The Surrender of Dunkirk, 4th June 1940

Discussion in '1940' started by Drew5233, Apr 10, 2010.

  1. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    With the 70th anniversary of Operation Dynamo fast approaching I thought I would mention that some 40,000 French men valiantly stayed behind to the end to help make Dynamo the success it was.

    When the final ships left Dunkirk with some British but mainly French soldiers sadly some 40,000 French soldiers still remained within Dunkirk which were in the main the forgotten rearguard under the command of General Beaufrere.

    At dawn on the 4th June the Germans started up their final attack to captured Dunkirk. No sooner than the Germans started to advance the defenders started to realise the resistance was pointless. The last of the ships had left leaving them behind and there was nothing left to fight for. White flags started to pop up across the front. The German 18th Infantry Division crossed the Canal de Moeres and into Dunkirk. As with German tactics throughout the battle advanced eleiments pushed on a head of the main advance and finally came to a stop at the base of the eastern mole finding thousands of French troops massed there at 0930hrs.


    Just before 1000hrs on 4th June 1940 General Cranz drove up to the Hotel de Ville which was being used as Beaufrere's HQ. Beaufrere replaced his helmet with his gold leaf Kepi and surrendered Dunkirk to Cranz. Accepting the surrender of the town Cranz asked Beaufrere, 'Where are all the English?' I liked to think that Beaufrere's reply was in one final act of definance rather than one of a feally of desertion, he replied, 'Not here. They are in England'.


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    The Hotel de Ville today where the surrender took place.


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    Two shots of one of the memorials for those that stayed behind.
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    Found this picture in one of my books of captured French soldiers near the Mole at Dunkirk
     
  2. Gage

    Gage The Battle of Barking Creek MOD

    Brave men. Thanks for sharing, mucker.
     
  3. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    Andy, might be duplicating previous threads but do you have any stats on BEF POWs/casualties leading to and after Dunkirk?
    All in all DYNAMO was an amazing success (although perhaps not the 'miracle' claimed) and lead to defence of Britain, even if most 'kit' was left in France. Ultimately lead to successful ops later in the war with evacuated troops forming the 'core' of British (and Free French) forces.
    Yes, 40,000 French troops left in Dunkirk was a great shame but do you know how many French troops got to Britain from Dunkirk?
    Sorry If I am re-cycling old stuff.

    Mike
     
  4. L J

    L J Senior Member

    Andy, might be duplicating previous threads but do you have any stats on BEF POWs/casualties leading to and after Dunkirk?
    All in all DYNAMO was an amazing success (although perhaps not the 'miracle' claimed) and lead to defence of Britain, even if most 'kit' was left in France. Ultimately lead to successful ops later in the war with evacuated troops forming the 'core' of British (and Free French) forces.
    Yes, 40,000 French troops left in Dunkirk was a great shame but do you know how many French troops got to Britain from Dunkirk?
    Sorry If I am re-cycling old stuff.

    Mike
    I think some 120000(including Czechs and Poles)
     
  5. Mike,

    According to Ellis' The War in France and Flanders (pp.247-248):

    26,402 British and 1,534 Allied troops were evacuated before Operation Dynamo began following Lord Gort's order of 20th May to evacuate non-fighting troops and men located in bases below the Somme but separated from the main part of the B.E.F. A similar order was given by General Weygand on 25th May regarding 'superflous Staff elements' of the French First Army.

    Operation Dynamo, beginning on the evening of 26th May and ending on the morning of June 4th, evacuated 338,226 leaving a 'grand total of those evacuated by this date 366,162.'

    He then states that 'included in this number are 224,320 men of the British Expeditionary Force.'

    I assume that that leaves a figure of 141,842 Allied troops evacuated in total before and during Operation Dynamo and using the pre-Dynamo figure of 1,534, produces 140,308 during Dynamo itself.

    Many thanks,

    Stephen Garnett
     
  6. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Most of the French evacuated through Dunkirk spent less that 24 hrs in the UK and were sent back to France via ports like Cherbourg to continue fighting for France. In the main the only French troops that stayed were those that were injured.

    I have a couple of books containg some good stats regarding Dynamo including how many troops were evacuated by each individual ship/boat.

    I'll start another thread regarding stats in the next day or so as this one was more to do with the French surrender as there seems to be very little documented on it.

    Cheers
    A
     
  7. JCB

    JCB Senior Member

    The French rearguard that fought bravely around Dunkirk to allow all the BEF to get away seem to get very little mention in the British press.
    It'll be interesting to see the coverage of the forthcoming 70th anniversary.
     
  8. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Bump for the 70th Anniversary.
     
  9. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    One of the few accounts I've read that covers the very end. The book is around 40 years old so there are some inaccuracies in it but I think the author does a fairly good job on this part of Dunkirk history.

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  10. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

  11. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

  12. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

  13. Thunderbox

    Thunderbox Member

    One of the overlooked aspects of Dunkirk - in view of the legend that "the British only escaped because Hitler stopped the tanks for three days" - is that the Germans still needed three days to fight their way into Dunkirk even after up to 90% of the trapped forces had already left.

    The French rearguard was, of course, supported by a British rearguard that was intended to be sacrificial. It was only the unexpected success of the evacuation that suddenly opened up the opportunity for much of the rearguards to escape as well. Whilst many of the British managed to get away, the bulk of the c.35,000 French were trapped by the indecision of their commanders - hence the last ships having to search for troops to pick up.
     
