Belgium 1940

Discussion in '1940' started by handtohand22, Aug 4, 2006.

  1. handtohand22

    handtohand22 Senior Member

    Why are there no threads on Belgium?
    The country must be worth a mention, after all, Belgium managed to hold out until May 28 1940. That was two weeks after the Dutch defeat and one week after the French and British retreat from Dunkirk to England.
  2. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Operation Dynamo (The evacuation from Dunkirk) began on 27th May and the signal "BEF evacuated" was sent at 11.30 on 2nd June so it is not true to say that the Belgian Forces held out for two further weeks.

    It should also not be forgotten that a considerable length of the beaches used for the Dynamo were in Belgium and the BEF maintained an HQ in De (La) Panne until the last moment.

    The Belgians did hold out just long enough to enable the BEF to plug the gap and fall back on Nieuwpoort. The huge numbers of surrendering troops also caused problems for and delayed the German advance.

    Individual units of the Belgian Army fought well and hard but they never really recovered from the early loss of their Airforce (destroyed on the ground before war was declared) or the initial losses of the bridges over the Albert Canal, again due to a surprise attack on a neutral country without declaration of war.

    The initial invasion came on 10th May and the battle is known in Belgium as the 18 day campaign.
  3. handtohand22

    handtohand22 Senior Member

    I stand corrected.
    The BEF, French and Belgian counterattack on 21 May failed. The only escape route left was the area around Dunkirk.
    Op Dynamo was authorised on 26 May and started on 27 May.
  4. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive


    Do you have a special interest in Belgium ? I live in Belgian Limburg and regularly cross over the canal bridges at Veldwezelt and Vroenhoven. There are still a numerous defensive fortifications along the canal.

    Our local War memorial has a number of names of both troops and civilians who lost their lives in May 1940.

    I always give the River Dyle a second glance when travelling towards Leuven, it being the point to which the BEF advanced on 10th/11th May. Not really much of a line to hold at all.

    Have you seen the book "Mei 1940" by Peter Taghon ? I have a Dutch copy (it was also available in French) Some wonderful photos of the Achttiendaagse Veldtocht which have not appeared in UK publications. He also has a companion volume over the Liberation.

  5. Stephen

    Stephen Member

    The disaster that befell the British and French armies in May 1940 is at least partly Belgiums fault. The insistance on trying to remain neutral after it was clear that the Germans would strike in the west through Belgium was ostrich like. Only allowing the allies to enter Belgium after the Germans invaded was certain to bring about a chaotic situation with masses of refugees on the move towards the advancing allied forces. It seems that the reasons for the speed of the German advance in Poland was something the British, French and Belgian commanders had not bothered to look at.

    Field Marshall Allan Brooke (as he was later) in charge of the British 11 Corps wrote in his diary that by May 10 he had "few illusions as to the fighting efficiency of the French" and "the Belgians still remained to be seen, but what I had heard about them was not promising" he had worse things to say about them later. He also complained that the British force was under equipped. For the allies to have left a defensive line they had spent all winter preparing to move forward with forces one of the highest placed British commanders lacked total faith in to support an army they knew little about on a defensive line they knew very little about invited disaster. Unless of course you expected things to move at a 1918 pace with forts like Eben Emael holding the Germans up and did not understand the role air power would now play, another lesson of the Polish campaign ignored.

    The allies should have occupied the channel coast and apart from a token gesture to hold the Germans up and inflict some casualties on them stayed out of Belgium.
  6. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    The allies should have occupied the channel coast and apart from a token gesture to hold the Germans up and inflict some casualties on them stayed out of Belgium.

    I quite understand what you're saying about the Belgian Government's attitude but I think that you have to bear in mind how the country suffered during WW1 and that neutrality worked for Holland in the first lot.

    I have often pondered the wisdom of the British advance to the Dyle Line, with the French defending the open country further south. It does not seem logical to leave well prepared defensive positions. On the other hand, I believe that it would have been politically impossible for Britain, as allies of the French, to have defended only the Channel coast in September 1939. Look at the problems Gort had with the French when he realised that evacuation was inevitable.

    I wonder what the consequences would have been, had the BEF stayed in their defensive positions in Northern France. Bearing in mind that the French line broke at Sedan and that the German forces would have been held up even less in Belgium I fear that the result would have been an early pincer encirclement cutting off the entire force. Perhaps the battle was lost before it started and the move into Belgium was a blessing in disguise which lead the way to the area around Dunkirk remaining in allied hands long enough for evacuation.

