Christopher Nolan’s war drama Dunkirk, focuses on Operation
Dynamo – The Evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force
(BEF) from France, 26 May to 4 June 1940.
With all the promotions of the film as “incredibly accurate”
and “true to the history,” I was cautiously hopeful
and looked forward to seeing the film.
Under Fire and Under Water
The cinematography is superb and audiences are presented with
dramatic depictions of what it is like to be under fire
and the terror of being trapped in darkness at night,
inside the hold of a sinking ship.
The heroism of the civilian “little ships”
– over 700 of which helped in the evacuation
- is very well depicted.
A staggering 933 ships took place in the operation, from navy ships to fishing
ships, with only 697 returning to Britain
However, there are many serious inaccuracies
and inexplicable omissions.
First of all, this film makes it seem that virtually every single
Royal Navy vessel gets sunk!
Distortions of History
The Royal Navy seems helpless and heartless and does not get a
fair credit for the superb evacuation operation they ran.
In the 11 days of Operation Dynamo,
the Royal Navy succeeded in evacuating over 338,000 men
of which 215,000 were British and 123,000 were French.
95% of those evacuated were on Naval vessels.
This was the greatest Naval evacuation to that date.
Troops evacuated from Dunkirk on a destroyer about to berth at Dover, 31 May
The British Expeditionary Force soldiers appear leaderless,
undisciplined, helpless and fearful, abandoning their rifles while
being fired upon and generally not much of an army at all.
The British Army Did Not Collapse
I do not believe that their depiction of the BEF soldiers is a fair
reflection on what was admittedly an army in defeat and retreat,
but the lack of leadership and direction by officers on the beaches,
seems more anachronistic.
It may be the way that young people today would react in such a
stressful situation. However, the historical record is that there was
tremendous order and steadfastness amongst the soldiers,
patiently waiting in line for boats to evacuate them back to Britain.
- men wait in an orderly fashion for their turn to be rescued.
The most outrageous inaccuracy is the depiction of a Hospital
ship being sunk at Dunkirk! Sinking of Hospital ships is a serious
war crime. (One British Hospital ship struck a British mine just off
Dover, within British waters. It did not sink.)
No Hospital Ship was Sunk
The impression given in Nolan’s Dunkirk, is that
the British were overwhelmed by a numerically superior enemy,
which was not the case.
Not a David Vs Goliath Operation
British troops in Dunkirk. The failed attempt to set up a base saw the Allied
armies abandon huge amounts of equipment
Both the British and the
French Armed Forces
outnumbered the German
Forces in terms of numbers
of men, numbers of tanks
and numbers of aircraft.
The Royal Navy massively outnumbered everyone.
The Royal Navy was the greatest Navy in the world.
In September 1939, the Royal Navy included: 17 battleships, 11
aircraft carriers, 76 cruisers, over 200 destroyers, 60 submarines
and 56 corvettes and many more were in building stages and
would have been available by May 1940.
Although one sees little evidence of it in the Dunkirk film, for
Operation Dynamo, the Royal Navy official history records that
they utilised: 41 destroyers, 6 corvettes, 1 sloop, 2 gunboats,
Naval Forces Engaged at Dunkirk
52 trawlers, 61 drifters, 3 special service vessels, 2 SB’s, 6 MTB’s,
3 armed boarding vessels, 40 schuyts, 26 yachts, 12 motor boats,
6 block ships, 13 landing craft and 8 dockyard freighters.
The Royal Navy was also assisted by the French Navy,
who provided 14 destroyers, 13 minesweepers, 12 cargo ships,
59 trawlers and 21 other vessels.
The Belgians provided another 45 vessels and there were an
additional 45 personnel ships (including Ferries), 8 Hospital ships
and 40 Tugs.
The talk about the shortage of destroyers because High
Command was keeping them safe – for the next battle
- is nonsense as the Royal Navy held nothing back
in evacuating British forces around the clock and at top speed.
The talk of “no Destroyers for 6 hours” is ahistoric drivel.
No Shortage of Destroyers
The talk about tides adversely affecting the evacuation is also
inaccurate. The East Mole breakwater made up of concrete and
woodwork extending a mile into the sea was unaffected by the
tides and soldiers waded into the surf to be loaded onto the
smaller vessels at all times of the day and night.
Tides Were Not an Issue
According to the Dunkirk film the soldiers spent most of the time
standing on the beach, waiting for ships
without a single vessel in sight.
Non Stop Evacuation for 7 Days
However, the evacuation was a 24-hours-a-day operation.
The mile long East Mole breakwater extended out to sea and
was constantly busy with vessels being loaded on both sides,
frequently with soldiers walking across one ship
to reach a double-parked vessel on the other side.
