On 10th May 1940 the might of the German Wehrmacht crashed into the Allied defences in Belgium and France. Just ten days later the Blitzkrieg had reached the Channel coast. The British Expeditionary Force alongside the French and Belgium armies were left reeling under the onslaught. As the original Allie defensive plan was outflanked and broke down the battle became one of survival. The British commanders, desperate to keep their route open to the Channel for a withdrawal back home, set up a funnel or corridor, protected by a number of infantry units who expected to be sacrificed to allow their comrades to escape. Flanders towns were converted into strong-points where a desperate defence was conducted in order to keep the routes to the Channel open. As Boulogne and Calais fell to the Germans the only port remaining suitable for evacuation was Dunkirk. A defensive perimeter was set up around Dunkirk, a scene of dogged defence that resulted in the award of the Victoria Cross, one of the first of the War. On the beaches adjacent to Dunkirk Operation Dynamo was implemented, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force. Thousands of men waited on the beaches, subjected to German air attack and artillery fire and then waded into the surf to be collected by a plethora of small craft requisitioned for the task. By the 4th June 1940 the Battle of France was lost and the Battle for Britain seemed imminent but skill and dedication in executing Operation Dynamo saved nearly 350,000 British and French soldiers – saved to fight the Nazi menace again in the future.
You will begin this tour in the hilltop town of Cassel, scene of the final Anglo-French conference that decided on the final defensive plan for Dunkirk. You will witness the desperate defence of the town by the 2nd Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment and the determined defence of an isolate bunker by Lieutenant Cresswell and his men. You will stand in the barn at Esquelbecq where eighty British and French prisoners of war were murdered by men of Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich’s 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. Following the British Expeditionary Force’s withdrawal you stand on the beaches north of Dunkirk where British and French soldiers stood patiently in the surf waiting for the next small boat to ferry them out to the ships struggling to take them back to Britain. And we will take you to the cemeteries in Dunkirk that mark the final resting place of those that were not so lucky and remain in Belgium and France to this day.