On this day in 1940, the vast majority of Allied troops had been evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk in a mission known as Operation Dynamo. It had begun one week earlier on 27 May, and would take a further two days before every last man had retreated. The operation took its name from the dynamo room that provided electricity in the naval headquarters below Dover Castle. It was in this room that it was planned by British Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay. Under his direction, the ships began gathering at Dover for the mass evacuation.
Operation Dynamo had become a necessary move after British, French and Belgian troops found themselves cut off and surrounded by the German army in the Battle of France. On the first day of the evacuation, only 7,669 men departed French soil, but by 4 June a total of 338,226 men had been rescued by a fleet of some 800 boats.
In a speech given in the House of Commons on the evening of 2 June, Winston Churchill (who had been Prime Minister of Great Britain for less than a month) called the events in France a “colossal military disaster” and claimed that “the whole root and core and brain of the British Army” had been stranded at Dunkirk and seemed about to perish or be captured. Two days later, on 4 June, Churchill would give one of the most famous speeches ever, where he stated that “We will fight them on the beaches.”
The events at Dunkirk have long remained in the public consciousness almost 75 years later.