Not Exactly Dunkirk

 

I’m sentimental about a lot of things I probably shouldn’t be sentimental about, and World War II is one of them. I appreciate what seems, from this far remove, to be the moral clarity, shared resolve, and simple virtue of that awful global convulsion. I miss the stoicism of that era. Despite their relative impoverishment, Americans of 80 years ago lived a life in some ways richer than most of us live today.

Operation Dynamo, the “Miracle of Dunkirk” as it’s commonly known, was the heroic rescue, by a ragtag fleet of boats of every description, of more than 200,000 soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force that had been trapped by the Germans on the beaches of France. More than 100,000 allied soldiers and civilians were also rescued. They faced almost certain defeat and capture but were saved by British sailors, civilians, and military alike, who mobilized hundreds of vessels, down to small fishing boats, to cross the English Channel and bring the men home.

The French deserve a big nod as well: they lost more than 15,000 of their own men while aiding in the evacuation.

More than a quarter of the 800 boats involved in the rescue were sunk; as much as 80% of the entire British military materiel inventory, from machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons to tanks and vehicles, was left behind.

It was a dramatic moment in a terrible war, a painful victory snatched from what would have been a horrific defeat, and at a terrible cost.

It was in its own way glorious — and nothing at all like what we just did in Afghanistan.

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  1. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    I’m not sentimental about Dunkirk at all.

    It was a huge blunder – by the Germans – they paused when they could have mopped up the beaches easily.

    So in that sense, Dunkirk and Afghanistan are a lot alike. Placing yourself at the mercy of your enemies.

    And that Dunkirk happened is a huge indictment of the French and British forces. Similarly, the way the Afghan withdrawal occurred is a huge indictment of the American military.

    As a result, Britain would be a big loser in World War 2, having to rely on two powers who would come to eclipse it.

    It remains to be seen if we will be eclipsed. My guess is we won’t.

    • #1
  2. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    I agree with you about Dunkirk.

    I don’t know about your conclusion, Hank.  So far, the Afghanistan evacuation appears to have been significantly more successful than Dunkirk, with far lower casualties.

    I also have a historical question.  I don’t recall Dunkirk involving the evacuation of any significant number of civilians.  Do you have figures for this?  My recollection is that the bulk of the evacuees were British troops, along with a smaller number of French troops.

    • #2
  3. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Excellent post, Henry.  I too am sentimental about WWII. And I think, like you, that in many ways it was a better time than now. For one thing, we were not infested by “progressives” and others who now are either lukewarm in their love for their country — or who seem to hate the country they live in. They exaggerate its blemishes and dismiss its strengths and freedoms.

    • #3
  4. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    There is a difference between Dunkirk, and Biden’s Dumbkirk. Two different wars.

    • #4
  5. Buckpasser Member
    Buckpasser
    @Buckpasser

    Dunkirk was so soldiers could fight another day.  Dumkirk is so we could surrender at a joebidenstan time table.

    • #5
  6. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    I don’t recall Dunkirk involving the evacuation of any significant number of civilians.

    I don’t think there was a significant number of civilians, Jerry. There were enough foreign nationals present, some in logistical support roles, to lead me to assume that there were likely some civilians present, but that’s really just me guessing: I’ve never seen specific documentation to that effect. I’d be very surprised if there were none; I’d also be surprised if there were more than a few hundred.

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    I too am sentimental about WWII. And I think, like you, that in many ways it was a better time than now.

    It will take a lot of progressive nonsense and cultural decay to outweigh for me the material benefits of modernity. I’m less confident than I’d like to be that we won’t reach that point in my lifetime.

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    There is a difference between Dunkirk, and Biden’s Dumbkirk. Two different wars.

    Two vastly different motives. Dunkirk was evacuated to save an army. Afghanistan was abandoned to… I don’t know… curry favor with the right constituency I guess. That’s some damned expensive pandering.

    • #6
  7. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Dunkirk was the result of the British being forced out of France, a temporary setback on the road to eventual victory. What happened in Afghanistan was a voluntary surrender and final defeat in the most humiliating manner possible. 

    • #7
  8. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    We shouldn’t overestimate the moral unity at Dunkirk. The British had a significant pacifist sector in the 1930’s that positively hated Britain and the Empire. Britain went to war reluctantly in 1939 after the invasion of Poland, and was content with the “phony war” stalemate in Western Europe that prevailed until May 1940 (although the Battle of the Atlantic was very much a real war.)

    The rapid defeat of the British and French via Blitzkrieg that resulted in Dunkirk shocked the British, similar to the way we were shocked by 9/11. Even then there were significant elements that wanted to negotiate an armistice with the Germans. Churchill prevailed, but that wasn’t a sure thing. WW2 was for the British something they had to get done because they had no choice.

