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Many of the little ships, such as motor yachts, fishing boats and all manner of other such craft, were privately owned.
The British, French and Belgium governments had seriously underestimated the strength of the German forces in their equipment, transport and fire power - which was far superior to much of our outdated armoury.
Consequently the British Expeditionary Force, as well as the French and Belgian forces, found themselves defending positions against overwhelming odds.
Divine was one of those who manned the boats that made the rescue.
We join his story as he sets sail from England: "It was the queerest, most nondescript flotilla that ever was, and it was manned by every kind of Englishman, never more than two men, often only one, to each small boat. It was dark before we were well clear of the English coast.
The French called upon Gort to move his troops south to join them in a defensive stand.
The British commander realized the action was futile and could lead to the annihilation of his command.As German forces continued their advance into France, General Viscount Gort, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force in France, could see that the German invaders were getting the upper hand.The French Army was in disarray while his own forces were fighting desperately.Desperate retreat Before long, with the Germans effectively cutting off nearly all of the escape routes to the channel, the BEF found itself desperately retreating to the harbour and beaches of Dunkirk.Vice Admiral Ramsay - who was in charge of Operation Dynamo - had sent destroyers and transport ships to evacuate the troops, but they only expected to have time to lift off about 30,000 troops.They mainly ferried the troops from the beaches to the destroyers laying offshore - but thousands of troops came all the way back to England in some of these boats.The escape captured the minds and hearts of the British people at a time when it looked probable that we too would soon be invaded.Seemed like a victory This is when the little ships came to play their part.A variety of motor boats, fishing smacks, trawlers, lifeboats, paddle steamers and many other types of craft came over the channel to assist in the escape.If any of his forces were to be saved for the future defense of Britain, they would have to evacuate France immediately.On the evening of May 23, 1940, Gort ordered his commanders to retreat to the near-by port of Dunkirk - an action that would save the British Army to fight another day.