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Operation Aerial

July 15, 2009 Steve Terjeson 3 Comments

Operation Ariel aka Operation Aerial

17 June 1940 – Operation Ariel begins: Allied troops start to evacuate France, following Germany’s takeover of Paris and most of the nation.

Smaller-scale counterpart to Operation Dynamo and designed to remove by sea all British troops in north-west France, largely from the ports of Cherbourg, St Malo, Brest, St Nazaire and La Pallice (16/24 June 1940). Admiral Sir William James, the Commander-in-Chief Portsmouth, was controller of the evacuations from Cherbourg and St Malo, while the others came under the command of Admiral Sir M. Dunbar-Nasmith, Commander-in-Chief Western Approaches. At Cherbourg some 30,630 men of the 52nd Div and Norman Force were lifted between 16 and 18 June; at St Malo 21,474 men of the 1st Canadian Div and other units were picked up between 16 and 18 June; at Brest some 32,584 soldiers and airmen were rescued between 17 and 18 June; at St Nazaire the total was 57,235 troops (including a number from Nantes) evacuated between 16 and 20 June; and at La Pallice 2,303 British and a large number of Polish troops were brought out between 17 and 20 June. Another 19,000 or so troops, most of them Polish, were lifted from ports in the southern half of the French Atlantic coast. At the same time it was decided to evacuate as many as possible from the Channel Islands, and between 19 and 24 June some 22,656 British citizens were removed from these islands, which must inevitably fall to the Germans after the capture of France.

The only major loss during the evacuation from western France was off St Nazaire. Liner Lancastria was bombed and sunk with the death of nearly 3,000 men.

Photo Gallery of the Lancastria

HMT Lancastria Sinking
Hundreds of men can be seen clinging to the upturned hull. For most there was no means of escape. Upturned lifeboats can be seen to the left of the picture again with men clinging on and around them hundreds of heads are floating in the water. One survivor can be seen swimming towards the HMS Highlander from where this picture was taken by Frank Clements. To the right of the sinking Lancastria a becalmed area of sea marks the oil slick from the ship’s ruptured tanks. The Germans were continuing their attack when this image was taken, strafing men in the water. The time is approximately 4.05pm, Monday 17th June 1940.

Survivors of the HMT Lancastria

Lancastria survivors – Tired, weary and covered in oil from Lancastria’s tanks. This shot shows survivors aboard the destroyer HMS Highlander, taken by Frank Clements. The survivor standing with the white blanket round his shoulders, behind the man with the cigarette in his mouth, has been identified as Donald Charles Bruce of the RASC. He later took part in the D-Day landings.

#1940#Dynamo#Evacuation#France#HMT#Lancastria#Operation#Operation Aerial#Operation Ariel#Rescue

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  1. chris buckley
    October 11, 2009 - 10:28 am

    I’m interested in researching my fathers role in the evacuation, Harry Hall Buckley. During 1940 he was a junior officer in a reserve engineering unit in western France. My understanding is that he stayed behind to blow up bridges and fill up a harbour with the abandoned trucks. The belief I have come across recently is that he had to escape through Spain. From talking to him when he was alive, my understanding was that he evacuated on a ship along with everyone else.
    Chris Buckley

  2. David Worsfold
    July 28, 2016 - 9:23 am

    Hi Chris
    Did you find out much more about your father’s evacuation? I am researching a new book on Operation Aerial and am keen to include the stories of the people who took part.

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