Albertina Memorials

Département: West Flanders
Region: Flanders
Country: Belgium

A French Battlefields “Virtual Battlefield Tour” [This battlefield is not included in Fields of War.]

A series of diamond-shaped stone markers was erected in 1984 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of King Albert I and the 70th anniversary of the start of the First World War. Each marker notes a significant event during the course of the war. Their designs are similar with each bearing the monogram of the king and the shield of the province of West Flanders.
The memorials are not to be confused with the Demarcation Stones, which are pink granite markers that delineate the line of departure (and generally speaking the farthest advance of the German Army during the First World War) for the victorious offensive of 1918. Those markers were erected by the Touring Clubs of Belgium and France. The original plan called for 240 such stones, but only 118 were erected.

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Battle of the IJzer (Yser): 18 to 31 October 1914

During the First Battle of the Marne, the hastily assembled French Sixth Army threatened Kluck’s German First Army’s exposed right flank. There ensued a steady series of troop movements known as ‘The Race to the Sea’ in which both sides attempted to turn the enemy’s flank. Generalleutnant Erich von Falkenhayn sent the German Fourth Army (Duke Albrecht of Wurttemberg) including Beseler’s Corps against Flanders with the aim of capturing Calais. By 14 October, the Belgians were positioned behind the Yser and its canal, and the British 7th Division and 3rd Cavalry Division, forming the new IV Corps, were around Ypres.

15 Battle of the IJzer (Yser): 18 to 31 October 1914
Province: West Flanders
Region: Flanders
Country: Belgium

A French Battlefields “Virtual Battlefield Tour”

Summary: On 18 October, the Germans opened their attack with a heavy artillery bombardment along the entire Belgian line, and followed it with infantry incursions into the forward outposts at Sint Pieters Kapelle, Keiem, and Beerst. An attempt by the German III Reserve Corps to take Westende was beaten back by shellfire from three British monitors lying off the coast. Belgian reserves were largely committed over the next two days while the assaults continued – some forward positions changing hands several times. On 20 October, attention shifted to Mannekensvere, where General Beseler’s corps sent three divisions against three Belgian regiments. Despite bombardment from German 210-mm howitzers, the Belgians held the city, even recapturing Lombardsijde on 22 October.

Also on 20 October, the German 43rd and 44thReserve Divisions started their assault upon Diksmuide against général Meiser’s brigade. On the roads leading into the city, Colonel Jacques and his 12th Regiment of the Line earned fame – and a statue in the Diksmuide town square – with his spirited defense of the approaches from the northeast, east and south. Ronarc’h’s men held the west bank of the river, north of the city. The German preliminary artillery barrage set Diksmuide on fire, while heavy winds spread the flames from house to house across the narrow streets. The cycle of infantry attack followed by artillery fire continued throughout the day. On 24 October, the Germans launched their most determined effort to take the city, launching fifteen waves of infantry after an exceptionally heavy bombardment. The German effort ultimately failed, but the casualties and diminishing supplies of ammunition were weakening the Belgian resistance.

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Battle of Le Cateau: 26 August 1914

Under pressure from Kluck’s German First Army, British II Corps retired from the engagement at Mons along the western side of Bois de Mormal. Progress was slow due to the fleeing refugees and the heat of a French August. On 26 August, General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien thought that his men were near exhaustion, but during a 02:00 conference with General Allenby at his headquarters in Bertry, the decision was that the enemy was too close and that II Corps would have to stand and fight, contrary to orders from General Headquarters (GHQ). British forces formed a 16 km-long, broken line along the le Cateau-Cambrai highway from le Cateau to Beauvois. 5th Division, augmented by 19th Brigade, was crowded on a hill southwest of le Cateau between the Selle River and Chaussée Brunehault. The open country around le Cateau was more conducive to the use of artillery than the built-up towns and slag heaps around Mons, and the Germans had a distinct advantage in artillery.

14 Battle of Le Cateau: 26 August 1914
Département: Nord
Country: France 

A French Battlefields “Virtual Battlefield Tour”

Summary: At 06:00 on 26 August, German guns began to roar out of the heavy mist along the entire British line, while German 14th Brigade infantry, entering the gap between Smith-Dorrien’s II Corps and Haig’s I Corps, passed through le Cateau and moved south down the valley of the Selle River. II Corps’ right flank was to have been covered by General Haig’s I Corps, but Haig was delayed due to fighting his own minor action at Landrecies on the previous day.

