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June 4, 1940: The evacuation of Dunkirk ends. After the end of...

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June 4, 1940: The evacuation of Dunkirk ends.

After the end of the Battle of Dunkirk, over 300,000 French and British troops, trapped for days on the beaches and harbor at Dunkirk (Dunkerque) by German forces, were rescued and evacuated in what was soon called the “Miracle at Dunkirk”. On the first day of evacuation, only 7,000 troops were successfully rescued, but by May 29, tens of thousands of troops were being evacuated each day. Joining the French and British vessels (some of which were too large to move in close to the beach) in their effort came hundreds of private vessels - ferries, steamers, even yachts and fishing boats - dozens of which were actually Dutch ships that escaped German occupation. All of these collectively became known as the “Little ships of Dunkirk”. 

 For whatever reason, Hitler failed to seize this chance and crush the stranded Allied forces at Dunkirk - in 1945, as his Reich collapsed, he claimed that he had refrained from doing so in “sporting spirit” - according to him, the troops at Dunkirk had been spared by his own sense of fair play. In terms of avoiding a potential catastrophe, the operation was a success, though Churchill reminded the celebrating British people that “wars are not won by evacuations”. But at the same time, he praised the “Dunkirk spirit” and, foreseeing an imminent German attack on the British isles, made his famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech the same day the evacuation ended:

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.


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