Finally got to see Dunkirk last night and it was most excellent (in 70mm no less). No over dramatizing, nearly zero dialog and a sheer focus on the visuals was how I would describe it. Also, a patriotic film for the stiff upper lip British. I don’t have to much to say about it except it was superb and you should go see it.
A key thing for me in the war films is the attempt at historical accuracy in the uniforms, equipment and dialog/actions of the characters. For example, Americans hit the dirt when they come under fire, whereas Germans and Russians typically did not, they would stand their ground (within reason, they weren’t stupid) and return fire. Undoubtedly, the Germans likely thought that the Americans were breaking immediately after coming under fire, but were very surprised to find that they were simply hunkered down to assess the situation before getting stuck in. When you watch war movies and this doesn’t happen, it’s quite off-putting to say the least. I did not have any points in Dunkirk where I was thrown out of the film due to some gross historical inaccuracy.
While not an aviation buff, my favorite parts of Dunkirk were the plane sequences. Maybe it’s because it’s the only fighting in the film, but I more that they were shot beautifully and as far as I can tell, extremely realistically.
Lastly, let’s talk about what happened. The Germans came through the Ardennes forest, past the Maginot line and were spewing all across France faster than anyone could have possibly imagined (remember these guys were still thinking WW1 static defense tactics and likely had no idea what Guderian had up his sleeve even after the invasion of Poland). So they trapped the British and French at Dunkirk, but didn’t send the army in for the final blow to capture the remaining brits/French. Why did that happen? Popular opinion was that Hitler was feeling friendly with the British and wanted to come to terms, and this is entirely possible if Hitler had been fighting a war for limited objectives; this would make sense. That is, the Germans invaded France for the same reasons they did in the Franco-Prussian war– to re-unite what they thought was greater Germany and throw off the yoke of debt for WW1. Letting the expeditionary force go across the channel in that context would have been fine, as Hitler would have made a separate peace with France, acquired territories that were stripped of Germany after WW1 and everyone could have gone home (and waited for the Russian invasion of Europe most likely). Yet, Hitler was not fighting a war of limited objectives– he was out to put Germany into a war for all the marbles, of total conquest of Europe. I do not believe and facts seem to assert as well that he did not hold the leash of the blitzkrieg to make nice with the limeys. I think two things happened: either the Germans on the ground got nervous (I know this is unimaginable based on what you’ve seen in most war films since WW2, but if you read the direct sources, especially Guderian, this happened a lot) or they ran out of gas for a full assault. Gas is like a tether for the blitz and if you overstretch it, you end up in fist fights with the enemy while your tanks sit in the mud (see the sequence in Patton) and that may be just what the situation on the ground was: tanks in the mud.
What this leads is to is the question as to the ability of Germany to actually attempt a cross-channel invasion if the British army had survived, or if it had been captured. Based on Guderian, the frustration of the logistics of that attack may have been the final straw for Hitler to foolishly attack the Soviets (remember, as I said above, it was total war and not for limited objectives), at which point any conflict with England and her allies was simply a side-show to the greater conflict between Germany and Russia. So it follows that the Dunkirk disaster, a disaster from the the German perspective that is, could have precipitated Hitler’s choice to attack Russia, making Germany’s ultimate defeat assured. And yes, I believe if the Germans had treated the Ukraine situation very differently than they did (the Ukranians could have been a buffer state between Russia and Europe as the Germans could have come in as liberators), they may have been able to hold off the Soviets enough to start planning another invasion across the channel, but by then the Americans were not just lend-leasing, but actively part of the conflict.