Home > Non Fiction > Dunkirk. The History Behind the major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine. Pub. William Collins, 2017.

Dunkirk. The History Behind the major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine. Pub. William Collins, 2017.

April 25, 2021

It is appropriate that I review this excellent historical account of the Dunkirk evacuation, on ANZAC Day because this evacuation meant as much to the British as Gallipoli does to New Zealanders and Australians. If the British Expeditionary Force had been captured or destroyed at Dunkirk it is almost certain that Britain would have been forced to surrender and the world would have been a different place.

Reading this book also meant much to me because my father was at Dunkirk and wore a bullet for his troubles. He never talked about it except to say that it was a complete shambles and terrifying. This book confirms that.

The book begins with an interview of Christopher Nolan who made the motion picture which I saw and astonishingly he made it without putting any Germans in it. Read it and find out why, it’s not important but an interesting position. Joshua Levine then looks at the social history of Britain since WW1 and the Depression and concludes that there was vast change. There was a strong sense by the working class that they had been let down after being promised a land fit for heroes after WW1. There was a growth of a youth culture reflected in the music, clothes and the way youth spent their money. There was also the growth of Mosely and his Hitler supporters who didn’t want a confrontation with him. Dunkirk changed all this.

Dunkirk was a military defeat brought about by the twin German tactics of Blitzkrieg from the air by Stuka bombers who had Jericho sirens on their wing struts and on their bombs. This terrified both civilian and military personal. Secondly the swiftness of the Panzer tanks so swift were they that Hitler couldn’t believe it had worked so well.

The quick capitulation by Belgium and the rapid movement of panzers without opposition into France stunned everybody. Should the British Army have left Britain in the first place and were they ready for war? The fall of the Maginot Line completely demoralised the French and allowed the Germans to get in behind the British Army and squeeze it from both sides. There was fighting and opposition of course and the beauty of this book is that tunes into live and documented accounts of the skirmishes from men on the ground.

It was chaos, nobody knew what was going on, many soldiers didn’t know where Dunkirk was, they thought it was a place in Scotland. Discipline broke down and survival took over. Rank lost its influence with meritocracy and natural leadership won over rank.

The fact that more than 300,000 men were evacuated off the beach and off the mole that went almost a mile around the port of Dunkirk was a miracle of course and the small boats astonishingly brave. Some 15,000 Frenchmen were also evacuated in a desperate struggle on the ground. Meanwhile politically Churchill came to the fore in spite of have little faith in him from both sides of the House of Commons.

Joshua Levine pieces it all together in a quite compelling account of what went on. As the soldiers returned many felt they had failed and were astonished that the British public treated them like heroes. Britain had changed thanks to the Dunkirk spirit and it was that that began the real opposition to Hitler.

An outstanding book, if you miss this you will kick yourself.

Categories: Non Fiction Tags: ,
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