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The epic of Dunkirk has been told many times, but the numerous accounts from surviving soldiers and sailors were often a blur of fear and fighting with the days mingling into each other, leaving what is, at times, a confusing picture. In this book, adopting a day by day approach, the author provides a clear portrayal of the unfolding drama on the perimeter around Dunkirk, in the port itself and along the beaches to La Panne and the Belgian border.
Reports from many of the captains of the vessels which took part in the great evacuation were submitted to the Admiralty immediately after the conclusion of Operation Dynamo. With access to these, and supported by the various records maintained by the Army and RAF, the author has been able to finally piece together the movements and actions of the many of the squadrons, units and ships involved.
With the Admiralty reports and a mass of other first-hand accounts, many of which have never been published before, the true tale of the heroism of the rescued and the rescuers is laid bare. Operation Dynamo saw civilian volunteers and Royal Navy personnel manning every type of craft from the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Calcutta to the cockle boats of the Thames Estuary. The accounts of the men who crewed these vessels tell of being bombed and strafed by the Luftwaffe or shelled from the shore. There are stories of collisions in the dark, chaos on the beaches and tragic losses as ships went down. Similar tales are told by the men waiting on the beaches, defending the perimeter or flying in the skies overhead in a valiant effort to hold the German Army and Luftwaffe at bay.
Yet this is ultimately a story, as Churchill described it, of ‘deliverance’, for against all the predictions, the BEF was saved to fight again another day. With civilians and servicemen working without respite for days and nights on end under almost continual attack to rescue the army, the nation pulled together as never before. It truly was Britain’s finest hour.
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