View Full Version : Dunkirk

07-11-2010, 09:42 PM
On 26 February 1945, Hitler claimed he had let the BEF escape as a "sporting" gesture, in the hope Churchill would come to terms. Few historians accept Hitler's word in light of Directive No. 13, which called for "the annihilation of French, British and Belgian forces in the [Dunkirk] pocket"

The text above was recently posted by Ernest here (http://www.thephora.net/forum/showthread.php?p=885215#post885215). It raises the usual questions about the court historians' ongoing assault against Hitler and the German people. Never concede even a shred of rationality or decency to either of them.

What is the provenance (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/provenance) of this document? Why can I not find a copy of the original German text? What German word is translated as "annihilate"?

The true reason for Hitler's decision to halt the German armour is a matter of debate. One theory is that Von Rundstedt and Hitler agreed to conserve the armour for Fall Rot, an operation to the south.[13][14] Another theory, which has recently been disputed, was that Hitler was still trying to establish diplomatic peace with Britain before Operation Barbarossa. Brian Bond stated:

Few historians now accept the view that Hitler's behaviour was influenced by the desire to let the British off lightly in hope that they would then accept a compromise peace. True, in his political testament dated 26 February 1945 Hitler lamented that Churchill was "quite unable to appreciate the sporting spirit" in which he had refrained from annihilating the BEF at Dunkirk, but this hardly squares with the contemporary record. Directive No. 13, issued by the Supreme Headquarters on 24 May called specifically for the annihilation of the French, English and Belgian forces in the pocket, while the Luftwaffe was ordered to prevent the escape of the English forces across the channel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Dunkirk#Hitler.27s_halt_order

Given the court historians' a priori assumption that Hitler was an evil demon, they are incapable of believing that Hitler sincerely wanted peace with Britain. It seems quite obvious that Hitler could have "annihilated" the enemy at Dunkirk (or at least tried to) AND gone on to subdue the rest of France had he wished to. He didn't.

Sixty-five years after the end of WWII and still the anti-German propaganda is persistently disseminated. Why? Perhaps (that's an ironic perhaps) because -- if Hitler was not really an evil demon then maybe, just maybe, the holocaust story is less than true.

Or, jehovah forbid, a lie.

07-11-2010, 10:38 PM
One theory is that Von Rundstedt and Hitler agreed to conserve the armour for Fall Rot

The correct theory, the spectre of the Marne loomed large with Hitler and every senior German officer. Hitler wanted peace with Britain but that was more likely if he had annilated the BEF.

Dan Dare
07-12-2010, 02:09 AM
I'm not aware of any contemporary participant, including Hitler himself, who characterised the Haltbefehl of 24.5.1940 as a 'sporting gesture' at the time.

The order was moot anyway, since the Panzers were already stopped, and had been since the previous day on reports from von Kluge that 50% of the German tank force was unavailable for action and would have been unable to defend itself had the British counter-attacked from the Dunkirk pocket.

Hitler's order was issued on von Rundstedt's advice and was not something he dreamt up himself. Hitler had allowed himself to be persuaded by Goering to let the Luftwaffe polish off Dunkirk, rather than risk the indispensable Panzer divisions which were needed for the bigger prize, the defeat of France. The 'letting the British get away' meme came into play much later, nobody claimed such a thing to be the case at the time.

Dan Dare
07-12-2010, 02:42 AM
Understanding Burrhus' aversion to court historians, I'm sure he'll appreciate this overview of Hitler's involvement in the Dunkirk operation, from a Mr. D. Irving, Esq.

… Nothing yet indicated that London might already have decided to evacuate northern France. On the contrary, Hitler was convinced that the British would fight to the last round. On May 21 there was a minor crisis when British and French tanks sprang an unexpected attack on the inner flank of the German Fourth Army at Arras. Both Hitler and Rundstedt took this as a warning that the armoured spearhead of Army Group A had advanced too fast, and Rundstedt ordered the Fourth Army and Kleist’s armoured group to delay their advance on the Channel ports until the crisis was resolved. Brauchitsch and Halder regretted Rundstedt’s overcautious conduct of the operations of Army Group A – bearing up on the Channel ports from the south-west – and without informing Hitler they ordered control of the Fourth Army transferred to General von Bock’s Army Group B, which was advancing on the ports from the east. Bock was to command the last act of the encirclement.

