A research project to detect and identify undiscovered shipwrecks lost during the rescue of troops from Dunkirk during ‘Operation Dynamo’ is being launched by Drassm – France’s Department of Underwater Archaeological Research – in partnership with Historic England.

Over a thousand ships – both military and civilian – were used to carry out the nine day operation in 1940. It involved the evacuation across the English Channel of 338,226 Allied soldiers who were surrounded by the German army.

More than 305 vessels were lost during the evacuation. Following new research, thirty seven wrecks thought to be linked to Operation Dynamo have already been located in French waters, in particular by divers from Dunkirk and the surrounding area. A further 31 vessels are believed to have been lost in the area but have yet to be located.

The 2023 campaign will search for these undiscovered wrecks and document the sites that are already known using geophysical survey equipment.

English Heritage said the study, which will be followed by diving surveys in 2024, will provide an overall view of this heritage and enable the introduction of conservation and public engagement strategies.

It is the first project of its kind to see collaboration between Drassm and Historic England. The initial results of the research will be shared with the public at events organised from 13 to 15 October in partnership with the Communauté Urbaine de Dunkerque.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: “The evacuation from Dunkirk marked a critical point in the history of the Second World War.

“We are honoured to have been invited by the French marine heritage agency, Drassm, to join their investigation of ships sunk in those desperate days. These wrecks are a physical legacy to Operation Dynamo and all those it affected, including many who did not reach safety.”

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Image: The destroyer HMS Havant is one of the wrecks to be surveyed. Havant evacuated over 2,400 troops successfully but was bombed on 1st June. The troops aboard were transferred to other vessels, but the crew in the engine room were killed (IWM).