Volume 3, Chapter 23
May 26, 1940, seven o’clock in the morning. Dunkirk, France.
British Expeditionary Army Supreme Commander, Viscount Gort, stood on the outskirts of a field airport. Watching a British aircraft slowly descend on the runway.
In the air were five Hurricanes circling about. As the aircraft slowly stopped, Gort and his men walked towards the plane to greet the visitors.
The door opened, and a middle-aged British gentleman appeared. Dressed in a straight suit, he gave a slight smile as he looked at General Gort.
“What? How are you here?” Gort said in astonishment.
Half an hour later, in a humble three-story building near the port.
“Are you sure this is the approved plan?” General Gort frowned slightly as he looked at the document in his hand.
“Of course, it is the official plan. The entire war cabinet had also agreed to implement it. Do you have any questions?”
“Oh, none at the moment.” General Gort answered quickly. “I have full trust in the judgment of the Chief of General Staff and the War Cabinet.
“Hmm, have you proceeded with the order from yesterday afternoon? Viscount Gort?”
“I have issued the order. However, it will take time for those retreating to return to their positions.”
“Yes, we are quite short on time.” His hands holding onto a cup of black tea.
“Gort, you have learned about our present situation. I hope you would be ready to implement this plan immediately. We have consulted with the French and they will cooperate with us. However, there are specific circumstances to this plan. You have a day to prepare, only one day. At this time tomorrow, the plan must proceed. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Lord Ironside.”
“Haha, good. I will immediately fly to Paris and discuss the details with General Weygand. I hope that we can meet again in Paris.” General Ironside stood up and smiled.
“Do you need to go?”
“Yes, the plane is waiting for me.”
“Well, then I’ll send you to the airport.”
“No, you need to read the plan carefully and see if there would be any problems. If you have trouble implementing it then immediately report to London.”
Seeing General Ironside off, Gort returned to his office and continued to analyze the plan.
To deliver the plan personally, who can’t tell how much he supports the plan? Although Lord Ironside’s words sounded as if there was room for adjustment, deviation from the plan was probably not allowed. Anyone familiar with the military matters could tell the weight of this plan.
It’s a joke that the day before yesterday, it was agreed to move the troops onto the beach. Then, yesterday afternoon, they were once again ordered to return to their positions. Leaving at least six divisions worth of men completely exhausted. This ridiculous mobilization of troops also affected morale. Many of these forces are low on ammunition and supplies. London promised a supply ship yesterday afternoon, but it had still not arrived.
In fact, quite a few of the troops had lost their will to continue fighting. Only the retreat to the sea cast a ray of hope. Furthermore, the troops only had supplies for four days, their ammunition barely enough for a single large-scale skirmish. If London still does not send supplies then the consequences would be disastrous.
From the plan, it seemed that London had given up on the plan to retreat from the sea. Now, the only chance is to breach the enemy’s encirclement. If the information in this plan is true, then this may be the best chance at saving the entire army.
Gort looked carefully at the plan. Breaking through should be no problem, the key point is the threat of a German trap. However, the Chief of General Staff should have already thought of this. Obviously, they must have thought the possibility was low enough to continue and approve the operation. Now the only question is…
General Gort pressed the bell on his table. Then after some time his adjutant opened the door and walked in.
“General, what are your orders?”
“Has there been any contact from the Navy’s transport ships?”
The adjutant answered loudly.
“No, General. Last night, they were investigating the disappearance of three transport ships. I heard that they encountered trouble.”
“They sank in the strait? Impossible, the German U-Boats can’t just slip past our anti-submarine blockade so nonchalantly.” Gort felt that this was a puzzling situation.
“No matter, contact Headquarters and tell them to send a few more ships at once. We are in urgent need of supplies.”
“Also, order the West line to speed up their march. They must return to their positions by tonight. The ammunition supplies from the last shipment of supplies will be given to him, but make sure to watch the morale of his troops. Then, have the forces on the Northern line hand over the defense to the Belgian Army. Have them start to assemble in the direction of Arras.
We want to focus all of our forces to break through. The 5th, 15th, and 3rd Divisions will act as the vanguard. They need to rush in that direction as soon as possible.”
“Yes, General, I will immediately go and pass on your orders. But if you use those three divisions will we not have a reserve force?
“That is not within our control. This is the plan, you can go.”
“Understood, General.” The adjutant opened the door and went out.
As Gort was initiating the preparatory work, in London, the British Royal Navy Department was in chaos.
Admiral Bakerhausen* sat facing the row of officers before him.
“What! Why did you not notify me earlier? Do you know that this means? Why did you not report this to me that day? This is a serious dereliction of duty, I should have you all court-martialed!”
“We are very sorry for our behavior, but the fact is that we did not have reliable reports at the time. Once we had confirmed reports…” A Navy Lieutenant Commander said, trying to justify himself. However, even before he was finished, an angry shout interrupted him.
