Evacuations in 1940 from Dunkirk, Le Havre, Cherbourg, St-Nazaire, Arcachon, Bayonne and St-Jean-de-Luz
Whenever authors deal with the evacuation of military and civilians from the west coast of France in 1940, 99% of the time Dunkirk is the only action mentioned.
In fact, Operation Dynamo, the code name for the Dunkirk evacuation, carried about 340,000 Allied force members back to England. It ended on June 4. During that evacuation, civilian shipping losses were described as “heavy” while the Royal and French navies lost about 13 destroyers and the RAF lost about 145 planes.
But the battle continued in France until all hostilities ended on June 25. From June 10 until the 25th a series of evacuations from many French ports, from Le Havre in the northwest to St-Jean de Luz in the southwest managed to carry another 215,000 military personnel, diplomats and civilians back to Britain.
Here are details of these actions from Royal Navy archives available on the Web:
The Battle for France begins on the June 5th with a German advance south from the line River Somme to Sedan.
10th – The evacuation of British and Allied forces from the rest of France got underway. Starting with Operation ‘Cycle’, 11,000 were lifted off from the Channel port of Le Havre.
14th – The German army entered Paris.
15th – Operation ‘Aerial’ began with the evacuation of Cherbourg and continued for the next 10 days, moving south right down to the Franco-Spanish border.
17th – The French Government of Marshal Petain requested armistice terms from Germany and Italy.
22nd – FRANCE capitulated and the Franco-German surrender document was signed. Its provisions included German occupation of the Channel and Biscay coasts and demilitarisation of the French fleet under Axis control.
25th – The Allied evacuation of France ended with a further 215,000 servicemen and civilians saved, but Operations ‘Aerial’ and ‘Cycle’ never captured the public’s imagination like the ‘miracle’ of Dunkirk.
25th – On the final day of the evacuation, Canadian destroyer “FRASER” was rammed and sunk by AA cruiser “Calcutta” off the Gironde Estuary leading into Bordeaux.
Fortunately for me, my father, mother, 3 siblings and I were caught up in this last minute evacuation from Nazi controlled France in June 1940.
I have no verifiable family records of that hasty exodus, but family anecdotes mentioned leaving by beach, Bayonne and the Royal Navy.
I can write a fictional account but there is little doubt that when my family left the shores of southwestern France we were part of a remnant. My father’s way of doing things would have guaranteed that. But we were all happy enough to get away at the last minute, even if somewhat later than would have been preferred by my mother, of course!