June 21, 2004

French History: Dunkirk

Previous entry: The Occupation.

I'm going to revisit a part of the German invasion that I touched on only briefly in my last post. Frankly, it is too good of a story to miss the opportunity to tell it. Some of you know it, but some of you probably don't--the evacuation/rescue/retreat at Dunkirk.

On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Within ten days they reached the English Channel and cut France off from Belgium and the Netherlands. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were pushed onto the beach of Dunkirk, France. Over 900 vessels arrived to aid in evacuating the troops. Besides the naval ships, common citizens of Great Britain brought their private boats across the Channel to help out. German planes overhead were firing on the targets below, but over 338,000 British and French soldiers were saved.

First of all, think about the logistics of this. Over 300,000 soldiers. I'll give you a moment to consider the number of soldiers America has in the Middle East now...

Okay, moving on. Besides showing incredible bravery on the part of ordinary citizens, this rescue was a very important moment in WWII. Britain's army would have been hard-pressed to recover if that many soldiers had been lost. It was a tactical blunder on Hitler's part. Instead of letting his ground troops move in and finish the job, he wanted his air force to do it. This caused a pause in the fighting that gave the majority of the soldiers a chance to escape.

After Dunkirk, it was only a matter of time before the Germans would take Paris. On June 14, after 92,000 French soldiers were killed, 250,000 were wounded, and 1.45 million were captured, the Germans marched into the French capitol. The Republic was removed from power and Philippe Petain became the new Prime Minister. On June 22, the two countries signed an armistice. Hitler made the French sign it in the same railroad car where Germany surrendered in WWI. The Vichy government was officially installed soon after.

Next entry: Before the Armistice

Posted by Jennifer at June 21, 2004 09:09 AM