Was Dunkirk a Triumph or a Disaster? Why?

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Dunkirk battle could be called a failure or success depending on the viewpoint. From 27th May to 4th June the British Expeditionary Force with the remainder of the French and Belgian armies were attacked from behind by the Germans while waiting for a ‘ferry service’ back to Britain.

After their defeat at Calais, in May 1940, the British army were ordered to retreat from the area and get to the coastal area of Dunkirk no matter what. There they would be rescued by the British naval forces. However, the Brits were left waiting until the 27th of May.Whilst the German Luftwaffe was bombing them from above and the land army was shelling them from below, the Allied troops waited and took the best cover possible.

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All they could do was wait. Dunkirk was a failure in a number of ways. Firstly, there was no real ‘battle of Dunkirk’. The word implies that there was an engaging of armed forces in combat.

However, at Dunkirk, there was a German offensive yet no Allied defensive. This means that, because the ‘battle’ did not actually take place, it can be described as a failure. There were also many casualties in this ‘battle’. 8,000 of the British Expeditionary Force perished during the barrage, along with about a quarter of the remaining French military.

The casualties were described in a disturbingly accurate manner by a gunner officer at the time: ‘Lines of men waiting forlornly in queues…a horrible stench of blood and mutilated flesh pervaded the area’. This perfectly illustrates the horrendous conditions in which the Allied troops escaped, thereby displaying the failure of the Battle of Dunkirk. Along with the loss of vital lives came the massive losses of equipment.Overall, nearly 40,000 pieces of equipment were ‘surrendered’ to the enemy, including 17,000 machine guns, 12,000 field guns, 2,800 anti-aircraft guns and 475 tanks.

This was one of the worst losses of equipment ever sustained by the British military. These are obscene numbers of equipment lost, and the circumstances made the losses seem all the worse. Additionally, these objects were, in effect, given free of charge to the German military, who now had the advantage of a large portion of the British military equipment — equal to nearly 500,000 tonnes.This battle was also militarily a failure.

The British and French armies suffered their worst military defeat since World War One. They were soundly decimated by the German military (via their Blitzkrieg tactics) in Calais, which meant a surrender of the easy Allied escape route. It was literally an evacuation due to the overall loss of the war so far. Owing to this loss, Dunkirk can be considered a failure.

To summarize, Dunkirk can be considered a spectacular failure on the part of the Allies, rather than a victory.Conversely, Dunkirk can be considered a success in a number of ways. The initial rescue target for the British navy was set at around 30,000. With the huge amount of large battleships in use by the navy, not many soldiers were expected to be rescued.

However, with the input of the many small cruisers and privately-owned vessels, the number exceeded the original target by over twelve times. 139,000 French were rescued, along with 220,000 of the British Expeditionary Force. The rest were mainly comprised of Belgians, Polish Soldiers and Czechs.This saved over 50% of the BEF from annihilation, which, in the long term, enabled the Allies to win the war.

They formed a small resistance along with the other Allies to fight the Germans. Even though over 100,000 losses were suffered by the Allied troops, these were easily replaceable via the American’s ‘Cash ‘n’ Carry’ and ‘Lend Lease’ methods after the battle. The men saved would have otherwise taken eighteen years to replace. Due to this, Dunkirk was a military victory.

Another reason that Dunkirk was a success was that it allowed Britain to salvage their land.During Dunkirk, had Germany made a determined effort to destroy the army of the Allies, the war would not have been won due to the huge number of losses that would have been incurred by the Allies. As it was, the French had lost thousands of tonnes of equipment and more men during the Battle for France and Calais, and so had the Brits. Conversely, the German high command halted as the army was about to begin a manned battle (on orders from Hitler).

This was because Hermann Goering, commander of the German Air Force, promised to destroy the Allied troops with the Luftwaffe.However, despite the intense attack by the German air force, thousands of British soldiers escaped to fight another day. This won the war for the Allies as the remaining troops were able to channel their experience into defending Britain from her enemies during the Battle of Britain. In fact, the saved Poles and Czechs achieved a higher kill ratio during the aforementioned battle, and the French saved returned to their homeland spy for the Allies and back up the Resistance.

In fact, it is fair to say that the Battle of Dunkirk changed the entire balance of the war.Because of this, Dunkirk can be considered a military and national victory. Dunkirk was also a psychological success. The fact that hundreds of thousands of men had escaped from the hands of the German army was an immense morale booster.

That the German army did not take the easy opportunity to end the war gave a mental prop to the people of the Allied Countries and the Armies. Dunkirk served as the boost the UK needed to up its recruitment of RAF and Naval troops, which enabled Britain to hold its own against the Germans during the Battle of Britain.One of the factors of this was the patriotic view employed by Churchill to show how many of the Boaters from London to Dover had helped save the British troops. He used this to inspire potential military recruits.

Consequently, Dunkirk was a psychological success. Finally, it was conscriptionally a success. Winston Churchill employed the ‘victory’ of the battle advertised in so many national media (e. g, ‘Bloody Marvellous’ — a headline from the 5th June edition of the Daily Mail; or ‘Clear they [the BEF] have come back with glory’ — from a BBC 6 o’clock Radio news bulletin on the 31st of May).

He used these to his advantage as propaganda to conscription and reassurance mechanism. This would reassure the public to make it seem like Britain was winning the war. Additionally, Churchill used the patriotic spirit displayed by the private boaters who acted in Dunkirk to his benefit: ‘Rule Britannia’. In conclusion, Dunkirk can be considered a failure, but, in truth, it was militarily, conscriptionally, nationally and psychologically a success — therefore quite far a victory.

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Was Dunkirk a Triumph or a Disaster? Why?. (2017, May 09). Retrieved from


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