DUNKIRK: OPERATION “DYNAMO” 26TH MAY – 4TH JUNE 1940; AN EPIC OF GALLANTRY

Reviewed by: CHRIS O’FLAHERTY

This latest addition to the Britannia Naval Histories of World War 2 is a delightful volume with a very eloquent, dramatic and engaging introduction written by Mike Pearce.

The majority of the 432 pages are a reproduction of the initially classified Naval Staff History of Operation DYNAMO. These 180 pages of official record, plus multiple annexes amplifying the detail of vessels involved, number of troops evacuated, Commanding Officers etc, are through this work at last easily available to the general public. This element alone is a standout feature of this book, making it an invaluable reference for any enthusiast or historian of this event. The detail of the official history is then further amplified by 92 photographs and illustrations of the vessels, aircraft and events of the Dunkirk evacuation.

The bonus is the 39-page introduction, which sets into context the events in northern France of May and June 1940.  Mike Pearce’s meticulously researched essay quickly draws the reader into the dramatic evacuations that stemmed from a failure of European statecraft, collapse of ill-prepared military defences and ruthless enemy execution of their battle-plan. Reminding us that “the exploits and achievements of the ‘little ships’ have attained an almost mythical status”, the author also points out that “what began as a miserable blunder, a catalogue of misfortunes ended as an epic of gallantry”.  Mike Pearce captures this gallantry to perfection, going on to describe how Operation DYNAMO led on to the oft-forgotten Operations AERIAL and CYCLE which ensured very many more British, Polish and French troops were safely evacuated from the remainder of France, despite sweeping French capitulations.

Mike Pearce is to be warmly congratulated for producing a book that captures an important phase of Europe’s maritime history. It should grace the shelves of anyone interested in understanding or learning from this gallant episode.