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Dunkirk: Miracle or Disaster?

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GCSE History Coursework Dunkirk: Miracle or Disaster? By Chloe Halloran 11C The evacuation of Dunkirk is one of the most famous manoeuvres in military history. It is a controversial subject that is hailed as a miracle by many people and a disaster by others. In this essay I intend to explore both opinions and state my conclusion. Codenamed Operation Dynamo by the British, Dunkirk was the large evacuation of Allied soldiers from May 26th to June 4th 1940, during the Battle of Dunkirk. British Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay planned the operation and briefed Winston Churchill in the Dynamo Room; a room in the naval headquarters below Dover Castle. This room contained the dynamo that provided the electricity, giving the operation its name. After the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, the Allied war plan failed when an unexpected German attack occurred through the Ardennes. It split the Allied forces in two and with the Germans on the advance, Operation Dynamo was necessary to save the retreating British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and Allies from the treacherous beaches of Dunkirk. Many people believe that Operation Dynamo was a miracle mainly because of the number of troops it saved. According to the official statistics, (Source B) quoted in Winston Churchill's 'Second World War' Vol .II; 338,226 soldiers were successfully evacuated from the beaches and returned safely back to England. ...read more.


Despite this threat the Allied troops remained calm and waited patiently in organized lines ready to be evacuated. A key factor of Operation Dynamo was the "Dunkirk Spirit". This saying was used to describe the conduct of the men on the beaches, the participation of the little ships and the moral and camaraderie of the British public. "Dunkirk Spirit' stands for an almost romantic belief in the solidarity of the British people in times of adversity. A truly victorious attitude. Dunkirk was a military disaster. The loss to the British Army of soldiers and equipment was colossal. 68,111 men of the BEF were captured or killed during Blitzkrieg, retreat and evacuation. Britain was also forced to abandon almost all of her equipment; * 2,427 guns, * 63,879 vehicles, * 20,548 motorcycles, * 76,097 tons of ammunition and * 416,940 tons of stores. Most of it was recycled by the German Army. Of the 933 ships that took part in Operation Dynamo, 236 were lost and 61 put out of action. In all 126 merchant seamen died during the evacuation. 40,000 French soldiers became prisoners of war and 1,000 Dunkirk civilians died during Blitzkrieg attacks. The evacuation and later surrender of Dunkirk led to the fall of France on June 14th 1940. Another short coming of the BEF was the fact that they were ill-equipped to fight a superior German Army. ...read more.


Morale was so high that the newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill was compelled to address the House of Commons. The innovative speech he made was a landmark in British military history. Churchill told the Commons Dunkirk was a "miracle of deliverance" following a "colossal military defeat." To counteract the mood of elation he asserted; "We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations." He was praised for his realism in his first great speech, announcing a secret session would take place the following Tuesday to discuss the organization of defence measures against possible invasion. Although he was careful to counter act this distressing proposal by finishing the infamous speech; "We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender..." In conclusion, I believe Dunkirk to be more than just a piece of military history. It has become synonymous with British patriotism and the "Dunkirk Spirit" has prevailed into 21st century. Dunkirk was a military defeat - but a propaganda victory. ...read more.

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