On This Day - June 3rd

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The Evacuation of Dunkirk ends

In the Spring of 1940 large numbers of Belgian, British, and French troops were cut off and surrounded by German troops during the six-week long Battle of France. An operation to evacuate was decided upon.

The evacuation started on May 27th with some 8,000 troops being ferried out of Dunkirk, with numbers increasing as the days wore on.

During the evacuation bombing and strafing by German planes intensified — the Wehrmacht was only two or three miles from the beaches. British military discipline by and large held, though some troops were driven by desperation to loot food from civilians in the area.

As the port facilities were being pounded to oblivion the focus began to shift more to the beach. Here men waded into the sea which at Dunkirk slopes gently from the land, making it impossible for larger craft to get in close. Some were forced to wait for hours on end with water up to their necks, awaiting pick up.

By May 31st the situation was becoming more desperate. It was at this point that morale was helped, and a legend created, with the arrival of the 'little ships'. These were pleasure yachts and small motor-boats, fishing smacks and sundry other craft, crewed by civilians who took to the sea from the Thames estuary Dover , and other points on the the coasts of Kent and other nearby counties. The little ships could get close to shore, and so their arrival made it easier on the exhausted troops, though it is estimated that they in fact only took around 25,000 men to safety. What is regarded as probably the smallest of these little craft, the 18' open fishing boat Tamzine, is now housed in the Imperial War Museum in London .

By June 3rd the evacuation proper was over, with only a few more escaping on the following day.

Over the course of the evacuation, how many men were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk?

Here's the answer...

By the end of the eighth day, 338,226 men had been rescued by a hastily assembled fleet of over 800 boats.

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