VETERAN OF DUNKIRK 1940
The boat you are sailing on today is one of the ‘little ships’ that saved the British and Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk between 27 May to 4 June 1940. Originally named Britannia today, she is the Forth Princess.
Operation Dynamo was the name given to the successful evacuation of Belgian, British, Indian, Dutch, French and Polish troops from the beaches at Dunkirk between 27 May and 4 June 1940. It was not only a pivotal moment of the Second World War, but one of those that changed its final outcome. A total of 338,226, British and Allied troops were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk, aboard a total of 861 vessels, of which 243 were sunk.
Evacuation reaches its High Point on 31 May 1940
On the 30 May orders were issued to the 3rd, 4th and 5th Divisions, which made up the British 2nd Corps, to withdraw to the beaches and to Dunkirk for evacuation. The British rearguard, of 1st Corps made up of the 1st and 50th Divisions now moved inside the Dunkirk perimeter and joined up with the British Base staff at Dunkirk and came under the command of the French.
DUNKIRK 26-29 MAY 1940 (NYP 68075) British troops line up on the beach at Dunkirk to await evacuation. Copyright: © IWM.
The British rearguard now totalled some 20,000 men and were to hold their lines until midnight on 1/2 June. The plan was to reduce the British force to a rearguard of 4,000 men plus the Royal Navy beach parties by the evening of 1/2 June and evacuate them from the harbour. However, with Dunkirk and the berths at the harbour now under direct German artillery fire, the plan to evacuate the rearguard from the harbour with large ships was no longer practical. It was decided to assemble a force of ‘little ships’ to evacuate the remaining 4,000 men of the British rearguard from the beaches at Bray Dunes and Malo-les-Bains
The Little Ships Came in their Hundreds
On board his command ship HMS Keith the Senior Naval Officer, Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker, saw the strange procession of craft of all kinds coming into view, the story that was to become the legend of the ‘little ships’. They came in their hundreds, tugs, towing dinghies, life-boats, small motor yachts, motor launches, drifters, Dutch skoots, Thames barges, fishing boats and pleasure boats. Among them Britannia (Forth Princess).
Under Air Attack
Britannia was under the command of Sub Lieutenant S.D. Ward, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and sailed from Dover on 31 May 1940 in the company of Skylark 6 and the trawlers Brock and Fyldea. The Brock later returned to Dover and the Skylark 6 was abandoned when her engines broke down.
They arrived off Dunkirk on 1 June at 1150 and proceeded to the beach at Bray Dunes located one mile east of Dunkirk. The beaches and the town were under German air and artillery attack as Britannia began to ferry men from the beach to waiting ships. Between 1pm and 6pm the Britannia ferried some 200 troops to the Fyldea and other waiting ships. At 6.15pm the Fyldea ran aground, and Britannia went to her aid. With the Fyldea refloated, both vessels left for home and made for Dover arriving there at 0255 on the morning of 2 June and where they disembarked a total of 139 troops.
DUNKIRK AND THE RETREAT FROM FRANCE 1940 (FX 7529) British troops fire their rifles at enemy aircraft bombing the beaches at Dunkirk, May 1940. Copyright: © IWM.
For those left behind official figures record that up to 80,000 French and British troops were captured, whilst during the time of the actual evacuation, somewhere in the region of 16,000 French and 1,000 British soldiers were killed. The British forces left behind 90,000 rifles, 11,000 machine guns, huge supplies of ammunition, 880 field guns, 310 large calibre artillery pieces, 500 anti-aircraft guns, 850 anti-tank guns, 700 tanks, 45,000 cars and lorries, and 20,000 motorcycles – enough equipment to arm nearly ten divisions of soldiers. It is known that two atrocities took place during the Battle of Dunkirk: the Massacre at Le Paradis, and another at Wormhoudt, carried out by Waffen-SS soldiers, against British and French troops who had already surrendered.
Victory from the Jaws of Defeat
Although the Battle of Dunkirk must ultimately go down as a German victory, the rescue of so many of its men, ensured that like a phoenix, Britain rose from the ashes of defeat to gain a great and lasting victory.
WE GIVE THANKS TO THOSE MEN AND WOMEN WHO CREWED THE LITTLE SHIPS AND REMEMBER THOSE WHO DID NOT COME HOME