- Contributed by
- People in story:
- James Christmas
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 09 December 2003
The British have never been called a boastful nation, trumpet-blowers - never. I feel that it is time certain facts are brought to the attention of the public and especially to the Government, or their representatives who arrange national functions, such as the D-Day landings etc.
The Prime Minister confirmed that 'V'- Day celebrations would be repeated annually, but no mention of the Dunkirk evacuation. If Dunkirk is to be pushed into obscurity it would be a national tragedy - so, let me pick up the trumpet and sound off loud and clear, to disclose why this should never happen, but firstly why it might.
Our Government has never issued medals to the commemeration of Dunkirk. They say it was a defeat. The French Government thought otherwise and issued medals to their participants. It was never the battle for Dunkirk, but the battle of Dunkirk.
The initial estimate of the number of men who could be evacuated was 45,000 - as some 350,000 were brought back to our shores, the word 'DEFEAT' should never be associated with Dunkirk. The code name for the evacuation was called 'Operation Dynamo' which began officially at 18:57 on Sunday 26th May 1940.
Dunkirk could only be described as an inferno and anyone who was there felt the 'HEAT OF HELL'. Those who returned time and time again were spitting in the face of the Devil.
Craft of every description had to run the gauntlet of mines, E. Boats, submarines, shore batteries and wrecks, but most of all the dive-bombers.
The RAF were unable to provide enough air cover, for example on the 29th May the RAF claimed they had shot down 67 German planes, for the loss of only 19 of their own. After the war Germany revealed that only 18 aircraft were lost on that day, some being shot down by warship A.A fire.
I have no wish to degrade our airmen, whose courage is beyond question, but, to point out inaccurate statements made by the Admiralty and Air Command.
On the 28th May our modern destroyers were withdrawn from Dunkirk and losses that day H.M.S Wakeful and H.M.S Grafton both loaded with troops, with very few survivors. Paddle steamers Fenella and Crested Eagle. Trawlers Calvi, Polly Johnson, drifter Girl Pamela and transport ship King Orry.
The Germans shelled and bombed hospital ships, without the possibility of claiming it was an error on their part. Only a small percentage of ship losses are mentioned on these pages and the strain on officers and men was immense. The commanding officer of the destroyer H.M.S Vanquisher asked to be relieved of his duties, after three trips to Dunkirk. Destroyer H.M.S Verity had trouble with crew and officers, Admiral Somerville went aboard and talked to the crew. The ship then returned to Dunkirk.
At least three ships had to be re-commissioned owing to their crews suffering from hysteria and fits of crying, this affecting both officers and crew.
H.M.S Vimy whilst returning to Dunkirk on 27th May, the captain left the bridge and did not return. The ship was searched from stem to stern, without result, the first lieutenant took command. What was it that drove men on, losing all sense of time, suffering hunger, thirst and having little sleep?
The answer to that question was the thought of tens of thousands of men waiting in that inferno suffering, praying, cursing and dying, but knowing that eventually their sea-going comrades would arrive, whatever the situation.
Of 40 destroyers involved in the evacuation only 13 were fit for further service.
Let us not forget the civilians, some crewing their own boats, who entered this 'Hell-on-Earth', without weapons of any description to defend themselves. Surely this is unique in history ?
The 3rd and 4th June Block ships were sent to be sunk in the main channel, escortd by destroyers Vivacious and Shikari. Then a signal from the French appealing for assistance to evacuate the rest of their troops, who fighting a rearguard action, some 30,000 whose bravery and tenacity had enabled their comrades to be evacuated.
Once more the rescue ships returned, speed being of the essence, but alas some 15,000 French troops were left behind to surrender to the Germans.
The last ship to leave Dunkirk was the destroyer Shikari with 380 troops aboard. She sailed at 03:40 4th June to end the evacuation and the 'Miracle of Dunkirk'.
Of the 101 R.N ships involved, only 5 had guns with elevation of more than 40 degrees to fire at dive bombers. Only 1 the A.A cruiser H.M.S Calcutta was capable of giving as much as she got. It was years later the 20mm Oerlikon and 40mm Bofors became available.
The Admiralty opted for less efficient 1/2 inch and 2prd mountings, although the 20mm Oerlikon and 40mm Bofors were available before the war, as was the Dive Bomber, such as the German Stukas - all discarded as useless by our High Command.
How can this nation forget the 68,000 souls who lost their live.
Many veterans feel, with bitterness, that Dunkirk would not be forgotten, if the Americans had been at Dunkirk.
I conclude these facts hoping that they will convince readers that we should - NEVER FORGET DUNKIRK.
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