The Battle of Dunkirk (French: Bataille de Dunkerque) was fought in Dunkirk (Dunkerque), France, during the Second World War, between the Allies and Nazi Germany. As the Allies were losing the Battle of France on the Western Front, the Battle of Dunkirk was the defence and evacuation to Britain of British and other Allied forces in Europe from 26 May to 4 June 1940.
Battle of Dunkirk
Date 26 May – 4 June 1940
German tactical victory
Success of Operation Dynamo
Allies evacuate approx. 85% of stranded troops
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Lord Gort
French Third Republic Maxime Weygand
French Third Republic Georges Blanchard
French Third Republic René Prioux
French Third Republic J. M. Abrial
Nazi Germany Gerd von Rundstedt
Nazi Germany Fedor von Bock
Nazi Germany Ewald von Kleist (Panzergruppe von Kleist)
Casualties and losses
61,774 total killed and wounded
*~3,500 killed during the evacuation
*63,879 vehicles including tanks and motorcycles abandoned
*2,472 field guns abandoned
6 destroyers damaged
*89 transport ships used in the evacuation
*177 aircraft destroyed or damaged in total
*127 belonged to RAF Fighter Command.
*18,000 killed, 35,000 captured left on the beaches and taken prisioner
*20,000 killed and wounded
*240 aircraft in theatre
*156 aircraft on Dunkirk front
Civilian casualties: 1,000 civilians killed during air raids
After the Phoney War, the Battle of France began in earnest on 10 May 1940. To the east, the German Army Group B invaded the Netherlands and advanced westward. In response, the Supreme Allied Commander—French General Maurice Gamelin—initiated “Plan D” and entered Belgium to engage the Germans in the Netherlands. The plan relied heavily on the Maginot Line fortifications along the German–French border, but German forces had already crossed through most of the Netherlands before the French forces arrived. Gamelin instead committed the forces under his command, three mechanised armies, the French First and Seventh Armies 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, using Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein’s plan Sichelschnitt under the German strategy Fall Gelb, effectively flanking the Allied forces.
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 BEF near Armentières, the French First 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 German forces swung north along the coast, threatening to capture the ports and trap the British and French before they could evacuate to Britain.
In one of the most 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. Generalobersten (Colonel-Generals) 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 breakout. Hitler sanctioned the order on 24 May with the support of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. The army was to halt for three days, which gave the Allies sufficient time to organise the Dunkirk evacuation and build a defensive line. While more than 330,000 Allied troops were rescued, British and French military forces nonetheless sustained heavy casualties and were forced to abandon nearly all their equipment. The British Expeditionary Force alone lost some 68,000 soldiers during the French campaign.On 10 May 1940, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. By 26 May, the BEF and the French 1st Army were bottled up in a corridor to the sea, about 60 miles (97 km) deep and 15 miles (24 km) wide. Most of the British forces were still around Lille, over 40 miles (64 km) from Dunkirk, with the French farther south. Two massive German armies flanked them. General Fedor von Bock’s Army Group B was to the east, and General Gerd von Rundstedt’s Army Group A to the west. Both officers were later promoted to field marshal.