Second world war: the Western campaign of 1940 – why Hitler halted his tanks at Dunkirk

The generals allowed the perversity. They can even Express their dissatisfaction on a particular issue — as long as the right moments make the right decisions. In this sense, John Verker (John Vereker), sixth Lord Gort, was just perfect military.

From 19 September 1939, he, a veteran of the First world war and former head of the British General staff and commanded the Expeditionary force, who, after Hitler’s attack on Poland was sent to France. His staff officers admired the Lord, who sometimes mused on whether the soldiers in their free time wearing their metal helmets over the right or left shoulder.

But when the Wehrmacht on 10 may 1940 went Hiking to the West, and world war II “spun” really, Jack Gort proved that he is the best commander in his post, despite the fact that his troops were defeated. The fact that just a week after his appointment, he realized that the French army and the British Expeditionary force held the losing position.

The reason was simple: the strategists of the allies had expected Hitler’s army headed to the North-East of France across the Belgian plain, and their ultimate goal will be Paris. That is, in principle, the same as in 1914. But Hitler acted differently: the Wehrmacht’s attack began according to plan “Gelb” was developed by General Erich von Manstein (Erich von Manstein). Although it was also captured Belgium and the Netherlands, the bulk of the German troops went through Luxembourg and the Ardennes, and in the end reached the channel, namely to the port of Calais.

Thus, more than a million French, British and Belgian soldiers were in a catastrophic situation, when 22 may 1940, almost half of them landed in the “pot” between the coast to the North and in the South of Lille and Dunkirk between the West and Ostend to the East.

However, Lord Gort received from London orders to throw all the forces in the attack on troops of the Wehrmacht. On the morning of 23 may, the commander of the British Expeditionary corps to the adjutant said: “you Know, becoming a soldier, I never thought that one day will lead the British army to meet its biggest defeat in history”.

Afternoon Gort closed in the headquarters and in the evening decided it will not give the order to counterattack, and ordered to begin an immediate evacuation. Although it was very risky idea.

© Wikipedia, War Office official photographerГенерал John Verker (center left) and Vice-Marshal Charles Blaut (right) in France. 1939-1940 years

Because for loading on ships about 400 thousand soldiers had to be in the vicinity of the port of Dunkirk. However, the evening of may 23, the vanguard of the German tanks was to this place closer than most who were in the “pot” British and French soldiers.

Thus began a “competition” for a breakthrough to the sea, and it almost won a German General of Panzer troops Heinz Guderian (Heinz Guderian): may 24, part of it was only 19 miles from Dunkirk, on the shore of the AA channel, through which the next morning crossed. They had only one shot to cut off the aspiring to the coast, but primarily in the city of British and French troops escape routes. And it would mean a complete defeat of the allies.

But Lord Gort not only showed courage and made the decision to evacuate — he has very lucky. Because Hitler delayed the decision in favor of the attack on the “pot” for two days. Moreover, 24 may at 12: 45 he gave the order to stop the offensive. Since then, the military and historians speculated on why at this critical moment came the order to cancel the offensive.

There are three main versions: first, the führer could fear for their tanks — the most powerful weapon of the Wehrmacht. Because on may 21 the British Matilda II heavy tanks caused mostly light German tanks first, albeit only local, but a heavy defeat.


According to the second version, the order of Hitler was a kind offer to London. Thus, it may have signaled to the British that after the victory over France would be ready to the conclusion of peace.

Supporters of the third version based on the fact that Hitler by this senseless and counterproductive order had made it clear to his generals that the last word always belongs to him. If so, this decision was aimed, primarily, against the command of the army, advocated an immediate attack and had time to give to the commander of the army Group And Gerd von Runstedt (Gerd von Runstedt) the appropriate order. Karl-Heinz Freezer (Karl-Heinz Frieser), one of the best experts on the history of the “blitzkrieg” on the Western front, resulted in favor of this particular version a lot of different arguments.

Anyway, in 49 hours the order to attack was cancelled, but this time Lord Gort and the British government used for the organization’s largest operation for the evacuation of all time. Operation Dynamo began on the afternoon of 26 may 1940.

During the following night a total of 7669 British and French soldiers in four dams of the port of Dunkirk had been evacuated to safe places. May 27 began the rescue operation of the coast, which is still considered a key moment of operation Dynamo and is one of the main episodes of the new film by Christopher Nolan.

In fact, the number evacuated in small boats the soldiers only once for all eight days of the operation exceeded the number evacuated from the port of ships. During the day from noon 29 at noon 30 may in this way have been saved 29 of 512 of the British and the French. From the port during this time were evacuated 24 311 soldiers. The rest of the time, however, the number of military personnel who were evacuated in large ships, was much more.

Appropriate was and the overall balance: from may 26 until the night of June 3, the British military and civilian ships taken from the port of Dunkirk 239 446 soldiers, small boats, private yachts and rescue boats from the coast East of Dunkirk were evacuated the remaining 98 780 people.

The German air force and artillery have fired on him from everything that could shoot, and many of their shots reached the goal. The British lost nine warships, mostly destroyers, and about 200 civilian ships and boats. The exact number of victims during the evacuation is still unknown, but there is no doubt that it amounted to a few hundred people.

As the British pursued the goal to save the bulk of their well-trained professional soldiers, they left at Dunkirk all their weapons, in particular, 2472 guns, 20 thousand motorcycles and 65,000 other vehicles. 5 June 1940, the Germans in the “pot” at Dunkirk went to 377 thousand tons of various cargo supplies, 68 thousand tons of ammunition and 147 thousand tons of fuel. In addition, there were 445 all tanks of the British Expeditionary force — wrecked, or intact.

Lord Gort, and the French commander Admiral Jean-Marie Charles Abrial (Jean-Marie Charles Abrial) was one of the last people on the evening of 2 June 1940 was evacuated from Dunkirk. But then, as British General returned home to later become the Governor of Gibraltar, Malta and Palestine, Abrial told me to take him to Cherbourg. He later served the Vichy regime, after the liberation of France in 1944 was sentenced to ten years hard labor.