    Another imponderable is what the course of the war would have been had the BEF not been sent to France but had remained in Britain in a defensive role, perhaps supplying the French with support. Would Britain have then subsequently become involved in a European ground war. Would there have been the motivation to mount an invasion in 1944 if the BEF had not been so humiliated in 1940 ?
  7. handtohand22

    handtohand22 Senior Member


    I have a special interest in Belgium for three reasons.

    First, there is very little material in the English language on the Nazi occupation of Belgium and I want to learn more about that subject. I have not seen the book "Mei 1940".

    Second, my father fought and survived his last battle of his 6 year war in the Ardennes. He was with 6 LAA Battery where the AA (40mm) Bofor guns were used in a ground role against the German troops.

    Other veterans have told me that because of the German tactic of using American uniforms, the Battery was ordered to shoot anything that tried to advance through their static lines.

    Third, I have a small collection of 1944/45 photos of Belgium and no story to go with them, even a photo of Hasselt which I have placed on my Belgium WW2 site.
  8. handtohand22

    handtohand22 Senior Member

    ""Perhaps the battle was lost before it started and the move into Belgium was a blessing in disguise which lead the way to the area around Dunkirk remaining in allied hands long enough for evacuation.""

    It has been claimed that Dunkirk remained in allied hands only because Rundstedt halted the German advance. He had lost 50% of his tanks in earlier battles and the terrain to his front did not suit tanks.
    He wanted to conserve his remaining tanks for the advance to the Somme.
  9. NaBnEsS

    NaBnEsS Junior Member

    i have a belgium helmet if anyone is interested
  10. Stephen

    Stephen Member

    In March 1938 the British Chiefs of Staff reported on the implications of a war to support France if France supported the Czechs. They feared Germany could win a short war against the UK by launching a bomber attack lasting about two months. It was decided in April and November 1938 to give priority to the RAF and that the French would have to cope alone while Britain warded off the bombers and imposed a naval blockade while building up a bomber force.

    This strategy was not what the French wanted to hear and it would leave the British open to the jibe that they would fight to the last Frenchman. It was feared that if France found itself at war with Germany and Italy it could give up. The French insisted on a larger British land contribution than the two divisions proposed in 1938 and from February 1939 the British army started to be re equpted and expanded.

    It seems political considerations drove the allied decision to move into Belgium. One proposal was to advance to the Scheld and hold the extreme western corner of the country protecting the Lille industrial area. It was decided to hold the German forces as far east as possible and to save as much of the Belgium and Dutch armies as possible.

    According to General Allan Brooke the Belgians wanted all the information on the allied plans but would not give any about their plans and refused to offer any facilities untill they were attacked. They refused to allow the allies to reconnoitre their line of advance to the Dyle but did let some British officers in plain clothes visit the Dyle. As was to be expected there were problems of liason between the British and Belgian forces.

    Brooke recounts an interesting anecdote of the retreat, it seems General Montgomery sent a messenger to Brooke a Colonel Brown known for having a short temper, the road was jammed by retreating French so he got out of the car to try and clear it and was shot dead.
  11. efflux21

    efflux21 Junior Member

    You forgot to mention the fact that 617 Belgian soldiers died along the Albert Canal trying to stop or at least hamper the German advance after the fall of Fort Eben-Emael.
  12. Warlord

    Warlord Veteran wannabe

    Are we talking here about the defense of Belgium or about belgian forces? Because if the latter applies, Gen. Gillicart´s fight in East Africa is a very interesting subject.
  13. efflux21

    efflux21 Junior Member

    The reason of the delay in advancing the BEF and the French into defensive lines was the fact that the fort of Eben-Emael, supposed to hold on for a couple of days, had to surrender after 32 hours. This was due to the fact that the Germans attacked from the air with gliders. This was a comlete unknown fase of operations !!! Thus the BEF and retrearing Belgian forces had no time to occupy the planned KW line. Also bear in mind that 85 % of the Belgian Air Force was destroyed on the ground in the early morning of May 10.
  14. urqh

