The first teaser trailer for Christopher Nolan’s World War II story, Dunkirk, has been released! The movie, starring Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, and Fionn Whitehead, tells the story of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of 300,000 Allied soldiers who got surrounded by German soldiers in and around Dunkirk in the summer of 1940.
On May 10th 1940 Nazi Germany invaded France and the low countries, by May 16th, Germany had punched through the Ardennes and well into France. Three Panzer Divisions were sent to secure the Somme River and raced along it, reaching the English Channel just a few days later. Blitzkrieg had swept aside the French armies and by May 21st they had cut off French First Army, the British Army, BEF, and the Belgian army, with their backs to the sea.
In a decision which has been debated ever since by historians and military strategists (and certainly in German high command during the rest of the War), Hitler and the Wehrmacht ordered a halt to the German advance on May 22nd. Though this gave the Allies time to regroup and prepare what defenses they could, it took away the German concern that they were advancing too fast to retain their supply chain and were leaving forward troops vulnerable to counterattack until reinforcements arrived.
On the 27th and 28th of May, the Belgian Army surrendered, putting the full weight of German Forces on the BEF trying to secure the coast and the French First Army, which was further inland at Lille, trying to keep their forward position until everyone could retreat to the sea.
By this time, the British Cabinet was already debating the evacuation of the BEF, though they avoid including the French government in their deliberations so as not to give their ally the impression that they were being abandoned. Thousands of men of the BEF had been forced to surrender Calais on May 26th. On May 31st, after holding off seven German divisions – including tanks for which they were woefully unprepared – the 35,000 men remaining of the French First Army at Lille capitulated.
Prime minister Winston Churchill ordered Operation Dynamo, the codename for the evacuation, to begin on May 26th. Though over 28,000 men had been returned to Britain already, it was clear on the first day of Dynamo, when only 7,669 men in total were taken from Dunkirk, that they were going to need more than the British Royal Navy if they were going to save the BEF.
While the Luftwaffe bombed the harbor at Dunkirk, making evacuation even harder, the Royal Navy was requisitioning every craft they could find that was seaworthy and could carry men. Many citizens with boats of their own volunteered and sailed out to rescue men from across the channel. In total, almost 700 British ships were involved in the evacuation. With craft from other Allied nations included, 861 boats ferried men from Dunkirk to Dover and other British ports.
As German forces closed in on the BEF and remaining French troops, General John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort and commander of the BEF, was struggling to supply food and water to all the men. Many were drinking whatever they could find. Though many thousands of men were able to be rescued from the harbor by small craft, many other thousands had to wade out into the sea to shoulder-deep water to wait for hours.
By June 4th, the entire remainder of the BEF was evacuated, over 336,000 men and the vanguard of 40,000 French troops surrendered to Germany. Of the British, 68,000 had already perished in the fight.
Each day during the evacuation, tens of thousands of British, French, and other Allied troops were returning to Britain. Many thousands of the French troops were soon returned to France, only to be killed or captured as the Nazis swept through their nation. France formally surrendered on June 22nd.
The trailer is very short but very tense. We see the beach at Dunkirk where soldiers are looking out into the sea, unburied casualties next to a huge line of waiting soldiers, the Dunkirk harbor filled with soldiers waiting to be evacuated. It ends with a crowded jetty, again filled to the brim with soldiers who try and find a safe place when a German Stuka dive bomber, judging by the sound, makes a strafing pass over them. All the while there the sound of a ticking clock, time was ticking during the evacuation to get as many soldiers off the beaches before the Germans closed in.
The film is set to be released on July 19, 2017, so we still have a long wait ahead of us before we can see the finished product.