Not many disastrous wartime defeats could be declared a miraculous success, but in May of 1940, with the Germans advancing quickly toward Dunkirk the French, British, and Canadian troops were trapped between the German forces, and the English Channel. This situation was far more that a disastrous defeat, it was about to get catastrophic, because there appeared to be no way to get the Allied troops out of the way of the German forces, and the Allies were looking at the loss of thousands of soldiers, if something wasn’t done…and done quickly!!
It was at this point that my 15th cousin 0nce removed, Winston Spencer-Churchill showed the world what a great master strategist he really was. He had warned the Allies that “the whole root, the core, and brain of the British Army” was stranded and likely to die in Dunkirk, if they didn’t come up with a way to evacuate them. A plan was devised, and given the code name, Operation Dynamo. This plan was really a God-given way of escape, where their seemed to be no way. In fact, Churchill called it “a miracle of deliverance.” And so it was.
The plan used every available “ship”…right down to the smallest lifeboat. These vessels…thousands of them, many of which were manned by civilian volunteers, and each of them knew the danger they were putting themselves and their vessels in, but they bravely made the decision to participate anyway. On this day, May 26, 1940, at 19:00 hours, Vice Admiral Ramsey was given the orders and Operation Dynamo commenced. The order was given to proceed, amid information that Boulogne and Calais had been captured. This meant that the only port available was Dunkirk. Ramsey estimated that only 45,000 troops could be rescued. Lord John Galt had ordered the troops to retreat to the sea. As the Belgian army was defeated, King Leopold asked the Germans for an armistice. This dragged out the negotiations, and bought the Allies 24 hours to get their troops out.
The rescue was slow and, in fact took days. The weather prevented the Luftwaffe from attacking for a time, but that didn’t last long. Within a matter of days the weather cleatred and the Germans set out to try to stop the rescue that they had not realized was of the magnitude it was. From their attack, several ships wer sunk, but that still didn’t stop the seccess of the operation. By the time the last boat left Dunkirk harbor, about 338,226 soldiers (198,229 British and 139,997 French) were evacuated by a fleet of 860 boats.
The evacuation was dubbed Operation Dynamo, because during World War One, Dover Castle was powered with electricity by a dynamo located beneath the castle. The castle was used as naval headquarters during World War Two, and the dynamo room is where British Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay planned the Dunkirk rescue mission. It is also the place where Ramsay briefed Churchill while rescue efforts were underway.