20 April 2010

Modern-Day Dunkirk Has A Different Outcome

Thank goodness the French were irrelevant by the time the original Dunkirk evacuation became necessary, otherwise some annoying bureaucrat might've forced the British to surrender in accordance with French policy...

Beneath azure blue skies on Sunday, an intrepid band of Englishmen tried to stage a scaled-down rerun of the “little ships,” hundreds of private craft that joined the Royal Navy in the improbable 1940 rescue, saving hundreds of thousands of British, French and Canadian soldiers to fight on against Nazi Germany.

This time, the effort centered on a group of men in a flotilla of inflatable speedboats who set out from Dover to ferry some of their stranded compatriots home from the rail and ferry chaos created by the cloud of volcanic ash that has shut down much of Europe’s air traffic.

British newspapers have calculated that the shutdown has stranded up to a million British travelers, counting those whose outbound flights have been canceled and those abroad trying to get home.

But after hours of fruitless negotiation, the organizers of the modern evacuation venture were defeated by an adversary that prevailed where Hitler’s battalions and dive bombers failed. The opposing force on this occasion was a small regiment of unimpressed French harbor and immigration officials, who met the Englishmen and their 30-foot boats in the harbor at Calais with a resolute “Non!”

After hours of appeals through diplomatic channels for an easing of the French veto, the organizers in Dover abandoned the effort, canceling any further cross-Channel shuttle — by inflatable boat, at least. Before the French halted it, however, the evacuation effort, nicknamed “the spirit of Dunkirk,” had repatriated about 20 travelers, the first to board the boats in Calais.

The bid to bring people home in the boats came as the air shutdown showed signs of becoming an issue in Britain’s May 6 general election.

As the opposition Conservatives and Liberal Democrats called for the Labour government to do more to counteract the effects of the shutdown, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats’ leader — who has surged in the polls since the country’s first-ever televised debate among the party leaders — called the shutdown a “catastrophe.” Mr. Clegg said his three young sons, due back in school in London on Monday, were among those stranded abroad, with their maternal grandparents in Spain.

After an emergency meeting at 10 Downing Street, members of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s cabinet outlined possible measures to deal with the crisis, including chartering cruise ships to repatriate Britons stranded abroad. The Royal Navy has been asked to look at the possibility of deploying ships as emergency passenger ferries, and the Conservatives suggested that propeller-driven aircraft, thought to be less susceptible to engine damage from volcanic ash, should be drafted into service to get the airlines flying again.

Dan Snow, a television personality and naval historian who led the effort to evacuate Britons stranded in Calais, said it was not clear what French laws the effort had transgressed, apart from a suggestion by French officials that it lacked the permits necessary for any boat plying for hire. The organizers in Dover said they had charged no fares, but suggested to those making the journey that they could contribute to Help for Heroes, a British charity for those wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Snow, who is preparing a BBC television documentary on the 1940 evacuation that will run on the 70th anniversary of the evacuation’s completion in early June, said the French officials appeared to have trouble identifying with the spirit of the venture. “What happened in 1940 was a triumph of improvisation,” he said. “But improvisation is incompatible with modern bureaucracy.”

He shrugged. “All we wanted was to help some people get home,” he said. And, he added, to lighten the mood in Britain as it struggles to cope with an air shutdown that

By: Brant

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