The BEF AFTER Dunkirk

Discussion in '1940' started by MarkN, Apr 16, 2021.

  1. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    The word "Dunkirk" has come to dominate the histography of the BEF in France and Belgium in 1940. So much so, that far too many are unaware that over a third of British forces were still in France AFTER Operation DYNAMO had wound down, were still fighting and troops were still being sent TO France rather than being evacuated.

    How many times has a new member joined this forum and introduced themselves with a request for help to explain how their relative could possibly have evacuated from France in mid-June 1940 when "Dunkirk" had long since come to a close?

    I call it "Dunkirk myopia" or "Dunkirk blindness". The obsession with it only serves to cloud or bury the history of the BEF that, almost certainly, has far greater value in the understanding of what went on and why.

    To that end, I thought I would start this thread and, as time permits, add posts which provide some very broad background to what went on and why AFTER the events north of the River Somme had come to an end.

    So, to start, here are some basic statistics on troop numbers I've extracted from Ellis' official history : The War in France & Flanders 1939-1940.

    Total number of Army troops in France at the end of April 1940 was 394,165. This figure does not include RAF personnel nor those Army troops sent to France in May and June 1940.

    The total was broken down as follows:
    237,319 GHQ and in corps and divisions—that is the main fighting force;
    18,347 were in the Territorial divisions sent out or labour duties and further training (12th, 23rd and 46th);
    17,665 were reinforcements held at bases;
    78,864 were on lines-of-communication duties;
    23.545 were in headquarters of various services and missions, hospitals and miscellaneous employment;
    9,051 were in drafts enroute;
    2,515 were not yet allocated; and,
    6,859 were with the Advanced Air Striking Force.​

    The number of British troops (Army and RAF it seems) evacuated from France before Operation Dynamo begun was 26,402. These were Lord Gort's "useless mouths". 197,918 British troops were evacuated from Boulogne, Calais, Dunkirk and several other odd beaches during Operation DYNAMO.

    Thus, a total of 224,320 were evacuated from north of the River Somme.

    AFTER Dunkirk, and south of the River Somme, a further 144,171 British troops were evacuated from France and 68,111 were either known to have been killed, captured or were missing.

    The grand total of British troops serving in France and Belgium is thus calculated as 436,602.

    To summarize, more than half of the British troops making up the BEF and the Advanced Air Striking Force were NOT evacuated via Dunkirk.
  2. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter 1940 Obsessive

    ...and not forgetting of course that a fair number of 'Dynamo' evacuations were via De (La) Panne with even some out of Oostende. The 'Dunkirk' terms obscures that too.
  3. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    I have posted a bit about this period in Resources
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  4. MarkN

    MarkN Well-Known Member

    Quite so.

    I have not studied Operation DYNAMO so have no sense of the breakdown of how many were evacuated from which location.

    For the purpose of my broad approach, using the Operation DYNAMO numbers sufficed to highlight that less than half ofthe British manpower on the continent had nothing to do with Dunkirk whatsoever. That the "Dunkirk" numbers are a sub-set of that just emphasizes the point.

    Yes, and I think this thread would greatly benefit from your insights being added. Please feel free to add your comments and link to any previous/existing posts you think helpful.
  5. Orwell1984

    Orwell1984 Senior Member

    Newly released from Helion in March
    Also from Helion and looking mainly at LOC units.

    For those interested in some recent secondary works.
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  6. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Mark, much too much to post here, which is why I put it in Resources

  7. sjw8

    sjw8 Well-Known Member

    Thanks to this thread, I've just ordered a copy of "Useless Mouths" (bagged a 20% discount from Amazon).

    My dad was part of the LofC troops (RE) and was evacuated from Cherbourg mid-June, after having been engaged in the various rearguard actions as part of the (rather misnamed) Beauman Division, so this should add to my appreciation of the situation post Dunkirk, having read Ellis and also the History of the REs as published by the RE Institution.

    I am hoping the above book may fill a gap in his Unit's War Diary and complete the picture. Even if it doesn't quite fill that, it will provide further useful background information.

    Steve a.k.a. sjw8
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