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1940 A.D. - God and Weather: The Evacuation of Dunkirk

 

 

 

  On 7 December of 1941 the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor was bombed in a well planned and bold attack by Japanese aviators intent on announcing their intentions to war against the USA by striking a deadly blow before war was ever declared between us. After this, the national will of America was largely unified, and angered Americans chose to enter WWII on the side of the Allies. For most Americans there is quite a lot of familiarity with WWII from that point onward, as it involved our nation deeply and affected us in so many facets of life.   

  Some of us also know that the British, French, Belgians and others were defending themselves furiously long before that time against an extremely formidable German led Axis of foes, the theater of Europe seeing much of the heaviest of this action. There was no shortage of courage among the soldiers on either side, but the superiority in weaponry lay quite largely with the Axis in the war's beginning. For the Allies it was a desperate struggle against a well armed and swift moving foe. To them, knowing something of the scope and potency of the earthly powers arrayed against them, the days looked dark indeed. And there came a military development on the coast of France wherein approximately 330,000 Allied soldiers became trapped against the ocean and had virtually no chance of successfully battling their way out of the situation.

  The Axis troops - specifically the Germans - had launched an assault in the westward direction into France. They moved quickly, skirting France's large array of earthwork defenses called the Maginot Line. Their tanks moved much more swiftly than had been anticipated. Soon the surviving British and French forces were scrambling in a disorganized retreat to try to save their forces for another day's fight. Fleeing, they came to the ocean, and that's how they found themselves backed up to the French beach at Dunkirk roughly across the English Channel from Dover, England.

  The fast and rugged German tanks were bearing down upon them at a formidable pace and it looked as if they would soon be upon the Allies before Allied forces could organize and set their defenses. But then, when things looked hopeless, the first act of God occurred. Someone in the German Command felt that the German tanks - now poised to smash a vulnerabe foe - had in fact outrun their supply chain and their support forces. They called the tanks to a halt just before they were within striking distance, about 20 miles from Dunkirk, preferring to slow the action down and take a more measured and conservative approach to the slaughter of the trapped Allies. Had they struck, probably only God could have stopped them.

  To the Allied command there appeared no hope for these trapped Allied forces but to evacuate them - to rescue these penned in soldiers via ships approaching near to the coast from sea. But there appeared, additionally, to be no likely way to accomplish that in time. At stake, quite literally, was the probable outcome of the war. Was there any way to recover from the loss or capture of 1/3 of a million soldiers? No one in the Allied Command was inclined to believe so. In those perilous days from May 26, 1940 to June 4, 1940 an evacuation was necessary, and it was undertaken, and it was counted as a 'do or die' situation. But its success seemed very unlikely.

  We can only guess at the number of prayers which rose in those days to God and Jesus, begging for a miracle of deliverance. In Britain, King George the VI (father of the present Queen Elizabeth) declared a National Day of Prayer for the imperiled troops of his land. But the One who sees every sparrow fall is certainly aware of occurrences of such a magnitude as this; the outcome of this predicament that the Allies were in would affect the character and nature of the world's forseeable future. Would a totalitarian governance prevail, or something much more like freedom? Would a Catholic affiliated leader named Adolph Hitler prevail, and allow the destruction of all of God's chosen people, the Jews? He would have approximately 6 million killed before this war ended. If so, how could God fulfill His promise that the Jews would one day be regathered to the land of Israel? He is God...He would have been able to do it anyway.  But you can see the danger as it appeared in that day and time.  Great questions were to be determined in this war. And if this particular evacuation didn't go well, the war might just be about over.

  The Allies could muster a fair number of ships - large destroyers both French and British. But large ships waiting to receive evacuees were a very stationary target. And the German Luftwaffe had appproximately twice as many planes available for use in this battle as the Allies did. They could wreak havoc from the air while the evacuation was underway, and there was simply no one numerically capable of stopping them.

  Almost no one, that is to say.

  Towering clouds, pregnant with rain, formed and moved in upon the German airstrips, and the storm began. It was so heavy that their planes were largely grounded, unable to lift off and attack. This, and the reigning in of the tanks, gave the Allies some breathing space which they desperately needed.

  Defenses were set. Plans were made. It was called Operation Dynamo (Allied Commanders met in a room where a 'dynamo', a type of electrical generator, was installed), and ships were sent. And as the ships arrived, a dense and heavy fog moved in between Germans and Allies as well, through which the Germans would have to advance if they were to attack. Moving blindly into fog in which your desperate and cornered foe is waiting is no easy business, and the Germans again chose patience.

