiting evacuation.]

Нолан, может, и гений, но не в военной драме – мнение - Свежие ...


“Soldiers of the West Front! Dunkirk has fallen … with it has ended the greatest battle in world history. Soldiers! My confidence in you knows no bounds. You have not disappointed me” (Source). ~ Hitler, June W5, 1940

Back home, Prime Minister Churchill was equally as pleased with his own troops. Praising and warning his people: “We must be very careful not to assign to this the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations” (Source). 

The bulk of the British army had been rescued. This meant that Britain still had hope. A number of miracles and extraordinary factors helped make it possible. “The decision of Gort (the commander of the BEF) to ignore Churchill and the French commanders and head to the coast, the halt order, the weather, the survival of the Eastern Mole (the pier from which the majority of troops were evacuated), and the incredible determination of the Royal Navy, all combined to save the BEF” (Source).

Had the evacuation been unsuccessful, with a quarter of a million British troops held in captivity, Churchill would not have much other choice but to surrender – and sign Hitler’s peace treaty, as France had done. Had the evacuation been unsuccessful, the German army would have been left with additional provisions on their side, “including the 40 divisions which Britain’s continued hostility required in Africa and on the Atlantic Wall, as well as the 1,882 aircraft, and their experienced pilots and bomber crews, which were lost over Britain in the coming months” (Source).

“Hitler never wished to enter into war with Britain. He admired the country whose Empire he believed powerfully reinforced his ideas of racial domination, commenting that ‘To maintain their Empire they need a strong continental power at their side. Only Germany can be that power.’ After Dunkirk, however, he was stunned to find that his ‘sensible peace arrangements’ were continuously and categorically rejected. Even as late as 6 July, Hitler insisted that the invasion of Britain would only be tried as a last resort ‘if it cannot be made to sue for peace any other way’” (Source).

Dunkirk aroused America’s sentiment and caused them to realize the importance of aiding Britain. “It is a matter of inestimable importance to our own security that we should instantly remove all restrictions on the rendering of realistic, material aid to the Allies,” the Washington Evening Star declared (Source). By mid-June, America shipped roughly half a million rifles to their aid. The American support boosted both countries’ resolved and Churchill promised that “Britain would preserve ‘the whole world, including the United States’ from sinking ‘into the abyss of a new Dark Age’” (Source).

In June of 1940, Britain stood alone against Germany, Italy, & the Soviet Union.

[Below: Operation Dynamo]


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Battle of Calais

The Battle of Calais started after the Germans had split the Allied armies in half at Sedan on May 14th and 15th, 1940. From there, the British had been cut off from their supplies. Eight days later, the Battle of Calais had begun. Dunkirk, Boulogne, and Calais had become vitally important. So, British troops were sent to Calais to establish a new line to the BEF, who were still fighting around Lille and Arras.

The defense of Calais would be carried out by Calais Force. This force contained one battalion each from the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (60th Rifles), the Queen Victoria Rifles and the Rifle Brigade, the 229th anti-tank battery of the Royal Artillery and a battalion from the Royal Tank Regiment, equipped with 21 light and 27 cruiser forces. 

Under the command of Brigadier Claude Nicholson, they would be aided by a Searchlight Regiment as well as an anti-aircraft regiment. Additionally, some 800 French soldiers helped to defend the citadel. In all, this gave Nicholson a total of 4,000 men.

The Germans reached the coast on May 20th, then stopped for a day. On the 22nd, they continued their drive north. The 10th Panzer Division was given the responsibility of taking Calais and the 1st Panzer Division of driving on towards Dunkirk, but of stopping to capture Calais on their way. Both divisions were at “full strength,” meaning that each division had roughly 15,000 men and 300 tanks.

At the time, Calais had a border of “bastions and ramparts” (Source). However, Nicholson realized that even this wouldn’t help him hold the perimeter for very long. So, he made the decision to move further north, along an inner perimeter. This line was protected by water lines, in the canals, as well as in the docks.

By midmorning on May 23rd, the Germans tanks had begun rolling into Calais from the south west. Later that morning, three more squadrons of tanks, these under the command of Lt. Col. Keller, left Calais for Omer, some twenty minutes south east. Five miles south of Calais, at Guines, they ran into the German tanks. A short battle followed.

