Today is the 80th Anniversary of Operation Dynamo commencing. On 26th May at 18:57 in 1940 the mass evacuation at Dunkirk began and I am delighted today to be able to feature a book on the Dunkirk Evacuation on my blog in remembrance of the “Miracle of Dunkirk”.
The ‘miracle’ of Dunkirk is one of the most inspiring stories of all time. The British Expeditionary Force had been all but surrounded, and, with the French armies collapsing on all sides, it appeared that Britain was about to suffer the heaviest defeat in its history.
When Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet finally accepted that the Battle of France had been lost, preparations were made to try and rescue as many soldiers as possible from one of the few ports left open to the British Expeditionary Force – Dunkirk.
So rushed and chaotic was the retreat to the Channel coast, with thousands of guns, vehicles and tanks being abandoned, there was little time for soldiers to consider taking photographs of the shocking scenes of death and destruction which surrounded them. Yet images do exist of the ships and boats of all descriptions which braved the bombs and guns of the German Air Force to rescue Britain’s only field army from the clutches of Hitler’s panzer divisions.
One man in particular, Sub-Lieutenant John Rutherford Crosby, a member of the crew of the minesweeper, and converted Clyde paddle steamer, HMS Oriole, left a legacy of dramatic images. These include the never-to-be-forgotten scenes of long lines of tired and anxious troops stretching into the sea and of bombs exploding on the packed beaches – all with his own personal little camera.
Other images in this book paint a vivid and memorable picture, as no words ever could, of the greatest evacuation of troops under fire.
GUEST REVIEW FROM MARK MAGUIRE
Today I am delighted to be able to hand over my blog to my husband Mark so that he can share with you his review for Dunkirk Evacuation: Operation Dynamo – Nine Days That Saved an Army, part of the Images of War series:
“The Images of War format is renowned for its concise narration and thought – provoking imagery. This title follows in this tradition and re-tells in blistering style, the horrifying political and military crisis unfolding on the beaches at Dunkirk both before and after Operation Dynamo.
The book is structured in such a way as to place the reader at the forefront of the unfolding drama. The introduction is brilliantly concise but no less powerful for it. The opening chapter documents the arrival of the British Expeditionary Force on French soil during the uneasy ‘peace’ following Hitler’s annexation of Austria and subsequent carte blanche in respect of the absorption of Czechoslovakia into the Third Reich.
The machinations on the part of the allied forces are laid bare in this opening chapter.
The apparent lack of a coherent underlying politico-military strategy; a lack of the requisite preparedness, and the internal divisions amongst national actors culminated into a series offensive and defensive operations designed to both draw German forces away from Poland, whilst also attempting to preserve the integrity of France as other nations succumbed to Blitzkrieg. As British and French forces manned the Maginot Line, the collapse of Belgium and the sweep of the Panzers through the Meuse and Sedan effectively holed France below the water line heralding international calamity.
It was within this foment that the posture failed. The retreat of the British Expeditionary Force and its allies to beaches and ports of Northern France, particularly Dunkirk, assured the fall of France and heralded the potential loss of Great Britain. This left the remaining body of the oppositional forces awaiting salvation on the beaches, encircled by the enemy on the land whilst also being attacked on the water and in the air. As they dug in, all that was left to do was to survive and hope for ‘a miracle’.
From this point onwards, the book is broken down into a day-by-day account of Operation Dynamo which commenced at 18:57 on the 26th of May. Each chapter is opened with a short précis followed by a rich selection of photographs of men; materiel, and the collateral damage caused by ongoing military actions in and around Dunkirk itself. The accompanying photographs pull no punches. Some of the most shocking images are those which were taken at sea during the opening phases of Dynamo. In the unfolding pages, the reader will encounter soldiers, covered in Oil, clinging to life as the vessel they were travelling onboard is listing heavily following a torpedo strike, whilst in other scenes, soldiers wade out into water at chest depth, devoid of their equipment hoping to board a vessel to remove them from the horrors of the beach. These images contrast strongly with images of fully clothed and equipped soldiers accompanied by finely dressed civilians floating away from the aforementioned horrors on one of the “Little Ships” which underpin the spirit and narrative of “the miracle”.
The Author is to be commended for his review of Royal Air Force (RAF) operations during the evacuation. Anyone familiar with Christopher Nolan’s’ 2017 cinematic masterpiece Dunkirk the refrain: “where’s the bloody Air Force?” and the subsequent rough treatment meted out to downed airmen have contrived to distil an accepted notion of failure on the part of the ‘Light Blue’ irrespective of the comprehensive and valiant efforts of the embedded Advanced Air Striking Force.
The Author goes some way to redress this imbalance by including photographs of aerial operations over Dunkirk involving a variety of aircraft types. Coverage of the “the day of the day Defiants” and the phenomenal success of 264 Squadron on Day 4 of the evacuation is as welcome as it is necessary to rectify the underlying historical injustice.
The concluding chapter of the book is devoted to ‘The Aftermath’ and comprises of a plethora od images devoted to abandoned materiel; destroyed aircraft, vehicle and vessels, as well as the human price paid by those on all sides. Whilst images of German soldiers clambering over downed Spitfires may be galling to some, the fact that 338,226 soldiers were evacuated from the beaches under almost impossible circumstances provides a suitable counterpoint to such scenes.
In conclusion, I have no hesitation in recommending this book. The Images of War series comprises of works of a generally high standard. In my opinion, this book raises the overall standard to a new level. I can think of no better, or accessible book to read on the 80th anniversary of Operation Dynamo.“