Since time began, or so it seems, Country Party, oops National Park politicians have been on high horses about the virtues of country life and country folk. While today they do not readily air those views on national news, they certainly do so when back in their constituencies. Chief among the country virtues touted is always family, family, and family. Cannot have too much family.

The implication is always that city folk are less wholesome, less virtuous, less trustworthy, less family. Ah, for the country life and family!

The reality is that farms are dangerous places for adults and children. All those chemicals that are handled, mixed, stored, and applied, and sometimes (sssh) applied in excess, often by people who disregard and deny unseen threats. Then there are the animals and diseases that attack them and that they carry. Finally, there is all that powerful equipment, occasionally operated by poorly prepared individuals since licensing is not required or enforced.

Some years ago a National Party leader proclaimed the evils of a Labor opponent with explicit reference to country life and family and invoked marital fidelity as an electoral standard. It was only later that all those chemicals got to this proclaimer of the virtues of the country life. As yet no ABC journalist has thought to re-air the archival video of this proclamation in the current context. Wonder why?

Self-appointed representatives of the Fourth Estate in Australia have also declaimed, more to convince themselves than any auditor, that the local media is too mature and elevated to invade the privacy of politicians, in so far as private life does not effect the performance of public duties. Yes, that has been said with a straight face, and I have heard it said by pundits more than once.

The reality behind this forbearance, which no one in the Canberra Press Gallery will admit, is that the many of the extramural activities of members of the political class are with members of the Canberra Press Gallery: member to member. The Gallery has its own version of omertà.

Despite my efforts to ignore reality, occasionally some of it seeps in.

A novel that exudes the grim time and place of the divided and contested ruin of 1948 Berlin.

Ashes.jpg

‘La Guerre est finie,’ as they say. Gregor Reinhardt is no longer a Wehrmacht investigator, but rather a police officer amid the divided rubble of Berlin, 1948. The police service is awash with returned German communist exiles inserted by the Soviets during the months immediately after Der Untergang before the Western Allies made it to Berlin. Like their Nazi predecessors, the Reds suppose crime is a product of the attributes of individuals. Whereas for Nazis it was race, for the Communists it is class. In neither case is investigation or evidence necessary. Nazi justice was to find the nearest üntermensch, beat them to death and the crime is solved. Communist justice is to find the nearest bourgeoisie and do likewise. Case closed.

In this Red Sea are some honest officers but they survive by keeping their heads down, and of course the opportunists who are always with us and they follow the Red wind as long as it blows.

Gregor is assigned to homicide which is housed in the American sector and that gives him a little leverage, thanks to a deftly inserted backstory. My usual irritation at backstories is because they do not develop either plot or character, but in this instance the backstory develops plot nicely.

When the murders occur, Gregor’s superiors obstruct the investigation as required by the krimi playbook. But, strangely the Soviets seem to want an investigation as Gregor learns through a back channel, but they do not wish to broadcast that. Strangely, the Americans are reluctant but have no wish to advertise this fact.

There are some well realised scenes when a Soviet officer talks to Gregor who also debates conditions with the American angel who got him out of a POW camp and into the Berlin police. Within each monolith are many fissures.

The victims killed in the same manner pile up and the link among them seems to have been service in a special command of the Luftwaffe. Thin ice ahead! Gregor has to tread lightly.

He does much back and forth through the rubble that is Berlin, and I followed some of it on an old online map. He meets disconsolate war widows, bitter Luftwaffe veterans, cynical street orphans, callous local police officers, an enthusiastic archivist from Paris, deals with the indomitable Frau Dommes in his office, marvels at the resilience of Frau Meissiner, his landlady, and many other characters, like the thug Fischer.

Berlin_en_1947_(6328971517).jpg Berlin, 1947

That the trail was going to lead to some Nazi evil was a foregone conclusion. But that was moderated by the plot complication mentioned below, though it diluted the focus on the evil.

I particularly liked the time Gregor spent in the archives, using that mountain of paper to ruminate on the war and the place of individuals in it.

A couple of quibbles, first Nemesis is just too omniscient. He is a near übermensch. Moreover, Nemesis’s amalgamation of two groups of victims made no sense, but it was a means to complicate the plot.