[Below: Calais in ruins]

Photo] Destroyed houses and church in Calais, France, afternoon of ...


The British tanks eventually retreated back north to Coquelles, which was south west of Calais. However, the Germans had also been repulsed. I Panzer Division continued on, leaving the X Panzer Division to defend Calais. At Calais, itself, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (60th Rifles) saw battle with the Rifle Brigade on the dunes east of Calais.

At 2 a.m. the next morning, on the way to Dunkirk, Brigadier Nicholson’s tanks met the Rifle Brigade. Unfortunately, the British were forced to retreat back to Calais. By 6 that evening, the Germans had also broken through the British outer perimeter at Calais, forcing Nicholson to move his headquarters back from “Boulevard Léon Gambetta to the Gare Maritime, on the waterfront” (Source).

The Royal Navy was able to provide artillery defense with the help of the Polish warship, Burza. Later, HMS Wolfhound and HMS Verity were able to bring in supplies, ammunition, and Admiral J. F. Somerville. However, the battle also saw the sinking of HMS Wessex as well as heavy damage to HMS Vimiera and the Polish Burza. But the Royal Navy had to keep up the good fight, for it meant they were giving the BEF the extra time they needed to reach Dunkirk safely.

On the morning of the 25th, the X Panzer division attacked the inner perimeter. At 9 that evening, Prime Minister Churchill sent a communiqué:

“Every hour you continue to exist is of the greatest help to the BEF. Government has therefore decided you must continue to fight. Have greatest possible admiration for your splendid stand. Evacuation will not (repeat not) take place, and craft required for above purpose are to return to Dover” (Source).

That night, a small flotilla of ships began rescuing the survivors of the Royal Marine.

Fighting continued most of the next day with yet another German attack. They were able to gradually push the British back. Later, the French surrendered. Around 11 am, “Bastion 11 was forced to surrender with barely a man unwounded” (Source). Their defenses were beginning to collapse. But the British refused to give in. They were pushed back as far as Courgain, where they held on until 9 that evening.

Shortly thereafter, soldiers were rounded up. Many of them would be in captivity of five years. Nicholson died in captivity in 1943. Overall, some 20,000 men were taken prisoner, some 3,000-4,000 of them being British. The rest were French, Belgian, and Dutch.

[Below: Captured British forces]


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The Gallipoli Campaign

The Gallipoli Campaign started as one might expect a new campaign to start, with the British First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, bending over maps, searching for a new way around the impasse known as the Dardanelles Strait. This, unfortunately, resulted in utter disaster, both for the campaign and for Churchill’s career.

Well, almost – on both accounts.

Churchill, as we all know, went on to have a long and successful – if not eventful – career. And the Gallipoli Campaign would be long and eventful – if not successful.

The naval demonstrations of Churchill’s creation against the Turks turned into something of a combined naval and ground expedition. Even if the French weren’t 100% on board at the beginning. Under the command of British War Secretary Lord Kitchener’s newest protégé, Sir Ian Hamilton, a force of 75,000 British followed by 18,000 French. Men from New Zealand and Australia joined them. They Marched forward on March 25th. They were up against 84,000 Turks led by the German officer, Liman von Sanders.

Initially, von Sanders was incredibly worried about his underprepared contingent of Turks. His men were woefully underprepared and disorganized, not to mention the dreadful ammunition shortage. Little did he know, though, that Hamilton was facing a similar, if not worse, problem. In fact, Hamilton’s men were probably even more disorganized than Sander’s men. On top of this, he set sail with very little idea of how he was supposed to proceed once he arrived and a severe lack of intelligence concerning the Turkish defenses.

In other words, no one was quite prepared for the Gallipoli Campaign. Nevertheless, the Allies landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula, establishing two beachheads: Helles at the southern tip, and Gaba Tepe (later renamed Anzac Cove) on the Aegean coast. At the same time, readying for Allied invasion von Sanders began to set up defenses. Two were situated along the neck of the peninsula, by Bulair and the Gulf of Saros. Another was set along the Asian coast, at Besika Bay, and the final was set up at the southernmost tip.

