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iv NAVY NEWS, DUNKIRK 70th ANNIVERSARY SUPPLEMENT JUNE 2010

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The account continues:

A flash, a bright blue jet of flame rises up towards the mast. Direct hit on the gun director. A cry of joy pierces the battlefield. The gunloader works feverishly; three, four shells leave the barrel, it is essential to take full advantage of the success of our surprise. We can clearly make out 150- 200 English infantry on the fo’c’sle, looking for cover, presumably pioneers. Too late – those who are not swept off the deck by the devastating effect of our shells jump into the water, gesticulating frantically. We fire rapidly. The gunloader

develops

skills undreamt of. Gun smoke and sheets of flame caused by overheating strike his face, but with clenched teeth he performs his duties unflinchingly. Bang, another round is in the barrel. The turret suddenly stops rotating, iron and bits of steel hurtle through the air.

The target of the panzers’ guns was probably HMS Venetia. Her bridge was swept by machine-gun fire, while a conflagration raged on her upper deck caused by at least two direct hits from tank shells. The destroyers fought back. “What is that?” the panzer commander wondered as his tank shuddered. A huge lump of shrapnel landed not six feet away, while fountains of sand were kicked up by near-misses. “I realise that we are being engaged by heavy calibre flak and naval guns.” At least two German tanks were destroyed by the naval guns.

The panzers, in turn, claimed they’d sunk a British warship (they hadn’t). But time was running out for the remaining British troops in Boulogne. Two more destroyers were sent into the port that night, HM Ships Windsor and Vimiera. The latter crept into Boulogne in the small hours of May 24. She found more than 1,500 soldiers – Britons, Frenchmen, Belgians – waiting. Some 1,400 of them were squeezed aboard – some were even accommodated in the tiller flat, the steering compartment. The troops were hurried aboard in under 90 minutes. As Vimiera withdrew from the quay, shore batteries pounded the jetty. A few minutes later, German bombers attacked. In all, the Royal Navy had rescued more than 4,300 soldiers. There would be no more men brought out of Boulogne; the port fell that night.

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ust two Channel ports were still open now: Dunkirk and Calais. “We are racked with anxiety about the situation in Calais,” Bertram Ramsay wrote to his wife. He had every reason to be worried, for the enemy stood at the gates of the port.

“It is the British Army’s duty to fight as well as it is the German’s,” he brusquely told the panzer officer who appeared under a white flag. Nicholson’s resolve was bolstered by an order from Whitehall: Every

hour that you hold out is of inestimable value to the Expeditionary Corps.

The signal was broadcast en clair. It was duly translated by Heinz Guderian’s intelligence officers. Fast Heinz resolved to crush Calais. There was no large-scale evacuation at Calais as there had been a few miles along the coast. Two British destroyers traded blows with French shore batteries – now in German hands – while two more warships shepherded a motley fleet of trawlers, yachts and drifters across the Channel from Dover, from where the fires raging in the French port were visible. The flotilla brought home fewer than 400 men. Heinz Guderian left it to the

German armour pounced on troop trains heading into Calais resulting in “a colour mix of French, English, Belgians and Dutch prisoners”, while the town was quickly occupied; the swastika was raised above Calais’ grandiose Hôtel de Ville sometime after nightfall on May 24.

But a few hundred yards away, the British held on firmly to the harbour and the historic heart of Calais, the citadel, a bastion more than three centuries old. Twice on the 25th the Germans sent a negotiator to demand the citadel’s surrender, first Calais’ now deposed mayor, then a German officer. Each time, the senior British officer, Claude Nicholson, sent them packing.

Luftwaffe to clear a path into Calais. At 9am on May 26, Junkers 87s – Stukas in common parlance – appeared above the citadel. “With a deafening crash, bomb after bomb has a devastating effect,” wrote Oberst (Colonel) Wolfgang Fischer, commanding a brigade of motorised infantry.

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“Red flames lick various places, thick clouds of smoke and dust rise into the sky and huge lumps of houses and walls whizz through the air.” The view was mesmerising. But the citadel did not fall. The machine-guns raked the bridges spanning the moat into the old fortress.

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The Germans were all for giving up. The men of 10 Panzer Division were “so verkämpft” (so worn-out) that they could attack no more. Yet they rallied. A little after 2pm, following a short but ferocious barrage, they forced their way into the citadel. By late afternoon, the old fortress was in German hands.

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“I could see troops comin

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