Finally, could a unit of maximum Aryan Brandenburgeren really pass themselves off as Arabs? Really! I would have liked some coda with the unseen Lena. This is the second in the series I have read.

LMcallin.jpg Luke McCallin


This novel is a tribute to Universal Studio’s ‘The Mummy’ (1932) which spawned continual imitations, successors, parodies, and mutations.  There have been so many successors that they have nearly obscured the fount. The original, by the by, is moody, understated, and terse, whereas most of the spawn are bland, bloated, and blurred.  

Mummy cover.jpg

It starts with a museum of antiquities in Cambridge (England) among myopic bookworms and nerds, along with some shadowy figures who turn to kidnapping when Google Translate fails, and a dark prince.  In addition, far away there is a newly discovered and untouched tomb in the Egyptian desert.  With these ingredients the ride should be fun! It is a mile a minute once the big gong sounds! 
 
The prize Mummy in the Cambridge Museum breaks out of the glass case that has held its 4000 year old remains. Gulp! He staggers around with an ancient hangover. Woe to anyone who gets in his way.  Careful, all ye who look upon Mummy!

Soon the Brotherhood of Wannabe Villains appears to assist Mummy, while the Librarians rally to oppose them. Caught between are assorted Gypo nerds. There is a demonic cat. Feline situation normal.  

The cast assembles in the desert where they find the requisite dusty diggers under the direction of Maggie, a fiery site manager, who scares the Mummy.  In a straight-up no-holds-barred fight Maggie against the Mummy, the fraternity brothers bet on the Mags, but then changing the odds, the evil queen-pharaoh is reanimated for the showdown in a gore feast. Bad! Good! Turns out, at the moment of truth it was the wrong Mummy! How’s that for a plot twist. It is so hard for evil queens to hire good help for an eternity.  Incantations, EEO, hexes, KPIs, mesmerism, spells, LSAT, GPS, minimum wage; nothing is enough!

There are flash backs to the Lost Dynasty Egypt to explain the shrouded players: the priest, the pharaoh-queen, the rebel, and…[was there a cat?].  These seem to go on a little but it is all relevant at the end.  

The prose is expository, no flourishes, no elevation, no psychological depth, no big words, but well paced.  The characters are differentiated in manner and speech. It reads like a film script to some extent, a comment that would please the author, I expect.  

I came across Robin Bailes’s ‘Dark Corners’ movie reviews on You Tube by accident but once I found them, they became addictive.  The man has a razor tongue and a mastery of the form with few equals. His five-minute reviews are informative, amusing, insightful, and devastating.  Other reviewers on You Tube are, by comparison, self-indulgent, verbose, unfocused, and boring. Better yet, I lodged a suggestion for a film to review and he replied, and later screened the review acknowledging my suggestion. That feedback loop worked, a rarity that.

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I signed on as a You Tube follower, became a regular hit at his web site, donated to his cause at Paetreon, and now bought this, his first novel, does all of this make me a Bailesee?  

IMDB metadata: 3 hours in six thirty-minute episodes, scored at 8.2 by 640 scorers. The plus sign (+) indicates it was shown in December 1958 and January 1959 on successive Friday nights.

Q and Pit title card.jpg

Workers report finding human remains on a building site and a team of archeologists begin excavating the bones. Felix Leiter is a palaeontologist who leads the team and he needs publicity to delay the construction so that the remains can be carefully and fully removed in his own sweet time.

Meanwhile, Professor Quatermass is resisting attempts by the army to take over his missile experiments, but he is losing the ever so polite battle at the committee table.

Leiter calls a press conference and in the whirl runs into his old friend Prof Q. They compare troubles over brandy. The skulls are humanoid but not human. Are they the missing link, or that of the Twit in Chief?

Then the diggers come upon object, an object big enough and with the evident shape of a bomb, perhaps an unexploded bomb left over from the Little Blitz of V Rockets in1944. Down tools! In comes the UXB squad to do some more careful digging. Leiter fumes at being barred from his dig while the developer denounces the whole thing as a costly delay. By the end of the second episode anyone but a fool could see it is not a bomb, but Colonel Cardboard who has taken charge continues to insist, per the script, that it is German bomb. Unable to get his buddy James Bond, Leiter has called in Prof Q for moral support and together they do….research. This is not Indiana Jones country. This is thinking! Not punching.

