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Germany Conquers Belgium

Belgian Troops in Action Round Louvain. The caption on the reverse says the infantry is "taking cover behind a barricade." The barricade seems to be bundles of sticks.
(C) by the International News Service, N.Y. 14
Belgian Troops in Action 'round Louvain. Defending the main road to Louvain and Brussels. Belgian infantry taking cover behind a barricade.

Belgian Troops in Action Round Louvain. The caption on the reverse says the infantry is "taking cover behind a barricade." The barricade seems to be bundles of sticks.

Image text

(C) by the International News Service, N.Y. 14


Belgian Troops in Action 'round Louvain. Defending the main road to Louvain and Brussels. Belgian infantry taking cover behind a barricade.

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August 3 to November 11, 1918

Western Front

Germany's Violation of Belgian Neutrality

On August 2, as French began mobilizing, and claiming that France was going to attack Germany through Belgium, Germany requested free passage through Belgium, promising war if denied. Belgium, so committed to neutrality that it had refused joint planning with potential allies in the event of war, refused. On August 3, German cavalry patrols crossed the Belgian border, the army following the next day. The invasion, Germany's violation of Belgian neutrality, ended the political debate in Britain which declared war on Germany.

On August 4, with German forces already in Belgium, King Albert addressed a joint session of the Parliament, asking for a unified national response of all parties and ethnic groups in the defense of the country. The Chamber roared its support, and, after the departure of the King, Prime Minister de Broqueville read the German ultimatum of August 2, the Belgian response of August 3, and the German reply of August 4. He spoke briefly, and received the support he sought for his government's actions.

Belgium's Defenses

Besides its army, Belgium was defended by forts and fortresses, particularly those along the Meuse River: Dinant, Namur, and the fortress city of Liège. Liège was situated in the narrow passage between the Netherlands and Luxembourg, close to the German border to the east, and was encircled by twelve forts. Namur lay at the confluence of the Meuse and Sambre Rivers, where the Meuse turned south towards France and Dinant, a short distance from the French border. These forts slowed the German advance, delaying and drawing strength from the assault on France, but did not prevent Germany's conquest of Belgium. Antwerp, on the Scheldt River with access to the North Sea, was also a fortified city.

In 1914, Belgium had begun reorganizing its army, a process not scheduled to be completed until 1917. When war came, King Albert took command, planning to hold a line behind the Muese between the fortresses of Liège and Namur.

The Seige and Fall of Liège

Germany had trained a special force to seize Liège during the two weeks its army mobilized. Met by machine gun and rifle fire, and, during a night attack, illuminated by powerful searchlights, these troops suffered heavy casualties in assaults on the forts of Liège on August 5 and 6. On August 6, Belgian forces in the city of Liège itself surrendered to German forces led by General Erich Ludendorff that had bypassed the forts. On August 8, German artillery began their attempts to reduce each of the twelve forts using 21 and 28 cm. siege artillery. The first fort surrendered the same day.

The artillery of the forts was mounted in revolving turrets embedded in the earth, and were difficult to put out of actions, presenting a low profile to the invaders. The guns of the forts sought out German artillery. Conditions for the defenders were horrendous. Searchlights were disabled, and guns were destroyed. Gasses from the guns, fires, and explosions from their own munitions struck by enemy shelling all threatened the defenders. On August 11, the second of the Liège forts surrendered.

On August 12, the attackers began firing the 42 cm. siege artillery - ???Austro-Hungarian howitzers??? - that had arrived the previous day. The guns' shells weighed 1,600 pounds. As many as 300 shells fell on some forts each hour. On August 13, munitions exploded within Fort de Pontisse. The fort surrendered. The same day, the magazine at Fort de Chaudfontaine exploded, killing 97 men, and it too surrendered. On the 14th, four more forts surrendered, their guns unusable, their air unbreathable, their men dying of asphyxiation. On August 15, a shell penetrated to the powder magazine of Fort de Loncin. The explosion of 24,000 pounds of powder blew gun turrets into the air and collapsed the fort on 250 men. The last of the Liège forts fell the next day on August 16.

As many as 53,000 German soldiers died taking the fortified city. The Belgians slowed the German advance while the British were reaching the continent, and French were redeploying their forces.

