Dunkirk in the Department of State Records

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

World War II began in September 1939, with the German invasion and quick conquest of Poland.  Both Great Britain and France declared war on Germany in support of the Poles, but no major military operations took place in Western Europe.  That changed on May 10, 1940, when German forces invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, and France.  British forces, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) fought alongside the Dutch, Belgian, and French armies.

The Germans quickly advanced to the English Channel isolating British, French, Belgian, and Dutch forces near the port city of Dunkirk, France.  In what has become known as the “Miracle of Dunkirk,” over a period of about nine days a flotilla of naval and civilian vessels managed to evacuate over 300,000 men to fight another day.

The central files (NAID 302021) of the Department of State include file designations – 740.0011 European War and 740.0011 Pacific War or 740.0011 EW and 740.0011 PW – generally referred to as the World War II file.  The documentation consists of telegrams and despatches from and instructions to U.S. diplomatic and consular officials abroad; diplomatic notes between the Department of State and foreign diplomats in the U.S.; correspondence, reports, and memorandums exchanged with other agencies of the U.S. Government; and correspondence with private firms and individuals.

As might be expected, the files include documents about the German invasion of the Low Countries and France and the resulting fighting.  The following are three examples that specifically mention the action at Dunkirk.

Telegram from US Ambassador to France, William C. Bullitt to the Department of State, May 30, 1940; 740.0011EW/3391 1/2

Division of European Affairs, Summary of Events, May 31 – June 4, 1940 p1

Division of European Affairs, Summary of Events, May 31 – June 4, 1940 p2

Division of European Affairs, Summary of Events, May 31 – June 4, 1940 p3

Source:  All documents come from file 740.0011 European War, in the 1940-44 segment of the Central Decimal File (NAID 302021), part of RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.  The records are available on National Archives Microfilm Publication M982: Department of State Decimal File Relating to World War II, 1939-1945.