History is inspiring. Bravery is inspiring. It is shameful we no longer teach this to our children.
David Gelernter, Drawing Life
The resounding success of Operation Dynamo was only possible because of the bravery and performance of 700 "Little Ships": civilian merchantmen and fishing boats that went into the inferno to rescue the troops.
The Allied armies had disintegrated or fallen back so rapidly in the face of a powerful enemy advance that Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay, commanding the naval base at Dover, was ordered to implement Operation Dynamo, ‘with a view to lifting up to 45,000 of the BEF within two days, at the end of which it was probable that evacuation would be terminated by enemy action.’ During three critical days, 26-28 May, Churchill seriously considered seeking peace: ‘if we could get out of this jam,’ he said on the 26th, ‘by giving up Malta and Gibraltar and some African colonies, I would jump at it.’ On the 28th, he told his ministers that we should be able to get 50,000 men away from Dunkirk; 100,000 ‘would be a wonderful performance’. One week later, when nearly 340,000 men (two-thirds of them British) had been rescued, he concluded that this ‘transformed Britain’s prospects’.
Vincent Orange, Dowding of Fighter Command
An even bigger self-organized boatlift happened in New York on 9-11: