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Aerial Defeat? The Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe in Operation DYNAMO, the 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk

25 February 2016

Harry Raffal of the University of Hull will discuss the role of the RAF during Operation DYNAMO, the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940.

65 to Dunkirk by Gordon Olive


The success of Operation DYNAMO has tended to obscure the criticism the RAF faced from both soldiers and naval personnel involved in the evacuation. The hostility towards the RAF was so extreme that Churchill made a point of defending the RAF in his address to Parliament on 4 June 1940, praising the RAF’s efforts and acclaiming their ‘victory inside this deliverance’.

Criticism as to the absence of the RAF has largely been dispelled by Churchill’s statement, and subsequent history, as well as the official histories of the war. However, there has been little evaluation as to how effective the RAF were in supporting Operation DYNAMO and the reasons behind the Luftwaffe’s defeat.

This paper will consider the resources and tactics that Fighter Command employed during Operation DYNAMO. Bomber and Coastal Commands’ role in supporting Operation Dynamo in several areas, particularly shielding the evacuation routes from E-Boats and bombing missions to support the Dunkirk perimeter, will be reflected upon. The advantages the Luftwaffe is typically assumed to have enjoyed over the RAF in this battle, notably a greater period over the combat zone due to advanced air bases, will also be considered.

It will be argued that the conflicting operational demands on the Luftwaffe during the early stages of Operation DYNAMO, and the weather, were the greatest inhibitor to their success and not the RAF. Fighter Command’s failure to protect the daylight evacuation on 1 June will also be shown to be linked to earlier operational decisions. The paper will argue that Bomber and Coastal Command were largely successful in their contribution to Operation DYNAMO.

It will conclude that while the RAF made a meaningful contribution to Operation DYNAMO it was not responsible for the Luftwaffe’s failure to halt the evacuation, the reasons for which will be shown to lie elsewhere.


Please note that this lecture will be held at the Headquarters of the Royal Aeronautical Society at No. 4 Hamilton Place, London W1J 7BQ at 18:30PM on Thursday 25 February 2016.


This lecture is free of charge however: we do ask that you pre-book a free ticket, as seats are limited. Booking is quick and easy, we just need some basic contact information.



Harry Raffal is a PhD candidate at the University of Hull where, under the supervision of Dr David Omissi, he is researching the role of the RAF during Operation DYNAMO, the evacuation of the Dunkirk in 1940. Harry also holds an MA and BA from the University of Hull and in 2015, he received a research bursary from the Royal Historical Society.


The Trenchard Lectures in Air Power Studies form part of the RAF Museum's Research Programme for 2015. This programme consists of the First World War in the Air and Cold War Lunchtime Lectures and other events such as conferences. More details will be distributed soon.

For more details about the RAF Museum’s research programme, please email our Aviation Historian, Dr Ross Mahoney at ross.mahoney@rafmuseum.org

The Trenchard Lectures in Air Power Studies are held in conjunction with the Royal Aeronautical Society and the War Studies Department at the University of Wolverhampton.


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