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The Spirit of Dunkirk in Britain, Not So Much in Washington

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On May 10, 1940, German Nazi forces invaded the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium, all of which were occupied by the end of the month. Then the Germans on May 14 burst through the Ardennes, moving quickly west and north toward the English Channel. Allied counterattacks failed to halt the German attack, which reached the coastline on May 20. The Nazis had cut off the north tip of France from the rest of the country, so Allied troops were stranded. The Allies had lost the battle for France, in which Britain had suffered 68,000 casualties. British and Allied forces had retreated to the area around the French seaport of Dunkirk, and military leaders suggested they be evacuated to Britain. Winston Churchill, who had become prime minister on May 13, at first opposed evacuation but quickly decided that it was the only right policy. Surprisingly, and still largely inexplicable, Adolf Hitler had ordered a halt on May 23 of Panzer divisions toward Dunkirk. The tanks went ahead on May 26.

Out of adversity came opportunity, and it occasioned what Winston Churchill called the miracle of deliverance. Amateur British sailors joined with regular military to rescue the stranded troops, acting against the odds and the conditions, in an episode that has become part of British lore.

Operation Dynamo took place on May 27–June 4, 1940, a remarkable heroic effort to rescue the Allied troops. The operation resulted in 338,000 Allied troops saved, 198,000 British and 140,000 French, but it was not a victory because of personal and material losses. More than 90,000 troops were left behind. More than 11,000 British troops were killed, 40,000 were captured, and 17,000 were wounded. About 48,000 French troops were captured, while 20,000 German soldiers were killed and wounded.

Material losses were colossal. Abandoned were 64,000 vehicles, motorbikes, tanks, rifles, 2,472 field guns or artillery pieces, bullets, and 76,000 tons of ammunition. In addition, the Royal Air Force, which carried out reconnaissance, bombing, and fighter missions, lost 177 aircraft, including 106 fighters. Six destroyers were sunk, and 200 other vessels were lost. To help........

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