Monday, January 31, 2011

Free Belgian Forces

In the great World War 2, as before the Great War, Belgium tried to remain neutral but was attacked by Germany anyway. For 18 days the Belgian armed forces struggled against the invaders until they were totally surrounded and facing certain death. On May 28, 1940 SM King Leopold III signed the document of surrender to the Germans to save what was left of his army. However, the fight did not end there.
Some soldiers were able to escape to England and they were joined by other Belgians from around the world to join the Free Belgian forces fighting alongside the Allies under the direction of the government-in-exile. They participated in the war in Europe, Africa, Asia, on the sea and in the air. One brigade of commandoes was dropped into France in 1944 and fought in the Allied invasion and eventually the liberation of Belgium. Belgian special forces fought in Madagascar, Italy, Germany, Norway and Yugoslavia. One group fought with the Americans in the "Ardennes Offensive". A casualty-clearing unit served with the British in taking Burma back from the Japanese. Two Belgian corvettes and a group of minesweepers fought with the Royal Navy in the battle of the Atlantic. A Belgian squadron was formed to fight with the RAF and flew with them throughout the war, shooting down 51 Nazi planes and it was the Belgians who led the air raid on the Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen.
There was also, untouched by the war in Europe and the occupation of Belgium, the formidable colonial army of the Force Publique in the Belgian Congo. They had a fierce reputation amongst the militaries of Africa and they were quickly mobilized to join the Allied war effort to stop the Axis forces from taking over Africa and the near East.
The Force Publique played a crucial part in the campaign against the Italians in East Africa. Through 1940 and 1941 the Allies, including the Force Publique and Commonwealth troops of the British Empire, fought fierce Italian defenses by the Duke of Aosta. The Force Publique finally cut off the Italians and helped bring the war in East Africa to an end. After that time units of the Force Publique served in support duties in Egypt and Palestine.
In all, about 100,000 men served in the Free Belgian forces after the formal surrender of their army until the end of the war with the surrender of the Japanese.

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