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Defeat, Deliverance or Victory? Which of these best describes Dunkirk?

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Assignment 1: Defeat, Deliverance or Victory? Which of these best describes Dunkirk? On the 20th May 1940 the allied troops were trapped by the Germans on the Northern coast of France. The allies consisted of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F), the Belgian Army and the ten best divisions of the French Army. It was on this day that Churchill gave the command for the evacuation to take place, to Britain by ship, following advice from Lord Gort (leader of the B.E.F). Rommel was advancing from the north and Degaudier from the south trapping the troops. The evacuation was organised by Admiral Ramsey and codenamed Operation Dynamo with the main objective to rescue as much of the B.E.F as possible. This evacuation began on May 27th from the beaches of Dunkirk. It is a matter of great debate whether this evacuation was a victory or a defeat for the Allies. Using any relevant evidence, and your own knowledge of the topic, make a case for Dunkirk being a military defeat and catastrophe for the British? Dunkirk could be viewed as a defeat for the British. It could be argued that the evacuation was disorderly and panicked and Britain suffered many men killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Although soldiers were rescued from Dunkirk many were demoralised, suffering from fatigue and not wanting to play any further part in the war. Virtually all of the B.E.F's equipment was littering the beaches of Dunkirk or the surrounding area of Northern France. For the British people their army (the B.E.F) suffering such a defeat would have caused severe demoralisation of the civilians which had very negative affects during wartime. Military defeat could be argued to be the most important aspect of a defeat as loss by the B.E.F of equipment and troops would have deeply affected their ability as a fighting force in the war and their capability in protecting their home nation. ...read more.


Another inadequacy is the author wrote it to sell books and as it was released in 1953 the war was still fresh in peoples minds so the book could be written to please the audience to ensure more sales and it may have been censored. The source also has factors which cause me to view it as reliable. For the book Ellis included occurrences between 1939-1940, which are quite specific dates to research so the information should be accurate. The figures mentioned also coincide with so support my own knowledge. An additional source which shows evidence of military victory is Source 1 by AJP Taylor. Taylor quotes 'Operation Dynamo succeeded beyond all expectation' which characterizes a military victory for the British, 'almost the entire B.E.F were saved'. The source also states that of the troops rescued '130,097 were French'. There are however weaknesses in the reliability of the sources information such as, as Taylor's information would be obtained from other sources if these were inaccurate it would affect the voraciousness of his figures. You might expect bias as the author's British although the source seems quite well balanced but as the author likes to be controversial and recognized for being different this should be taken into account before considering this sources details in deductions made. Also because the book is written on such a long time period, '1914-1945' he would not have researched his information as thoroughly as if it was on a more specific period e.g. exclusively Dunkirk. As a historian you would expect Taylor to be well researched and unbiased, he wrote under an unbiased title showing no obvious preconceived view and gives a balanced account listing both losses and gains for the British from Dunkirk. The figures used coincide with my previous knowledge. I know that the first day was seen as a failure with near 7000 men rescued and the total no. ...read more.


The evacuation can not truthfully be called a victory although Operation Dynamo seems to be. To evacuate is to withdraw from the field of battle knowing that to fight would result in certain defeat, 'wars are not won by evacuations '. I believe however that Dunkirk was as Allan Bullock in Source 9 describes 'a remarkable improvised evacuation'. L.F Ellis in Source 5 supports this idea through saying 'when from a half destroyed harbour and a few miles of open beach, a third of a million men were brought away in spite of all that the strongest army and air force in the world at that date could do to stop it'. I don't however believe that the evacuation was orderly and calm. The soldiers, fearing for their life, left to fend for themselves and severely fatigued would most probably have been panicking and demoralised. It was also a very costly affair for the British government. Nearly the entirety of their army's equipment was left abandoned in Northern France and would need to be replaced. The cost of this would be astronomical. The lives saved at Dunkirk however would not have been able to be replaced. The nation may have viewed Dunkirk as such a triumph as they cared much more about their soldiers returning safely to them then replaceable machinery. Basil Collier in Source 4 explains that Dunkirk 'roused the inhabitants of these islands to an awareness of their danger and a determination to avert it by all means in their power'. The people of the country filled with so called 'Dunkirk Spirit' united behind Churchill. I think Churchill used Dunkirk as an excuse to rally the country but this caused a psychological victory for the British people which helped them in the war effort. Britain suffered a massive military defeat in terms of the equipment, ships and aircraft lost but thousands of men were delivered from death or captivity at the hands of the Nazis. Ultimately 'Dunkirk' will always be remembered as a victorious event in British history. ...read more.

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