March 29, 2017

Despite Churchill’s visits to Paris to stiffen French resolve, his attempts proved futile as the German blitzkrieg shattered the French resistance and drove the British Expeditionary Force back to the Channel ports. A pause in the German attacks between 27 May and 4 June allowed the evacuation of over three hundred thousand British and French troops from the beaches at Dunkirk – turning what was in reality a colossal military disaster into what came to be seen as a success; the saving of lives by the ‘little ships’ (fishing boats, pleasure craft, lifeboats) that ferried men to the destroyers waiting offshore.

For more on Dunkirk, and a collection of personal accounts from some of those who took part in the mass evacuation, see the BBC’s Archives.

We must be careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.

Winston Churchill, speech of 4 June 1940

Britain was now clearly in Hitler’s sights. Vulnerable, weakened by defeat on the beaches of France (and with much of its weaponry and ammunition left on French shores), and a long way from its empire and commonwealth allies, it faced the might of the German army and air force alone.

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