On June 4, 1940, the evacuation of Allied forces from Dunkirk on the Belgian coast ends as German forces capture the beach port. The nine-day evacuation, the largest of its kind in history and an unexpected success, saved 338,000 Allied troops from capture by the Nazis.
On May 10, 1940, the Germans launched their attack against the West, storming into Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg. Faced with far superior airpower, more unified command, and highly mobile armored forces, the Allied defenders were a poor match for the German Wehrmacht. In a lightning attack, the Germans raced across Western Europe. On May 12, they entered France, out-flanking the northwest corners of the Maginot Line, previously alleged by French military command to be an impregnable defense of their eastern border. On May 15, the Dutch surrendered.
The Germans advanced in an arc westward from the Ardennes in Belgium, along France's Somme River, and to the English Channel, cutting off communication between the Allies' northern and southern forces. The Allied armies in the north, which comprised the main body of Allied forces, were quickly being encircled. By May 19, Lord John Gort, the British commander, was already considering the withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) by sea.
Reluctant to retreat so soon, the Allies fought on and launched an ineffective counterattack on May 21. By May 24, Walther von Brauchitsch, the German army commander in chief, was poised to take Dunkirk, the last port available for the withdrawal of the mass of the BEF from Europe. Fortunately for the Allies, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler suddenly intervened, halting the German advance. Hitler had been assured by Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, that his aircraft could destroy the Allied forces trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk, so Hitler ordered the forces besieging Dunkirk to pull back.
On May 26, the British finally initiated Operation Dynamo--the evacuation of Allied forces from Dunkirk. The next day, the Allies learned that King Leopold III of Belgium was surrendering, and the Germans resumed the land attack on Dunkirk. By then, the British had fortified their defenses, but the Germans would not be held for long, and the evacuation was escalated. As there were not enough ships to transport the huge masses of men stranded at Dunkirk, the British Admiralty called on all British citizens in possession of sea-worthy vessels to lend their ships to the effort. Fishing boats, pleasure yachts, lifeboats, and other civilian ships raced to Dunkirk, braving mines, bombs, and torpedoes.
During the evacuation, the Royal Air Force (RAF) successfully resisted the Luftwaffe, saving the operation from failure. Still, the German fighters bombarded the beach, destroyed numerous vessels, and pursued other ships within a few miles of the English coast. The harbor at Dunkirk was bombed out of use, and small civilian vessels had to ferry the soldiers from the beaches to the warships waiting at sea. But for nine days, the evacuation continued, a miracle to the Allied commanders who had expected disaster. By June 4, when the Germans closed in and the operation came to an end, 198,000 British and 140,000 French troops were saved. These experienced soldiers would play a crucial role in future resistance against Nazi Germany.
With Western Europe abandoned by its main defenders, the German army swept through the rest of France, and Paris fell on June 14. Eight days later, Henri Petain signed an armistice with the Nazis at Compiegne. Germany annexed half the country, leaving the other half in the hands of their puppet French rulers. On June 6, 1944, liberation of Western Europe finally began with the successful Allied landing at Normandy.
Winston Churchill delivers his famous "We shall fight on the beaches" speech.
We Shall Fight on the Beaches is a common title given to a speech delivered by Winston Churchill to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom on 4 June 1940. This was the second of three major speeches given around the period of the Battle of France, with the others designated as the Blood, toil, tears, and sweat speech of 13 May, and the This was their finest hour speech of 18 June. Events developed dramatically over the five-week period, and although broadly similar in themes, each speech addressed a different military and diplomatic context.
In this speech, Churchill had to describe a great military disaster, and warn of a possible invasion attempt by Nazi Germany, without casting doubt on eventual victory. He also had to prepare his domestic audience for France's falling out of the war without in any way releasing the French Republic to do so, and wished to reiterate a policy and an aim unchanged - despite the intervening events - from his speech of 13 May, in which he had declared the goal of "victory, however long and hard the road may be".
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
Taken from: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/dunkirk-evacuation-ends & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_shall_fight_on_the_beaches [04.06.2013]