Battle of Britain and Dunkirk: The Finest Hour

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I expect that the battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. . . . Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

– Sir Winston Churchill, Former British Prime Minister and some would argue, the Finest Leader

Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours is excited to announce our exclusive new Battle of Britain and Dunkirk Tour: The Finest Hour to commemorate Battle of Britain Day 2020.

The focus will be the critical months of the summer of 1940 when Britain stood alone against the might of Nazi Germany and dealt Adolf Hitler his first great defeat. We begin this incredible story in France, where we study the critical early battles of 1940 that culminated in the British Expeditionary Force’s epic fighting retreat from Arras to the port of Dunkirk, and miraculous evacuation.

After crossing the English Channel to Dover we visit the famous underground bunker at Dover Castle that Admiral Bertram Ramsay used as his headquarters during the Dunkirk evacuation. We then travel extensively throughout Kent and Sussex to take in key sites associated with the Battle of Britain—including the stunning Battle of Britain Memorial atop the White Cliffs of Dover. Our discussion of the aerial battles of that fateful summer continues as we make our way to Duxford for the Imperial War Museum’s internationally renowned Battle of Britain Air Show. With our VIP passes, we will enjoy an exclusive “behind the scenes” tour of Duxford including the Battle of Britain and American Air Power museums.

Afterwards, we continue to London to study the pivotal roles the British private citizens and public servants played during wartime. Along the way we visit Bentley Priory, the headquarters of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain as well as the Battle of Britain Bunker in Uxbridge that served as the command center for 11 Fighter Group. Here at the battle’s peak, Winston Churchill was surveying the plotting board at 11 Group when he uttered those memorable words, “Never in the course of human events has so much been owed by so many to so few.”

We proceed to London’s city center where we have several days to explore the city from its occupation by Roman legions to modern times. Importantly, we visit the sites that tell the story of the Battle of Britain and the famous Blitz that followed. Among the many historic locations on our agenda will be St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Fire Brigade Museum, Imperial War Museum and a special tour of London’s forgotten underground stations. We conclude our tour with an exclusive dinner at the Royal Air Force Club in London.

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Highlights

  • Cambrai: Study the tank battles around Arras, France that almost stopped Erwin Rommel in his race to the Channel.
  • Bergues: Explore the BEF retreat from Bethune to the coast
  • Dunkirk: Learn about The historic “mole” at Dunkirk Harbor, the jetty that enabled some 239,000 British and French soldiers to board the awaiting vessels and evacuate to England.
  • Dunkirk: See Dover Castle and the wartime bunkers that Admiral Bertram Ramsey used as his headquarters during Operation Dynamo, the Dunkirk evacuation
  • Biggin Hill: Exclusive visit to the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar
  • Duxford: Exclusive tour of IWM Duxford and VIP seating for Battle of Britain Air show
  • Bentley Priory: Visit to the Fighter Command Headquarters at Bentley Priory
  • London: Private Tour of London’s forgotten Tube stations, walking tour of Blitz London and an exclusive final dinner at RAF Club

Day-By-Day Itinerary

DAY 1 Paris

Guests fly independently on an overnight flight to Paris, scheduled to arrive by 10 a.m. on Day 2. If you cannot arrive by 10 a.m., we can help with arrangement for an extra night in Paris at the hotel where staff will be sleeping.

DAY 2 Cambrai

Once you arrive in Paris (by 10 a.m.), meet in the Sheraton Paris Airport Hotel & Conference Centre within the CDG airport. Once all guests have arrived, the group will drive to Cambrai, discussing early May tank battles around Arras and Cambrai.

Heinz Guderian and Erwin Rommel’s panzers seemed unstoppable as they tore across France in the third week of May 1940. On May 21, 1940, the British and French launched a large-scale tank attack from Arras against the advancing German armored forces. They were determined to stop the German drive on the Channel Coast and prevent the encirclement of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). After initial Allied success, the Germans were able to stymie their advance. The daring Allied counterstroke, however, had gained retreating infantry valuable time to begin to form a perimeter along the Channel. We visit many of the sites associated with this first large-scale tank battle of the war in western Europe.

DAY 3 Bergues, Cassel

We explore the BEF retreat from Bethune to the coast. Our stops include the BEF’s epic 60-mile fighting retreat and the stand made by six very badly depleted British battalions as they attempted to stop four German divisions. Our battlefield visits will include the important fortified town of Bergues, heavily bombarded by the Luftwaffe before its 450 defenders succumbed to assaults by overwhelming numbers of German troops. We will also study the Gloucester Regiment’s rear-guard action at Cassel, the village of Esquelbecq, where members of the 1st SS murdered some 80-plus British prisoners in a terrible foretaste of the SS’s later crimes throughout the war and the Canal de Bergues where Ervine Andrews earned the Victoria Cross.

