Dunkirk 1940: The Making of the Miracle

Dunkirk 1940: The Making of the Miracle

This year we’re marking 80 years since the incredible rescue of the British Army from Dunkirk, coordinated from Royal Navy headquarters deep under Dover Castle in May 1940. The mission, Operation Dynamo, saved more than 330,000 soldiers and returned them to home shores. Discover the role Dover Castle played and find out how you can join in the commemorations this year from your home.

What Was Operation Dynamo?

Mark the Anniversary from Home

From 19 May - 4 June 2020, we'll be bringing the drama of Operation Dynamo to life through digital storytelling across our social media channels. You’ll be transported into the wartime tunnels of Dover Castle to experience the rescue effort through stories inspired by eyewitness accounts.

Get Involved

  • Follow @EnglishHeritage on Twitter
  • Turn on notifications to learn when new stories become available
  • Share your own Dunkirk stories with #Dunkirk1940
  • Get updated using the live feed on this page

English Heritage on Twitter

Destroyers filled with evacuated British troops arriving at Dover on 31 May 1940
Destroyers filled with evacuated British troops arriving at Dover on 31 May 1940
© Photo by Puttnam and Malindine/ IWM via Getty Images

What was Operation Dynamo?

By the last week of May 1940, most of the British Expeditionary Force, along with French and Belgian soldiers, were trapped by the German army in a pocket around Dunkirk. Their only hope of escape was by sea, across the English Channel.

On the evening of 26 May, the British Government authorised an amphibious rescue mission, codenamed Operation Dynamo. In command was Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay of the Royal Navy, who directed the operation from his headquarters at Dover Castle.

Over the next nine days, the men and women of Ramsay’s staff worked tirelessly from tunnels beneath the castle, coordinating a host of Royal Navy warships, merchant vessels of every sort and small civilian boats. Despite many ships being sunk and many lives lost, by the end of the operation on 4 June, Ramsay, his ships and staff had rescued 338,226 British and Allied troops and landed them in England. The rescue came to be regarded as a ‘miracle’, and remains the largest amphibious evacuation undertaken in wartime. It enabled Britain’s soldiers to regroup and fight again.

Commemorate the Anniversary
A young visitor exploring the Secret Wartime Tunnels at Dover Castle

Stand Where it Happened

Today at Dover Castle you can still visit the very tunnels where Ramsay’s team worked tirelessly during those tense days. What’s more, you can also learn about the other roles the castle played during the rest of the Second World War. From the underground hospital to the Port War Signal Station on the edge of the White Cliffs, a visit to Dover Castle is a must for anyone interested in this dramatic period of history.

Learn More

Learn along from Home

Explore this defining moment in history with your family this May. During the ten days marking 80 years since Operation Dynamo, 26 May - 4 June, our education channel @EHEducation will be joining in the conversation on Twitter to share games, quizzes, puzzles and learning resources to help home learners and educators discover the story of Dunkirk.

Learn with us
  • Your Secret Mission

    Crack the Clues with Our Codebreaker

    Codebreaking was vital during the Second World War, so we've created a special codebreaking quiz for you to take. Your mission is to decode the clues, crack the codes and test your knowledge. Successful code breakers will be rewarded for their efforts with a special commemorative digital print!




Explore the story of Dunkirk

  • Interview with Benjamin Richard Sheen, Dunkirk War Veteran

    Meet former Army Signalman Richard Sheen for an eyewitness account of the events of May and June 1940.

  • Dover Castle: Rescue from Dunkirk

    Join James Blincow and Rowena Willard-Wright as they discuss how Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsey coordinated the rescue from the tunnels below Dover Castle.

  • What was life Like? Operation Dynamo

    Join young English Heritage members Tom and Will as they head into Dover's tunnels to learn more about Operation Dynamo.

  • The Fall of France

    Discover more about the German invasion of France that led to the evacuation at Dunkirk.

  • Operation Dynamo: Things you Need to Know

    Find out the Key facts about the rescue operation.

  • Dunkirk on the Home Front

    Read ordinary people’s accounts of life in Dover during the long, gruelling days of May and June 1940.

German soldiers man an anti tank gun during the crossing of the Meuse, 1940.
German soldiers man an anti tank gun during the crossing of the Meuse during the fall of France, 1940.
© IWM, via Getty Images

Operation Dynamo in Pictures

Follow the stories of the Fall of France and Operation Dynamo through iconic, dramatic and remarkable historic photographs.

Explore the Collection
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