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Hauksbee

Map 32: Liege Falls.

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         WWI's first battle: the attack on Liège

The German war plan called for the swiftest possible capture of Paris, hoping to knock France out of the war before Russia could fully mobilize its large but low-tech military. The fastest route to the French capital happens to run through Belgium, so the first battle of the war was a German attack on the Belgian city of Liège. Belgium was not part of any pre-war alliances and attempted to stay neutral in the war. The attack on Belgium brought the British Empire into the war, with British politicians citing their country's obligation to uphold Belgian neutrality. This was a risky move on Germany's part, but German war-planning long regarded a quick, decisive blow against France as the best possible hope of winning a two-front war. Right from the outset things did not go Germany's way. Liège (and other Belgian towns and fortifications near the Meuse River) fell, but the Belgians' determination to resist in the face of impossible odds did delay Germany's operations against France substantially, giving France and Britain critical extra days to prepare the defense of Paris.

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MAP_09 Battle of Liege.png

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Most of the terrible German abuses against civilians in Belgium and Northeastern France, occured in August and first half of September, when the instructions were to advance as quickly as possible, and to secure the rear and avoid any emergence of partisans by terrorising the local populations. The local elites (traditional rural trio mayor-priest-teacher) were held as hostages and sometimes preventively shot. In several occasions, the German troops, having suffered flanking friendly fire, or suspecting the presence of partisans, or simply upset for having been delayed for several days by the Allied firm opposition, slaughtered masses of Belgian or French civilians where they had fought. Sometimes it happened in a coldly organized manner, through superior orders; most often, once orders were given, the enraged soldiery escaped any control from its management. General paranoia and individual seek for revenge played a decisive role. During the battle for Dinant for example (where Lt Charles de Gaulle was wounded), the angry Germans, having mistaken architectural slits in the local cliff walls with loopholes destined to fire on their flanks, gathered and slaughtered over 600 Belgian civilians. Another smaller but more personal example: the day after, in the small town of Haybes (French Ardennes, on the same river Meuse, a nice hilly meander where I was wandering the past month), the Germans, enraged for having been delayed for two days, burnt the whole town to the ground and slaughtered some 60 civilians (between 11-month- and 61-year-old, the older one while holding the body of his grand-daughter) ; a reported dialogue between a horrified lieutenant and his superior seems to confirm that the Germans there were following superior instructions (army-level) for terrorising the populations.

 

About Belgium again. Just next to the Norman city of Le Havre, where I am living, is the town of Sainte-Adresse, which became for the four years the War lasted the capital town of Free Belgium, hosting all of the Belgian ministries and government after the fall of Brussels (but not King Albert who, while having been granted a Norman manor, chose to stay at De Panne, on the last square miles of Belgium, till the liberation of his country). Of course Sainte-Adresse has some personal reasons to heavily commemorate the centenary of Year 1914, bearing lots of Belgian flags and having repainted many places in Belgian colors. Many public boards with pics and historical informations give some funny hints about this refugee mess, for example about the Minister of the Colonies administrating the giant territory of Congo, over 30 times the size of Belgium, from a back shop and often receiving on the pavement! The last Saturday (October 4) was the main commemoration with the presence of H.M. the King of the Belgians, no less, and of the French and Belgian aerobatic teams performing in front of the beach. Nice show I heard, but busy elsewhere, I could only see and hear parts of it from some distance. [sigh]

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Thank you for the details, Capitaine; I didn't know there had been so many brutal massacres

against Belgians and northern French civilians. I had thought it only happened very few times,

or I had hoped so, and never investigated any deeper. I guess I was afraid to find something

like this. It is a shame, that this was possible to happen; that it was ordered, and that enough

soldiers followed these orders. I can understand the horrified Leutnant very well. But I cannot

know what I would have done, if I had been there. Fortunately I never had to fight a war.

Today's Europe may often be a mess of conflicting interests - but at least do we not fight out

these conflicts by shooting at each other anymore.

So it isn't all only getting worse, as I sometimes too easily say...

Edited by Olham

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