Historians are familiar with the “Miracle of Dunkirk”: the fact that Hitler ordered a halt to the Nazi advance, allowing the British time to evacuate men from the port. Some argue that had the British been annihilated at Dunkirk, they would have surrendered to Germany. At any rate, saving all those men was obviously a huge boon for the Allies.
What’s less clear is the reason for the Nazi “halt” order. Some say it was given because Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, wanted a chance to demonstrate that air power could annihilate the enemy, and wanted ground forces to halt so eh could make his point. (Which he then failed to do.)
Others argue that the order was given because Hitler, being a megalomaniac, wanted to make it clear that he was the one in charge, and by ordering his generals to halt, he could demonstrate supreme authority.
Still others say it simply came down to a matter of logistics. German armor had advanced so far so rapidly that their supply lines were stretched too far, and they needed to stop to be re-supplied.
Still others argue it was because the Nazis, caught up in their pseudo-scientific, quasi-mystical racial delusions, saw the British as being of the same or similar “race”, and were reluctant to annihilate them, preferring they should surrender with few casualties and become part of the Aryan empire they envisaged.
Whatever the reason, the order was given, and it was obeyed. And that’s the part I find interesting.
The German advance through France had been led by the rather sinister-looking fellow pictured at right, Heinz Guderian. Guderian was famously a proponent of advancing very fast and unrelentingly surprising the enemy with speed. It’s probably partially thanks to his style that the term blitzkrieg got so famous.
Guderian was also not hesitant to ignore orders. Higher-ranking officers were shocked by just how quickly he was moving through France, and ordered him to halt. Guderian would ignore them and advance anyway, looking to press his advantage and not give the French time to regroup.
So, my question is: why did Guderian finally obey the order to halt at Dunkirk, when he had a golden opportunity? It seems wildly out of character for him. Was it simply that an order from Hitler himself he felt he had to obey? Had he in fact stretched his supply lines to the breaking point, and really was incapable of continuing to press the attack?
It’s nothing more than a footnote in the larger historical context, but it’s very interesting to me.