Operation Dynamo ~ also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkerque, between 26 May and 4 June 1940. Malcolm Arnold’s “March of the Little Ships” (1958)

How Victory sprang from the jaws of defeat

Even before the Belgian capitulation, the British government had decided to launch Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the BEF by sea from Dunkirk. The admiralty had been collecting every kind of small craft to help in bringing away the troops, and the retreat to the coast now became a race to re-embark before the German pincers closed. Adm. Bertram Ramsay had overall command of the operation, and he tasked Capt. William Tennant with tactical oversight of the evacuation. Tennant, who was designated “Beachmaster,” arrived at Dunkirk on May 27 to discover that Luftwaffe raids had knocked out the port facilities. Quickly determining that lifting troops directly from the beaches would be too time-consuming, he turned his attention to the breakwaters at the harbour entrance. The western breakwater proved to be unsuitable for his purposes, but the eastern breakwater was some 1,400 yards (1.3 km) long, topped with a wooden boardwalk, and wide enough for a column of troops to traverse it four abreast. Tennant directed the bulk of the evacuation efforts to the eastern breakwater, and some 200,000 troops were able to use it as an ersatz dock to board rescue ships. The remaining Allied forces had to be taken directly off the beaches, making the evacuation a slow and difficult process, extending from May 26 to June 4. At 10:50 PM on June 2, Tennant radioed Ramsay at Operation Dynamo’s Dover command post with the triumphant messsage “BEF evacuated.” Tennant and British I Corps commander Gen. Harold Alexander then toured the beach and harbour area in a motor launch, calling out with a megaphone to ensure that no BEF evacuees had been missed. In the end about 198,000 British troops were taken away, as well as 140,000 Allied troops, mainly French, though most of the equipment had to be left behind.

Churchill’s patriotic address to the nation

“ …. we shall fight them on the beaches … “ “…. we shall never surrender …” Filmed archive Newsreel reporting of the time - run as ‘reportage’ at cinemas between the main advertised films. ADLS The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships is an association of ships that participated in the Evacuation of troops from the French coast in 1940. Boats were requisitioned and had a R.N. Officer designated in charge - only they had the training in Signal-flags, Semaphore, Morse and Aldis (morse-code by flashing lights) which were the methods of communication between such disparate vessels (without radio r/t). [ Link ] The flag of the ADLS flying on Thames barge ‘Greta’ Here is an amusing anecdote from the time …. One boat owner (of vessel ‘Nymph’) which craft has space for twin berths (forard), a wheelhouse with seats for 3, and space for a table of four to dine (stern) …. on his first return journey brought back 60 (sixty) British soldiers …. and on his final journey he manged to get 90 (ninety) French soldiers on-board ! Arriving at Folkstone, he disembarked and had his face soundly slapped by his wife who was waiting for him (uninformed of where he had been for the last 14 days! ) The French Officer who was following him remarked …. “If this is the way that English women greet their heroes .. then les Boches don’t stand a chance !”
The Admiralty requisitioning of private vessels became emblematic of a British ‘coming-together‘ to fight the war