On June 4 Prime Minister Winston Churchill roused his country by declaring: “[We] shall not flag or fail. The 7th Panzer Division, led by Erwin Rommel, finally broke through in the west and charged 20 miles south of the Somme to cut off one British division, which retreated and later evacuated. Omissions? However, Hitler exercised restraint at Dunkirk, halting his panzer tanks short of the seaport only days before the evacuation. The next day they crossed the Meuse, and on May 15 they broke through the French defenses into open country, turning westward in the direction of the English Channel. An unexpected error has occurred with your sign up. You can unsubscribe at any time. The POWs were denied food and medical treatment. Please try again later. That’s what happened at Dunkirk — a small town on the northern coast of France — in the early stages of World War II, before the US had entered the war. He now decided to withdraw to the line of the Oise, 30 miles (48 km) farther back, and to block the Germans there. Instead, 20 German planes were damaged and another 60 shot down. The French government panicked and nearly evacuated Paris; their worries were compounded by further German advances into Belgium on May 17. "A miracle" - is the best description of what happened at Dunkirk in May and June 1940. British, French, Canadian, and Belgian troops had been forced back to Dunkirk by the advancing German army. After Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 Western Europe entered a stalemate period which became known as the “Phoney War”. The following is an excerpt from TIME-LIFE’s new special edition, World War II: Dunkirk, available on Amazon. The immediate context of the Dunkirk evacuation was Germany’s invasion of the Low Countries and northern France in May 1940. Please select which sections you would like to print: While every effort has been made to follow citation style rules, there may be some discrepancies. Their sacrifice had brought the salvation of the British nation. Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article (requires login). With their country overrun and their backs to the sea, in a small strip crowded with refugees, the Belgians were driven to sue for an armistice that evening. From the day of the German invasion on May 10 through the evacuation of Dunkirk, France had lost 24 infantry divisions, including six of seven motorized divisions. On May 11 the Belgian front was broken, and German tanks ran on westward while Belgian, French, and British divisions fell back to a line between Antwerp and Namur. The victory that followed was sweet for all involved, but for the British, it was more than that. Consequently, three of Gort’s divisions were withdrawn from the front and sent south to strengthen the line of canals that covered Dunkirk and the Allies’ rear. Instead of four armored divisions equipped with 200 tanks each, the country now had three, each equipped with 40. Together with the civilians who aided the Royal Navy, they saved countless lives. They were forced to drink ditch water and eat putrid food. Theirs is a story that is often overlooked, but for the next five years, until the war’s end, large numbers of these POWs would be mistreated and abused in violation of Geneva Convention guidelines governing the sick, wounded, prisoners of war and civilians. Paris fell on June 14. A Battle of Britain hero thought to have been the real life inspiration for Tom Hardy's character in the film Dunkirk has been revealed after his bravery medals emerged for sale. As described in Dunkirk: The Men They Left Behind, by Sean Longden, some were summarily executed. Some were killed. After the last rescue boats left Dunkirk harbor on June 4, 1940, the Germans captured some 40,000 French troops who’d been left behind as well as at least 40,000 British soldiers in the Dunkirk vicinity. The remaining obstacles that could have blocked the advance were not manned in time. To lower officer morale, the Nazis told British officers that they would lose their rank and be sent to the salt mines to work. Two were dropped from the air and one arrived by ship and stormed the beaches beside its American allies. Fall of France The Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo and also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers during World War II from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, in the north of France, between 26 May and 4 June 1940. By the time he resumed attacks, the evacuation had begun. By signing up you are agreeing to our. After crossing the Oise on May 17, German Gen. Heinz Guderian’s advance troops reached Amiens two days later. What happened at Dunkirk in May and June 1940 must rank as one of the greatest maritime evacuations in history, let alone World War II.Soldiers, sailors, and civilians were caught up in the events of those desperate days in the race against time to save Allied armies trapped in France. 19 Jan 2021. Allied planners had hoped to check the Germans at the Dyle Line—a defensive line that ran from Antwerp south to the French frontier, north of Sedan—but by May 16 Gamelin had determined that such a stand was impracticable. Hulton Archive/Getty. It was redemption. The British had withdrawn all but two divisions south of Dunkirk, and the Belgian Army had surrendered. Hundreds of thousands of troops were rescued from the German advance in the nick of time. Dunkirk evacuation, (1940) in World War II, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and other Allied troops from the French seaport of Dunkirk (Dunkerque) to England. With Belgium’s surrender on May 28, an evacuation of French and British troops from the European mainland became imperative. The RAF had stood up to the Luftwaffe and won. The invasion of Belgium also began on May 10, when German airborne troops landed on the fortress of Eben Emael, immediately opposite Maastricht, and on bridges over the Albert Canal. Several factors were at play, one potentially being Hitler’s belief that the British would more readily negotiate if he exhibited clemency. Convinced that the area could be captured by the German air force alone, Hitler reduced his arsenal in Northern France to slower infantry, with the help of the Luffwaffe in the skies above. Queen Wilhelmina and her government left the country for England on May 13, and the next day the Dutch army surrendered to the Germans. However, once you know what happened in Dunkirk, it all makes sense. Dunkirk evacuation, (1940) in World War II, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and other Allied troops from the French seaport of Dunkirk (Dunkerque) to England. The scene on the pier in Dunkirk. Between May 26 and June 4, 1940, some 340,000 Allied troops were evacuated from the French seaport of Dunkirk to England. All he could manage was an attack by two divisions, which had just been rushed south to Arras, led by a brigade of infantry tanks, the only armoured troops he had. It didn’t take long for the Germans, whose Panzers were rolling rapidly through the country, to wear down the French. The Dunkirk evacuation represented massive losses in materials and equipment for the British army. Ring in the new year with a Britannica Membership. Articles from Britannica Encyclopedias for elementary and high school students. A similar
 atrocity unfolded on the 
same day with the 2nd
 Battalion of the Royal
 Warwickshire Regiment,
 which had been captured 
near Wormhout. In this article we are going to take a look at the amount of equipment that was left in France, the amount of equipment remaining in the United Kingdom and the ability of the United Kingdoms industry to replace the losses suffered. He was moved from place to place and kept prisoner on a farm in Poland and forced to work the fields with Nazi guards watching. After Gamelin’s startling message, French Premier Paul Reynaud hastily decided to move the seat of government from Paris to Tours. Weygand did not arrive until May 19, and thus for three critical days the Supreme Command was without direction. It had taken the Germans just 18 days after Dunkirk to capture France. * The request timed out and you did not successfully sign up. World War II, the biggest news story of the 20th century, continues to attract filmmakers 72 years after it ended. The British light tanks proved to be surprisingly effective against German antitank weapons, and this small drive into the corridor momentarily shook the nerve of the German High Command. Dunkirk was a critical turning point in World War II. Gort argued that such a long-range drive in reverse was not practicable, either tactically or administratively. This weakened German side made it possible for the Allies to rescue 30,000 men, w… Yet they had been forgotten while those who escaped and made their way back home were hailed as heroes.”. The new French commander, Maxime Weygand, transferred soldiers from the Maginot Line, but could muster only 43 infantry divisions to face the Third Reich’s 104. The prevailing confusion was increased by Weygand’s arrival to take over supreme command. What Happens to Them Now? Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. 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