  14. JCB

    JCB Senior Member

    According to Nicholas Harmans book the French intention was to retain a Tobruk style stronghold in Dunkirk from which to regain northern France and they were aghast at the British withdrawal and destruction of equipment.
    Given the amount of troops and equipment available and more importantly the the will from both allies to defend it I think this could have been viable. Another point he makes is that at Boulogne and Dunkirk we were scarpering away and putting blockships in place that prevented/ hindered the remaining French defenders from being resupplied or evauated. Boulogne was held for 30 hours after the Guards had gone by the French after we had declared it 'untenable'.
    The Germans held out while surrounded in Dunkirk from sept 1944- may 45 and it was the last French town to be liberated.
     
  15. Thunderbox

    Thunderbox Member

    According to Nicholas Harmans book the French intention was to retain a Tobruk style stronghold in Dunkirk from which to regain northern France and they were aghast at the British withdrawal and destruction of equipment.
    Given the amount of troops and equipment available and more importantly the the will from both allies to defend it I think this could have been viable. Another point he makes is that at Boulogne and Dunkirk we were scarpering away and putting blockships in place that prevented/ hindered the remaining French defenders from being resupplied or evauated. Boulogne was held for 30 hours after the Guards had gone by the French after we had declared it 'untenable'.
    The Germans held out while surrounded in Dunkirk from sept 1944- may 45 and it was the last French town to be liberated.

    Nicholas Harman is typical of those (usually French) who have taken the "British running away" slant. I don't think any mainstream historian or military observer would accept any of Harman's assertions - today even French authors concur with the common view of events.

    Its quite clear that both allies knew as early as 14th May that northern France was probably lost - the collapse of the French line on the Meuse and the advance rates of Guderian's spearhead made it quite obvious that the allied northern armies were going to be cut off. The failure of the Arras counter-attack also clearly demonstrated that the French higher command was in disarray and unlikely to be able to retrieve the situation. The French government's dialogue with London also clearly revealed the likelihood of imminent political collapse - hence Churchill's desperate attempts to think of ways of keeping France in the fight, such as lifting troops out of the doomed northern pocket and re-inserting them in the west.

    Harman's points seem to betray a complete lack of any military appreciation. Holding any coastal port as a "blockhouse" was not feasible, given German local superiority in artillery and aviation - both of which would soon have closed sea approaches. A "blockhouse" would be pointless if there were no prospects of relief, and would simply waste troops who might be used on effective operations elsewhere. In the case of Boulogne, calling a defensive position "untenable" does not mean "we can't hold this for another 30 hours" - it means that the position cannot be held in the longer term as any useful contribution to the overall plan. Comparisons with the 1944/5 German occupation of the channel ports also misses the point - the Allies chose not to reduce the German defences (by destroying the towns and their trapped populations), and simply bottled them up until the surrender - the Germans didn't "hold out" by fighting.

    Hugh Sebag-Montefiore's book "Dunkirk; fight to the last man" is a decent scholarly work - at least he lays out the events in a properly evidenced way.
     
  16. Hibby

    Hibby Junior Member

    Did the French have the option of coming over on the boats? Seems a waste having 40k soldiers surrendering
     
  17. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Did the French have the option of coming over on the boats? Seems a waste having 40k soldiers surrendering

    Many (thousands) French troops were evacuated. The wounded stayed in the UK but those fit to fight were back in boats heading for France in less than 24 hours in most cases landing further along the French coast to carry on fighting.
     
  18. Thunderbox

    Thunderbox Member

    Did the French have the option of coming over on the boats? Seems a waste having 40k soldiers surrendering

    The tragedy was mostly down to the confusion and indecision in the French command, which meant that an opportunity to get most of these men away during the night of 2/3 June was wasted - many ships had to leave empty because most of the French were not under orders to leave, and those that were had been sent to the beaches instead of the Mole. General Koeltz belatedly asked the British to carry out another evacuation on the night of 3/4 June, but of course "Dynamo" had officially finished because of the previous nights' lack of evacuees (bearing in mind that Dynamo had already been extended at terrible risk & cost to the RAF and Naval units involved).

    The British sent ships, but the French then found that the evacuation point on the Mole was swamped by thousands of French stragglers who had been hiding out in Dunkirk - hence almost no formed units could be got away. As daylight approached, HMS Shikari had to leave - the last major ship, as other small craft were still looking for stragglers elsewhere. It was at this point that several blockships were sunk in the harbour entrance to try and hinder the Germans.

    The French estimated that 25,000 of their soldiers had got away on the night of the 3/4th June, and noted that the Germans were in machine-gun range by the time the evacuation stopped. Its worth noting, in view of the later French "betrayal" myth, that Admiral Abriel and the other local French commanders expressed that the British effort had been "magnificent".
     
  19. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    There may have also have been less French (and other nations) troops left at the end if the British were taking them one for one with the BEF from the start of Op Dynamo.
     
  20. Thunderbox

    Thunderbox Member

    There may have also have been less French (and other nations) troops left at the end if the British were taking them one for one with the BEF from the start of Op Dynamo.

    True, but the reason that happened was that the French initially refused to co-operate or even discuss a tactical evacuation, and the British were only anticipating being able to save about 10% of the BEF. Whereas the British and all of the French field commanders recognised that the Arras failure confirmed that the northern armies were doomed, the French higher command and government for a while existed in denial, somehow believing a break-out/break-in would happen.

    As it happened, the French evacuation more or less ran alongside that of the British anyway: the French missed the first two days, but only 16,000 British got away - these two days mainly resulted in the evacuation proccess being refined. The peak French evacuation was only 24 hrs behind the peak British evacuation.

    The c. 38,000 French that went into captivity (the Germans were the first to actually count this number; the French thought they had about 20,000 left when the evacuation ended) is not that bad, given the circumstances that 120,000 French were evacuated - and not forgetting that about the same number of British were also left behind and captured.
     

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