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Page last updated at 15:01 GMT, Thursday, 20 May 2010 16:01 UK
Dunkirk beaches evacuation: 70 years on

Three soldiers, Harry Garrett, Arthur Waterhouse and Alfred Smith, all rescued from the Dunkirk beaches in 1940, tell their stories.

The evacuation of Dunkirk, codenamed Operation Dynamo, took place between 26 May and 4 June 1940.

A flotilla of 900 naval and civilian craft was sent across the Channel under RAF protection and managed to rescue 338,226 people.

During the evacuation, the Luftwaffe attacks reduced the town of Dunkirk to rubble and destroyed 235 vessels and 106 aircraft.

At least 5,000 soldiers lost their lives.

A further 220,000 Allied troops were rescued by British ships from other French ports - Cherbourg, Saint-Malo, Brest, and Saint-Nazaire - bringing the total of Allied troops evacuated to 558,000.

Although the Germans took more than a million Allied prisoners in three weeks at a cost of 60,000 casualties, the evacuation was a major boost to British morale and enabled the Allies to fight another day.

German forces continued their invasion across France until an armistice was signed on 22 June.

There were bodies floating in the water and we were under constant attack from machine-gun fire, bombing, explosions sending shrapnel in every direction.
Posted on the BBC People's War website

Hundreds of small vessels were co-opted after an order was issued on BBC Radio to "all owners of self-propelled pleasure craft between 30 and 100 feet in length to send all particulars to the Admiralty". There were a handful of fishing boats that went over to rescue the troops but the operation itself was carefully co-ordinated.

Most of the pleasure craft were crewed by naval reservists and were used to ferry men from the beaches to the destroyers. The majority of troops were taken off by Royal Navy destroyers. Many French troops remained to hold the perimeter and were captured.

Major-General Harold Alexander inspected the shores of Dunkirk from a motorboat to make sure no-one was left behind before boarding the last ship back to Britain.

Dunkirk evacuation
The collection of ships and small boats brought home over 338,000 people.

The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, described the "miracle of deliverance" from Dunkirk and warned of an impending invasion in a moving speech to Parliament on the day the last allied soldier arrived home at the end of the 10 day operation.

He ended his speech with a defiant message to Hitler's armies: "We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender."


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