Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed war epic, Dunkirk, hit cinemas on 21 July, and soon will be playing at Consett Empire. We take a look at the story behind the film, and recap the key events of 26 May – 4 June 1940.

Operation Dynamo was the code-name of the Dunkirk evacuation, which saw over 300,000 allied soldiers evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk, France, during World War II.

The advancing German forces cut off the majority of escape routes in the area, forcing British and French soldiers onto the beaches of the town. These men  – fathers, husbands and sons – were trapped, sitting ducks that were helpless against the threat of unexpectedly powerful German forces. It is widely acknowledged that the British, French and Belgian governments had underestimated German firepower, which turned out to be far superior to our own at the time.

Panzer tanks waited in the wings for the signal from Hitler to attack. Time was running out.

British Destroyers were sent to rescue as many men from the harbor as possible, although they only had the capacity to take around 30,000.  However, ships sunk by relentless attacks from enemy aircraft blocked the harbor.

It became apparent that the only option was to attempt to take the men directly from the beaches, a seemingly impossible task due to the shallow waters.

On May 27th British Admiral Ramsey, who lead Operation Dynamo, reached out for help, asking British civilians to provide assistance. In response, over 800 fishing boats, trawlers, yachts and many other types of craft sailed over the channel to help. Many of them ferried men to the waiting Destroyers, though some sailed all the way back to England to bring our men home. Over several days, 338,226 men were saved.

Without the community coming to the aid of the allied soldiers, over 300,000 people could’ve perished in what would’ve been a crippling loss to the war effort.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill went on to call the events at Dunkirk a miracle, and referred to the ‘Dunkirk spirit’, something that is still celebrated to this day.

Dunkirk is screening at Consett Empire Cinema from 11th – 17th August.

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