Just 21 years after the end of World War One (see my blog of Jan 22), the British army was back in France to fight the Germans. This time the problem was not a bloody stalemate, but the speed and daring of enemy forces who completely outmanoeuvred the Allies.
In May 1940, German panzers attacked through the Ardennes, and advanced 200 miles in just 10 days, reaching the Channel coast, and cutting off the British Expeditionary Force in northern France. There followed a series of desperate rearguard actions as Lord Gort’s army tried to secure a line of retreat to the ports.
Many French and British soldiers fought bravely, as Boulogne was surrendered, then Calais fell, while Belgium’s capitulation left a dangerous gap in the Allied line. In the end, Dunkirk was the only port left, and even that was under constant German attack.
There then followed the most successful part of the whole operation, with nearly 200,000 British and 140,000 French and Belgian troops rescued from the beaches. But Churchill recognised the campaign overall had been a ‘colossal military disaster’. The BEF had lost almost all its equipment, and 66,000 men had been killed, wounded or captured.