They carbon date the remains and objects they find and they go to the library and archives to research the vicinity, Hob’s Lane. What do they find?

That the bones and skulls, though sort of humanoid, are five million years old. That makes them an odd fit for the chain of evolution as it was understood at the time outside Alabama, and for what it is worth, unlikely to be German. Not a single swastika was found. Moreover, they find that Hob’s Lane has a time-honoured reputation as a spooky place, with ghost stories going back to the Fourteenth Century and as recent as 1927 when the house adjacent to the building site was abandoned as unliveable because of…..'things.' That got the attention of the fraternity brothers. ‘Things!’ They like things.

Meanwhile the Colonel has unearthed an object about the size and shape of a flying miniature submarine. There is much ill will between Colonel and Prof Q about what it is. They discover that it is not metal, as they know it. Nothing can penetrate it. Not an acetylene torch, not a diamond drill, not a split infinitive, not even the Twit in Chief’s ego. Colonel Cardboard’s solution is the soldier’s old friend, TNT. Prof Q goes all quivery and talks him out of it.

Finally, they find an open door on the other side of the gradually unearthed object and enter an empty vessel. The interior looks like a culvert, but the forward bulkhead is sealed off. Again they try to penetrate it with their penetrators. Then one after another a soldier and a safe cracker go spare while belabouring the bulkhead. Others will follow. Colonel is at a loss but cannot admit it. He puts it all down to a diet lacking moral fibre. Prof Q is turning his thoughts skyward. Leiter is counting his Loonies.

Q ship.jpg The unexploded bomb of Colonel Cardboard's dreams.

The bulkhead has pentagrams on it. Whoa! Is it time for the occult? Then, seemingly of its own accord, the bulkhead opens. Inside they find……gargoyles!

The ship was clearly divided into two parts, a large compartment for passengers — those humanoids — and the sealed bulkhead wherein were found three deceased gargoyles on loan from Quasimodo. Huh? Moreover after careful examination the craft itself has no mechanisms. One officer, not Colonel Cardboard, speculates that the ship itself must be a mechanism of some kind. What a brew!

Quatermass does what scientists do best, speculate. He fumbles slowly to this conclusion. The gargoyles came from Mars five million years ago before life was extinguished on Mars. What were they doing? They were scooping up some of our simian ancestors, taking them to Mars where the Martians altered the simians by some means (surgical or biological), and then returned them to Earth. This find was but one of many such missions to alter the population of Earth.The other missions were successful but this one was not. Why they went to this trouble is not clear. This Martian intervention explains the missing link in human evolution. God does indeed work in mysterious ways because Martian insects made us human beings. Does that writer have a sense of humour or what?

This program of genetic engineering by the gargoyles was observed through the millennia five million years ago, and they were remembered in images of devils, satan, and other creatures that were the reality on which the gargoyles were modelled. First superstition and then religion arose against the reality of Martian insects.

Q and Martian.jpg Prof with his favourite Martian.

Meanwhile, Colonel Cardboard continues to yell about a German trick. Here the scriptwriter lets us down. Cardboard is so superficial it is impossible to take him seriously. But then the media begins to do what it does best, spread misinformation, panic, and hysteria. To hose it down, the Minister prefers the Colonel’s interpretation, and he makes sure he does not see for himself to keep his ability to deny reality in tact. That seems all to realistic.

Things go from stupid to disastrous when the minister decides, Colonel Cardboard being right, to hold a press conference on site and lay the whole story to rest as hoax. The energy of the crowd and the generators to power cameras, microphones, egos feeds the ship, which itself is some residual spectre, and things go flying.

Turns our Prof Q was right all along. It ends with his subsequent testimony laying out the story we have just seen.

It could not be made today. Bugs made humans. No God necessary.

There is much exposition across the episodes and each begins with a recapitulation of the story so far. It was re-made as ‘Five Million Years to Earth’ (1967). At feature length of 90 minutes this version compressed much with a faster pace.

