Defense Of LiÉge

To Germany's unfair and treacherous proposal that Belgium be false to

her promises to the world, there was but one answer for Belgium. It was

"No." Immediately after this reply had been received by the German

minister, and just as King Albert had finished his noble speech and

left the House, the Belgian Prime Minister had to announce to

Parliament that Germany had already declared war and that even at that

moment the G
rman soldiers were advancing toward Liége, and within a

few hours would be besieging the city.

Liége was the industrial center of Belgium, just as Antwerp was the

commercial, and Brussels the political center, or capital. The city of

Liége was famous for its coal mines, glass factories, and iron works.

Of the latter the Cockerill Works of Seraing have been named as second

only to Krupp's. The city is important historically and also

politically--being the truest democracy in Europe. Its people were

happy and free. Its governor was trusted and respected, but no less

bound by common law than the people themselves.

Liége also has great strategic advantages. Situated on the left bank

of the Meuse, in a valley at the junction of three rivers, it is a

natural stronghold. It was besides supposed to be fortified more

perfectly than any other city in the world. A ring of twelve forts

surrounded it, six of them large and powerful, six not so powerful and


One weakness, however, as General Emmich, commander of the German

forces, knew, was the great distance between the forts. The small forts

were not placed between the large ones; but two of the smaller works

were together on the southwest, two in a ten-mile gap across the

northeast, a fifth was between two of the larger forts on the

southeast. The three points where the small forts were situated were

the places that the enemy planned to attack.

Another weakness was the smallness of the garrison,--74,000 men were

needed for the defense of Liége and Namur, and only about a hundred men

were stationed in some of the forts.

But the Belgians were equally aware of the weak points. General Leman

gave orders to throw up entrenchments between forts and to fill the

garrison. Even then, the number of men in the forts was but 25,000,

when it should have been at least 50,000.

Yet the Belgian soldiers, following the example of their brave leader,

General Leman, did all they could to prepare a strong resistance.

Without any delay, the German commander, on August 5, sent forward his

men in the 7th army corps with the purpose of taking Fort Evegnée, the

little fort on the southeast. No time was taken to bring up the heavy

guns--the Germans thought they would not need them. In this they were


Three times they rushed forward, but were repulsed. The third time they

reached the Belgian trenches; but, obeying an order to counter-attack,

the Belgians rushed out and drove the Germans back, inflicting heavy

losses and taking 800 prisoners.

At the same time, an attack was made from the northeast by the German

9th corps. The fighting was even fiercer here, but the enemy managed to

break through the defenses. During the fighting, the enemy schemed to

capture the Belgian general. Could they take General Leman, they

thought, the Belgian soldiers would not long hold out. Therefore, when

the fight was fiercest, eight Uhlans, two officers, and six privates,

mistaken for Englishmen because they were in English uniform, rode to

the headquarters of General Leman and attempted to take him prisoner.

But they were discovered and either killed or captured, after a

hand-to-hand struggle in the headquarter's building with members of the

Belgian staff aided by gendarmes. Heavy street fighting forced the

Germans back of the defenses once more. Then, by a decisive

counter-attack, the second attack of the enemy was repulsed.

That same night came a third attack from the southeast again, against

Fort Evegnée, and also from the southwest against the two small forts,

Chaudfontaine and Embourg.

It was a bright moonlight night. The Belgians on the southwest took

advantage of it to work at strengthening their defenses. They needed no

lights and used none, for they were in less danger of being seen by the


If the Germans should take this part of the city, it would be

particularly valuable to them, for here were the great iron works, the

railway depots, the electric lighting works, and the small-arms and gun

factory. Besides, they could then without doubt easily march on through

Belgium and, as the German commander planned, overrun France. France

surely needed all the time which the brave Belgian soldiers could save

for her, for it had never been thought that Germany would break through

on that side. France, since her previous war with Germany, when she had

lost the beautiful provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, had massed her

garrisons on the eastern line. In fact, very few forts had been built

on the Belgian side, since the two countries had always maintained

friendly relationships with each other, and the neutrality of Belgium

was guaranteed by the Powers. Now, if Germany could not be held back

until the French soldiers could be brought up to the Belgian border,

then Germany's plan of greed and tyranny would be successful, and all

of Europe would be lost. To check the Germans here meant to save the

rest of Europe.