    Afghanistan is on the far side of the globe and its hard to see how what happens there affects us. If we get another 9/11 style attack, you’ll see plenty of moral unity in this country.

    • #8
  9. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    Hang On (View Comment):

    I’m not sentimental about Dunkirk at all.

    It was a huge blunder – by the Germans – they paused when they could have mopped up the beaches easily.

    So in that sense, Dunkirk and Afghanistan are a lot alike. Placing yourself at the mercy of your enemies.

    And that Dunkirk happened is a huge indictment of the French and British forces. Similarly, the way the Afghan withdrawal occurred is a huge indictment of the American military.

    As a result, Britain would be a big loser in World War 2, having to rely on two powers who would come to eclipse it.

    It remains to be seen if we will be eclipsed. My guess is we won’t.

    Nonsense and mythmaking.  Dunkirk was not a military blunder by the Germans.  Their was no pause.  They could not mop up the beaches easily.  Guederian and others made that story up because they wanted to impress the British who were their jailors at the time.

    Remember France doesnt fall for 3 MORE WEEKS! 

     

     

    • #9
  10. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Hang On (View Comment):
    I’m not sentimental about Dunkirk at all.

    Okay, well, it’s probably just me then. I think the sudden mobilization of hundreds of vessels and thousands of men in a desperate last-ditch effort to save a probably doomed army at great personal risk — with hundreds of boats sinking and thousands of men dying in the effort — is dramatic, noble, and inspiring. Sure, one can look at why the situation arose in the first place, and what the Germans may have done wrong in not taking advantage of it, and errors made in the effort. But that doesn’t detract — for me, at least — from the heroic sacrifice of the men who took part in the rescue. And the entire event stands in stark contrast — for me, at least — to the callow and treacherous abandonment of Afghanistan by a president who has never been a good man and always been a fool.

    J Climacus (View Comment):
    We shouldn’t overestimate the moral unity at Dunkirk.

    It would be a mistake to reduce the past to something more simple and fundamentally limited, in terms of the diversity of motives and passions of its people, than is the present. I understand that, and tacitly acknowledge it in my first paragraph. At the same time, I can appreciate the resolve and sacrifice of the participants in this specific rescue effort without dwelling on the pacifist movement in Britain and the British government’s misguided tolerance of Germany’s rise despite Churchill’s continuing warnings before he became Prime Minister.

    • #10
  11. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Hang On (View Comment):

    I’m not sentimental about Dunkirk at all.

    It was a huge blunder – by the Germans – they paused when they could have mopped up the beaches easily.

    So in that sense, Dunkirk and Afghanistan are a lot alike. Placing yourself at the mercy of your enemies.

    And that Dunkirk happened is a huge indictment of the French and British forces. Similarly, the way the Afghan withdrawal occurred is a huge indictment of the American military.

    As a result, Britain would be a big loser in World War 2, having to rely on two powers who would come to eclipse it.

    It remains to be seen if we will be eclipsed. My guess is we won’t.

    I don’t think that Dunkirk itself was a failure for the British.  It was a success for the British, in a limited way.

    In what way do you think that the occurrence of Dunkirk was an indictment of the French and British forces?  I is certainly true that the Dyle Plan ended in failure.  Whether it mattered is a judgment call.  I do think that the Dyle Plan was a bad tactical move, but it is possible that the Germans would have won anyway.

    I can’t think of anything other than the Dyle Plan that would be an error by the French and British forces.  I can think of many decisions that, at least in hindsight, look like errors by the French and British governments.

    • #11
  12. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Dunkirk was the result of the British being forced out of France, a temporary setback on the road to eventual victory. What happened in Afghanistan was a voluntary surrender and final defeat in the most humiliating manner possible.

    This is interesting.  I feel no humiliation.  I realize that other people feel differently.

    I don’t interpret this as a defeat for the US.  It was a failure of the mission, as the mission morphed, but I think that the morphed nation-building mission was unwise.  I supported it at the time, and came to believe that it had been a mistake.

    I don’t think that we surrendered.  We withdrew.  No US troops surrendered.  It’s not as if we lost land that we claimed, either.

    We ended up stuck in the middle of an Afghan civil war, involving many factions, all rather odious in my estimation.  The Taliban is bad, and ISIS-K is bad, and the former Afghan government was bad.  For me, the ongoing effort didn’t have much prospect for success, and it was costly, so I supported the decision to end it.

    It’s a strange situation, because I’ve ended up agreeing with President Biden on this point.  That is unusual.  I don’t like Biden, and I disagree with him about a great many things.  On this issue, I agree with Biden because I was persuaded to favor withdrawal from Afghanistan a few years ago — by President Trump.

    • #12
  13. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    . . .

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    There is a difference between Dunkirk, and Biden’s Dumbkirk. Two different wars.

    Two vastly different motives. Dunkirk was evacuated to save an army. Afghanistan was abandoned to… I don’t know… curry favor with the right constituency I guess. That’s some damned expensive pandering.

    Hank, can you think of any good arguments for the withdrawal from Afghanistan?

    I can think of good arguments on both sides.

    • #13
  14. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    . . .

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    There is a difference between Dunkirk, and Biden’s Dumbkirk. Two different wars.

    Two vastly different motives. Dunkirk was evacuated to save an army. Afghanistan was abandoned to… I don’t know… curry favor with the right constituency I guess. That’s some damned expensive pandering.

    Hank, can you think of any good arguments for the withdrawal from Afghanistan?

    I can think of good arguments on both sides.

    Jerry, yes, I can. I think withdrawal would have been wise if we were achieving little or no positive objectives there, or if we were suffering unacceptable casualties or expense.

    I don’t think either of those conditions was met: I think we provided valuable stability at relatively low risk and cost.

    I would have chosen to remain. I am generally in favor of a muscular US global presence. But once the decision was made to leave, I think it should have been done with far more concern for those left behind.

    • #14
  15. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    I’m not sentimental about Dunkirk at all.

    It was a huge blunder – by the Germans – they paused when they could have mopped up the beaches easily.

    So in that sense, Dunkirk and Afghanistan are a lot alike. Placing yourself at the mercy of your enemies.

    And that Dunkirk happened is a huge indictment of the French and British forces. Similarly, the way the Afghan withdrawal occurred is a huge indictment of the American military.

    As a result, Britain would be a big loser in World War 2, having to rely on two powers who would come to eclipse it.

    It remains to be seen if we will be eclipsed. My guess is we won’t.

    Nonsense and mythmaking. Dunkirk was not a military blunder by the Germans. Their was no pause. They could not mop up the beaches easily. Guederian and others made that story up because they wanted to impress the British who were their jailors at the time.

    Remember France doesnt fall for 3 MORE WEEKS!

    I don’t follow the end of this comment.  What point are you making by noting that France didn’t fall for 3 weeks after Dunkirk?  The emphasis seems to suggest that you find this important, but I don’t understand why.  Sorry if I’m being obtuse.

    • #15
  16. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    . . .

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    There is a difference between Dunkirk, and Biden’s Dumbkirk. Two different wars.

    Two vastly different motives. Dunkirk was evacuated to save an army. Afghanistan was abandoned to… I don’t know… curry favor with the right constituency I guess. That’s some damned expensive pandering.

    Hank, can you think of any good arguments for the withdrawal from Afghanistan?

    I can think of good arguments on both sides.

    Jerry, yes, I can. I think withdrawal would have been wise if we were achieving little or no positive objectives there, or if we were suffering unacceptable casualties or expense.

    I don’t think either of those conditions was met: I think we provided valuable stability at relatively low risk and cost.

    I would have chosen to remain. I am generally in favor of a muscular US global presence. But once the decision was made to leave, I think it should have been done with far more concern for those left behind.

    Fair enough.  I think that the cost was pretty high, though thankfully not in American lives in the past couple of years.  The financial cost was extraordinary, I think.  I’ve heard an estimate of $55 billion/year, I think (from Ben Shapiro, if I recall correctly).  That’s a lot of money, though I’m not sure that the figure is correct.

    To put that in perspective, consider VDH’s argument a couple of days ago regarding the (alleged) value of the equipment left behind in Afghanistan:  

    We can look at this disaster in a number of depressing ways. One would be to compare this giveaway to military aid given to Israel over the last 70 years, which more or less has amounted to about an aggregate $100 billion. In other words, in one fell swoop, the Pentagon deposited into Taliban hands about 80 percent of all the military aid that we’ve ever given to Israel since the founding of the Jewish state. 

    So I’m going to turn this around, and assume that the $55 billion/year is correct as the ongoing cost of intervention in Afghanistan.  To paraphrase VDH, this would mean that the supposedly “low cost” of the Afghan war amounted, each year, to about 55 percent of all the military aid that we’ve ever given to Israel.

    I have a personal note about the potential risk to our troops.  It is true that losses were pretty small for the last couple of years.  I don’t think that there’s any guarantee that they would remain low.

    My oldest son is a Marine.  He deployed to Central America last year, and I did not lose any sleep.  He may deploy to Japan soon, and I don’t expect to lose any sleep.  If he had been sent to Afghanistan, I believe that I would have had many sleepless nights.  It was not safe there.

    • #16
  17. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    . . .

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    There is a difference between Dunkirk, and Biden’s Dumbkirk. Two different wars.

