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29 October 2014
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Dunkirk - synopses

A group of soldiers

Episode One: Retreat

The allies in Northern France are in retreat, overrun by the Nazi blitzkrieg and making their way to the coast.

The Navy has organised an improvised evacuation but expects only to be able to lift 45,000 of the third of a million men in France.

In the War Cabinet, Churchill is advised to make peace with Hitler before the entire army is lost. He resists and orders the evacuation to proceed.

The only way the Army can make it to the coast is by holding open a corridor down which to retreat.

One of the units charged with this is that of Alf Tombs, which successfully resists the German advance for 48 hours allowing thousands to escape, but it ends in their own capture.

Churchill faces down the threat of a split within the Cabinet in order to allow the evacuation to continue.

On the beaches Captain Tennant, the man in charge of the operation on the ground, discovers he can evacuate men more quickly from a flimsy wooden pier.

But as the weather changes the pier and the beaches are heavily attacked by the Luftwaffe, resulting in heavy losses of both men and ships.

Episode Two: Evacuation

The Army has now made its way back to the coast but there are far too many men to evacuate in the time that's left before the Germans are expected to take Dunkirk.

More boats are needed so the Admiralty begins to requisition a fleet of small craft including cockle fishing boats from Leigh-on-Sea. The crew of The Renown decide they will sail their boat themselves.

Meanwhile fleets of naval ships are continuing to lift as many men as they can from the beaches and the pier.

The French, who until now have been kept in the dark about plans for a full scale British evacuation, learn that their allies are leaving them.

In order to allow the Anglo-French alliance to continue, Churchill orders that French troops be lifted 50/50 with the English, doubling the number of men to be evacuated in a single stroke.

The Leigh boys, who set out knowing little of what to expect, find themselves sailing into a scene of desperation and mayhem, but in spite of the dangers they begin to lift men off the beaches.

When the tide makes their work there impossible, they too begin to lift men off the pier. As the strain on the little boat begins to tell the engine fails.

Under tow on their way home they hit a mine and are killed. They are among the first civilian casualties of the war. Their community mourns, realising the cost of the successful evacuation, and the country is left to face the threat of invasion.

Episode Three: Survival

Dunkirk has now become a siege town. While a large number of the Army has been evacuated, many tens of thousands still remain.

Whether or not they survive depends on how long men like Lieutenant Jimmy Langley can hold back the final German advance.

Fierce fighting buys time for the men to get away but Lt Jimmy Langley is injured and taken to a casualty station where Major Newman has been trying to evacuate his wounded patients. His repeated efforts are frustrated and no hospital ships arrive.

The evacuation slows to a snail's pace as daylight sailing is suspended and the crews of the naval ships, who have been working for nine days without rest, are exhausted.

When finally the British Expeditionary Force is evacuated, further political pressure requires these crews to make one more trip in order to lift as many of the French rearguard as possible.

However, no provision can be made for the wounded and Major Newman and Jimmy Langley are left behind to face the Germans who arrive in Dunkirk on the same day as Churchill makes his now famous speech to the House of Commons vowing never to surrender.


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