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The War at Sea, 1939-1945, Volume I: The Defensive, S. W. Roskill. This first volume in the British official history of the war at sea covers the period from the outbreak of the war through to the first British disasters in the Pacific in December 1941. Amongst other topics it covers the Norwegian campaign, the evacuation from Dunkirk and the first two years of the Battle of the Atlantic. The text is meticulously researched, and is rooted in a detailed study of wartime records, both British and German. [see more]
The True Story of Dunkirk, As Told Through the Heroism of the “Medway Queen”
The crew of the Medway Queen was taking on an unusually large load of supplies for their next mission. The cook’s assistant remarked, “Enough grub has been put aboard us to feed a ruddy army,” writes Walter Lord in The Miracle of Dunkirk. As it turned out, that was precisely the idea. Little did the crew know, but the Medway Queen was about to be sent across the English Channel on one of the most daring rescue missions of World War II: Operation Dynamo, better known as the evacuation of Dunkirk.
In the late spring of 1940, European powers were still engaged in what had been dubbed the “Phoney War.” Despite Germany’s invasion of Poland the previous September, France and Britain had done little more than assemble troops on their side of the defensive lines and glower at Adolf Hitler’s troops. But on May 10, the Germans launched a blitzkrieg attack on the Netherlands and Belgium by May 15, they’d broken through French defenses and turned towards the English Channel. Within a week, around 400,000 Allied soldiers—comprising the bulk of the British Expeditionary Forces, three French armies and the remnants of the Belgian troops—were surrounded on the northern coast of France, concentrated near the coastal city of Dunkirk.
But rather than strike while the troops were stuck on the beaches, Hitler gave his Panzer troops a halt order. Perhaps he was worried about a British counter-attack, or he thought the German air force could overwhelm the Allied forces at Dunkirk without the help of ground artillery the reason for his hesitation has never been entirely explained. But it gave the British military just enough time to organize an evacuation.
When Operation Dynamo began late on May 26, British officers charged with organizing the frantic escape estimated that only 45,000 men might be saved. But over the next eight days, nearly 1,000 British ships—both military and civilian—crossed the Channel repeatedly to rescue 338,226 people, while the Royal Air Force fought the Luftwaffe above. Another 220,000 Allied soldiers were rescued from the French ports of Saint-Malo, Brest, Cherbourg and Saint-Nazaire by the British.
The Dunkirk evacuation inspired one of Winston Churchill’s most dramatic speeches on June 4, when he told the House of Commons, “We shall go on to the end… we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches… we shall fight in the hills we shall never surrender.”
The "Medway Queen" shown here before it was converted to a minesweeper for use in World War II. (Richard Halton Collection)
The events of late May, 1940, became the stuff of legend—the “little ships” piloted by civilians were alternately lauded or ignored (those that sunk made it harder for other ships to get to shore to rescue the soldiers, and many of the civilian ships were actually manned by Navy personnel).
Among the first to traverse the approximately 60 miles across the Channel to Dunkirk, and the last to leave on the final day of operations, was the Medway Queen. The former pleasure cruiser was 180 feet long, with paddle wheels on both sides of its hull. Built in 1924, the ship carried passengers on short tours on the River Thames and around Britain’s southeast side.
When it was called to the war effort, the boat was repainted and retrofitted with minesweeping gear to patrol the Straits of Dover for German mines, plus anti-aircraft machine guns. Before assisting in the evacuation at Dunkirk, the boat had already accomplished several important missions for the British war effort. The vessel transported children to safer locations around the country, and was then charged with surveilling the rivers around London and the Straits of Dover for mines. But nothing in the ship's early war experience could’ve prepared its crew for Operation Dynamo.
On the beaches of Dunkirk, chaos reigned. Soldiers formed lines into the water or onto the eastern pier (called a “mole”) and stood in their places for up to three days, without sleep, food or drink. All the while, German planes dropped bombs across the beach and onto the ships attempting to rescue the men. One soldier named Brian Bishop, who boarded the Medway Queen on June 1, described the terrifying experience of waiting to be picked up:
“The mole had been bombed in several places and across the gaps gangplanks had been placed. It was difficult carrying stretchers along it and then having to lift them shoulder height across the gangplanks. Just as we were moving on an officer examined our stretcher case and said, ‘He’s dead, tip him out and fetch another.’”
Even after Bishop made it to the ship, the soldiers couldn’t stop themselves from panicking when the German planes flew overhead, dive-bombing and machine-gunning the boat during its trip across the Channel. “When we were attacked the first few times everyone rushed to one side or to the other side when the planes were approaching,” Bishop recalled. “Someone on the bridge bellowed over a megaphone, ‘Sit down and keep still.’”
A crowd of troops on deck one of the destroyers that participated in Operation Dynamo. (Imperial War Museum )
For the crew of the Medway Queen, the operation was just as strenuous and terrifying. On one overnight trip across the Channel, the ship’s paddle wheels churned up the glowing phosphorescence in the water, leaving a visible wake that made the 180-foot ship an easy target for German bombers. But the crew of the ship “were nothing if not resourceful,” said Sub-Lieutenant Graves. “[We] devised oil bags which were lowered over the bow… to break the force of heavy waves. This was most successful, our brilliant wakes disappeared,” Graves said in Dunkirk: From Disaster to Deliverance, Testimonies of the Last Survivors.
After they’d settled the issue of their shimmering wake, the crew still had to contend with the ship’s funnel, whose billowing soot caught fire. They dumped water down it to quench the flames, which one man in the engine room furiously protested, saying, “I do not intend to be f***ing well drowned on the job!” And the cook and his assistant were hard-pressed to prepare meals for the thousands of men they picked up in a galley the size of a small closet.
Although the trip only took several hours each way, the loading process could be lengthy and sometimes required picking up men from other rescue vessels that were hit by German planes. Boats went back and forth across the Channel at all times of day, going as quickly as possible to rescue as many as possible
The crew of the Medway “went into extreme danger seven nights out of eight,” writes historian Richard Halton, a member of the Medway Queen Preservation Society and the author of The Medway Queen, in an email. “They spent most of the day cleaning the ship, restocking stores, fuel and ammunition and then sailed for France each evening. They did this repeatedly despite obvious severe casualties in other vessels.”
British troops on a destroyer at Dover, having successfully crossed the Channel. (Imperial War Museum)
The Medway Queen finished its last trip on June 4, after being hit by a nearby vessel that was shelled by the Germans early that morning. Despite damage to the starboard paddle box, the captain managed to steer the ship back to Dover, where its arrival was heralded by the sound of sirens from ships all over Dover Harbor. The remarkable success and bravery of the Medway Queen’s crew resulted in the captain, Lieutenant A.T. Cook, and Sub-lieutenant J.D. Graves receiving the Distinguished Service Cross, and several other crewmembers receiving awards as well. While Halton notes the statistics are unreliable, it’s estimated the Medway Queen rescued 7,000 men and shot down three enemy aircraft.
“Medway Queen made more trips than most other ships. For a small ship lightly armed she did remarkably well,” Halton said.
At the end of the battle, Dunkirk was left in ruins and 235 vessels were lost, along with at least 5,000 soldiers. The Germans managed to capture 40,000 Allied soldiers, who were forced into hard labor for the remainder of the war. But even though the operation was a retreat with heavy casualties, the rescue of nearly half a million troops from Dunkirk went on to be one of the most important victories of the war and may well have changed its outcome. As historian Patrick Wilson writes, “Rarely do people … give enough credit to the Royal Navy and the larger vessels that were responsible for rescuing the massive majority of troops. Dunkirk was the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.”
As for the Medway Queen, the ship returned to its work as a pleasure boat at the end of the war and even appeared in several movies. When the boat was retired and about to become scrap metal, a group of history lovers purchased the boat and have been working on various restoration and preservation projects since the 1980s. Today the Medway Queen is docked in Gillingham, not far from London, and is cared for by the Medway Queen Preservation Society. “In preserving the ship we keep alive memories of past ages and the stories of the people that were involved,” Halton said.
Why were the Allies at Dunkirk?
The Second World War had begun in western Europe on 1 September 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. In Belgium and France there was a long winter of waiting as German and Allied forces, including the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), faced each other along the border defences.
Then on 10 May 1940, two German armies moved eastward. A smaller one swept through Holland and Belgium into northern France, drawing the main Allied forces north to meet it. The other, main German force advanced through Luxembourg, broke through the French lines at Sedan, and sliced across northern France to the coast. Moving rapidly with armoured columns, these armies trapped the Allies in an ever-decreasing pocket.
The Germans took Boulogne on 25 May and Calais the next day, leaving Dunkirk as the only viable port from which the BEF, part of the French army and the remains of the Belgian army could escape.
In September 1939, after Nazi Germany invaded Poland, the United Kingdom sent the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to aid in the defence of France, landing at Cherbourg, Nantes, and Saint-Nazaire. By May 1940 the force consisted of ten divisions in three corps under the command of General John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort.   Working with the BEF were the Belgian Army and the French First, Seventh, and Ninth Armies. 
During the 1930s, the French had constructed the Maginot Line, a series of fortifications along their border with Germany. This line had been designed to deter a German invasion across the Franco-German border and funnel an attack into Belgium, which could then be met by the best divisions of the French Army. Thus, any future war would take place outside of French territory, avoiding a repeat of the First World War.   The area immediately to the north of the Maginot Line was covered by the heavily wooded Ardennes region,  which French General Philippe Pétain declared to be "impenetrable" as long as "special provisions" were taken. He believed that any enemy force emerging from the forest would be vulnerable to a pincer attack and destroyed. The French commander-in-chief, Maurice Gamelin, also believed the area to be of a limited threat, noting that it "never favoured large operations".  With this in mind, the area was left lightly defended. 
The initial plan for the German invasion of France called for an encirclement attack through the Netherlands and Belgium, avoiding the Maginot Line.  Erich von Manstein, then Chief of Staff of the German Army Group A, prepared the outline of a different plan and submitted it to the OKH (German High Command) via his superior, Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt.   Manstein's plan suggested that panzer divisions should attack through the Ardennes, then establish bridgeheads on the Meuse River and rapidly drive to the English Channel. The Germans would thus cut off the Allied armies in Belgium. This part of the plan later became known as the Sichelschnitt ("sickle cut").   Adolf Hitler approved a modified version of Manstein's ideas, today known as the Manstein Plan, after meeting with him on 17 February. 
On 10 May, Germany invaded Belgium and the Netherlands.  Army Group B, under Generaloberst Fedor von Bock, attacked into Belgium, while the three panzer corps of Army Group A under Rundstedt swung around to the south and drove for the Channel.  The BEF advanced from the Belgian border to positions along the River Dyle within Belgium, where they fought elements of Army Group B starting on 10 May.   They were ordered to begin a fighting withdrawal to the Scheldt River on 14 May when the Belgian and French positions on their flanks failed to hold.  During a visit to Paris on 17 May, Prime Minister Winston Churchill was astonished to learn from Gamelin that the French had committed all their troops to the ongoing engagements and had no strategic reserves.  On 19 May, Gort met with French General Gaston Billotte, commander of the French First Army and overall coordinator of the Allied forces. Billotte revealed that the French had no troops between the Germans and the sea. Gort immediately saw that evacuation across the Channel was the best course of action, and began planning a withdrawal to Dunkirk, the closest location with good port facilities.  Surrounded by marshes, Dunkirk boasted old fortifications and the longest sand beach in Europe, where large groups could assemble.  On 20 May, on Churchill's suggestion, the Admiralty began arranging for all available small vessels to be made ready to proceed to France.  After continued engagements and a failed Allied attempt on 21 May at Arras to cut through the German spearhead,  the BEF was trapped, along with the remains of the Belgian forces and the three French armies, in an area along the coast of northern France and Belgium.  
Without informing the French, the British began planning on 20 May for Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the BEF.   This planning was headed by Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay at the naval headquarters below Dover Castle, from which he briefed Churchill as it was under way.  Ships began gathering at Dover for the evacuation.  On 20 May, the BEF sent Brigadier Gerald Whitfield to Dunkirk to start evacuating unnecessary personnel. Overwhelmed by what he later described as "a somewhat alarming movement towards Dunkirk by both officers and men", due to a shortage of food and water, he had to send many along without thoroughly checking their credentials. Even officers ordered to stay behind to aid the evacuation disappeared onto the boats. 
On 22 May, Churchill ordered the BEF to attack southward in coordination with the French First Army under General Georges Blanchard to reconnect with the remainder of the French forces.  This proposed action was dubbed the Weygand Plan after General Maxime Weygand, appointed Supreme Commander after Gamelin's dismissal on 18 May.  On 25 May, Gort had to abandon any hope of achieving this objective and withdrew on his own initiative, along with Blanchard's forces, behind the Lys Canal, part of a canal system that reached the sea at Gravelines.  Sluice gates had already been opened all along the canal to flood the system and create a barrier (the Canal Line) against the German advance. 
Battle of Dunkirk Edit
By 24 May, the Germans had captured the port of Boulogne and surrounded Calais.  The engineers of the 2nd Panzer Division under Generalmajor Rudolf Veiel built five bridges over the Canal Line and only one British battalion barred the way to Dunkirk.  On 23 May, at the suggestion of Fourth Army commander Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge, Rundstedt had ordered the panzer units to halt, concerned about the vulnerability of his flanks and the question of supply to his forward troops.     He was also concerned that the marshy ground around Dunkirk would prove unsuitable for tanks and he wished to conserve them for later operations (in some units, tank losses were 30–50 per cent).   Hitler was also apprehensive, and on a visit to Army Group A headquarters on 24 May, he endorsed the order.  
Air Marshal Hermann Göring urged Hitler to let the Luftwaffe (aided by Army Group B  ) finish off the British, to the consternation of General Franz Halder, who noted in his diary that the Luftwaffe was dependent upon the weather and aircrews were worn out after two weeks of battle.  Rundstedt issued another order, which was sent uncoded. It was picked up by the Royal Air Force (RAF) Y service intelligence network at 12:42: "By order of the Fuhrer . attack north-west of Arras is to be limited to the general line Lens–Bethune–Aire–St Omer–Gravelines. The Canal will not be crossed."   Later that day, Hitler issued Directive 13, which called for the Luftwaffe to defeat the trapped Allied forces and stop their escape.  At 15:30 on 26 May, Hitler ordered the panzer groups to continue their advance, but most units took another 16 hours to attack.  The delay gave the Allies time to prepare defences vital for the evacuation and prevented the Germans from stopping the Allied retreat from Lille. 
The halt order has been the subject of much discussion by historians.   Guderian considered the failure to order a timely assault on Dunkirk to be one of the major German mistakes on the Western Front.  Rundstedt called it "one of the great turning points of the war",  and Manstein described it as "one of Hitler's most critical mistakes".  B. H. Liddell Hart interviewed many of the generals after the war and put together a picture of Hitler's strategic thinking on the matter. Hitler believed that once Britain's troops left continental Europe, they would never return.  [ page needed ]
26–27 May Edit
The retreat was undertaken amid chaotic conditions, with abandoned vehicles blocking the roads and a flood of refugees heading in the opposite direction.   Due to wartime censorship and the desire to keep up British morale, the full extent of the unfolding disaster at Dunkirk was not initially publicised. A special service attended by King George VI was held in Westminster Abbey on 26 May, which was declared a national day of prayer.   The Archbishop of Canterbury led prayers "for our soldiers in dire peril in France". Similar prayers were offered in synagogues and churches throughout the UK that day, confirming to the public their suspicion of the desperate plight of the troops.  Just before 19:00 on 26 May, Churchill ordered Dynamo to begin, by which time 28,000 men had already departed.  Initial plans called for the recovery of 45,000 men from the BEF within two days, at which time German troops were expected to block further evacuation. Only 25,000 men escaped during this period, including 7,669 on the first day.  
On 27 May, the first full day of the evacuation, one cruiser, eight destroyers, and 26 other craft were active.  Admiralty officers combed nearby boatyards for small craft that could ferry personnel from the beaches out to larger craft in the harbour, as well as larger vessels that could load from the docks. An emergency call was put out for additional help, and by 31 May nearly four hundred small craft were voluntarily and enthusiastically taking part in the effort. 
The same day, the Luftwaffe heavily bombed Dunkirk, both the town and the dock installations. As the water supply was knocked out, the resulting fires could not be extinguished.  An estimated thousand civilians were killed, one-third of the remaining population of the town.  RAF squadrons were ordered to provide air supremacy for the Royal Navy during evacuation. Their efforts shifted to covering Dunkirk and the English Channel, protecting the evacuation fleet.  The Luftwaffe was met by 16 squadrons of the RAF, who claimed 38 kills on 27 May while losing 14 aircraft.   Many more RAF fighters sustained damage and were subsequently written off. On the German side, Kampfgeschwader 2 (KG 2) and KG 3 suffered the heaviest casualties. German losses amounted to 23 Dornier Do 17s. KG 1 and KG 4 bombed the beach and harbour and KG 54 sank the 8,000-ton steamer Aden. Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers sank the troopship Cote d' Azur. The Luftwaffe engaged with 300 bombers which were protected by 550 fighter sorties and attacked Dunkirk in twelve raids. They dropped 15,000 high explosive and 30,000 incendiary bombs, destroying the oil tanks and wrecking the harbour.  No. 11 Group RAF flew 22 patrols with 287 aircraft this day, in formations of up to 20 aircraft. 
Altogether, over 3,500 sorties were flown in support of Operation Dynamo.  The RAF continued to inflict a heavy toll on the German bombers throughout the week. Soldiers being bombed and strafed while awaiting transport were for the most part unaware of the efforts of the RAF to protect them, as most of the dogfights took place far from the beaches. As a result, many British soldiers bitterly accused the airmen of doing nothing to help, reportedly leading to some army troops accosting and insulting RAF personnel once they returned to England. 
On 25 and 26 May, the Luftwaffe focused their attention on Allied pockets holding out at Calais, Lille, and Amiens, and did not attack Dunkirk.  Calais, held by the BEF, surrendered on 26 May.  Remnants of the French First Army, surrounded at Lille, fought off seven German divisions, several of them armoured, until 31 May, when the remaining 35,000 soldiers were forced to surrender after running out of food and ammunition.   The Germans accorded the honours of war to the defenders of Lille in recognition of their bravery. 
28 May – 4 June Edit
The Belgian Army surrendered on 28 May,  leaving a large gap to the east of Dunkirk. Several British divisions were rushed in to cover that side.  The Luftwaffe flew fewer sorties over Dunkirk on 28 May, switching their attention to the Belgian ports of Ostend and Nieuwpoort. The weather over Dunkirk was not conducive to dive or low-level bombing. The RAF flew 11 patrols and 321 sorties, claiming 23 destroyed for the loss of 13 aircraft.  On 28 May, 17,804 soldiers arrived at British ports. 
On 29 May, 47,310 British troops were rescued  as the Luftwaffe ' s Ju 87s exacted a heavy toll on shipping. The British destroyer HMS Grenade was sunk and the French destroyer Mistral was crippled, while her sister ships, each laden with 500 men, were damaged by near misses. British destroyers Jaguar and Verity were badly damaged but escaped the harbour. Two trawlers disintegrated in the attack. Later, the passenger steamer SS Fenella sank with 600 men aboard at the pier but the men were able to get off. The paddle steamer HMS Crested Eagle suffered a direct hit, caught fire, and sank with severe casualties. The raiders also destroyed the two rail-owned ships, the SS Lorina and the SS Normannia.  Of the five major German attacks, just two were contested by RAF fighters the British lost 16 fighters in nine patrols. German losses amounted to 11 Ju 87s destroyed or damaged. 
On 30 May, Churchill received word that all British divisions were now behind the defensive lines, along with more than half of the French First Army.  By this time, the perimeter ran along a series of canals about 7 miles (11 km) from the coast, in marshy country not suitable for tanks.  With the docks in the harbour rendered unusable by German air attacks, senior naval officer Captain (later Admiral) William Tennant initially ordered men to be evacuated from the beaches. When this proved too slow, he re-routed the evacuees to two long stone and concrete breakwaters, called the east and west moles, as well as the beaches. The moles were not designed to dock ships, but despite this, the majority of troops rescued from Dunkirk were taken off this way.  Almost 200,000 troops embarked on ships from the east mole (which stretched nearly a mile out to sea) over the next week.   James Campbell Clouston, pier master on the east mole, organised and regulated the flow of men along the mole into the waiting ships.  Once more, low clouds kept Luftwaffe activity to a minimum. Nine RAF patrols were mounted, with no German formation encountered.  The following day, the Luftwaffe sank one transport and damaged 12 others for 17 losses the British claimed 38 kills, which is disputed. The RAF and Fleet Air Arm lost 28 aircraft. 
Of the total 338,226 soldiers, several hundred were unarmed Indian mule handlers on detachment from the Royal Indian Army Service Corps, forming four of the six units of Force K-6 transport. Cypriot muleteers were also present. Three units were successfully evacuated and one captured.    Also present at Dunkirk were a small number of French Senegalese soldiers and Moroccans.  
The next day, an additional 53,823 men were embarked,  including the first French soldiers.  Lord Gort and 68,014 men were evacuated on 31 May,  leaving Major-General Harold Alexander in command of the rearguard.  A further 64,429 Allied soldiers departed on 1 June,  before the increasing air attacks prevented further daylight evacuation.  The British rearguard of 4,000 men left on the night of 2–3 June.  An additional 75,000 French troops were retrieved over the nights of 2–4 June,   before the operation finally ended. The remainder of the rearguard, 40,000 French troops, surrendered on 4 June.  Churchill made a point of stating in his "We shall fight on the beaches" address in the House on 4 June that the evacuation had been made possible through the efforts of the RAF. 
Evacuation routes Edit
Three routes were allocated to the evacuating vessels. The shortest was Route Z, a distance of 39 nautical miles (72 km), but it entailed hugging the French coast and thus ships using it were subject to bombardment from on-shore batteries, particularly in daylight hours.   Route X, although the safest from shore batteries, travelled through a particularly heavily mined portion of the Channel. Ships on this route travelled 55 nautical miles (102 km) north out of Dunkirk, proceeded through the Ruytingen Pass,  and headed towards the North Goodwin Lightship before heading south around the Goodwin Sands to Dover.   The route was safest from surface attacks, but the nearby minefields and sandbanks meant it could not be used at night.  The longest of the three was Route Y, a distance of 87 nautical miles (161 km) using this route increased the sailing time to four hours, double the time required for Route Z. This route followed the French coast as far as Bray-Dunes, then turned north-east until reaching the Kwinte Buoy.  Here, after making an approximately 135-degree turn, the ships sailed west to the North Goodwin Lightship and headed south around the Goodwin Sands to Dover.   Ships on Route Y were the most likely to be attacked by German surface vessels, submarines, and the Luftwaffe. 
You knew this was the chance to get home and you kept praying, please God, let us go, get us out, get us out of this mess back to England. To see that ship that came in to pick me and my brother up, it was a most fantastic sight. We saw dog fights up in the air, hoping nothing would happen to us and we saw one or two terrible sights. Then somebody said, there's Dover, that was when we saw the White Cliffs, the atmosphere was terrific. From hell to heaven was how the feeling was, you felt like a miracle had happened.
The Royal Navy provided the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Calcutta, 39 destroyers, and many other craft. The Merchant Navy supplied passenger ferries, hospital ships, and other vessels. Britain's Belgian, Dutch, Canadian,  Polish,  and French allies provided vessels as well. Admiral Ramsay arranged for around a thousand copies to be made of the required charts, had buoys laid around the Goodwin Sands and down to Dunkirk, and organised the flow of shipping.  Larger ships such as destroyers were able to carry about 900 men per trip. The soldiers mostly travelled on the upper decks for fear of being trapped below if the ship sank.  After the loss on 29 May of 19 British and French navy ships plus three of the larger requisitioned vessels, the Admiralty withdrew their eight best destroyers for the future defence of the country. 
Little ships Edit
A wide variety of small vessels from all over the south of England were pressed into service to aid in the Dunkirk evacuation. They included speedboats, Thames vessels, car ferries, pleasure craft, and many other types of small craft.  The most useful proved to be the motor lifeboats, which had a reasonably good capacity and speed.  Some boats were requisitioned without the owner's knowledge or consent. Agents of the Ministry of Shipping, accompanied by a naval officer, scoured the Thames for likely vessels, had them checked for seaworthiness, and took them downriver to Sheerness, where naval crews were to be placed aboard. Due to shortages of personnel, many small craft crossed the Channel with civilian crews. 
The first of the "little ships" arrived at Dunkirk on 28 May.  The wide sand beaches meant that large vessels could not get anywhere near the shore, and even small craft had to stop about 100 yards (91 m) from the waterline and wait for the soldiers to wade out.  In many cases, personnel would abandon their boat upon reaching a larger ship, and subsequent evacuees had to wait for boats to drift ashore with the tide before they could make use of them.  In most areas on the beaches, soldiers queued up with their units and patiently awaited their turn to leave. But at times, panicky soldiers had to be warned off at gunpoint when they attempted to rush to the boats out of turn.  In addition to ferrying out on boats, soldiers at De Panne and Bray-Dunes constructed improvised jetties by driving rows of abandoned vehicles onto the beach at low tide, anchoring them with sandbags, and connecting them with wooden walkways. 
Before the operation was completed, the prognosis had been gloomy, with Churchill warning the House of Commons on 28 May to expect "hard and heavy tidings".  Subsequently, Churchill referred to the outcome as a miracle, and the British press presented the evacuation as a "disaster turned to triumph" so successfully that Churchill had to remind the country in a speech to the House of Commons on 4 June that "we must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations."  Andrew Roberts comments that the confusion over the Dunkirk evacuation is illustrated by two of the best books on it being called Strange Defeat and Strange Victory. 
Three British divisions and a host of logistics and labour troops were cut off to the south of the Somme by the German "race to the sea". At the end of May, a further two divisions began deploying to France with the hope of establishing a Second BEF. The majority of the 51st (Highland) Division was forced to surrender on 12 June, but almost 192,000 Allied personnel, 144,000 of them British, were evacuated through various French ports from 15 to 25 June under the codename Operation Ariel.  Remaining British forces under the Tenth Army as Norman Force retreated towards Cherbourg.  The Germans marched into Paris on 14 June and France surrendered eight days later. 