The landing at Cape Helles, under the direction of Aylmer Hunter-Weston was remarkably disastrous. Despite being 35,000-stong, and the Turkish force meeting them being relatively weak, the Allies did not make much progress at Helles. First off, they were met by heavy machine gun fire. So, despite securing the Allied landing site at Helles, no progress was made at all.

[Below: Royal Irish Fusiliers]

Soldiers at Gallipoli

On the Allied side, they found themselves not only surrounded, but also dreadfully lacking in ammunition. But the Turks were fairing no better. They could find no way to drive the Allies back. Thus, a stalemate ensued.

On August 6th, though, Hamilton decided for another try around the Turkish lines. Thus, attacks were made at both Helles and Anzac. From Helles, under Lt. General Sir Frederick Stopford, the men moved slowly forward – too slowly, it turned out, because the Turks were quickly upon them. To the south, however, the ANZACs were much luckier. Despite failure on two accounts at Chunuk Bair and Hill 971, they scored victory on Lone Pine.

But Hamilton was not to be defeated. He made yet another attempt on August 21st. They attacked Scimitar Hill and the infamous Hill 60. This particular battle lasted until the 29th, ending in yet another failure for the Allies. Hamilton, with Churchill’s permission, requested 95,000 more men, but was barely sent a quarter of that. Seeing that Gallipoli was becoming an utter failure, Hamilton called for an evacuation.

Then, because of his many failures at Gallipoli, that October, Hamilton was replaced by Lt. General Sir Charles Monro. By this point, Bulgaria had joined the Central Powers. The Turks were gaining more and more backup troops, making the Allied attacks much harder. Taking all of this into consideration, Monro recommended that the campaign be evacuated. Lord Kitchener accepted Monro’s recommendation, and by December 7th, the Allies were beginning to pull out of Gallipoli. By January 9, 1916, the last pulled out.

To have gained absolutely nothing at Gallipoli, the Allies suffered some 46,000 casualties, with another 204,000 injured. This was surprisingly smaller than what was suffered on the Turkish side, were they lost some 65,000 lives with 185,000 injuries.

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Up Next:

The Garlice-Tarnów Offensive

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The Siege of Antwerp 

After the Allied victory at the Battle of the Marne, the “Race to the Sea” had begun. Both sides were racing across France and Belgium, digging trenches and looking for the location of the next battle. During this time, the Belgian army, consisting of some 80,000 garrisoned troops, along with “a ring of 48 outer and inner forts” busied themselves by taking up defensive positions along the Yser River (Source). Their job was to distract the Germans.

The first to arrive were the Germans. On October 7, 1914, they bombarded Antwerp.

Now, initially, the Germans had no plans to even go through Antwerp, but all of the troops were proving to make their march through Belgium into France much more difficult. So, being forced to send four different divisions out to repel attacks from Antwerp, on September 9, the German Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke, sent his men to capture Antwerp.

On September 28, five German divisions, commanded by General Hans von Bessler, began bombing Antwerp’s southeastern corner. The British War Office was alerted, and, fearful that Germany’s capturing of Antwerp might mean a further conquest to take over the Channel ports, decided to send the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) troops in France to Antwerp.

[Below: Belgian Prisoners being marched away]

By October 2nd, word reached the likes of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, that the Belgian forces under siege were planning to evacuate, leaving the city completely defenseless. Immediately, Churchill planned to get word to the Belgians that backup was on it’s way and then crossed the Channel himself.

In Antwerp, Churchill found the Belgians in terrible conditions. He reported back to Britain that “the Belgian troops were ‘weary and disheartened’ and that the city’s ground was so waterlogged that it was impossible for the Belgians to dig trenches for its protection” (Source).

By October 4th, the British had dispatched 6,000 Royal Navy troops. The following day, they sent another 2,000 and an additional 4,000 on the 6th. This on top of a division 22,000 strong that was already en route for Ostend.

“On October 7, before the British 7th Division had even set off, the Belgians transferred their forces from Antwerp to Ostend to continue the fight in open terrain” (Source). On the same day, the German onslaught began. The British were not able to withstand the bombardment.

