1 June 2020

Dunkirk Evacuation Operation Dynamo - Nine Days That Saved An Army

A timely new title from Frontline Books series 'Images of War', Dunkirk Evacuation Operation Dynamo is a detailed  collection of photographs compiled by John Grehan and Alexander Nicoll.

Understandably, the number of photos taken by British and French servicemen during the evacuation are limited - as they had other things to preoccupy themselves with. However, the triumphant German troops spent considerable time, and camera film, documenting the destruction and detritus of war left by the retreating troops. Many of the images in the book come from this source. The authors have done a good job of explaining the locations of the photos, names of the wrecked ships that failed to return to England, and the context of the period.

In addition, there are photos from British sources, including a number of images taken by Sub-Lieutenant John Rutherford Crosby, a member of the crew of the minesweeper, and converted Clyde paddle steamer, HMS Oriole. Some of his photos are well known - such as those showing lines of men waiting for rescue from the beaches - others less so, but rarely are they credited to him, and all were taken with his own personal little camera.

While some photos in this book will be familiar and often used, many will have been seldom seen, and this book provides a very good visual representation of the evacuation of Dunkirk and the surrounding area.

Thanks to Pen & Sword for the review copy.

Available from:
Pen & Sword

31 May 2020

Dunkirk - Old Men Remember

This book came about after conversations at the annual dinner of the Bath Branch of the Dunkirk Veterans Association in 1985, celebrating the 45th Anniversary of the evacuation. The Editor of Dunkirk - Old Men Remember spent considerable time persuading members to share their experiences, often requiring some effort, as many considered their personal experience nothing unusual and therefore not worth writing about.

However, he persevered and the result is a unique set of recollections, spanning stories from Privates to Generals. The Editor himself was a Beachmaster, and the range of recollections is both fascinating and broad. The contents includes:

  • The Navy Got Them Away - including recollections from men serving on HMS Codrington, HMS Harvester, HMS Wolfhound and on shore operations
  • As Seen By A Beachmaster - personal account by Commander S.A. Nettle RNVR
  • Movement Control Did What They Could - personal account by Brigadier Collins, The Green Howards
  • Problems for the Medics - personal account by Major James, RAMC & a diary extract from an anonymous QARANC Sister
  • Headquarters Staff Make a Getaway - personal accounts by Private Barendt, RASC and Major Lawson, Royal Engineers
  • From the Gunner's Point of View - personal account by men of the Royal Artillery
  • Drivers had a Hard Time - accounts from drivers across numerous Regiments
  • The Sappers, Ordnance and RASC - accounts from members of the Royal Engineers, RAOC and RASC
  • The Infantry Look Back - accounts from men who served with the following Regiments - Lancashire Fusiliers, Royal Scots, Royal Warwickshire, Somerset Light Infantry, The Green Howards, East Surrey Regiment, Coldstream Guards, Royal Signals, East Lancashire Regiment, East Riding Yeomanry, REME
  • The Perimeter Defences - two IWM owned accounts
  • The Merchant Navy & Small Ships Armada - accounts from Merchant Navy and RN men
  • As Seen from Above - The Air Force View - accounts from the RAF
  • Some Found Other Ways Home - men who escaped via Cherbourg and Brest
  • Resistance Forces in Occupied Europe Were Born at Dunkirk - an evader who escaped through Spain and a member of the Belgian Army
This is a seldom seen book, but in my experience one of the best collections of Dunkirk accounts.

Available from:

26 May 2020

The Epic of Dunkirk

Edward Keble Chatterton (1878-1944) was a sailor and prolific writer who is best known for non-fiction works. His voyages across the English Channel, to the Netherlands, around the Mediterranean and through the French canals led to many articles and books. Joining the R.N.V.R. at the outbreak of the Great War he commanded a motor launch flotilla, leaving the service  as a Lieutenant Commander. In 1918 he was appointed to the Naval section of the Official History Committee, where he worked until 1922.

His account of Dunkirk was, at the time of publication, the only book dealing with the naval and seafaring aspect of the withdrawal from Dunkirk of the British Expeditionary Force. It includes first hand information obtained from ship owners, and the officers themselves who took part in the evacuation along with official information.

A valuable source for those interested with the naval and seafaring aspect of the withdrawal from Dunkirk, originally published in November 1940 it is an authentic account of the coasters and cargo steamers, yachts and motor cruisers, sailing barges and lifeboats, excursion paddle vessels, destroyers and sloops, even dinghies, that took their part day after day, night after night, and effected what experts at the time had considered impossible.

Available from:
Naval & Military Press

Dunkirk 1940 - Operation Dynamo

77 years ago, on the beaches of Dunkirk, the British, French and Belgian soldiers made an unexpected re-embarkation enabling them to escape captivity. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF), with its 10 motorized divisions, arrived in France in September 1939, was able to evacuate most of its soldiers to Great Britain, but had to abandon most of its vehicles and tons of equipment. 

