The Battle of Hannut was a World War II battle fought during the Battle for Belgium as Belgium like Holland had not surrendered, and which took place between 12 and 14 May 1940 at Hannut, Belgium. It was the largest ever tank battle at the time.
The primary purpose of the Germans was to tie down the strongest elements of the 1st French Army and remove it from the German’s Army Group A, under General Gerd von Rundstedt (see Rundstedt) main thrust through the Ardennes, as laid out in the German operational plan Fall Gelb, or “Case Yellow”, by General Erich von Manstein (see Manstein). The German breakout of the Ardennes was scheduled for 15 May, five days after the German attacks on the Netherlands and Belgium. The delay was to entice the Allies into believing the main thrust would, like the Schlieffen Plan in World War i, come through Belgium and then down into France. When the Allied armies advanced into Belgium, they would be tied down by German offensive operations in eastern Belgium at Hannut and Gembloux. With the 1st French army under Auguste Yvon Edmond Dubail , flank exposed, the German could thrust to the English Channel which would encircle and destroy the Allied forces. For the French Army, the plan in Belgium was to prepare for a prolonged defence at Gembloux, some 21 miles to the west of Hannut. The French sent two armoured divisions to Hannut, to delay the German advance and give strong French forces time to prepare a defence at Gembloux. Regardless of what happened at Hannut, the French planned to fall back on Gembloux. The Germans reached the Hannut area just two days after the start of the invasion of Belgium. The French won a series of delaying tactical engagements at Hannut and fell back on Gembloux as planned. However, the Germans succeeded in tying down substantial Allied forces at Hannut which might have participated in the decisive. The Germans failed to neutralise the French 1st Army completely at Hannut, despite inflicting significant casualties and it withdrew to Gembloux. There, the French once again scored tactical successes at the battle of Gembloux during 14–15 May. In the aftermath of that battle, although seriously damaged, the French 1st Army was able to retreat to Lille, where it delayed the Wehrmacht and was instrumental in the British Expeditionary Force’s escape from Dunkirk. The Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo, also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, between 27 May and 4 June 1940. The operation was decided upon when large numbers of British, French, and Belgian troops were cut off and surrounded by the German army during the Battle of France in the Second World War. In a speech to the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (see Churchill) called the events in France “a colossal military disaster”, saying that “the whole root and core and brain of the British Army” had been stranded at Dunkirk and seemed about to perish or be captured. In his We shall fight on the beaches speech on 4 June, he hailed their rescue as a “miracle of deliverance” Almost 200,000 troops embarked on ships from the East Mole (which stretched nearly a mile out to sea) over the next week. On 28 May, 17.804 soldiers arrived at British ports. On 29 May, 47.310 British troops were rescued. The next day, an additional 53.823 men were embarked, including the first French soldiers. Lord Gort (see Gort) and 68.014 men were evacuated on 31 May, and Major-General Harold Alexander (see Alexander) was left in command of the rearguard. A further 64.429 Allied soldiers departed on 1 June, before the increasing air attacks prevented further daylight evacuation. The British rearguard of 4.000 men left on the night of 2–3 June. An additional 75.000 French troops were retrieved over the nights of 2–4 June, before the operation finally ended. The remainder of the rearguard—40.000 French troops—surrendered on 4 June.