The miracle of Dunkirk.
Recently I indicated in an earlier article that I should withdraw every now and then for the sake of my own mental peace of mind. Probably many of you will recognize this. Personally, during my forced “ostrich” days, I try to isolate myself as much as possible from just about everything and everyone. Televisions are only turned on for entertainment in the form of documentaries, movies or football. The radio is forbidden and in particular radio 1, the internet I also avoid. I prefer not to go out and when I walk the dog or get cigarettes I try to avoid as much human contact as possible. The e-mail and telephone are minimally viewed and answered. I do all this so as not to have to be confronted with the dystopia in which we have ended up. These days of escaping reality seem beneficial every now and then because after such a time-out the enthusiasm returns and the need to continue to act against the madness gives me the motivation and courage to "fight" again. The time has come to re-enter the arena when I look at the poster on my wall showing a tugboat towing a convoy of “little ships” down the River Thames. The boats were prepared for their grotesque mission that would go down in history as Operation Dynamo or rather, “the miracle of Dunkirk”.
The Miracle of Dunkirk is about the largest civilian fleet in the entire world history and had a noble mission, the evacuation of “the boys”. At the beginning of the Second World War, Nazi Germany was engaged in its devastating blitzkrieg and after many European countries, including the Netherlands and Belgium, had already been occupied by the Germans, Churchill found it necessary to continue to defend France against this advancing Nazi power and hopefully hands of the Germans. Impressive battles took place in this phase of the war and the French supported by the BEF'S (British expeditionary forces) held out for quite some time, partly thanks to the successful battle of Arras. Thanks to this battle, the army group of A von Rundstedt was unexpectedly badly hit in the flank and suffered considerable damage. With many such examples, the French and English troops tried to sell their hides as dearly as possible. This to the point that they were forced into a corner due to several very unfortunate circumstances and thus became surrounded by the Germans.
Despite the blows the Germans had suffered, they were able to recover from this relatively quickly. For example, von Kleist had reported that his losses after the battle of Arras and the arrival at the Somme amounted to about 50%, mainly material damage. Nevertheless, von Kleist, with his staggering numbers of motorized vehicles and tanks, was still exceptionally agile. It did not take long before von Kleist, Theodore Eicke and the 7th Pantzer Division of Erwin Rommel reached the so-called “canal line” on 24-05-1940. And with the Germans only 15 miles away, the Luftwaffe overhead, naval mines and U-boats in the water, things looked downright bad for the Allies. Conditions were so harsh that even if British and French ships were able to make the crossing unscathed without being shot into the cod cellar due to the above factors, the number of evacuees would be only a fraction of the total men. Churchill wrote in his memoirs that at the time she hoped for the return of some 45.000 men. In total, more than 400.000 men were waiting in Dunkirk, and this does not even include the approximately 100.000 mainly French but also Belgian soldiers. A miracle had to happen.
And that miracle came! There were many aspects that led to the miracle. Too many to list them all in detail now, but broadly speaking it mainly had to do with a double dilemma. For example, the Allies doubted whether they should evacuate towards Dunkirk or whether they would rather break out towards the south (the Somme) and bite into the canal line there. This option would certainly have been a lot more likely if the Belgian army had not collapsed. Unfortunately this did happen and Lord Gort was forced to evacuate. A difficult decision, which ultimately also gave him the role of scapegoat because his decision irrevocably led to the destruction of a number of divisions including the regiment around Calais led by Claude Nicholson and of course the many thousands of French who fought to the last for the evacuation to take place. The Germans, in turn, had been so impressed by their own success with the Blitz that they were hesitant to push forward and decided to slow down. This is also thanks to the rather unexpected attacks at Arras. The Mathilda tanks that had instilled quite a bit of fear into von Kleist, Rommel and others and of course von Rundstedt, Jodl and Herman Goring who also all prevailed a defensive position. On the German side, these considerations eventually led to the "Halt-Befehl".
Again, there is an awful lot to say about Dunkirk and I can wholeheartedly recommend anyone to delve into this history. But to keep it all manageable, I have to force myself not to explain the matter too deeply. For example, I will not go into details about other aspects such as the role of the Luftwaffe and the RAF (Royal air force), and the heroic defense around the 30 km long perimeter where more than 02 French stood up to 06-1940-40.000. to keep the Germans off the beaches for as long as possible. Nor am I going to go into too much detail about the largest civilian fleet in the history of mankind! Well, maybe a few sentences then….
The most important part is of course the civilian fleet of more than 860 registered mainly civilian ships. It is estimated that the fleet even numbered 1000 ships as many citizens also decided to make the crossing "on their own" or not registered with the British navy. This massive flood of registrations came after the official call for commercial vessels to register issued by Vice Admiral Ramsey who was in charge of the logistics of the entire evacuation. Ramsey already had many commercial ships at his disposal at this point, such as tugs, fishing cutters, saloon boats, cargo ships and ferries. Yet it was not enough, so on 14-05-1940, the BBC issued an appeal to private shipowners in possession of a boat of at least 9 meters to report to the navy. Our own Dutch and then mainly Frisian flat-bottomed boats were particularly popular. These shallow-draft boats were exceptionally well-suited for getting close to the beaches, greatly simplifying embarkation. Boats with a lot of draft had to moor along the pier for embarkation and this was risky in view of air raids. Later on, an extra “pier” was built from various army vehicles in order to speed up the evacuation and to make maximum use of the tidal changes. In the end, besides the British, many foreign skippers also heeded the call. These foreign ships had often already fled their own country for fear that their ship would be confiscated by the Germans, which often happened. Skippers from all over occupied Europe also sailed along, such as Danes, Norwegians, Belgians, Dutch (including merchant navy) and many others. And in the end there were also the private individuals with their pleasure yachts, many of which were under 9 meters and therefore often unregistered. These volunteers made the crossing in sometimes barely seaworthy vessels of barely 6 meters. Heroes! Obviously, things also went wrong logistically in this maze of ships. That cannot be otherwise if you consider that, in addition to the whoppers of naval ships, very small sailing boats are also carried along. But these incidents do not detract from the ultimate miracle.
Just imagine, you are desperately waiting for an evacuation. You regularly have to hide from falling bombs thrown by Stukas, for example. You have been waiting for days and you are hungry, anxious and all around you fallen comrades lie in the sand. The situation is dire and you don't know how or what is going to happen. Despair is the order of the day. But then, all the little dots appear on the bilge. You cannot believe your eyes but suddenly realize that it is a fleet! A fleet that no one has ever seen before and consisting of a wide variety of vessels. From small to large, motorized or under sail, pleasure yacht or commercial shipping, everything is mixed together. What a beautiful sight and they are coming to take you and your mates home! Suddenly there is joy and above all hope! Can you imagine how great the euphoria must have been for many of these men?
The evacuation lasted from 28-05-1940 to 02-06-1940. The last ship with British troops left on 02-06-1940, but the total evacuation lasted until 04-06-1940. In the remaining two days, mainly smaller ships sailed in and out at night to evacuate the remaining French troops. On 04-06-1940 the evacuated men were counted at about 338.000 instead of the expected 45.000! Of these, 123.000 were French. Unfortunately, more than 11.000 boys were killed in Dunkirk and 44.000 allies were taken prisoner. The numbers sometimes differ per source, but these figures are fairly accurate.
A successful evacuation of about 85% of the BEFs was reason enough to resurrect the spirit of Dunkirk. The BEFs themselves had no sense of triumph or pride and were rather anxious to go home, assuming that the home front was deeply disappointed in them. However, this turned out differently than expected. Thanks in part to Winston Churchill's legendary speech, the mood at home was very good and the platforms were packed with citizens to welcome the boys. And so this phenomenal event went down in history as the miracle of Dunkirk. And it's not just a beautiful story that my brother used to tell me as a bedtime bedtime story when I was a little Anne. It is also a valuable lesson for all of us. The miracle has actually influenced my whole life and in the positive sense. Every time I feel desperate I look at my beautiful poster of the little ships. And I feel a bit of the spirit of Dunkirk flowing into me. My motivation, restored the ability to put things into perspective, fresh energy and renewed inspiration and back full of elan! My power source and so much more! sigh……
I would like to share this passion with you and wholeheartedly hope that this story can mean as much to someone else as it does to me. I also hope that the miracle will never be forgotten and that it will bring a lot of optimism, (decisive) strength and wisdom for everyone who needs it.