The Role of the Royal Navy
Finally, the Royal Navy played a vital role in planning and overseeing the evacuation as a whole. It was the job of the royal navy to organize the evacuation routes and provide protection at sea for non-combat vessels. Senior Naval Commander, W G Tennant organized the on shore embarkation. He identified three beaches perfect for this purpose and assigned each to different units. In the meantime, he made use of the concrete moles at the otherwise unusable harbor to allow navy destroyers to dock. The destroyers evacuated a total of 102,843 men.
Once at sea, boats were allocated routes by the navy based on what was safest at that given moment. The shortest route across the channel, known as Route Z was quickly abandoned as it hugged the French coast and so was vulnerable to artillery fire from land. So a new route was opened, Route Y, which avoided the coastal artillery but at 87 miles long was the long way round. The longer journey time reduced the number of trips the ships could make. An intermediate route, route X was also set up. Shorter and away from the shore, it was never the less prey to landmines- and so could not be used at night.
The navy also laid buoys in the sea, to help the movement of the ships. They also played their part in protecting the ships, deploying the anti aircraft ship HMS Calcutta as well as 39 destroyers for this purpose. Because of these precautions, a relatively small amount of ships were lost. Some ships were torpedoed. The destroyer, The Wakeful, sank, losing 600 lives. In all, 3500 British military personnel were killed at sea or on the beaches during the evacuation.
But this was a small price to pay for the number of lives saved- lives that would have been otherwise lost. If it were not for Lord Gort’s determination to protect his men and the German’s halt, and the bravery and selflessness of the soldiers and civilians who placed their lives on the line, the Second World War might have had a very different outcome.