Research guide E2: World War Two: Guide to the Dunkirk List

This guide provides an introduction to the official record of Operation Dynamo, the mass evacuation of British troops from France in 1940 during the Second World War.

The evacuation was largely carried out by a fleet of 'Little Ships' that sailed from the south coast of England and the Thames estuary.

The Dunkirk List (Dunkirk Withdrawal: Operation Dynamo May 26–June 4, 1940: Alphabetical List of Vessels Taking Part, With Their Services. 940.542.1'1940) was compiled by Lt. Col. G P Orde immediately after the evacuation was completed, using all available sources, official and private, including:

  • The Dover, Ramsgate and Margate reports
  • Records of the Commodore in Charge, Sheerness
  • Papers of the Ministry of War Transport, Sea Transport Department, and Admiralty
  • Information supplied by the French Admiralty
  • Numerous interviews

Some of the documents consulted were subsequently destroyed and many of the people interviewed have died, so much of the detailed information about Operation Dunkirk and the activities of the 'Little Ships' is now recorded only in the List.

The Dunkirk List

Orde gives an account of every vessel taking part in Operation Dynamo, arranged in alphabetical order by name. Some general subject headings are included in the sequence, such as 'blockships', 'flare burning drifters', 'minesweeper groups', and 'routes to Dunkirk', and cross-references are given where necessary.

The List is considered comprehensive for all vessels which brought even one soldier back across the Channel, though it may possibly omit some privately-owned vessels which set out for Dunkirk and never returned, and a few which served as tenders to larger ships, and did not themselves convey troops back to Britain.

Orde's use of every possible source of information is so thorough that he includes many vessels only marginally connected with the evacuation, and claims by some vessels which probably never got there at all, such as one which should have sailed on three separate occasions and was finally 'given up as hopeless'.

For each vessel Orde gives:

  • Name, type, nationality (if other than British), owner and commanding officer;
  • An account of her part in the Operation: dates, times, actions and number of persons evacuated;
  • The source of his information;
  • Honours or awards received by the vessel's crew.

If different sources gave contradictory information, or appeared to have made an error (the names of some vessels, for example, were garbled: the Chasse-Maree appearing in the Dover Report as Chasseur Marie), this is recorded in footnotes.

Orde, however, makes no comment on the numerous acts of heroism, nor on the confusion and panic that led to a number of small craft being swamped. He sets out the facts that he was able to ascertain with admirable order and clarity.

The original typescript has been annotated with additional information on many of the French vessels that took part in Operation Dynamo, supplied by Commander Cras of the French Historical Department.

Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching merchant ships in the Second World War are

For general research help see:

Although care has been taken in preparing the information contained in this document, anyone using it shall be deemed to indemnify the National Maritime Museum from any and all injury or damage arising from such use.