DAY 4 Dunkirk

Today we tour the sites in and around the 25-mile long Dunkirk Perimeter including the battle-scarred walls of Saint Eloi Church, Dunkirk Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, the Museum Dunkirk 1940, the Bray dunes and the famous Mole, the jetty from which the bulk of British and French soldiers evacuated during Operation Dynamo. This afternoon, we take the ferry across the English Channel; our first view of England will be the famous White Cliffs of Dover.

DAY 5 Dover

After breakfast we travel a short distance to Dover Castle, which has stood sentinel over Britain’s coast for centuries. Our visit here will include a tour of the underground bunker complex that became Admiral Bertram Ramsay’s headquarters during Operation Dynamo. It was from here that Ramsay, who would later command Allied landing forces in Normandy, would organize the evacuation of more than 300,000 French and British troops that kept Great Britain in the fight. From the castle it is a short drive to the splendid Battle of Britain Memorial, perched atop the White Cliffs. While there we will take part in the new “Scramble Experience.” This will give us a sense of what it was like to climb into a waiting aircraft such as a Spitfire or Hurricane at the height of the Battle of Britain. We complete the day with a visit to the Kent Battle of Britain Museum and its vast collection of artifacts from over 700 crashed aircraft.

DAY 6 Biggin Hill, Duxford

We start the day with an exclusive visit to the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar. Located on the site of one of the Battle of Britain’s most active airfields, the Heritage Center is a restoration facility dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the famous Spitfire fighter aircraft. We will witness restoration work in progress on several of the historic fighter planes as well as the equally important Hawker Hurricane and an incredibly rare Messerschmitt ME 109 German fighter.

Following our tour of Biggin Hill we will travel to IWM Duxford where the group will have an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the many museums on site as well as the remaining facilities in the most well-preserved World War II airfield in Europe. Built in 1918 by German POWs, Duxford is one of the most historic Battle of Britain airfields. In 1938 it saw 19 Squadron receive the first operational Spitfire Aircraft and it was from this airstrip that the 19, 242 and 310 (Czech) Squadrons operated as 12 Group under the command of the legendary Douglas Bader. These three groups were eventually joined by 302 (Polish) and 611 Squadrons.

DAY 7 Battle of Britain Air Show, Cambridge

The entire day is devoted to enjoying the Battle of Britain air show. The group VIP tickets will allow for reserved marquee, priority seating to enjoy the air show and flight line access. After enjoying the air show we will travel to Cambridge. Before checking in to our hotel we will have an opportunity to visit the Cambridge American Battle Monuments Commission Cemetery and Memorial where we will have an opportunity to pay our respects to the 3,811 Americans buried there.

DAY 8 Bentley Priory, Uxbridge

Having spent our time studying the stories of individual airmen, we shift our focus to the higher levels of command during the Battle of Britain. From Cambridge we will drive to the Bentley Priory Museum. It was from Bentley Priory, the headquarters of Fighter Command, that Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding commanded and, eventually became the victor. From the Priory Museum we will travel to Uxbridge, which is home to the Battle of Britain Bunker.

The fighters of 11 Group embarked from the Uxbridge Bunker for their operational missions during the most desperate days of the Battle of Britain. Our exclusive tour will take us deep underground to the heart of this previously top-secret facility to see the plotting board, restored to its exact appearance on September 15, 1940, Battle of Britain Day. Churchill was a frequent visitor to the bunker during the battle and it was after a visit on August 16, 1940, that he first uttered his famous phrase, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed, by so many, to so few.”

DAY 9 Hendon, London

From our hotel in London we will begin our exploration of the capital city with a visit to the RAF Museum at the former Hendon airdrome. This state-of-the-art museum traces the history of the RAF from its founding in April 1918 as well as the history of aerial warfare. It has more than 100 rare and beautifully restored aircraft on display as well as other unique artifacts. From Hendon we return to central London for the key Battle of Britain sites and the Blitz bombing that followed. Among our stops will be the Battle of Britain Monument, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the London Docklands, the target of much German bombing. To aid in our study of London during the Blitz the group will also have a private access tour of now abandoned Underground stations that served as shelters during the bombardments.

DAY 10 London

Our final day in London resumes with the London Blitz and includes a Blue Badge guided walking tour of Churchill’s London.  This will take in many of the sites associated with the wartime British prime minister including the Cabinet War Rooms, Parliament and Churchill’s favorite cigar and wine shop. Appropriately, we will conclude our study of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain with a private dinner at the exclusive RAF Club in London.

DAY 11 Flight Home

One morning transfer to be provided to London’s Heathrow (LHR) airport.

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Tour Dates

  • September 13 - 23, 2020
  • Tenatively September 12 - 22, 2021
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Historians

TRIP COST $4,490

Prices are per person based on double occupancy. If rooming alone, there is an additional $900 single occupancy supplement.

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