The next day, Antwerp was evacuated; General Victor Deguise, Antwerp’s military governor, formally surrended to the German army on October 10. “German forces would occupy Antwerp for the duration of the war; it was finally liberated in late 1918” (Source).

Losses: The Allies suffered 30,000 casualties (most of which were captured). It is unknown how many German lives were lost.

[Below: Bombed Antwerp]

Up Next: 

First Battle of Ypres

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The Battle of Heligoland Bight

On August 28, 1914, conflict broke out between the British and the Germany Navies in the North Sea, at the Battle of Heligoland Bight. This was the first naval battle of the war, and the British Royal Navy designed it “as a means of attacking German patrols in the north-west German coast,” which served as the shelter of several German bases (Source).

Knowing that this was also a good location to start attacks against the British Isles, the British decided to make the first move, formulated by Commodore Roger Keyes. Unfortunately, the Navy didn’t see this as a high priority when Keyes initially conceived of it. Not, that is, until First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, received his post and requested a meeting to rehash the plans.

“Commander Reginald Tyrwhitt was given the task of leading a small fleet of British ships, including two light cruisers, Fearless and Arethusa, and a number of destroyers, into the bight in order to lure German ships to chase them out to sea, where a larger British force, commanded by Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty, would be waiting to confront them” (Source).

[Below: Fog during the Battle of Heligoland Beight]

Image result for battle of heligoland bight 1914 beatty


At around 7 am, on the 28th, Tyrwhitt’s force began the battle by sinking two German torpedoes. The Germans weren’t exactly surprised by the attack, and “hastily deployed the Frauenlob and the Stettin, joined shortly afterwards by four other light cruisers, including Rear Admiral Mass’s flagship, Koln” (Source).

Thanks to German preparation, the British soon found themselves outgunned. Additionally, the fog allowed the German Navy to better conceal themselves, allowing for better surprise attacks.

By 11:25, Tyrwhitt had to call on Beatty for “immediate assistance” (Source). Beatty was there with support by 12:40. With his aid, the British were able to down 3 German cruisers (the Mainz, Koln, & Ariadne) while badly damaging three more. In all, Germany suffered some 1,200 casualties. Britain, by comparison lost 35 sailors, and not a single ship.

Germany was greatly intimidated by their early Naval defeat. In fact, Kaiser Wilhelm decided that it was best to keep the Navy as a defensive weapon. As the war would continue, their greatest weapon at sea would be the infamous U-boats.

In Britain, meanwhile, the battle had greatly enhanced Beatty’s reputation as a fighting seaman. As a result, he was named Commander of the Grand Fleet by Admiralty Churchill.

[Below: Sinking German destroyer V187]

German destroyer V187 sinking during the Battle of Heligoland Bight on 28th August 1914 in the First World War

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A Thought Question: Expanding WWII


We say that God doesn’t chose a side in war. God, however, is always on the side of freedom and liberty. We see how He blessed the Americans in the Revolutionary War, the North in the Civil War, and the Allies in WWI & WWII. When it comes to our military declaring liberty, He blesses – whether it be in the name of freedom of the King of England, the emancipation of the slaves, or freeing countries from the dictatorship and concentration camps of Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito. 

Yet, we stopped short of freeing those who lived under the slavery and tyranny of Stalin. What would have happened had we listened to Gen. Patton or to the non-Nazi Germans who all saw Stalin for the tyrant that he really was? When we came to understand that, just perhaps, Stalin was the bigger threat than Hitler, we let him continue on. Then, in 1947, after Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech, we launched ourselves into a decades’ long Cold War.

But, given the notion that God blessed the Allies in fighting Hitler, wouldn’t He have continued to bless us as we defeated Stalin? How could we call the job finished if more people were still living in tyranny? We went home while Stalin took over the parts of Europe Hitler had occupied. To me, that says the job wasn’t finished. Shouldn’t we have declared war before Stalin had our plans stolen for the atomic bomb?  Shouldn’t we have fought to free all of Europe, not just some? Yes, it would have meant the loss of more lives, but don’t you believe God would have continued to bless the Allies?

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