5th Division artillery had been pushed forward to only 200-400 meters behind the infantry and engaged German artillery east of Le Cateau. Outnumbered and outgunned, the British batteries slowly started to fade. The 11th Battery, Royal Field Artillery was a particularly hard hit target of German gunners. By 10:00, all of its officers were casualties and only one of its six guns remained operational.

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Siege of Namur: 20 to 23 August 1914

Because of its strategic position on the Sambre and Meuse Rivers, the Belgian city of Namur has been the victim of nine sieges since the Hundred Years War. Four of the sieges have been by French forces. As a consequence, it has been repeatedly fortified and strengthened to resist invading armies. between 1888 and 1892The great Belgian military engineer général Henri Alexis Brialmont constructed a ring of nine forts around the city at an average distance of 7 km from the city center. They utilized standardize plans of triangular, unreinforced concrete fortifications covered by earth and surrounded by a ditch whoich was 8 meters wide and 3.5 meters deep. While the construction was performed by a French company, the heavy weapons, 120-mm, 150-mm, and 210-mm gun was manufactured by the German arms maker, Krupp. They were placed in armored retractable turrets. Turrets also held shorter range 57-mm guns and the ditches were defended by 57-mm guns in casemates in the corners.

With the fall of Liege, the German Second and Third Armies moved on Namur, which, like Liege suffered from incomplete linking fortifications, low morale, and lack of training. The strongpoint provided the Belgian 4th Division with a firm right flank. They intended to hold until the arrival of the French Fifth Army.

Siege of Namur: 20 to 23 August 1914
Region: Wallonia
Country: Belgium

A French Battlefields “Virtual Battlefield Tour” [This battlefield is not included in Fields of War.]

Summary: Probing attacks started on 20 August as General Karl von Bulow’s Second Army moved into position. Units of the 6th Guards Division were able to infiltrate between Fort de Marchovelette and Fort de Cognelee to the northwest of Namur. Without delay, the Germans moved their super-heavy artillery forward, including the 420-mm howitzer ‘Big Bertha’ and Austrian 305-mm howitzers. No infantry assaults were necessary as the siege artillery pounded the forts from a distance beyond the Belgian guns. After two days of punishing explosions, the city was evacuated and the forts surrendered.

Aftermath: With the fall of Namur, général de corps d’armée Charles Lanrezac ordered the abandonment of the Sambre River line and withdrew the French Fifth Army to [where].

Note: Unfortunately the locations of the Namur fortifications are of only historical interest. Unlike the forts at Liege, all of the Namur fortifications are on private or military land and none are open to the public. The fortifications around Liege provide a more interesting touring experience. (See: )


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Capture of Fort Eben-Emael

The fortifications at Eben-Emael were key to the Belgian delaying operations in front of the Dyle-Breda Line. The German plan to send its Sixth Army around Liège required that the river crossings west of Maastricht be captured intact. The bridges across the Albert Canal at Kanne, Vroenhoven, and Veldwezelt were under the fortress’s guns, and they had to be neutralized for any invasion in this sector to succeed.

Built in 1935, Eben-Emael was thought to be the strongest fort in the world. Its armaments included two 120-mm guns and sixteen 75-mm guns – all of them in armored turrets or casemates. To the northeast, the canal cut’s steep sides rose 40 meters above the canal waters and formed an ideal glacis for protection from attack across the canal. In other directions, antitank trenches, barbed wire, and bunkers provided protection. Machine guns swept the approaches. Defensive positions were linked by tunnels that also linked the underground barracks, storerooms, and hospital. Ventilation was provided through filters which offered protection from poison gas. Twelve hundred men commanded by Major Jean Jottrand were assigned to the fort, although many were billeted in the neighboring villages and hence not permanently within its perimeter.

40 Capture of Fort Eben-Emael
10 May 1940
Region: Wallonia
Country: Belgium

A French Battlefields “Virtual Battlefield Tour” as described in Fields of War: Fifty Key Battlefields in France and Belgium.

Summary: In the predawn darkness of 10 May, eleven gliders left airfields around Cologne. Their departure was timed for arrival at the fort at 05:30, H-hour for the invasions of Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg. Towed behind fifty-two Junkers JU 87 transport aircraft, the gliders climbed to an altitude of 2,100 meters before being released 20 km from the Belgium frontier. Two of the attack gliders became lost during the flight, including that of the assault commander, Oberleutnant Witzig.

Major Jottrand had alerted his troops at approximately 03:00, when he received reports of German troop movements toward the border. The confusion caused by the silent approach of the gliders and small arms fire from the direction of the canal bridges, however, had prevented the fortress from firing. Antiaircraft gunners hesitated to fire against aircraft that they could not definitely identify as hostile.

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