Dunkirk And Its Significance


Being a blue blooded Brit, and all that, I decided to write my piece on how historians view Dunkirk. My earliest thoughts on it were shaped by early black and white war films; with noble Tommies against vile Huns, gallantly beating out their escape, while under heavy attack. The truth about the matter was far from straightforward, with a host of variables, as well as lots of good luck. For us Dunkirk- though admittedly a failure, we did flee the field after all- was an amazing feat of sheer courage, National spirit, as well as raw tenacity, refusing to ?kick the can' despite every odd stacked against us- rather like in the Battle of Agincourt. As we all know the story, I see no point in telling a biased version of events, so I will go through the interesting books I found. Interestingly enough the authors generally focus on different themes, either the success' or failures of a particular side.
My first book (see bibliography for details),edited by J. R. M. Butler, is surprisingly objective for a UK Military series book. Admittedly slightly biased, yet at the same time remarkably fair to Germany in its appraisals. The book starts before the retreat, of the mining(with around 7000 mines) of the channel, so creating a protective passage to France taking place between 11th September to October. This was completely successful bar one U-boat which came though before its completion. Three tried to break through, the U 12, and U 40 being blown up the third grounded itself trying to escape the mine field to be shot by surface vessels. Then it describes as many of the books do how many men returned to safety(approximately 337,000), which was far in excess of their wildest dreams of only 45,000, at the very most. It goes on to praise the men involved, [It] is a classic example of co-operation by the three Services then before it goes on to talk about the Germans, reminds us of the casualties, the Navy lost 228 ships, 45 badly damaged. It gives reasons why the German tanks were not sent down to the beaches, which would certainly have destroyed the Allied troops. Hitler strongly said that, the tank arm must not be used for operations for which it is best suited. Under no circumstances?be permitted to become entangled in the endless confusion of rows of houses in Belgian towns. Also, it is noteworthy that at the time neither Guderian nor Kleist when they saw the position at close quarters thought that tanks should be used to attack Dunkirk. The main reasons for the German failures are given as, Bock's inability to exploit the gap in the British left when the Belgian front was broken. And, The mistake of German High Command in thinking that Ostend was our most important evacuation port. It concludes quite rightly that though the Germans tried their best, they failed.
Our next book is by Basil Collier, who despite his unfortunate name, gives us a very interesting insight to the air war, the priorities of the defense of England, and the tactical repercussions for both sides. The withdraw was given air support by Air Vice-Marshall Gossage, in charge of No.11 group, who were responsible for the air defense of South- East England. The problem for Gossage was not very easy, on the one hand he had the Air- Ministry, telling him to, protect Dunkirk with maximum strength, yet he also had to consider the very plausible chance that German bombers could pop up, and attack undefended tracts of land, if he moved his bombers from that region. The books conclusion was that, the effort made was about the biggest compatible with prudence. Gossage, did not concentrate squadrons in the area, preferring instead to fly up to an average of 300 sorties per day. The heroic pilots who were, almost at cracking point at the third day, kept up their efforts, the general consensus from the men on the ground seemed to be positive, a vital factor in the success of the mission. However the main bonus was that it boosted moral, for the Battle of Britain, which incidentally was another brilliant success for us, but I