    urqh Senior Member

    I think the Belgians were caught between a rock and a hard place. After the surrender the French laid into Leopold something rotten (as did the British press) but Reynaud could hardly do anything less, he could not be seen to advance the cause of defeat or surrender when France was fighting for its life. Churchill was a little more magnanimous with his words at the time.
    And lets face it, its a bit like Germany in the cold war, Belgium was aware of the physical fact that by the plans made etc, Britain and especially France was intending to do the fighting on Belgian soil and not Frances this time around, hence Maginot, the idea being if havoc and destrucion should reign once more than France must be spared the ruination and Belgium would be the land to be ruined if necessary. Even when the allies blindfold was removed and they realised the main thrust was south of the mobile armies 1st, Bef and 7th, the French were trying to withdraw the Belgian forces into dispositions that would benefit France not as the Belgian soldier would view as his own king too as defending Belgian soil but French soil. The bigger picture may well have been that the line must be held with a view to relief at a later date but to the king of the Belgians all he must have seen was his country and his troops being used to defend French soil and British by now obvious run for the coast.
    The British in their own turn, didnt help by destorying much in their retreat (British minds may well have been correct in this and as a supporter of Gorts actions I too can see his reasons), phone systems in Lille, blocking or trying to block harbours with block ships at Bolougne and Calais, Dunkirk later too, obvsiously Frenchmen still fighting and seeing like the Belgians were seeing British on their way out no matter when the official Dynamo date orders started from.The Belgian king did what he thought was right in surrendering when he did and again he thought it was correct to stay with his people. We can now say that was the wrong decision and he maybe should have followed his govt into exile, but as Brits who have not been invaded for centuries we should look on the Belgian actions with some leniancy.
  15. LIII1940

    LIII1940 Junior Member

    Liddell Hart about King Leopold III
    Although the British military establishment has never publicly acknowledged that King Leopold III and his army, by their prolonged resistance, saved the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in may 1940, the world famous military expert Liddell Hart saw no reason for such reticence.
    In 1960, delivering a lecture to students and faculty at King College, Liddell Hart bluntly declared:
    “The British army at Dunkirk was saved from destruction by King Leopold III of the Belgians”.
    Captain Liddell Hart said that Sir Arthur Bryant’s claim that “the saving of the BEF was mainly duetoLord Alan Brooke” did not stand up to examination.
    Hart went on to say: “The unfortunate Belgian Army absorbed the weight of the German frontal attack from the north. By the time the Belgian front had turned, the BEF had slipped out of reach and were nearing Dunkirk”.
    Liddell Hart went further to say: “ If King Leopold III had left Belgium on May 25th , as his ministers and Churchill had urged him to do so, the Belgian army would have surrendered immediately, instead of fighting on until early morning of May 28th.
  16. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Do I detect a hint of single-issue politics here ?
  17. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Hello and welcome to the forum.

    Is this the same Capt. Liddel-Hart who claimed to have given the Germans 'Blitzkrieg' after the war?

    I think to claim that the Belgiums saved the BEF is a bit extreme-My reading of BEF Corps and Division level war diaries suggests the opposite. Certainly senior British Army Officer weren't happy with the surrender. When the Belgium Army surrendered on the 28th May that left the left flank of the BEF to the sea open to exploitation by the German Army and the gap had to be plugged which left the whole front in that region rather thin on the ground of men.

  18. LIII1940

    LIII1940 Junior Member

    These are not my words
    They are the words of Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart (31 October 1895 – 29 January 1970), usually known before his knighthood as Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, was an English soldier, military historian and leading inter-war theorist.
  19. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive


    I assumed they were his words and your last post is a cut and paste from Wikipedia-Keep reading down and see what it says about his connection with Guderian after the war ;)

    military historian and leading inter-war theorist.

    He also falsly claimed that Blitzkrieg tactics were his idea after the war. I wouldn't read too much into what he said if he falsly claims credit for ideas that are not his.

  20. LIII1940

    LIII1940 Junior Member

    Blood Tears And Folly

    Len Deighton

    Page 197 198

    The Belgians had taken the weight of the German attack from the north; FOR A
    WEEK King Leopold had been warning the allies that his army's capacity to
    holdout was limited.

    IT WAS THE BRITISH who had let their ally down.

    The Belgians were never informed the BEF was abandoning them.

    King Leopold was widely condemned as a traitor!

    Winston Churchill knew this to be untrue because of what Sir Roger Keyes had
    told him.

    The beginning of what we Belgians call the GREAT LIE !

    Namely Churchill's (We shall fight on the beaches speech) about King Leopold & the surrender of the Belgian army on May 28th 1940

    June 4, 1940

    "Suddenly, without prior consultation, with the least possible notice, without the advice of his Ministers and upon his own personal act, he sent a plenipotentiary to the German Command, surrendered his Army, and exposed our whole flank and means of retreat "

Share This Page