Thursday, July 15, 2010

Heroes of Antwerp

In the first Great War, after the stubborn defense of the fortress network, the next major Belgian resistance was the defense of Antwerp. This was the third biggest port in the world then and a major attraction for the Germans. They had to take Antwerp to close this vital port to the British and control it themselves. King Louis III of Bavaria even wanted to make Antwerp part of his kingdom so there would be Bavarian access to the North Sea (Queen of Belgians Elisabeth was a Bavarian so this was painful to the royal family certainly). The heroic "Soldier King" Albert was in command of the Belgian forces and many patriotic drawings depicted him fighting in the trenches to defend his country from the Germans:
Maybe King Albert Ier did not really do that, but they show the right spirit that was accurate in that he was commanding the defense of his country. In fact, the real commander defending Antwerp himself was General Victor Deguise who the King put in command and ordered him to defend Antwerp as solidly as possible for as long as possible. General Deguise was a trained expert in military engineering and fortifications so he was a good man for the job and he carried out his mission exactly and with great skill.
You know from history that the Germans offensive began in August 1914 for the western front and all of Belgium was expected by the Prussian command to be conquered in as little as a day. They expected to march through with no serious opposition. Considering that, you know the accomplishment it was that Antwerp held out against greatly superior German forces for more than 2 months! It was not until early October that Germany captured Antwerp and then only by superior firepower. General Deguise did his duty obediently as his King commanded him. He and the brave soldiers who lined the trenches were the great Belgian heroes of Antwerp:
These men put up a ferocious fight, keeping the Germans away from the city for week after week which was giving critical time for Belgian civilians, soldiers and a great many British troops to evacuate through the port to escape to fight on elsewhere on the western front. If Antwerp had not been so well defended a great portion of the British army would have been captured by the Germans right at the very start of the war. But, by the skill of the Belgian soldiers that did not happen. General Deguise surrendered Antwerp finally on October 10 after the Germans, who had been unable to attack the city, finally were given their gigantic "Big Bertha" heavy artillery that could destroy the fortifications from a distance. So, Deguise gave up the city but not himself as he and a small band of Belgian soldiers fought their way out of the city, crossed the Schelde and escaped into the Netherlands where they stayed for the rest of the war (since Netherland was a neutral country, all combatants had to stay if they entered). All of these, the King, General Deguise and the brave soldiers were heroes of their country and never to be forgotten.

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