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Little ships of Dunkirk - (Chevron History series) - Framed Print - 12"H x 16"W


Little ships of Dunkirk - (Chevron History series) - Framed Print - 12"H x 16"W

The little ships of Dunkirk were 700 private boats that sailed from Ramsgate in England to Dunkirk in France between 26 May and 4 June 1940 as part of Operation Dynamo, helping to rescue more than 338,000 British and French soldiers who were trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk during the Second World War.

The situation of the troops, who had been cut off from their retreat into France by a pincer movement from the German army, was regarded by the British prime minister Winston Churchill as the greatest military defeat for centuries; it appeared likely to cost Britain the war, leaving the country vulnerable to invasion by Germany. Because of the shallow waters, British destroyers were unable to approach the beaches, and soldiers were having to wade out to the warships, many of them waiting hours shoulder deep in water.

On 27 May, the small-craft section of the British Ministry of Shipping telephoned boat builders around the coast, asking them to collect all boats with "shallow draft" that could navigate the shallow waters. Attention was directed to the pleasure boats, private yachts and launches moored on the River Thames and along the south and east coasts.

When they reached France, some of the boats acted as shuttles between the beaches and the destroyers, ferrying soldiers to the warships. Others carried hundreds of soldiers each back to Ramsgate, protected by the Royal Air Force from the attacks of the Luftwaffe.

In nine days, 192,226 British and 139,000 French soldiers – 331,226 in all – were rescued by the 700 little ships and around 220 warships. The rescue operation turned a military disaster into a story of heroism which served to raise the morale of the British.

The phrase "Dunkirk spirit" is still used to describe courage and solidarity in adversity.

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