German invasion of Belgium
The German invasion of Belgium was a military campaign which began on 4 August 1914. Earlier, on 24 July, the Belgian government had announced that if war came it would uphold its historic
German military operations in Belgium were intended to bring the 1st, 2nd and 3rd armies into positions in Belgium from which they could invade France, which after the fall of Liège on 7 August, led to sieges of Belgian fortresses along the
While the French armies and the BEF began the
At the end of the Great Retreat, the
In September 1911, a government meeting concluded that Belgium must be prepared to resist a German invasion, to avoid accusations of collusion by the British and French governments. Britain, France and the Netherlands were also to continue to be treated as potential enemies. In 1913 and 1914, the Germans made inquires to the Belgian military attaché in Berlin, about the passage of German military forces through Belgium. If invaded, Belgium would need foreign help but would not treat foreign powers as allies or form objectives beyond the maintenance of Belgian independence. Neutrality forced the Belgian government into a strategy of military independence, based on a rearmament programme begun in 1909, which was expected to be complete in 1926. The Belgian plan was to have three army corps, to reduce the numerical advantage of the German armies over the French, intended to deter a German invasion.
Conscription began in 1909 but with a reduction in the term of service to fifteen months; the Agadir Crisis made the government continue its preparations but until 1913, the size of the army was not fixed as a proportion of the population. The annual conscription of 13,300 recruits was increased to 33,000 to accumulate the trained manpower for a field army of 180,000 men. Older men would continue to serve as garrison troops and by 1926 340,000 men would be available. Implementation of the new scheme had disrupted the old one but had not become effective by 1914. During the crisis over the assassination of
Belgian military planning was based on the assumption that other powers would eject an invader but the likelihood of a German invasion did not lead to France and Britain being seen as allies or for the Belgian government to do more than protect its independence. The
Belgian troops were to be massed in central Belgium, in front of the
German strategy had given priority to offensive operations against France and a defensive posture against Russia since 1891. German planning was determined by numerical inferiority, the speed of mobilisation and concentration and the effect of the vast increase of the power of modern weapons. Frontal attacks were expected to be costly and protracted, leading to limited success, particularly after the French and Russians modernised their fortifications on the frontiers with Germany.
A corollary to the emphasis on the Western Front was a lack of troops for the
Under Plan XVII the French peacetime army was to form five field armies, with a group of reserve divisions attached to each army and a group of reserve divisions on each flank, a military force of c. 2,000,000 men. The armies were to concentrate opposite the German frontier around Épinal, Nancy and Verdun–Mezières, with an army in reserve around Ste. Ménéhould and Commercy. Since 1871, railway building had given the French General Staff sixteen lines to the German frontier, against thirteen available to the German army and the French could afford to wait until German intentions were clear. The French deployment was intended to be ready for a German offensive in Lorraine or through Belgium. It was anticipated that the Germans would use reserve troops but also expected that a large German army would be mobilised on the border with Russia, leaving the western army with sufficient troops only to advance through Belgium south of the Meuse and the Sambre rivers. French intelligence had obtained a 1905 map exercise of the German general staff, in which German troops had gone no further north than Namur and assumed that plans to besiege Belgian forts were a defensive measure against the Belgian army.
A German attack from south-eastern Belgium towards Mézières and a possible offensive from Lorraine towards Verdun, Nancy and St. Dié was anticipated; the plan was an evolution from Plan XVI and made more provision for the possibility of a German offensive from the north through Belgium. The First, Second and Third armies were to concentrate between Épinal and Verdun opposite Alsace and Lorraine, the Fifth Army was to assemble from Montmédy to Sedan and Mézières and the Fourth Army was to be held back west of Verdun, ready to move east to attack the southern flank of a German invasion through Belgium or southwards against the northern flank of an attack through Lorraine. No formal provision was made for combined operations with the