Nearly 300,000 troops had been returned from Dunkirk by the 2nd May. This is
one of the officially released photographs
Exaggeration of the Role
of the Little Ships
ignores the Role of the Royal Navy
Nolan’s Dunkirk film also greatly exaggerates the role of
the little ships.
While undoubtedly heroic, the impression given is that
most of the soldiers were evacuated by little ships,
when actually only about 5% were.
The power of the German Luftwaffe is greatly exaggerated in
Nolan’s film. The Royal Air Force had dominance over the
beaches of Dunkirk as they had far shorter distances to fly from
their air bases than the Luftwaffe had.
The Missing Royal Air Force
In the film it seems that all the RAF could spare were 3 Spitfires.
Actually Air Vice Marshall Keith Parks’ Fighter Command Eleven
Group in South East England, were sending over squadrons of 24
Spitfires at a time to provide constant combat air cover for the
Royal Navy evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from the
beaches of Dunkirk. At no time were just 3 fighters sent out alone.
The maximum speed of a Spitfire is 362 miles per hour, yet they
seemed to take an awfully long time to make the 20 miles from
Dover to Dunkirk.
A Long 20 Miles
One ran out of fuel (although not ammunition)
and could not make the 20 miles back to Britain!
It is no doubt visually more impressive to see Spitfires screaming
at virtual sea level hopping over the waves towards Dunkirk, but
no fighter pilot worth his salt would have approached a combat
zone flying at zero feet.
Fighters Did Not Approach Dunkirk
at Sea Level
Fighters need to come in from a height advantage
and that would provide a speed advantage
on the descent to target.
Each spitfire was armed with 8 machine guns and each was
loaded with 350 rounds (the origin of “the whole nine yards”
terminology). A Spitfire could fire continuously
for less than 15 seconds per flight.
Inexhaustible Supply of Ammunition
Pilots would rarely be able to shoot down more than a single
enemy plane on one mission. However in Dunkirk one pilot shoots
down four enemy aircraft, using up over 70 seconds worth of
ammunition! (This must have been a real special issue Spitfire
with an inexhaustible supply of ammunition, just for the film!)
Incredibly the film concludes with a fighter pilot gliding his,
out-of- fuel, Spitfire to land on a beach, using his under-carriage!
Under no circumstances would any pilot attempt to land
on a beach with their under-carriage down.
No Pilot Would Land on a Beach
with His Wheels Down
The danger of the wheels sinking into the sand and
tipping/crashing the plane into its nose, would be too severe.
In such a circumstance, a belly-landing on the sand, or sea,
would have been the only real option for the pilot.
Encyclopaedia Britannica lists 78 Luftwaffe planes lost over
Dunkirk and 84 Royal Air Force aircraft shot down.
This fairly even record is not reflected in the Dunkirk film, which
makes out that the 3 RAF Spitfires devastated the Luftwaffe.
Facts Ruin a Good Story
The Dunkirk film interlinks 3 stories: Land, Sea and Air. The story
of the evacuation of the soldiers, from the East Mole of Dunkirk is
set to take place over one week.
Land, Sea and Air
The story of one of the little ships takes place over one day and
and the story of the flight of three Spitfires is one hour.
Yet, somehow, these all interlink and, in the confusing manner of
modern film editing, we are somehow to believe that the multiple
events of the soldiers on the ground over one week, co-incided
at key times with the same aircraft, which were only over them for
one hour and the little ships that took a day to travel from Britain
and back. The timing doesn’t add up.
Schizophrenic Screen Editing
Kenneth Branagh’s character, based on Naval officer, Captain Bill
Tennant, spends the whole time standing on the Mole overseeing
the evacuation, wearing his officers cap.
The Absence of Naval Helmets
No Naval officer in an operational area, subject to aerial
bombardment would have been without his helmet.
Nor was there any reason why Captain Tennant would be
supervising the evacuation personally, by standing on the Mole,
instead of from the bridge of a Naval vessel with his
telecommunication systems and staff around him.
There seemed to be no radio or signaller stationed on the Mole,
making one wonder what possible difference this officer thought
he could be making.
The impression given in the film that virtually every
Royal Navy vessel at Dunkirk was sunk by bomb, or torpedo,
Of the over 900 vessels that took part in the evacuation,
231 were lost.
It is Not That Easy
to Sink a Destroyer
70% of that was due to collision and misadventure in the channel.
Only 37 vessels were sunk because of aerial attack, 7 by torpedo,
9 by mine and 7 by gunfire from the shore.
The brilliant skies make for great cinematography, but veterans
who were at Dunkirk described enormous palls of smoke rising
from the harbour area, thick and impenetrable, obscuring visibility
over much of the town.
