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The Story Behind the Battle of Dunkirk

Using their unique platforms, Wargaming and Christopher Nolan tell the story of Operation Dynamo, and the soldiers and civilians who gave their all to save their brethren.

Over the course of ten days, British, French, and Belgian troops were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk in what would become a monumental testament to human nature and our will to survive against all odds. This evacuation was code-named Operation Dynamo, but has become known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, and took place from the 26th of May to the 4th of June, 1940.

To celebrate the theatrical release of Christopher Nolan’s epic DUNKIRK, Wargaming created “Remember Dunkirk: Documentary Series” a collective of videos that seek to dive deep into the history of the Battle of Dunkirk. Wargaming took their cameras to the beaches of Dunkirk, France to get a first-hand look at the very landscape where these heroes fought and survived.

The White Cliffs of Dover can be seen from the beaches of France, and were a visual goal for those men stranded on Dunkirk.
The White Cliffs of Dover can be seen from the beaches of France, and were a visual goal for those men stranded on Dunkirk.

Between real-life conflict, Nolan’s DUNKIRK, and Wargaming’s attention-to-detail with their trio of video games, the stories of the Battle of Dunkirk come alive across these three mediums. For those of us that weren’t on the ground to witness the event, we have two incredible platforms that help us understand what those men went through.

Leading up to the event where more than a hundred thousand troops were stranded on the once pristine shoreline, were a host of tactical errors that Winston Churchill described as, “a colossal military disaster.” After Nazi Germany invaded Poland, the British Empire declared war, along with their French allies. From this point, Germany continued to invade surrounding countries, including France, which led to the British sending in support.

The defence did not last, as the German’s pushed the British Expeditionary Force, Belgium forces, and three French armies back to the northern coast of France. From here, the decision was made to retreat across the Channel using Dunkirk, a beach that had not been claimed by the Nazis, this is where Operation Dynamo began: a rescue and retreat operation.

This rescue was not easy going, as depicted in Nolan’s DUNKIRK. While the soldiers waited, the German army continued to assault the beach from the air using the Luftwaffe, while the perimeter was attacked by Panzer divisions until such time that Rundstedt ordered the units to halt.

Unfortunately, the water of Dunkirk was too shallow to allow ships entry, and so an alternative was chosen. Over 800 smaller vessels were used to ferry the soldiers from the beach, out into deeper waters. Included in this flotilla were the likes of merchant ships, fishing boats, pleasure craft, and lifeboats. While some of the men were able to board the larger vessels using the mole, many soldiers had to wade out into neck-high water and wait hours for rescue.

Even throughout the process of the smaller ships collecting the soldiers and bringing them to the larger vessels, the Luftwaffe was unrelenting with the attack. The planes rained down gunfire on the soldiers on the beach and the ships in the water sent to rescue them.

Nolan’s DUNKIRK employs a three-act structure that follows the events of The Mole, The Sea, and The Air. Each perspective tells a harrowing story of what happened in each critical space. All three elements are important in understanding the very real life-and-death situation these soldiers faced. The German’s were attacking from the ground, the air, as well as from their only means of escape, the sea. Wargaming replicated this three-point perspective with their world-leading trio of titles, World of Tanks, World of Warplanes, and World of Warships.

To bring the sense of battle to World of Warplanes, Wargaming’s “Remember Dunkirk” activity included 2 series of missions, one from the view of the Axis forces and one from the Allies. Completing these missions earned the players a themed Premium plane and pilot. This is a direct tie-in to the 3,500 plus sorties that were flown in order to counterattack the Luftwaffe assault.

Meanwhile, players of World of Warships were given the opportunity to re-enact the rescue mission. In the Operation Dynamo cooperative mode, players would work together to rescue and escort troops aboard “little ships”, all while fighting off Axis forces.

The defensive perimeter was the only thing protecting the exposed soldiers on the beach from ground attacks.
The defensive perimeter was the only thing protecting the exposed soldiers on the beach from ground attacks.

Despite the evacuation beginning on the 26th of May, British and French forces continued to attack the German forces in an effort to delay their approach to Dunkirk. This allowed roughly 32,000 men to escape over the first couple of days.

It wasn’t until the 30th of May that Churchill received word that the British divisions had made it behind the defensive perimeter. This perimeter was the only thing keeping the German forces from a full-out assault on the beach, that, and the marshy landscape that was unsuitable for tanks. This lucky break allowed more than 200,000 soldiers to be evacuated from the Eastern mole that stretched out into the ocean.

The problems didn’t stop there, as during the days leading up to the 1st of June, the aerial assault of the beach meant that daytime evacuations were no longer viable. Instead of taking place in the day, rescue missions took place at night, under the cover of darkness. On the 4th of June, Operation Dynamo officially ended with more than 335,000 soldiers having been rescued through the combined efforts of those who fought on land, at sea, and in the air.

Though the rescue mission was a success, many more lives were lost and the initial attack is considered a colossal error.
Though the rescue mission was a success, many more lives were lost and the initial attack is considered a colossal error.

While hundreds of thousands of men arrived home safely, many more were lost to this battle and the events leading to it. Wargaming and Christopher Nolan, through their platforms, have been able to remind us of the great sacrifice and bravery of our men who served during the Battle of Dunkirk, as well as the thousands of civilians who gave their lives to help the soldiers get home.

If you want to learn more about the incredible feats accomplished during the Battle of Dunkirk, head over to Wargaming’s Remember Dunkirk and watch the incredible documentary series. The always elucidating Chieftain makes an appearance in a few videos, while Wargaming has also managed to capture some incredible 360-degree footage from inside a Spitfire plane.

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Sam Chandler

Sam loves all things shooters, whether it's a cheeky chicken dinner in PUBG or diving into a raid in Destiny, he'll be there.