DUNKIRK EVACUATION OPERATION DYNAMO
Author: John Grehan & Alexander Nicoll
Publisher: Pen & Sword (Images of War series), 184 pages, 140 illustrations
Published: April 2020
REVIEW: In the words of the publisher “the ‘miracle’ of Dunkirk is one of the most inspiring stories of all time. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had been all but surrounded, and, with the French armies collapsing on all sides, it appeared that Britain was about to suffer the heaviest defeat in its history.” With the Battle of France lost, all the British could do was to try and rescue as many soldiers as possible from one of the few ports left open to the BEF – Dunkirk.
The images included in this book are fascinating to study as each captures a moment in time, a time of confusion, destruction and the desperate fight for survival of a retreating and defeated army. The chapters takes the reader from Day 1 of the operation, Sunday, 26 May 1940 through to Monday, 3 June and the immediate aftermath that followed. There are too many images to mention, but the ones that stand out are the photos of burned out Spitfires on the beach, roads full of abandoned vehicles and packed ships taking onboard their human cargo. The long queues of men under unrelenting aerial attack, waiting patiently to be evacuated, are iconic, as are those of wrecked shipping and the detritus of an army strewed along the beach.
One photograph taken by Lieutenant J. G. Wells, a member of the Naval Beach Staff, of an abandoned army haversack, filled to the brim with various documents and books is intriguing, but the caption sums up the feeling on that beach brilliantly. Wells noted that “The conduct of the troops on the beach was splendid and their discipline and morale of the highest order. At times the sporadic embarkation was most disappointing but I never heard any complaints. Their behaviour under shell fire later in the day was a fine example to the sailors, who soon picked up the idea of lying flat on the stomach and singing: “Roll out the barrel”, to pass away the time.” A classic British response of the time. It is images like this that paint a vivid and memorable picture, as no words ever could, of this feat of arms. A feat that saved the British Army from destruction and allowed it to fight another day.
It is through powerful images like these, some British, some German, that the reader can get a feel of what occurred during these nine days that saved an army. Whilst there are a few photos that I have seen before, most appear previously unpublished which makes this a more interesting and fascinating study. As usual, the supporting summary text and captions are highly informative and helps the reader interpret each image. The book would be ideal for battlefield guides, tourists, modellers and those generally interested in Dunkirk and the uniforms, equipment, vehicles and weapons used in the early days of 1940. Of course there are other books that give greater detail on Dunkirk, but this is not the intent of this volume which focuses on photographs to tell the story. It is a handy sized informative, illustration rich and recommended book.