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Dunkirk and Operation Dynamo

Spend a day exploring the most important locales in Dunkirk, the small French city that was the site of Operation Dynamo. With your driver-guide, visit the city, the beach, and the British Memorial and Cemetery, learning about what Churchill called the ‘darkest hour’ of World War II, and the ‘miracle’ evacuation that saved the bulk of the British Expeditionary Force.

The city itself was flattened by bombings during World War I and nothing from the era remains standing. However, you’ll explore the beaches where routed British and French soldiers sat on the sand, waiting rescue, and hoping to survive the Luftwaffe strafing runs. You’ll learn about the remarkable combination of luck, skill, and daring that allowed the rescue mission to succeed.

After lunch, you’ll also visit nearby Flanders. This region of Belgium saw some of the deadliest fighting in World War I, which helped to set the stage for second world war a few decades later.

Your driver-guide will pick you up at your hotel in Arras or Lille to start your tour of Dunkirk and Operation Dynamo. You’ll hear about the series of Nazi victories that cornered British and French forces in the small city of Dunkirk.

Faced with the potential loss of the bulk of the British forces, British command hatched Operation Dynamo — a daring plan to retrieve the soldiers from the beach using a combination of civilian and military crafts. Originally, command assumed they could rescue just 40,000 troops, but in the end, more than 330,000 were snatched out from under Germany’s army.

As you stand on the sand, you’ll hear about the chaotic days between 26 May and 4 June, and about the confusion and despair of the soldiers who waited their fates here, and about the planes that shot them where they sat.

Visiting the port, you’ll learn about the Harbour Mole, a special breakwater designed to allow troops to load quickly onto ships, and about the small civilian fleet that also expedited the evacuation. At the British Memorial, you’ll learn about the unusually calm weather and still-baffling order from German high command to halt the attack, two unlikely events that made the evacuation so successful.

You’ll also hear the ‘little ships’, the fleet of more than 8,000 civilian vessels that helped the evacuation, and how Churchill used the story as an inspiration to bolster morale in the UK.

The tour includes many of the filming locations for the 2017 film, Dunkirk, and you can ask your guide to explain the contrast between reality and the version on the silver screen. For example, director Christopher Nolan chose to ignore the fact that more than a quarter of the British merchant crewmen were from South Asia and East Africa, nor did he accurately portray the large number of soldiers from colonies in India, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

After a busy morning and local lunch, you’ll head out to nearby Ypres, for a visit to Flanders, where you can learn more about World War I. These were some of the bloodiest battlefields during the war, and you’ll hear about the three different battles in Ypres before being driven back to your hotel.

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Other experiences in Arras

These activities are designed to give you the most authentic experiences around where you're staying. We work with local guides, who use their knowledge and often a resident's eye to show you the main sights and more out-of-the-way attractions. Our specialists can suggest tours and activities that will introduce you to the local ways of life.

  • The Battle of the Somme
    Hooge Crater WWI cemetery, Ypres

    The Battle of the Somme

    The Battle of the Somme

    This comprehensive tour of the Battle of the Somme provides a thorough introduction to World War I and trench warfare. With a private driver-guide, you’ll spend the day visiting landscapes littered with memorials and marred by trenches and craters.

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