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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.

There are a total of (19) Dunkirk Evacuation Timeline (May 27th - June 4th, 1940) events in the SecondWorldWarHistory.com database. Entries are listed below by date-of-occurrence ascending (first-to-last). Other leading and trailing events are also included for perspective. ©www.SecondWorldWarHistory.com

May 20th
1940
Sensing a catastrophic loss in the making, Winston Churchill orders preparation of vessels to evacuate the British Expeditionary Forces from northern France.

May 20th
1940
Compounding battlefield losses across France and the Low Countries force a change at the helm - General Maxime Weygand replaces General Maurice-Gustave Gamelin as supreme Allied commander.

May 24th
1940
In a stunning move, Hitler orders his forces not to cross the Lens-Bethune-St Omer-Gravelines line, allowing the retreating Allied forces more time to reach the French coast.

May 24th
1940
German Luftwaffe bombers hammer Allied defensive positions in and around the French port city of Dunkirk.

June 4th
1940
German Luftwaffe bombers cease bombardment of Dunkirk.

June 4th
1940
Operation Dynamo - the evacuation of Allied forces at Dunkirk - officially ends. 338,326 total soldiers are saved including 113,000 French troops.

May 25th
1940
The German Army takes Boulogne.

May 25th
1940
More and more retreating Allied units arrive at the French port city of Dunkirk.

May 26th
1940
Hitler orders his army forces towards Dunkirk for the final blow to the Allied cause.

May 26th
1940
Operation Dynamo - the all-out evacuation of Allied forces from Dunkirk - officially begins at 6:57 PM.

May 26th
1940
Over 850 British civilian vessels take part in assisting military forces off of French soil to awaiting transports in what would become the largest military evacuation in history.

May 28th
1940
With the fight gone out of them, the Belgian Army surrenders to the German 6th and 18th armies. Their actions, however, supply the evacuating Allies with much-needed time.

May 28th
1940
Belgium falls to Germany in just 18 days.

May 28th
1940
By the end of this day, some 25,473 British soldiers have been evacuated from France.

May 29th
1940
Another 47,000 British troops are evacuated from Dunkirk.

May 30th
1940
6,000 French soldiers join some 120,000 total Allied soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk on this day.

May 31st
1940
Over 150,000 Allied soldiers (including some 15,000 French) arrive in Britain.

June 1st
1940
Defense of the outlying region near Dunkirk now passes to French XVI Corps.

June 4th
1940
Some 40,000 French soldiers are taken prisoner by Germany at the fall of Dunkirk.