August 20th in German History: Germany Captures Brussels

Grand-Place |
German troops march into Belgium.

Soon after Germany entered WWI, it invaded the neutral nation of Belgium. It wanted to bypass French defenses on the French-German border and so sought to move troops through Belgian territory. When the Belgian government refused to allow German armies to pass, Germany declared war and quickly invaded the kingdom. Although the Belgians fought bravely, they were outnumbered and soon their capitol fell on August 20th, 1914.

The German invasion of Belgium began on midnight, August 4th when Germany declared war. German troops crossed the Belgian border and attacked the city of Liege. The fortifications around Liege were meant to hold back the German forces for long enough to allow the French and British armies to arrive in Belgium and push the Germans back. Further, the demolition of railways and bridges was supposed to slow down the German advance by hampering the progress of their heavy artillery. The German plan called for Liege to fall in two days, but it in fact took eleven days for all of the forts to be captured. However, the Fall of Liege left the capitol open, and German troops marched into it unopposed on the 20th. The Germans continued on, taking most of Belgium before advancing into France. The Allies had been unable to defend Belgium, and soon the Germans had taken most of the industrial territory on the Franco-Belgian border. Although the Germans were stopped at the Marne River, the quick fall of Belgium had allowed the Kaiser’s armies to take large amounts of territory and nearly win the war in 1914.

The capture of Brussels, while damaging to the French and the British, was disastrous for the Belgian people. The Germans perpetrated numerous atrocities on the civilian population in revenge for resistance by soldiers and partisans. The “Rape of Belgium” saw men, women, and children shot in reprisal for attacks on German troops. Further, the German occupation saw the conscription of the Belgian population as forced labor and the theft of Belgium’s wealth and industry for use in the German war machine. Although Belgium fell quickly, it would endure the horrors of war for the entire duration of the conflict.

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