It came from the fertile keyboard of Nigel Kneale, who has many noteworthy credits to his name, including the Quatermass franchise, ‘The Stone Tapes,’ and ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics.’


 

IMDB 1 Hour and 22 minutes @ 6.8/10 from 4295

On a mild autumn evening a young couple doing anatomical research in the long grass are disturbed by a rocket screaming overhead. It rattles the crockery and sets off the dog at a nearby farm. The eternal British Army Scotsman Gordon Jackson takes up arms to deal with the disturbance, but well none of his previous cinematic experiences has prepared him for rockets and it is his last scene above stairs. No, he doesn’t get zapped but calls in Professor Quatermass. Gordon went on to his next gig.

QXperiment.jpg

The QX was to send a three-man rocket into orbit and return it to Earth. While his rocket kit was home made, he has Lionel Jeffries from the Ministry ineffectually dogging his steps as he orders about everyone around with contradictory demands. Prof Q certainly likes being the boss!

After much dallying they pop the door and find one spaceman much the worse for wear. Where are the other two? Mysterious, indeed. Speculations follow.

Meanwhile, the Survivor, who gives a devastating performance, is rushed to a hospital for returned spacemen and guarded by a dolt. The spaceman's wife decides a private hospital would be better but Prof Q wants to study the Survivor by bellowing at the nurses. Wife decides to spirit him away. This does not go well.

Now he is on the loose, wandering and wondering around. Some very nice scenes of his encounters. There is an inner struggle and the man is losing to the protoplasm. Oops, that is a spoiler!

As his humanity recedes, the protoplasm’s appetite increases. There goes the zoo. Gulp. At this point my imagination turned D.C. How long are zoo animals there safe from the GOP protoplasm?

The rest is a police procedural to track him, which has become an it, down. They do so in Westminster Cathdral. Well a mock up of it since they film company was denied access to the real thing. There they turn to the mad scientist’s old friend, electricity, to fry it. Success! Fried protoplasm is on the menu.

The intrusion into Westminister is cleverly done to juxtapose a bland high arts program on the building with this thriller. The former represents most BBC television at the time, fussy, erudite, recondite, arcane, dusty, in contrast to the whiz bang of Quatermass and his happy band of alien hunters.

Everyone is exhausted! Aghast! Relieved! Many sighs are heard. Wife is not consulted about any of this. Meanwhile, Professor Quatermass has learned his lesson and strides off to build a new protoplasm-proof rocket.

It seems this first rocket while in space passed through matter that entered the ship by magic and absorbed the crew. That is where the missing two went. Since this was a new cuisine, Proto proceeded slowly,and was only starting on the third when the ship under remote control from the ground crashed interrupting the anatomy lesson.

This story had aired in the BBC in 1953 in six parts to a great reception. That emboldened the entrepreneurs who would become Hammer Films to hire the author, Nigel Kneale, to re-write the story into a continuous film script, Kneale went on to write more Quatermass, so much it is hard to keep it straight. He also wrote one of the best things I have sever seen on the box, namely ‘The Stone Tapes’ (1972).

This film has the look of a quota quickie because the Yankee action man Brian Donleavy plays Prof Q, and does so with evident relish. Quota quickies are explained elsewhere on this blog. The essence is that they were cranked out to meet local content requirements but often had an American actor for marketing there. Most were as quickly forgotten, but not this one. It triggered more Quatermass films and encouraged Hammer Films down the genre path of Horror.

In 1955 an X-rating meant adults only, and Hammer accepted that readily by incorporating it in the title as was the case with some other films like ‘The Man from Planet X’ reviewed elsewhere on this blog. What children were then denied they can get today on video games.

Deep space travel is routine and many planets have been surveyed. There was nothing of interest about the planet Solaris and so it was ignored for years.  An astronomer then noted that its orbit was odd. Because it circles a double star, one red and the other blue, its orbit should be erratic but it does not confirm to the laws of physics. (The same is often said of the fraternity brothers.)

