A.J.P Taylor tells us that "Dunkirk was a great disaster. The reason for the evacuation of Dunkirk was necessary because the British and French forces had been totally defeated in May 1940 by the new Blitzkrieg tactics of the German army. Its rapid breakthrough had cut off the main allied forces from their bases, leaving them with no other avenue of escape. Now we must look at sources D to J. The painting in source D goes some way to show the scale of the operation. It shows the men on the beaches and also how they are crammed into the small boats. You can see bombs exploding on the beaches and large black clouds of smoke. Troops appear to be everywhere. The video we watched helped to give a real life impression of what happened.
Source E is a photo of troops waiting on the beaches of Dunkirk. We can see no vessels on this photo. Later opinions of Dunkirk beaches have described the scene as something close to chaos. Propaganda claims were that there was good order and no panic. This photo shows clear lines of organised troops and would surely have been used to promote the theory of good order and no panic. It is likely that it was taken after the navy officers arrived to take control of the situation.
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Source F shows a photo taken on the beaches at Dunkirk of British troops firing at German planes. While many troops had lost their rifles, this photo taken from close range shows all troops with rifles and black smoke in the sky and on the horizon. This photo would also have been used for propaganda purposes to dispel any theory of troops without rifles.
Source G is from a great political speed by Anthony Eden, Minister of War and was made in June 1940. While he admits there have been losses of equipment, he makes no reference to losses of life or injures to troops. He also makes no reference to an army retreating after total defeat in May 1940 but describes them as seasoned veterans. He speaks of what they have gained in the way of experience of warfare and talks of immeasurable gains of self-confidence. He claims that the vital weapon of an army is its spirit and claims that this army's refusal to accept defeat is the guarantee of final victory. This is a positive political speech designed to rally support of the troops all the way to victory. Again propaganda was an important psychological weapon in the war and remains so today.
Source H is an extract from the Daily Express dated 31st May 1940. While it supports some of Anthony Eden's speech claiming this army is never defeated or dispirited it does talk of the wounded, dirty, tired and hungry men, but makes no mention of the dead. It does emphasize in large print that tens of thousands of men are safely home and many more are to follow. This article is also a propaganda weapon for the war. It promotes the success of the Dunkirk crossings yet makes no mention of the heavy defeat of May 1940, which was why the evacuation was needed.
Source I is the view of A.J.P. Taylor who is a British historian. This account of the Dunkirk operation states that it had succeeded beyond all expectations and leads us to believe that it was a great deliverance, as opposed to a great disaster. From this account we have no idea of the suffering on the beaches or the physical and mental state of the troops.
Source J includes other evidence. While other photos and written sources do not show the extent of the losses on the beaches and during the sea crossings, the video we watched in school showed us something of the scale of the losses, which gave a sense of disaster. We saw thousands of troops on the beaches and heard loud noises from the bombings and shootings. We saw black billowing smoke along with dead bodies and many wounded soldiers. Having looked at the sources we can now discuss if there is any evidence in the sources to support the interpretation that Dunkirk was a great deliverance and a great disaster.
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The historian looks at both sides of the views claiming deliverance that almost the entire BEF was saved. He also claims disaster in that it had lost virtually all its guns, tanks and other heavy equipment. Many men had abandoned their rivals. Six destroyers had been sunk and 19 damaged. The RAF had lost 474 planes and many lives were lost. It can be said that it was deliverance in that the entire BEF was saved. The operation had succeeded beyond all expectation. The British fighter command had put in all their energies in the defeat of the Germans. Every sort of vessel aided the navy destroyers, which brought off most of the men, and altogether 860 ships took part. They were further helped by good weather and on 3rd June, the last men were brought to England from Dunkirk. In total 338,226 men were brought to England. This in it's self was a great deliverance While most of the sources tend to support the great deliverance theory, we must member that Churchill claimed that the defence of nearby Calais, where he had ordered the Garrison to fight to the bitter end, delayed the German advance significantly. However, this proved to be a great disaster for the troops as their lives were sacrificed to justify his decision. The cost of the evacuation was high for the British and the French. Several thousand soldiers, sailors and airmen lost their lives on the beaches or at sea and a high percentage of ships were sunk. Although many French soldiers fought heroically in the defence of Dunkirk, some 139,000 French troops were evacuated and some British forces remained fighting on the Somme, many French leaders and people felt disserted by Britain, accusing the British of abandoning France to its fate. It must be said that with thousands of troops on beaches and from our knowledge of problems evacuating beaches, bombing beaches and defending them the battle of Dunkirk was clearly a mixture of deliverance and disaster.