The Real Story behind Dunkirk

Dunkirk, the movie, is a big box office hit even with its somewhat inaccurate historical perspective.  It only partially tells of the real heroes of this incident and never explains the impact it had on World War II or the British population. 

On May 10th 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 organized by the Royal Navy to get the troops off the beaches and back to Britain. The fierce Nazi bombing demolished the Dunkirk Harbor making it impossible for the large Royal Navy ships to dock. The evacuation occurred from May 26th to June 4th, 1940. Although these events were realistically portrayed in the movie, never once was it pointed out that if the BEF had been captured, it would have meant the loss of Britain's only trained troops and the probable collapse of the Allied cause.

The film did show the bravery of the RAF pilots; yet, the dogfight looked like the Peanut’s character Snoopy versus the Red Baron. No one is diminishing the role played by the air pilots, but they were only part of a component that changed the tide from a military disaster, in which British generals predicted an overwhelming defeat. In fact, the film implied that the British Royal Air Force withheld reinforcements when in actuality all available aircraft was sent in to support the evacuation.

Any discussion about Dunkirk should not omit the true heroes, many who paid the ultimate price. The bulk of the British Army would never have escaped had it not been for the valiant soldiers who stayed behind to hold back the advancing Germans and buy their comrades valuable time. Thousands of these soldiers were killed, many murdered in cold blood after being taken prisoner.

Here are just a few examples. The 5th Gloucesters allowed the Germans to infiltrate into one end of the village before routing them with a bayonet charge and pushing them back.  While the enemy was catching their breath, the garrison quietly snuck away into the night, down the evacuation corridor.

Unfortunately, not everyone was able to escape. A group of Royal Norfolk Regiment soldiers, who stayed behind and continued to hold the Germans at bay, surrendered after running out of ammunition. They waved a white flag to the SS Totenkopf division, who marched them to a wall and machine-gunned everyone but two. 

As these courageous men were holding off the Germans, the ship rescue began. Although the film did show one civilian boat helping in the rescue it downplayed what really happened. The British Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay issued an order for all privately-owned craft to join military service. The mini fleet of over 700 private boats consisted of fishing boats, yachts, pleasure boats, steamers, and even a small, motorized lifeboat. Known as the “Little Ships of Dunkirk” they sailed from Ramsgate in England to Dunkirk in France. Because the large warships could only pick up soldiers from the town's East Mole, many of the smaller craft picked up the soldiers. They had to operate in adverse weather, under an almost ceaseless hail of bombs, an increasing concentration of artillery fire, and  torpedoes.

A bestselling English author told American Thinker about one ship called the Midway Queen that went back and forth from England to Dunkirk twenty-three times, and saved over 7000 men. In total, 338,000 were rescued. 

At the end of the movie one of the actors read the famous Winston Churchill speech. Because he mumbled his words the impact of the broadcast was basically lost on the audience. It is sad that the movie would not have used the actual speech of Churchill, a stirring orator who attacked the Nazis with his defiant words.  Below is part of the speech given to the nation on June 4th, 1940:

“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.”

It would have been nice if the Dunkirk movie had told of all the heroes of this event. The ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ became a rallying cry that boosted the morale of the British.  It is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as the “willingness by a group of people who are in a bad situation and are willing to help each other.” To bad the movie did not emphasize that the rescue success was due to the combination of the forces left behind to stall the Nazi advance, the civilian population, the Royal Navy, and the Royal Air Force.

The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.

Dunkirk, the movie, is a big box office hit even with its somewhat inaccurate historical perspective.  It only partially tells of the real heroes of this incident and never explains the impact it had on World War II or the British population. 

On May 10th 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 organized by the Royal Navy to get the troops off the beaches and back to Britain. The fierce Nazi bombing demolished the Dunkirk Harbor making it impossible for the large Royal Navy ships to dock. The evacuation occurred from May 26th to June 4th, 1940. Although these events were realistically portrayed in the movie, never once was it pointed out that if the BEF had been captured, it would have meant the loss of Britain's only trained troops and the probable collapse of the Allied cause.

The film did show the bravery of the RAF pilots; yet, the dogfight looked like the Peanut’s character Snoopy versus the Red Baron. No one is diminishing the role played by the air pilots, but they were only part of a component that changed the tide from a military disaster, in which British generals predicted an overwhelming defeat. In fact, the film implied that the British Royal Air Force withheld reinforcements when in actuality all available aircraft was sent in to support the evacuation.

Any discussion about Dunkirk should not omit the true heroes, many who paid the ultimate price. The bulk of the British Army would never have escaped had it not been for the valiant soldiers who stayed behind to hold back the advancing Germans and buy their comrades valuable time. Thousands of these soldiers were killed, many murdered in cold blood after being taken prisoner.

Here are just a few examples. The 5th Gloucesters allowed the Germans to infiltrate into one end of the village before routing them with a bayonet charge and pushing them back.  While the enemy was catching their breath, the garrison quietly snuck away into the night, down the evacuation corridor.

Unfortunately, not everyone was able to escape. A group of Royal Norfolk Regiment soldiers, who stayed behind and continued to hold the Germans at bay, surrendered after running out of ammunition. They waved a white flag to the SS Totenkopf division, who marched them to a wall and machine-gunned everyone but two. 

As these courageous men were holding off the Germans, the ship rescue began. Although the film did show one civilian boat helping in the rescue it downplayed what really happened. The British Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay issued an order for all privately-owned craft to join military service. The mini fleet of over 700 private boats consisted of fishing boats, yachts, pleasure boats, steamers, and even a small, motorized lifeboat. Known as the “Little Ships of Dunkirk” they sailed from Ramsgate in England to Dunkirk in France. Because the large warships could only pick up soldiers from the town's East Mole, many of the smaller craft picked up the soldiers. They had to operate in adverse weather, under an almost ceaseless hail of bombs, an increasing concentration of artillery fire, and  torpedoes.

A bestselling English author told American Thinker about one ship called the Midway Queen that went back and forth from England to Dunkirk twenty-three times, and saved over 7000 men. In total, 338,000 were rescued. 

At the end of the movie one of the actors read the famous Winston Churchill speech. Because he mumbled his words the impact of the broadcast was basically lost on the audience. It is sad that the movie would not have used the actual speech of Churchill, a stirring orator who attacked the Nazis with his defiant words.  Below is part of the speech given to the nation on June 4th, 1940:

“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.”

It would have been nice if the Dunkirk movie had told of all the heroes of this event. The ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ became a rallying cry that boosted the morale of the British.  It is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as the “willingness by a group of people who are in a bad situation and are willing to help each other.” To bad the movie did not emphasize that the rescue success was due to the combination of the forces left behind to stall the Nazi advance, the civilian population, the Royal Navy, and the Royal Air Force.

The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.

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