Friday 2 February 2018

26 May - 4 June 1940

Second World War

Operation Dynamo, the evacuation from Dunkirk, involved the rescue of more than 338,000 British and French soldiers from the French port of Dunkirk between 26 May and 4 June 1940. The evacuation, sometimes referred to as the Miracle of Dunkirk, was a big boost for British morale. Prime Minister Winston Churchill recognised however that the greatest challenge still lay ahead, as Nazi ambitions now turned toward Britain. 

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6 Facts About the Dunkirk Evacuation

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6 Facts About the Dunkirk Evacuation

Discover more about the Dunkirk evacuation and a few highlights from our collection. 

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1. It was a rescue mission

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1. It was a rescue mission

On 10 May 1940, Germany invaded France and the Low Countries, pushing the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), along with French and Belgian troops, back to the French port of Dunkirk. A huge rescue, Operation 'Dynamo', was organised by the Royal Navy to get the troops off the beaches and back to Britain.

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2. The evacuation was code-named Operation Dynamo

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2. The evacuation was code-named Operation Dynamo

Admiral Bertram Ramsay directed the evacuation. Ramsay had retired before the war but was recalled in 1939. He and his staff worked in a room deep in the Dover cliffs that had once contained a dynamo, a type of electrical generator, giving the operation its name.

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3. The Evacuation Began on 26 May

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3. The Evacuation Began on 26 May

'Dynamo' began on 26 May. Strong defences were established around Dunkirk, and the Royal Air Force sent all available aircraft to protect the evacuation. Over 800 naval vessels of all shapes and sizes helped to transport troops across the English Channel. The last British troops were evacuated on 3 June, with French forces covering their escape.

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4. The- 'Little Ships' helped

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4. The- 'Little Ships' helped

The gently shelving beaches meant that large warships could only pick up soldiers from the town's East Mole, a sea wall which extended into deep water, or send their boats on the beaches to collect them. To speed up the process, the British Admiralty appealed to the owners of small boats for help. These became known as the 'little ships'.

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5. Over 300,000 soldiers were rescued

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5. Over 300,000 soldiers were rescued

Churchill and his advisers had expected that it would be possible to rescue only 20,000 to 30,000 men, but in all 338,000 troops were rescued from Dunkirk, a third of them French. Ninety thousand remained to be taken prisoner and the BEF left behind the bulk of its tanks and heavy guns. All resistance in Dunkirk ended at 9.30am on 4 June.

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6. The evacuation boosted morale

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6. The evacuation boosted morale

The Dunkirk evacuation was an important event for the Allies. If the BEF had been captured, it would have meant the loss of Britain's only trained troops and the collapse of the Allied cause. The successful evacuation was a great boost to civilian morale, and created the 'Dunkirk spirit' which helped Britain to fight on in the summer of 1940.

Explore Our Collection

Souvenirs and ephemera
musical instrument, accordion
Photographs
DUNKIRK 1940
Souvenirs and ephemera
bible
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DUNKIRK 1940
Vehicles, aircraft and ships
Ship, Fishing Boat 'Tamzine', British
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DUNKIRK 1940

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  • Front cover of 'The War on Paper' - a book of documents that defined the Second World War
    The War on Paper

    Discover 20 documents that defined the Second World War, including 5 replica facsimile documents.

  • A striking clock based on the altimeters in Second World War combat aircraft
    Altimeter Clock

    Distinctive clock based on the altimeters of Second World War combat aircraft.

  • Silver cufflinks featuring spitfires
    Spitfire Cufflinks

    Beautiful cufflinks featuring the legendary Supermarine Spitfire MK II P7350.

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