Dunkirk Operation Dynamo

The Dunkirk Evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk in France to England, between 27 May and 4 June 1940.

Over 200,000 of the 338,000 men evacuated from Dunkirk passed through Dover, filling the town and railway station with soldiers, sailors and airmen.

Operation Dynamo was masterminded by Vice Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay from his headquarters in the Secret Wartime Tunnels beneath Dover Castle.

As the German Army advanced, the British Government requested the assistance of private boats and ships, and appealed for men with boating and coastal navigation experience. The response was enormous and within a short space of time, hundreds of vessels including little wooden boats, fishing boats, pleasure yachts and lifeboats left the shores of England to make an heroic journey across the English Channel to rescue thousands of stranded servicemen. This flotilla of small vessels became known as the 'Little Ships'. Over 700 seaworthy craft left Ramsgate. Others departed from Dover, including the Mona's Isle which was one of the fleet from the Isle of Man Steam Packet - the first to leave Dover and the first vessel to complete a round trip.

Crossing the English Channel was dangerous with active enemy torpedo boats and air attacks. Countless small ships were were lost, damaged and disabled. On 1 June 1940 four destroyers, two large cross-Channel steamers and a paddle minesweeper were lost.

It was an extremely busy time at Dover. The ships were unloaded and refuelled before returning to rescue more from the French coast. The servicemen were given a warm welcome by the people of Dover. The Salvation Army provided thousands of cups of tea, food and cigarettes to exhausted soldiers as they boarded the trains. In the 9 days of evacuation, at Dover Marine, 327 trains transported 180,982 troops away from the coast.

Records show that 6,880 casualties landed in Dover. The seriously wounded were taken directly to Buckland Hospital in Dover where teams of surgeons worked day and night. Over 4,500 arrived at this hospital and all but 50 men were saved. The less urgent cases were taken further inland by hospital trains.

Today, we often refer to the 'Dunkirk spirit' - the ability of the British public to pull together and overcome times of adversity.

Discover more

  • Visit Dover Castle and experience Operation Dynamo. A special Guided Tour takes you in the tunnels deep inside the White Cliffs of Dover where Operation Dynamo was masterminded. State-of-the-art effects and real film footage combine to bring those dramatic events of May 1940 to life.
  • Visit Deal Maritime and Local History Museum. See Tender Too, a 'little ship' in the centre of a display about Deal and Dunkirk. 
  • Visit the History Gallery at Dover Museum. Learn about the amazing story of the Evacuation of Dunkirk.

"Dover - An ordinary little town once know chiefly as the terminus for a ferry line but now renowned through the civilised world as a community of indestructible ideals." 
Harvey Klemmer American Journalist, National Geographic Magazine, January 1944