Belgium's Stronghold in Time of War
'the Siege and Fall of Antwerp'
August - October 1914
Books, News Magazine Articles & Photo Galleries

refugees fleeing over the river in any manner of boat or craft during the bombardment
(painting by Willy Stoewer)


a Short Synopsis

When the Belgian field army retreated from Liege in August 1914, it fell back on the fortified camp of Antwerp, the Belgian National Redoubt, to await assistance from either France or Great Britain. Antwerp, with its triple ring of fortifications spanning a circumference of more than 100 kms was at the time considered an impregnable position. But the Belgian Field Army and Antwerp garrison of altogether some 120 000 to 150 000 men was not strong enough to hold the forts in face of a determined assault, especially when the assaulting forces were backed by mobile heavy siege aritillery, at the time a technological marvel weapon. Antwerp was the third largest port in the world, but as per treaty with the Netherlands, in time of war the river Scheldt was blocked to all military traffic at Dutch discretion. The river was closed in early August and no British reinforcements could be expected via that route without provoking Dutch entry into the war on the German side. And in any case, neither of the two Entente Powers were able to spare forces until early October, after the Battles of the Marne and the Aisne. By then the British forces sent to Antwerp, some 8000 Naval Brigade troops, were insufficient to hold the line.

Meanwhile, from mid-August onwards, the Belgian field army, government and King remained in the Antwerp fortified camp, conducting several large scale sorties against German positions to the south. This so unmoved the German command that at critical points during the Battle of the Marne, German units were sent north to reinforce the line against Belgian attacks.

By September it was decided to definitively remove the threat posed by the Belgian army. Albert I, King of the Belgians refused German diplomatic offers to take no further part in the fighting in Europe. German forces besieging the line of forts protecting the city were reinforced and heavy German and Austrian siege artillery was brought up. The intention was to take Antwerp and force Belgium out of the war by either capturing or decisively defeating the Belgian army. This had to be done before British and French reinforcements arrived at the besieged city.

The main battle for Antwerp started on September 27. The last fort surrendered on October 10, one day after German forces took possesion of the city. On the whole, the Belgian Army and British forces were able to escape the city to make their way to the Belgian coast. Later events during the Great War far eclipsed the siege and capture of Antwerp in terms of manpower, duration, destruction, loss of life and misery : but at the time the fall of the fortified camp of Antwerp was considered a dramatic event and a grave loss to the cause of the Entente Powers. The Germans made much of the fall of Antwerp, regarding it as a consolation prize for having failed to take Paris the month before; but as military river traffic was forbidden by the Netherlands authorities who held control over the river mouthing, and as other maritime transport was blockaded by the Royal Navy, in the end Antwerp was never turned into the proverbial 'pistol aimed at the heart of England.' Nor did the city play a part in German defensive strategy as planned during the final months of the war in 1918. Plans to turn the great fortress into the northern lynchpin of a German line of defense running along the Nethe and Meuse rivers, were never carried out due to the sudden cessation of hostilities in November 1918.


Belgian reservists called to arms in August 1914 mustering in an Antwerp fort
by William-Anderson Sherwood


When the war broke out in August journalists from all over the world flocked to Belgium, hoping to get near the fighting. Numerous American and British reporters and photographers were present during the siege of Antwerp. Their reports and photos make for fascinating reading.

Several accounts published in prominent British publications and weekly news magazines have been reproduced in the links section. Bear in mind that these are not to be considered incontestable factual accounts. You will find a reasonable amount of rumor and propaganda, especially considering the assumed prevalence of spies and foreplanning attributed to German malevalence. There is also a tendency to downplay Entente setbacks and to exaggerate the abilities of Belgian soldiery. But such is to be expected in wartime. The articles are otherwise well written and give a wealth of facts. Bear also in mind that they were all written while the war was going on, consequently unlike ourselves, the authors cannot benefit from the luxury of hindsight.

Particularly interesting is the first-hand account written by American journalist E. Alexander Powell in his book 'Fighting in Flanders'. He was present in Antwerp from mid August 1914 till after the fall of the city in October and as a neutral was allowed to pass through the battle-lines several times. His account is fascinating, well detailed and very vividly written. His style of writing, which at times can be quite ironical if not downright comical, even now nearly 90 years after the events, makes for adventurous and engrossing reading. He was accompanied by photographer Donald Thompson who subsequently enjoyed a distinguished career as war-photographer and cinematographist on almost every front, later becoming staff member of the prestigious American magazine 'Leslie's'.

