By the end of May 1940, the Allies in France had been pushed back to the shores of the English Channel at Dunkirk, France by the Germans. Hundreds of thousands of men awaited rescue on the beaches along with thousands of military pieces including various small arms, vehicles and artillery. Allied authorites devised an audacious plan to rescue the survivors - a mix of British, French, Canadian and Belgian troops - by any means necessary.
In the span of just eight days, over 338,000 men were removed from the beaches at Dunkirk by a fleet numbering some 800 vessels of various shapes and sizes, military and otherwise. While much material was eventually lost in the action, many battle-weary, but experienced, soldiers were relocated to the relative safety of Britain. While a major defeat on paper in military terms, the survival of these troops at Dunkirk to continue the fight in future months proved critical to the survival of the Allied cause in Europe.