In June, 1944, the beaches at Zuydcoote
near Dunkirk are filled with thousands of British and French troops
trapped between the sea and the advancing Germans. A vast
fleet of ships and small boats are evacuating the British, but the
fate of the French is uncertain.
In an abandoned ambulance on the beach,
four men discuss their prospects of surviving. Sergeant
Maillat wants to escape on one of the boats and continue fighting
the Nazis; Dhery, a cowardly opportunist, wants only to get away;
Pierson, a chaplain, decides to work in a hospital; and Alexandre
will take a chance on getting by on his wits.
As he attempts to persuade the British
to evacuate him, Maillat meets and falls in love with Jeanne, a
young woman who refuses to leave her home in spite of the incessant
bombing that has left her nearly hysterical with fright.
Maillat returns to the ambulance and discovers that Alexandre is
dead and his other friends have left. He kills two of his own
men for attempting to rape Jeanne, and then manages to persuade her
to try to escape with him, arranging to meet on the beach the next
day. But Maillat is killed by an exploding shell when Jeanne
reaches their rendezvous spot at the ambulance.