Is dunkirk a true story
The Miracle of Dunkirk by Walter Lord“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. 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…”
- Winston Churchill, speech before the House of Commons, June 4, 1940
May 1940. Nazi Germany is ascendant. In 1938, she bloodlessly annexed Austria; in 1939, she adds Czechoslovakia to her domains. On September 1, 1939, she invades and conquers Poland. At this last provocation, Great Britain and France declare war. Yet, at first, they do nothing. They wait. Germany waits. Thus begins a pregnant eight months of tense stillness, millions of men poised on the brink of war.
This interregnum, known as the Phony War, ends with Germany’s advance into the Netherlands. France responds by putting troops into Belgium. As in 1914, Great Britain sends over the British Expeditionary Force to assist her French allies.
The result is disastrous.
German troops outflank the Allies. Some 400,000 Allied troops are pinned in a shrinking pocket along the Flanders coast, near the French port of Dunkirk. With the Nazis advancing unstoppably, Winston Churchill and other British leaders fear the worst. At best, they believe that only 45,000 men might be saved. Instead, Hitler orders his armor to halt; the English Channel is the recipient of a stretch of kind weather; and beginning on May 27, a motley flotilla sent from the Home Islands manages to rescue 338,000 soldiers. On June 2, Walter Mathews, the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, calls it “the miracle of Dunkirk.”
This summer will see the release of Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, a big-budget, big screen (it was shot in IMAX) retelling of the BEF’s remarkable escape. I have serious reservations, stemming from the PG-13 rating and the inclusion of Harry Styles in the cast (it smacks of the same kind of mass-audience pandering that destroyed Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor). Still, the odds of me seeing it are the same as the odds of me drinking a bottle of wine on a pleasant midsummer Friday night, which is to say the odds are 100% in favor of my presence on opening night. With that said, it seems a good time to revisit Walter Lord’s The Miracle of Dunkirk.
Walter Lord was one of the great writer-historians of his era. His book on the Titanic, A Night to Remember, is an all-time masterpiece. If he’d written nothing else besides that, he’d be one of my favorites. He wrote much more, of course, and that is to our benefit.
Lord had two great gifts. The ability to tell a story, and the ability to gather stories. He was not only a library rat, digging through dusty archives, searching through every scrap of paper. He actually helped generate primary sources. When he wrote a book with living participants, he interviewed or sent questionnaires to hundreds of them, collecting a wealth of first-hand accounts that benefitted not only his books, but the books of many authors to follow in his wake. He was the master of detail. When the Titanic made her final plunge in A Night to Remember, Lord details the sound by counting the number of plates, cups, articles of glass, that were breaking all at once.
Those attributes are all on display here. The Miracle of Dunkirk is told in propulsive narrative fashion. It puts you on the scene with the people who were there, weaving all these individual experiences into a powerful mosaic. Lord attempts to alternate points of view. He does not neglect the leadership (Churchill and Sir Bertram Ramsay get their due), but he spends most of his time with the rank and file, men who’d otherwise remain anonymous. The men Lord introduces provide decent coverage, from soldiers waiting for rescue to destroyer captains dodging German torpedo boats to civilian day-sailors crossing the Channel to lend assistance (A Night to Remember’s “hero,” former Titanic officer Charles Herbert Lightoller, makes an appearance, piloting his yacht Sundowner to Dunkirk). Every once in awhile, Lord provides the German or French perspective (I wish there had been more from the Germans). Mostly, though, this is a British show.
Lord’s in-the-weeds perspective, while vivid, has one serious drawback: it doesn’t give you the overall context in which Dunkirk unfolded. The first chapter plunges you right into the thick of things. Lord expends perhaps two pages on the strategic situation and very little more. He doesn’t bother sussing the chain of events that led to the collapse of the French and British armies. He is content to let you know that the British army is trapped, and gets right into the business of showing you how they got un-trapped. Moreover, because his focus is on individuals, it’s easy to lose sight of where the story is taking place. Lord doesn’t really follow units around. He follows men. Frankly, you are often as lost as the frantic soldiers from shattered units heading towards the beach. This is not a strategic overview; this is not a tactical overview. Lord, as is his wont, is mainly concerned with the experiential aspect.
