What was the Miracle at Dunkirk?

By Tim 

I’ve always loved history. History is one of my strong suits and I adore the 20th century simply because lots of pivotal moments and events that have shaped our modern history as we know it today occurred during this era. 

One of the biggest miracles of WWII was the titular Miracle at Dunkirk. 

As you know, WWII is considered to be (second only to the Mongol Conquests) the deadliest conflict in all of human history. 

Put this into perspective. Seeing ten or twelve dead bodies is enough to give anyone nightmares. Imagine being at Stalingrad or Nanking and seeing hundreds or even thousands of dead bodies everywhere. Death tolls were reaching to the millions in battles. Such as Stalingrad, as I had mentioned before, there were over 2 million casualties in that battle alone. 

It’s really hard to imagine any “miracles” coming out of such a terrible conflict and heinous period in the history of the human race. But there were such instances, such as Dunkirk. 

Christopher Nolan’s new movie is coming out and I am excited. Now, I’m not a “Nolanite” so to speak, but I am a great fan of Nolan’s work and I’m really itching to go check his new movie Dunkirk out. 

The trailer looks phenomenal and it looks like a great powerful war drama. I was dumbfounded when people said they didn’t know what “Dunkirk” was or what transpired during that time. So I thought I’d take the time to write up what it was! 


I like history. But I’m not a historian. So don’t use this as an academic source. I’m giving a rather simplified version of this historic battle. If I have any factual errors let me know and I’ll gladly change them! 


Everyone knows how Hitler rose to power and how he launched his offensive on Europe. From 1939 and onward he blitzed through Europe like it was nothing. 


The Nazis entering Poland 1939. 

Dunkirk is a coastal port city in France. The Battle of Dunkirk occurred early in the war on May 26th, 1940 and ended on June 4th, 1940. It was roughly a month long battle between Nazi Germany, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), and the French Army. It was fought to defend the retreat out of France by the Allied forces. 

Most of the early war victories were dominated by Nazi Germany. They effectively defeated the French Army and force the British into a retreat and blitzed their country with air raids. 

Operation Dynamo - men wait in an orderly fashion for their turn to be rescued.

Men waiting on the beaches to be rescued.

The British and the French were losing ground in France. They had no choice but to retreat back to Dunkirk while the Nazi advanced and continued to push forward. 

The Luftwaffe heavily bombed Dunkirk, it’s ports, water supplies, etc. The RAF continued to engage the Nazi German bombers and managed to stave off a majority of them to little credit from the people on the ground. Churchill was thankful of the RAF and acknowledged that their bravery was what enabled the evacuation to occur. 

Despite the massive loss of supplies, weapons, and vehicles what was more important were the men. Supplies are replaceable but men are not and you need soldiers to fight the war. The allies enacted a scorched Earth policy and destroyed everything they could not take with them so Nazi Germany could not use them in their own war effort (this was something beautifully illustrated in Atonement). 


Weapons and supplies left behind at Dunkirk. 

Soldiers would continue to leave. Everything from naval ships to rowboats were going across the English Channel and picking up as many men on board as they can. This rescue effort saved over 338,226 British soldiers from being captured. The French who covered the British escape were almost left behind but Churchill insisted that they return to pick them up. Unfortunately some 40,000 French were not saved and were forced to surrender to Nazi Germany by the end of the battle. 

Throughout the entire time of the evacuation the Nazis would drop pamphlets written in both French and English as a form of psychological warfare. In the pamphlets they would show a map of the allies and would write how they were completely surrounded and to surrender now. Yet they never did and the majority of them got to go home. While not a victory, this would be instrumental as many of these same men would return to France to fight in D-Day. 


Going home. 

Atonement, if you’ve seen it, does a really good job at giving an artistic feel of the beaches at Dunkirk and showcases how desperate the allies were in trying to get home, which was literally in sight (no seriously, it was literally right there across the channel). 

Christopher Nolan is a great director. I have no doubts that his production design will be incredibly faithful and I cannot wait to see what he can bring to the silver screen. 

Don’t just watch this movie because of Harry Styles. See it because it’s fricking Dunkirk and one of the most inspiring and hopeful stories you can ever read about in the depressing and violent period known as WWII. 



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