Hitler learned of this when he visited Rundstedt’s headquarters at Charleville the next morning, May 24.
The Fourth Army was ordered for the time being to stay where it was. It was tactically foolhardy, claimed Hitler, to commit tanks in the swampy Flanders lowlands to which the War Department would have sent them.

The previous day the Fourth Army’s General Günter Hans von Kluge had himself persuaded Rundstedt it would be better to allow Kleist’s armour time to regroup for a more methodical assault on the twenty-fifth. Rundstedt’s proposal, stated to Hitler on May 24, went one stage further: his armour should remain where it was and give an appropriate welcome to the enemy forces swept westward by Bock’s Army Group B; this pause would give the tanks a valuable respite.

There was a political element too in this controversial decision. Hitler desired to spare Belgium’s relatively friendly Flemish population the destruction of property this closing act of ‘Yellow’ would entail.

At all events, Hitler did not hesitate to lend his authority to Rundstedt’s decision to rein in the tanks. At twelve-thirty the Führer’s headquarters telephoned the ‘halt order’: the tanks were to stand fast west of the canal line; there could be no talk of his going soft on the British, because that same day, in a directive giving guidelines for the further campaign against Britain, Hitler merely indicated in passing that the Luftwaffe’s present job in the north was to break all resistance of the ‘encircled enemy’ and prevent any British forces from escaping across the Channel.

Thus the tanks remained ‘rooted to the spot,’ as Halder bitterly commented in his diary. Hitler refused to set the tanks in motion. One more factor had arisen. On the evening of the twenty-fifth he explained to his adjutants that he particularly wanted the SS elite brigade under Sepp Dietrich to join in this crucial action at Dunkirk. His intention was to show the world that he had troops equal to the best that even such a racially advanced nation as Britain could field against him.

By May 26, Sepp Dietrich’s Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler was in position. On that morning, too, Rundstedt’s staff changed their attitude, since radio monitoring suggested that their appreciation of enemy intentions was wrong. The British seemed to be pulling out. Halder’s Foreign Armies West branch had certainly reported as early as May 21 that the unusual number of troops transports seen in Dunkirk and Boulogne might indicate that British troops were about to be evacuated; and the permanent radio link between the war office in London and the BEF in France, first monitored the next day, also suggested that events were being removed from French control. On May 26 at 1.30 pm Hitler told Brauchitsch that the tanks might resume their eastward drive at once. They were to get within artillery range of Dunkirk, and the army’s heavy artillery and the Luftwaffe would do the rest.

From the air, the Luftwaffe could see that the British were embarking only their troops, abandoning all their equipment as they fled. The beaches were thick with waiting Englishmen, the roads were choked with truck columns fifteen miles long. Göring boasted of the carnage his bombers were wreaking in Dunkirk harbour. ‘Only fishing boats are getting through. Let’s hope the Tommies can swim!’ The reality, however, was different: the Luftwaffe bombers were largely based on airfields back in Germany, and either their bombs were ineffective against small ships or they exploded harmlessly in the sand dunes; more ominously, the German bombers proved no match for the short-range British fighters. The Germans found that for the first time the enemy had local air superiority, and their troubles were added to by the fact that at the end of May the Luftwaffe’s Eighth Air Corps was grounded by fog for three days.

Hitler’s War. pp 301-303

Dan Dare
07-12-2010, 03:28 AM
I have located the Hitler Weisung Nr.13, issued on May 24 1940, the same day as the Haltbefehl. It does indeed call for the 'annihilation of the Anglo-Franco-Belgian forces trapped in Artois and Flanders'. The German word used is Vernichtung.

I'll put up a translation of the full Directive in a little while.

07-12-2010, 11:59 AM

The text above was recently posted by Ernest here. It raises the usual questions about the court historians' ongoing assault against Hitler and the German people. Never concede even a shred of rationality or decency to either of them.

