Operation Dynamo

21 MAY 2011 - DUNKERQUE, FRA - The Dunkirk Memorial remembering those who lost their lives during the evacuation of members of the British, French and other allied forces from the beaches at Dunkerque in May and June 1940 during the Second World War (PHOTO (C) NIGEL FARROW) (NIGEL FARROW/(C) 2011 NIGEL FARROW)

21 MAY 2011 - DUNKERQUE, FRA - The Dunkirk Memorial remembering those who lost their lives during the evacuation of members of the British, French and other allied forces from the beaches at Dunkerque in May and June 1940 during the Second World War (PHOTO (C) NIGEL FARROW)

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These days the beach is peaceful, just a few holidaymakers walking or sunbathing, with a memorial on the promenade above the only reminder of the events 71 years ago.

Then, the retreating British and French armies were trapped awaiting a way of escape from the advancing German forces. An attack in the middle of May had allowed their tanks to reach the English Channel splitting the allied forces and causing the British Expeditionary Force to withdraw to Dunkirk on the north west coast of France.

A decision by the Germans to hold back their armour and allow their infantry and the Luftwaffe to continue the assault gave the retreating army time to build defences and for an evacuation plan to be organised. Code-named “Dynamo” the operation to rescue the troops, under the command of Admiral Ramsey, began on the 26th May with destroyers and passenger ships making up the majority of the evacuation fleet.

Whilst able to take troops on board in the outer harbour and from the east mole (a structure to protect the harbour) the fleet’s efforts were hampered by the shallow waters along that section of the coast which prevented most of the ships moving close enough to take troops directly from the beach themselves.

In a desperate attempt to rescue as many of the troops as possible small civilian craft with shallower draught were called into service and, crewed in many cases by their owners, made their way across the Channel.

21 MAY 2011 - DUNKERQUE, FRA - The beach at Dunkerque (Dunkirk) (PHOTO (C) NIGEL FARROW) (NIGEL FARROW/(C) 2011 NIGEL FARROW)

21 MAY 2011 - DUNKERQUE, FRA - The beach at Dunkerque (Dunkirk) (PHOTO (C) NIGEL FARROW)

By the 30th May the assortment of yachts, pleasure boats, lifeboats and other vessels were beginning to make a difference as they shuttled troops, many who waited in queues in the water, to the ships waiting off shore.

By the end of the operation on the 4th June over 330,000 troops had been evacuated from Dunkirk, just over 40% from the beach, though at a cost of over 200 ships and boats including six British and three French destroyers. The evacuation however had left the British with the ability, though weakened, to fight on.

21 MAY 2011 - DUNKERQUE, FRA - The Dunkirk Memorial remembering those who lost their lives during the evacuation of members of the British, French and other allied forces from the beaches at Dunkerque in May and June 1940 during the Second World War (PHOTO (C) NIGEL FARROW) (NIGEL FARROW/(C) 2011 NIGEL FARROW)

21 MAY 2011 - DUNKERQUE, FRA - The Dunkirk Memorial remembering those who lost their lives during the evacuation of members of the British, French and other allied forces from the beaches at Dunkerque in May and June 1940 during the Second World War (PHOTO (C) NIGEL FARROW)

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