Through a careful and in depth analysis of the events leading up to the evacuation of Dunkirk and the evacuation itself, it is easy to understand what went wrong and how current leaders could profit from the mistakes made in the past. Few would contest that what happened at the tiny coast town of Dunkirk in May of 1940 was nothing short of a miracle. In military terms, the evacuation was a retreat, yet scholars years later would concur that this retreat was one of the most brilliant moves made by the Allied High Command. In a dazzling display of courage and patriotism, over 330,000 Allied troops were rescued from certain capture and imprisonment during this daunting endeavor. But why was this retreat necessary, what led up to this retreat, and what can we learn from it in modern times? All this and more are important things to consider as we take a closer look at the turning point of World War II, the battle of Dunkirk.
To get a complete understanding of the Battle of Dunkirk, it is vital to know a little bit about why this retreat was necessary in the first place. The first and most openly disputed incident prior to the battle for France is commonly referred to as the Mechelen Affair. An initial analysis would result in a rapid condemnation of the Belgium government, yet with a little insight, it is easy to see why the mistake was made. The Mechelen Affair revolved around the crash landing of an aero plane flown by German aviator Major Erich Hoenmanns. After the major had reportedly gotten lost, he inadvertently cut the fuel supply to his engine and had to crash land his plane in neutral Belgium. The problem arose with the fact that he was carrying a very important passenger. Fifty-year-old Major Helmuth Reinberger was flying as a passenger and was carrying extremely incriminating documents that threatened the national security of both Belgium and Germany itself. Reinberger was currently on the staff of Fliegerfuhrer 220, which made him directly responsible for masterminding the supplying of Fliegerdivision 7. In simple terms, Reinberger was in charge of supplying the elite German strike force that was to land paratroopers behind Belgium lines on the first day of the attack. The papers that Reinberger had in his possession included not only the German High Command's plan for invading Belgium, but they also contained the heart of the German war strategy. Unfortunately, the papers were thought to be a hoax and were not given much weight at all by the French generals who were preparing for a German invasion. On the same day that the two majors were shot down with these incriminating documents, Hitler decided to use the same plan of attack on France. One can easily see how adapting a defense strategy based on the known offensive strike plans would have greatly altered the outcome of the battle for France. Another similar incident highlighting the failure of French intelligence to correctly analyze information involved the attempted warning from the German defector Colonel Hans Oster. Oster was positioned in Berlin but passed the information to the Allies via Major Gijsbertus Sas, the Dutch Military Attache in Berlin. The information that Colonel Oster passed along to Allied intelligence was the details about when the German attack would commence. Such information would have had a dramatic affect on the outcome of the initial attack, thereby delaying the german offensive and perhaps eliminating the necessity of a retreat at Dunkirk altogether. Again, the warnings were not heeded largely because of the type of work Oster was engaged in. Major Hans Oster was an aspiring career builder in the Abwehr, Germany's military intelligence. Though it is easy to see the reasoning behind the French rejection of these warnings, their actions cannot be excused. Failure to correctly analyze information and act accordingly cost the Allies thousands of soldiers and the British in...
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