This was originally published in 1982, meaning that it’s not exactly new. Importantly, though, it came out four decades after the events of Dunkirk transpired. This gives things time to settle a bit. Lord is admirably clear-eyed in his telling. He doesn’t try to put lipstick on a possum. Lord is not a cheerleader and doesn’t indulge (for the most part) in the romances of this great escape. For instance, he is very pragmatic in his presentation of the civilian vessels involved in the rescue. This is the most famous element of Dunkirk, surpassing in non-military transport even Gallieni’s “Taxis of the Marne.” Like the taxis in 1914, the civilian boats were not the decisive factor. Instead, as Lord makes clear, it was the mole – the long, narrow pier jutting into the channel – that allowed so many men to be evacuated. Despite the salvation of the BEF (and some French troops, too), this was first and foremost a massive disaster for the Allies, and Lord points this out on many occasions.
One of the fascinating subplots of Dunkirk is the German failure to seal the deal. There have been a lot of Dunkirk books that argue the various theses. Goring promised Hitler that the Luftwaffe could handle the matter – but they couldn’t. Hitler’s generals wanted the armor to finish crushing France (she had yet to fall, though would shortly). Hitler wanted to give the Brits a “sporting” chance, since he still hoped for a negotiated peace. Some of these propositions tend to hold more water than others. (I tend to believe that Germany wanted to make sure she annihilated France. They’d come so close in 1914, and did not want to leave anything to chance in 1940). Lord does not analyze the hypotheses in any great depth, other than to acknowledge the competing theories.
There is no shortage of volumes on the BEF evacuation at Dunkirk. Since the moment it occurred, it earned a spot in the popular imagination. There is something redemptive in it, the notion that a fallen army might live to rise again. Churchill understood this when he addressed the House of Commons.
“We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory,” he said. “Wars are not won by evacuations. But there was a victory inside this deliverance, which shall be noted.”
This is not Lords best work. But if you are preparing to head to the cinema this summer, and you want a Dunkirk primer, you arent going to be disappointed with The Miracle of Dunkirk.
DUNKIRK - The TRUE STORY Explained! - Nolan Fact vs. Fiction
Battle of the Netherlands. Invasion of Luxembourg. The operation commenced after large numbers of Belgian , British , and French troops were cut off and surrounded by German troops during the six-week long Battle of France. In a speech to the House of Commons , British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called this "a colossal military disaster", saying "the whole root and core and brain of the British Army" had been stranded at Dunkirk and seemed about to perish or be captured. Three of their panzer corps attacked through the Ardennes and drove northwest to the English Channel.
In the Dunkirk movie, the Royal Air Force pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) engages in aerial battles to help prevent the Luftwaffe from assaulting the men stranded on the beach and sinking the boats in the water. Tom Hardy's character's experience in the Dunkirk movie most closely.
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Dunkirk is a stunning look at the desperation and tragedy of the retreat of over , British soldiers trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, France back across the English Channel in what was known as Operation Dynamo. The film follows three separate narratives over three different time-frames, following Royal Air Force RAF pilots over the course of an hour, the crew of a small civilian yacht over the course of a day, and a group of young British soldiers trapped on the beach over the course of a week, with the time-frames lining up at the climax to tremendous effect. Naturally some of the information could be considered spoilers for the movie. German forces were able to drive deep into northern France, splitting the allied defense up and eventually cornering around , British Expeditionary Forces BEF , along with French and other allied fighters at the coastal town of Dunkirk, France. The BEF, after a failed allied counterattack, fortified the town of Dunkirk to delay a German siege long enough for an evacuation. In the film, Tommy is pushed to the beach by German forces, where he sees thousands of his fellow soldiers lined up, stretching the length of the coast.