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Flotilla of 'little ships' to return to Dunkirk 75 years on

Chalmondesleigh, one of the Little Ships involved in the Dunkirk evacuation. Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

A flotilla of "little ships" which helped evacuate allied soldiers from Dunkirk will return to France today, 75 years on from the daring World War II mission.

Around 50 vessels will set sail from Ramsgate in Kent for the French port, recreating a journey that saw them save the lives of hundreds of thousands of British, French and Belgian troops.

Hundreds of vessels crossed the Channel between May 27 and June 4 1940, with fishing boats, pleasure yachts and lifeboats pressed into service to rescue soldiers who had been forced back to the coast in the face of the German advance across Europe.

World War II Dunkirk veteran Ted Oates visits Ramsgate Harbour in Kent. Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Today's events

The modest fleet of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS) will be escorted by the RNLI and the Royal Navy boats HMS Ranger and HMS Trumpeter - on board which will be Prince Michael of Kent, the ADLS's honorary admiral - for their journey across the Channel.

A Spitfire and a Hurricane fighter plane will perform a military fly-past, echoing the air support the RAF gave to naval colleagues as they desperately tried to rescue men from the beaches.

As the flotilla heads out, a piper will also play from the lighthouse at the end of Ramsgate's west pier, and standards will be lowered as a mark of respect.

Two veterans of the Dunkirk evacuations - dubbed Operation Dynamo - will travel over on the Princess Freda, a 63ft Thames passenger vessel that ferried soldiers off the beaches to a waiting navy destroyer.

The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships Flag among others. Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Friday 22 May

Tomorrow there will be a service at the British Memorial at the Dunkirk Military Cemetery, followed by a reception and presentation for ADLS skippers at the Dunkirk Town Hall.

Saturday 23 May

The main event to mark the historic rescue mission will be on Saturday, when an official service will take place at the Allied Beach Memorial.

Later that day there will be a parade of military vehicles and bands through the streets of Dunkirk.

A German soldier looks over at French and British prisoners of war in Dunkirk. Credit: PA/PA Archive

Sunday 24 May

On Sunday a memorial plaque will be unveiled at the site of the MV Crested Eagle, a paddle steamer which was attacked and sank with 300 soldiers on board.

There will also be an ADLS commemorative service on the quayside in Dunkirk next to the little ships themselves.

The Dunkirk evacuations saw an estimated 338,000 troops rescued from the beaches of northern France between May 27 and June 4, 1940.

Described as a "miracle of deliverance" by wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, it is seen as one of several events in 1940 that determined the eventual outcome of the war.

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