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March 22, 2017

Rarely Seen Color Photographs of the Aftermath of the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940

The Battle of Dunkirk took place in Dunkirk/Dunkerque, France, during the Second World War between the Allies and Nazi Germany. As part of the Battle of France on the Western Front, the Battle of Dunkirk was the defense and evacuation of British and Allied forces in Europe from 26 May – 4 June 1940.

Following the events at Dunkirk, the German forces regrouped before commencing an operation called Fall Rot (“Case Red”), a renewed assault southward, starting on 5 June. Although two fresh British divisions had begun moving to France in an attempt to form a Second British Expeditionary Force (BEF), the decision was taken on 14 June to withdraw all the remaining British troops; an evacuation called Operation Ariel. By 25 June, almost 192,000 Allied personnel, 144,000 of them British, had been evacuated through various French ports. Although the French Army fought on, German troops entered Paris on 14 June. The French government was forced to negotiate an armistice at Compi├Ęgne on 22 June.

The loss of materiel on the beaches was huge. The British Army left enough equipment behind to equip about eight to ten divisions. Discarded in France were, among huge supplies of ammunition, 880 field guns, 310 guns of large calibre, some 500 anti-aircraft guns, about 850 anti-tank guns, 11,000 machine guns, nearly 700 tanks, 20,000 motorcycles, and 45,000 motor cars and lorries. Army equipment available at home was only just sufficient to equip two divisions. The British Army needed months to re-supply properly and some planned introductions of new equipment were halted while industrial resources concentrated on making good the losses. Officers told troops falling back from Dunkirk to burn or otherwise disable their trucks (so as not to let them benefit the advancing German forces). The shortage of army vehicles after Dunkirk was so severe that the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) was reduced to retrieving and refurbishing numbers of obsolete buses and coaches from British scrapyards to press them into use as troop transports. Some of these antique workhorses were still in use as late as the North African campaign of 1942.

A marble memorial to the battle stands at Dunkirk. The French inscription is translated as: “To the glorious memory of the pilots, mariners, and soldiers of the French and Allied armies who sacrificed themselves in the Battle of Dunkirk, May–June 1940.”

(Photos: Hugo Jaeger—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)



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