Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Dunkirk, began nearly 80 years ago today.

In May of 1940, British, French, and Belgian troops were trapped by the German army in western France. Blitzkrieg, or “lightning war” had proven terribly effective.

With the Allied armies nearing total collapse as the Germans neared the French coastline, the British launched at Dunkirk the largest evacuation and rescue mission that the world had ever seen.

WWII began in September 1939 when the Nazis invaded Poland. The British and French declared war on Germany and Britain sent the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to the French border with Germany to sit all winter waiting for the inevitable invasion. 

On May 10, 1940, a small German army swept through Holland, northern Belgium and into northern France. The Allies moved their troops there in an effort to meet the threat. But a much larger German force, their main effort, attacked via Luxembourg, broke through the French lines at Sedan, and began racing across northern France. The situation was rapidly getting out of control as the allies were in danger of being cut-off. 

By the 20th of May, the situation was hopeless, the British tried to counterattack and blunt the German advance at Arras, but they were repelled. The BEF, three French armies, and the remains of the Belgian forces were pushed into a narrow corridor.

The British began to formulate plans for the evacuation of Dunkirk, which was chosen for its long sandy beaches. 

Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay and his small staff in Dover Castle implemented Operation Dynamo. They would have to evacuate their men by sea. Yet, this would condense them into a small pocket, thus making them vulnerable to German artillery and airstrikes. Fortunately, the marshy areas around Dunkirk slowed the German armored advance and the Germans had to rely on their infantry units to bludgeon their way into the beaches.