Operation Dynamo Interactive Timeline

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Discover the story behind the Dunkirk evacuation of May 1940, masterminded from Dover Castle by using our interactive timeline.

  • Preparation for the Second World War

    In anticipation of the outbreak of war, the Army and the Royal Navy took up occupation in the underground tunnels beneath Dover Castle.

    1938 Preparation for the Second World War

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  • Austria came under German rule

    12 March 1938 Austria came under German rule

  • The British and French governments appeased Hitler at Munich

    30 September 1938 The British and French governments appeased Hitler at Munich

  • The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht)

    9 November 1938 - 10 November 1938 The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht)

  • Germany signed the 'Pact of Steel' with Italy

    22 May 1939 Germany signed the 'Pact of Steel' with Italy

  • Britain and Poland signed a mutual assistance treaty

    25 August 1939 Britain and Poland signed a mutual assistance treaty

  • The Second World War Begins

    The Second World War begins in Western Europe. Listen to the recording above of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announcing the outbreak of war to the nation in 1939.

    1 September 1939 The Second World War Begins

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    MP3 Audio

  • Germany invaded Poland

    1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland

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  • A Vital Command Centre

    From the declaration of war with Germany, the Cliff Casemates located in the underground tunnels beneath Dover Castle became the naval headquarters of Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay and his Dover command.

    3 September 1939 A Vital Command Centre

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  • Britain and France declared war on Germany

    3 September 1939 Britain and France declared war on Germany

  • Assassination attempt on Hitler failed

    8 November 1939 Assassination attempt on Hitler failed

  • Rationing began in Britain

    8 January 1940 Rationing began in Britain

  • The Battle of France

    German forces invade Holland, Belgium and northern France, starting the 'Battle of France', which the Germans called 'Operation Yellow'. This was followed by an attack to take the rest of France known as 'Operation Red'.

    10 May 1940 The Battle of France

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  • A New Prime Minister

    In Britain, Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister.

    10 May 1940 A New Prime Minister

    MP4 Video

  • Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain

    10 May 1940 Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain

  • Germany invaded France, Belgium and Holland

    10 May 1940 Germany invaded France, Belgium and Holland

  • German Forces Close In

    Main German force crosses the River Meuse near Sedan in northern France, a surprise attack aimed at encircling Allied troops from the south. As a result, French defences were broken.

    14 May 1940 German Forces Close In

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  • Holland surrendered to Germany

    15 May 1940 Holland surrendered to Germany

  • Talks of Evacuation

    The possibility of evacuating the British Expeditionary Force discussed in London and at Dover. Vice-Admiral Ramsay was named as the naval commander in the event of evacuation.

    19 May 1940 Talks of Evacuation

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  • Allied Forces Trapped

    Main German force reaches the Channel coast near Abbéville, effectively trapping British, French and Belgian troops between two German forces, in northern France and Belgium.

    20 May 1940 Allied Forces Trapped

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  • ‘Operation Dynamo’

    The decision was made to evacuate as many of the British Expeditionary Force as possible from Dunkirk. In the tunnels at Dover, Vice-Admiral Ramsay receives the order to begin evacuation know as 'Operation Dynamo'.

    26 May 1940 ‘Operation Dynamo’

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  • Bleak Estimations

    At the start of 'Operation Dynamo' it was estimated that most of the British Expeditionary Force would not make it home, the best hope being that around 45,000 men might be saved.

    26 May 1940 Bleak Estimations

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  • A Brave Rescue Effort

    Initial efforts to evacuate British troops from Dunkirk resulted in just a few thousand men being rescued out of tens of thousands waiting. The task of getting men onto boats to safety was organised by Captain Tennant.

    27 May 1940 A Brave Rescue Effort

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  • Vital Link Between Dunkirk and Dover

    Captain William Tennant is sent to Dunkirk with 12 officers and 160 men. Tennant and his men became the vital link between the British Expeditionary Force, the waiting ships and boats, and Ramsay back in Dover.

    27 May 1940 Vital Link Between Dunkirk and Dover

    MP4 Video

  • Belgium surrendered to Germany

    27 May 1940 Belgium surrendered to Germany

  • Extra Support at Dunkirk

    Rear-Admiral Wake-Walker was sent to Dunkirk, to take charge of organising the ships offshore.

    30 May 1940 Extra Support at Dunkirk

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  • The ‘Little Ships’

    Arrival of hundreds of 'little ships' from England - small civilian vessels, crewed by the navy, naval reservists and civilian volunteers. Under intense air attack, they ferried soldiers to the waiting larger ships.

    31 May 1940 The ‘Little Ships’

    MP4 Video

  • Arrival in Dover

    As they landed back in England, troops were fed, given medical treatment, and despatched quickly by train all over England to rest and re-group.

    2 June 1940 Arrival in Dover

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  • The High Cost of Dunkirk

    Against all expectations, by early evening the British Expeditionary Force had been evacuated from Dunkirk to England. But the cost was high. Out of 933 vessels, 236 were lost and a further 61 put out of action.

    2 June 1940 The High Cost of Dunkirk

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  • Rescue of French Troops

    Vice-Admiral Ramsay sends ships to rescue many thousands of French troops until 4 June.

    3 June 1940 Rescue of French Troops

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  • "We Shall Fight on the Beaches"

    By early morning, around 338,226 men were rescued. Churchill delivers "We Shall Fight on the Beaches" speech in House of Commons. He had described it as a "miracle", but warned that "wars are not won by evacuations".

    4 June 1940

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  • The German army entered Paris

    14 June 1940 The German army entered Paris

  • France signed armistice with Germany

    22 June 1940 France signed armistice with Germany