“What! You dare to come with me this! Three ships, fully loaded with weapons and ammunition. Twelve thousand total tons of equipment, ammunition, and supplies. Two infantry regiments, two escort destroyers, four anti-submarine ships, and a mine clearing ship. These were all lost these last two days. So many of our sailors and equipment are buried in the sea. How do you explain this!”
The Lieutenant Commander quickly answered.
“Admiral, two nights ago, an anti-submarine trawler suddenly disappeared in the Dover Strait. We heard this news at noon yesterday from their fleet’s sub-commander. We thought it was a German submarine and so we dispatched a search party. We then ordered the anti-submarine blockade on the strait to be strengthened.
However, they never found any wreckage or survivors of the vessel when retracing the ship’s patrol route. There were no corpses and no signs of any German submarines in the strait. We ordered the other anti-submarine ships to expand their search and patrol range.
By this time, it was already nine o’clock. The supply ships have already departed the harbor and bound for Dunkirk. By this time the fleet was on an anti-submarine alert in the region. So, two escort destroyers traveled with the supply ships as protection.
At ten o’clock in the evening, the radio station suddenly received two emergency rescue signals from the two destroyers. However, it was hard to determine the situation due to the interference. So, we immediately ordered a nearby anti-submarine ship to investigate and rescue the crew.
Then at ten forty-five, that same ship also sent out a distress signal. Claiming that they were attacked by a German torpedo. The closest ships in the vicinity where the troop transport ships. Hence, we ordered them to go rescue the stranded sailors. We also started to prepare two more anti-submarine destroyers.
Once the transport ships arrived, there was nothing to be seen. Believing that several anti-submarine trawlers were sunk along with their crew. Due to the fear of German submarines still lurking about, we ordered them to return to their original route. We were ready to deploy other ships to continue the search for survivors.
But ten minutes later, at almost the same time, we received the distress signal of three transport ships and the two destroyers. Then we finally figured out that the Germans have laid an extensive minefield in the Dover Strait. We immediately sent two minesweeper ships for rescue. This leaves us with the current situation. The German minefield was much larger than we initially thought. And they are using mixed mines, not only contact mines but also magnetic mines. As a result, the minesweepers were bombarded with the magnetic mines and one was sunk. While the other managed to survive with severe damage.”
“So, are you aware of the distribution of the mines and the locations of the minefields?”
“We sent all the minesweepers to investigate that. From their reports, there are three huge minefields all along the French and Belgian coast. At least a thousand, including both the German’s and our own minefields. Completely blocking off the area from Calais to Ostend in Belgium. There is no way we can resupply Dunkirk.”
“Is there any way to sweep open a route?”
“It is impossible in the near future, at least currently we have no way to efficiently clear the German magnetic mines. We’ll need to wait until the Navy Research Institute develops a new countermeasure before allowing the minesweepers to enter the minefield. Otherwise, they would simply be sacrificed in vain.”
“Can’t we sweep a road through our minefield?”
“It’s possible. However, it’ll need time. The number of mines in our minefield is also quite extensive. The question is how the Germans laid so many mines so quickly. It could be possible with a lot of aircraft. But these last two days, there have been no enemy planes on the radar.”
He gave a deep frown and then fell into some contemplation before finally standing up.
“I need to immediately report this matter. You first write up a detailed report. But the time I return, I hope to see your report on my desk.”
In his office on 10 Downing Street, Churchill was astonished at the Admiral’s report.
“Admiral, how much time do you need to open a route to Dunkirk?”
“It would take three to four days to clean open a path. That is if there is no interference from German planes. And with that, I’d only suggest small vessels, anything bigger would take an additional two days.”
“It seems Dunkirk is completely cut off now.”
“My thoughts also.”
Churchill stood up and looked at the map on the wall. He lit a cigar and stared silently. Suddenly Churchill seemed to figure out something.
“I understand, haha. This is precisely what the Germans have planned. This further proves the German’s inability to attack. They must be afraid that we would hold the siege if we continue getting supplies. So, they were sensible enough to mine the entire region, stopping the support from the sea. They thought they could outwit us.
But they did not expect for us to have seen their weakness and prepared a counterattack. It seems that our plan will surely be successful. Let them continue their blockade, I want to see Hitler’s expression when we break through his encirclement. Haha!” Churchill proudly laughed.
“Prime Minister, should we stop clearing the mines?”
“No, no, we still have to clear the mines. Only so that we can pretend to be in an anxious state. The Germans would grow overconfident thinking that we’ve already been cornered. The more relaxed they are, the most secure our plan is.” Churchill replied with a smile.
“But General Gort asked for supplies…”
“This is indeed a problem, but fortunately the German forces in front of him are comprised of only a few weak infantry regiments. It shouldn’t require too much consumption. Once he breaks out he’ll need to meet with the French 1st Army and fall to the south. You can go send a telegram to him, explaining the current situation. Remind him that the planned steps must be followed.”
Let the Royal Air Force airdrop some supplies to him. It should slightly improve morale. Also, tell him that if this plan is successful, I will personally go to France and bestow awards and honors on the soldiers and officers.”
* MD: Could not figure out who the Author was referring to with 海军部长贝克豪森. So I did the MTL.