09 Jun “Miracle of Deliverance”: The Evacuation of Dunkirk
My name is Abby and I am an Education intern here at the National D-Day Memorial. As an intern, I assist with field trips and give tours of the Memorial. As the first full week of June comes to a close, I wanted to focus on one of the events that set the stage early on in the war: the evacuation of Dunkirk.
Fearing for the worst, General Lord John Gort, commander of the BEF, called for the evacuation of his forces from Northern France. Gort withdrew the BEF and established their position around the port of Dunkirk. Back in England, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay met to plan the evacuation, codenamed “Operation Dynamo”. The evacuation called for a fleet of naval destroyers and merchant ships, supplemented by 700 “little ships” (civilian pleasure craft, fishing vessels, etc.). The operation hoped to take two days to rescue 45,000 men, as German interference was expected to end the evacuation after a 48 hour window.
Operation Dynamo commenced on May 27. On the first day, 7,669 men were rescued, with many soldiers having to wade out to the boats in order to board. On May 28, 17,804 were rescued. Despite the original plan for the operation to last only two days, the evacuations continued past May 28, as the German perimeter around Dunkirk began to shrink. The Royal Air Force continued to push back the Luftwaffe’s attacks, allowing the evacuations to continue well into June. In early June, with increased attacks by the Luftwaffe, daylight operations were ended and evacuation ships only ran at night. On June 4, with German forces only three miles from the harbor, the last Allied ship (HMS Shikari), departed the port at 3:40 AM. Left alone, the remaining two French divisions were forced to surrender to the Germans.