Solaris cover.jpg

Solaris receives closer inspection.  It is nearly completely covered by an ocean with only a few rocky outcrops like a few tufts of hair on a bald man's head.  Landing parties use those but cannot find anything relevant, but they do see that the ocean’s motion is varied and unexpected.  Again they wonder about the laws of physics. After years of study, the field of Solaristics concludes there is an intelligence in the ocean regulating the orbit by some means. The book is replete with a gentle satire about academic specialisation as an end-in-itself.

More studies fatten cvs and efforts to stimulate communication are made using radio waves, ion streams, pictures of Mother Teresa, neutrino bombardments, pamphlets, and an unauthorised use of intense x-rays and other more destructive means to no avail.  Solaris seems immutable like reasoning with a Republican. 

A research station is placed in orbit to observe with a crew of three on a three-year stint and has been there for years. Then the one day commander of this station a the time requests base to send a psychologist.  Isolation in space does lead to mental problems so shrink Kris Kelvin is dispatched.  The novel opens with his arrival and the preceding information emerges piecemeal.

No one greets him. Odd. No one seems to be about. Odd.  Moreover, there is disorder everywhere. This is no way to run a space station!  He finally finds one of the scientists cowering behind a barricaded door. The other scientist will not leave his lab and speak to Kris. The plot thickens.

The commander who asked for the visit committed suicide that very morning. Odd! What to do?  Kelvin decides to examine the corpse in the best tradition of the police procedural.  En route he hears barefoot steps and passes a large black woman in tribal dress. She blankly ignores him. He is astounded. That is only the beginning. 

Cutting to the case, each member of the crew has a spectral guest. It is someone a memory of whom is found deeply etched in his psyche. This is not necessary someone he wants, but it is the deepest, most ingrained memory. In Kelvin’s case his guest is Harey, a girlfriend who also committed suicide, so that he feels guilt, regret, and remorse.

These guests, the crew concludes, are from the Solaris ocean which is engaged in a Communicate with the Humans Project of its own. The Solaris guests have assumed the identities they have because of the importance of the memories to each scientist. Once embodied the guest seems to know a lot but have no memories of specifics. Harey is sweet and clingy but has no idea how she came to be there, but strangely she knows things about Kelvin that occurred after her own death.  Evidently to some extent the guest can tap the host’s mind. But the commander’s guest has remained after his death! Talk about overstaying a welcome!

Various methods are tried to analyse the guests and to eject them from the station but they keep coming back.  Meanwhile, Kelvin finds it easy to have Harey around.  They engage in many conversations as she becomes aware that she is some kind of aberration, clone, replicant, or dream.  
She is a virtual reality girlfriend. She is self-conscious, intelligent, capable of learning but she can never be more than Kelvin’s memories of her. In that way she is limited, and realising all of this she grows despondent. Of course the fraternity brothers wanted to know whether she is full functional but that is not made explicit.

There are many conversations with one of the scientists about the ocean, god, creation, Amex bills, morality, metaphysics, ontology, bratwurst, on and on.  It is talky.  We never find out about the other guests, nor is there any contact with the ocean.  It is all trip and no arrival.

Is the omnipresent but uncommunicative behemoth of the ocean of Solars a metaphor for.... Soviet Communism viewed from the observation platform of Poland?  Or just a yarn?

It is a meticulously written and original work to read it today, let alone more than fifty years ago.  I sat through the Soviet 1972 film version years ago without it making any impression on me apart from the cruel and unusual  length of three turgid hours.  

socviet solaris.jpg The Grand Jury at Cannes is made of stronger stuff than am I.

But in the age CGI Über Alles I expect it will have to be done again one day. No, I have not seen the Yankee 2002 version either, well, except for some scenes that I came across somewhere.

Solaris USA.jpg

Channel flipping, no doubt.

Before I review the recent film, what follows sets the scene for the historical event, details largely absent from the film.

Staff work is never celebrated and when it works, it passes unnoticed. The Royal Navy began planning for a mass withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force, including directly from beaches, six days before the first lift occurred. Procedures were elaborated, the wording of simple and clear orders hammered out and communicated, beach wardens designated and briefings written for them, auditing began of flat-bottomed small craft on RN vessels, estimates made of rates of embarkation per hour under fire, distribution of medicine and field dressings to RN ships begun, drafting medical personnel and assigning them to ships started, listing civilian craft in southern ports was started, decks were cleared on RN transports, and so and on. Operation Dynamo started long before the first Tommie got wet.

