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Decision not to push on to Dunkirk

LAURENCE REES: And so the Germans push on, and then, of course, there’s the famous decision taken not to advance at once on Dunkirk. How important do you think that was in the course of things?

GEOFFREY WAWRO: I think when you talk about attacking the Soviet Union and declaring war on the United States it’s hard to gauge how important that was, but certainly it was important. Three hundred and thirty-eight thousand British troops get off the beaches at Dunkirk, return to the United Kingdom and remain as a force. Of course they’re utterly immobilised because all of their vehicles have been left on the beach and most of their field artillery, anti-tank guns, ammunition and fuel stocks have all been left to the Germans. So it’s going to take an awful long time to build them up, and, in fact, you’re going to see old antiquated vehicles running around in the Western Desert because the good stuff was all left behind at Dunkirk.

It’s a moral fillip to the British because they now have this force in being, and they can re-equip and then re-deploy against the Germans and the Italians. It’s also a physical asset that can be used to grow the British Army into a formidable instrument that can eventually co-operate with the United States. So it’s very important in terms of bucking up British morale, but also keeping this force in being that can menace the German flank first in Africa and then eventually in Europe.