Dunkirk Evacuation Timeline (May 27th - June 4th, 1940)
Facing annihilation of grand proportions, over 330,000 Allied troops were evacuated from the French port city of Dunkirk and lived to fight another day.
By this period in the war, the heroic effort on the part of the Allies in defending against the tide of encroaching Axis armor and airpower was all but spent. Poland and Holland had already given way to the might of the Germans and Belgium followed soon after. French and British forces began congregating at the French port city of Dunkirk with British soil, and relative safety, sitting some ways across the unforgiving English Channel. Sensing total annihilation of Allied forces, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered a flotilla of civilian ships to help shuttle troops to awaiting transports from the port. The effort would become one of epic proportions as thousands of souls were saved in the dangerous rescue operation.
The Belgium defense had now fallen though the Allies benefited some from German military resources partially tied to this effort. The window of opportunity allowed more Allied forces to arrive at Dunkirk and the respite that it offered. The operation was then underway and over 338,000 Allied troops were rescued from certain death or imprisonment in what became known as the 'Miracle at Dunkirk' and also the 'Escape from Dunkirk' and the 'Rescue at Dunkirk'. Despite this effort, a generation of British and French children would grow up without fathers - such was the cost of this defeat for the Allies.
A final French Army stand at Dunkirk netted the Germans some 40,000 French soldiers as Prisoners of War while thousands of vehicles, artillery pieces and small arms were captured - delivering yet another blow to Allied military firepower. The Germans would eventually take the port city under their control and end the stand once and for all. Despite the defeat in Europe, the survivors would live to fight another day. The event laid the groundwork for the next phase of Hitler's plans - the invasion of Britain itself through Operation Sea Lion of which the Battle of Britain ultimately thwarted in the coming months. The situation was one of heroics and sacrifice by many involved - some captured by the enemy so as to buy time for others to escape. Over 1,000 vessels took part in the operation and these ran the gamut of fully-fledged Royal Navy warships to private yachts, schooners and trawlers. Not only did private citizens command some of their own boats, they sailed from British waters across The Channel, braved the threat of German U-boats, bombers and fighters and reached the Dunkirk beaches but they also sailed back with holds full of tired and wounded soldiers. Some fifty private ships were sunk in the action.