The city of Liége lay in darkness, save for the light of the kindly

moon. From among the crowd of buildings, the old citadel arose like a

great shadow. The searchlights flashed fitfully from the forts,

traveling across the enemy's position, while the men watched, half

expecting that the enemy would advance in the darkness, as so many of

Germany's black deeds were committed under cover of night. Over the

country, to the east, lay the ruined buildings, the broken walls, and

the dead from the fearful conflict of that day.

Half an hour before midnight, a storm of shot and shell broke upon the

trenches. High explosive shells burst with brilliant flashes and loud

uproar. The guns from the forts replied, and the city shook in the

thundering shock.

Heavy forces of Germans advanced, made a rush for the ditches, but were

pushed back. Just before daybreak, however, the 10th corps crept up

silently and rushed forward in a mass. The searchlights were thrown

upon them, and the guns of the Belgian regiments fired upon them. Only

after a hard fight, lasting five long hours, did the Germans break and


But with all the heroism of the Belgian garrison, after four days and

four nights of ceaseless fighting, the men were exhausted. They could

not be relieved, while the Germans had many fresh troops in reserve.

The Belgian gunners might be able to hold the forts, but they could not

long hold the stretches of ground between. But by this time the Belgian

staff realized this and ordered two of the generals to withdraw

secretly with their forces while yet there was time. General Leman was

left in charge of the remaining forces to continue the brave defense of

the works. The Germans had brought up their heavy artillery. Sooner or

later they would break through.

On August 6, the Germans cut their way through between the forts and

entered the city. The forts held out for a time, still holding the

enemy from crossing the rivers. Once they had nearly crossed the large

bridge over the Meuse, but the Belgians blew it up, and time after

time, as the pontoon-bridges of the Germans were thrown across, above

and below Liége, the fire from the forts destroyed them.

Then, surrounded by enemies inside the city and outside, the garrison

was forced to retire. In the latter part of August, all the forts of

Liége were in the hands of the Germans. But Belgium had made a brave

resistance; she had stood like Horatius at the bridge. She had kept the

Germans back, and by so delaying them had saved Europe.

The defense of Liége was one of the most brilliant military

achievements and one of the decisive events in world history.

Its brave leader, General Leman, did not see the close of the siege. He

was wounded and captured when Fort Loncin, the large fort where he had

taken his stand with his men, exploded under the terrific fire of the

enemy. But from his prison, he sent the following letter to King


After a severe engagement fought on August 4, 5, and 6, I

considered that the forts of Liége could not play any other part

but that of stopping the advance of the enemy. I maintained the

military government in order to coördinate the defense as much

as possible and in order to exert a moral influence on the


Your Majesty is aware that I was at the Fort of Loncin on August

6 at noon.

Your Majesty will learn with sorrow that the fort exploded

yesterday at 5:20 P.M., and that the greater part of the

garrison is buried under the ruins. If I have not died in this

catastrophe, it is owing to the fact that my work had removed me

from the stronghold. Whilst I was being suffocated by the gases

after the explosion of the powder, a German captain gave me a

drink. I was then made a prisoner and brought to Liége. I am

aware that this letter is lacking in sequence, but I am

physically shaken by the explosion of the Fort of Loncin. For

the honor of our armies I have refused to surrender the fortress

and the forts. May your Majesty deign to forgive me. In Germany,

where I am taken, my thoughts will be, as they have always been,

with Belgium and her King. I would willingly have given my life

better to serve them, but death has not been granted me.