Dunkirk Evacuation

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by Glider, Aug 27, 2011.

  1. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    You will know of the small boats that went to Dunkirk to help with the evacuation. What some of you may not understand, is just how small, some of the small boats were.

    The photo shows one of the original boats which made that voyage. She is a 34 ft cockle boat one of a number that went from a village called Leigh on Sea. One of these boats the Renown, was destroyed during the evacuation with the loss of all on board.

    I am sure you will agree that to go into a war zone in a boat like this, takes a special kind of courage
     

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  2. Vassili Zaitzev

    Vassili Zaitzev Well-Known Member

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    Damn, your right about that Glider. If I can recall, Charles Lightoller, former Second Officer of the RMS Titanic, used his private yacht to help with the evacuation.

    I think a :salute: is in order to those involved.
     
  3. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Active Member

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    I think a lot of private yachts/sailboats/fishing boats were used at Dunkirk. They were buying up or renting anything they could get their hands on to get the troops out.

    I'll agree with VZ....:salute: to those who made it possible, and to those who made it happen.
     
  4. fastmongrel

    fastmongrel Well-Known Member

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    If I have my facts right there wasnt any renting or buying. All boats over a certain length or fitted with an engine had to be registered and the Navy simply took what was needed. There were retrospective payments made but there was no time to worry about such niceties and I dont think many owners would have tried to prevent the Navy taking there boat.

    As for size it might have been an advantage to be in a small boat after all the big shark doesnt attack a little fish its after bigger prey.

    Whatever vessel they were in it must have been a stomach churning trip towards Dunkirk knowing that you were going to be welcomed by the Luftwaffe. There must also have been the thought that you might arrive just in time to be met by the German army ready to secort you to a POW camp.

    Brave lads :salute:
     
  5. Readie

    Readie Well-Known Member

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    The 'spirit of Dunkirk' is an English icon.
    Unbelievable courage and determination to bring our boys home.
    The first step to ultimate victory.
    Cheers
    John
     
  6. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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    Indeed, everything that could float and get there pretty much went there. Brave work :salute:
     
  7. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Active Member

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    Its been a while since I've read anything on Dunkirk, but yeah, I think there was a certain size above which the Navy just sorta said "c'mon, you're coming with us", slapped a Lewis gun on the bow, and called it armed. I seem to recall that they put the word out for smaller ships, pretty much anything that could semi-reasonably expect to make at least one trip across the Channel and not sink, to which pretty much everybody with something larger than a rowboat responded and said "okay, where to?" Wish I remember what the title of the book was ("Miracle at Dunkirk" or "Dunkirk", something like that...it was a pretty slim book, from what I remember, but good...checked it out of the library, so I don't have it myself), but most of the coordination and "requisition" of floating objects was done by one guy, who pretty much lived and breathed evacuation for the duration. I think they said that in a 7-day period, he managed about that many hours of sleep. He had an assistant dedicated to keeping a pot of coffee going and sandwiches nearby, he'd grab a bite in between phone calls and such. Sad thing is, once the troops were evacuated and it was all over, he pretty much disappeared back into obscurity. Dangit, now I'm gonna have to find that book again.
     
  8. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    #8 GrauGeist, Aug 31, 2011
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2011
    There was a bit on PBS about the "Little Ships" recently, and one of the restored boat owners said that one of the shining attributes about the small boats, was that they could get right up to shore to grab the soldiers and ferry them out to the waiting larger ships that weren't able to get closer in, due to the beach running out quite a ways from shore.

    Here's a great photo showing a flotilla of Little Ships being towed down the Thames in preperation for the crossing to Dunkirk:

    little-ship-flotilla[on-Thames].jpg
     
  9. DerAdlerIstGelandet

    DerAdlerIstGelandet Der Crew Chief
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    Truely couragous and amazing that it went off so successfully (of course a bit of luck and poor strategy if you wish to call it helped out).
     
  10. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    RA, it was "Miracle at Dunkirk" by Walter Lord - he of "A Night To Remember" fame. And yes, Mr. Lightholer was involved and used his yacht. Lord does do a good job getting everything about Dynamo onto paper.
     
