Dunkirk is a seaport of Northern France lying between Calais and the Belgian coast, but for millions of people all over the world, Dunkirk is one of the most evocative names of the Second World War. For it was from Dunkirk and its 10-mile stretch of beaches that the British evacuated some 338,200 soldiers after the collapse of Belgium and immediately before the collapse of France. Today, Dunkirk has become another name for the supreme heroism that can snatch a victory from defeat.
The troop evacuation took place between May 26 and June 3, 1940. the men were under constant German bombardment both from the land and from the air. At home in England, the British organized an immortal flotilla of small boats. Thames pleasure boats, cabin-cruisers, fishing smacks, even rowing boats were pressed into service - all of course, on a volunteer basis. The "little ships" ferried the troops from the beaches to the waiting Navy ships.
Evacuation first began from the damaged harbour at Dunkirk, but by May 28, heavy German bombing had severely restricted the harbor's usefulness. By the end of June 1 the greater part of the British Expeditionary Force had been removed, although rescue operations continued until June 4.
The toll of ships was considerable. Out of 41 destroyers used by the British, 6 were sunk and 19 damaged. Most of the expeditionary force's supplies and materials were lost. The British were reduced to their weakest point. But Dunkirk was the great turning point in the war. Hitler's Germany had, it seemed, reached its greatest point of menace, and was never to seem so threatening again.