Curious about what happened in Dunkirk? Whether you’re scheduled to visit the place soon or simply got curious after watching Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk film, knowing the real story behind the famous coastal city will help you appreciate the place even more.

Sure, while the place isn’t a big city, its rich history grants it a place in almost everyone’s bucket list. Regarded to be among the most significant places in French history, the seaport served as the historic scene of a major turning point in history, particularly during the Second World War.

To help you get a glimpse of how important this city is, here is a rundown of the most important points you need to know about the immense history of Dunkirk, France. Read on to know why you shouldn’t miss to visit this place in person.


The Miracle of Dunkirk: What Happened?

Generally, to understand the significant role Dunkirk played in history, we need to look back at the year 1940, a time which many deemed to be a turning point in the Second World War

At the time, thousands of British Expeditionary Force (BEF) members and other Allied troops found themselves stuck as German forces closed in on them. The only option left to survive was to retreat to Dunkirk, the northernmost city in France, where they could go back to the safety of England. 

In an effort to flee and avoid being crushed by the forwarding enemies, Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay called for as many naval vessels and ships as possible to begin the evacuation. The effort, which they termed Operation Dynamo, became what we now know as the “Miracle of Dunkirk.”


How Did the Plan Go?

Overall, the evacuation didn’t come off easily. In fact, in the initial plan, it was estimated that only about 30,00 troops can be lifted off before the German troops arrive. Moreover, even before the ragtag fleet made it into the shore to save the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and other Allied troops from the French seaport of Dunkirk, the harbour already became partially blocked due to the ships sunk by the German’s relentless bombing attacks.

On the first day of the Operation Dynamo, only about 7,500 men from Dunkirk were able to evacuate. This was then followed by around 10,000 the following day. Initially, the plan wasn’t going well, and thousands are at risk of being crushed by the enemies right there and then.

Luckily, in a fascinating turn of events, the emergence of various little ships made the massive difference and marked the turning of the tide.

Specifically, as Dunkirk had such a shallow shore, small ships, such as motor boats, fishing smacks, trawlers, lifeboats, paddle steamers and many other types of craft came over to the rescue and fetched as many troops from the shore to carry them towards the larger ships situated in the further north.


Overall, Operation Dynamo ended with a total of 338,226 troops saved from the clutches of the German army. About 198,000 of those were British and some 140,000 were French and Belgian troops. About 636 Allied naval ships also survived, with about 262 enemy planes claimed.

Winston Churchill, Britain’s Prime Minister at the time, called the event a “miracle of deliverance.” To date, the Dunkirk evacuation remains to be a significant event in French history that helped boost the civilian morale and created what many termed to be the ‘Dunkirk spirit.’  

Welcome to Dunkirk: The City We Know Today

For people who are in the midst of completing their historical travel lists, Dunkirk, France stands as one of the top must-visits in the map – thanks to its historical role that helped shaped the world as we now know it today. Sure, while the city suffered immensely from the terror of the Second World War, it had been rebuilt years after and, since then, became a time capsule of the past.

To date, the city now stands as an incredible seaside destination, marked by its superb beaches and dunes. Among its most visited destinations include its famed Dunkirk 1940 museum, which contains artefacts left from the iconic battle; the romantic Musée des Beaux Arts, and the nostalgic Musée Portuaire.

German Bunker laying on the Beach of Dunkirk, France

The Bottom Line

Can’t wait to see the charm of Dunkirk in person? For culture vultures and history buffs, nothing comes as thrilling as being able to explore and see the sceneries that make up this historic town.

Secure your ticket towards Dunkirk now!