The more than 100,000 French troops evacuated from Dunkirk were quickly and efficiently shuttled to camps in various parts of south-western England, where they were temporarily lodged before being repatriated.  British ships ferried French troops to Brest, Cherbourg, and other ports in Normandy and Brittany, although only about half of the repatriated troops were redeployed against the Germans before the surrender of France. For many French soldiers, the Dunkirk evacuation represented only a few weeks' delay before being killed or captured by the German army after their return to France.  Of the French soldiers evacuated from France in June 1940, about 3,000 joined Charles de Gaulle's Free French army in Britain. 
In France, the unilateral British decision to evacuate through Dunkirk rather than counter-attack to the south, and the perceived preference of the Royal Navy for evacuating British forces at the expense of the French, led to some bitter resentment. According to Churchill, French Admiral François Darlan originally ordered that the British forces should receive preference, but on 31 May, he intervened at a meeting in Paris to order that the evacuation should proceed on equal terms and that the British would form the rearguard.  In fact, the 35,000 men who finally surrendered after covering the final evacuations were mostly French soldiers of the 2nd Light Mechanized and the 68th Infantry Divisions.   Their resistance allowed the evacuation effort to be extended to 4 June, on which date another 26,175 Frenchmen were transported to England. 
The evacuation was presented to the German public as an overwhelming and decisive German victory. On 5 June 1940, Hitler stated, "Dunkirk has fallen! 40,000 French and English troops are all that remains of the formerly great armies. Immeasurable quantities of materiel have been captured. The greatest battle in the history of the world has come to an end." [a]  Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (the German armed forces high command) announced the event as "the greatest annihilation battle of all time". 
Churchill’s Guns Reply
By the fall of 1940, British prime minister Winston Churchill ordered his military commanders to mount their own batteries on England’s southeastern coast to match the German threat.
Two 14-inch guns slated for installation on the battleship HMS King George V were added to turrets at the small town of St. Margaret’s at Cliffe just east of Dover. The village was evacuated and soon the 80-ton weapons, dubbed Winnie and Pooh, were lobbing shells onto the German positions opposite. It took up to 45 seconds for each of the guns’ 1,500-pound projectiles to reach their targets.
A popular tale holds that Churchill himself was visiting the battery as a volley was going out.
“A direct hit, sir,” one of the gunners proudly reported to the prime minister.
“On what?” demanded Churchill.
“France!” the officer replied.
Four more emplacements sprang up around Dover in the months that followed. They housed a total of 12 large-caliber artillery pieces, many of which were capable or reaching the continent. Among them were two 15-inch naval guns and a trio of 13.5 inchers with an effective range of 38 kilometres.
While the Allied guns were unable to knock out the German batteries, their shells did manage to destroy at least four enemy vessels between 1943 and 1944.
The British military presence on the coast of Northern France
On 12 August 1914 General John French, commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), arrived in the port of Boulogne with a large number of troops. This event, which made real Great Britain's commitment to join the war against Germany on European soil, marked the beginning of a large British military presence in the region.
The coast of Northern France, the Opal Coast, was chosen by the British as their base because of its proximity to the south coast of England. This made it ideal for landing and establishing British troops on French soil, and these began to arrive in its three main ports as early in the war as August 1914. On 22 September 1914 a report by the Sub-prefect of Dunkirk also noted the presence of the First Lord of the Admiralty, one Winston Churchill.
A significant feature of the British presence on the coast was its duration. Not only did British troops arrive on the Opal Coast in 1914 and remain there throughout the war, the last of the Tommies did not leave the region until well after the signing of the Armistice in November 1918. In fact, the last of the British camps on the coast was dismantled some time in 1920.
By far the most important characteristic of the military presence in the region was its considerable size. Starting with relatively few men in 1914, the British force grew extensively as the war progressed and numerous areas on the coast were given over to one or more British military organizations. In total 1,700,000 soldiers passed through the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer between 1914 and 1916. A French report of the period, the exact date of which is unfortunately not known, indicates the presence of 1,226 officers and 70,000 in Boulogne-sur-Mer. As for the British military base at Calais, during the summer of 1918 the town saw 2,024 officers and 90,189 privates stationed there. However the largest British military base on the Western Front, with its 100,000 men in 1917, was the camp at Etaples.
On the French coast, the British military infrastructure was based around three main naval bases at Boulogne, Calais and Dunkirk. Between November 1916 and June 1917 forty-three per cent of all British imports shipped into France came through these ports. Numerous hospitals were set up near the ports to treat the wounded, especially for the worst cases which because of the nature of their wounds could not be evacuated to England. Some of the largest medical centres were based at Wimereux, Boulogne and once again Etaples, the latter being home to twenty hospitals providing 20,000 beds.
As the war progressed, the coastal areas of the region began to see more and more depots for storing food, weapons and munitions. Because of its location, the Opal Coast became a veritable buffer zone between Britain and France through which soldiers and supplies could flow rapidly to the fighting zones. Movements between the British rear and the front were made by road but rail was the principal means of transport, with the train stations of St-Pol-sur-Ternoise and Hazebrouck being extremely important hubs for sending men and munitions to the front in Artois and Flanders.
In light of its considerable importance as a logistics base, the coast of Northern France was the source of constant worry for the British command. A report sent in March 1917 to the commander-in-chief of the French Army, General Robert Nivelle, stated that " the British high command is persuaded that the enemy will carry out a large-scale offensive on the region of Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne which is absolutely vital to its army ". Apart from a few sporadic airborne forays into the region in 1916 and 1917, both by aeroplane and by airship, the Germans showed little interest in the Opal Coast until towards the end of the war when, in 1918, they began to attack the British military infrastructures in the area. Munitions depots, railway bridges, train stations and railway lines were all regularly targeted during German air raids which took place, for the most part, under the cover of darkness.
Member of the History and Archeology Commission
of the Pas-de-Calais département
But Why Are The Cliffs Such An Important Symbol To The Armed Forces?
The White Cliffs are hugely iconic in Britain - and for the most part, that's due to their place in military history.
They sit across the narrowest part of the Channel, facing towards continental Europe at its closest point to Britain and forming a symbolic guard against invasion.
On a clear day, the cliffs can quite easily be seen from the French coast.
And it was this landmark that greeted the thousands of Allied troops evacuated from Dunkirk by the famous 'Little Ships' of World War II.
Similarly, the cliffs were the last sight of Britain for many travellers en route to the continent - and the fighter pilots who left Britain's shores as they set out to take on enemy aircraft over The Channel during the Battle of Britain.
The White Cliffs saw plenty of action in the summer of 1940, when people gathered at Shakespeare Cliff to watch Battle of Britain dogfights between German aircraft and the Royal Air Force.
The National Trust said during the campaign to save the cliffs in 2017 that the chalk cliffs, which reach up to 350 feet (110 m), are an "icon of Britain", with "the white chalk face a symbol of home and war time defence."
They also helped launch the hugely-successful career of the Forces' Sweetheart, Dame Vera, whose 1942 song about the cliffs stirred public emotions during the war, and ensured the vision of the cliffs became entwined with the war story.
In a letter to the National Trust the singer at the time of the campaign to secure the cliffs, said:
"My thanks to everyone who embraced the campaign to protect this national icon.
"The White Cliffs of Dover are a significant landmark and it is so encouraging to know that they will now be protected for future generations.
"Over many years, I have been a supporter of the National Trust and the vital work that they do in preserving our heritage and landscapes – long may this continue."
The area also still boasts a number of Second World War features, including several buildings and two large gun emplacements, which the Trust is planning to make watertight and accessible for visitors.
One of these, the Wanstone gun battery, was the largest ever built in the British Empire.
In the Second World War, it deterred invasion, supported D-Day and closed the channel to enemy shipping.
The site also includes the D2 heavy anti-aircraft battery which played an important role in the Battle of Britain and protected the early radar towers at nearby Swingate.
The cliff face, meanwhile, is eroding at an average rate of 1 centimetre (0.4 in) per year, making the work all the more crucial.
Large pieces sometimes fall off, so anyone who does visit is advised to remain well away from the cliff edge.
Sharing The Stage With Dame Vera
A section of the edge as large as a football pitch fell into the Channel in 2001, while another large chunk collapsed in 2012.
Dame Vera Lynn, meanwhile, had at the time celebrated turning 100 March 20, 2017, by breaking her own record and again becoming the oldest person to release a new album.
Imagery used with kind permission of John Millar, Chris Lacey and the National Trust.