Many participants who in one manner or another were present during the Siege of Antwerp, wrote books of memoires. They gave their account of the events of 1914, including what they witnessed during the siege. Many of these books were published almost immediately afterwards, in late 1914 and in 1915. Consequently their view of events is uncolored by the later course of the Great War and helps convey to us the dramatic impact the fight for Antwerp had for people at the time.

With hindsight we can now safely say that the city had no greater luck than to fall relatively unharmed into the hands of the German army and to be far removed from the subsequent battle areas. Occupation and the rigors of hunger and deprevation were horrible things to be endured it is sure. But for Antwerp to have shared the fate of such front-line cities as Ypres, Verdun or Rheims would have been far worse.

For a more detailed explanation of events see the following website 'Brave Little Belgium'

Patriotic Propaganda from the Newsmedia
King Albert in the trenches taking potshots at the Germans
from 'the War Illustrated Deluxe' & 'Panorama de la Guerre'.
See also the link The Soldier King for further examples of illustrations.

The Soldiers in Command
Left :the Belgian Military Governor at Antwerp : Lt. General Victor Deguise
Right : General Drubbel : Antwerp Garrison Commander - a post-war photo

“It happens in the lives of nations, as in the lives of individuals, that a defeat which seems at the time crushing sometimes proves in the end to have been a victory of a sort. It requires a large faith and usually the perspective of history to reach these reassuring conclusions, but by some quick, spiritual apprehension the Belgians began to realize, dimly at first, that their army had, after all, executed a clever movement in withdrawing from Antwerp; had those troops remained in the fortress they would have been taken like rats in a trap, whereas now it was possible that they might join the Allies' left wing, or at least menace the German right wing - bent back, it was said, as far as Ypres.”

From ‘Belgium Under the German Occupation, A Personal Narrative’ (1919) by Brand Whitlock, US Minister in Belgium during the Great War



Links to Magazine Articles and Book Excerpts

Excerpts from British and American Books
Fighting in Flanders (by American reporter E. Alexander Powell / photos by Donald Thompson))
The Fall of Antwerp (by American journalist Arthur Ruhl)
A Surgeon in Belgium (memoirs of British volunteer surgeon Henry Souttar)
The Log of a Noncombatant (by American journalist Horace Green)
A War Nurse's Diary at Antwerp (memoirs of a volunteer nurse at Antwerp)
An American Diplomat Describes the First Zeppelin Attack (by Hugh Gibson of the American Delegation)
At the Front with Three Armies (by American journalist Granville Fortescue)
From Antwerp to the Yser Front (by American journalist Granville Fortescue)
The Soul of the War (by British journalist Philip Gibbs)
A British Nurse in Ostend and Antwerp (by novelist May Sinclair)
Eye-Witness in Antwerp (by British Journalist J.M.N. Jeffries)
Antwerp Adventure (by Rev. Canon Foster - Royal Navy Chaplain)
A Woman's Experiences in the Great War (by Louise Mack - Australian writer)
Belgian Refugees in Holland (by Louise Mack - Australian writer)
Hacking Through Belgium
Belgium Under the Occupation
The Great War in Europe (a multi-volume history)
The History of the Great War (a multi-volume history)
The Great World War (a multi-volume history)
The Great Battles of the Great War : a Daily Chronicle War Library Book

Excerpts from Belgian, Dutch and German Books and Magazines

De Val van Antwerpen (by Belgian author Jozef Muls - text in Flemish/Dutch)
Slagveld der Natieen (by Dutch journalist Frank Gericke - text in Flemish/Dutch)
Notre Jass de 1914 - la Retraite d'Anvers (text in French)
La Défense de la Redoute de Dorpveld - 1914 (text in French)
De Vluchtelingen - 1914 (text in Flemish/Dutch)
Een Bladzijde Geschiedenis van Antwerpen - 1914 (text in Flemish/Dutch)
Antwerpen Gebombardeerd (text in Dutch)
De Belgen in Holland (text in Dutch)
La Siège d'Anvers 01 - Opérations autour d'Anvers (following texts in French)
La Siège d'Anvers 02 - Operations autour de Wavre-Sainte-Catherine
La Siège d'Anvers 03 - Duffel Pendant la Siège
La Siège d'Anvers 04 - A Contich
La Siège d'Anvers 05 - Le Fort et la Ville de Lierre et Broechem
La Siège d'Anvers 06 - Episodes Divers
La Siège d'Anvers 07 - Le Grand Exode
La Siège d'Anvers 08 - La Chute d'Anvers
La Siège d'Anvers 09 - La Retraite
Aerschot - 19 Aout 1914
A la Première Attaque du Camp Retranché d'Anvers
Deuxième Sortie d'Anvers - 9-12 Septembre 1914
Le 1er Régiment de Lanciers à Termonde
Le Caporal Tresignies, Le Heros de Pont-Brulé
l'Auto Blindé No. 7
Combat au Fort de Wavre-Sainte-Catherine
l'Agonie du Fort de Lierre
Les Derniers Débris d'Anvers - la Retraite
Journal d’un Assiégé à Anvers
l'Exode d'Anvers
La Retraite d'Anvers
Quer durch Belgien

