In the early days of World War II, the combined forces of the British, French, and Belgian troops suffered a major loss and push-back by the German army invading from Poland. This led to a dark time where the British forces had the potential to be wiped out. Thanks to a desperate plan and a lot of luck, a miracle happened at the beaches of Dunkirk.
Seventy-five years ago 338,000 troops were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo, a stunning great escape that helped Britain avoid defeat in the Second World War.
Here are 11 facts that you may not know about that evacuation.
#1. The combined forces of the British, French, and Belgian troops were driven back by the German blitzkrieg and were trapped against the northern coast of France.
#2. General John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort, the Commander of the BEF, saw that an evacuation back to England was the only way to avoid being completely devastated by the German war machine and ordered his troops on a retreat to Dunkirk, as it was the closest harbor.
#3. The rescue plan was called Operation Dynamo. It was named for the dynamo room that produced the electricity for the naval HQ underneath Dover Castle. This is the room where Vice-Admiral Ramsay and Churchill planned out how to rescue the stranded troops.
#4. The original plan of Operation Dynamo counted on only having 48 hours to work before the Germans moved in and stopped the retreat. They believed that they would be able to evacuate around 45,000 troops in that time frame. Luckily, on the 3rd day, May 29th, the German army halted their advance and it allowed the operation to continue all the way till June 4th. Over 300,000 men were rescued from the beaches and the Dunkirk harbor.
#5. The initial blame for the German army’s halt was placed solely on Hitler. It was revealed after the war in General Gerd von Rundstedt’s diaries that he had ordered the halt instead, worried about that the swampy terrains effect on tanks and his supply line. Hitler agreed with his assessment.
#6. 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.”
#7. On May 27th, an emergency call was put out for any additional help and nearly four hundred small ships, including fishing boats, yachts, and barges, answered to aid in the evacuation attempts.
#8. The Luftwaffe, the German air force, was held off by the Royal Air Force, who flew over 3,500 missions in the whole of the Dunkirk evacuation.
#9. In total, around 933 ships took part in the evacuation, with 236 being lost in the process.
#10. One result of the retreat and the evacuation was that the British forces had to leave much of their heavy equipment behind. Hundreds of thousands of guns, vehicles, and ammunition were left only to be re-used by the German army.
#11. Even though the evacuation was more successful than planned, it came with a heavy price. 68,000 men were killed, captured, or wounded and the Royal Navy lost six destroyers. The French army had over 40,000 troops captured after Dunkirk fell.