Operating at the limit of the range of fighter aircraft from England, the Royal Air Force flew more than a hundred missions over Dunkirk during the evacuation. However, no one could guess at the timing of German attacks and so The RAF was often absent when the Luftwaffe was present and vice versa.

Nearly all of those evacuated were taken off piers and moles on RN boats and transferred to warships. The sea around Dunkirk beaches, by the way, is shallow, meaning the larger ships had to stand well out, and it was a long transfer from shore to ship. Six or more RN ships were sunk by German air attacks with much loss of life. At the initiative of their captains, some French ships also loaded troops, and likewise some French ships were sunk.

The French defence of a line around Lille resisted for four days against a superior force holding ten German divisions off Dunkirk, and that reduced the pressure on the perimeter. In the end much of Lille was levelled by house-to-house fighting. The town of Dunkirk itself was obliterated by artillery fire. By the way. These battles are seldom mentioned in the British accounts of Dunkirk. By the way, Lille was the hometown of Charles de Gaulle and members of his family died in this struggle.

Nearly all of the little ships that participated in the exercise had Royal Navy personnel on board, though often a very junior cadet, partly this was to honour the legality of impressing the boats into service and indemnifying the owners and civilian crew. The little ships ferried men from the beaches to the ships, and some sailed directly back to England, like that of Mr Miniver. One estimate suggests six thousand men were evacuated directly to England by little, civilian water craft. I have seen that said as ‘only six thousand’ out of the more than 330,000. True that is less than .02 percent. But it is 6,000 individuals welcomed home from the cauldron and as a whole they amount to a light division which later any general later would be glad to have.

While there was planning and preparation, there was also disruption and confusion. Much fell to the initiative to those on the spot. That initiative worked as well as it did in large part because of the planning that set the scene.

French troops had fallen back onto the line Dunkirk - Ostend which was slowly collapsing. There was no plan for them to do anything but fight. Communication between French field commands and headquarters were cut, and communication among the field commands was likewise nearly zero. (Much of the responsibility for the loss of communication must go to French High Command which refused the use of field radios.) Without communication, without orders, responsibility fell down the chain of command ever lower in an army that did not prize initiative.

When the British evacuations began, the French troops in the area had no orders. Some individuals made up their own minds and tried to join in. The best way was to change coats by peeling one off a deadman and trying to look English.

At times French officers on their own initiative tried to board their men in units, and some were successful and others were turned aside. This refusal to board some of the French was reported to Prime Minister Winston Churchill by British army officers, and Churchill immediately ordered that there be no discrimination but rather first come, first boarded. This applied to the French, the Belgians, the Dutch, and even some Poles and Czechs who were there.

There was the germ of a plan, hatched by the French Under-Secretary of State for War in the Reynaud Government to withdraw to the Cotentin peninsula in Western Normandy. Troops evacuated from Dunkirk could be fed into that plan. That Secretary of State was General Charles de Gaulle.

The 100,000 French troops disembarked in England from Dunkirk spent only two or three days there. They were entrained to Bristol, Swansea, and other western ports and shipped to Bordeaux while the war continued.

While French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud wanted to fight on, the generals at the French meeting table were defeated. They convinced the majority of cabinet that further resistance was futile. The cabinet asked the President, a figurehead, to empower Phillipe Pétain to ask what terms the Germans would offer. That was his mandate when named prime minister of a one-man government. Instead he surrendered without any effort at negotiation. Doubtless negotiation would have failed but the effort might have bought a little more time and much more dignity. But that surrender without the effort rendered the legitimacy of his claim to government suspect to many.

While 200,000+ men of the British Expeditionary Force were evacuated at Dunkirk, thousands of others were evacuated about the same time along the north coast, and later more than 100,000 others from the west coast of France. These other evacuations were less heroic and are not well known as a result but each was done in difficult circumstances. The shallow waters off Dunkirk kept the U-Boats away but not so off Bordeaux.

