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Old 04-02-2010, 07:16 PM
 
Location: Fairfield, CT
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Here's a question that has long been debated by historians.

Why did the Germans allow the British to rescue their armies at Dunkirk from May 27 through June 4, 1940? The British were backed up into the sea, and the Germans were on an uncontrolled advance throughout France. Had the British army been totally bagged at Dunkirk, there's no way they could have recovered.

In retrospect, allowing the British this escape was one of the great mistakes of the war. The British lived on to fight later, and the D-Day invasion of France 4 years later was launched from an unconquered England. The intervention by the US would have been nearly impossible had Britain gone under.

I'm sure some of the resident historians here have some ideas about this one.
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Old 04-02-2010, 07:56 PM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
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The records all indicate that Hitler's mentality was one of being convinced that the English people were a rational sort who would come to the negotiating table and make an agreement where Great Britain got to continue to rule the seas with their empire left intact, provided that they recognized German hegemony over the European continent. When England didn't yield right away, Hitler decided that it was the fault of rabble rousing, firebrand leaders like Churchill, and that the British population would soon grow tired of that, come to their senses and replace the government. Then a peace could be negotiated.

Allowing the Brits to escape at Dunkirk was a gesture congruent with that metality. If too severe a blow was struck on the British force in France, it might cause the English to harden their resolve. Thus Hitler was trying to demonstrate that he could be civil and reasonable when dealing with races he did not class as sub human.

The opening weeks of the Battle of Britain further fit with this scenario. Only military targets were being hit, airfields, shipyards, factories, but there was no general bombing of cities and London was left untouched by Hitler's personal orders. It was only after London was bombed in error and the Brits struck back with an air attack on Berlin, that Hitler authorized civillain terror bombing.

Hitler appears to be the last person involved to finally recognize that Britain had no intention of folding up and quitting.
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Old 04-02-2010, 08:10 PM
 
Location: Fairfield, CT
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grandstander View Post
The records all indicate that Hitler's mentality was one of being convinced that the English people were a rational sort who would come to the negotiating table and make an agreement where Great Britain got to continue to rule the seas with their empire left intact, provided that they recognized German hegemony over the European continent. When England didn't yield right away, Hitler decided that it was the fault of rabble rousing, firebrand leaders like Churchill, and that the British population would soon grow tired of that, come to their senses and replace the government. Then a peace could be negotiated.

Allowing the Brits to escape at Dunkirk was a gesture congruent with that metality. If too severe a blow was struck on the British force in France, it might cause the English to harden their resolve. Thus Hitler was trying to demonstrate that he could be civil and reasonable when dealing with races he did not class as sub human.

The opening weeks of the Battle of Britain further fit with this scenario. Only military targets were being hit, airfields, shipyards, factories, but there was no general bombing of cities and London was left untouched by Hitler's personal orders. It was only after London was bombed in error and the Brits struck back with an air attack on Berlin, that Hitler authorized civillain terror bombing.

Hitler appears to be the last person involved to finally recognize that Britain had no intention of folding up and quitting.
That's what I've generally read as far as Dunkirk is concerned.

With respect to the Battle of Britain, it has generally been conceded that the switch to terror bombing was a bad mistake. The British fighter pilots were at the end of their tether and they needed mastery of the air over the English Channel to defend against a German invasion. If the Luftwaffe had kept going after the RAF's fighter pilots rather than doing terror bombing, they might have won the Battle of Britain and been able to invade Britain successfully.

It does seem that Hitler regarded the British more highly than any of his enemies. I think he also believed that there was no way they could hold on and win, and would have to come to terms with him. He held a low regard for the United States and didn't think we'd be able to intervene effectively to keep the British in the war. He was almost right.

Still, wouldn't the destruction of their army at Dunkirk have left the British no choice but to come to terms? Letting their army escape could only increase the chances that they would harden their resolve and their means to stay in the war. He seems to have gotten it backwards when dealing with the British.
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Old 04-02-2010, 11:23 PM
 
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I disagree that the Germans let the British escape at all. Had they wanted to do so they would not have bombed the crap out of them with the Luftwaffe throughout the battle. The reason that the British did escape was tied to:

1) The French army, its entirely forgotten, was still fighting the Germans at the Somme. The Germans deployed their key units to defeat France, once they did so they believed they could deal with any British units left on the continent easily.
2) The Germans believed that the Dunkirk area was totally unsuited for armored warfare because of dikes and other obstacles. Much as the British encountered serve problems in Holland in Market Garden with armored units. Thus they left the battle to the air force and infantry units - which proved unable to deal with the defenses.
3) Shortly before the Battle of Dunkirk a short lived British offense at Aras had badly rattled the German armored spearheads. The matilda tanks smashed the front of the armored thrust to shreads - Rommel himself was nearly killed in that battle. The German general staff and Hitler himself (who believed the tank units were taking to many risks already) panicked and pulled back the armor for days. This made an assault by them on Dunkirk much less likely.
4) Goering convinced Hitler the Luftwaffe could win the battle itself.
5) The Germans believed wrongly that the British were traped in the city as they were to be later trapped in Calais. It was a brillant and courageous feat to get them off.

