The Dunkirk spirit preserved: Dover Castle opens secret tunnels where Operation Dynamo evacuation mission was masterminded
Last updated at 1:41 AM on 7th June 2011
When British, French and Belgian troops were cut off and cornered by the German army on a tiny stretch of French coastline in the early summer of 1940, it seemed that the Second World War was about to come to a very abrupt end.
Hitler's stormtroopers and their blitzkrieg tactics had powered through the Low Countries and northern France at lightning speed, and now appeared to have the British Expeditionary Force at their mercy.
But, thanks to a rescue plan hatched below the ramparts of Dover Castle, a victory of sorts was snatched from the hand of defeat.
And now, more than 70 years after that watershed moment of World War Two, the drama of those tension-filled days has been recreated.
Evocative: Curator Joanne Gray puts the finishing touches to the Repeater Station in the subterranean tunnels underneath Dover Castle, where the Dunkirk evacuation was planned
Fighting talk: Wartime Prime Minster Winston Churchill boosted morale by declaring that Dunkirk was a victory
Between May 26 and June 4, 1940, almost 340,000 stranded allied troops were plucked from the beaches of Dunkirk and escorted to the safety of mainland Britain, which at that time stood alone against a Europe ruled over by Fascism.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who had come to office just weeks earlier, described the fall of France as a colossal military disaster. But he also declared the evacuation of allied troops at Dunkirk as 'a miracle of deliverance'. Britain had survived and would live to fight another day.
Visitors to Dover Castle will soon be able to get a dramatic insight into the Dunkirk evacuation and explore the hidden tunnels where the rescue operation was masterminded.
A new exhibition will allow guests to walk through the wartime tunnels deep beneath the castle, where the sights and sounds of how the mission was devised have been recreated.
It follows two years of research, including the gathering of testimonies from veterans of both the beaches and the tunnels, which combined with original news reels, recordings and special effects, deliver a vivid account of those history-making days.
The exhibition will also pay tribute to Vice Admiral Bertram Home Ramsay, the man responsible for organising the evacuation.
Backs to the wall: Troops wait in line for their turn to be rescued from the beach of Dunkirk
Where history was made: The coastal artillery operations room underneath Dover Castle
The Vice Admiral was brought out of retirement before the outbreak of World War Two and charged with protecting the Straits of Dover, the narrowest part of the English Channel.
His initial impression of his command centre at Dover Castle was not positive. In a letter to his wife he wrote: 'We have no stationery, books, typists or machines, few chairs, very few tables, maddening communications, and nothing but long retired officers or volunteers.'
Key player: Vice Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay oversaw the planning of Operation Dynamo - the evacuation of Dunkirk
Prize exhibit: English Heritage curator Joanne Gray, cleans an old helmet in the Repeater Station underneath
Key position: Overlooking the English Channel, Dover Castle has played a role in the defence of Britain for more than 900 years
However with less than a week to prepare, and with the help of hundreds of the 'little ships' that carried the Allied soldiers across the Channel, the operation was a great success and 338,000 troops were brought back.
The new visitor experience will highlight the scale of both the challenges faced by the Vice Admiral during Operation Dynamo and his achievements.
Visitors will be able to see his cabin as well as tour some of the original rooms of the adjacent Army headquarters, dressed as they were throughout the Second World War, including the gun operations room, the telephone exchange, and the coast artillery operations room.
Grim: As Vice Admiral Bertram Home Ramsay revealed in letters to his wife, working conditions at the castle were not ideal
Planning: Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay inspect maps at Naval HQ in Dover in the days leading up to Operation Dynamo
Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said: 'Helping people to understand the history of this nation through our historic buildings lies at the heart of English Heritage.
'There is no better place in England to learn about the Dunkirk evacuation than Dover Castle.
'With Operation Dynamo, you'll step into the tunnels and onto the beaches, boats and command centre during one of our darkest yet greatest hours.'
The castle is situated on top of the famous white cliffs of Dover in Kent.
In its role as guardian of the nearest landing point to mainland Europe, the castle has seen unbroken active service for more than nine centuries.
No-fly zone: The anti-aircraft operations room, where air attacks by the Luftwaffe were monitored
Sign of the times: War-time graffiti carved into one of the subterranean tunnels underneath Dover Castle
DOVER CASTLE: A CORNERSTONE IN THE DEFENCE OF ENGLAND
Operation Dynamo: Rescue from Dunkirk opens to the public on June 10.
For more information call 01304 205108 or visit www.englishheritage.org.uk/dovercastle
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1394968/Evoking-spirit-Dunkirk-Inside-castle-Operation-Dynamo-evacuation-mission-masterminded.html#ixzz1OZRXJ5Zd