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The deliverance: Seventy-five years on - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
The deliverance: Seventy-five years on

Operation DYNAMO did the impossible in a thoroughly British way.

From the moment that the French defences at Sedan and on the Meuse were broken at the end of the second week of May, only a rapid retreat to Amiens and the south could have saved the British and French Armies who had entered Belgium at the appeal of the Belgian King....

HMSS Grafton, Grenade, Wakeful, Basilisk, Havant, and Keith were lost. But the Army was got away. The RAF suffered losses; but the RAF won through. And the little ships, like Nelson at Trafalgar, created an immortal and imperishable memory: Royal Daffodil and Medway Queen, Lightoller’s Sundowner, Bluebird of Chelsea, Tamzine, Marchioness; the RNLI lifeboats, Abdy Beauclerk, Cecil and Lilian Philpott, Charles Cooper Henderson, Charles Dibdin, Cyril and Lilian Bishop, Edward Dresden, E.M.E.D., Greater London, Guide of Dunkirk, Herbert Sturmey, Jane Holland, Louise Stephens, Lucy Lavers, Lord Southborough, Mary Scott, Michael Stephens, Prudential, Rosa Woodd and Phyliss Lunn, Thomas Kirk Wright, and Viscountess Wakefield; the Isle of Man Steam Packet vessels, Mona’s Isle and Mona’s Queen, Fenella, King Orry....

However, the German eruption swept like a sharp scythe around the right and rear of the Armies of the north. ... Behind this armoured and mechanised onslaught came a number of German divisions in lorries, and behind them again there plodded comparatively slowly the dull brute mass of the ordinary German Army and German people, always so ready to be led to the trampling down in other lands of liberties and comforts which they have never known in their own.

I have said this armoured scythe-stroke almost reached Dunkirk – almost: but not quite. Boulogne and Calais were the scenes of desperate fighting. The Guards defended Boulogne for a while and were then withdrawn by orders from this country. The Rifle Brigade, the 60th Rifles, and the Queen Victoria’s Rifles, with a battalion of British tanks and 1000 Frenchmen, in all about 4000 strong, defended Calais to the last. The British Brigadier was given an hour to surrender. He spurned the offer, and four days of intense street fighting passed before silence reigned over Calais, which marked the end of a memorable resistance. Only 30 unwounded survivors were brought off by the Navy and we do not know the fate of their comrades. Their sacrifice, however, was not in vain. At least two armoured divisions, which otherwise would have been turned against the British Expeditionary Force, had to be sent for to overcome them. They have added another page to the glories of the Light Division, and the time gained enabled the Gravelines waterlines to be flooded and to be held by the French troops.

Thus it was that the port of Dunkirk was kept open. When it was found impossible for the Armies of the north to reopen their communications to Amiens with the main French Armies, only one choice remained. It seemed, indeed, forlorn. The Belgian, British, and French Armies were almost surrounded. Their sole line of retreat was to a single port and to its neighbouring beaches. They were pressed on every side by heavy attacks and far outnumbered in the air.

When a week ago today I asked the House to fix this afternoon as the occasion for a statement, I feared it would be my hard lot to announce the greatest military disaster in our long history. I thought – and some good judges agreed with me – that perhaps 20,000 or 30,000 men might be re-embarked. But it certainly seemed that the whole of the French First Army and the whole of the British Expeditionary Force north of the Amiens-Abbeville gap, would be broken up in the open field or else would have to capitulate for lack of food and ammunition. These were the hard and heavy tidings for which I called upon the House and the nation to prepare themselves a week ago. The whole root and core and brain of the British Army, on which and around which we were to build, and are to build, the great British Armies in the later years of the war, seemed about to perish upon the field or to be led into an ignominious and starving captivity.

That was the prospect a week ago.

From Dunkirk, 338,266 men were evacuated to the UK, including the French soldiers, many of whom returned to France only to participate in its surrender. Of some 100,000 French soldiers rescued from Dunkirk, but some 3000 joined the Free French.