There is no historical evidence Hitler let the BEF go. Nor is there much logic to it. If he wanted to negoiate with the british having all their trained military manpower as prisoners to negoiate with would have been better for him. Its exactly what he did with French prisoners of war later.
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Old 04-03-2010, 12:48 PM
 
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Many actaully don't see that thier were two escapes and that many thousands where left behind in the first.Its was the geramn air force that really was over estimated in what they could do that made hitler halt the gorund forces when ask.There is no doubt that Hitlwer did not see the english as the russians but he never want the fores to escape;he just though tthings wre possible that were not with his air force. Its always good to remmeber the sechedule for the satart of the war tht Hitlker gave his navy that turned out foru years offf because of his miscalualtions on the reaction of both the French and English to Polland.He thought they wouold reqact as they had before really.
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Old 04-05-2010, 08:54 AM
 
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The earlier post that described how German forces made every attempt to destroy the Allied pocket at Dunkirk is correct. The perimeter was held by British troops, but the majority were French, who held off the Wehrmacht long enough for the BEF, and many French troops as well, to escape to England.
There were fierce air battles over Dunkirk between the RAF, and the Luftwaffe, which included the first actions of the Spitfire fighter. Also, many Allied ships were sunk by Luftwaffe aircraft during the evacuation.
Another, much smaller attempted evacuation of the 51st Highland Division at St.Valery en-Caux in June, was prevented by German troops under Gen. Erwin Rommel, who convinced the overall commander of the area, a French general, to surrender all troops under his command.
Most of the French troops that were evacuated returned to France, and eventually surrended by the time of the French armistice in late June.
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Old 04-05-2010, 07:47 PM
 
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I always assumed they were the core of the Free French. Surrendering to the Germans meant they had to spend years in POW camps, which is where most of the French Army ended up. British cooking is bad, but not that bad.
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Old 04-05-2010, 08:14 PM
 
Location: Parts Unknown, Northern California
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Originally Posted by dazzleman View Post
Still, wouldn't the destruction of their army at Dunkirk have left the British no choice but to come to terms? Letting their army escape could only increase the chances that they would harden their resolve and their means to stay in the war. He seems to have gotten it backwards when dealing with the British.
The idea was to defeat Britain without disgracing her. At the time of Dunkirk, Hitler was not contemplating having to invade England, as noted, he believed that the Brits would come to the negotiating table as soon as France surrendered. Wiping out the force which was evacuated was not considered vital because in Hitler's mind, all of Great Britain had already been removed from the war...but France remained to finish off.

HItler was really and truly expecting that a cooperative relationship between Germany and England would be the ultimate result.
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Old 04-05-2010, 09:06 PM
 
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The reason that the bulk of the BEF escaped was down to my Great Uncle Cecil who was part of the rearguard holding the Dunkirk perimeter. Wounded (he lost an eye), Uncle Cecil held off several panzer divisions single handed while his comrades held off various other German formations. Finally, Uncle Cecil was overrun by the bulk of the Wermacht and taken prisoner. He always said how well he was treated by his German captors who tended his wounds before dispatching him to a welcoming Stalag. Sadly, the same could not be said for his wife back in England. When he finally returned home in 1945 he found his wife and a 2 year old child. Such was the lot of heroes.
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Old 04-05-2010, 09:19 PM
 
Location: So. of Rosarito, Baja, Mexico
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The mention of Dunkirk brings back memories.

I was in the Canadian Reserve Army in 1945 and saw captured 8mm German film that showed the Britsh and Canadian POW's being marched on the beach after capture. They had their hands on top of their heads.

They were prodded with bayonets by German soldiers laughing towards the camera.

In the background in the water were the bodies of dead soldiers moving back and forth with the waves. You could read the shoulder insignia of their unit which is the norm for both British and Canadian Army troops.

My reserve unit was the "Royal Hamilton Light Infantry". (Wentworth Regiment)

I have my Discharge from the Canadian Army and a Unit picture on the wall.

Our main unit in the European theater was awarded many medals for Valor.

This the 2nd time I have acknowledged my experience (film) since that time.

Steve
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