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"Dunkirk survivorsí terror didnít end when they were rescued " Topic

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World War Two on the Land

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2018 1:07 p.m. PST

"In late May 1940, Vic Viner was one of the 338,000 Allied troops on the beaches around the French port of Dunkirk hoping for rescue as the German Army neared and the Luftwaffe circled above.

At age 99, Viner met with Christopher Nolan, writer and director of a new movie about the evacuation, and tried to give the filmmaker some sense of what it was like to be trapped on those beaches. But, he insisted, "You can't tell anybody what it was like. You had to have been there."

Nolan and his collaborators certainly do their best to bring experiences like Viner's to life for moviegoers. The film "Dunkirk" portrays a sequence of terrors: the horrible vulnerability of being prey to a swooping dive bomber; the helplessness of watching a ship list and hurry under the waves; the bitter necessity of pushing desperate men away from an overburdened lifeboat…."
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Buffs man Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2018 2:33 p.m. PST

I can only imagine the terror of the lads in the 51st. Highland , the whole Division that is

deephorse14 Sep 2018 4:09 a.m. PST

There was a TV programme on in the UK recently dealing with 51st Highland Div in 1940. It had interviews with four survivors of that division. I've never really studied the 1940 campaign and so learned a lot from watching that documentary. They had a terrible time indeed.

Legion 414 Sep 2018 8:41 a.m. PST

History/the facts tell us was a terrible situation overall. And really nothing more could have been done at that time, sadly.

deephorse14 Sep 2018 9:28 a.m. PST

But for the weather more could have been done for 51st Highland. That was part of the tragic story that this programme told.

14th NJ Vol Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2018 4:49 p.m. PST

Something I've never understood is how over 300k men could not fight back against the Germans? They just stood on the beach waiting to be picked up. Was this a supply issue, lack of supplies?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP15 Sep 2018 11:49 a.m. PST

Good point my friend…. lack of "moral"?….


Legion 416 Sep 2018 8:03 a.m. PST

I'd think not only limited supplies but morale as well played into the situation overall … ?

deephorse16 Sep 2018 3:27 p.m. PST

Some wild guesses here as to the cause of the retreat to, and evacuation from, Dunkirk. Plenty of literature out there if you care to read it.

Mark 117 Sep 2018 10:27 a.m. PST

Some wild guesses here as to the cause of the retreat to, and evacuation from, Dunkirk. Plenty of literature out there if you care to read it.

Yeah, kind of my thought too.

However, I think there may be reasonable questions in the retreat to Dunkirk, and the evacuation. It's just that I don't think it starts with:

Something I've never understood is how over 300k men could not fight back against the Germans?

I think the answer to that question is: they COULD fight back. But they were ordered to evacuate.

When a soldier, or a unit, receives orders, they don't just say "stuff it, I wanna do something else". Particularly not if they are (were) in the British or French armies of that period.

It may well be a reasonable question to ask "why were they ordered to evacuate?" Clearly this question remained for the French high command, as the order to evacuate at Dunkirk was a unilateral decision taken by the British (although later supported by the French).

My short answer to that question would be: how often to forces that are surrounded by a superior enemy force manage to survive? Here I think a reading of historical evidence justifies the British decision. One could suggest that an aggressive attack southward might have been the better approach. But then I look at the appalling lack of timely coordination between British, French, and Belgian forces up to that time, and the visible evidence that the German army could out-maneuver, and "slice and dice" any joint allied effort the moment it got started. This was all VERY visible to Gort, and he made it clear to the British high command. With that perspective, I think the evacuation was the right call.

As it was, many soldiers DID fight back. There was a rearguard, that fought tooth-and-nail to hold the perimeter, while those soldiers "stood on the beach waiting to be picked up."

As the BEF was just about the only standing army that Britain had available for home defense, it seems that a large part of the decision process was related to preservation of forces. A force in being, ANY force in being, was better than no force. So seeing the whole BEF (and 3 French field armies) "put in the bag" by the Germans was not exactly something the British leadership was keen on. Even IF they had taken their share of Germans with them, it would have been a catastrophe for Britain.

As it was, some 100,000 French troops were rescued from Dunkirk, and the great majority were efficiently returned to France (with some 50,000 getting back into combat before the armistice). And most of the fresh forces that remained in Britain, that had not been committed to the original BEF, were sent over to France after Dunkirk, while the British Dunkirk evacuees were recovering and re-equipping.

At least, that's my reading of the "plenty of literature out there", that I do "care to read".

(aka: Mk 1)

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP18 Sep 2018 5:55 a.m. PST

Making a clean break with contact with the enemy and falling back in an orderly manner is one of the most difficult military maneuvers to carry out. Now throw in these forces would not be falling back to the next defensive position but rather to be evacuated, by sea, and you have a nearly impossible task.

As Mark points out a rear guard did fight and buy time for the evacuation. Further, instead of chaos (units mixed, boats overloaded in a mad dash to "safety") the BEF carried out an orderly evacuation.

They were not just standing around. They were organized by unit and being assigned to available assets for the evacuation.

Yes, they could have made a glorious last stand fighting to the last bullet but to what end? The merely lost a battle (France) but the BEF would be the cadre that would help win the war.

Legion 418 Sep 2018 7:31 a.m. PST

All good points Mark & Marc …

When I posted "I'd think not only limited supplies but morale as well played into the situation overall … ?" … That comes into consideration of many battles of course. Not just Dunkirk.

But as noted, the UK had to consider having as many forces as they could get. As they believed the Germans would probably try to invade the UK next.

But again, the LW and KM would have made resupply a bit difficult. As we see they did with the evacuation. And IIRC the RN didn't want to put too many of their warships into the narrow English Channel for obvious reasons. As well as again they had to prep for a possible German invasion of their own mainland/island …

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