In May-June 1940, the British Army launched an ambitious operation to evacuate its soldiers from northern France, where they were being pushed back by Nazi forces. 75 years on, celebrations are underway to commemorate Operation Dynamo.
After the British declared war on Nazi Germany in December 1939, there followed a period where it appeared to the British public as though not much was happening. This period, which lasted until April 1940, was known as the ‘Phoney War’.
However, the war turned a corner in early May of that year, when Nazi Germany invaded Belgium and the Netherlands, and attacked France through the Ardennes. It took just a few days for German forces to push the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) back into northern France, sparking fears that they would be trapped.
The decision was taken to evacuate the BEF from the beaches of northern France. Whilst many of the men were evacuated on large military and merchant navy ships, the lasting image most people recall when remembering the Dunkirk Evacuation is the famous ‘Little Ships’.
The admiralty put out an emergency call for help from anyone who owned a boat that could assist in the operation. Eventually, around 700 privately-owned, smaller ships joined the operation, sailing from Ramsgate to Dunkirk. Heavy bombardment by the Luftwaffe complicated the operation but, by 4th June 1940, over 388,000 troops had been evacuated.
75 years on, commemorative events are being held in Dunkirk and Ramsgate to remember the operation. Around 50 of the surviving ‘Little Ships’ set sail this morning from Ramsgate to Dunkirk, accompanied by a flypast of Spitfires and Hurricanes. This crossing has been recreated every 5 years since 1975 (the original commemorative crossing taking place in 1965), but will be particularly poignant this year.
While the ‘Little Ships’ are in France, visitors to Ramsgate will have the opportunity to enjoy 1940s-themed tea dances. In Dunkirk, there will be a number of commemorative services, at venues such as the British Cemetery and Memorial and the Allied Memorial. There will also be a parade, including marching bands and period vehicles, taking place on Saturday.
Our school history trips to Dunkirk are fantastic for students studying World War II. Study themes that can be covered by a trip here include Britain at War, Hitler’s foreign policy and the development of warfare with regards to tactics and technology during the Second World War. For more information on how we can tailor make a school history tour to Dunkirk for your group, please do not hesitate to contact us.