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.

Men of the British Expeditionary Force arrive in London after evacuation from Dunkirk 1940

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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).

HMS Malcolm, one of the Royal Navy destroyers that gave sterling service during Operation Dynamo

HMS Malcolm, a Scott-class flotilla leader, one of the Royal Navy destroyers that gave sterling service during Operation Dynamo.


British naval losses at Dunkirk, 1 June 1940

Another day of heavy British and French losses off the port of Dunkirk and the beaches at Bray-Dunes and La Panne. Losses were due to air attack (particularly Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers), torpedo-carrying E-boats, and German army artillery sited as shore batteries.

HMS Keith (Capt E. Berthon, RN) came under sustained German air attack off La Panne. Badly damaged and with her steering disabled, Keith fought on until her ammunition was expended. A German bomb entered No. 2 boiler room and started internal fires. The order to abandon ship was given and survivors were taken off by HMS Salamander, HMS Abbs, and the “little ships.”

HMS Havant (Lt Cdr A. Burnell-Nugent, RN) carrying 500+ troops received 3 direct hits from German aircraft. The record notes: “some survivors were machine-gunned” while in the water.

HMS Havant off Dunkirk. Painting by Rex Phillips.

HMS Basilisk (Cdr M. Richmond, RN) bombed and heavily damaged by Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers. Survivors taken off by HMS Whitehall. Basilisk was scuttled by gunfire from Whitehall.

HMS Skipjack (Lr Cdr F. Proudfoot, RN) sunk by 5 direct hits from German aircraft. Skipjack had 275 evacuated troops onboard, most of whom were lost during the attack and sinking.

French Adroit-class destroyer ‘Foudroyant’ bombed & sunk by German aircraft. 137 crew and 83 soldiers rescued.

HMS Mosquito (Lt H. Gardiner, RN) bombed & sunk by German aircraft.

French auxiliary minesweeper ‘Denis Papin’ bombed and sunk by Ju-87 dive bombers.

French auxiliary minesweeper ‘La Mousaillon’ bombed & sunk by Ju-87 dive bombers.

Passenger ship SS Scotia carrying 2500 French troops sunk by German aircraft. Over 300 lost. Survivors rescued by destroyer HMS Esk and “little ships.”

HMT Argyllshire (Lt S/Lt J. Weddle, RNR) torpedoed and sunk by German E-boat S.34.

HMT Stella Dorado
(Skr W. Burgess, RNR) torpedoed & sunk by German E-boat S.34 with loss of all hands.

HMT Lord Cavan (Cdr A. Cubison, Rtd) sunk by German artillery.

HMS St Abbs
, carrying 120+ survivors from HMS Keith, sunk by German aircraft.

HMS St Fagan (Lt Cdr G. Warren, RN) bombed and sunk by German aircraft.