Friday, July 21, 2017

What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in Dunkirk. By John Broich

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is likely to be the most widely seen or read depiction of history released in 2017. So how does a British historian who teaches and writes about World War II rate it as history? In terms of accuracy, it rates pretty highly. There are no big, glaring historical whoppers. The characters whom Nolan invents to serve his narrative purposes are realistic, and his scenes depict genuine events or hew close to firsthand accounts. And why not, since fiction could hardly outdo the drama and emotion of the reality? Nolan made clear that he intended the film to be a kind of history of an experience, and he succeeds about as well as any filmmaker could in conveying what it might have felt like to be on that beach...

Dunkirk Finds New Ways to Subvert the Tropes of the War Film

What’s missing from the film that a historian might add?
In the film, we see at least one French soldier who might be African. In fact, soldiers from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and elsewhere were key to delaying the German attack. Other African soldiers made it to England and helped form the nucleus of the Free French forces that soon took the fight to the Axis. ..There were also four companies of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps on those beaches. Observers said they were particularly cool under fire and well organized during the retreat. They weren’t large in number, maybe a few hundred among hundreds of thousands, but their appearance in the film would have provided a good reminder of how utterly central the role of the Indian Army was in the war. Their service meant the difference between victory and defeat. In fact, while Britain and other allies were licking their wounds after Dunkirk, the Indian Army picked up the slack in North Africa and the Middle East. 

Why the obsession with airplane fuel? : Here, Nolan is dramatizing something central to the entire event. The Royal Air Force (RAF) was not able to provide a lot of help to the men trapped on the beach because of their fighters’ range. As the film depicts early on, pilots had to carefully conserve fuel on the Channel crossing and, even then, could only operate for less than an hour over Dunkirk itself. What happened far more often was that, while en route, fighters came upon German planes attacking the Royal Navy and had to battle them over the sea. This wasn’t comforting to the men trapped on the beach, but if the Royal Navy’s Destroyers were sunk (six of around 40 were), there would be no cover for the retreat. The RAF did battle German fighters and bombers over the three beaches of Calais, Dunkirk, and Ostend themselves, but a recurring theme in survivors’ accounts is that they never saw the RAF in the skies above them.

“Where the hell were you?”: This is reflected in one of the film’s final lines spoken by an evacuated soldier who sees another evacuee with pilot’s wings. In truth, pilots’ receptions were often far less kind. A pilot who bailed over Dunkirk beach had to fight to get on a boat. He was in the air again the day after his return to England.

Did the British really hold back ships and planes from the fight?: Yes. The British were rightly afraid of invasion with the developing collapse of France, and their main means of defense was the Royal Navy, not the Army. .. read more:
http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2017/07/20/what_s_fact_and_what_s_fiction_in_dunkirk.html