As the German army swept through the Netherlands, Belgium, and northern France, the Royal Navy (RN) requested support from the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in the English Channel. In response, the RCN sent seven destroyers. The HMCS Restigouche, Skeena, Fraser, and St. Laurent arrived in time to provide support for the RN as it evacuated British, French, and Belgian troops from Dunkirk during the period from 28 May to 4 June 1940. The Ottawa, Assiniboine, and Saguenay soon followed.
Once the evacuation of Dunkirk was completed, the RCN destroyers proceeded to evacuate isolated Allied units from French ports along the coast. On 11 June 1940, the Restigouche and St. Laurent rescued wounded soldiers from the French port of St. Valery. On 21 June, the Fraser, commanded by Commander Wallace Creery, evacuated diplomats from St. Jean de Luz near the French-Spanish border. They included the British and South African ambassadors to France and Lieutenant-Colonel Georges Vanier, the Canadian minister to France. (Vanier would later become the Governor General of Canada.)
On 24 June 1940, the RCN destroyers joined the RN cruiser HMS Calcutta for an attack on the oil tanks and shipyards at the Gironde River base. In the middle of the night, the Calcutta collided with the Fraser, which was cut in two. The collision killed 47 RCN and 19 RN sailors. Commander Creery survived. The planned assault on the Gironde River bases was cancelled.