In May 1940 Hitler turned is attack to the west. His next target was France. Hitler not wanting to directly invade France went around France; he first invaded Holland then Belgium and then finally France. This took less than two months hence the German tactics were called Blitzkrieg (lightning war). The German advance e was so quick that the British Expeditionary Force, along with some of the French army were caught by surprise and pushed back to Dunkirk. The troops were trapped between the German army and the Channel.
The only escape route was by sea. There now a real danger that the whole British army would be wiped out.
On 27th may the British government, ordered the evacuation of all troops from Dunkirk (it was called Operation Dynamo). Most soloiders were rescued by any means possible. Dunkirk has been sometimes been seen as a complete disaster and triumph. I will now be looking at different sources and information and giving my view into whether I think Dunkirk was a triumph or disaster.
A map of the German advance of 1940 truly shows the situation the British army was in. They were surrounded by the German troops leaving them in a problematic situation with only two options.
One was to put up a fight but run the risk of being utterly destroyed or go back to Britain and regroup. So we could say that the statement, “the British army were cowards” is slightly untrue and that the fact they escaped from Dunkirk that quickly and safely is a triumph.
From a book published in England in July 1940 it says, “At Dunkirk a miracle was born. This land of Britain is rich in heroes. She had brave daring men in her Navy and Air Force as well as in her army” and “the little ships dodged their way up the water and hauled over their side the soldiers.
These two small quotes from this book suggest that the evacuation from Dunkirk took a huge amount of bravery and skill from the British Expeditionary Force. It clearly emphasises the amazingness of the Navy and how they “dodged” their way through the waters. Also a BBC six o’clock radio news bulletin reported that “the men it is clear they have come back in glory; that their morale is a high as ever, and that they are anxious to be back again (to have a real crack at Jerry” This report shows that the men were high in morale and that have comeback in glory from their successful mission.
It also says that they are itching to go back and fight. This source backs up the previous source when it talks about the bravery of the soldiers. This all may not be entirely true. These stories could be a way to keep the morale up of the British people so that they would not lose hope and faith in the British government. Furthermore, in the picture on the left we can see a painting by Charles Cundall who painted events on the beaches of Dunkirk. The picture depicts the evacuation or “Operation Dynamo” taking place.
The picture does not look like a typical evacuation with lots of panic but rather it shows the soldiers in a calm and orderly fashion. Despite the somewhat tranquil scene Charles reminds us that there is still the dark smoke rising in the east still giving a warning to those who looked at the painting then that there is the still the danger of the Germans and again reminding them that are not cowards. In several sources there references to the fact that ‘Operation Dynamo’ was composed.
It says in a source from a first-hand gunner officer that, “the queues stood there fixed and regular, no bunching, no pushing…” This quote again emphasises the fact that there was no terror and that it was not a full scale pusillanimous run away. On the other hand there is evidence to suggest that ‘Operation Dynamo’ was not as glamorous as before suggested. Again from the account by a gunner officer, it goes on to say, “Stepping over bodies we marched. A horrible stench of blood and mutilated flesh pervaded the place.
There was no escape from it. This half of the source gives us a completely different insight into what supposedly happened at Dunkirk. It says that there were a sizeable amount of people had died something that some of the previous sources failed to pick up on. This source paints a different picture unlike the one above, it describes a battlefield strewn with bodies and makes us think whether or not Dunkirk was a triumph. A German fighter pilot who wrote a letter home said, “I hate Dunkirk. It was just cold blooded killing. The beaches were jammed with soldiers.
I went up and down spraying them with bullets. ” This source gives us a different insight into might what have happened at Dunkirk. It tells us of many deaths that may have occurred at Dunkirk and how they were all sitting ducks, something that the media at the time failed to pick up on. The sources give a complete contrast between the somewhat peaceful evacuation and the “cold blooded killing” by the Germans. Furthermore, the British media said that they soldiers morale was higher than ever and they were itching to get back.
However, in a book by Richard Collier it includes accounts of incidents that occurred during Dunkirk. “A hotel cellar in Dunkirk packed with British troops singing, weeping, and screaming drunk. ” and “dispirited survivors newly arrived back from Britain, who, far from itching to return for another crack at the enemy, hurled their rifles from the train carrying them from Dover. ” These to accounts shed a different light on the moral and behaviour of the soldiers. It says that the soldiers are more ferocious men and not the calm and happy when we believed they were.
Also when returning from Dunkirk it tells us the complete opposite to what the media have been saying about the optimism of the soldiers. It is obvious to me that they did not want to have another “crack at Jerry. ” Additionally, the sheer number of British equipment left behind and number and war prisoners taken at Dunkirk is astounding. A book edited by a senior officer in the British army says,” Hitler announced that 1,212,000 Dutch, Belgian, French and British soldiers. His armies had captured from the British 1200 field guns, 1250 anti-aircraft guns, 11,000 machine guns and 75,000 vehicles.
The British probably lost a lot of money due to abandoned or destroyed machinery and also the amount of allied prisoners taken compared to the 10,000 German prisoners captured probably also was a huge blow to the allied forces and especially Britain. To conclude I personally do not fully and entirely agree with the statement ‘Dunkirk was a triumph’. I agree with the fact that it was a miracle and an amazing effort that the British were able to evacuate most of its soldiers from Dunkirk. However, despite this minor success I believe that Dunkirk was a disaster.
The amount of prisoners and equipment captures certainly contributes to the disaster and the moral and behaviour of the soldiers clearly shows us that they thought it was a disaster as well. Also, whether it is to believed or not, the amount of British personnel killed in Dunkirk is unknown but nonetheless is important for it to be a disaster. The media I believe focused mainly on some of the positive points and lied about the rest, just so that there would be a lift in the British people’s morale. So overall, Dunkirk I think was military defeat but a propaganda victory.