Dunkirk on Wednesday, May 22, 1940

Calais May 1940

A summary of the WWII events this day:

  • The Battle of Boulogne and the Siege of Calais began.
  • A halt order is issued by the German High Command, with Adolf Hitler’s approval, to a German Panzer Division rapidly approaching the French coast.
  • Britain passed the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1940 putting banks, munitions production, wages, profits and work conditions under the control of the state.
  • Netherlands Premier De Geer begins cooperating with Nazis. Queen Wilhelmina calls him a traitor and deserter to the Dutch cause and promised that he would be put on trial after the liberation.

The way to think of Calais is that it made the coming miracle of Dunkirk possible. Historian Jon Latimer’s perspective:

The German forces that crossed the frontiers of the Netherlands, Belgium and France on May 10, 1940, so completely succeeded in their aim of cutting through the Allies’ defenses that within 10 days they had reached the Channel coast and cut the BEF and a French army off from the rest of France. On May 19, the commander in chief of the BEF, General Gort, warned the British War Office that it might have to consider evacuating the BEF. The same day, discussions began between the War Office and the Admiralty under the code name “Dynamo” about the “possible but unlikely evacuation of a very large force in hazardous circumstances.”

Following an enforced day of rest, the panzers were on the move again on May 22. Having reached the coast near St. Valéry two days earlier, they were now instructed to swing northeast toward the Channel ports. Resistance was patchy and disorganized, and by the evening they had reached the gates of both Boulogne and Calais. The next day, the 1st Panzer Division was moved from the gates of Calais to attack the British toward the line of the Aa Canal to the east, and the 10th Panzer Division was brought in to mop up the defenders of the famous old port.

From Walter Lord’s book, The Miracle of Dunkirk, how BEF Commander Gort covered his bases and continued to keep his focus on evacuation:

[While Gort had agreed with Ironside during their meeting on the 20th] … that didn’t make him a true believer. Once back at [headquarters] following that meeting, [Chief of Staff] Pownall was immediately summoned. The purpose, it turned out, was not to plan the drive south [as per the Ironside plan]. Rather, he was to draw up a plan for retiring north [in the likely event the drive south failed].

[Gort’s] Operations Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Bridgeman worked on those plans for withdrawing the whole BEF to the coast for evacuation. … and decided that the best bet was the 27-mile stretch of coast between Dunkirk and the Belgian town of Ostend. By the morning of May 22 he had covered every detail he could think of. Each corps was allocated the routes it would use, the stretch of coast it would hold.

Finally, as per Lord’s book, how the evacuation planning continued to evolve at the War Office in London:

[The prior day’s plan was] 10,000 men would be lifted every 24 hours from each of the three ports—still Boulogne, Calais, and Dunkirk. The ships would work the ports in pairs, no more than two ships at a time in any of the three harbors. To do the job, Ramsay had allotted 30 cross-Channel ferries, twelve steam drifters, and six coastal cargo ships.

By the following day, the 22nd, everything had changed again. Now the panzers were attacking Boulogne and Calais; only Dunkirk was left. There would be no more of these meticulous plans; no more general meetings of all concerned. Ramsay, an immensely practical man, realized that the battlefront was changing faster than meetings could be held. By now everybody knew what had to be done anyhow; the important thing was to be quick and flexible. Normal channels, standard operating procedures, and other forms of red tape were jettisoned.

Recap of our Road to Dunkirk:

  • 1940.05.23 – German Panzer Division drive towards the coast stops.
  • 1940.05.22 – The Battle of Boulogne and the Siege of Calais began.
  • 1940.05.21 – Planning for evacuation ramped up, but still no urgency.
  • 1940.05.20 – London-based General Ironside, with Churchill’s approval, pushes BEF to attack towards the south.
  • 1940.05.19 – London War Office fails to grasp degree to which British and French positions have deteriorated.
  • 1940.05.18 – Belgium falls. British and French troops retreat north towards coast.
  • 1940.05.17 – Churchill begins considering evacuating BEF troops from France.
  • 1940.05.16 – BEF Commander Gort begins pulling troops back towards coast [NW direction].
  • 1940.05.15 – Churchill begins to realize that England might stand alone vs Nazi’s and continues his appeals to Roosevelt for US involvement.
  • 1940.05.14 – The Blitz of Rotterdam [Belgium].
  • 1940.05.10 – German Blitzkrieg begins into the Low Countries and France.
    • Also known as the Benelux Countries, aka Belgium, Netherlands [aka Holland] and Luxembourg.
      • If it’s all Dutch [and/or Deutsch?] to you – here’s a great primer on how the varied country names came about.
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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