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'Little Ships' refusing to be requisitioned by the British Navy
- Why did some of the 'Little Ships' of Dunkirk, such as Mr.Dawson's, refused to be requisitioned by the British Navy? I'm not really a history buff, but I'm interested in learning more about it. According to some of the history websites I looked up, most of the Little Ships of Dunkirk are ships that are requisitioned by the British to assist in the evacuation, yet some of the private boat owners (like Mr.Dawson in the film) simply take their boats and go to Dunkirk themselves. Why's that? The requisitioned boats were going to Dunkirk anyway and with actual navy sailors in command of the ships, they would know how to handle things better, and the owners themselves could volunteer to come along as well if they're feeling helpful or worried about their ships. Why did ship owners like Mr.Dawson decide to go at it alone? Just wondering.
- In real life, there were probably myriad reasons, but in the case of the film: Mr. Dawson seems to be highly patriotic (in the "supportive of these soldiers as his countrymen" sense, not "the government will handle this" sense) and has already lost a son in the war. It's possible he sees going in person and facing the dangers of the crossing as his contribution to the war effort and his expression of support for the younger men who are currently stranded at Dunkirk. His son is too young to enlist, and may still see manning the ship as his patriotic duty. (And in a narrative sense it's more dramatic and stirring, as well as in line with the heroic narrative surrounding Dunkirk, to see individual random British citizens turning out out of the goodness of their hearts to support their countrymen in their time of need than professional military crew manning requisitioned pleasure boats while following their orders.)
- The Royal Navy was, like all the UK Armed Forces at the time, stretched to breaking point. Every sailor that could be relieved by a civilian crew was a sailor that could be used somewhere else. There was also a feeling that, while the RN Seamen were familiar with Navy tenders and Naval vessels, that a lot of the "little ships" had a lot of quirky handling and modifications that comes with being in civilian use and that the civvie crews were more familiar with each boat's individual handling characteristics. Plus it was, like the Home Guard, a way to show support for the country and step up.
- Okay. Thank you for the explanation. I haven't thought about the stretched Royal Navy forces before, but it's clear now. The Royal Navy needs all the help it can get, both officially and unofficially.
Commander Bolton's Numbers
- Commander Bolton gives running totals of how many men are on the beach, and at the end of the film has a figure for the number of troops evacuated, with an accuracy within 1,000. The film never shows him in a command post, talking on a radio, or anywhere near a telephone. Where is he getting his information from? And did they really have an accurate count on the last day of the evacuation? Wouldn't it have taken some time to count the evacuees in England?
- The dialogue with the figures is obviously for the audience's benefit.
- One can also suggest that it can be easily inferred that he does in fact have a command post / radio link / telephone / some men coming and going trying to do some calculations or head counts of approximately how many men are on the beach somewhere nearby, and we just don't see it because his story is not the central one that the movie is telling. The plot line he features in is stated to take place over a week, after all, and presumably he's not standing on the end of the mole waiting for Colonel Winnant to come along and have a chat with him for every single second of it. We just see him there because it's dramatically and narratively convenient to his role in the story. He's in charge of the logistics of getting pretty much an entire army across the channel, after all, he'd need some rough idea of how many men he's got to ferry away, so it can be easily left to the audience to infer that he's getting this data somehow. We just don't see the scenes of him getting these updates because they weren't essential to the story Nolan was trying to tell, they'd interrupt the action, and the audience can just take it as read that he's presumably getting these figures from somewhere.
- Or even more simply: at some point in the early days of the evacuation, Commander Bolton was informed by... someone that the army was estimating around 300,000 men would be trapped in at Dunkirk needing evacuation. During the evacuation, he receives rough head counts of how many men are being crammed aboard the vessels he's monitoring from the mole. At the end of the evacuation, he looks around and notes that pretty much all of the men have either been shipped out or killed in action. Assuming that all 300,000 men have not been killed by enemy action and that far more men had been shipped away than their previous estimates had suggested would be, he declares that the evacuation has successfully evacuated 300,000 men. In short, within the universe of the film, he's probably not supposed to be speaking entirely accurately and is just intending to communicate the scale of what's happening to the person he's talking to; the writer and director have just given him (roughly) the correct amount of men in order to ensure that the film lines up as close as is possible / realistic with historical fact (and to avoid people instead complaining that they got the numbers wrong or such).
Floating sunken ships
- When the Shivering Soldier is found and rescued by the crew of the Moonstone, he is cowering silently atop of the floating rear end of a large ship, presumably a Royal Navy destroyer or a requisitioned civilian liner that had been sunk by a U-Boat, as he eventually claimed when asked by Mr. Dawson. If the scene in question occurs early in voyage to Dunkirk, and thus is in the deeper waters of the English Channel, why is the sunken ship weighing thousands of tons floating above the water like a piece of driftwood? Shouldn't the ship have rapidly sunk in an Extremely Short Timespan like the others to be hit by the Germans in the film?
