i. The Mole

On land, Tommy, a young British private, is one of several soldiers who come under fire from German soldiers on the streets of Dunkirk. He is the only one to make it to the beach, where he finds British and allied troops staging for evacuation. He meets Gibson, another young soldier, who appears to be burying a friend. They happen upon a wounded man who has been left for dead, and rush his stretcher up to the front of the queue, to a ship evacuating the wounded, about to depart. They are denied entry to the boat themselves, however, and instead hide on the mole, hoping to sneak aboard the next vessel. However the ship is attacked as it launches; in the chaos they save Alex from being crushed by it as it sinks. They get on another departing boat that night, but it is sunk by a torpedo from a U-boat; Gibson saves Tommy and Alex and they make their way to shore.

The next day, they join a group of Scottish soldiers who have located a boat abandoned in the intertidal zone, which they hide in, hoping to use it for escape when the tide rises. However the boat is not within the British perimeter, and Germans begin shooting at it for target practise. When the tide eventually rises, so many bullet holes have been left in the ship that it cannot stay afloat. Seeking to reduce their weight, Alex accuses Gibson, who has remained silent throughout, of being a German spy, and demands he be put off the ship. Tommy defends him, but Gibson reveals he is French and had stolen the identity of the soldier Tommy had found him burying, to improve his chances of evacuation. As the ship sinks, Gibson gets tangled in a chain and drowns. Alex and Tommy swim for a nearby minesweeper, but it is sunk by a German bomber. Mr Dawson's boat arrives on the scene and takes them on board. They return to England, where they receive a heroes' welcome from the public, but Alex does not feel like one.

ii. The Sea

On the sea, the Royal Navy is commandeering private boats to participate in the evacuation. Mr Dawson cooperates without question, but rather than let a navy crew take his boat, he and his son Peter take her out themselves; their teenage hand George impulsively joins them as they leave, hoping to do something noteworthy. They encounter a shell-shocked soldier on the wreck of his ship, the sole survivor of a U-boat attack, and take him aboard. When he discovers that Dawson is still sailing for Dunkirk rather than taking them to England, the soldier tries to wrest control of the ship from him, and in the scuffle George falls and takes a severe blow to the head. Peter treats George's wounds as best as he can, but George can no longer see. Duty-bound to aid in the evacuation, Dawson continues toward France.

They see a Spitfire plane ditch in the ocean, and Dawson steers for it just in case the pilot can be rescued. They pull Collins from the plane as it sinks; it is revealed that Peter's older brother was a Hurricane pilot, lost in the opening weeks of the war. They encounter a minesweeper under attack by a German bomber and accompanying fighter planes. Dodging weapons fire from the fighters, they maneuver to take on troops fleeing the damaged ship, which is spilling oil, narrowly getting clear before the oil is ignited. Dawson and his crew pull as many survivors aboard as can fit, among them Alex and Tommy. As the boat fills with men, the Dawsons learn that George has died. Peter takes pity on the shell-shocked soldier, however, and lies to him that George will be alright. Sailing into the night, they reach Dorset, where Dawson is congratulated for the number of men he has saved, as George's body is carried off the boat. Peter later brings a photograph of George and a report of his participation to the local paper, which lauds him as a youthful hero.

iii. The Air

In the air, three Spitfire pilots – Farrier, Collins, and their squadron leader – are underway across the English Channel to provide air support to the troops waiting at Dunkirk, with instructions for how much fuel they can spend there before needing to return. They encounter a Luftwaffe plane, which shoots down the squadron leader. Farrier, whose fuel gauge is now broken, assumes command of the duo, and they continue toward France. They are successful in taking down a plane in their next skirmish, but Collins' plane is damaged and he is forced to ditch in the Channel. Farrier continues alone, and switches to reserve fuel, having burned his entire ration in maneuvers along the way. He finally reaches Dunkirk, where evacuation efforts are being attempted under enemy bombardment. He takes out the bomber, saving ships and troops. Out of fuel, he manually cranks his landing gear into position and glides for a landing on the beach. Grounded beyond the Allied perimeter, he sets fire to his plane, and is taken prisoner by the Germans.

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