Defense Of LiÃ‰ge
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 LiÃ©ge, and within a
few hours would be besieging the city.
LiÃ©ge was the industrial center of Belgium, just as Antwerp was the
commercial, and Brussels the political center, or capital. The city of
LiÃ©ge 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.
LiÃ©ge 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 LiÃ©ge 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 EvegnÃ©e, 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 EvegnÃ©e, 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 LiÃ©ge 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
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 LiÃ©ge, 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
LiÃ©ge 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 LiÃ©ge 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 LiÃ©ge could not play any other part
but that of stopping the advance of the enemy. I maintained the
military government in order to coÃ¶rdinate 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 LiÃ©ge. 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.