Firstly Burrhus there is no such thing as a "court historian" , this is a sound bite and it is meaningless.
Dan D. has mentioned and looked up the halt order.
Whilst on one hand the halt allowed the Germans to get their infantry up it allowed the BEF and French to create a crust which could not be broken , the ground around Dunkirk is nor armour friendly and the breathing space saved the BEF Guderian could not fathom why they had been halted with a mere ten miles to go - it made no sense to the commanders at the front.

As far as letting anyone escape went this is a myth which supports a view of Hitler which cannot be supported by his personality or his track record.
When Goring said that he would crush the British with the Luftwaffe , allowing them to escape was not on the agenda.
Arras was not a major problem , the Germans defeated the British but it did knock their confidence it shows more the lack of understanding at higher command levels and at a lower level the pragmatism of commanders on the spot.

A similar situation would be replayed four years later at Villers Bocage in Normandy - a small German force blunted the British advance - a degree of panic resulted in a favourable advantage being thrown away.

Andrew Roberts in his "The Storm of War" - page 62-63 rightly discounts the argument that Hitler allowed the BEF to escape so as to make peace.
In the pages leading up to this he provides accounts from Kleist , Rundstedt , Guderian who all say they could have destroyed the BEF and Roberts points of that the idea of the escape being part of a peace feel or good will on Hitler's part makes no sense , none at all.
"One theory which must also now be safely discarded was that Hitler did not expect or want to capture the BEF because he hoped for peace with Britain. Nor only is this illogical - his chances of forcing peace on Britain would have been immensely strengthened by eliminating the BEF.
Roberts quotes a handwritten note from Jodl to Ley on 28th May stating that
"Everything that has happened since 10 May seems even to us , who had indestructible faith in our success , like a dream. In a few days 4/5 of the English Expeditionary Army and a great part of the best mobile French troops will be destroyed or captured. The next blow is ready to strike , and we can execute it at a ratio of 2:1 which has hitherto never been granted to a German field commander...you to Herr Ley have contributed to this greatest victory in history. Heil Hitler".

Roberts points out that Dynamo had started on 26th May - something Jodl seemed to miss but the intention is outlined the expected destruction of the BEF - the orders from Hitler and the High Command blocked this
The players in the halt order may or not have fully agreed but a loss of nerve , a lack of confidence , lack of confidence in what they were hearing from the front - distance from the front - if the French had created problems in command in 1940 so had the Germans .
Certainly the Halt order was not a desire to see the BEF get home safely and presenting it as such makes no sense none at all.

07-12-2010, 06:18 PM
I am not as well read on WWII as either Dan or cerberus so I will forebear debating the issue with them. However...

1) Choosing to translate the German word vernichtung as annihilate rather than as destruction strikes me as a bit of semantic propaganda given the different connotations in English of the two words.

2) One should not assume that I trust David Irving any more than I do any other historian.

3) Allowing the Dunkirk evacuation as a peace feeler by Hitler is supported by numerous other documented attempts by Hitler to get the British to end their conflict on an equitable basis.

Dan Dare
07-12-2010, 08:29 PM
1) Choosing to translate the German word vernichtung as annihilate rather than as destruction strikes me as a bit of semantic propaganda given the different connotations in English of the two words.

Use of the word Vernichtung (and the verb vernichten) generally implies a stronger form than simply destruction, which would usually be rendered by 'Zerstörung/zerstören'. It can mean the latter, but is more usually seen in the sense of annihilation or extermination (as in Vernichtungslager).

2) One should not assume that I trust David Irving any more than I do any other historian.

Fair enough, although he is usually sound on sources if not always his interpretation of them

3) Allowing the Dunkirk evacuation as a peace feeler by Hitler is supported by numerous other documented attempts by Hitler to get the British to end their conflict on an equitable basis.

Every time this theme arises, which it does with monotonous regularity, I always ask the proposer to provide citations for each of the 'numerous documented efforts' that Hitler made to make an equitable peace with Britain (aka the 'peace feelers' or 'overtures'). There are two just such efforts that might potentially be characterised as such by those who would wish to place Hitler within a favourable light, but neither was supported by official government-to-government diplomatic communication, which would have been expected to be the case if they were intended to be taken seriously.

