Operation Dynamo

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British soldiers are evacuated from Dunkirk in lifeboats. (Post-scene)

Operation Dynamo was the code name of a military evacuation operation by the British Admiralty during World War II , in which 85 percent of the majority of the British Expeditionary Corps (BEF) and parts of the French army could be transported to England by ship . These troops were encircled by the Wehrmacht at the Battle of Dunkirk , whereby a stop order for the rapidly advancing German armored troops opened a time window for the Allies, in which 338,226 soldiers from May 26 to June 4, 1940 , including 198,229 British and 139,997 French, could be evacuated leaving almost all of the material behind. This up to then largest rescue operation in world history formed the basis for the stamina of Great Britain , because the loss of almost the entire British professional army could not have been compensated at the time.


After the German attack on Poland on September 1, 1939, with which the Second World War began, there was initially no major fighting on the Western Front. Although most of the Wehrmacht was tied to the Eastern Front in the first weeks of the war, the allies France and England did not take the opportunity to launch an offensive. On May 10, 1940, the German Wehrmacht began the campaign in the west . Their advance was unexpectedly rapid, so that the British War Cabinet under Winston Churchill considered an evacuation of the BEF on May 19.

On May 20, 1940, the German armored troops of General Heinz Guderian, belonging to Army Group A , reached the French Channel coast west of Abbeville . This included the entire BEF under General Viscount Gort and parts of the French 1st Army under General Georges Blanchard in the region around Dunkirk.


The stop command

The German armored troops advanced from Abbeville in the direction of Calais and came within 18 kilometers of the trapped Allied troops. In the early afternoon of May 24th, Guderian received express orders from Army Group Leader Gerd von Rundstedt and also from Hitler to stop the further advance immediately. The reasons for this stop order could not be fully clarified until today.

It was not until the evening of May 26th - two days and 8 hours later - that Guderian's tanks received the order to advance back to Dunkirk in order to prevent the evacuation of the BEF. It took the tanks 16 hours to regain their readiness to march. The order to stop gave the British exactly three days extra time. They used them to build a strong defensive ring around Dunkirk.


From Dover , Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay commanded the operation, in which all available vessels - 900 in total - were used to evacuate troops from Dunkirk. Even fishing cutters and RNLI lifeboats were used. Although most of the soldiers was evacuated with warships, there was talk in Britain later the Miracle of the Little Ships , the miracle of the small vessels .

May 27 began with heavy German air raids on the port and city of Dunkirk. Combat squadrons of Air Fleet 2 approaching from West Germany and the Netherlands and Stukas from nearby field airfields took part in the attack. Several ships were sunk, including the cargo steamer Aden and the French troop carrier Côte d'Azur , a former canal ferry. At noon, the troops huddled together to evacuate had to clear the port area.

The British no longer saw any possibility of boarding the ships via the port quays, which had been badly damaged by bombs. Instead, the beach between Dunkirk and De Panne was earmarked for further embarkation of the troops. However, there was a lack of landing stages and loading facilities. By the evening of May 27, only 7,669 men had been rescued.

On the morning of May 28, smoke from the fires at the harbor mixed with low-hanging clouds, making visibility difficult. The weather was getting worse. German air strikes took place on Ostend and Nieuwpoort , but few bombs fell on Dunkirk. The long east mole of the port was, contrary to expectations, suitable as a landing stage for larger warships. 17,804 soldiers were able to be transported away by evening.

On May 29, the German advance slowed down again when the infantry, slower than the tanks, advanced. Dense, low clouds and fog continued to hinder the German air force , which did not intervene in the fighting until 2 p.m. She sank the large ferries "Queen of the Channel", "Lorina", "Fenella", "King Orry" and "Normannia". The British Admiralty then withdrew the modern destroyers of the Royal Navy . Again the port was reported as "blocked and unusable". Nevertheless, 47,310 men were evacuated that day.

On May 30th, because of persistent bad weather, no air strikes were permitted, and German ground forces made slow progress against an organized defense. 53,823 soldiers were evacuated. On May 31st there were 68,014.

June 1st began with sunny weather, so that the air force could attack with all available units, but was also heavily harassed by the RAF fighters . Although the Royal Navy lost four destroyers and ten other large ships that day, it was able to transfer 64,429 soldiers. Because of the losses, Ramsay gave the order to call at Dunkirk only at night.

