When Hitler invaded the low countries on 10th
May 1940, the Dutch were caught totally by surprised and off guard.
Nazi 'Blitzkrieg' tactics overran these territories easily and
with great speed. As the Allied armies advanced forward through
Belgium to block the Nazi advance, the Nazis penetrated the Ardennes
in the south.
The Allies had inadvertently sprung the trap
that Hitler had laid. The Nazis swept through in the south with
little opposition. After the German army broke through in the
Ardennes it swept north and headed towards the coast, and in doing
so trapped the Allied force.
The Allies had been outmanoeuvred by the Germans.
With the French army in retreat, the British Expeditionary Force
headed towards the coast and Dunkirk. 'Operation Dynamo' was the
evacuation of the British and Allied troops from Dunkirk, to the
safety of England some 25 miles across the English Channel.
They expected to save at least 45,000 soldiers
at best, but ended up helping over 300,000 troops back to good
old 'Blighty', and to fight another day. Not only was the Royal
Navy involved but a flotilla of private ships, and with the RAF
who threw a protective shield over the beaches to prevent air
attacks on the stranded troops, the stranded troops waded out
to the waiting boats and ships.
The Nazis tried, and succeeded, to sink some
of the ships that were returning troops, and all was done to try
and trap as much of the British army on mainland Europe as possible.
It was a combined effort that saved the day, and provided a small
victory from the devastation of defeat. Other evacuations along
the coast brought the total of rescued troops to nearly 500,000,
two thirds of the evacuated troops were British. The phoney war
was over, and the Allies had just tasted real war.
By the 4th June, the German
army had closed the perimeter around Dunkirk and the evacuation
had to be stopped. Finally the town surrendered. On the same day
Winston Churchill delivered a speech in the House of Commons with
regard to Dunkirk and 'Operation Dynamo'. The moving "We
shall fight them on the beaches..." speech was preparing
the British people for the coming battle.
Although many troops escaped, thousands were
captured and taken prisoner. But the effects of this disaster
was far more reaching. With the fall of France just a matter of
time, Britain would be alone.
The invasion of Britain would be next. The defeat
in northern France would leave the British army short of not only
men but also short of equipment. Equipment that was left on the
mainland as the retreating army destroyed what it could so that
it could not fall into the hands of the enemy. The RAF had lost
nearly half its force in the French campaign, over 100 planes
in the defence of the Dunkirk evacuation alone. Now the RAF would
have to face the mighty Luftwaffe in the skies over England, with
the odds stacked against them and with a depleted force, in the
fight of their lives and for the survival of Britain.