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The Miracle of Dunkirk

The Miracle of Dunkirk

The bang of a bullet, as it penetrated the steel hull of the ship, nearly made me jump out of my skin. Several bullets punched their way through the hull, and water gushed in, flooding the boat.

Fortunately, all of this action was taking place on the big screen, while I was sitting safely in my cushioned seat, and the only danger that I faced was that I might spill my popcorn every time the movie made me jump—which was often.

The movie was Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece released this summer.  The movie was remarkably free of gory violence, but it was packed with suspense from beginning to end, as it followed three interweaving stories that took place during the famous evacuation of close to 330,000 British soldiers at Dunkirk during World War II.

The evacuation of 1940 has been called the “Miracle of Dunkirk,” and there is no denying that it was an amazing moment in world history.

Roughly 400,000 British soldiers were trapped at the edge of France, with the sea to their backs and the German army marching upon them. They were sitting ducks on the beach, waiting to be evacuated across the English Channel and back to England, while German airplanes swooped down on them.

At least five miracles were in play that week, three them the result of human decisions and the other two natural (or possibly supernatural) phenomena.

  1. The Halt Order. The first miracle was that the German army came to a sudden and shocking stop, just when they were within reach of destroying the British troops. With the German Panzer division only 18 miles from Dunkirk, the German army was ordered to stop, and this halt gave the British much-needed time to evacuate.

But why would Adolf Hitler give such an order when he had the British trapped? No one knows for sure, but many theories have been offered, such as that Hitler thought his tanks would become mired in mud.

  1. The Storm. And then there was the weather. A huge storm wreaked havoc over Flanders, France, grounding many German airplanes and minimizing damage from the sky. This too gave the British valuable time to evacuate.
  2. The Calm Water. Even more remarkable, while storms bottled up the German airplanes, the water around Dunkirk was strangely calm. One witness described the water “as smooth as a millpond,” making it easier for the British to get their men off of the beach and onto boats. Another miracle? Could be.
  3. The Prayers. King George VI declared that Sunday, May 23, would be a National Day of Prayer, and long lines could be seen outside packed British cathedrals. I believe that these prayers, on the eve of the Dunkirk evacuation, were answered in a most dramatic fashion.
  4. The Boats. Coupled with heroic prayers were heroic actions. Thousands of British citizens sailed across the English Channel to help evacuate the soldiers using their own private boats—yachts, launches, lifeboats, paddle steamers, and barges. The smallest boat, a 14-foot fishing boat, can be seen today at the Imperial War Museum.

All of these factors and more prevented the British army from being slaughtered on the beaches of France in 1940. If that had happened, Hitler’s armies could very well have conquered the defiant island, and World War II would have ended much differently.

The Miracle of Dunkirk was a victory to be sure, but not the kind of victory that wins wars. As Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said, “Wars are not won by evacuations.” However, even though evacuations don’t win wars, they can prevent defeats. What’s more, the spirit of Dunkirk rallied the British and gave them hope—and it is difficult to win a war without hope.

It’s difficult to do much of anything in life without hope.

Dunkirk brings to mind a similar event in which people had their backs against the sea. In Exodus 14, Moses and the nation of Israel were trapped against the Red Sea, and only a miracle could save them from the oncoming Egyptians. Only a miracle did save them because the Red Sea parted, and the Israelites crossed over on dry land, escaping the Egyptians.

In the case of Dunkirk, the waters of the English Channel didn’t part like the Red Sea, but a pathway was still created across the water. Theirs was a “human pathway” created by hundreds of boats, steered by hundreds of people, who ferried the troops to safety.

That too was a miracle in its own right.

When we have our backs against the sea, when we face situations in which there seems no way out, then pray…and hope. Ask God to create a way across the water, so we can reach the security of His protection. Ask God to make a pathway.

We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us,” says Romans 8:37-39.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

When British soldiers were trapped on the beaches of France, many of them looked out on the water and lamented that their safety was so close—just across the English Channel. They could almost see England.

With God, it’s the same. Our safety, our rescue is only a prayer away. It’s so close. But nothing can separate us from God, and nothing can separate us from our safety—not even a stretch of sea as wide as the English Channel.

History by the Slice Family Activity

Read Exodus 14. Then, after reading more about Dunkirk online and finding Dunkirk on a map of France, discuss these questions:

  1. Why was it so important for the British to evacuate those soldiers?
  2. What are the five key turning points in Dunkirk?
  3. Which of them seems the most miraculous to you?
  4. How was the evacuation at Dunkirk like the exodus of the Israelites?
  5. When have you ever felt trapped in your life?
  6. How did you respond?
  7. What do you hope for in your life?

By: Doug Peterson has written 42 books for VeggieTales and is the author of four historical novels: The Disappearing Man, The Puzzle People, The Vanishing Woman, and The Lincoln League. Visit him at

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