On June 4th the BBC reported :

"Major-General Harold Alexander inspected the shores of Dunkirk from a motorboat this morning to make sure no-one was left behind before boarding the last ship back to Britain."

" Major General Harold Alexander made sure from a motorboat on the beach at Dunkirk this morning that no one was left on the beach before boarding the last ship to Great Britain."


British soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk after arriving in England

By June 4, a total of 338,226 Allied soldiers - including 139,997 French - had been brought to England. About 40,000 men, however, could no longer be evacuated. Saving human lives had absolute priority on the British side, as the expeditionary force consisted almost exclusively of well-trained professional soldiers, whose loss could not have been compensated at the time. Operation Dynamo thus created the necessary basis for the subsequent reorganization of the British Army . For this reason the successful evacuation of the soldiers - regardless of their defeat in northern France - was considered a great moral victory in the consciousness of the British people. The Dunkirk myth arose , which decisively strengthened the British will to persevere. According to the historian Karl-Heinz Frieser , the loss of almost the entire British professional army would have meant the end of Churchill's government and thus probably the end of the war.

Some of the evacuated units were immediately shipped back to France to continue fighting against the German Wehrmacht. After the capitulation of France, the French troops remaining in Great Britain founded the Forces Françaises Libres (German: Free French Armed Forces ), which continued the fight against the German Empire under their Commander-in-Chief Charles de Gaulle .

In contrast, the British suffered enormous losses in terms of war material: around 700 tanks, 2470 guns, almost 64,000 vehicles of all kinds, 20,000 motorcycles and 470,000 tons of supplies had to be left behind. To compensate for their loss, the British later designed various cheaply produced weapons such as the Sten Gun . During the enterprise, more than 200 British ships were sunk - mostly by German air raids. In addition, the British lost 177 aircraft and 90 pilots, while 132 aircraft were shot down on the German Air Force side. It was the largest air battle of the Second World War to date. With the aerial battles taking place out of sight of the ground forces, many British soldiers believed that the RAF had withdrawn from the fighting to protect their fighters .

Major ship losses

Great Britain
ship date reason
HMS Grafton (H89) May 29th Torpedoed by U 62
HMS Grenade (H86) May 29th Air raid
HMS Wakeful (H88) May 29th Torpedoed by speedboat S-30
HMS Basilisk (H11) June 1st Air raid
HMS Havant (H32) June 1st Air raid
HMS Keith (D06) June 1st Air raid
ship date reason
L'Adroit May 21 Air raid
Bourrasque 30th May Sea mine
Scirocco 31. May Speedboats S-23 and S-26
Le Foudroyant June 1st Air raid

Memorial trip

Since 1965, every five years on May 26, recalls that of the British Association of Dunkirk Little Ships organized (ADLS) commemorative ride Dunkirk Ships to the Operation Dynamo. Only ships that participated in the operation in 1940 are eligible. Around 70 of the originally 400 small ships are still taking part in the commemoration trip, most of them in a restored condition.

2005, 50 with the "involved George Cross flagged" (St. George's Cross) ships at the commemoration of Ramsgate to Dunkirk. They were accompanied by a patrol boat of the British Navy and by lifeboats through the busy English Channel .


Other similar actions took place after the operation: from June 10-13, 1940, 11,059 British and other Allied soldiers fled from Le Havre to England ( Operation Cycle ) and in Operation Ariel more than 215,000 Allied soldiers fled from Cherbourg , St. Malo and other ports to England (June 14-25).

Presentation in the cinema

Operation Dynamo is the subject of the films Dunkirk (Great Britain, 1958), Dunkirk, June 2, 1940 (France, 1964) and Dunkirk (2017 co-production). In the darkest hour of Joe Wright (United Kingdom 2017) is portrayed as Churchill prevailed politically the operation. The film Atonement based on the novel of the same name by Ian McEwan depicts the dramatic rescue on the beach in the final scenes.

See also



Web links

Commons : Operation Dynamo  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Taylor, 1965.
  2. Christian Frey: Dunkirk: Why Adolf Hitler let the British escape. In: welt.de . May 26, 2015, accessed October 7, 2018 .
  3. ^ Janusz Piekałkiewicz : The Second World War. ISBN 3-89350-544-X , p. 256.
  4. ^ Operation Cycle, the evacuation from Havre, June 10-13, 1940 . Historyofwar.org. Retrieved August 18, 2011.