Last Allied forces leave Dunkirk: 335,000 men brought home
Military disaster, but an air victory
5 June 1940
The “Battle of the Ports” has ended. Communiques issued in London and Paris last night announced that the last Allied forces defending Dunkirk were re-embarked during the night of Monday-Tuesday.
The French Admiralty announced last night that throughout the operations at Dunkirk the French Navy had lost seven destroyers and one supply ship out of 300 French naval and merchant ships and 200 other boats employed. The port of Dunkirk, like the other Channel ports now in enemy hands, was rendered unusable before the last of the Allied forces left.
The German Version
The German High Command, announcing the occupation of Dunkirk, claims that 40, 000 prisoners were captured. A French War Office spokesman said last night that “some of the Northern forces, among them General Prioux,” failed to escape from Dunkirk.
Enormous claims were contained in a survey of the campaign between May 10 and June 3 broadcast from Hitler’s headquarters last night. The German casualties were put as 10,252 killed, 8,463 missing, and 42,493 wounded. Air Force losses, it was said, were 432 ‘planes.
The German High Command last night announced that the Army was able to report fulfilment of the mighty task the Leader and Supreme Commander had given them on May 10 – the “strategic object of forcing a breach through the enemy frontier fortifications and thus creating the preliminary conditions for the destruction of the British and French armies north of the Somme and the Aisne.”
Mr Churchill’s speech
In the House of Commons yesterday the Prime Minister gave his promised account of the evacuation and the reasons which made it necessary. It had been a “miracle of deliverance,” but the attributes of a victory must not be assigned to it. On the contrary, we had suffered “a colossal military disaster.” Nevertheless, there was a victory inside this deliverance, and it was gained by our Air Force.
Mr Churchill disclosed that after what had seemed a forlorn hope the Navy, using nearly a thousand ships, carried 335,000 men, French and British, out of the battle zone. Our losses in men had been 30,000 killed, wounded, and missing. Against this we might set the far heavier loss certainly inflicted upon the enemy.
We shall fight them on the beaches
Delivered to House of Commons on 4 June)
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
Bringing back the BEF: magnificent work of the small craft and their volunteer crews
From our naval correspondent
6 June 1940
Behind the scenes of the withdrawal of the troops from Dunkirk was an organisation of which little has been heard. It is the Small Vessels Pool Department at the Admiralty. If that organisation had not been at work before the recent emergency arose there is no knowing how the rapid assembly of the 687 small craft which brought the men away from Northern France would have been arranged.
The department was started some months ago to co-ordinate the use by the Navy of all the small motor craft and yachts which were placed at the disposal of the country for the duration. One £250,000 yacht, for example, was lured to the Navy for one shilling a month, and many similar instances could be cited. So when the urgent need arose for small craft to help off the northern coast of France the machinery was ready to cope with it.
Eager volunteers “for dangerous work”
Nor was it only a question of ships. Men, too, were needed, and the officials of the Pool recount with pride many cases of prompt volunteering. One that seems to me to show the spirit of the country better than any other occurred at a labour exchange. The authorities sent through to say that they wanted a few men for a few days for dangerous work. The labour exchange kept open until nine o’clock at night and then reported that they had 150 volunteers ready to join, not knowing what the work was or what the danger was but willing to go anywhere and do anything.
Again, two men with small knowledge of navigation and less of engines were asked if they could take across a motor-boat with a rather complex engine-room. Their reply was, “If someone will start the engines up on this side we’ll see that they don’t stop until we get back again with our quota of men.”
The embarkation at Dunkirk: Naval officer’s story
From our naval correspondent
8 June 1940
A naval officer who took part in the embarkation arrangements on the stone pier at Dunkirk gave me to-day a series of personal impressions of the work and the way it was done.
A party of ten naval officers and 150 seamen were sent over to organise the withdrawal through the harbour. They concentrated on that job and had little time to give to the embarkation from the beaches, which was largely improvised by the men there.
Their first survey of the conditions made the position look pretty hopeless, and the more senior officers privately considered that if they moved 25,000 men out they would be lucky. The harbour was being bombed almost continuously, some of the attacks being particularly heavy, and when the bombers turned their attention specially to the ships moving in and out the position became worse. After about two days also the enemy got heavy guns within range and was able to keep the shoreward end of the pier, where the movement of the troops was organised, under fairly constant fire, but their shooting was not good and did actually little to interfere with our operations.
One hour’s sleep in twenty-four
There were at times as many as 25,000 troops assembled for the chance to embark and rarely fewer than 10,000. The small group of naval men were at work continuously for six or seven days, never getting more than one hour’s sleep in the twenty-four and always short of food and water, as was everybody else there. The town’s water supply had been broken down by one of the first air raids. By the third day the air bombing was so heavy and the damage to warships moving in and out of the harbour so obvious that the senior naval officer had to decide, much against his wish, that embarkation could only take Place at night.
10 June 1940
A small band of junior officers, working in a secret control room known as the “dynamo room” at a naval base on the south-east coast of England, helped to direct the evacuation which saved more than 335,000 officers and men of the Allied forces beleaguered in Flanders. The full story of their part and of the brilliant naval operations which enabled the BEF was told to a reporter yesterday by Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay, who commanded the naval forces from Dover.
Workers’ “Spirit of Dunkirk”
13 June 1940
“Millions of men and women in Britain are working harder than they have ever worked in their lives before. They have caught the spirit of Dunkirk,” said Mr Herbert Morrison, Minister of Supply, last night, when he introduced a broadcast impression of how the war effort is being speeded up. Typical comments from workers who came to the microphone were: “We will not stop till there are enough guns to blast Hitler out of men’s reckoning… The men of the BEF will fight till they drop. You can tell them that we will work until we drop.”