How Much do You Know About the Real-Life War Heroics at Dunkirk?


By: John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: Wiki commons

About This Quiz

"Dunkirk" is now a Hollywood movie, but in real life, it was a miraculous World War II military operation that saved countless lives and deprived the Nazis of a bone-crushing victory. How much do you really know about Dunkirk?

The Miracle of Dunkirk was the largest _____ in military history.

Dunkirk marked the biggest evacuation ever in military history. With hundreds of thousands of men rescued from the grips of the Nazis, the Allies had time to catch their breath and ponder ways to liberate Europe.


The evacuation of Dunkirk happened during which major conflict?

In May of 1940, the Nazi war machine was crushing the Allies in Europe, sending them reeling to the west. There was just one problem for the retreating Allies: the ocean was in the way.


Where is Dunkirk located?

Dunkirk is a harbor town in northern France. The disheveled Allies huddled in Dunkirk as the Nazis bore down on them, praying for a miracle to save them.


At Dunkirk, the Nazis cornered a huge contingent of men from the BEF. What's the BEF?

Early in the war, the British sent the British Expeditionary Force in a futile attempt to stop the Nazis from storming across Europe. But the BEF struggled against the Germans and was forced to withdraw.


In early May 1940, the French were still relying on the Maginot Line to stop the Germans from entering France. What was the Maginot Line?

The Maginot Line was a formidable line of fortifications built by France in the '30s to stop a potential German invasion. Its huge fortresses were nearly impenetrable ... but the Germans simply went around them and sent French troops fleeing.


The Germans launched many attacks westward in May 1940. What did the Dutch and Belgians do?

The Dutch and Belgians were forced to surrender in May. This fact gave the Germans a route around France's Maginot Line, all the better to fling the Allies back towards the Atlantic.


What was the Phoney War?

After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, fighting mostly stopped, even though Germany and the Allies both declared war. It was the Phoney War...a deceptively quiet war that ended once Germany started attacks again in 1940.


The Dunkirk operation was officially known as _______.

Operation Dynamo was a mission to rescue Allied troops stranded on the European continent. Without the success of Operation Dynamo, it's hard to know what would have become of the Allies. Perhaps the Nazis would have occupied Europe for many years.


The Allies began rescuing the men at Dunkirk and immediately made which realization?

The Allies frantically scrambled to rescue the BEF, but they didn't have nearly enough ships to carry so many men. The British government appealed to citizens everywhere to come to their aid.


True or false, did the Allies simply give up and run away once the Germans forced the Dutch and Belgians to surrender?

The Allies launched several counterattacks in hopes of slowing the German advance in France. But the Nazi forces were too strong, cutting the Allied forces into several chunks and threatening to annihilate them.


What was the "blitzkrieg"?

The German blitzkrieg meant "lightning war," and it referred to the massive, powerful strikes that the Nazis used to overwhelm opposing forces. In May 1940, the blitzkrieg was at full power, trapping the Allies in France.


What was the attitude of the soldiers who were awaiting rescue?

Welcome to World War II, fellas. The men knew they weren't going anywhere fast. They patiently waited for their turn to board a ship even as German bombs rained down on their heads.


The Germans splintered the Allies and cornered the BEF at Dunkirk. What did top British Gen. Alan Brooke say about the ordeal?

Brooke lamented the situation as virtually hopeless. He said, "Nothing but a miracle can save the BEF now." But little did Brooke know, a miracle was already on the way.


The British Expeditionary Force was trapped by the Nazis on the east and the ___ on the west.

The Allied decided that their only option was to retreat in the face of overwhelming German force. But they were stopped by the English Channel, a wide and deep body of water that served as an insurmountable barrier. The Allies were trapped.


The Germans were licking their chops and ready to capture the BEF near Dunkirk. Then what happened?

With the Allies pinned, the Germans decided to halt their advance. Why? Because Hermann Goering, the leader of the German air force, told Hitler that his bombers could destroy the Allies as they scattered on the beaches of Dunkirk. Cue the maniacal Nazi laughter.


True or false, did United States sailors play a major role in rescuing Allied forces at Dunkirk?

In May 1940, America wasn't actively involved in World War II military operations. It wasn't until after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 that the United States declared war.


Many parts of the Dunkirk coast has wide sandy beaches. What did that mean for the evacuees?

Did you have a bad day today? Try standing in the ocean for hours on end while being strafed by bloodthirsty German pilots. The wide sandy beaches meant the water was too shallow even for small boats. The men were forced to wade into the Channel and in some cases stood there for hours waiting for help from small boats.


The Allies knew that they had to rescue their men at Dunkirk. How did they decide to evacuate them?

The Allies sent fleets of ships to pick up the troops stranded at Dunkirk. But there were too many men ... and there wasn't enough time.


How did citizens respond to the British government's desperate plea for boats?

British citizens -- and those of other countries -- immediately put their ships and even small boats to sea to help rescue the men suffering under fire at Dunkirk. But even with hundreds of boats, there were still too many soldiers trapped between a watery grave and Nazi bullets.


How long did the evacuation last?

For about eight days, the Allies heaved men aboard ships and took them as quickly as possible across the English Channel. The mission was deadly for rescuers and evacuees alike.


As all of this military drama was unfolding in Dunkirk, what were local civilians doing?

With bombs and bullets flying from every direction, civilians fled or hid in fear for the lives of their families. About 1,000 of them (roughly one-third of those remaining in town) perished in the onslaught.


While ships were desperately attempting to save the soldiers, what was the British Royal Air Force doing?

The RAF was instrumental in holding off the Germans. It successfully fended off the Luftwaffe for days, buying the Allies critical time to complete the evacuation.


How many boats and ships were used during the evacuation of Dunkirk?

Between Allied naval vessels and privately-owned watercraft, there were about 930 or so total boats and ships used during the massive evacuation. Everything from large ships to tiny boats were needed to save the BEF.


The evacuation began on May 27. How many men were rescued on the first day?

The Allies threw everything they had into the evacuation, but just 8,000 men were rescued on the first day. At that rate, it would take weeks or months to save the BEF. The situation was indeed dire.


There were three rescue routes used to evacuate soldiers to England. True or false, were these routes essentially the same?

The three evacuation routes, named X, Y and Z, ranged from roughly 40 to 87 nautical miles in length. They featured different hazards, including mines, German artillery and enemy aircraft, meaning that no matter which route the rescuers took, they faced immense dangers to their own lives.


As the soldiers were waiting for rescue, what did they do with abandoned vehicles?

At low tide, the men would move abandoned vehicles into the ocean, anchor them, and then put wood planks on top for a walking surface that connected the vehicles. These jury-rigged jetties helped to speed up the evacuation.


On June 3, Capt. William Tennant, who was in charge of Operation Dynamo, gave which signal?

Tennant signaled that the mission was complete and that British forces were clear of the area. But British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had other plans. He wanted to save the French troops, too. So back they went.


True or false, did the Allies manage to rescue all of their soldiers at Dunkirk?

Unfortunately, the valiant effort fell short. Tens of thousands of soldiers (mostly French troops) were captured by the Germans. The Allies also lost countless weapons and vehicles to the Nazis.


To what does the "Dunkirk spirit" refer?

In the aftermath of the great rescue, many people referred to the "Dunkirk spirit," the perseverance of the British in the face of great odds. As it would turn out, they'd need a lot more of the Dunkirk spirit in the years following the rescue.


In all, how many Allied troops were rescued during the Miracle of Dunkirk?

Operation Dynamo didn't just save a few lives, it rescued practically a whole army, with more than 340,000 men finding refuge from the Nazis. Many of those men would later play a part in turning the tide of the war.


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