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After Hitler’s halt order was given to his forces, the Allied troops then took advantage of the opportunity — and set the wheels in motion for Operation Dynamo, an effort to help as many Allied soldiers escape Dunkirk as possible.

The town of Dover, England, was only 20-plus miles away for the men stranded in Dunkirk, France. Home was visible to many of them standing on the beach in the midst of a battle that seemed unwinnable.

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Every possible Navy vessel was called upon to rescue the men. Even civilian boats answered the calls for help when it was discovered many destroyers could not reach the shores. Hitler eventually rescinded his halt order — but over 300,000 men had escaped before he could fully come to his senses.

The rescue effort was not as clean as it may sound in a mere description. Many men lost their lives, and artillery constantly struck the trapped men from the German forces that were trying to ruin the rescue efforts. Thousands of Allied soldiers were taken prisoner; Germany also took a great deal of equipment.

“If it [Operation Dynamo] had gone the other way, we would all live in a very different society today,” said “Dunkirk” actor Cillian Murphy on “Late Night with Stephen Colbert” about the importance of the success of the operation to the war efforts.

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And it was important. Despite the loss of France to Nazi Germany, the success of Dunkirk and the rescue of hundreds of thousands of soldiers was seen as proof of the perseverance and heart of the Allied forces. Today, some in England still refer to the Battle of Dunkirk as the “Dunkirk Miracle” — and some use the phrase the “Dunkirk Spirit” to motivate people when faced with adversity.

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“You’ve got 400,000 men on this beach [in Dunkirk, France], pretty much within sight of England; the enemy closing in on all sides,” director Nolan told NPR of the story of Dunkirk and his motivation to tell it cinematically. “And they were faced with really the choice between surrender and annihilation. And the fact that this story does not end in either surrender or annihilation is why, for me, I think it’s one of the greatest stories in human history.” [lz_pagination]