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A fleet of ‘Little Ships’ responded to the BBC announcement made on 14 May, 1940: “The Admiralty have made an Order requesting all owners of self-propelled pleasure craft between 30′ and 100′ in length to send all particulars to the Admiralty within 14 days from today if they have not already been offered or requisitioned”. 

The anecdote of members of the public jumping into their Little Ships and rushing off to Dunkirk is a myth. Very few owners took their own vessels, apart from fishermen and one or two others. The whole Operation was very carefully co-ordinated, and records exist of most of the Little Ships and other larger vessels that went to Dunkirk. As a result of the Operation of the Little Ships and the considerable fleet of Naval and Merchant Marine vessels which operated off the Dunkirk beaches and the harbour between 28 May and 4 June 1940, no less than 338,000 British and French troops were evacuated. Approximately one third of these were taken off the beaches and, within this number, approximately 100,000 Frenchmen returned from England to fight again.

This Pathé archive footage shows the anniversary ‘Return to Dunkirk’ in 1965, 25 years after ‘Operation Dynamo’.
The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS) was founded following the interest in this ‘Return’.

Created at the beginning of the 20th Century by the Pathé brothers, the newsreel was the world’s first televised news platform. Pioneering the technology and methods of cinema, British Pathé stayed at the forefront of filmed news for decades. Releasing three newsreels a week during that period, British Pathé was the way the people of Britain experienced world events until the advent of television.