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Miracle of Dunkirk

  • 80th Anniversary commemorative

  • Operation Dynamo, “the Miracle of Dunkirk”

  • 5oz 999 Silver coin

  • Coin struck on 26th May 2020, 80 years to the day!

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1st September 1939: Adolph Hitler’s German forces invade Poland and WWII begins. Hitler’s troops and Panzer tanks, under the command of General Heinz Guderian, push west, invading Holland and then Belgium. France, and Britain, through the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) comprising 13 infantry divisions, respond to Hitler’s “Blitzkrieg.” By May of 1940, France has already fallen and Allied forces where overwhelmed.

The Maginot Line, a barrier-fortified defence, protects the French-German border. The northern Ardennes region of France is heavily forested, seemingly impassable to invading troops. The German troops find a way through the wooded area and attack the Allies from behind, forcing them into Belgium. Guderian’s tanks charge past Boulogne and Calais to cross the canal defence line close to Dunkirk, the northernmost city of France, lying 10km from the Belgian border.

On 19th May, Viscount Gort, Commander of the BEF, realising that a massacre of troops is imminent, orders British forces back to England across the English Channel. If these troops, numbering over 400,000 are killed, an invasion of England is a certainty. The only port left for an Allied withdrawal is Dunkirk. Exposed and alone, the Allies had never been more vulnerable.

Due to the shallow waters around Dunkirk, British destroyers were unable to assist in the evacuation alone. Then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, through the small-craft section of the British Ministry of Shipping, calls for all boats with a shallow draft to navigate Dunkirk’s waters to assist in the rescue. Pleasure boats, yachts, ferries, fishing boats and launches moored on the River Thames and along the south and east coasts respond to the call. Over 850 smaller ships of all kind took part in Operation Dynamo (the code name for the evacuation).

24th May: Guderian anticipates the order to attack the troops at Dunkirk. The order is never given. Instead, Hitler orders a withdrawal back to the canal line. One theory suggests that Hitler was willing to stave off the massacre in the hopes that Britain would surrender. Another theory is that Guderian’s tanks needed urgent servicing to protect Germany’s own troops. Whatever the case, this delay in action allowed Operation Dynamo to proceed.

26th May – 4th June: The evacuation commenced with the call for all boats to assist. The hope was to rescue tens of thousands men from certain death as they waited on the beach, while the German forces no more than a couple of days away. Bombing bombardment continued turning the Dunkirk’s town to rubble.

4th June: Operation Dynamo ends. Assisted by naval ships at sea, the armada of smaller ships rescues a total of 198,229 British and 139,997 French troops. Ultimately over 335,000 Allies had been saved from the jaws of certain death, and lived to fight another day.

On this day Churchill also addressed the House of Common and made his impassioned “we will fight on the beaches” speech. It roused a nation and a free world into action and defiance as the spectre of the Nazi regime continued to spread across Europe. Hours earlier Churchill’s resolve and that of all of Great Britain was strengthened by the gallant efforts of 1,000 ships of all kinds that massed in the French port of Dunkirk to rescue over 335,000 men facing certain slaughter at the hands of German forces. With no thought of their own safety, the captains and crews of these boats changed the course of World War II.

Churchill called Operation Dynamo “the Miracle at Dunkirk.” History has shown that it was much more than that. With the BEF rescued, an invasion of Britain was no longer a foregone conclusion. If those soldiers had perished, the invasion of Britain and even worse – surrender to Hitler – was a grave reality. With the forces secure on home soil, the fight for freedom would continue and Britain gained a significant boost in morale thanks to what has come to be known as the “Dunkirk spirit.” In the days ahead, the British would need that spirit more than ever. The Battle of Britain would test their resolve like no other conflict before…

The Dunkirk Spirt, as it has come to be known, has passed into the vernacular. The very definition of a never-give-in fighting determination, the events of Dunkirk remind us to help and stand together when all seems darkest. Courage, in the face of overwhelming odds, lets us grow and endure.

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