The Dunkirk evacuation of 1940 is a famous example of pulling semi-success out of a disaster, with over three hundred thousand British and allied troops being pulled from the beaches of Dunkirk amidst air attacks by Germany and with the threat of a sudden tank assault shattering the beachhead entirely. Less well known is the follow-up evacuation from western France code-named Operation Ariel, where roughly an additional two hundred thousand British and allied soldiers were removed back to England. Unlike Dunkirk, with its flash and explosions, Operational Aerial was conducted without much German interference and the troops being evacuated were not front-line combat troops but instead were mostly made up of support troops and administrative staff, as well as some major combat units. Although the operation was marred with some minor casualties overall the maneuver was successful, skillfully carried out, and the rescued troops and equipment made up a key core of the reconstituted British army that was able to resume the war later in 1940. (It was from these and the men at Dunkirk that re-enforcements could be drawn to take part in the British North Africa campaigns.)
What makes Operation Ariel more interesting than just a second-round version of Dunkirk though is the somewhat daffy plan developed by Winston Churchill in 1940 to create a national redoubt in Brittany (pictured above) to provide a last bastion of defense against Germany and a point where continued resistance on the European continent could take place against the German army. Churchill actually sent two fully equipped and fresh defenses into France after the Dunkirk evacuation to combine with the support troops trapped in western France to form what he grandly called “the Second British Expeditionary Force.” The general in charge of this new venture, Sir Alan Brooke, arrived in France on 13 June 1940, a full nine days after Britain had abandoned its positions in Dunkirk.
Brooke (pictured above), upon reviewing the situation, decided that France had been crushed and any additional British troops staying in France would be wasted resources. He spent his first day calling the British high command, which quickly agreed, and Churchill, who did not quickly agree, that the national redoubt idea was foolish. It took much arguing but eventually Brooke carried his argument and saved an additional two hundred thousand troops from being turned into a bonus prize for the victorious German army to capture. The Brittany national redoubt was one of many ideas Churchill desperately put forth in an effort to keep some sort of French commitment in the war – other ideas he advocated were that France continue the war from its colonies and a permanent French/British national union, which would have made the two nations into one single legal entity and transferred the remaining French military assets into British assets. None of these plans came to fruition and France, as a nation, dropped out of the war shortly after Operation Ariel was concluded.