The evacuation from Dunkirk on the French coast was hailed in Britain as an extraordinary achievement and the ‘little ships of Dunkirk’ swiftly entered the mythology of wartime brave deeds.
British soldiers wade out to a waiting destroyer off Dunkirk during the evacuation.
Troops evacuated from Dunkirk on a destroyer about to berth at Dover, 31 May 1940.
Troops evacuated from Dunkirk enjoying tea and other refreshments at Addison Road station in London, 31 May 1940.
Some of the 'little ships' used during the evacuation of Dunkirk being towed back along the River Thames past Tower Bridge, 9 June 1940.
German forces moved into Dunkirk hours after the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force. Here German officers inspect a memorial on the sea front at Dunkirk.
HMS Glorious was sunk with her escorting destroyers HMS Acasta and Ardent on 8 June 1940. As the three ships sank so quickly, there were very few survivors and over 1,500 men died. The artist Eric Ravilious was killed in 1942 when accompanying an RAF air sea rescue flight from Iceland. MAR 717 Barnacle encrusted steering wheel hub recovered from the wreck of HMS Hardy. The flagship of Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee's destroyer flotilla, Hardy was damaged and driven ashore in flames at Narvik. Captain Warburton-Lee was killed in the attack on his ship and was awarded a Victoria Cross for his bravery in leading his ships into action despite being outnumbered.
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Poorly armed, neutral Norway became the first victim of Germany’s Blitzkrieg in the West in April 1940.
Both the Allies and Germany ignored Norwegian neutrality. During the winter, Germany imported Swedish iron ore through the Norwegian port of Narvik. In response, Britain planned to lay mines along the Norwegian coast. British sailors also boarded the German ship Altmark in Norwegian waters.
Germany launched a full scale invasion on 9 April 1940. In a series of surprise attacks, 10,000 German troops seized the capital, Oslo, and the main ports. Although Allied efforts to intervene on land ended in failure, the invasion was costly for the German Navy. The new cruiser Blücher was sunk by Norwegian coastal guns at Oslo, and the scattered German ships were vulnerable to the Royal Navy, which scored a notable victory at Narvik. Further losses and damage to Germany’s few modern warships were inflicted by Allied submarines and aircraft.
On land, the poorly equipped Allied troops were outnumbered and outgunned. By 2 May, most had been evacuated, although fighting continued at Narvik until the Germans had invaded France and Belgium, when it became urgent to save the remaining 24,000 Allied soldiers for use elsewhere. After destroying the port and railway, they were withdrawn. The tragic loss of the aircraft carrier Glorious ended the campaign.
The German Navy never really recovered from the losses sustained in Norway, which in the immediate aftermath prevented it from interfering with the evacuation of Dunkirk or supporting an invasion of Britain.
The German supply ship Altmark in Jössenfjord, Norway. Altmark was carrying nearly 300 British seamen, who had been captured by the raider Graf Spee in the Atlantic. In February 1940, British sailors from the destroyer HMS Cossack boarded the ship and freed the prisoners, catching the imagination of the British public but angering the Norwegians and causing the Germans to doubt Norwegian neutrality.
German troops disembark in Norway, 9 April 1940. The invasion was codenamed Operation 'Weserübung'. In some areas, German troops were concealed in the holds of merchant ships and achieved complete surprise.
Although the Royal Navy controlled the sea after Narvik, the German Air Force controlled the skies. German strike aircraft operating from southern Norway and Denmark attacked Allied ships and troops relentlessly. The sloop HMS Bittern was supporting the landings in central Norway when she was bombed and sunk with the loss of 20 men.
British troops in Norway were poorly equipped and not trained for the harsh terrain and weather. On the right, in a peaked cap, is a Norwegian soldier. Norway’s tiny standing army was unprepared for war; some troops fought against heavy odds, whilst others surrendered.
Tapestry completed by Roger Hooke while a prisoner of war, showing the ship’s badge of HMS Ardent.Able Seaman Roger Hooke was the only survivor from HMS Ardent after she and her sister ship Acasta were sunk in June 1940 while escorting the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious back to Scapa Flow from Norway where she had been supporting the evacuation of Allied forces.
souvenirs and ephemera
The German destroyer Hermann Kuhne beached and on fire at Hepjangs Fjord, Narvik. Ten German destroyers were stranded at Narvik with little fuel. A small British force entered the fjord early on 10 April and sank or damaged five of them, as well as seven transports, although two British ships were sunk. Three days later, another British squadron, including the battleship Warspite, returned to sink or drive ashore the remaining eight German destroyers.