Siege of Antwerp
The Siege of Antwerp was an engagement between the German and the Belgian armies during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. A small number of British and Austrian troops took part as well.

Strategic Context

The German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 army invaded Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 on the morning of August 4, 1914, two days after the decision of the Belgian government not to allow German troops unhindered passage to France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...


The Belgian army found itself desperately outnumbered by the Germans and was limited to conduct a fighting retreat from the onset of the invasion. Early on in the campaign, the Belgian army had to relinquish control of the fortified cities of Liège
Liège is a major city and municipality of Belgium located in the province of Liège, of which it is the economic capital, in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium....

 (August 16) and Namur
Namur (city)
Namur is a city and municipality in Wallonia, in southern Belgium. It is both the capital of the province of Namur and of Wallonia....

 (August 24).

The city of Antwerp was defended by numerous forts and other defensive positions and was at the time considered to be impenetrable by a conventional ground attack. Since about 1860, the Belgian defence doctrine was centered on a retreat to Antwerp to hold off any aggressor until the European powers guaranteeing Belgium's neutrality would be able to intervene. When it became apparent that the Belgian field army would be unable to withstand the massive German offensive, King Albert I of the Belgians
Albert I of Belgium
Albert I reigned as King of the Belgians from 1909 until 1934.-Early life:Born Albert Léopold Clément Marie Meinrad in Brussels, he was the fifth child and second son of Prince Philippe, Count of Flanders, and his wife, Princess Marie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen...

 decided to execute this core element of the plan to defend the country and instructed a withdrawal to the "National Redoubt of Antwerp
Réduit national
Fortress Antwerp was a defensive belt of fortifications built in two rings to defend Antwerp. Antwerp was designated to be a national reduit in case Belgium was attacked. It was built in the period 1859–1914...

" on August 20.


The "National Redoubt of Antwerp" consisted of four defensive lines:
  • a principal line of resistance comprising a ring of 21 forts approximately 10 to 15 km outside the city
  • a secondary line of resistance of around a dozen older forts around 5 km outside to the city
  • a group of two forts and three coastal batteries defending the river Scheldt
    The Scheldt is a 350 km long river in northern France, western Belgium and the southwestern part of the Netherlands...

  • a small number of pre-prepared innundations

Most forts were of mid-19th Century construction, but most were modernised in the years leading up to the conflict. A number of forts of the principal line of resistance were of modern reinforced concrete construction.

The German attack and siege

After the retreat of the Belgian army into Antwerp, the German imperial high command initially detached only the 3rd Reserve Corps of the 1st Army to the city as a covering force.

The Belgian army was committed to offering strategic support to its French and British allies and conducted two sorties out of Antwerp to force the German army to detach additional troops to the siege and to harass the enemy lines of communication during the battle of the Marne
First Battle of the Marne
The Battle of the Marne was a First World War battle fought between 5 and 12 September 1914. It resulted in an Allied victory against the German Army under Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. The battle effectively ended the month long German offensive that opened the war and had...

. A first sortie on August 25 and 26 and a second raid from September 9 to September 13 forced the German army to make significant troop diversions from the front line in France to Antwerp.

The order to launch an all-out attack on the city came on September 7, when the heavy siege artillery units had become available following the siege
Siege of Maubeuge
The Siege of Maubeuge took place between August 24 and September 7, 1914 when the French garrison of the Maubeuge Fortress finally surrendered to the Germans at the start of World War I on the Western Front....

 of the French forts of Maubeuge
Maubeuge is a commune in the Nord department in northern France.It is situated on both banks of the Sambre , east of Valenciennes and about from the Belgian border.-History:...

. The German Army launched a first artillery bombardment on September 28, and made some immediate and important gains. The defenses were unable to withstand German 42 cm "Big Bertha
Big Bertha (Howitzer)
Big Bertha Bertha") is the name of a type of super-heavy howitzer developed by the famous armaments manufacturer Krupp in Germany on the eve of World War I...

