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Dunkirk, 1940

by lofty_xmas

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Contributed by 
lofty_xmas
People in story: 
James Christmas
Location of story: 
Dunkirk
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A2119222
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On the 28th May our modern destroyers were withdrawn from Dunkirk and losses that day H.M.S Wakeful and H.M.S Grafton both loaded with troops, with very few survivors.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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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Dunkirk

Posted on: 09 December 2003 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Thanks for your article on Dunkirk which I suspect will be read by a lot of people. I have a particular interest in that my father Reg Gill was evacuated from Dunkirk only to spend three and a half years in another hell hole, Malta. He is unable to talk about some aspects of Dunkirk, in particular the machine gunning of French civilians and is very fortunate not to suffer from nightmares.
Events like Dunkirk are just too traumatic for most people and there is a risk only the positive stories will be told. I had never heard of the problems in the destroyer fleet but it doesn't surprise me that it occured or that it isn't widely known. I suppose if it had become public domain Admiral Somerville would have had to take more drastic action which would have benefited absolutely no-one.

With reference to the hospital ships, Reg was a radiographer in the RAMC and he was put on a Dutch scoot along with the wounded. I don't know the name of the vessel.

A1935074


From your comments elsewhere would I be right to assume you on HMS Hardy?

Paul

 

Message 2 - Dunkirk

Posted on: 27 January 2004 by DanielBryson

Dear Paul and Lofty

What did you both do (or your relatives if that be the case) in Dunkirk? My Grand Father was in the British Expeditionary Force during that battle so I'd be interested in hearing your stories as my Grand Father wont tell me anything, alas I only know a little detail about what happened at that event.

 

Message 3 - Dunkirk

Posted on: 27 January 2004 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Hi Greyowl. if you double click your mouse on

A1935074

it will go to my father's story at Dunkirk. To be frank, it was a horrific experience from which he was just lucky to escape. As a radiographer, he was used to major injuries but is unable to talk about being fired at by enemy aircraft and diving into a ditch to escape. I know the ditches were full of dead civilians and I believe he would have nightmares if I asked him to say any more. A lot of people with very bad experiences cannot talk about it and its probably best to accept that.

If you want general information on Dunkirk double click on the help page.
A1057312

In the bottom right of this there is an animated map which shows the historic sequence very well.

 

Message 4 - Dunkirk

Posted on: 02 February 2004 by DanielBryson

Dear Paul

Thanks for your very helpful reply. I think I now know enough about the campaign itself to call it the battle "for" Dunkirk :) My GrandFather Regnauld Dance DFM was a soldier in the British Army but he didnt give any other details. He later became a pilot, which he was quite good at apparently. My GrandFather also wanted to give me a tape containing his accounts but he feels he is far too old now, I offered to write it for him so he could publish a book but he is quite miserable in the present as he will be 85 years of age soon.

One thing which still amazes me is that Reg got hit by a shell in the Battle of Arnheim (his back was obviously pulverised) yet he continued to walk and ride briefly by train for 15,000 miles from Arnheim to Odessa in that condition! :) I honestly think that is why he got several medals and the DFM. He travelled this long route, only to be captured by Russian soldiers and put in a cell with Italian soldiers with those grenades that send srapnel everywhere, sorry I can't recall the name of that particular weapon. If you are thinking it sounds like a tale of despair and further despair, you are right!

Your Father sounds like a very brave man, I sincerely hope he is of good health in the present. It's always a rare priviledge to learn about the war from a pragmatic view as opposed to academic.

Thanks again for the information.

Regards

Greyowl

 

Message 5 - Dunkirk

Posted on: 03 February 2004 by goodsiggstoo

Hello greyowl
My father was with the BEF also. He was shot in the chest and taken prisoner. He escaped and managed to get to Dunkirk after many days. He had trouble with the police when he arrived in England as he was still dressed as a French peasant which some kind French family had given him to help his escape.
His full story will be under 'Dad's story Part 1, 2, 3, & 4.

 

Message 6 - Dunkirk

Posted on: 03 February 2004 by DanielBryson

Thank you friend, I shall keep an eye out for your Father's story :)

 

Message 7 - Dunkirk

Posted on: 26 February 2004 by m farrier

Hi greyowl. My father was dying before he actually spoke to me about the horror of Dunkirk. His account obviously was a watered down account. The BBC programme certainly brought home the full horror of it all.He was a sergeant with the 2nd battalion Cheshire Regiment. He fought in the action at Wormoudt where his section was blown up in it's position. Under MG fire he took back the surviving gun and got it into action again. He got all his men back to England and left Dunkirk on the last ship which left from the Mole. I am very proud to say that he was awarded the DCM, a decoration he received from King George V1 the following year.
M Farrier.

 

Message 8 - Dunkirk

Posted on: 26 February 2004 by DanielBryson

Hi

I'm sorry to hear about your Father's passing away.

If you ask some of your Father's relatives, you would be surrpised what you can find :) My GrandFather gave me a "watered down" article with a lot of detail but not enough for moi haha I later found out (he never told me this) that he recorded a 45 minute account on tape containing day to day personal accounts of every battle he was in, a tape which he gave to a muesum.

Keep a look out :)

Regards

Greyowl

 

Message 9 - Dunkirk

Posted on: 28 February 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

I have read the original post NEVER FORGET DUNKIRK by lofty_xmas and this subsequent thread with interest.

I do not think that Dunkirk will be forgotten. What is more likely is that the rest of the BEF who were not at Dunkirk, the 200,000, will be forgotten. There is a prevalent myth that all the BEF was evacuated from Dunkirk. The 51st Highland Division hardly gets a mention, nor does the tragedy of the Lancastria, nor do the evacuations from other French ports.

To get a more balanced picture please see this related thread F1701707?thread=355569

and others linked to it.

Regards,

Peter

 

Message 10 - Dunkirk

Posted on: 16 March 2004 by DanielBryson

Peter

Do you happen to know what happened to the remainder of the allied forces who were left behind at Dunkirk? After doing my research in various books, it doesn't look as though there was much hope for them :( I wont bother estimating how many got away as it was a lot, yet so many were left behind unfortunately.

I look forward to getting your views.

Regards

Nabil

 

Message 11 - Dunkirk

Posted on: 16 March 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Hi Nabil

Look here F1701707?thread=355569

Peter

Message 1 - dunkirk

Posted on: 18 September 2004 by novicebrownie

my father was at dunkirk and i am trying to find people who may of known him

 

Message 2 - dunkirk

Posted on: 18 September 2004 by novicebrownie

Message 1 - The Evacuation of Dunkirk: Success or Disaster?

Posted on: 12 July 2005 by APSCA1

Dear all,

I am an A- level student currently researching my history coursework under the title of "The Evacuation of Dunkirk: Success or Disaster?"

It is clear that this is a very controversial topic and I would be very grateful to know your opinions.

I have especially been considering :

1)whether it is accurate to believe that the British army was rescued,

2)How significant Dunkirk was in gaining American support,

3)the role of Churchill,

4) how important it was that Dunkirk was hushed up to retain the "Dunkirk spirit"

5) and to what extent the evacuation of Dunkirk helped to determine the outcome of WWII

Thanks very much in advance

Kind Regards

Amelia

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