Johann Tytgat, an inhabitant of the region, has traveled relentlessly for more than 30 years on the beaches and the surrounding countryside in search of the relics of Operation Dynamo, which took place in May-June 1940. We present these pieces saved from oblivion and sometimes presenting a surprising state for objects having spent decades buried in the sand on the beaches. 

This is a highly illustrated book which showcases the collection of objects found on the beaches and environs by the authors. I picked up a copy in France from a tourist information centre, and while the text is far from exhaustive, it is the pictures of the relics which are the main focus and this makes it worthwhile. And yes, the cover image is taken from the 1950s film! 

Some example pages below

Available from:
I can't find this for sale online anywhere! So it might be a purchase if you visit Dunkirk or De Panne tourist offices.

We Remember Dunkirk

‘Yes we were scared. It could be seen on the faces of the men. No food didn’t help. We stopped to suck pebbles during the day as our tongues began to swell through lack of water … We had an order come through to us one day. Every man for himself. And then the soldiers – Belgian, French and British – were side by side in silent soddy ranks in columns, zig-zagged across the beaches. I still believe this was done to minimise casualties. We had to wade out up to our necks in water to get onto a boat, ducking under the water when the Germans tried to mow us down. Eventually I managed to grab a chain hanging off a Naval motorboat, and it was fully loaded but I hung on …’ 
Arthur Thomas Gunn, Walsall

Between 27 May and 4 June 1940 over 900 vessels rescued 338,226 people trapped at Dunkirk. Cut off by the advancing German Army hundreds of thousands of Allied troops gathered on the beaches – exhausted, hungry and scarred by war. Operation Dynamo saw British destroyers and the hundreds of ‘little ships’ bring these men safely back to England, where they were welcomed back by the locals with tea and sandwiches, and hailed as heroes.

In We Remember Dunkirk we hear stories from the soldiers who made the perilous journey to Dunkirk and came under constant attack from Nazi aircraft as they boarded British ships and attempted to cross the Channel. But we also hear from the nurses who tended the many returning wounded; the young women who, along with the rest of their communities, rallied to make food and gather whatever they could to give the soldiers; and what it was like witnessing all this through a child’s eyes. Above all, we see how the solidarity of the British people gave rise to the unfailing ‘Dunkirk Spirit’.

Available from:
Penguin Books 
Alternatively, you can buy the original 1990 version from Amazon (quite a bit cheaper)

Dunkirk - The Men They Left Behind

At 2am on the morning of the 3rd of June 1940, General Harold Alexander searched along the quayside, holding onto his megaphone and called “'Is anyone there? Is anyone there?'” before turning his boat back towards England.

Tradition tells us that the dramatic events of the evacuation of Dunkirk, in which 300,000 BEF servicemen escaped the Nazis, was a victory gained from the jaws of defeat. For the first time, rather than telling the tale of the 300,000 who escaped, Sean Longden reveals the story of the 40,000 men sacrificed in the rearguard battles.

On the beaches and sand dunes, besides the roads and amidst the ruins lay the corpses of hundreds who had not reached the boats. Elsewhere, hospitals full of the sick and wounded who had been left behind to receive treatment from the enemy’s doctors. And further afield – still fighting hard alongside their French allies - was the entire 51st Highland Division, whose war had not finished as the last boats slipped away.

Also scattered across the countryside were hundreds of lost and lonely soldiers. These ‘evaders’ had also missed the boats and were now desperately trying to make their own way home, either by walking across France or rowing across the channel. The majority, however, were now prisoners of war who were forced to walk on the death marches all the way to the camps in Germany and Poland, where they were forgotten until 1945.

Available from:

8 April 2020

Fallschirmjäger! A Collection of Firsthand Accounts and Diaries by German Paratrooper Veterans from the Second World War

Paratroopers or Fallschirmjäger as they are known in German, were the elite parachute troops (Fallschirmtruppe) of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. This book is the result of several years of written correspondence, telephone interviews and meetings between the author, Greg Way, and veteran Fallschirmjäger between 1999 and 2006 and contains the memoirs of seventeen pre to mid-war volunteers and one late war conscript.

The stories and diaries feature vivid battlefield memories that reflect the reality of war. On the other hand many of the stories convey the lighter hearted moments or gallows humour that has remained etched in their memories. The one common factor shared by almost all of these men is captivity, whether captured during bitter fighting or surrendering at the end of hostilities. These men and thousands like them would be shipped off to POW camps in the USA, Britain and France until their repatriation, in some cases from several months to several years after the end of the war. Their words provide a fascinating insight into their training, combat, capture and subsequent captivity, creating an important historical record of their military service during the Second World War. Sadly, many of these men have now passed away and oral histories such as these now belong to an ever decreasing number of elderly veterans.

The range of experiences - including accounts of Crete, Eben Emael, North Africa, Cassino, Normandy and the Eastern Front -  give a great insight into the experiences of Fallschirmjäger in the Second World War. Each chapter details the experiences of a veteran, accompanied with unique photographs. Many thanks to Greg Way for sharing these memories, and ensuring the stories of these veterans have not been lost. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in personal accounts of the Second World War.

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