  11. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    I think they had to be. The Luftwaffe prevented use of seaport facilities by larger ships. Small boats could dock anywhere. Soldiers could even wade out to the small craft.
     
  12. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    The events on land that led to the evacuation began 10 may, of course, but the final act of the drama began 22 May. On that day the promised french counterattack to support the british effort at aras was repulsed. It was a much reduced affair, the original two divisions promised by the french had been reduced to a single regiment, the 121st, led by the 25th Divs commander General Moline. The French plan was opportunistic, the initial goals set for the 121 regt was a penetration of some 2.5 miles of the German 32 Inf Divs sector. Though the counterattack did enjoy some initial success, it was broken up by concentrated stuka attacks. Despite the fact that an armoured recon group had made it to the outskirts of Cambrai, the French were somewhat pushed back by spirited German counterattacks. Then French 1st Army got bogus reports of strong German reinforcements entering Cambrai, frankly 1st Army HQ panicked (up to that point 121 Rgt were holding positions rather well). The rgt was ordered to withdraw back to the start lines, destroying all bridges as they withdrew.

    This was a biter pill for the British commander Lord Gort, when was finally informed of the French cancellation. By then British forces were heavily engaged and needed strong support from 1st Army. Whilst 1st Army were providing good defensive support, they had clearly failed in their part of the offensive plan advocated by Weygand some days earlier. From that point Gort became uttlerly convinced that there was no longer any possibility of a coherent counterattack developing in the North. Though the counterattack at Arras went ahead, it was never seen as anything other than a spoiling raid by the BEF command. But to the French High Command and the war cabinet in London, great hopes were pinned on the ability to restore the line and defeat the germans. Weygand throughout the 22nd and 23rd clung stubbornly to the notion that Blanchard, the French commander of the trapped Army Group had a coordinated attack underway involving 4 full divs, 2 French and 2 British. In fact no battle plans had been issued and no significant contribution from the French Army ever eventuated.

    On the 23rd another significant event occurred. On that day the BEF went on half rations. It was obvious that the channel ports were incapable of providing adequate sustainance to the trapped army group.

    Also on the 23rd Gort sent a no frills telgram to Anthony Eden, addressed to the war cabinet. Gort was concerned that the british government were mouthing similar euphamisms as the french high command, and were developing an unrealistic view of what was happening. His telgram did not pull any punches, Whilst he acknowledged the need for continued interallied co-operation, he stressed the need for the govt to realize that the ability to undertake offensive operations out of the pocket was limited now by supply considerations, and that all offensive actions could only be viewed as raids, rather than territory capturing operations. Gorts messages did have the effect of stripping away at least some of the false hopes developing in the cabinet. This led to an urgent communique by Churchill to Reynaud, urging the full implementation of the weygand plan. Despite contrary assurances, there was no action for all of the 23rd, prompting Churchill to send an even more strongly worded cable to the French premier and to Weygand. This second cable was sent on the 24th.

    On the evening of the 24th British misgivings were brought to the foreground. Eden cabled Gort with the following message "Should (the) situation make (the ) Weygand Plan at any time impossible , you should inform us so that we can inform the french govt and make naval and air arrangements to assist you to undertake a withdrawal on the northern coast"

    The British were beginning to realize that Weygand was not a good friend to have your side. To Gort, this last communication was the get out of gaol free card he had long been looking for, and was long overdue. Much criticism has been levelled at Gort since 1940, but he was probably the best seniouir commander on the allied side at that time. He knew already from the 24th, that the Weygand Plan would never materialize, and that the BEFs only hope lay with evacuation. It was the beginning of one of the most remarkable operations in history, on both land and sea.
     
  13. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Seaport capacity wasn't the issue. Dunkirk and Calais were decent size. Antwerp was huge.

    Sounds to me like the Luftwaffe was successfully interdicting the seaports and supply roads.
     
