The 1940 evacuation of Allied troops from the shores of France was one of the key events that determined the outcome of the Second World War. On 20 May 1940 Hitler's tanks reached the Channel coast near Noyelles-sur-Mer. Huge parts of northern France and neighbouring Belgium were now under German control and they seemed on the verge of victory.

The Allies were cornered in Dunkirk, surrounded by thousands of German troops and tanks and under attack by German aircraft. Operation Dynamo saw some 338,000 British, French and Belgian soldiers rescued between 27 May 27 and 3 June. On the first day, only 7,669 men were evacuated, but by the end of the eighth day, 338,226 soldiers had been rescued by a fleet of over 800 boats. Some of the men waited for hours in shoulder-deep water.

Dunkirk evacuation 1940
Defeated British and French troops waiting on the dunes at Dunkirk to be picked up and taken back to England Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

They were transferred across the channel by a fleet consisting of all kinds of vessels – ranging from private sailing boats to Channel ferries and Royal Navy destroyers. The success of the mission owed much to luck. Calm waters allowed the evacuation fleet to get away quickly, while low clouds helped protect it from attacks by the Luftwaffe. Most importantly, the Allies could now rely upon the Royal Air Force's newest fighter plane, the Spitfire, to shield the evacuation from air attack.

Despite suffering heavy losses, the operation was successful and the majority of the British Expeditionary Force returned to England. IBTimes UK looks back at what Prime Minister Winston Churchill described as a "miracle of deliverance".