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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Siege of Liege

The German Schlieffen Plan required the defeat of the French army before Germany turned eastward to face the larger, but slowly mobilizing Russian forces.  The German plan considered the Ardennes region as too rugged and without a road network sufficient to support the large military movements required to face the French Army. Thus, the thirty-four divisions of the German First, Second, and Third Armies were to be funneled around Liège through the 16 km gap between the Netherlands and the Ardennes. Not wanting to pull The Netherlands into the conflict, the plan carefully remained south of the Dutch territory of Maastricht. Belgian resistance was expected to be little more than symbolic.

13 Siege of Liege
5 to 16 August 1914
Region: Wallonia
Country: Belgium

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

Summary: The German Army of the Meuse, commanded by General Otto von Emmich crossed the border on 4 August with six brigades of infantry and three cavalry divisions (II Calvary Corps under Generalleutnant Georg von der Marwitz). His orders were to capture the bridges over the Meuse River at Liège for use by larger following forces. The opening engagement of the First World War was on.

On 4 August, Fort Barchon was the first fortification attacked, but Infantry Regiment 53 was driven back with heavy losses. On 5 August, the 2nd and 4th Cavalry Divisions forded the Meuse to the north at Lixhe. Belgian troops were quick to destroy the bridges above and below the city and German efforts to construct temporary crossings came under fire from the fortifications.

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