    Two vastly different motives. Dunkirk was evacuated to save an army. Afghanistan was abandoned to… I don’t know… curry favor with the right constituency I guess. That’s some damned expensive pandering.

    Hank, can you think of any good arguments for the withdrawal from Afghanistan?

    I can think of good arguments on both sides.

    Jerry, yes, I can. I think withdrawal would have been wise if we were achieving little or no positive objectives there, or if we were suffering unacceptable casualties or expense.

    I don’t think either of those conditions was met: I think we provided valuable stability at relatively low risk and cost.

    I would have chosen to remain. I am generally in favor of a muscular US global presence. But once the decision was made to leave, I think it should have been done with far more concern for those left behind.

    I have been reading Scott Hortons book on Afghanistan.  And I have to say I disagree with your position.  The fact that the Afghan War increased Heroin production into the west, and has led to that crisis on the home front is a big problem for the West.

    The war was lost around 2002.  When the US Army deliberately decided to start a war with a then surrendered Taliban.

    • #17
  18. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):

    I’m not sentimental about Dunkirk at all.

    It was a huge blunder – by the Germans – they paused when they could have mopped up the beaches easily.

    So in that sense, Dunkirk and Afghanistan are a lot alike. Placing yourself at the mercy of your enemies.

    And that Dunkirk happened is a huge indictment of the French and British forces. Similarly, the way the Afghan withdrawal occurred is a huge indictment of the American military.

    As a result, Britain would be a big loser in World War 2, having to rely on two powers who would come to eclipse it.

    It remains to be seen if we will be eclipsed. My guess is we won’t.

    Nonsense and mythmaking. Dunkirk was not a military blunder by the Germans. Their was no pause. They could not mop up the beaches easily. Guederian and others made that story up because they wanted to impress the British who were their jailors at the time.

    Remember France doesnt fall for 3 MORE WEEKS!

    I don’t follow the end of this comment. What point are you making by noting that France didn’t fall for 3 weeks after Dunkirk? The emphasis seems to suggest that you find this important, but I don’t understand why. Sorry if I’m being obtuse.

    Capturing Paris is a 100 times more important for the German Army in 1940, than doing a costly reduction of a small British salient.

    The german high command believes, probably correctly, that Von Klucks tangling with the BEF in 1914, prevented the capture of Paris on time.  Thus causing them to lose WW1.  They werent going to allow some fleeing Brits to prevent them from capturing Paris.

    People forget that during Dunkirk the French army is still tying down the bulk of the German Army.  Most people forget the battle of France is still going on a month past Dunkirk.  There is no tanks to send in against the British, cause they are fighting the French Army.  

     

    • #18
  19. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    . . .

    I don’t follow the end of this comment. What point are you making by noting that France didn’t fall for 3 weeks after Dunkirk? The emphasis seems to suggest that you find this important, but I don’t understand why. Sorry if I’m being obtuse.

    Capturing Paris is a 100 times more important for the German Army in 1940, than doing a costly reduction of a small British salient.

    The german high command believes, probably correctly, that Von Klucks tangling with the BEF in 1914, prevented the capture of Paris on time. Thus causing them to lose WW1. They werent going to allow some fleeing Brits to prevent them from capturing Paris.

    People forget that during Dunkirk the French army is still tying down the bulk of the German Army. Most people forget the battle of France is still going on a month past Dunkirk. There is no tanks to send in against the British, cause they are fighting the French Army.

    David, I don’t think that this is correct about the location of the German panzers.  I haven’t checked this with a published historical source, but I did recall this interesting YouTube animation of the Fall of France.  I can’t personally attest to its accuracy, though it is consistent with my general recollection from prior studies.

    In the video, it shows the Panzer units in red boxes, and the French armor in blue boxes.  

    You’ll see the Panzers break through at Sedan, and then drive to the sea.  They remain in the area to the south of the Dunkirk perimeter, pretty much until the evacuation is complete.  During this period, there are no Panzer units anywhere on the main front with the French.

    You can also see that the remainder of the front was largely static until the Dunkirk evacuation was complete.

    Are you saying that this is incorrect?

     

    • #19
  20. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Sorry. Clicked the wrong button. :-)

    • #20
  21. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    The Brits had last spring, but as of August 13:

    Operation Pitting will be commanded from the UK’s Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood and is the name for military support to the evacuation of British Nationals and former British staff eligible for relocation under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP).

    This will be led by the 600 members of the Armed Forces who have already begun to deploy, with members of 16 Air Assault Brigade leaving this weekend.

    I imagine they are helping the Afghans and Americans who were not able to get out with our military’s departure.

    That is good to know. At least the Afghans have someone there who can help them escape.

    This is a good list of charities that are helping the Afghans still inside Afghanistan and being threatened by the Taliban and refugees who have been relocated.

     

    • #21