The Dunkirk Evacuation
There was nowhere to go for the almost 450,000 British and French troops. By land they were surrounded by the German army and by water their backs were against the turbulent waters of the English Channel. It was June 1940 in a small enclave on the coast of Dunkirk, France. Any thought of a Dunkirk evacuation had even the military allied commanders giving up hope. There was nowhere to go.
Only a month previous Neville Chamberlain had resigned the office of British Prime Minister. In one of the most difficult hours in history, Winston Churchill in May of 1940 took his place as Prime Minister. It was WW 2 and things were looking grim. Hitler and his Nazi troops were steamrolling across Europe. Already they had conquered Norway, Denmark, Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium and Poland. They had no intent on stopping. And with a half of a million British and French troops trapped utterly helpless at Dunkirk, it looked like France and Britain were going to be added to the German list of defeated foes.
When Churchill learned of the impending doom of his troops, he called the nation to a day of prayer and intercession for the coming Sunday. The call to prayer went out on May 23 to political leaders, in newspapers, to the archbishop of Canterbury and to King George VI himself. That Sunday across the nation churches were filled with people from every walk of life, seeking God desperately for intervention. Hitler’s troops were only 15 miles away from Dunkirk and had already started their bombing runs on Allied Troops.
Meanwhile on May 24, the day after the call to prayer was issued, a most strange occurrence happened. Hitler, ignoring advice from his military leaders decided to stand down for a few weeks. Some think that Himmler who was Hitler’s right hand man assured his boss that the troops were so helplessly trapped with no need to hurry. Or perhaps Hitler thought, as some have believed, that Britain would capitulate and surrender. The bottom line is that for whatever reason Hitler pulled back and stood down his troops.
Churchill had in motion a desperate plan called Operation Dynamo to rescue the desperate troops. He sent his ships across the English Channel in this strange lull from Hitler and on the first day they delivered 8000 men. The ships couldn’t get close enough to the shore without being targeted and it took a long time to ferry the troops. Considering the sheer numbers still left at Dunkirk and the erratic decisions of Hitler, Churchill knew it wasn’t fast enough. At any time Hitler army could change his mind and annihilate the soldiers. So to his nation Chamberlain again put out another call. This time he asked anyone with a sea-worthy vessel to traverse the treacherous waters of the English Channel in an attempt an unprecedented rescue. Over the next 9 days an armada of the common man ensued and troops were removed by the tens of thousands. In all 336,000 men were rescued through the little boats and small yachts of the British commoners.
The Dunkirk evacuation would go down in history as one of the great miracles of military history. It is an extraordinary act of heroism on the part of the nameless and faceless who risked their lives to save these men.