The Battle of Liege

The Battle of Liege
The destroyed Leopold Bridge in the centre of Liege, Belgium, in August 1914.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

This was the first land battle of the war, initiated by the Germans when they invaded Belgium on August 5th 1914, with the longer-term plan being to attack France from the north.

The Germans were not anticipating serious resistance from the much smaller Belgian Army, and they marched on the key Belgian city of Liege with expectations of a quick victory. At the beginnings of the battle the German Army numbered some 320,000 men compared to the 70,000 Belgians who were therefore outnumbered by more that 4 to 1.

However Liege, located on the confluence of Meuse and Ourthe Rivers was a heavily defended city, with the defensive centrepiece being twelve forts made of steel and concrete and armed with 400 heavy guns in retractable turrets.

The Germans commenced hostilities on the night of 5th August, but instead of the anticipated easy victory they were repulsed with heavy losses, with the forts playing a significant role.

The decision was then made to by-pass the forts and the Germans exploited a gap between them to take over Liege on 7th August. The internal defences of the city had also been weakened by bombing raids from zeppelins, cruising the skies above the increasingly damaged city.

The issue of the forts was then settled with the use of “super artillery’, massive Austrian built 17 inch howitzers, together with the use of “Big Bertha”, at the time the worlds largest artillery piece, that fired 42 cm shells over a distance of 15 km. These giant field guns were used with devastating effect on the forts that were literally blown out of the ground.

The Belgians were forced to surrender and the capital city, Brussels, fell to the Germans soon after, on 20th August.

The Battle of Liege was a crushing victory to the Germans although the Belgians had put up an unexpectedly strong defence. It is estimated that the Belgians suffered some 20,000 casualties, including 4000 prisoners, compared to the 5300 Germans killed or wounded.