A Reverse Dunkirk
In Erik Larson’s book The Splendid and the Vile, he tells the story of Britain during the Blitz of 1940-41.
In May of 1940, a strategic lapse by the Germans allowed the British to evacuate 330,000 Allied soldiers from the French coast in the famous Dunkirk evacuation. An assemblage of 800 mostly-ragtag vessels were able to slip those hundreds of thousands through air and u-boat attack to safety across the Channel.
There’s an anecdote in the book that I’d never thought about before, with respect to Britain’s response as they prepared for what they thought would be an inevitable amphibious invasion.
One thing Churchill did not address in his speech was an underappreciated element of the Dunkirk evacuation. To those who cared to look, the fact that more than three hundred thousand men had managed to cross the channel in the face of concerted aerial and ground attack carried a darker lesson. It suggested that deterring a massive German invasion force might be more difficult than British commanders had assumed, especially if that force, like the evacuation fleet at Dunkirk, was composed of many hundreds of small ships, barges, and speedboats.
Wrote General Edmund Ironside, commander of Britain’s Home Forces, “It brings me to the fact that the Bosches may equally well be able to land men in England despite [RAF] bombing.”
He feared, in effect, a reverse Dunkirk.
With how successful the British were with a haphazard troop movement with mostly civilian boats, imagine what Germany could’ve accomplished moving a powerful (and much larger) invasion force in a dispersed fashion along the Kent coast? Moving inland through rural areas to regroup and move on London? If Germany knew in the summer of ‘40 how ineffective the Blitz air raids would be, maybe it would’ve happened?