" howitzers (not to be confused with the later Paris Gun
Paris Gun
The Paris Gun was a German long-range siege gun used to bombard Paris during World War I. It was in service from March-August 1918. When it was first employed, Parisians believed they'd been bombed by a new type of high-altitude zeppelin, as neither the sound of an airplane nor a gun could be heard...

) and Austrian 30.5 cm howitzers
Skoda 305 mm Model 1911
The Škoda 30.5 cm Mörser M. 11 was a siege howitzer produced by Škoda Works and used by the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I.-Development:...


From the onset of the main assault it became apparent that the Belgian army would not be able to hold out for any substantial length of time. Moreover, the continuing advance of the German army through Belgium and France threatened to cut off any escape route from the city.

On October 1 the Belgian government sent a telegram to the British announcing that they would retreat from Antwerp in three days time. The British government allowed the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 to go over to establish which assistance would be required to strengthen the Belgian defences. He telegrammed back that Antwerp would have to be reinforced and then relieved. On the night of October 3 a brigade of British marines arrived as the first element of the Royal Naval Division. This was a great morale boost to the Belgians, but failed to alter the predicament of the city.

October 5 was a crucial date during the Siege of Antwerp; the German army broke through the Belgian defences in the city of Lier
Lier, Belgium
Lier is a municipality located in the Belgian province of Antwerp. The municipality comprises the city of Lier proper and the village of Koningshooikt. On January 1, 2010 Lier had a total population of 33,930. The total area is 49.70 km² which gives a population density of 669 inhabitants per...

, 20 kilometers southeast of Antwerp and moved on to the town of Dendermonde
Dendermonde is a Belgian city and municipality located in the Flemish province of East Flanders in the Denderstreek. The municipality comprises the city of Dendermonde proper and the towns of Appels, Baasrode, Grembergen, Mespelare, Oudegem, Schoonaarde, and Sint-Gillis-bij-Dendermonde...

 (south of Antwerp) where it attempted to cross the river Scheldt. This pincer movement of the German army threatened to block the western retreat route of the Belgian army out of Antwerp. With its eastern and southern flanks being blocked by German troops and its northern escape route closed off by the Belgian-Dutch
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 border, the Belgian army evacuated Antwerp via a series of pontoon bridges over the Scheldt
The Scheldt is a 350 km long river in northern France, western Belgium and the southwestern part of the Netherlands...

 and left the city to its own defenses.

The last Belgian elements of the field army fled westwards towards the coast on October 8 and the Germans entered the city on October 9 after having established that the defensive positions had been abandoned. The Belgian Lieutenant-General Deguise offered the unconditional surrender of the remaining garrison troops. A substantial number of Belgian troops and elements of the Naval Division fled into the neutral Netherlands and ended up being interned for the duration of the war.


The mayor of Antwerp, Jan De Vos
Jan De Vos
Jan Baptist De Vos was mayor of Antwerp from 15 March 1909 until 21 July 1921. He stayed on as mayor after the capture of Antwerp by German forces during World War I, and remained in office after the end of German occupation and World War I.Jan Baptist De Vos was born in Dendermonde...

, offered the formal capitulation on October 10 and the Siege of Antwerp was over. The city of Antwerp would remain occupied by German troops until November 1918.

One third of the Belgian Army, about 30,000 soldiers, fled north to the Netherlands, followed by one million civilian refugees in 1914. The Netherlands interned Belgian refugees as far as possible from the Belgian border, for fear of being drawn into the conflict. Many of the refuges continued living in the Netherlands after 1918 and never returned to Belgium.

The Belgian Army eventually stopped the German advance on the banks of the river Yser
Battle of the Yser
The Battle of the Yser secured part of the coastline of Belgium for the allies in the "Race to the Sea" after the first three months of World War I.-Strategic Context:As part of the execution of the Schlieffen Plan, Belgium had been invaded by Germany...

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