Dunkirk Historical Facts That Inspired The Movie
The film Dunkirk releases this week. After going to see it last night I can highly recommend that you go out and see it. It ranks up there as one of Christopher Nolan’s best and cements his legacy as a versatile director able to handle many different subject matters. But what events inspired the movie? I decided to do a Top 6 list of Dunkirk Facts to give more insight into just how horrific the event was.
The Smallest Boat At Dunkirk
6. The smallest boat to take part was the Tamzine, a 14ft open-topped fi shing boat. This tiny boat helped to save many lives that day and showcases the bravery of those who manned it. The boat now resides in the Imperial War Museum.
The Dunkirk Evacuation
5. The evacuation began on May 27. Just 8,000 soldiers were rescued.
But over the next eight days a total of 338,226 Allied soldiers were successfully brought back across the English Channel while under attack on all sides.
As well as British forces a total of 140,000 French, Polish and Belgian troops.
The total number of vessels involved, including Royal Navy ships and civilian craft, was 933.
Around 200,000 men were picked up from the Dunkirk Mole – a long stone and wooden jetty at the mouth of the port.
Soldiers had to wait patiently whil e under attack from enemy aircraft.
The rest of the men were evacuated from the beaches, often having to wait hours in shoulder -deep water.
Around 700 “little ships ” took part often with civilians at the helm, picking up soldiers from the shallows.
They would then deliver the men to larger ships or take them all the way home.
Some were amazed at the patience of the troops. Signaller Alfred Baldwin recalled: “You had the impression of people standing waiting for a bus. There was no pushing or shoving.”
A paddle steamer called the Medway Queen made a total of seven round trips to Dunkirk and managed to rescue 7,000 men in total.
4. The RAF fought hard to combat the bombs raining down on the men waiting on the beaches, flying a total of 3,500 sorties and losing 145 aircraft while the Luftwaffe lost 156.
A restored Spitfire which crashed on a French beach during the days of the period of the evacuation is expected to fetch £2.5million.
How Many Boats Were Lost At Dunkirk?
3. More than 200 ships and boats were lost during the evacuation with many tragedies . On May 29 the destroyer Wakeful was torpedoed and sank in 15 seconds with the loss of 600 lives. 26It is estimated that around 3,500 British were killed at sea or on the beaches and more than 1,000 Dunkirk citizens in air raids.
The overall success of the Dunkirk operation was partly down to British units such as the 51st Highland Division fighting a fi erce rear-guard action.
In the retreat to Dunkirk some units had been ordered to “fight to the last man”.
During the escape to Dunkirk there were incredible acts of bravery such as that of Major Gus Jennings who died smothering a German stick bomb at Esquelbecq trying to save his fellow soldiers.
Then there was Captain Marcus Ervine-Andrews, who was awarded the VC after he single-handedly held off 17 Germans defending part of the Dunkirk perimeter, then led eight of his men to safety, wading through the canals in chin-high water.
Atrocities At Dunkirk
2. On May 27, 97 men from the Royal Norfolk Regiment ran out of ammunition and surrendered at the village of Le Paradis.
They were then shot in cold blood on the orders of the SS.
Around 40,000 British troops never made it back across the Channel and became PoWs.
Many of those ended up having to endure forced marches into Germany and served as slave labour for the Nazis, including working in mines and factories .
But a few of those left behind, such as Bill Lacey from Devon, made dramatic escapes. He stole a French fi shing vessel and sailed it back to Britain on his own. Also left behind in France was a huge amount of British military equipment including 2,400 artillery guns, 65,000 vehicles and 68,000 tonnes of ammunition. Some 445 British tanks were also lost. Churchill hailed Dunkirk as a “miracle” but also warned relieved Britons that “wars are not won by evacuations ”.
He went on to give one of his most famous speeches to the House of Commons in which he vowed that: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fi ght on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fi elds and in the streets, we shall fi ght in the hills. We shall never surrender!”
The phrase “Dunkirk spirit” has since become part of the language used to toast people who pull together in a time of adversity.
1. The rescue plan was called Operation Dynamo. It was named for the dynamo room that produced the electricity for the naval HQ underneath Dover Castle. This is the room where Vice-Admiral Ramsay and Churchill planned out how to rescue the stranded troops.
The original plan of Operation Dynamo counted on only having 48 hours to work before the Germans moved in and stopped the retreat. They believed that they would be able to evacuate around 45,000 troops in that timeframe. Luckily, on the 3rd day, May 29th, the German army halted their advance and it allowed the operation to continue all the way till June 4th. Over 300,000 men were rescued from the beaches and the Dunkirk harbor.
The initial blame for the German army’s halt was placed solely on Hitler. It was revealed after the war in General Gerd von Rundstedt’s diaries that he had ordered the halt instead, worried about that the swampy terrains effect on tanks and his supply line. Hitler agreed with his assessment.
The inability for the German army to move on the survivors of Dunkirk is noted by many historians as one of the most critical mistakes Hitler made, one that that Rundstedt even called “one of the great turning points of the war.”