Destination Dunkirk: The Story of Gort's Army

Destination Dunkirk: The Story of Gort's Army

Gregory Blaxland
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
The author had personal experience of Dunkirk having been commissioned into the Regular Army as an officer in the Buffs in the summer of 1939 and was one of those evacuated from Dunkirk on May 31st 1940, after which he served throughout the war in different theatres.
Following his marriage in 1954 he was sent to Kenya where his battalion was serving. Unfortunately in his first week there he contracted polio and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Although initially writing as an author and journalist he soon became well known as a military historian and wrote several books with military backgrounds, this being one of them. Originally published in 1973 it was reprinted recently.

It contains a wealth of information and description though the book does not seem to be one for the casual reader but more for those who would prefer an in-depth knowledge of what happened and why. The story of Dunkirk is commonly assumed to be an action which covered a few miles and a few days more or less on the French-Belgian border but the author uses this book to describe in detail what happened to the British Expeditionary Force of General the Viscount Gort’s army along the northern coast between the border with Belgium and the west coast of France as far Saint-Nazaire during the period between the 9th May and 20th June, 1940.

In his preface Gregory Blaxland makes it clear he has made more use of regimental histories rather than war diaries, this being made rather more obvious by the style of writing adopted at times. He makes it clear that most war diaries were compiled on return to UK and may not have had the benefit of logs, notes, or maps being sketched or written at the time and although the value of the Official History was not to be ignored, there were some errors and omissions tending to give a false impression, such as in the case of the action at Arras and the withdrawal from the Escaut. It is worth noting that he has also used a few of the German war diaries for information on the operations during the closing stages of the Dunkirk campaign.

Other information has been gleaned from personal observations and eyewitnesses, all of which are noted in Appendix C describing the information obtained as it was written in each chapter. This in itself is really a set of footnotes for each chapter indicating where pertinent information was taken from.

Not necessarily in chronological order the author takes the reader through some 19 chapters for an account of the campaign which took place in France and Flanders during that period and relating the action of each of the French, Belgian, and British regiments involved. The last two chapters (20 and 21) describe what happened to the 51st Highland Division with their attached troops and, finally, the evacuation of remnants of the B.E.F. and some French units who were dispersed across the south and west of the region.

Appendix A lists the complete Order of Battle and the Staff list of the B.E.F. while Appendix B provides a comparison of the actual scale of troops and weapons for the French, German and British forces involved.
There is a centre section of illustrations which are listed immediately following the Contents page. These are followed by the names (and page numbers) of the maps which show the particular troop layouts and directions of advance being pertinent to surrounding pages of text. The interested reader might find it even more useful to have one of the larger scale motoring maps which can be pencilled/coloured to give a better appreciation of what the individual maps are indicating.

A well resourced and comprehensive account of what happened to the British Expeditionary Force during the relevant months of 1939 and 1940 with the addition of the author’s indications of what he considers to be the problems which developed with regard to general communications and orders together with some of the associated difficulties of international cooperation between armed forces. The book is well worth reading for those who take a keen interest in military history but certainly not to be read as something to while time away.

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