Dunkerque 1940, Operation Dynamo...

... from Heimdal, via Casemate Books

Title:  Dunkerque 1940 Operation Dynamo

Author: Jean-Charles Stasi

Publisher:  Heimdal

ISBN:  978-2-84048-473-8

This is a new French language hardback from Heimdal, tackling the subject of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of British and French troops from the harbour and beaches of Dunkirk over a nine-day period during May/June 1940.  A sub-heading on the cover of the book tells us the vital statistic that 340,000 soldiers were successfully evacuated from the continent back to the UK.  As a new book, it comes well timed to fit in with the release of a new film of Dunkirk which was in the cinemas during 2017 and which was conveniently released on DVD this Christmas (2017) as well.

The book is split into 6 main chapters.  It starts with look at the port of Dunkirk, the original home of Jean Bart, a very successful French Privateer in the late 1600's.  This gives some history of Dunkirk and the preparations the town made for war in 1939.  Chapter 2 then moves on to look at the arrival of the BEF in 1939 with 6 divisions, a repeat of the Anglo -French co-operation from the earlier war in 1914-18.  In chapter 3 the author covers the period of 13-18 May 1940, when the German army crossed the Meuse and advanced into France, pushing both Dutch and Belgian refugees before them, who got caught up with the allied units also moving back into the Dunkirk perimeter.  It is in chapter 4 that the next few days tell how from 19-25 May the German forces reached the sea, effectively surrounding the bulk of the BEF and many French troops as well, pushing them back into a shrinking pocket around the port.  As with the rest of the book, these sections feature many archive photos plus some maps that show the various positions of the advance as it progressed.

This is followed by a section commonly seen in Heimdal's books, with 2 pages each devoted to photos of preserved weapons, uniforms and other equipment/materials from each side, for French, British and German forces.  After this we get back to the story, as chapter 5 deals with 26 May-3 June, Neuf jours qui font entrer Dunkerque dans l'histoire, or Nine Days which wrote Dunkirk into History.  Plenty of archive photos again, including a few modern day comparisons, and among the maps a useful one showing the three sea lanes open to the ships that brought the soldiers to safety.  Sandbanks and minefields presented major obstructions which limited the available channels they could follow.  The final chapter 6 considers how Operation Dynamo was a success, without being a victory.  It shows what was left behind for the Germans to find.  Over a quarter of a million troops had been rescued though leaving virtually all their equipment and supplies behind them.  This section also includes some fine colour profiles of both RAF and Luftwaffe aircraft from the period.  This closing chapter is followed by a number of Annexe (Appendices) which cover the remains of a number of boats which were sunk during the battle and which can still be found at low tide along the beaches where once so many troops stood in lines waiting to be rescued.  Others tell us how Dunkirk has been illustrated in the cinema over the years, including French films of 1949 and 1964 before moving on to the filming of the latest Christopher Nolan film when it was made in the spring of 2016, and this includes some photos of the filming taking place.

With the text in French it may be difficult for some, but I find I can read French well enough to understand it and the collection of photos both old and new, along with maps and graphics there is plenty to keep your interest for anyone wanting to see more about the Dunkirk story of 1940.

Distributed by Casemate Books, who kindly provided my review copy.

Robin