  Meanwhile, on the beaches from which the evacuees would depart, an oddity was occurring. Over the next days, as bad as the weather was between the Germans and the stranded Allies, it was conversely that good at the beach itself. The normally turbulent seas of the English Channel were extraordinarily calm. Reading descriptions by eye witnesses, you keep coming across phrases like 'glassy calm', or 'smooth as a mill pond'. This is the notoriously tubulent North Sea, basically, sheltered only a bit by being in the English Channel. There was no reason to expect good weather here! And there near the beach the skies were largely clear, and not bad for flying. The Allied planes could operate.

  Over the next nine days the evacuations went forward with all possible swiftness. The vast array of Allied military vehicles, weapons, and hardware had to be abandoned - a terribly hurtful blow to the Allies - but the soldiers themselves were being rescued. By the hundreds of thousands the French and British soldiers were being saved. And this fortuitous weather held and held.

  With much evacuation work left to do and time drawing on, a call went out in England asking that all ship owners having crafts in excess of 30' rally off of Dunkirk and await there for orders for aiding in the evacuation. Though 42 destroyers and other large ships did the bulk of the work, removing approximately 80% of the men using the 'mole' (a sort of military pier reaching out into the sea to a depth where the large ships could moor and anchor, staying clear of the sea bed) these 'little ships of Dunkirk' are what is so often remembered.

  Ordinary citizens and commercial mariners by the scores moved in to the shallow water near the beaches, where the big ships couldn't go, and they picked up tens of thousands of men, bearing them safely away to England approximately 30 miles away. There the British fed and sheltered them all in various camps, in Kent for instance, with the local populations pitching in to provide.

  Today, as many of these little vessels as still survive have the right to fly a flag bearing the image of a St. George's Cross on the jack staff, distinguishing them as a proud participant in the Dunkirk Evacuation. About 192,000 British and 139,000 French were rescued in total, perhaps 1/5 th of these in the small ships. Braving U-boats and before it was over some other attacks, 6 British destroyers and 3 French destroyers were sunk.

  A tremendous - almost unthinkable - amount of military equipment was left behind at Dunkirk for the Germans to inherent.  Over 416,000 tones of general military stores, 2,400 large guns, over 60,000 vehicles, over 20,000 motorcycles, and 76,000 tones of ammunition.  Enough abandoned battle equipage and stores to fight many of history's entire wars! 

  The day after the Evacuation of Dunkirk ended the weather shifted, and winds rose causing large breakers to be seen crashing into the now cleared beaches of Dunkirk.

  There was loss of life. And in the end, there were French divisions who stayed behind to defend the rear as the last of the evacuees were removed. These many thousand brave French soldiers knew they had no hope of winning.  They stood their ground, but were captured or killed.

  In England, this remarkable evacuation was greeted with near national euphoria, such was their joy and thanks to God. The British people felt strongly that it was God, Yahweh!, who had aided them and saved nearly their entire army. They were so happy that Winston Churchill felt compelled to remind them that evacuations did not actually win wars. But the importance of this success was lost on no one, and gave both nations - France and England - a badly needed boost in their morale. How could they not feel that God was looking out for them, with the entire 9 day operation attended with such uncharacteristic weather as is almost never seen there, working to the distinct advantage of the Allies, and the distinct hinderance of the Germans?

  Perhaps this story was in General Patton's mind about 5 years later when he called upon God in a great prayer for aid against these same formidable Germans, and received it. That account is also listed on this site.  And you can find such instances frequently in the Old Testament of the Bible, where God's people, calling upon Him in prayer, received weather which acted with almost surgical precision upon the enemies of His people, but not upon His people the Israelites, though the battle might be already in progress.

 

  Above is a special flag that the Little Ships of Dunkirk are allowed to fly!

  The people of God have a mighty mighty shield in their God. Let others take note, and let us who believe in God and Jesus take care to walk in His ways, so that we can remain under the care and protection of so mighty a God as this. Let's honor God and love our neighbor with zeal, as if Jesus stood beside us. That is hard at times, but it should be our goal. When Jesus comes, let Him find us honoring Him without reservation, humbly but openly and without hesitance.  Praise to our mighty God, and to Jesus, His Son and our Redeemer. 

©2017 Daniel Curry & 'Deeds of God' Website