Leaving Dunkirk:my father's diary account
Experienced our first bombing and machine gunning directed at us. Three bombs in village, demolished house, side of church, lorry and several soldiers and civilians killed. No casualties in our barn. Received spattering of tiles from machine gun bullet. Marched forthwith to Dunkerque, passed 3 delayed action bombs en route, took cover from another raid and on arrival at Rosendahl on outskirts of Dunkerque, were kept in a constant state of nervous tension by continuous waves of bombers up to 27 in number. Terrific damage done to Dunkerque and Malo. Out towards Bray Dunes and slept fitfully in ditch and watched Dunkerque fire and listened to shelling which commenced at night and continued throughout
Tuesday 28th May 1940 (written on headed notepaper Cambrai Barracks, Perham Down, Andover)
After spending a cold and cramped night in a ditch, with fitful sleeping disturbed by shell fire in Dunkerque, explosions from delayed action bombs and fired ammunition dumps and the glare from Dunkerque fire and another fire, the location of which we were not certain, and in addition the uncomfortable closeness of enemy Jerry lights, we moved just before dawn. Our route took us towards the sand dunes but further away from Dunkerque, in fact in the immediate vicinity of a large coal mine south west of Bray Dunes. This pit was a very obvious collection of concrete buildings and tall chimneys which I thought might well be the object of Jerry’s next strafing after Dunkerque and I felt none too secure about taking cover in its shadow. However, we slept peacefully in the dunes well covered by saplings and shrubs from about 4.30am for 2½ hours.
Shortly after 7 o’clock we moved off up the railway track towards Dunkerque and dispersed in the sand dunes near to the Hotel Terminus on the front. Here we stayed for the whole morning, breakfasting very unenthusiastically on (…one word illegible) soused herrings once again! The morning passed fairly uneventfully, our hearts being considerably cheered and our hopes raised by the appearance of a Hurricane Fighter patrol, which appeared to be protecting us for the day, but were away for 5 minutes in came the Nazi bombers again, but their attention once more was directed against Dunkerque rather than us personally. We were still uncertain when we were likely to get shipped but during the morning Chadwick contacted a Lt.Col. who had some rather uncertain control over transhipment of troops, but he promised that if we moved up towards the shore, we should get an early opportunity to move on to the destroyers which were lying offshore immediately below the Hotel Terminus. Acting on this we moved futher forward to a large crater immediately adjacent to the Hotel, the Hurricanes having disappeared, the Nazis arrived and made several abortive attempts on the destroyers lying offshore, and were chased off by really heavy fire from the ships themselves and more than one was brought down. The Major reported having seen planes out to sea dropping magnetic mines and the naval craft replying by firing low over the water, the shells ricocheting over the waves in what he imagined to be an attempt to detonate the mines.
About 4 o’clock, having taken cover many times during the afternoon, we assembled under the Hotel Terminus verandah in the hopes of securing transport to Dunkerque, but this was completely disorganised and only one load got away. Rain commenced falling heavily and in answer to our fervent prayers it increased and continued for the whole of our 4 miles trek along the wide promenade of Malo-les-Bains to the jetty at Dunkerque.
Thanks to the providential rain and I feel sure that only, we were spared a bombing and machine gun attack along the prom where there was little or no cover. Once we hastily took cover as a plane zoomed in from the sea at low altitiude, came up to the beach, banked steeply, showed its allied circles under the wings and out to sea again!
The last trek along the jetty was nerve racking to say the least when an enemy plane passed over and opened fire on the destroyer that was going to take us to home and safety and we saw the possibility of a lst minute failure
However we safely gained our destroyer HMS Grenade — the vessel that figured notably in the Namsos evacuation. It was reputed that we had a 1000 souls aboard in addition to the crew. The Navy’s hospitality extended to hot tea, bread, butter, jam and drinks and at 1 o’clock in the morning I fed on Force, Demerara sugar and Lyle’s Golden Syrup! We sailed at 6.35pm and didn’t reach Dover until about 2.00am the following morning. Although we were down below aft all the time and could not follow our route at all, doubtless this long journey was due to (one word illegible) up and down the coast each side and following the safe lane across the straits. We were alarmed shortly sfter starting up by a lous explosion and subsequent noises, which we thought — or rather hoped — might be a gun! This was verified later by a naval officer who made solicitous enquiries soon after concerning our welfare. We asked if it was a gun and he replied ‘yes — some bloody fool fired it by mistake — it happens in the best regulated ships’. The only other eventful happening was that the vessel stopped to pick up twenty wounded from a small boat, who had apparently been bombed on embarking from the shore
Reached Dover two-ish and felt really safe and cheerful at last as we stepped ashore — immediately joined our train with issue of chocolate and apple and shortly started off to an unknown destination and slept until we reached Paddock Wood where we were issued with bread, cheese, tea and apple. Visions of London and immediate leave disappeared as we continued westwards from Redhill and on towards Basingstoke, We finally turned up at Ludgershall about 10 o’clock and were all transported to Perham Down and the RTCs palatial mess where we were made very welcome and fed with a grand meal of ham, tongue, pork pie and salad etc etc and then followed hot baths,shave of 2 days growth of beard and a general freshening up
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British forces arrive in Greece
On March 7, 1941, a British expeditionary force from North Africa lands in Greece.
In October 1940, Mussolini’s army, already occupying Albania, invaded Greece in what proved to be a disastrous military campaign for the Duce’s forces. Mussolini surprised everyone with this move against Greece, but he was not to be upstaged by recent Nazi conquests. According to Hitler, who was stunned by a move that he knew would be a strategic blunder, Mussolini should have concentrated on North Africa by continuing the advance into Egypt. The Italians paid for Mussolini’s hubris, as the Greeks succeeded in pushing the Italian invaders back into Albania after just one week, and the Axis power spent the next three months fighting for its life in a series of defensive battles.
Mussolini’s precipitate maneuver frustrated Hitler because it opened an opportunity for the British to enter Greece and establish an airbase in Athens, putting the Brits within striking distance of valuable oil reserves in Romania, which Hitler relied upon for his war machine. It also meant that Hitler would have to divert forces from North Africa, a high strategic priority, to bail Mussolini out of Greece-and postpone Hitler’s planned invasion of the Soviet Union.
The Brits indeed saw an opening in Greece, and on March 7, 1941, Prime Minister Winston Churchill diverted troops from Egypt and sent 58,000 British and Aussie troops to occupy the Olympus-Vermion line. But the Brits would be blown out of the Pelopponesus Peninsula when Hitler’s forces invaded on the ground and from the air in April. Thousands of British and Australian forces were captured there and on Crete, where German paratroopers landed in May.
Early history Edit
The early history of habitation in the area is limited. The Romans called the settlement Caletum. Julius Caesar mustered 800 to 1,000 sailing boats, five legions and some 2,000 horses at Calais, due to its strategic position, to attack Britannia.  The English could hold on to it for so many centuries because it remained an island surrounded by marshes, and therefore almost impossible to attack from the land. At some time before the 10th century, it would have been a Dutch-speaking fishing village on a sandy beach backed by pebbles and a creek,  with a natural harbour  at the west edge of the early medieval estuary of the River Aa. As the pebble and sand ridge extended eastward from Calais, the haven behind it developed into fen, as the estuary progressively filled with silt and peat. Afterwards, canals were cut between Saint-Omer, the trading centre formerly at the head of the estuary, and three places to the west, centre and east on the newly formed coast: respectively Calais, Gravelines and Dunkirk.  Calais was improved by the Count of Flanders in 997 and fortified by the Count of Boulogne in 1224.  
The first document mentioning the existence of this community is the town charter granted by Mathieu d'Alsace, Count of Boulogne, in 1181 to Gerard de Guelders Calais thus became part of the county of Boulogne.   In 1189, Richard the Lionheart is documented to have landed at Calais on his journey to the Third Crusade. 
14th–15th century the Pale of Calais Edit
English wool trade interests and King Edward III's claims to be heir to the Kingdom of France led to the Battle of Crécy between England and France in 1346,  followed by Edward's siege and capture of Calais in 1347.  Angered, the English king demanded reprisals against the town's citizens for holding out for so long ("obstinate defense") and ordered that the town's population be killed en masse [ citation needed ] . He agreed, however, to spare them, on condition that six of the principal citizens would come to him, bareheaded and barefooted and with ropes around their necks, and give themselves up to death.  On their arrival he ordered their execution, but pardoned them when his queen, Philippa of Hainault, begged him to spare their lives.   This event is commemorated in The Burghers of Calais (Les Bourgeois de Calais), one of the most famous sculptures by Auguste Rodin, erected in the city in 1895.  Though sparing the lives of the delegation members, King Edward drove out most of the French inhabitants, and settled the town with English. The municipal charter of Calais, previously granted by the Countess of Artois, was reconfirmed by Edward that year (1347). 
In 1360 the Treaty of Brétigny assigned Guînes, Marck and Calais—collectively the "Pale of Calais"—to English rule in perpetuity, but this assignment was informally and only partially implemented.  On 9 February 1363 the town was made a staple port.  It remained part of the Diocese of Thérouanne from 1379, keeping an ecclesiastical tie with France. 
The town came to be called the "brightest jewel in the English crown" owing to its great importance as the gateway for the tin, lead, cloth and wool trades (or "staples").  Its customs revenues amounted at times to a third of the English government's revenue, with wool being the most important element by far. Of its population of about 12,000 people, as many as 5,400 were recorded as having been connected with the wool trade. The governorship or Captaincy of Calais was a lucrative and highly prized public office the famous Dick Whittington was simultaneously Lord Mayor of the City of London and Mayor of the Staple in 1407. 
Calais was regarded for many years as being an integral part of the Kingdom of England, with its representatives sitting in the English Parliament. The continued English hold on Calais however depended on expensively maintained fortifications, as the town lacked any natural defences. Maintaining Calais was a costly business that was frequently tested by the forces of France and the Duchy of Burgundy, with the Franco-Burgundian border running nearby.  The British historian Geoffrey Elton once remarked "Calais—expensive and useless—was better lost than kept".  The duration of the English hold over Calais was, to a large extent, the result of the feud between Burgundy and France, under which both sides coveted the town, but preferred to see it in the hands of the English rather than their domestic rivals. The stalemate was broken by the victory of the French crown over Burgundy following Joan of Arc's final battle in the siege of Compiègne in 1430, and the later incorporation of the duchy into France. 
16th century Edit
In 1532, English king Henry VIII visited Calais and his men calculated that the town had about 2400 beds and stabling to keep some 2000 horses.  Following the royal visit, the town's governance was reformed in 1536, aiming to strengthen ties with England. As part of this move, Calais became a parliamentary borough sending burgesses to the House of Commons of the Parliament of England. 
In September 1552, the English adventurer Thomas Stukley, who had been for some time in the French service, betrayed to the authorities in London some French plans for the capture of Calais, to be followed by a descent upon England.  Stukley himself might have been the author of these plans.
On 7 January 1558, king Henry II of France sent forces led by Francis, Duke of Guise, who laid siege to Calais.  When the French attacked, they were able to surprise the English at the critical strongpoint of Fort Nieulay and the sluice gates, which could have flooded the attackers, remained unopened.  The loss was regarded by Queen Mary I of England as a dreadful misfortune. When she heard the news, she reportedly said, "When I am dead and opened, you shall find 'Philip' [her husband] and 'Calais' lying in my heart."  The region around Calais, then-known as the Calaisis, was renamed the Pays Reconquis ("Reconquered Country") in commemoration of its recovery by the French.  Use of the term is reminiscent of the Spanish Reconquista, with which the French were certainly familiar—and, since it occurred in the context of a war with Spain (Philip II of Spain was at the time Queen Mary's consort), might have been intended as a deliberate snub. 
The town was captured by the Spanish on 24 April 1596 in an invasion mounted from the nearby Spanish Netherlands by Archduke Albert of Austria, but it was returned to France under the Treaty of Vervins in May 1598.  
17th century to World War I Edit
Calais remained an important maritime city and smuggling centre throughout the 17th century. However, during the next century the port of Calais began to stagnate gradually, as the nearby ports of Boulogne and Dunkirk began to rise and compete.
The French revolution at the end of the 18th century did not disturb Calais and no executions took place. 
In 1805, Calais hosted part of Napoleon's army and invasion fleet for several months before his aborted invasion of Britain.  From October to December 1818, the British army used Calais as their departing port to return home after occupying post-Waterloo France. General Murray appointed Sir Manley Power to oversee the evacuation of British troops from France. Cordial relations had been restored by that time and on 3 December the mayor of Calais wrote a letter to Power to express thanks for his "considerate treatment of the French and of the town of Calais during the embarkation." 
The population in 1847 was 12,580, many of whom were English.  It was one of the main ports for British travellers to Europe.
The British Expeditionary Force or BEF arrived in Calais on its way to the nearby frontline cutting through Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Flanders. Calais was a key port for the supply of arms and reinforcements to the Western Front.  In the 1930s, the town was known for being a politically socialist stronghold. 
World War II Edit
Calais was virtually razed to the ground during World War II.  In May 1940, it was a key objective of the invading German forces and became the scene of a last-ditch defence—the siege of Calais—which diverted a sizable amount of German forces for several days immediately prior to the Battle of Dunkirk. A total of 3,000 British and 800 French troops, assisted by Royal Navy warships, held out from 22 to 27 May 1940 against the 10th Panzer Division. The town was flattened by artillery and precision dive bombing and only 30 of the 3800-strong defending force were evacuated before the town fell. This may have helped Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Allied forces at Dunkirk, as 10th Panzer would have been involved on the Dunkirk perimeter had it not been busy at Calais.  Between 26 May and 4 June 1940, some 330,000 Allied troops escaped from the Germans at Dunkirk. 
During the ensuing German occupation, it became the command post for German forces in the Pas-de-Calais/Flanders region and was very heavily fortified, as it was generally believed by the Germans that the Allies would invade at that point.  It was also used as a launch site for V1 flying bombs and for much of the war, the Germans used the region as the site for railway guns used to bombard the south-eastern corner of England. In 1943 they built massive bunkers along the coast in preparation for launching missiles on the southeast of England.  Despite heavy preparations for defence against an amphibious assault, the Allied invasion took place well to the west in Normandy on D-Day. Calais was very heavily bombed and shelled in a successful effort to disrupt German communications and persuade them that the Allies would target the Pas-de-Calais for invasion (rather than Normandy). The town, by then largely in ruins, was laid siege to and liberated by General Daniel Spry's 3rd Canadian Infantry Division between 25 September and 1 October 1944.  On 27 February 1945 Calais suffered a last bombing raid—this time by British bombers who mistook the town for Dunkirk, which was at that time still occupied by German forces.  After the war there was little rebuilding of the historic city and most buildings were modern ones.
21st century – migration issues Edit
Since 1999 or earlier, an increasingly large number of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers started to arrive in the vicinity of Calais, living in the Calais jungle, the nickname given to a series of makeshift camps. The people lived there while attempting to enter the United Kingdom by stowing away on lorries, ferries, cars, or trains travelling through the Port of Calais or the Eurotunnel Calais Terminal,  or while waiting for their French asylum claims to be processed.  The people were a mix of asylum seekers and economic migrants from Darfur, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Eritrea and other underdeveloped or conflict-stricken countries in Africa and Asia.
The Calais migrant crisis  led to escalating tension between the UK and France in the summer of 2015.  The UK blamed France for not doing enough to stop migrants from entering the Channel Tunnel or attempting to scale fences built along the border. The British Prime Minister David Cameron released a statement saying that illegal immigrants would be removed from the UK even if they reached the island.  To discourage migrants and refugees from jumping on train shuttles at Calais, the UK government supplied fencing to be installed around the Eurotunnel complex, where the vehicles are loaded onto train shuttles in Calais.
On 26 October 2016, French authorities announced that the camp had been cleared.  By January 2017, 500–1,000 migrants, mostly unaccompanied minors, had returned and were living rough in Calais  and there has been a presence ever since.  
Calais is located on the Pas de Calais, which marks the boundary between the English Channel and North Sea and located at the opposite end of the Channel Tunnel, 40 kilometres (25 miles)  from Dover. On a clear day the White cliffs of Dover can be viewed across the channel.  Aside from being an important port and boarding point between France and England, it is at the nucleus of many major railway and highway networks and connected by road to Arras, Lens, Béthune and St. Omer. Dunkirk is located about 37 km (23 mi) to the east.  Calais is located 236 km (147 mi) north of the French capital of Paris, or around 295 km (183 mi) by car.  The commune of Calais is bordered by the English channel to the north, Sangatte and Coquelles to the west, Coulogne to the south and Marck to the east. The core area of the city is divided into the Old Town area within the old city walls, and the younger suburbs of St. Pierre, which are connected by a boulevard.
Calais is part of the Côte d'Opale (Opal Coast), a cliff-lined section of northern French coast that parallels the white cliffs on the British coast and is part of the same geological formation. It is known for its scenic cliffs such as Cape Blanc Nez and Cape Gris Nez and for its wide area of dunes. Many artists have been inspired by its landscapes, among them the composer Henri Dutilleux, the writers Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens, and the painters J. M. W. Turner, Carolus-Duran, Maurice Boitel and Eugène Boudin. It was the painter Édouard Lévêque [fr] who coined the name for this area in 1911 to describe the distinctive quality of its light. 
Calais has a temperate oceanic climate (Cfb in the Köppen climate classification). Temperature ranges are moderate and the winters are cool with unstable weather. It rains on average about 700 to 800 mm (28 to 31 in) per year.
|Climate data for Calais (CQF), elevation: 2 m (7 ft), 1991–2010 normals, extremes 1991–present|
|Record high °C (°F)||15.0 |
|Average high °C (°F)||7.4 |
|Daily mean °C (°F)||4.9 |
|Average low °C (°F)||2.4 |
|Record low °C (°F)||−14.0 |
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||55.3 |
|Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm)||11.0||9.3||8.8||8.6||9.1||8.8||8.4||8.4||10.1||11.7||13.3||12.0||119.0|
|Source: Meteo France |
The commune of Calais is divided into 13 quartiers :
Changes in the number of inhabitants is known throughout the population censuses conducted since 1793 in Calais. Note the massive growth in population from 13,529 in 1881 to 58,969 in 1886, a growth of 335.9% this is because the city of Saint-Pierre-lès-Calais merged with Calais in 1885.  According to the INSEE census of 2017, Calais has 73,911 people (a decrease of 4.4% from 1999).  The town's population ranked 60th nationally, down from 53rd in 1999.
The city's proximity to England has made it a major port for centuries. It is the principal ferry crossing point between England and France, with the vast majority of Channel crossings being made between Dover and Calais. Companies operating from Calais include SeaFrance (currently in liquidation  ), DFDS Seaways,  and P&O Ferries.  The French end of the Channel Tunnel is situated in the vicinity of Calais, in Coquelles some 4 miles (6.4 km) to the west of the town. Calais possesses direct rail links to Paris, 148 miles (238 km) to the south. More than 10 million people visit Calais annually. 
From medieval times, English companies thrived in Calais. Calais was a particularly important centre in the production and trade of wool and cloth, which outweighed the costs of maintaining the town as part of England. In 1830 some 113 manufacturers were based in Calais and the St Pierre suburbs, the majority of which were English.  There are still two major lace factories in Calais with around 700 looms and 3000 employees.  The town exports in the early 20th century were lace, chemicals, paper, wines, especially champagne, spirits, hay, straw, wool, potatoes, woven goods, fruit, glass-ware, lace and metal-ware.  Principal imports in the early 20th century included cotton and silk goods, coal, iron and steel, petroleum, timber, raw wool, cotton yarn and cork.  During the five years 1901–1905 the average annual value of exports was £8,388,000 (£6,363,000 in the years 1896–1900), of imports £4,145,000 (£3,759,000 in 1896–1900). 
As a fishing port, Calais has several notable fishing markets including Les Délices de la Mer and Huîtrière Calaisenne on the Boulevard La Fayette, the latter of which is noted for its oysters, lobster and crabs from Brittany. The Emile Fournier et Fils market on the Rue Mouron sells mainly smoked fish including salmon, trout, herring and halibut. 
Place d'Armes Edit
Place d'Armes is one of the largest squares in the city of Calais. It adjoins the watchtower, and during medieval times was once the heart of the city. While Calais was a territory of England (1347–1558), it became known as Market Square (place du Marché). Only at the end of English rule did it take the name of Place d'Armes. After the reconquest of Calais in 1558 by Francis, Duke of Guise, Francis II gave Calais the right to hold a fair twice a year on the square, which still exists today, as well as a bustling Wednesday and Saturday market. 
Hôtel de Ville Edit
The town centre, which has seen significant regeneration over the past decade, is dominated by its distinctive town hall (Hôtel de Ville) at Place du Soldat Inconnu. It was built in the Flemish Renaissance style between 1911 and 1925 to commemorate the unification of the cities of Calais and Saint Pierre in 1885.  A previous town hall had been erected in 1818.  One of the most elegant landmarks in the city, its ornate 74-metre (246 ft) high clock tower and belfry can be seen from out to sea and chimes throughout the day and has been protected by UNESCO since 2005 as part of a series of belfries across the region.  The building parts have also been listed as a series of historic monuments by government decree of 26 June 2003, including its roofs and belfry, main hall, glass roof, the staircase, corridor serving the first floor, the rooms on the first floor (including decoration): the wedding room, the VIP lounge, the lounge of the council and the cabinet room. The hall has stained glass windows and numerous paintings and exquisite decor.  It houses police offices. 
Église Notre-Dame Edit
Église Notre-Dame is a cathedral which was originally built in the late 13th century and its tower was added in the late 14th or early 15th century. Like the town hall it is one of the city's most prominent landmarks. It was arguably the only church in the English perpendicular style in France.  Much of the current 1400 capacity church dates to 1631–1635.  It contains elements of Flemish, Gothic, Anglo-Norman and Tudor architecture. In 1691, an 1800 cubic metre cistern was added to the church under orders by Vauban.  The church is dedicated to the Virgin, and built in the form of a cross, consisting of a nave and four aisles—  The old grand altar dated to 1628 and was built from Carrara marble wrecked on the coast, during its transit from Genoa to Antwerp. It contained eighteen figures, the two standing on either side of the altar-piece—representing St. Louis and Charlemagne.  The organ—of a deep and mellow tone, and highly ornamented by figures in relief—was built at Canterbury sometime around 1700. The pulpit and reading-desk, richly sculptured in oak, is another well-executed piece of ecclesiastical workmanship from St. Omer. The altar-piece, the Assumption, was often attributed to Anthony van Dyck, though in reality it is by Gerard Seghers whilst the painting over the side altar, once believed to be by Peter Paul Rubens  is in fact by Pieter Van Mol. A high and strongly built wall, partaking more of the fortress than a cathedral in its aspect, flanks the building, and protects it from the street where formerly ran the old river, in its course through Calais to the sea. 
The square, massive Norman tower has three-arched belfry windows on each face, surmounted by corner turrets, and a conically-shaped tower of octagonal proportions, topped again by a short steeple. The tower was a main viewing point for the Anglo-French Survey (1784–1790) which linked the Paris Observatory with the Royal Greenwich Observatory using trigonometry. Cross-channel sightings were made of signal lights at Dover Castle and Fairlight, East Sussex.
The church was assigned as a historic monument by decree of 10 September 1913, only to have its stained glass smashed during a Zeppelin bombardment on 15 January 1915, falling through the roof.   General de Gaulle married Yvonne Vendroux on 6 April 1921 at the cathedral.  The building experienced extensive damage during World War II, and was partially rebuilt, although much of the old altar and furnishings were not replaced.
The Tour du Guet (Watch Tower), situated in Calais Nord on the Places d'Armes, is one of the few surviving pre-war buildings. Dating from 1229, when Philip I, Count of Boulogne, built the fortifications of Calais, it is one of the oldest monuments of Calais, although the oldest remaining traces date to 1302.  It has a height of 35–39 metres (sources differ). An earthquake in 1580 split the tower in two, and at one time it threatened to collapse completely.  The tower was repaired in 1606, and then had the purpose of serving as a hall to accommodate the merchants of Calais.  It was damaged in 1658 when a young stable boy set fire to it, while it was temporarily being used as royal stables during a visit of King Louis XIV.  It was not repaired for some 30 years. In 1770,  a bell identical to the original bell of 1348 was cast. Due to its height, from the late 17th century it became an important watchout post for the city for centuries until 1905  the last keeper of the tower was forced to leave in 1926. Abraham Chappe (a brother of Ignace Chappe) installed a telegraph office in the tower in 1816 and operated for 32 years.  It was this office which announced the death of Napoleon I to the French public in 1821. It also had the dual function as lighthouse with a rotating beacon fuelled by oil from 1818.  The lantern was finally replaced by a new lighthouse on 15 October 1848. During the First World War, it served as a military observation post and narrowly missed destruction during World War II.  This tower has been classified as a historic monument since 6 November 1931. 
The Calais Lighthouse (Le phare de Calais) was built in 1848, replacing the old watch tower as the lighthouse of the port. The 55-metre-high (180 ft) tower was electrified in 1883 and automated in 1992. The staircase has 271 steps leading up to the lantern. By day it is easily distinguishable from other coastal lighthouses by its white color and black lantern. The lighthouse was classified as a historical monument on 22 November 2010.
The Citadel, located on the Avenue Pierre Coubertin, was built between 1560 and 1571 on the site of a former medieval castle which was built in 1229 by Philippe de Hureprel.  Its purpose of its construction was to fend off would-be invaders, but it wasn't long until the city was successfully invaded by Archduke Albert of Austria on 24 April 1596. Both Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu at one time considered expanding the citadel and Calais into a great walled city for military harbour purposes but the proposals came to nothing. 
Fort Risban, located on the coast on the Avenue Raymond Poincaré at the port entrance, was built by the English to prevent supplies reaching Calais by sea during the siege in November 1346 and continued to be occupied by them until 1558 when Calais was restored to France. In 1596, the fort was captured by the Spanish Netherlands until May 1598 when it was returned to the French following the Treaty of Vervins. It was rebuilt in 1640.  Vauban, who visited the fort some time in the 1680s, described it as "a home for owls, and place to hold the Sabbath" rather than a fortification.  During World War II it served as an air raid shelter. It contains the Lancaster Tower, a name often given to the fort itself. 
Fort Nieulay, located along the Avenue Roger Salengro originally dated to the 12th or 13th century. During the English invasion in 1346, sluices gates were added as water defences and a fort was built up around it in 1525 on the principle that the people of the fort could defend the town by flooding it.  In April and May 1677, Louis XIV and Vauban visited Calais and ordered a complete rebuilding of Fort Nieulay. It was completed in 1679, with the purpose to protect the bridge of Nieulay crossing the Hames River.  By 1815 the fort had fallen into a ruined state and it wasn't until 1903 that it was sold and improved by its farmer tenants.  The fort was briefly the site of a low-key scuffle with Germans in May 1940.
Museums, theatres and cultural centres Edit
Calais contains several museums. These include the Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle de Calais, Cité internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode de Calais and the Musée de la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (World War II museum). Cité internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode de Calais is a lace and fashion museum located in an old Boulart factory on the canalside and contains workshops, a library and a restaurant and regularly puts on fashion shows.  The World War II museum is located at Parc St Pierre opposite the town hall and south of the train station. The building is a former Nazi bunker and wartime military headquarters, built in 1941 by the Todt Organisation. The 194-metre-long structure contains twenty rooms with relics and photographs related to World War II, and one room dedicated to World War I.  
Theatres and cultural centres include Le théâtre municipal, Le Centre Culturel Gérard Philipe, Le Conservatoire à rayonnement départemental (CRD), L'auditorium Didier Lockwood, L'École d'Art de Calais, Le Channel, Le Cinéma Alhambra and La Médiathèque municipale. Le théâtre municipal or Calais Theatre is located on the Boulevard Lafayette and was built in 1903 on a plot of land which was used as a cemetery between 1811 and 1871.  The theatre opened in 1905. On the first floor of the façade are statues which represent the performing arts subjects of Poetry, Comedy, Dance and Music. 
Monuments and memorials Edit
Directly in front of the town hall is a bronze cast of Les Bourgeois de Calais ("The Burghers of Calais"), a sculpture by Auguste Rodin to commemorate six men who were to have been executed by Edward III in 1347. The cast was erected in 1895, funded by a public grant of 10,000 francs.  Rodin (who based his design on a fourteenth-century account by Jean Froissart) intended to evoke the viewer's sympathy by emphasizing the pained expressions of the faces of the six men about to be executed. 
The Monument des Sauveteurs ("Rescuers' Monument") was installed in 1899 on Boulevard des Alliés, and transferred to the Quartier of Courgain in 1960. It is a bronze sculpture, attributed to Edward Lormier. The Monument Le Pluviôse is a 620 kg (1,367 lb) bronze monument built in 1912 by Émile Oscar Guillaume on the centre of the roundabout near the beach of Calais, commemorating the accidental sinking of the submarine Pluviôse in May 1910, off the beach by the steamer Pas de Calais.  Armand Fallières, president of the Republic, and his government came to Calais for a state funeral for its 27 victims. One of these victims, Delpierre Auguste, (1889–1910), drowned at age 21 before the beach at Calais a dock in the city is named for him. The monument was dedicated on 22 June 1913.
Monument "Jacquard" was erected on the square in 1910, opposite the entrance to the Calais theatre. It commemorates Joseph Marie Jacquard, popular in Calais because of his contribution to the development of lace through his invention of the Jacquard loom.  A tall column in the Courgain area of the city commemorates a visit by Louis XVIII.
Parc Richelieu, a garden behind the war memorial, was built in 1862 on the old city ramparts and redesigned in 1956.  It contains a statue designed by Yves de Coëtlogon in 1962, remembering both world wars with an allegorical figure, representing Peace, which clutches an olive branch to her breast.  Another monument in the Parc Richelieu, erected on 23 April 1994, marks the approximate site of Emma, Lady Hamilton's last resting place. She died in Calais on 15 January 1815. 
Hotels and nightclubs Edit
For many years the most famous hotel in Calais was the Hôtel d'Angleterre, often called Dessin's or Dessein's, after the family which owned it for almost a hundred years.  Its popularity increased after Laurence Sterne set the early chapters of his 1768 novel A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy there. With the arrival of the railway fewer British visitors stopped in Calais and Dessin's closed in 1860. 
Hôtel Meurice de Calais is a hotel, established in 1771 as Le Chariot Royal by the French postmaster, Charles-Augustin Meurice, who would later establish the five-star Hôtel Meurice, one of Paris' most famous luxury hotels. It was one of the earliest hotels on the continent of Europe to specifically cater for the British elite.  The hotel was rebuilt in 1954–55.  It has 41 en-suite rooms.
The main centre of night activity in Calais is at the Casino Le Touquet's on the Rue Royale and at the 555 Club. Every month, Casino Le Touquet hosts a dinner and dance cabaret. The casino features slot machines, blackjack, roulette, and poker facilities. 
There are several schools in Calais. These include Groupe Scolaire Coubertin, Eglise Saint-Pierre, Universite du Littoral, Centre Universitaire,  Lycée HQE Léonard de Vinci on Rue du Pasteur Martin Luther-King, École d'Art de Calais on Rue des Soupirants, and the Centre Scolaire Saint-Pierre on Rue du Four à Chaux which provides education in the primary grades, high school, and vocational school.  There are at least seven colleges in the city, such as Collège Martin Luther King on Rue Martin Luther King, Collège Nationalisé Lucien Vadez on Avenue Yervant Toumaniantz, Collège Les Dentelliers on Rue Gaillard, College Jean Mace on Rue Maréchaux, Collège République on Place République, Collège Vauban on Rue Orléansville, and Collège Privé Mixte Jeanne d'Arc on Rue Champailler.
Calais was represented in association football by the Calais RUFC, who competed in the Championnat National. The club was founded 1902 as Racing Club de Calais and in 1974 was renamed as Calais Racing Union Football Club.  Calais RUFC had a good reputation in French cup competitions and went as far as the final in the 1999/2000 season, losing out finally to Nantes. Since 2008 they played at the Stade de l'Épopée, a stadium which holds about 12,000 spectators. Calais Racing Union was liquidated in September 2017. 
The rugby club in Calais is Amicale Rugby Calaisien.  Basketball is popular in Calais with the teams Calais Basket (male)  and COB Calais (female)  as is volleyball with the Lis Calais (male)  and Stella Calais (female) teams.  There is also the SOC club which caters in a range of sports including athletics, handball and football and Yacht Club de Calais, a yachting club.  Calais also has Les Seagulls, an American football team. 
The Port of Calais was the first cable ship port in Europe and is the fourth largest port in France and the largest for passenger traffic.  The port accounts for more than a third of economic activity of the town of Calais. Cargo traffic has tripled over the past two decades. In 2007 more than 41.5 million tonnes of traffic passed through Calais with some 11.52 million passengers, 1.4 million trucks and trailers, 2.249 million cars and 4,700 crossings a year.  Passenger numbers for the Dover to Calais route in 2018 were 9,168,000.  On average, ships sail from the port every 30 minutes.  A new 400 million euro project is underway at the port to create a breakwater protecting a pool of 700 meters long, thus allowing virtually all types of ships to stop at Calais.
As well as the large port, the town is served by three railway stations: Gare de Calais-Fréthun, Gare de Calais-Ville, and Gare des Fontinettes, the former being the first stop on mainland Europe of the Eurostar line. Gare de Calais-Ville is the nearest station to the port with trains to Gare de Boulogne-Ville and either Gare de Lille Flandres or Gare de Lille Europe.
Local bus services are provided by STCE. Free car parking facilities are available in front of the Calais ferry terminal and the maximum stay is three days. 
Calais is served by an airport and an airfield. Calais–Dunkerque Airport is located at Marck, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) east north east of Calais. Saint-Inglevert Airfield is located at Saint-Inglevert, 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) south west of Calais.
- (1874–1964), painter. , (1944–2005), singer and composer, grew up in Calais. (1827–1895), physician and botanist. (1980–), decathlete, European Champion in July 2010. (1821–1893), British painter close to the Pre-Raphaelite movement. (1410–1489), Merchant of the Staple and Lord Mayor of Calais. (1778–1840), English dandy, lived in exile in Calais from 1817 to 1830. (1853–1935), French legal historian and paleographer. (1921–2004), winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. (1772–1839), painter.  (1933–), composer and pianist. (1731–1803), Jesuit author and theologian. , née Emma Lyons (1765–1815), died and was buried in Calais. She was the mistress of Admiral Horatio Nelson. (1964–), sailor of the Tornado series, double gold medal winner at the Olympics. (1985–), rhythmic gymnast, finished 13th at the individual all around qualification at the London 2012 Olympic Games. (1672–1730), pirate. (1956–), jazz violinist. (1658–1736), the first surgeon to King Louis XIV. (1796–1872), explorer and diplomat.  (1807–1875) sculptor. , (1902–1987), painter and engraver. (1828–1861), playwright, poet and librettist. (c. 1287–1351), one of the Burghers of Calais.  (1777–1839), privateer called "Cap'n Tom" by the English. (1900–1979), wife of General Charles de Gaulle.
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