The Germans recognized the evacuation attempt and used all means at their disposal to harass it (Gardner 15). They sent the Luftwaffe aircraft, U-boats, and E-boats to attack the various Allied ships sailing to and from the Belgian Coast (Axelrod 304). The Allied forces countered with air power of its own, bringing the Royal Air Force in to intercept the Luftwaffe and bomb concentrated German ground troops (Axelrod 304).
In this dogfight, the Allied forces were helped by a number of fortunate developments. The Luftwaffe had advanced too rapidly for their supply bases to catch up and their supplies were limited throughout the battle (Axelrod 305). Also, inclement weather throughout the battle reduced visibility for aircraft, providing Allied forces with periodic reprieves from Luftwaffe harassment (Axelrod 305). The Luftwaffes bombs themselves, through the smoke they created upon exploding, further reduced visibility and helped screen the evacuation process (Axelrod 305). That these developments occurred without the intervention of Allied forces is part of the reason they call it the Miracle at Dunkirk.
Operation Dynamo proved to be a wild success, evacuating a total of 338,226 soldiers, including 140,000 French troops. (Axelrod 305). The British press emphasized the courageous assistance of various civilian small craft in the evacuation, diverting attention from what was in reality a disastrous defeat and retreat for British forces in Continental Europe.
(Axelrod 305). Moreover, Prime Minister Churchill capitalized on the “Spirit of Dunkirk” in his most famous wartime speech, declaring that “We shall fight on the beaches” and “never surrender,” setting the tone for the British effort for the rest of the War. (Axelrod 305).
Operation Dynamo rescued the British army, but more importantly, British morale with it. The British would need this morale in the years to come, with the Luftwaffe taking the war to London itself. Although the Miracle at Dunkirk had little effect on Germanys dominant position, the evacuation was crucial because it allowed the Allied forces precious time nurse their wounds and readjust to the German Blitzkrieg. The loss of the British Expeditionary Force, most of which were at Dunkirk, would likely have forced the British to sue for peace as they would have been able to get decent terms from Germany. Thus, the Battle of Dunkirk may not have been the turning point of the war, but it allowed the Allied forces to learn the lessons of defeat without suffering all of the losses.
Axelrod, Alan. Encyclopedia of World War II. New York: Facts on File, 2007. P.303
Gardner, W.J.R., ed. The Evacuation from Dunkirk: Operation Dynamo 26 May — 4 June.