But perhaps you can break the circle, Burrhus ....

In the meantime, back to Dunkirk.

In considering the Dunkirk episode, and in particular the notorious stop order (das Haltebefehl), it’s important to recognise that there were two related orders issued under Hitler’s imprimatur on May 24th, 1940.

First is the Stop Order itself, which was actually issued by Generaloberst von Rundstedt, albeit after receiving approval from Hitler. This ordered the Panzergruppe under Kleist to halt in its present position some 15 km outside Dunkirk itself. The motivations behind this order have been subject to endless controversy ever since, and it has been the root cause of the myth that has arisen about Hitler’s intentions to allow the British a ‘Golden Bridge’ over which to make their escape (and hopefully permanent future absence) from the Continent.

The second order is the so-called Hitler Directive No. 13, one of the several dozen Hitlerweisungen which were issued during the war and which formed the ultimate authority on all matters to which they pertained. It is therefore quite reasonable to claim that this Directive trumps the Stop Order, which was issued at an operational level, presumably for operational reasons, and would therefore have to be subordinated to a Hitler Directive.

All of the Directives are collated by Werner Hubatsch in Hitlers Weisungen für die Kriegführung 1939-1945, available from Amazon Germany here (http://www.amazon.de/Hitlers-Weisungen-f%C3%BCr-Kriegf%C3%BChrung-1939-1945/dp/3895551732). This appears to be out of print, however we can view the full text of Directive No. 13 in another publication which cites Hubatsch, and which is available on Google Books (http://books.google.com/books?id=cL9O3SJH-PoC&pg=PA1515&lpg=PA1515&dq=hitler+weisung+nr.+13+d%C3%BCnkirchen&source=bl&ots=WFa7FEZt0o&sig=79wLfdYBfwYuWMwYDRnCbjdA_to&hl=en&ei=JHw6TImrBIXEsAONv7RS&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CDkQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=hitler%20weisung%20nr.%2013%20d%C3%BCnkirchen&f=false). This is Volume 3 of Max Domarus’ Hitler: Reden und Proklamationen 1932-1945. The Directive appears on p. 1515 and my translation follows (the usual disclaimers for errors and omissions apply):

24. May 1940

1. The immediate operational objective is the destruction/annihilation (Vernichtung) of the franco-anglo-belgian forces encircled in Artois and Flanders by a concentrated attack from our northern sector accompanied by a rapid seizure and securing of the adjacent channel coast.

The associated task for the Luftwaffe is to break enemy resistance in the encircled areas, to obstruct the escape of English forces over the Channel and to secure the southern flank of Army Group A.

The enemy air force is to be engaged at every opportunity.

2. The destruction/annihilation of the then renant enemy forces in France shall then be accomplished in three phases [technical details follow]

3. Luftwaffe Tasks:

Independently of the operations in France the Luftwaffe shall – as soon as sufficient forces are available – execute a large-scale offensive campaign against the English homeland. It is to carry out a destructive (annihilatory? DD) attack in retaliation for the English attacks upn the Ruhr area [technical details follow]

4. Naval Tasks:

The Navy will, as a result of the lifting of the restrictions against operations in English and French coastal waters, move onto a full war footing. The Supreme Commander of the Navy has put forward a proposal in which certain areas may be used for siege purposes. I reserve for myself the decision if and when such an activity will occur.

5. I request the Supreme Commanders to present to me their plans for implementation of this Directive.

Adolf Hitler

07-19-2010, 04:37 PM
As DD does point out Hitler was not the only person with a voice on halting and certainly Luftwaffe activity does not illustrate any willingness to allow the BEF to evacuate .
The issue cannot hang or be determined by that one word , what actually took place is a more useful illustration.

Dunkirk was not the only port from which the BEF attempted to escape across the Channel.


This list of shipping sunk by the German airforce and navy does not seem to indicate that allowing an escape was an aim the Germans were working towards.