Crowds gather in the Place Rogier, Brussels, in the rain to watch German troops as they march into the Belgian capital. Original Publication: Illustrated War News – pub. 1914
(Photo by Henry Guttmann/Getty Images)
Soon after the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in June of 1914, Germany began to activate its so-called Schlieffen Plan that had had been established as a model and a sequence of actions for a Franco-German war. It started with an offensive on Luxembourg and Belgium to clear a path for German troops to pour across the border into France, with the main aim an attack on Paris soon after.
However in 1914 the Belgians were insisting on maintaining a state of neutrality amid the escalating crisis and refused the Germans military access to their country.
On August 1st 1914, the German Army invaded Luxembourg, and the next day a communique was delivered from the German Ambassador at Brussels to the Belgian Government. It stated, amongst other things that:
Reliable information has been received by the German Government to the effect that French forces intend to march on the line of the Meuse by Givet and Namur. This information leaves no doubt as to the intention of France to march through Belgian territory against Germany.
The German Government cannot but fear that Belgium, in spite of the utmost goodwill, will be unable, without assistance, to repel so considerable a French invasion with sufficient prospect of success to afford an adequate guarantee against danger to Germany.
It is essential for the self-defence of Germany that she should anticipate any such hostile attack. The German Government would, however, feel the deepest regret if Belgium regarded as an act of hostility against herself the fact that the measures of Germany’s opponents force Germany, for her own protection, to enter Belgian territory.
This ultimatum was firmly rejected by Belgium on 3rd August, with the British Government undertaking to supply military support to Belgium if they were invaded. When the Germans were informed that a treaty existed between Belgium and Britain, this was dismissed by the German Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, as a “scrap of paper”.
The next day – on August 4th, German forces invaded Belgium and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany.