During 1940 the German army swept with devastating speed across the Low Countries and into northern France and drove Allied forces back into a small pocket around Dunkirk. Without a swift withdrawal across the English Channel, the latter faced certain death or capture. The evacuation plan – Operation Dynamo – initially calculated that 45,000 men might be rescued, but between 26 May and 4 June 338,226 men were in fact brought back to England. Naval historian Philip Weir shows how this was made possible by a vast armada of disparate vessels including destroyers, minesweepers, fishing vessels and, most famously of all, the privately owned ‘Little Ships’. He explores the vessels’ various roles within the evacuation, and their subsequent fates, including preservation and participation in commemorative return runs to the port, which now take place every five years.
Dunkirk and the Little Ships
In May 1940, German troops advanced through Holland, Belgium and France with astonishing speed, forcing the British Expeditionary Force and the French army to retreat to the north-east coast of France. The evacuation plan – Operation Dynamo – was put into effect with the expectation that only about 45,000 men might be rescued. However, by the hasty assembly of a vast armada of disparate vessels (thought to be in the region of 900, of which about 700 were privately owned), 338,226 Allied troops were brought safely back to England. Without the contribution of those Dunkirk Little Ships, as they have come to be known, thousands of British troops would have died on the shores of France, and the ongoing fight against the Axis powers rendered all the more challenging. In this title, Philip Weir reveals the story of the Little Ships which undertook such a great mission.