Battle of Dunkirk

The Battle of Dunkirk was an important battle in the Second World War between the Allies and Germany. As part of the Battle of France on the Western Front, the Battle of Dunkirk was the defence and evacuation of British and allied forces in Europe from 26 May-4 June 1940.

After the Phoney War, the Battle of France began in earnest on 10 May 1940. To the east, the German Army Group B had invaded the Netherlands and advanced westward. In response, the Supreme Allied Commander—French General Maurice Gamelin—initiated “Plan D” and invaded Belgium to engage the Germans in the Netherlands. The plan relied heavily on the Maginot Line fortifications along the German-French border, but the Germans had already crossed through most of Holland before the French forces arrived. Thus, Gamelin committed the forces under his command, three mechanised armies, the French First and Seventh and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to the River Dyle. On 14 May, German Army Group A burst through the Ardennes and advanced rapidly to the west toward Sedan, then turned northward to the English Channel, in what Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein called the “Sickle Cut” (known as “Plan Yellow” or the Manstein Plan), effectively flanking the Allied forces.

Map of the battle.

A series of Allied counter-attacks—including the Battle of Arras—failed to sever the German spearhead, which reached the coast on 20 May, separating the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) near Armentières, the French 1st Army, and the Belgian Army further to the north from the majority of French troops south of the German penetration. After reaching the Channel, the Germans swung north along the coast, threatening to capture the ports and trap the British and French forces before they could evacuate to Britain.

In one of the most widely-debated decisions of the war, the Germans halted their advance on Dunkirk. Contrary to popular belief, what became known as “the Halt Order” did not originate with Adolf Hitler. Gerd von Rundstedt and Günther von Kluge suggested that the German forces around the Dunkirk pocket should cease their advance on the port and consolidate, to avoid an Allied break. Hitler sanctioned the order on 24 May with the support of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW). The army was to halt for three days, giving the Allies time to organise an evacuation and build a defensive line. Despite the Allies’ gloomy estimates of the situation, with Britain discussing a conditional surrender to Germany, in the end over 330,000 Allied troops were rescued.

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German Military History with a focus on World War 2 History including other areas of German History