French soldiers & sailors during the evacuation of France, June 1940

French troops and sailors on the deck of a destroyer during the evacuation from France, June 1940. IWM HU 104603.

BBC archive: Bernard Stubbs reports on troops returning from Dunkirk (1940)

“There was every kind of ship I that saw coming in this morning, and every one of them was crammed full of tired battle-stained and  blood-stained British soldiers.”

Reporting from Dover, Bernard Stubbs describes the scene as the ships return from Dunkirk and the troops disembark. He then follows the soldiers onto trains as they head home and also boards a ship to see what the conditions were like. Stubbs notes that, regardless of the strife, the port was well organised and the troops in good spirits.

Recorded: 31 May 1940

Duration: 4 minutes, 23 seconds

Destruction of oil stores at Dunkirk and blocking the harbour

Between 3-4 June 1940, British demolition parties destroyed military material at Dunkirk to deny its use by the enemy. This material included the port’s oil storage tanks. Dunkerque was the third-largest port in France and it was imperative that its facilities and its stores were either disabled or destroyed.

In addition to the demolitions on shore, the Royal Navy scuttled blockships in Dunkirk’s harbour to render it unusable by the Germans. These blockships were: SS Westcove (sunk 3 June), SS Holland (3 June), HMS Env. Nissan (3 June), SS Gurko (4 June), and SS Pacifico (4 June).


Ships off the beaches at Dunkirk, c.3 June 1940. Smoke billows from burning oil storage tanks. © IWM (C 1720)

Aerial view of burning oil tanks at Dunkirk, June 1940. © IWM (C 1723)

A Hudson of RAF Coastal Command patrols over Dunkirk, as oil storage tanks burn fiercely in the background, c. 3 June 1940. © IWM (C 1717)

Dunkirk evacuation 3 June 1940

Evacuated from beaches: 1,870

Evacuated Dunkirk harbour: 24,876

Daily total: 26,746

Accumulated total: 312,051

Source: Thompson, Julian. Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory. New York: Arcade, 2011.

War Walks: Dunkirk

Documentary by the late military historian Richard Holmes, one of the greats, on the miracle of Dunkirk.

From the BBC archives: A member of the crew aboard HMS Malcolm recounts the evacuation at Dunkirk.

From the BBC archives: A member of the crew aboard HMS Malcolm recounts the evacuation at Dunkirk.

Mechanic F. C. Turner recounts how HMS Malcolm was sent to Dunkirk to help pick up troops, including soldiers who had to be rescued from the SS Clan McAlister which was bombed by German aircraft. He describes in detail the scene at Dunkirk, including when the ship came close to being bombed, and the notorious mud that hindered the evacuation. Typically, he had no food or sleep and only one cup of tea throughout the entire mission. This recording was made for the programme ‘Dunkirk: A Personal Perspective’ (broadcast 1950).

Massey Shaw fireboat approaching Dunkirk, 2 June 1940 – painting by Rudolf Haybrook

London fireboat ‘Massey Shaw approaching Dunkirk at 11PM on 2 June 1940. Painting by Rudolf Haybrook. With a volunteer crew from the London Fire Brigade, Massey Shaw made three trips to Dunkirk and evacuated over 500 troops.

The London Fire-Boat 'Massey Shaw' approaching Dunkirk at 11 pm on the 2nd June 1940
The London Fire-Boat ‘Massey Shaw’ approaching Dunkirk at 11 pm on the 2nd June 1940© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 248)