That Dunkirk became a moral victory has a simple but overlooked explanation. With the impulses of a democratic politician, Churchill who had become prime minister on the day Dynamo started, went to Waterloo Station in London to see for himself the battered and wounded troops returning from the south coast. As he walked among them, they cheered him and he they; he put his hat on his walking stick, and his resolve to fight on multiplied. Democracy at work. They were beaten but not defeated and he got the message.

At Dunkirk the decisions were many. When the Germans broke through at Sedan, one prong drove to the sea to cut off the British Expeditionary Force there and the two French armies in Belgium, while another drove at Paris to decapitate the French government. The French resistance was stiff in some places, like Lille, yet in other places it dissolved. The RAF decided to withdraw its aircraft from Frenchg airfields to England, lest their airplanes, fall into the hands of the advancing Germans, to save its assets to fight another day. This RAF withdrawal outraged many Frenchmen who hoped they would fight on, come what may. Here national interests diverged among the Allies. It seemed all or nothing right now for the French, but the English could wait to fight again another day.

Hmm, but the French did have an alternative, one that Reynauld proffered without success. To take the government into exile to Algiers and continue the war from the vast French Empire with the imperial army. There might have been another day for them, too. One of his generals had an airplane fuelled and ready to do just that.

While some French officers thought the British evacuation was a betrayal, that sentiment is largely hindsight. At the time, a withdrawal kept those troops, a third of them French, in the war and not in prison camps which was the fate of those who remained. Most of the defence of the Dunkirk perimeter fell to the French who held longer than the Germans had estimated they could.

That the Germans did not go all out against Dunkirk seems to be the conclusion. Why not? Partly because the strategic goal was Paris, and not Dunkirk. Most of the Luftwaffe efforts were directed to that end. As terrible as the Luftwaffe attacks on Dunkirk beaches and shipping were, most of its efforts went to paving the way for the advance on Paris.

It is also true that the German forces attacking Dunkirk were at the end of an attenuated and nearly exhausted supply line. Petrol, ammunition, medical care, medicines, fresh water, tires and treads, field dressings, food, oil, replacement parts, boot laces, all of these were depleted, as were the men. Machines were breaking down from two weeks of continuous use. The Germans had to slow down to recuperate and re-new energies. The horses that carried the vast bulk of the supplies were knackered.

There are other explanations that seem less credible. One is that Hitler gave the stop order, rather than just agreed to it, to open negotiations with England. Some connect this speculation to Rudolph Hess’s earlier flight. It seems a long bow. The best way to negotiate with England would be from strength by capturing the British Expeditionary Force which had in its ranks the vast bulk of England’s professional army at the time, that part which was not in the impregnable fortress of Singapore.

Another explanation is that Hitler wanted his genius recognised and gave the stop order to show the generals who was in charge. It fits the man, but it does not explain why the stop continued as long as it did. What explains the duration is the re-supply of the Wehrmacht and also that the forces in the north had a second-order priority compared to the forces driving onto Paris. This latter offensive is neglected by British accounts because their were no British troops involved, only French, of whom thousands died.

There was no hurry because the German supposition, based on its own staff work, was that most of the men trapped in and around Dunkirk had no where to go. What surprised the Germans was that the evacuation worked. Their staff work concluded that an evacuation would lift about 40,000 men plus of minus ten percent, and leave the rest. Ergo, the German General Staff did not see any reason to spend its assets at Dunkirk.

While the Luftwaffe attacked the evacuating ships at piers there were few U-Boat in those waters. Most were patrolling in the North Atlantic. German planning did not anticipate the concentration of Royal Navy shipping in the channel and so the Kreigsmarine added little to the effort. Moreover, the shallow waters of the English Channel are not U-boat friendly. But the British staff work had created the naval concentration in advance, including pulling ships back from the Norway campaign and stopping others from sailing to the Mediterranean.

Among the heroes of the Miracle at Dunkirk are scores of RN staff officers who worked around the clock for a week of more to set it up.

These ruminations were stimulated by the release of the recent movie but I did not bother to see it on the assumption I would find its inaccuracy annoying, curmudgeon that I am. No doubt others who saw it will now feel they know the history, having ‘seen the movie.’

No doubt the account above is incomplete and perhaps inaccurate in part, and corrections are welcome.

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