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CAMPAIGN SUMMARIES OF WORLD WAR 2

WESTERN EUROPE, Part 1 of 2

September 1939-June 1940

German battlecruiser "Scharnhorst" completed 1939 (Maritime Quest, click to enlarge)

on to Western Europe 1940-44

 
 

Each Summary is complete in its own right. The same information may therefore be found in a number of related summaries

(for more ship information,  go to Naval History Homepage and type name in Site Search)

 
 

 
 

Pre-War

1919 - Treaty of Versailles - Under its provisions, Germany was to be disarmed, the Rhineland occupied and reparations paid. At this time Poland was recreated from parts of Germany and Russia, as were other Central European states out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The League of Nations was formed.

1921-22 - Washington Naval Treaty - Britain, United States, Japan, France and Italy agreed to limit the displacement and main armament of capital ships, aircraft carriers and cruisers, and total tonnage and age of the first two categories.

1922 - Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party came to power in Italy

1926 - The German Weimar Republic joined the league of Nations

1927 - Geneva Naval Conference failed to reach agreement on total tonnage of cruisers, destroyers and submarines. Major warships completed - British battleships "Nelson" and "Rodney", French carrier "Bearn"

1930 - Following the Wall Street Crash of 1929 the world moved into major economic depression.

1930 - London Naval Treaty - Britain, US and Japan agreed on total tonnage, tonnage and armament limitations for cruisers, destroyers and submarines. Also that no new capital ships were to be laid down until 1937. Neither France nor Italy were signatories.

1933 - Following earlier Nazi Party election successes, Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January. He took the country out of the League of Nations later in the year. Major warships completed - German pocket battleship "Deutschland".


Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Hess (FDR)

1934 - Russia joined the League of Nations. Meanwhile Hitler consolidated his power and in August proclaimed himself Fuehrer. The 1932 Geneva Disarmament Conference finally broke down. Major warships completed - US carrier "Ranger" and German pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer".

1935 March - Hitler introduced military conscription. April - The United States passed the Neutrality Act forbidding the supply of arms to belligerents in the event of war. June - Anglo-German Naval Agreement - Germany was allowed to build a fleet up to 35% of British total tonnage and 45% of submarines. Parity in numbers of submarines was allowed if notice was given.

1936 March - German troops were sent to reoccupy the Rhineland. July - The Spanish Civil War started; Italy and Germany became aligned with one side and Russia with the other. November - London Protocol -The major powers including Germany agreed to prohibit unrestricted submarine warfare against unarmed ships. December -The 1922 and 1930 Naval Treaties were allowed to lapse and the major powers moved towards rearmament. In Britain this effectively started with the 1936/37 Estimates. Major warships Completed - German pocket battleship "Admiral Graf Spee".

1937 Major warships completed - French battlecruiser "Dunkerque"

1938 March - German troops marched into and annexed Austria. Germany drew up the major naval rearmament programme, the 'Z' plan, to bring the Navy closer to equality to Britain by the mid-1940s. September - In the Munich Crisis, Czechoslovakia was forced to cede Sudetenland to Germany. Major warships completed - British carrier "Ark Royal", French battlecruiser "Strasbourg", German battlecruiser "Gneisenau". German carrier "Graf Zeppelin" was launched but never completed.

1939 March - Germany completed its occupation of Czechoslovakia and took back Memel on the Baltic coast from Lithuania. Now Britain and France guaranteed Poland's independence. The Spanish Civil War came to an end. April - Germany abrogated the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Agreement. May - Britain reintroduced military conscription. Germany and Italy joined forces in the Pact of Steel. June - The Reserve Fleet of the Royal Navy was manned. August - Following secret negotiations the Russian-German Non-Aggression Pact was signed in Moscow to the world's amazement. Its provisions included the dismemberment of Poland. Full mobilisation of the Royal Navy was ordered and the Admiralty took control of all merchant shipping. German U-boats and two pocket battleships sailed for their war stations in the Atlantic. Major warships completed to 3rd September 1939 - German battlecruiser "Scharnhorst". Launched in the same period - British battleships "King George V", "Prince of Wales", fleet carriers "Illustrious", "Formidable", French battleship "Richelieu", German battleships "Bismarck" and "Tirpitz".

1st September - Germany invaded Poland.

 
 

1939

SEPTEMBER 1939

Strategic and Maritime Situation

Areas under direct Allied control included Canada and Newfoundland, Bermuda, many of the West Indies, British and French Guiana, islands in the Central and South Atlantic, much of the Atlantic seaboard of Africa, and Gibraltar. Also the waters of Britain and France. The one major defensive gap was the lack of bases in Eire to cover the Western Approaches further out into the Atlantic. Germany (now including Austria and Czechoslovakia) was restricted to a short North Sea and Baltic coastline. Its exits to the Atlantic passed through the Allied controlled English Channel and North Sea. However, Britain's survival depended on the Atlantic trade routes; Germany's did not. Britain and her Allies introduced convoys without delay having learned well many of the lessons of World War 1.

Primary Maritime Tasks

These were based on the assumption Britain and France were actively allied against the European Axis powers of Germany and Italy. The Royal Navy would be responsible for the North Sea and most of the Atlantic, although the French would contribute some forces. In the Mediterranean, defence would be shared between both Navies, but as it happened, Benito Mussolini's claimed ownership of the Mediterranean - his 'Mare Nostrum' did not have to be disputed for another nine months.

 

Threats and Responses:

OBJECTIVE 1 - Defence of trade routes, and convoy organisation and escort, especially to and from Britain.

- Until May 1940 the main threat was from U-Boats operating in the North Sea and South Western Approaches. For a few months two pocket battleships posed a danger in the broader reaches of the Atlantic.

- The first overseas convoys left Britain via the South Western Approaches. From the Thames they sailed through the English Channel (OA) and from Liverpool through the Irish Sea (OB). Later in September convoys left Freetown, Sierra Leone (SL), Halifax, Nova Scotia (HX) and Gibraltar (HG) for the UK.

- In the North Atlantic anti-submarine escorts were provided from Britain out to 200 miles west of Ireland (15W) and to the middle of the Bay of Biscay. For a few hundred miles from Halifax, cover was given by Canadian warships. The same degree of protection was given to ships sailing from other overseas assembly ports.

- Cruisers and (shortly) armed merchant cruisers sometimes took over as ocean escorts. Particularly fast or slow ships from British, Canadian and other assembly ports sailed independently, as did the many hundreds of vessels scattered across the rest of the oceans. Almost throughout the war it was the independently-routed ships and the convoy stragglers that suffered most from the mainly German warships, raiders, aircraft and above all submarines that sought to break the Allied supply lines.

OBJECTIVE 2 - Detection and destruction of surface raiders and U-boats.

- Patrols were carried out by RAF Coastal Command in the North Sea, and by Home Fleet submarines off southwest Norway and the German North Sea bases. RAF Bomber Command prepared to attack German warships in their bases.

- Fleet aircraft carriers were employed on anti-U-boat sweeps in the Western Approaches.

OBJECTIVE 3 - Maritime blockade of Germany and contraband control.

- As German merchant ships tried to reach home or neutral ports, units of the Home Fleet sortied into the North Sea and waters between Scotland, Norway and Iceland. The Northern Patrol of old cruisers, followed later by armed merchant cruisers had the unenviable task of covering the area between the Shetlands and Iceland. In addition, British and French warships patrolled the North and South Atlantic.

- Closer to Germany the first mines were laid by Royal Navy destroyers in the approaches to Germany's North Sea bases.

OBJECTIVE 4 - Defence of own coasts.

- Right through until May 1940 U-boats operated around the coasts of Britain and in the North Sea. Scotland's Moray Firth was often a focus for their activities. They attacked with both torpedoes and magnetic mines. Mines were also laid by surface ships and aircraft.

- British East Coast convoys (FN/FS) commenced between the Thames Estuary and the Firth of Forth in Scotland. Southend-on-Sea, the Thames peacetime seaside resort, saw over 2,000 convoys arrive and depart in the course of the war.

- Defensive mine laying began with an anti-U-boat barrier in the English Channel across the Straits of Dover, followed by an East Coast barrier to protect coastal convoy routes.

OBJECTIVE 5 - Escort troops to France and between Britain, the Dominions and other areas under Allied control.

- An immediate start was made transporting the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to France. By the end of 1939 the first Canadian troops had arrived in Britain, and by early 1940 Australian, Indian and New Zealand forces were on their way to Egypt and the Middle East. Troop convoys were always heavily escorted, and the Dominion Navies played an important part in protecting the men as they left their home shores. Australian and New Zealand cruisers were particularly active in the Indian Ocean.

 

Major Warship Strengths

 
Navies

Royal Navy

French Navy

German Navy

Warship types

Home waters (a)

Atlantic (b)

Atlantic and Channel

European waters

Atlantic station
Battleships

9

-

2

3

2(c)

Carriers

4

-

1

-

-

Cruisers

21

14

3

7

-

Destroyers

82

13

20

22

-

Submarines

21

4

-

41(d)

16

Totals

137

31

26

73

18

 

plus escorts

-

-

plus torpedo boats

-

Notes:

- Royal Navy was a mix of World War 1, modernised and recently completed ships. The French warships allocated to the Atlantic and the German were mainly modern.

(a) Home Fleet commanded by Adm Sir Charles Forbes with 7 capital ships, 2 carriers and 16 cruisers based at Scapa Flow and Rosyth; Channel Force with 2 battleships, 2 carriers and 3 cruisers; Humber Force with 2 cruisers; and various destroyer flotillas.

(b) North Atlantic Command based at Gibraltar with 2 cruisers and 9 destroyers; America and West Indies Command at Bermuda with 4 cruisers; and South Atlantic at Freetown with 8 cruisers and 4 destroyers.

(c) Pocket battleships "Admiral Graf Spee" in the South and "Deutschland" in the North Atlantic.

(d) included U-boats on patrol in the North Sea and British coastal waters


DECLARATIONS OF WAR

3rd - After Germany invaded Poland on the 1st, Britain and France demanded the withdrawal of German forces. The ultimatum expired and at 11.15am on the 3rd, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain broadcast to announce that Britain was at war with Germany. He formed a War Cabinet with Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty. France declared war the same day.

Western Front - Advance units of the British Expeditionary Force were carried by destroyers from Portsmouth to Cherbourg on the 4th September. A week later the main force started landing in France. By June 1940 half a million men had been carried in both directions without loss.

4th - Aircraft of RAF Bomber Command made their first attack on German warships in Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbuttel. Cruiser "Emden" was slightly damaged by a crashing aircraft.

10th - British Home Fleet submarines on patrol off southwest Norway suffered their first casualty in tragic circumstances. "OXLEY" was torpedoed in error by "Triton" and went down off Obrestad.

Monthly Loss Summary
33 British, Allied and neutral ships of 85,000 tons in UK waters.

OCTOBER 1939

Western Front - Most of the British Expeditionary Force was now in France, just as Hitler ordered preparation of the first plans for the invasion of France and the Low Countries.

German Heavy Warships - Battlecruiser "Gneisenau" and other ships of the German Navy sortied on the 8th off Norway to draw the Home Fleet within U-boat and aircraft range. Capital ships "Hood", "Nelson", "Repulse", "Rodney" and "Royal Oak" together with carrier "Furious", cruisers and destroyers sailed for various positions, but no contact was made.

8th - The anti-U-boat mine barrage in the Strait of Dover was completed and accounted for three U-boats, starting with "U-12" on the 8th.

13th - "U-40" was also mined and sunk in the Strait of Dover.

14th - Returning to Scapa Flow after guarding the Fair Isle passage during "Gneisenau's" recent sortie, anchored battleship "ROYAL OAK" was torpedoed and sunk by "U-47" (Lt-Cdr Prien) in the early hours of the 14th with the loss of 833 men. The Home Fleet moved to Loch Ewe on the W Scottish coast.

German Sea and Air Attacks - These were stepped up against merchant shipping and warships in British waters. In their first attack on British territory, Ju.88's bombed ships in the Firth of Forth, Scotland on the 16th October and slightly damaged cruisers "Southampton", "Edinburgh" and destroyer "Mohawk". Next day more Ju.88's struck at Scapa Flow and the old gunnery training battleship "Iron Duke" was bomb-damaged and had to be beached. German destroyers and later other surface vessels started laying mines off the British East Coast. Aircraft also attacked the East Coast convoy routes, but initially without success. In defence, it took some months for RAF Fighter Command to arrange effective sweeps, but there were too few AA guns to arm merchantmen.

24th - The third U-boat sunk in the Strait of Dover was "U-16" on the 24th. No more attempts were made to pass through the English Channel and U-boats were forced to sailed around the north of Scotland to reach the Atlantic.

Monthly Loss Summary
- 24 British, Allied and neutral ships of 63,000 tons in UK waters.
- 3 German U-boats

NOVEMBER 1939

13th - As U-boat and surface ship-laid mines continued to inflict heavy losses on merchant ships and warships alike, cruiser minelayer "Adventure" and accompanying destroyer "BLANCHE" were mined in the Thames Estuary. "Blanche" was a total loss. More serious casualties followed a week later.

20th - British Home Fleet submarines gained their first success in the Heligoland Bight when "Sturgeon" sank German patrol ship "V-209".

21st - Recently completed light cruiser "Belfast" was badly damaged in the Firth of Forth on a magnetic mine laid by "U-21". With her back broken and machinery mountings shattered she was out of action for three years.

21st - Destroyer "GIPSY" was also lost on mines laid by destroyers off the British east coast port of Harwich.

Magnetic Mines - German seaplanes also laid the first magnetic mines off the East Coast and dropped one on tidal flats at Shoeburyness in the Thames Estuary. It was defused on the 23rd November and recovered by Lt-Cdr Ouvry (awarded the George Cross), a vital step in the battle against a weapon which was causing heavy losses and long shipping delays. In November alone, 27 ships of 121,000 tons were sunk and for a time the Thames Estuary was virtually closed to shipping.

Merchant Shipping War - The first HN/ON convoys sailed between the Firth of Forth and Norway in November covered by the Home Fleet. The convoys were discontinued in April 1940.

Monthly Loss Summary
43 British, Allied and neutral ships of 156,000 tons in UK waters.

DECEMBER 1939

4th - Returning from the hunt for the German battle-cruisers after the sinking of "Rawalpindi" on the 23rd November, battleship "Nelson" was damaged by a mine laid by "U-31" off Loch Ewe, northwest Scotland.

4th - On patrol off the Heligoland Bight, submarine "Salmon" (Lt Cdr Bickford) sank outward bound "U-36". She was successful again nine days later.

12th - Battleship "Barham" was involved in two incidents. On the 12th in the North Channel separating Northern Ireland and Scotland, she collided with and sank one of her screening destroyers "DUCHESS".

13th - "Salmon" now torpedoed and damaged German cruisers "Leipzig" and "Nurnberg" in the North Sea as they covered a destroyer mine laying operation off the Tyne Estuary, north east England.

28th - Two weeks after colliding with "Duchess", battleship "Barham" was torpedoed and damaged off the Hebrides by "U-30" (Lt Cdr Lemp)

Merchant Shipping War - Trawlers were the main victims of the first successful attacks by German aircraft off the East Coast. By the end of March they had accounted for 30 vessels of 37,000 tons. Losses from mines remained high - 33 ships of 83,000 tons in December.

Monthly Loss Summary
66 British, Allied and Neutral ships of 152,000 tons in UK waters.

 

1940

JANUARY 1940

Western Europe - German plans for a Western offensive (Operation 'Gelb') were postponed. Planning went ahead for the invasion of Norway under codename 'Weserubung'.

1st - AA cruiser “Coventry” was damaged in an air raid on the Shetland Islands, north of Scotland.

7th - Home Fleet submarines suffered heavy losses in the Heligoland area at the hands of minesweeper patrols, starting with “SEAHORSE”. On the same day “UNDINE” was sunk.

9th - Two days later “STARFISH” was also lost. British submarine operations in the Heligoland Bight were abandoned.

19th - As destroyer “GRENVILLE” returned from contraband control off the Dutch coast she was lost on a destroyer-laid mine off the Thames Estuary.

21st - Searching for a reported U-boat off the Moray Firth, destroyer “EXMOUTH” was torpedoed by “U-22” and lost with all hands.

Merchant Shipping War - U-boats were particularly active in the Moray Firth area off the Scottish coast and in the rest of the North Sea through until March 1940. In January alone they sank 14 ships - all neutrals.

Monthly Loss Summary
64 British, Allied and neutral ships of 179,000 tons in UK waters.

FEBRUARY 1940

12th - “U-33” on a minelaying operation in the Firth of Clyde, eastern Scotland was sunk by minesweeper “Gleaner”.

16th - The “Altmark” Incident - "Altmark" was “Graf Spee's” supply ship with Merchant Navy prisoners aboard. She was located off Norway and took refuge in Jossingfiord, within territorial waters. That evening destroyer “Cossack” (Capt Vian) went alongside with a boarding party and after a short struggle released the prisoners with the cry 'The Navy's here!'

18th - In an attack on Norway/UK convoy HN12, destroyer “DARING” was sunk by “U-23” in the northern North Sea, east of the Pentland Firth.

22nd - German destroyers were attacked in error by their own aircraft in the North Sea and ran into a minefield laid by Royal Navy destroyers. “LEBERECHT MAASS” and “MAX SCHULTZ” were lost northwest of the German Frisian Islands. “U-54” was presumed lost in the same field.

25th - A week after "Daring's" loss, Norway/UK convoy HN14 was attacked. German “U-63” was sighted by escorting submarine “Narwhal” and sent to the bottom by destroyers “Escort”, “lmogen” and “lnglefield”.

Monthly Loss Summary
- 46 British, Allied and neutral ships of 152,000 tons in UK waters.
- 3 German U-boats

MARCH 1940

11th - “U-31” was bombed and sunk by a RAF Blenheim of Bomber Command in the Heligoland Bight . She was salvaged and recommissioned, but finally lost eight months later.

16th - Home Fleet was bombed in Scapa Flow and heavy cruiser "Norfolk" damaged.

Norway - Later in the month, and in spite of abandoning plans to help Finland, Britain and France decided to disrupt Swedish iron ore traffic to Germany by mining Norwegian waters (Operation 'Wilfred'). Plans were also made to land troops, from south to north, at Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik to forestall any German retaliation (Operation 'R4). The entire operation was timed for 8th April.

(For Norwegian Campaign see Norway - Invasion 1940)

Merchant Shipping War - Since September 1939, 430,000 tons of shipping had been sent to the bottom by mines around the coasts of Britain - a loss rate only second to U-boats. Now the Royal Navy slowly countered magnetic mines with the introduction of ship-degaussing and 'LL' minesweeping gear. Although mines, contact, magnetic and later acoustic remained a threat throughout the war, they never again represented the danger of the first few months.

Monthly Loss Summary
- 43 British, Allied and neutral ships of 96,000 tons in UK waters
- 1 German U-boat

DEFENCE OF TRADE - FIRST SEVEN MONTHS

In the period September 1939 to the end of March 1940, much of the Royal Navy's efforts had been directed at organising the protection of trade both to and from Britain as well as around the British Isles. The small number of U-boats operating out in the Atlantic in the South Western Approaches as well as in the North Sea had their successes, but mainly against independently-routed shipping. Losses in UK waters were high from both U-boats and mines, but from now on enemy submarines would disappear from UK coastal areas for more than four years until mid-1944. The struggle to keep Britain in the war would move further and further out into the Atlantic and even further afield over the years to come.

Total Losses = 402 British, Allied and neutral ships of 1,303,000 tons (186,000 tons per month)

By Location

Location

Number of British, Allied, neutral ships

Total Gross Registered Tonnage

North Atlantic

75

371,000 tons

South Atlantic

8

49,000 tons

UK waters

319

883,000 tons

By Cause

Causes* in order of tonnage sunk

Number of British, Allied, neutral ships

Total Gross Registered Tonnage

1. Submarines

222

765,000 tons

2. Mines

129

430,000 tons

3. Warships

16

63,000 tons

4. Aircraft

30

37,000 tons

5. Other causes

5

8,000 tons

* The identifying numbers for each cause e.g. "1. Submarines" would be retained for all Trade War summaries, and added to as new weapon types appear e.g. "6. Raiders". The trends in losses due to the different causes could thus be followed

Later Defence of Trade Summaries can be found in Battle of the Atlantic - Its Development 1939-1945

Western Europe was about to erupt. There was a lull in the Battle of the Atlantic as U-boats were withdrawn for the Norwegian campaign, and before surface raiders started operations, and long-range aircraft and U-boats emerged from bases in France and Norway. Around the British Isles, aircraft and mines continued to account for merchant ships of all sizes, especially during the confused months of May, June and July 1940. During this time German E-boats commenced attacks in coastal waters. (Enemy or E-boat was the English term for German motor torpedo boats or S-boats, not to be confused with the heavily armed torpedo boats or small destroyers with their 'T' designation.) The comparatively low monthly average of 186,000 tons of merchant shipping lost in the first seven months would not be seen for any more than a month or two for three long and deadly dangerous years - until mid 1943. Until late 1944 with the start of the U-boat's British Isles Inshore Campaign, much of the battle for shipping took place further and further out in to the Atlantic.

APRIL 1940

Atomic Bomb - Just as the “phoney war” ended in Europe (it never existed at sea) the end of the war was foreshadowed when the British government established the Maud Committee to oversee nuclear research. Similar steps had already been taken in the United States, all of which eventually led to an operational atomic bomb.

German Codes - The Bletchley Park Ultra programme was now decoding some Luftwaffe low-level Enigma codes, partly because of poor German security procedures. There was little evidence the hard-won information influenced the war over the next two violent months.

29th - Submarine “UNITY” was lost in collision with a Norwegian merchantman off the northeast coast of England.

Air War - The first mines were laid by RAF Bomber Command off the German and Danish coasts.

(For Norwegian Campaign see Norway - Invasion 1940)

Monthly Loss Summary
54 British, Allied and neutral ships of 134,000 tons from all causes.

MAY 1940

Britain - Following a 10th May House of Commons debate on the Norwegian campaign, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill assumed leadership. Albert V. Alexander succeeded him as First Lord of the Admiralty. The planned attack on Narvik would still go ahead, but that same day the German Blitzkrieg on Holland, Belgium and France was launched.

Western Front
 

10th - Germany invaded Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg (Operation 'Gelb') - British and French troops crossed the border into Belgium and took up forward positions, but the main German thrust was a planned encircling movement further south through the forests and mountains of the Belgium Ardennes.

13th - The Germans entered France at Sedan. After breaking through, German armour headed west for the Channel to trap the Allied armies now in Belgium and northern France. British Admiralty plans had already been made to withdraw shipping from the Low Countries, block main ports, demolish installations and remove gold and diamonds. Most of these duties were carried out with the aid of Royal Navy destroyers which suffered heavy losses over the next few weeks.

13th - Holland’s Queen Wilhelmina and Government were now on their way to Britain aboard a Royal Navy destroyer to continue Holland's fight from there.

14th - The centre of Rotterdam was blitzed by the Luftwaffe.

15th - Destroyers continued to support Allied land forces off the Dutch and Belgian coasts. Under heavy air attack, two were bombed and beached over the next two days, starting with “VALENTINE” in the Scheldt Estuary. The DUTCH Army surrendered to the Germans. On the same day, Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet, anticipating the battle for Britain decided not to send any more RAF fighters to France. The strategic bombing of Germany was also ordered and raids were made on the Ruhr.

17th - As the Allies retreated from Belgium, German forces entered Brussels.

19th - The second destroyer supporting Allied land forces, “WHITLEY” was beached near Nieuport on the Belgian coast with bomb damage.

20th - German tanks reached the English Channel near Abbeville, shortly turning right and advancing north on the ports of Boulogne, Calais and Dunkirk. Destroyers carried Allied troops to Boulogne and Calais and remained in support. Over the next four days, five Allied destroyers were lost and others damaged in the area. 21st - French destroyer “L’ADROIT” was bombed and sunk off Dunkirk. 23rd - French destroyer “ORAGE” was bombed off Boulogne and “JAGUAR” torpedoed and sunk by German E-boats “S-21” and “S-23” off Dunkirk. 24th - A fourth French destroyer, “CHACAL” was bombed off Boulogne. The British “WESSEX” was also bombed and sunk supporting the defenders of Calais.

26th - Both Boulogne and Calais fell to the Germans. The British Expeditionary Force and French Army fell back on Dunkirk.

26th May-4th June - Dunkirk Evacuation (Operation 'Dynamo') - Initial plans were to lift off 45,000 men of the British Expeditionary Force over a two-day period under the direction of Vice-Adm B. H. Ramsey. In the next five days, 8,000 men on the 27th May, 18,000 on the 28th, 47,000 on the 29th, 54,000 on the 30th and 68,000 on the 31st were carried to Britain - a total of 195,000, both British and French. Every phase of the operation was subjected to heavy air, sea and land attack. Forty British, six French and a Polish destroyer took part, together with 800 other vessels, large and small. Losses were considerable. The Dunkirk evacuation continued into June.

28th - The BELGIUM Army surrendered on the northern flank, seriously endangering the Allied evacuation from Dunkirk.

29th - Apart from those damaged, three Royal Navy destroyers were sunk in the English Channel off the Dunkirk beaches this day - “GRAFTON” torpedoed by submarine “U-62”, “GRENADE” by bombing, and “WAKEFUL” by a torpedo from E-boat “S-30”.

30th - French destroyers were also continued to suffer losses. “BOURRASQUE” was mined off the Belgium port of Nieuport and sunk by shore batteries.

31st - “Bourrasque’s” sister ship “SIROCCO” was torpedoed and sunk by German E-boats “S-23” and “S-26”.

31st - German “U-13” was believed sunk by sloop “Weston” off the English East Coast fishing port of Lowestoft.

Air War - Minelaying continued along the south and east coasts of Britain as well as the waters of Holland, Belgium and northern France during the German Blitzkrieg.

(For Norwegian Campaign see Norway - Invasion 1940)

Monthly Loss Summary
90 British, Allied and neutral ships of 231,000 tons from all causes.

JUNE 1940

Italy declared War on Britain and France

German Codes - 'Ultra' was now breaking the Luftwaffe Enigma codes with some regularity, and early in the month had its first major breakthrough when supporting evidence for the Knickebein navigation aid for bombers was obtained. Army codes were more secure because of the greater use of land lines for communications, and the Naval ones were not penetrated until mid-1941.

1st-4th - Dunkirk Evacuation, Concluded - As the evacuation continued under heavy ground and air attack, destroyers “KEITH”, “BASILISK”, “HAVANT” and the French “LE FOUDROYANT” were bombed by the Luftwaffe and lost off the beaches, all on the 1st. 4th - The evacuation of the BEF and some of the French troops trapped within the Dunkirk perimeter came to an end. In the first four days and nights of June, 64,000, 26,000, 27,000 and 26,000 men were saved to bring the overall total to 340,000, including the bulk of Britain's army in northern France. Naval and civilian shipping losses were heavy. In destroyers alone the Royal Navy had lost six sunk and 19 badly damaged, the French Navy seven sunk.

5th-30th - Western Front, Concluded - The Battle for France begin on the 5th with a German advance south from the line River Somme to Sedan. 10th - The evacuation of British and Allied forces from the rest of France got underway. Starting with Operation 'Cycle', 11,000 were lifted off from the Channel port of Le Havre. 14th - The German army entered Paris. 15th - Operation 'Aerial' began with the evacuation of Cherbourg and continued for the next 10 days, moving south right down to the Franco-Spanish border. 17th - The only major loss during the evacuation from western France was off St Nazaire. Liner “Lancastria” was bombed and sunk with the death of nearly 3,000 men. 17th - The French Government of Marshal Petain requested armistice terms from Germany and Italy. 22nd - FRANCE capitulated and the Franco-German surrender document was signed. Its provisions included German occupation of the Channel and Biscay coasts and demilitarisation of the French fleet under Axis control. 25th - The Allied evacuation of France ended with a further 215,000 servicemen and civilians saved, but Operations 'Aerial' and 'Cycle' never captured the public's imagination like the 'miracle' of Dunkirk. 25th - On the final day of the evacuation, Canadian destroyer “FRASER” was rammed and sunk by AA cruiser “Calcutta” off the Gironde Estuary leading into Bordeaux. 30th - The first German troops landed on the Channel Islands, the only part of the British Empire occupied by the Germans throughout the war.

Britain - By early June 1940 the Royal Navy was taking steps to meet the threat of German invasion. Any invasion fleet would be attacked as it buildt up and before it could reach British shores. Four destroyer flotillas with cruiser support moved south, and escort and other vessels were on patrol offshore. The removal of these escorts from Atlantic convoy duties contributed to the sinking of many merchant ships, and eventually they returned to these duties. After setting out in early May, a heavily escorted convoy carrying Australian and New Zealand troops arrived in Britain.

For Norwegian Campaign see Norway - Invasion 1940

For War in the Mediterranean see Royal Navy in the Mediterranean 1940-45

 

on to Western Europe 1940-44
back to Campaigns of World War 2

revised 9/7/11


 

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