Dunkirk, Fr. Dunkerque, town (1990 pop. 71,071), Nord dept., N France, on the North Sea. It is a leading French port with daily ferry service to Ramsgate and Dover, England. It is a steel center; oil refining, shipbuilding, food processing, and the manufacture of electrical equipment are also important. Among Dunkirk's chief exports are construction materials, steel products, cement, fruits and vegetables, sugar, fertilizer, and pre-assembled structures. Probably founded c.7th cent. A.D. and often fortified, Dunkirk played a key role in the struggles in Europe that extended over centuries; it was ruled successively by Flanders, Burgundy, Austria, France, England, and Spain. Ceded briefly in the 1650s to Oliver Cromwell, it was bought back permanently from Charles II by Louis XIV in 1662. The town withstood an Anglo-Dutch bombardment in 1694 and an English siege in 1793. During the 19th cent. improvements were made on the harbor, and Dunkirk grew in commercial importance. During World War II, more than 300,000 Allied troops who were cut off from retreat on land by the German breakthrough to the French Channel ports were evacuated (May 26-June 4, 1940) from Dunkirk. The retreat was carried out by all kinds of available British craft, some manned by civilian volunteers, and was protected by the Royal Air Force. It is considered one of the epic actions of naval history.

See studies by P. Turnball (1978), J. Harris (1988), and H. Sebag-Montefiore (2006).

Dunkirk, city (1990 pop. 13,989), Chautauqua co., SW N.Y., on Lake Erie; founded c.1800, inc. as a city 1880. It is a port of entry and trades extensively with other Great Lakes' ports. Dunkirk, located in the grape belt, produces wines and other grape products. The city also manufactures steel, food products, and clothing. In 1946, Dunkirk developed a program to help Dunkirk, France (for which it was named), recover from World War II. Other U.S. cities followed Dunkirk's example and established a program, called the One World Plan, to aid war-damaged European cities.

Dunkirk (French: Dunkerque, or [dɛ̃kɛʀk]; Dutch: ;) is a harbour city and a commune in the northernmost part of France, in the department of Nord, 10 kilometres (6 mi) from the Belgian border. Population of the city (commune) at the 1999 census was 70,850 inhabitants (71,300 inhabitants as of February 2004 estimates). Population of the whole metropolitan area (aire urbaine) was 265,974 inhabitants at the 1999 census.

Its name is derived from West Flemish "dun(e)" (dune) and "kerke" (church). Until the middle of the 20th century the city was situated in the Dutch language area; today the local Dutch dialect (West Flemish) still can be found but has been largely replaced by French.


Dunkirk was first mentioned in 1067 as Dunkerk (Dutch: “Church of the Dune” or Dune Church). The area was much disputed between Spain, England, the Netherlands and France. In the Eighty Years' War the port was the base of the infamous Dunkirkers: private shipowners (reders in Dutch) operated whole privateer fleets to intercept merchants from countries hostile to the Spanish Habsburgs. The Dunkirkers briefly lost their home port, as the city was conquered by the French in 1646 but recaptured by the Habsburgs in 1652. In 1657, as a result of war between Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth and the Kingdom of Spain, it was captured by English forces, and was awarded to England in the peace the following year. It became definitively French when Charles II of England sold it to France for £320,000 on 17 October 1662. During the reign of Louis XIV, a large number of commerce raiders had again their base at Dunkirk; Jean Bart was the most famous, known for attacking Dutch ships. The Man in the Iron Mask was also arrested in Dunkirk.

Dunkirk in World War II

In May 1940 during the battle of France, the British Expeditionary Force in France aiding the French, were cut off from the rest of the French Army by the German advance. Encircled by the Germans they retreated to the area around the port of Dunkirk. The German land forces could have easily destroyed the British expeditionary force, especially when many of the British troops, in their haste to withdraw, had left behind their heavy equipment. For some unexplained and still unknown reason, Adolf Hitler ordered the German army to stop the attack, favouring bombardment by the Luftwaffe. Some say it was because Hitler was still hopeful of establishing diplomatic peace with Britain before 1940 so the Germans could have an potential allied force against the Russians, while others contest that the unfavourable terrain (which was not suited to armoured vehicles) and a strategic German desire to retain strength for future operations was the real explanation. This lull in the action gave the British a few days to evacuate by sea. Winston Churchill ordered any ship or boat available, large or small, to pick up the stranded soldiers, and 338,226 men (including 120,000 French soldiers) were evacuated - the miracle of Dunkirk, as Churchill called it. It took over 900 vessels to evacuate the Allied forces. More than 40,000 vehicles as well as massive amounts of other military equipment and supplies were left behind; their value being less than that of trained fighting men. The British evacuation of Dunkirk through the English Channel was codenamed Operation Dynamo.

The city was again contested in 1944, and the Second Canadian Division attempted to liberate the city in September, as Allied forces surged northeast after their victory in the Battle of Normandy. German forces refused to relinquish their control of the city, which had been converted into a fortress, and the garrison there was "masked" by Allied troops, notably 1st Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade. The fortress under command of German Admiral Friedrich Frisius eventually unconditionally surrendered to the commander of the Czechoslovak forces, Brigade General Alois Liška, on May 9 1945.

During the German occupation, Dunkirk was largely destroyed by allied bombings; the artillery siege of Dunkirk was directed on the final day of the war by pilots from No. 652 Squadron RAF, and No. 665 Squadron RCAF.

Postwar Dunkirk

On 14 December 2002, the Norwegian auto carrier Tricolor collided with the Bahamian-registered Kariba and sank off Dunkirk harbour, causing a hazard to navigation in the English Channel.


The commune has grown substantially by absorbing several neighbouring communes:

  • 1970: Merger with Malo-les-Bains (which had been created by being detached from Dunkirk in 1881)
  • 1972: Fusion with Petite-Synthe and Rosendaël (the latter had been created by being detached from Téteghem in 1856)
  • 1980: Fusion-association with Mardyck (which became an associated commune, with a population of 372 in 1999)
  • 1980: A large part of Petite-Synthe is detached from Dunkirk and included into Grande-Synthe
  • 2003: Project of fusion with Saint-Pol-sur-Mer (commune created by its territory being detached from Petite-Synthe in 1877). On December 19, 2003, the municipal councils of Dunkirk and Saint-Pol-sur-Mer decided in favour of a fusion-association, which would create a new entity with a population of 94,187. The prefect requested a referendum, although this procedure was not mandatory (it became mandatory on January 1, 2005). The referendum took place on December 5, 2004, actually covering 3 communes: Dunkerque, Saint-Pol-sur-Mer and Fort-Mardyck. Although the yes won with 54 % of the votes, it did not gather 25% of the potential electorate, as required by the law. The prefect rejected the fusion proposal as a consequence.


Dunkirk has the third largest harbour in France, after those of Le Havre and Marseille. It is also an industrial city, heavily dependent on the steel, food processing, oil refining, ship building and chemical industries.

Tourist attractions

  • The Musée Portuaire hosts exhibits images about the history and presence of the port.
  • The Musée des Beaux-Arts has a large collection of Flemish, Italian and French paintings and sculptures.
  • The Carnival of Dunkirk



Dunkirk has a ferry connection with Dover in England.


Twin towns

Dunkirk is twinned with:

Dunkirk has cooperation agreements with:

See also

External links


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