- A pocket of air in the right place could keep a ship floating for some time. It's not common, but it does happen.
- It's also only a tiny bit of the ship that's jutting out of the water. Depending on how big the ship is and how deep that section of the water is, it might have snagged on something. It might also have sunk fairly recently.
- Ships can actually take a long time to sink, especially if they capsize like the ships in the movie mostly did.
The torpedo attack
- Where did the torpedo come from? The water looks too shallow for a U-boat (it seems to me like the attack comes from/parallel to the coast), and we don't see anything indicating an S-boat being around.
- An unseen torpedo bomber?
- British destroyers at the real Dunkirk were sunk by U-boats or German torpedo boats. It could have been either.
Landing in enemy territory
- Why did Farrier land his Spitfire so far away from the evacuation zone? The beach there was just as level and clear as where he actually landed, and he could've avoided being taken prisoner.
- Being out of fuel, the plane was in a state of controlled gliding. If he tried to land it too fast, he might have risked a bad landing, and thus his life. He also seemed to want to keep it gliding in the air for as long as possible to take on/distract Lufftwaffe agitators and further protect the evacuation efforts. Finally, by landing it away from the evacuation zone, it's possible that the party which arrested him were diverted from capturing and/or killing a few last straggler evacuees, making a final last effort to help them.
- How come he chose to stay in the aircraft and land it, rather than evacuate? Was he too low already by that point?
- Parachuting from a fighter plane in those days was a perilous action, enough so that even a potential crash-landing was still the more survivable option.
- Note that Farrier seems to consider bailing out, opening his cockpit window, but then closes it again when he decides he can land on the beach.
- Farrier might also have been concerned about not letting the Spit survive intact enough to be salvageable (or its design at least) by his captors. The British evacuating forces took destroying their own equipment and even horses as they left seriously, and Spitfires were a major technological advantage for the British. A pilot would likely go to some lengths to keep a chance to look closely at the engineering and design out of enemy hands.
- A spitfire has most of the weight up front (the engine made up roughly 1/4 of the loaded weight of the entire aircraft. Guns and other heavy components were in the wings and around the pilot. The tail section was virtually empty, and divided by plywood bulkheads). Wouldn't a ditched Spitfire be nose-down, rather than perfectly level, as shown in the film? The images I can find of lightly-crashed spitfires (landing gear broken, airframe intact) are all positioned nose-down.
- It was a damaged spitfire - perhaps the tail had holes that allowed it to flood more quickly, and kept it more level as it sank?
- Peter Dawson is canonically 19 years old during the movie. The script says he's the same age as Tommy so why isn't he fighting already?
- There were lots of able men in England who weren't drafted or who hadn't enlisted yet by 1940.
- Conscription was phased in relatively slowly at first, there were only so many soldiers available to be trainers, and the British Army was hoping to hold the Germans in France like in the previous war so had been hoping to keep call up numbers to a minimum. It only really ramped up after Dunkirk, partially because the returning Expeditionary Force was available to carry out the training of the newly called up instead of being engaged in actual combat or holding manoeuvrers. It is also possible he may have had a reserved occupation entitlement which would have let him opt out of being conscripted, but not volunteering for Dunkirk or Home Guard duties (the status of people in reserved occupations formed part of a subplot of the 1958 Dunkirk movie).
Farrier's Burning Plane
- How was Farrier able to burn his plane upon landing at the beach so quickly, given that it was out of fuel?
- Farrier shot his flare gun into the cockpit of his plane. Flares are a mix between a pyrotechnic compound (like potassium nitrate) and natural fuel (like sulfur or charcoal), which makes them highly flammable regardless of the presence of fuel in the reservoir.
- There is always a little bit of unusable fuel in the bottom of the tanks, where the pumps can't reach it. This is partly by design, to ensure that sludge and contaminants settle to the bottom and aren't sucked wholesale into the engine. This would be more than enough to doom the aircraft, on top of which the residual fumes in the tanks can also burn rather fiercely or even explode.
The Burning Oil Slick
- The scene where the Heinkel bomber crashes into an oil slick and sets it on fire, burning numerous sailors to death. I know that oil slicks from oil tankers/rigs are inflammable and sustaining but does the same apply to leaking ship fuel?
- Yes, it's quite possible for an oil slick of ship fuel to burn, and it's not unreasonable for a crashing bomber to set one off.