  14. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    #14 parsifal, Aug 31, 2011
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2011

    It depends on when the Luftwaffe began its attacks on the harbours as to whether your claim is valid or not. My sources say that LW attacks on the port facilities did not commence until after the 24th, yet Gort was reporting supply dificulties from the 19 May. This might be because the Lines Of Communication for the BEF were traced back to Cherbourg, and not the channel ports and the German offensive had disrupted these lines of communication. A harbour master was not put into place for the BEF for any of the channel ports until the 25thMay. So these ports may have had the theoretical capacity (though I doubt it, since Dunkirk was little more than a glorified fishing port at this time) there was not the organizational capacity to use these ports until many days after the opportunity for offensive action had passed. It takes time to reorganbize your LOCs, and this was one commodity the Allies were in short supply of in may 1940.

    After the 25th, the Luftwaffe pounded all of the ports mercilessly, and were quite effective, though they did not succeed in destroying all the port facilities of the three main ports until well into the operation. The majority of evacuations were carried out by the Destroyers, rather than the small ships, at a ratio of roughly 2:1.

    The split of evacuations between those taken directly off the beaches and those taken via the port is documented as follws:

    Date
    From the beaches
    From Dunkirk Harbour
    Daily Total
    Running Total

    Monday 27 May
    Beach:0
    Port:7,699
    Daily Total:7,699
    Running Total: 7,699

    Tuesday 28 May
    Beach:5,930
    Port:11,874
    Daily Total:17,804
    Running Total:25,473

    Wednesday 29 May
    Beach:13,752
    Port:33,558
    Daily Total:47,310
    Running Total:72,783

    Thursday 30 May
    Beach:29,512
    Port:24,311
    Daily Total:53,823
    Running Total:126,606

    Friday 31 May
    Beach:22,942
    Port:45,072
    Daily Total:68,014
    Running Total:194,620

    Saturday 1 June
    Beach:17,348
    Port:47,081
    Daily Total:64,429
    Running Total:259,049

    Sunday 2 June
    Beach:6,695
    Port:19,561
    Daily Total:26,256
    Running Total:285,305

    Monday 3 June
    Beach:1,870
    Port:24,876
    Daily Total:26,746
    Running Total:312,051

    Tuesday 4 June
    Beach:622
    Port:25,553
    Daily Total:26,175
    Running Total:338,266

    Total
    Beach:98,671
    Port: 239,555
    Total: 338,226

    The vast majority of port evacuations were undertaken by the Destroyers of the RN and the French Navy

    I dont point these inconvenient truths out to denigrate the heroic efforts made by the little ships, but simply to do two things....highlight the absolutely critical role played by the grey funnel ships in the evacuation, and demonstrate that the port was never completely knocked out by air attack. Incidentally the port after the 31 may was also under sustained artillery attack by the germans
     
  15. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    I think its also worth mentioning that probably the most important part of the evacuation that the small boats were involved with, was shuttling the troops between the shore and the larger vessels, that couldn't get close.
    It was an all round effort and credit goes to everyone large and small who played their part.
     
  16. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    I left the story at the front on the 22nd May, with the 121st Motorized inf rgt of the 25th Div, under direct command of the gallant General Moline launching a much reduced offensive in the direction of Cambrai. This attack, despite its modest size had made creditable progress, though towards the end of the day, the spearheads had come under sustained and heavy pressure from German airstrikes. It was clear that the regimental sized forces currently engaged, the allies could not take the city. Molines forces dug in and were successful in repulsing the ferocious counterattacks launched by elements of the German 32 ID late in the afternoon. Though the germans attacked ferociously, their effectiveness was reduced by the wide dispersal in the dispositions of the forces. 32ID had only recently moved up to the southern side of the Sensee canal. 32 ID emerged from the days fighting in rather worse for wear than their opponents. Round 1, to the French........

    Moline consulted with Altmayer French V Corps commander. It was agreed that in the early evening the two other regiments of the 25th Div would move into position that night, in time for a divisional sized assault the next day. The french had been cautious, but this had meant that casualties were low, and the division in good shape to continue their attack the next day.

    However, as previously stated, later that night orders were received from 1st army HQ to discontinue the assault, and pull back to the start lines. this flabbergasted the two frontline commanders.

