Kingdom of Belgium during World War 1
The history of Belgium in World War I traces Belgium’s role between the German invasion in 1914, through the continued military resistance and occupation of the territory by German forces to the armistice in 1918, as well as the role it played in the international war effort through its African colony and small force on the Eastern Front.
When World War I began, Germany invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg as part of the Schlieffen Plan, in an attempt to capture Paris quickly by catching the French off guard by invading through neutral countries.
It was this action that technically caused the British to enter the war, as they were still bound by the 1839 agreement to protect Belgium in the event of war.
On 2 August 1914, the German government demanded that German armies be given free passage through Belgian territory, although this was refused by the Belgian government on 3 August.
King Albert I addressed his Parliament on 4 August, saying “Never since 1830 has a graver hour sounded for Belgium.
The strength of our right and the need of Europe for our autonomous existence make us still hope that the dreaded events will not occur.”
The same day German troops invaded Belgium crossing the frontier at dawn. Liège was attacked on 4 August and fell on 7 August.
It is widely claimed that the Belgian Army’s resistance during the early days of the war, with the army – around a tenth the size of the German Army – holding up the German offensive for nearly a month, gave the French and British forces time to prepare for the Marne counter-offensive later in the year.
In fact, the German advance on Paris was almost exactly on schedule.
The German invaders treated any resistance—such as demolition of bridges and rail lines—as illegal and subversive, shooting the offenders and burning buildings in retaliation.
Flanders was the main base of the British Army and it saw some of the greatest loss of life on both sides of the Western Front.