The enemy attacked on all sides with great strength and fierceness, and their main power, the power of their far more numerous air force, was thrown into the battle or else concentrated upon Dunkirk and the beaches.

… Meanwhile, the Royal Navy, with the willing help of countless merchant seamen, strained every nerve to embark the British and Allied troops. Two hundred and twenty light warships and 650 other vessels were engaged. They had to operate upon the difficult coast, often in adverse weather, under an almost ceaseless hail of bombs and an increasing concentration of artillery fire. Nor were the seas, as I have said, themselves free from mines and torpedoes. It was in conditions such as these that our men carried on, with little or no rest, for days and nights on end, making trip after trip across the dangerous waters, bringing with them always men whom they had rescued. The numbers they have brought back are the measure of their devotion and their courage. The hospital ships, which brought off many thousands of British and French wounded, being so plainly marked, were a special target for Nazi bombs; but the men and women on board them never faltered in their duty.

Meanwhile, the Royal Air Force, which had already been intervening in the battle, so far as its range would allow, from home bases, now used part of its main metropolitan fighter strength, and struck at the German bombers, and at the fighters which in large numbers protected them. This struggle was protracted and fierce. Suddenly the scene has cleared, the crash and thunder has for the moment – but only for the moment – died away. A miracle of deliverance, achieved by valour, by perseverance, by perfect discipline, by faultless service, by resource, by skill, by unconquerable fidelity, is manifest to us all. The enemy was hurled back by the retreating British and French troops. He was so roughly handled that he did not harry their departure seriously. The Royal Air Force engaged the main strength of the German Air Force, and inflicted upon them losses of at least four to one; and the Navy, using nearly 1,000 ships of all kinds, carried over 335,000 men, French and British, out of the jaws of death and shame, to their native land and to the tasks which lie immediately ahead. We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations. But there was a victory inside this deliverance, which should be noted. It was gained by the Air Force. Many of our soldiers coming back have not seen the Air Force at work; they saw only the bombers which escaped its protective attack. They underrate its achievements. I have heard much talk of this; that is why I go out of my way to say this. I will tell you about it.

There never had been, I suppose, in all the world, in all the history of war, such an opportunity for youth. The Knights of the Round Table, the Crusaders, all fall back into a prosaic past: not only distant but prosaic; but these young men, going forth every morn to guard their native land and all that we stand for, holding in their hands these instruments of colossal and shattering power, of whom it may be said that ‘When every morning brought a noble chance, And every chance brought out a noble knight’, deserve our gratitude, as do all of the brave men who, in so many ways and on so many occasions, are ready, and continue ready, to give life and all for their native land.

Wars are not won by evacuations. Yet the BEF had been saved and preserved. The weary squaddies, landing once more on Home soil, were given tea, and passed through by Naval personnel, including one quiet, diligent, unobtrusive Naval officer whom a few weary soldiers recognised with a sudden shock: His Majesty the King.

The troop trains with the rescued aboard clacked and puffed their way through the Kentish Springtide. At halt and station, the WI and the Mothers Union greeted Our Lads come back from France with lemonade and biscuits; and as the trains steamed through the Garden of England, the villages XI paused in their matches, and raised their caps and flourished their bats, and cheered.

I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government – every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. 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, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

– the Rt Hon. the Prime Minister, 4 June 1940

This is Dunkirk Day.

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2 comments or Leave a comment
pathology_doc From: pathology_doc Date: May 27th, 2015 02:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
To me, the real miracle (which we would probably not see repeated today, alas) was that the small-boat sailors - the amateurs and civilians - thought nothing of the Army's failure to defeat the enemy; only that it was in mortal peril and it needed them. And so off they went - completely unarmed and defenceless in themselves - to do what they could to get it out.
froganon From: froganon Date: May 28th, 2015 03:40 am (UTC) (Link)

Great loyalty and greater courage. Thank you for this!
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