On May 27th, 1940 the Miracle of Dunkirk happened. What was the Miracle of Dunkirk? You may never have heard of it before, but it is a story that you will want to know. So please read on as I tell you about this amazing event from the hollows of World War II.
What Was The Miracle of Dunkirk?
Our world was in the middle of WWII. It was the Blitzkrieg phase—a name that means Lightening War. (It was called this to describe the lightning-fast takeovers from the Germans as they went from place to place.) So, the Nazis had just taken over Northern France. In May 1940, the Germans—with their armored Panzer (PAN zer) tanks—had cornered 400,000 Allied troops, mainly French and British, near the fishing village of Dunkirk, France (located just across the English Channel from Great Britain). Without enough rescue boats, the situation appeared fatal. British officials calculated that the Royal Navy could pick up no more than 45,000 men before the Nazis swept in. They truly needed a miracle.
Well, through Winston Churchill, who had just been made prime minister of The United Kingdom, word got out that the Allied army was stranded. Churchill, known for his eloquence, made a desperate and moving appeal to his people, saying, among other things, “We shall fight on the beaches . . . we shall fight on the hills; we shall never surrender . . . ” I think you would love to hear his whole inspiring speech, so click HERE to go to Churchill’s Speech.
Now, to answer the question, “What was the Miracle of Dunkirk?”
Well, three things happened to turn the deadly situation around.
- First, the masses in England prayed for a miracle under the leadership of their king, George VI.
- Second, Nazi ground troops stalled out for reasons that are still in debate today. (Could it have been in answer to those prayers?)
- Third, hundreds of sailors, fishermen, and yacht owners from Belgium, France, Great Britain, and the Netherlands braved the English Channel in 900 boats of all shapes and sizes to join the Royal Navy in rescuing the stranded Allied army. Think of what that must have been like to be there and see that!
Starting on May 26, Operation Dynamo (as the rescue was named) took 10 days. Throughout the ordeal, the Germans dropped bombs from overhead —damaging some vessels and demolishing others. (At least eight Royal Navy destroyers were sunk!) Men were forced to wade up to their necks for hours in the salty surf—waiting for help to come while bombs tormented them. Little by little, and boat by boat, help came.
Approximately 338,226 soldiers made it to shore on the British side of the English Channel—safely out of the hands of the Germans. The British are proud of the Dunkirk evacuation and to this day, they re-create Operation Dynamo (or the “Miracle of Dunkirk”) with some of the same small fishing boats and private yachts that helped save the day.
So now when someone else asks you, “What was the Miracle of Dunkirk?” you can tell them the whole story!
Enrichment Activity fo Younger Students:
Re-create Operation Dynamo (also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk) in the bathtub. Line up dozens of army men at the edge of one end of the tub, as if they’re in enemy territory. Drop dozens in the water on the same end of the tub—as if they are waiting for rescue in the ocean surf. Use toy boats, ships, and rafts made of various household plastics to evacuate the men from one side of the tub to the other.
Which men do you pick up first? Probably the ones in the water! And don’t forget to drop some mock German bombs on these soldiers while they’re being shuttled across the tub! Make bombs out of bouncy balls, small water balloons, soap, or whatever else would liven up your re-enactment of Operation Dynamo.