We must be careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory.

Wars are not won by evacuations.

Winston Churchill

British troops on board a destroyer at Dover

In May 1940, British and French troops found themselves stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk after they had been pushed back to the Channel by Hitler’s forces. The German advance had swept rapidly through northern Europe and France, and it was only a matter of weeks before the Allies were facing attack and capture at Dunkirk. Their only hope was an evacuation from the beaches to British soil. This rescue mission - Operation Dynamo - was hurriedly planned and executed.

For the nine days between 27 May and 4 June, over 338,000 soldiers were rescued in warships as well as a host of pleasure boats and other small craft, the now famous ‘little ships’. The successful evacuation was hailed as a miraculous feat by press and public, but losses were heavy and Churchill was cautious in his praise.