As the Phoney War of late 1939 and early 1940 was shattered by Germany’s lightning advances through Belgium, Holland and France, the beleaguered British Expeditionary Force, along with Belgian and French forces were fighting for their very survival. Evacuation across the Channel was the most suitable option available to military commanders and troops were ordered to head for the town of Dunkirk, which had the most suitable port facilities and was still in Allied hands. As hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers waited on the beaches and jetties at Dunkirk, the Germans prepared for their annihilation.
Operation Dynamo called for the evacuation of Allied troops from the besieged beaches of Dunkirk by all possible means and utilised a fleet of hurriedly assembled small vessels to assist in the task. Although many were under naval supervision, hundreds of privately owned craft headed out from harbours across southern England to help in the rescue, whilst the British and French troops fought valiantly to keep the advancing Germans away from the evacuation beaches. Over an eight-day period and under constant aerial attack, over 330,000 Allied troops were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk by a fleet of around 800 boats in what was later described as the ‘Miracle of Dunkirk’.
In their hour of greatest need, stranded Allied troops were plucked from the jaws of certain defeat by the small craft of southern Britain and their heroic crews and whilst an unfolding national disaster was averted, Winston Churchill was quick to add perspective to the situation – although clearly elated by the successful evacuation operation, he reminded the nation "we must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations."