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Revision Diary

The BEF and Dunkirk, 1939-40


BEF in Europe, 1939-40; Dunkirk.





Britain declared war on 3 Sept 1939, but Britain did not go to war.   Poland was too far away to help.   So there was no fighting until Hitler attacked France in May 1940 people called it the ‘Phoney War’.


Two things happened you need to know about:

•     Britain DID send a small army the British Expeditionary Force to France, but it was too small to be any good and was easily beaten by Hitler's 'Blitzkrieg' tactics.   The British soldiers were cut off at Dunkirk, and had to be evacuated from France by boat.

              At the time, the British newsreels presented the evacuation as a British victory the story of how our small boats heroically sailed to France and plucked soldiers from beaches ('the myth of Dunkirk').    But really it was a HUGE defeat

•     At home, the government tried to prepare for war (e.g. evacuation/ gas masks) but everything was a terrible muddle, and in May 1940 Churchill took over a Prime Minister.



1.  11 Sept: British Expeditionary Force of four divisions – only 160,000 men – went to France.

2.  The evacuation of Dunkirk was called ‘Operation Dynamo’.

3.  At Dunkirk, many men were rescued - but the BEF lost all their guns, vehicles, ammunition and petrol and ONE-SIXTH of our soldiers were killed or taken prisoner.


Revision Focus

This is a Paper 1- World War Two  topic, so think about how you will USE the information to answer sourcework questions.  

You will need:

1.  A GENERAL UNDERSTANDING of 'what was going on', so you can make intelligent comments on the purpose of the sources.

2.  Some FACTUAL KNOWLEDGE so you can assess the factual accuracy of the sources.


This paper is ALL sourcework questions, so make sure you know how to do them.


NOTE PARTICULARLY that there is no choice of questions on this topic - so...





More key facts on the Revision Sheet.  



To find out more, read the e-book pages on the Phoney War and Dunkirk.