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Evacuation of Dunkirk : Articles & Resources

Evacuation of Dunkirk

"After a frustratiing year performing guard duty in England, Canadian soldiers and sailors finally saw action at Dunkirk in May of 1940. That month, 20 year old Vancouver-born RCN Lieutenant, Robert Timbrell, was training at a gunnery school in England when he was suddenly pulled from class and placed in command of luxury motor yacht named Llanthony.

Timbrell was given a crew of six Newfoundland woodsmen and three others. He was ordered to go with four other fishing trawlers and evacuate as many troops as possible from a 16-kilometre stretch of beach at Dunkirk, France, across the English Channel from Dover.

Thousands of British and French troops had been pushed back to the Channel by the powerful German blitzkreig. A call was made for all vessels that could float to make their way to the French coast and bring the stranded armies home before they could be killed or captured.
Timbrell's vessel was one of 800 private boats commandeered by the Royal Navy. On Timbrell's first voyage across the Channel, he found Dunkirk in flames from German artillery fire, and the beaches filled with the sight of 400,000 soldiers awaiting evacuation.

After loading his yacht with 50 soldiers, a Luftwaffe shell exploded off the bow, destroying the anchor cables and rupturing the fuel lines. It wasn't long before the boat had drifted helplessly aground onto the beach. 

Timbrell asked a group of tommies (British soldiers) to fetch a British tank stranded in the village and drive it into the sea. The tank winched the yacht off the sand and into the water, and Timbrell set sail for England with the guardsmen, their Bren gun from the tank, and about 100 other soldiers on board.


On his return trip to Dunkirk, he sailed with five fishing trawlers also under his command, although one of them struck a mine and disappeared at sea with no survivors. On his third round-trip, Timbrell and his crew had to fire their hastily mounted Bren guns to ward off an attack by a circling German E-boat. In three trips across, they carried over 300 men to safety; the trawlers saved another 600.

For his bravery under fire, Timbrell received the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), becoming the First decorated Canadian naval officer of World War II. To get a DSC as a midshipman is pretty significant, says Michael Whitby, the navy's official historian in Ottawa. He (Timbrell) did something pretty special at Dunkirk." (Read More at History of Canada Online: Early Disasters)

hoto above: The motor yacht, Llanthony, which Timbrell commandeered. (Source)

EyeWitness History~The Evacuation of Dunkirk

BBC Production (21 short videos)~Dunkirk Retreat; Evacuation; Deliverance