In May 1940, the German army was ready to finish off the half million British and French troops that had retreated to the coast. A sea evacuation was planned that Churchill hoped could rescue as many as 30,000 of them. But the Navy didn't have the capacity and many of their ships were too big to get close to the beaches. So, under RAF protection, the Royal Navy sent 220 light warships, accompanied by 650 civilian boats. Fishing boats, pleasure craft, paddle steamers and even lifeboats set out from Dover on the eight hour journey to the Northern France port of Dunkirk.
Over ten days, this flotilla ferried troops back and forth. Speed was essential because every time the weather allowed, the Luftwaffe strafed the beaches, killing 5,000 stranded soldiers. But sea conditions were favourable and in total, 338,000 troops were rescued. And when survivors reached Dover, they were given dry clothes, a ham sandwich and a cup of tea. Nearly 900 craft, some doing more than one return journey, had rescued the British army.