Belgium in the Second World War

B2120

The author is a retired Belgian professional diplomat who has made a first rate attempt to correct the neglect by historians of Belgium during WWII. He has written with clarity, passion, pride and authority, to paint a comprehensive picture of the part Belgium played during WWII. It is to be hoped that this work will be widely read because Belgium deserves to be accurately and comprehensively recognized. The text is well-supported by a very interesting photo plate section, containing some rare images. An enjoyable and informing study.

In this much overdue correction of the neglect of the Belgian story, the author has provided an honest account of Belgium’s very varied experiences through five years of conflict, occupation, and oppression to liberation. A well-told story. Highly Recommended

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NAME: Belgium in the Second World War
DATE: 081214
FILE: R2120
AUTHOR: Jean-Michael Veranneman
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
PAGES: 196
PRICE: £19.99
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, World War Two, Second World War, Battle of France, Blitz Krieg, German invasion, neutral Belgium, Cockpit of Europe, Low Countries, resistance
ISBN: 1-78337-607-4
IMAGE: B2120.jpg
BUYNOW: http://tinyurl.com/qz5ynch
LINKS:
DESCRIPTION: The author is a retired Belgian professional diplomat who has made a first rate attempt to correct the neglect by historians of Belgium during WWII. He has written with clarity, passion, pride and authority, to paint a comprehensive picture of the part Belgium played during WWII. It is to be hoped that this work will be widely read because Belgium deserves to be accurately and comprehensively recognized. The text is well-supported by a very interesting photo plate section, containing some rare images. An enjoyable and informing study.

Through its long history, Belgium and the Spanish Netherlands have been territory that others have fought over. Even after following other countries into the rush for Empire, Belgium has never sought to invade others and has attempted for most of its career to preserve a neutrality that others have ignored.

British European military history has featured a long succession of battles fought on Belgian soil and often fought many times down the centuries on exactly the same Belgian fields. The Germans looked at Belgium as the logical place to send its army to attack France. As long as Belgium attempted to remain neutral, it was an ideal point of French vulnerability. In 1914, the Germans swept into neutral Belgium and might have reached Paris had the British Expeditionary Force not fought a brilliant retreat, taking the Germans by surprise with the strength of their resistance. Of course it did little to help the Belgians because what was not occupied with towering insensitivity by the Germans was turned into a lunar landscape of shattered forests, fields turned from agriculture into killing grounds, and habitation from the most modest hamlet to the largest towns turned into piles of rubble.

After 1918, the French decided that the next war with Germany could be countered by building a line of bunkers, gun emplacements and protected accommodation that became know as the Maginot Line. To be effective, this line of fixed fortifications needed to run from France’s border with Switzerland, all the way to the Channel coast as an unbroken line of defence that also extended South for some distance along the Channel coast, and was backed by strong mobile reserves that could be rushed to any point that faced significant attack. The problem was that France and Belgium hoped for good relations and any extension to the sea would condemn Belgium to German occupation and a re-run of the devastating shelling of Belgium border towns. In discussion, the Belgians pointed out that they would again be neutral but would build their own fixed fortifications to defend their neutrality from German attack.

Unfortunately, both countries had failed to consider adequately the new weapons of fast armoured forces, aircraft acting as flying artillery, and airborne forces able to insert themselves vertically. The situation was further weakened because the British Government still hoped for a long delay in the start of a hot war, the possibility that Germany might seek peace and concentrate on absorbing Poland, together with the knowledge that British re-armament still had some way to go. There was also an understandable reluctance to do anything that might encourage a return to the attrition of WWI. The result was that Britain sent a new BEF, to stand with France on the Belgian border, that was numerically inadequate and also poorly equipped in modern armour and air power. It was hardly surprising that Germany would again pour troops in through Belgium and seek to get behind the French forces and beat them into submission. Once again, Belgium was sacrificed to the Germans, but at least the British were able to make a fighting withdrawal to Dunkirk and then lift hundreds of thousands of British and French troops off the beaches to safety in Britain, where they could be re-equipped and trained in preparation for landings to liberate occupied Europe and force a German surrender.

With Europe now under German occupation, Belgium effectively ceased to exist and has received very little recognition of its part in the continuing conflict. However the war was not over for the people of Belgium. They were quick to form resistance groups to fight the German occupiers and to obtain intelligence for the Allies across the Channel. They were also quick to form groups to help Allied airmen and soldiers cut off but not surrendered. These evader networks managed to smuggle Allied combatants down a chain of very brave Belgians and French to Spain and to Britain from Portugal. The courage and determination of these fighters has received far less recognition than it has deserved. Certainly, there have been those helped by the evader networks who have returned to thank their saviours and continued to return as numbers of evaders and Belgian patriots has dwindled through age, but there has not been the widespread recognition that was owed these people.

Belgium also suffered horribly, with Belgian Jews being sent to the death camps in Germany and Poland. There are also the moving stories of Belgians who helped to hide Jews from the Nazi snatch squads. Not only Belgian Jews were at risk. The Germans took many Belgians into slave labour where conditions were little better than in the death camps, with casual brutality causing many deaths.

The Belgian situation was not immediately helped by D-Day. The invasion forces would have to take the logical route through Belgian to invade Germany and the Germans could be expected to fight as long as possible in the Low Countries, once they had been forced out of France. This ensured continuing Belgian casualties and the Resistance was very active in attacking German communications to relieve the advancing Allied troops. In addition to providing a route into Germany for the Allies, Antwerp was an essential port to keep the Allies supplied as they advanced on Germany. That vital port was to force Hitler into one final gamble in the Battle of the Bulge where German armour was again forced through the narrow roads of the Ardennes.

In this much overdue correction of the neglect of the Belgian story, the author has provided an honest account of Belgium’s very varied experiences through five years of conflict, occupation, and oppression to liberation. A well-told story. Highly Recommended

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