The German advance through France and the Low Countries in May of 1940 was, without question, one of the more remarkable operations of the Second World War. Yeah, the wrong side (at least from my perspective) planned it, prepared it, and executed it. And the right side (at least from my perspective) had no answer, relying on static fortifications and a real lack of will to fight. But still, from a military standpoint, we have to be impressed by how well the Wehrmacht carried it off…it was brilliant.
Within weeks, German Panzers had pinned their French and English opponents against the English Channel, their choices reduced to either surrender or slaughter. They were out-gunned, out-manned, and out-planned. It was over.
Well, for the port city of Calais, it was over. On May 26, 1940, Brigadier Claude Nicholson and his few remaining holdouts gave up the fight. They had been been holed up in a 16th-century citadel for the better part of four days, subjected to relentless artillery fire and bombing. When the Germans finally gained the bridges to the citadel, Nicholson knew the battle was lost and gave it up.
If there was any remaining delusion that the French and British Expeditionary Forces could stop the German advance, it vanished at this point. The call went out from Dunkirk to Number 10 Downing Street that desperate help was needed. And, of course, we know that it arrived just 15 or 20 miles to the north and west at another port city.
The bravery and tenacity of Nicholson and his men at the citadel in Calais should not be understated, but to credit their holdout with permitting the evacuation is to push reality.
They certainly did their part, but the evacuation should mostly be credited to Adolf Hitler, who, two days before, ordered his Panzers to halt.
Recommended Reading: Lightning War