The Retreat and Fall of Namur

Unable to hold the line at the Meuse, the Belgians had taken a line to the northwest behind the Gette River to defend the capital of Brussels. On August 18, threatened by the German First Army with being cut off from Antwerp, Albert abandoned his position, reaching the fortress city on August 20.

Southwest of Liège, Namur was defended by nine forts. On August 21, German artillery began bombarding the forts with Krupp's ??? 42 cm. and Austrian Skoda 30.5 cm. seige guns. One Belgian army division and some French units had reinforced Namur's garrison. These units withdrew behind French lines on the 23rd after the first of the Namur forts fell. By August 25, after 30,000 shells, all nine forts had fallen.

The Fall of Brussels

In the Belgian capital of Brussels, news had been limited since the beginning of the month. The delegations of neutral Spain and the United States assisted Germans in getting trains north to neutral Netherlands. On August 10, a German plane flew over the city pursued by a Belgian one. Reports came to the city of battles between the German and Belgian forces at Haelen and Tirlemont. French, British and other delegations left the city. The government had already followed King Albert to his headquarters at Louvain, and continued on to Antwerp. The night of August 19, weary Belgian soldiers passed through the city. On August 20 German forces made a triumphant ceremonial entry into Brussels.

The Belgian Fortress of Antwerp

German Chief of the General Staff Helmuth von Moltke redeployed two??? three???? German Army corps???? from his primary assault force on the German right wing to stand guard ??? over the Belgian forces in Antwerp. During the Battle of the Marne, the Belgians aided the Allies not only by tying down the German units, but also by conducting sorties from the fortress during the battle on September 7, 8, and 9, to ensure the Germans remained in place.

The British had a strategic interest in keeping Antwerp open and the Belgian Army intact. French commander Joseph Joffre thought that the fortress would be reduced as Belgium's other fortresses had been, and was more interested in preserving the Belgian Army as a fighting force, preferably under some measure of French control.

After the defeat at the Marne, and his replacement of von Moltke, General Erich von Falkenhayn, new Chief of the German General Staff, concerned by the threat posed by the Belgian Army, ordered the reduction of Antwerp which the Germans began bombarding on September 28. To protect the city, Winston Churchill, Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty, reinforced the Belgian defense, first, on October 3, with British marines and recently volunteered sailors, then two days later, with an army division, a cavalry division, and Churchill himself. On October 6, leaving a garrison in the city, the Belgian Army and British relief force retreated from Antwerp, moving along Netherlands' southern border and west to the coast. Antwerp fell on October 9.

A Corner of Belgium

The Belgian retreat down the coast helped prevent the German seizure of the ports of Nieuport, Dunkirk, and Calais on the English Channel. Joffre sent French reinforcements, not to Antwerp as he had told the British, but to protect the Belgian forces. Joffre doubted the British, particularly Sir John French's, capabilities and commitment. He found the Belgians demoralized, and would not rely on them the protect the coast. Joffre and Foch also wanted to hold more sway than the British over the Belgians after the war. For these reasons he positioned French forces on the coast and on either side of the Belgians, putting the British likewise between French units.

The Battle of the Yser

The Belgians fell back to a position along the Yser River, and struggled to hold the line in a battle beginning October 16. Canals and dykes kept the River and the North Sea from the low-lying countryside. On October 28, the Belgians opened the floodgates of the Yser, flooding the plain, stopping the German advance, and holding the Channel coast.

King Albert insisted on keeping the Belgian government in Belgium. He and his army would hold this small corner of Belgium throughout the war.



Events contemporaneous with Germany Conquers Belgium

Start Date End Date View
1914-08-02 1914-11-11 Turkey Enters the War
1914-08-03 1914-08-03 Germany invades Luxemburg
1914-08-03 1914-08-03 Germany declares war on France
1914-08-03 1914-08-04 German forces enter neutral Belgium
1914-08-04 1914-08-04 Great Britain declares war on Germany
1914-08-07 1914-08-23 Battle of the Frontiers
1914-08-11 1914-12-09 Austria-Hungary Invasion of Serbia, 1914
1914-08-20 1914-08-20 Battle of Gumbinnen
1914-08-20 1914-09-26 Galician Battles of 1914
1914-08-23 1914-09-05 Allied Retreat of 1914