Christopher Nolan’s new film Dunkirk premiered in theaters today. The film is being hailed as “visually stunning”, and is generally getting high reviews from critics.
Dunkirk is a small port city in France, and the site of the infamous WW2 evacuation of nearly 350,000 British and French troops who had been split from the other allied forces, and were not ready for the German advance.
“The Miracle of Dunkirk” refers to the evacuation of British Expeditionary Forces, as well as other Allied troops, between May 26 and June 4th of 1940. The German army was advancing towards them when a blunder gave the British enough time to attempt an evacuation. The Germans did not want to advance with tanks, as they believed they would have suffered major losses, and they wanted to save their armored cars for later in their military campaign into France. Their “Blitzkrieg” attack was halted by their own accord. It’s also likely the Germans assumed the British Expeditionary Forces were much better equipped.
To understand how the situation came about, it’s important to know what the Maginot Line was. The French had built a line of fortresses across their border with Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg. It was thought that the trench warfare of WWI would evolve into fortress warfare- like WWI there would be less troop movement, and the army with heavier artillery would prevail. The Germans had instead instituted a plan that relied on “lightning fast” warfare, where they could avoid being bogged down in the trenches. To this end, the Germans went around the Maginot Line, through Belgium and the French lowlands. The British had responded by trying to hold a line extending where the Maginot Line did not reach. They were cut off, and at the mercy of the German advance before the evacuation.
The evacuation was the largest in history, and the British succeeded in a “fighting retreat.” Boats from across the U.K. had aided in the effort- Churchill had asked for any and every Civilian or Merchant boat to help with the effort.
On June 4th, 1940, on the last day of the evacuation, Winston Churchill gave his famous “We shall fight speech.”
An excerpt from the speech by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill:
“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”