Five days later, as Allied troops retreated to the French Channel port of Dunkerque, Allied Supreme Commander Maxime Weygand ordered Abrial and his deputy commander, Lieutenant General Maurice Fagalde, to organize a beachhead there. The two French officers believed Dunkerque could be held successfully against German forces, but on 20 May, France's British allies, having decided withdrawal from the Continent was inevitable, began to organize the withdrawal effort. Abrial learned of this decision when the evacuation started on 26 May, and he quickly organized all available French maritime vessels into an evacuation fleet. Requisitioning all private boats in the area, he began to embark both British and French troops on 29 May. He also demanded equal space for beleaguered French troops aboard British vessels. Altogether, by 4 June, British and French ships had taken off some 364,000 troops, including some 140,000 French.
Abrial, one of the last to leave Dunkerque, moved to Cherbourg, and on 19 June, he surrendered that port to German forces. Remaining in France with the Vichy government following the defeat of France, Abrial was governor-general of Algeria from July 1940 to July 1941, and from November 1942 to March 1943, he was secretary of the navy in the Vichy government.
Abrial was charged with collaboration after the liberation, and in August 1946, he was sentenced to "national indignity" and 10 years of hard labor, which was later commuted to 5 years' imprisonment. Released provisionally in December 1947 and amnestied in 1954, Abrial died at Dordogne in the Tarn on 19 December 1962.
Auphan, Paul, and Jacques Mordal. The French Navy in World War II. Trans. A. C. J. Short. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1959.; Crémieux-Brilhac, Jean-Louis. Les Français de l'an 40. 2 vols. Paris: Gallimard, 1990.; Gelb, Norman. Dunkirk: The Complete Story of the First Step in the Defeat of Hitler. New York: William Morrow, 1989.; Paxton, Robert O. Parades and Politics at Vichy: The French Officer Corps under Marshal Pétain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966.