Western Europe 1939-1945: Invasion

How worried was Britain about invasion 1940-41?

Extract from a report on Operation Dynamo, dated 3rd May 1941, concerning the evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkirk in May-June 1940

Catalogue ref: WO 106/1618

Report on Dunkirk; WO 106/1618

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What is this source?

Britain and France declared war on Germany in 1939. The war went well for Germany at first. By May 1940 German troops had conquered Denmark, Norway, Holland and Belgium. They were already invading France. British, French and Belgian forces resisted fiercely but by late May they were trapped in a pocket of North West France. The British government decided to evacuate its troops from the port of Dunkirk between May 26th and June 4th 1940. This was known as Operation Dynamo.


British forces returned to France further south but these troops were soon pulled out as well. France surrendered on June 21st 1940. A large number of Free French forces under General de Gaulle refused to accept this and remained in England until the D-Day invasions of 1944.

It’s worth knowing that...

Historians have always found it difficult to decide whether Dunkirk was a triumph or a disaster. It was superbly organised by the Royal Navy. Nearly 300 000 British and over 100 000 French troops were evacuated. The RAF outfought the Luftwaffe over the beaches at Dunkirk.


On the other hand it was a bitter defeat. British forces lost most of their equipment. They also effectively abandoned the French. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said it was a ‘miracle of deliverance’ but he also pointed out that ‘wars are not won by evacuations’.

What level of alert should Britain be on?

  1. According to the report, did the French and British cooperate effectively?
  2. Did the British army, navy and air force work together?
  3. What dangers did the allies face?
  4. Do you think the evacuation was well organised according to this source?
  5. Why has it been difficult for historians to decide whether Dunkirk was a success or failure?
  6. What level of alert would you put Britain on as a result of studying this evidence?

Record your answer in your threat level table you can always change your mind as you study other sources.