The Evacuation of Dunkerque May 27 - June 5, 1940

The deteriorating situation in France left the British Expeditionary Force seriously compromised. Weygand’s plan to create a defensive line on the Somme was impossible; The Germans, using superior tactics if not equipment, had high morale and were advancing faster than the French high Command could draw up defensive plans.

Lord Gort, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force, saw that he could not complete his orders to retreat to the Somme. On May 25, he indicated to Churchill that he could not link up with Weygand’s forces and he was creating a perimeter around the town of Dunkerque on the Pas de Calais. From May 27-30, the BEF consolidated around Dunkerque, along with half of the French First Army. Five French Divisions set up a roadblock at Lille, where they held out for four days against seven German Panzer divisions. This allowed the British and the French in Dunkerque to set up a defensive perimeter and wait for evacuation.

The possibility of the total evacuation of the BEF was first raised on May 19, only nine days after the first German attack. Codenamed Operation Dynamo, Admiral Ramsay was delegated to secure small and large craft from civilians for the evacuation. Secrecy was maintained as Naval Officers scoured the docks of London and other cities for small boats to take troops from the shore to the waiting transports. By May 27 the craft were on the way to France.