“After Dunkirk” Review

After Dunkirk by Lee Jackson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lee Jackson captures the horrors, the uncertainty, and the chaos of war in the first six weeks after Operation Dynamo – the mass evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches of Dunkirk. What many do not realize is that the British landed a second Expeditionary Force AFTER the evacuation.

Meanwhile, those left behind fell into two broad categories. 1) Some were captured as POWs and sent to Germany and other prison camps. 2) Some escaped to the ports to the west, as Jackson depicted with the brothers Lance and Jeremy Littlefield. Option 3), as Jackson depicts with the nascent French resistance with a handful of British soldiers who chose to stay behind, was the result of some creative liberties. The French resistance for the most part was made of mostly French and later connected with the SOE with other Free French. Other resistance groups were French Communists who had no love for the French Third Republic even before the start of World War 2.

Nevertheless, Jackson set everything else up beautifully, including the Channel Island occupation – the only part of the British Empire occupied by the Nazis. The loss of the Lancastria was interestingly scantly recorded, as Jackson noted, so he did a great job dramatizing the terror of a ship under Stuka attack. Bletchley Park’s work and the need for secrecy and the turf wars between the SOE/ MI-6 was brilliantly alluded to.

Where I had some issue was SS Hauptmann Bergmann and Oberstleutenant Meier dynamic. It is too soon for the SS and the German army to start reprisals. IRL, in June 1940, even France had surrendered; the Vichy was new, nevertheless the SS hadn’t even arrived in force yet. Eventually, the Nazis used a French proxy – the Milice, to do their dirty work. This was where the book was a stretch, BUT you needed a villain. Unfortunately, Bergmann literally wore the “black hat” in a very 2D fashion.

Some other Goodreads member said this book was depressing. Of course it was. This was the darkest hour for Britain and France. If you ever saw Dunkirk, you’ll know how Churchill had to turn “survival” into a “victory”. There was no guarantee of victory; it would take more 5 long years.

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