    Meanwhile the British attack at Arras was also faltering. With the main attack already faltering, the defenders of the city ("Petreforce", built around the welsh guards, the green howards elements of the west yorks and some artillery and tank detachments, basically a brigade sized battlegroup,were being steadily squeezed by 5th and 7th Panzer Divs. The position was being steadily outflanked, such that by morning of the 23rd there were only two roads linking the city to the north. At 7am, on the 23rd, Gort ordered the abandonment of the city. It took time to implement this order, during which time the city came in for a sustained and heavy air attack from the Luftwaffe. There were some losses to vehicles, though not catastrophic, and light personnel casualties, as the units retreated with difficulty. Some units received the wrong route orders and stumbled into German ambushes, resulting in the loss of vehicles and about 125 men.

    In fact it was not just Petreforce that was retreating, the entire 50th and 5th divs were retreating to new positions north of Douai, to a line behind the Haute Deule canal. The withdrawal left the french V coprs dangerously exposed along the sebsee canal, and the French reaction was very bitter and recriminatory. The French blamed the British for the failure of the offensive, and resulted in a sharp note from Reynaud to Churchill


    "you wired me this morning that you had instructed Gort to continue to carry out the Weygand plan. General Weygand now informs me that according to general Blanchard, the british Army had carried out on its own initiative, a retreat of 23miles ( a gross exageration) towards the ports at a time when our troops from the south are gaining groundwhere they were to meet their allies (this also was an exageration....as yet apart from the cancelled attacks by General moline, now cancelled, there had been no movement from the other elements of the French Army).

    This action of the British Army is in direct to the formal orders this morning by General Weygand, The retreat has naturally obliged the general to change all his arrangements and he is compelled to give up the idea of closing the gapand restoring the continuous front...."

    Subsequent investigations by Churchills envoy showed all these claims by the afrench government to be baseless....ther was no attack, no real preprations as yet. It was a case of weygand seeking a nonFrench scapegoat. Gort was having none of it, as his actions showed.
     
  17. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Why didn't the BEF shift the supply hub to Antwerp when they advanced into Belgium? That should have been part of the plan for moving the BEF into Belgium.
     
  18. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    I dont know, but no real need I suspect, provided the lines of communication were not cut. no-one on the Allied side ever anticipated the ardennes movement by the germans.


    Also, the last thing you want to attempt when engaging an enemy that is on the full attack, is to shift your supply lines. as stated previously, this takes time, and thats one thing that was not available to the allies. Finally I suspect Antwerp as a base for the british LOCs were much too far forward and far too easily interdicted by air and land to be considered secure.

    The allies IMO never thought that they could hold Antwerp indefinately. They planned to hold the Germans at lines that were called the Escaut or the Dyle, so called plans "E" and "D". Beither of thse plans envisaged the permanent control of Antwwerp, and certainly did not envisage it being held as a secure functional facility
     
  19. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Why not? Antwerp was one of the most heavily fortified places in the world.

    Deep Defences, Belgian Fortifications, May 1940
     
  20. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Antwerp formed the anchor points for both the Dyle and Escaut Plans, but the if the plans for the allied defence had worked it would have been in the front line of fighting. As I said this was far too exposed as a position to serve as the supply base for the allies. The last thing you want is to

    a) be moving your supply network right at the time you will be needing it
    b) expose your rear supply and LOC area to risk of enemy attack. That would be the height of foolhardiness and would play right into German hands
    c) there was absolutely no need to take such risks when perfectly accessible and well serviced facilities AND SAFE facilties wre available in the rear areas of the allied lines

    Dave, this really is a silly argument for you to be advocating. Whilst Antwerp was a well prepared defensive position, (although its anti-tank defences proved inadequate) and it was part of the allied plans to use it, thats a massively removed step from trying to make your forward defence lines also your supply headquaters. Thats about the dumbest thing the allies could have done actually. There were no strains on allied supply lines, until they were cut by the Germans, and nobody had anticipated that happening on the allied side. Even the germans were a bit surprised by its success. If you are trying to compare 1940, with 1944, there is no comparison between the two scenarios. Germany in 1944 had completely destroyed the road and rail network in France, and many of the ports were either under siege or those that had been captured by the allies were comprehensively sabotaged and bombed. Ther was nothing comparable to that in 1940, not even those ports that were targetted by the Luftwaffe.
     
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