Thursday 27 May 2010

70 years ago today: Operation Dynamo

by Kathryn Hadley

Today marks the 70th anniversary of Operation Dynamo and the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk. Following the rapid advance of German troops during the Battle of France, French and British soldiers became trapped in a small pocket around Dunkirk. It is estimated that between May 26th and June 5th, 1940, over 300,000 soldiers were evacuated from Dunkirk to Britain (approximately 200,000 British and 110,000 French).

Memory of the evacuation diverges on both sides of the Channel, however. The 70th anniversary is featured on the front pages of most of today’s British newspapers; it is not covered, however, in the French news. Whereas Dunkirk is viewed in Britain as one of the most significant episodes of the Second World War, in France, the evacuation was on the whole a humiliation, which has been largely forgotten. In May 1940, Operation Dynamo also caused disputes between the French and British generals, when Gort disagreed with Weygand’s plans to organise a counter-attack on Arras.

What happened to the French soldiers who briefly sojourned in Britain and later returned to France? In Dunkirk: Paradise After Hell Rhiannon Looseley uncovers the forgotten history of the evacuation of over 100,000 French soldiers from Dunkirk to Britain.

Another forgotten episode of June 1940 is the sinking of the British ship Lancastria, on June 17th 1940, in the concluding phase of an operation to bring home British troops left in France after Dunkirk. In Dunkirk: For Those in Peril Jonathan Fenby asks why the greatest maritime tragedy ever to affect Britain was hushed up at the time and has remained a virtually untold story for sixty-five years.

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