The Missing Smoke
Both German and British fighter pilots reported seeing Dunkirk
from many miles away from the smoke from the oil tanks burning
continuously in the harbour.
Operation Dynamo saw Navy, merchant and pleasure ships drafted in to mount
a massive rescue
German troops advanced on the western side of the port in May 1940
as the fuel tanks and other buildings were set on fire by the retreating Allies.
British Soldiers of the BEF take a final look back at the French coast during the
evacuation of troops from Dunkirk in 1940.
Ships off the beaches at Dunkirk, c.3 June 1940.
Smoke still billows from burning oil storage tanks.
The Stuka dive bombers were not able to perform as impressively
as depicted in the film.
Stukas approached Dunkirk at 12,000 feet
and released their bombs at closer to 6,000 feet.
Which is why only six of the 41 Royal Navy destroyers at Dunkirk
British, French and Belgian soldiers are getting to little ships to leave Dunkirk.
Some of the most important aspects of the Dunkirk evacuation
that were left out of the movie include King George VI’s call for an
Empire-wide Day of Prayer and Repentance, to be held on
26 May 1940.
Without a Prayer
When the British Expeditionary Force was in defeat and retreat,
the King made an international broadcast, instructing the people
of the British Empire to return to God in Repentance and humbly
seek for Divine intervention to enable them to rescue their army
from total destruction.
Many millions of people across the British Isles
and throughout the Empire flocked into churches,
praying in shifts for deliverance.
Churches were so packed that people were lined up for hours
waiting to get into church, to take part
in organised national Repentance.
The record reports two events following this extraordinary
Empire-wide call for Prayer. A violent storm arose over Dunkirk,
grounding the Luftwaffe.
Answers to Prayer
Secondly a great calm descended on the English Channel,
which fishermen said they had not seen for a generation.
Thus, the weather was passing from sunny to cloudy, and this, in just one day.
Then, how could there be so little wind and how could the sea be so calm?
This allowed many hundreds of small boats to sail across and
help rescue British soldiers.
This led to most participants referring to the “Miracle of Dunkirk.”
The King appointed
as an Empire-wide
This spiritual dimension is more
honestly depicted in the 1942 film,
(nominated for 12 Academy awards
and won 6),
which concluded with a church service and the congregation
singing “Onward Christian Soldiers”.
Also, not mentioned in the film, is why the victorious German Army
stopped on the outskirts of Dunkirk.
Why Did the Panzers Stop?
After a brilliant Blitzkrieg campaign of only two weeks, both the
French and British Armies had been routed and flung back by two
German armies, General Von Bock’s Army Group B to the East
and General Gerd Von Rundstedt’s Army Group A to the South.
Against the advice of his generals, Adolf Hitler then gave his
famous and controversial “Stop Order,” 24 May 1940.
His point was that the battle was won and the British
“are not our natural enemies.”
The Stop Order
Hoping for peace with Britain and future cooperation
in fighting communism in the East,
Adolf Hitler told his High Command that the British have an
Empire to care for and they must allow their forces to withdraw.
German soldier; Dunkirk, France, summer of 1940
Troops wait in the rubble for a rescue. Prime Minister Winston Churchill hailed
the rescue attempt as a 'miracle of deliverance'
Troops involved in the evacuation of British soldiers from Dunkirk, which was
one of the largest military operations of the war
A German soldier poses in front of the wreckage of a beached ship
as others move closer to inspect the damage
An abandoned paddle streamer is pictured abandoned elsewhere on the beach
The evacuation shows the typical chaos on the beach with vehicles and
Scores of abandoned trucks and cars give a sense of the chaos faced by Allied
troops as they prepared to evacuate
The Dunkirk film just depicts a pile of helmets.
Dunkirk illustrates again the modern tendency to redefine reality
through dramatic and gripping presentations which claim to be
“inspired by true events”, or “based on a true story.”
Redefining Reality and Distorting
However, the bias against Christianity,
of all too many scriptwriters and film producers,
leads to dangerous distortions of reality in the minds
of those many people for whom Hollywood
is their primary source of knowledge about the past.
The censoring out of the spiritual dynamics surrounding Dunkirk,
and the urgent call by King George VI for an Empire-wide Day of
Repentance and Prayer is inexcusable. It is delusional to pretend
that people of that era were as secular as society is today.
A correct understanding of the past
is an indispensable aid in making a better future.
The truth is not only stranger than fiction
– it is more gripping and impressive.
Facts are Stubborn Things
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things
are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure,
whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good
report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything
praiseworthy - meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8
Dunkirk veterans Michael Bentall, 94, (left) and Garth Wright (95) on board the
Little Ship the Princess Freda
It is essential that we learn the truths of history