Trapped between advancing German troops and the sea, the BEF was
in a perilous position. The Royal Navy began the evacuation of
Dunkirk - codenamed Operation Dynamo - late on 26 May. So great was
the task that a makeshift fleet of civilian ships was sent to
assist: trawlers, passenger ferries, yachts, pleasure steamers and
hundreds of other private craft.
While soldiers fought tenaciously to hold back advancing German
troops, the RAF battled to protect the vulnerable ships, and the
soldiers waiting at the harbour and on the beaches, from attacks by
the Luftwaffe. Fighting continued until the last moments, with
French troops remaining behind to safeguard the last to leave.
By the time Dunkirk fell on 4 June, over 338,000 men had been
rescued, including 140,000 Allied soldiers. Many British and Allied
forces fought on in France, and troops continued to be evacuated
from the western coast until the day of the French surrender on 25