Excerpts from British Magazines

The Great War Weekly
The War of the Nations
The War Illustrated 1
The War Illustrated 2
The Times History of the War
Everyman Special Belgian Relief Issue
The Fall of Antwerp from 'The Manchester Guardian'
TP's Journal of Great Deeds of the Great War 1
TP's Journal of Great Deeds of the Great War 2
TP's Journal of Great Deeds of the Great War : The Goliath Gun

'the Graphic Extras - the Second Phase'

Excerpts from French Magazines

Le Bombardement de la Ville en 1914 (French text)
Lettre d'Anvers - novembre 1918 (French text)
Après la Chute d'Anvers (French text)

Excerpts from American Magazines

The Fall of Antwerp from 'Collier's' (by American journalist Arthur Ruhl)
A Woman in Battle from 'Collier's' (by American playwright Ms. Tennyson Jesse)

Links to Photo Galleries

Antwerp Forts 1
Antwerp Forts 2
Antwerp Forts 3
Minerva : Belgian Armoured Cars
Against All Odds : Belgian Troops Hold the Line
Belgian Soldiers in the Firing-Line
Belgian Priests at War (new material added September 2001)
The Soldier King
Zeppelins Bomb Antwerp
Burning Oil Tanks
Pontoon Bridge
Belgian Postcards
German Postcards
British Field Hospital in Antwerp
Illustrierter Kriegs Kurier
The Naval Brigade in Antwerp
Fight for the City
From Sketch to Drawing
Fleeing the City
On the Nethe : Transformations of a Photograph
From a French Newspaper
Anti-Aircraft Gun on Antwerp Cathedral
Color Prints
Drawings from a French Children's Magazine
From a German Childrens Booklet
Pillaging a German train
Postscript : 1918
20 Years After


Full Pages from War-Time Magazines and Books

Photos from 'The Manchester Guardian' : a British magazine
Photos from 'the Illustrated War News' : a British magazine
Photos from 'Nelson's Portfolio of Photographs' : a British magazine'
Photos from 'the Great War' a British serial history magazine
Photos from 'The War Illustrated' : a British magazine
Photos from 'The War Budget' : a British magazine
Photos from 'The War of the Nations' : a British magazine
Photos from 'The Penny War Weekly' : a British magazine
Photos from 'the Illustrated London News' - a British magazine
Photos from 'the Graphic Extras - the Second Phase'
Photos from 'Onze Helden' : a Belgian postwar commemorative volume
Photos from 'l'Evenement' 1919 : a Belgian magazine
Photos from 'l'Actualite Illustree' : a Belgian magazine
Photos from '1914 Illustrée' : a Belgian magazine
Photos from 'Le Temps Present : a Belgian magazine
Photos from 'Wereldrevue' : a Belgian magazine from 1934
Photos from 'La Grande Guerre' : a Belgian history magazine
Photos from 'Le Miroir' : a French magazine
Photos from 'Panorama de la Guerre' : a French serial magazine
Photos from 'L'Illustration' : a French magazine
Photos from 'J'ai Vu' : a French magazine
Photos from 'la Guerre Documentee' : a French magazine
Photos from 'Excelsior' : a French daily magazine
Photos from the Reichsarchiv History
Photos from 'das Intressante Blatt' : an Austrian magazine
Photos from 'Illustrierte Kriegskurier' : a German occupation magazine
Photos from 'Illustrierte Weltkriegschronik' : a German serial history magazine
Photos from 'Die Woche' : a German weekly magazine
Photos from 'Die Woche - Kriegsalbum'
Photos from 'Illustrierte Kriegs-Blaetter'
Photos from 'Deutsche Kriegs-Chronik des grossen Volkerkampfes'
Photos from 'Berliner Iluustrirte Zeitung'
Photos from 'Daheim'
Photos from 'Der Weltkrieg im Bild'
Photos from 'des deutschen Volkes Kriegstagesbuch'
Photos from 'Illustrierte Geschichte des Weltkrieges'
Photos from 'der Krieg in Wort und Bild'
Photos from 'Panorama' a Dutch magazine
Photos from 'the New York Times Mid-Week Pictorial' an American magazine
Photos from 'Abbot's The Nations at War' issue 1917
Photos and Drawings from 'Collier's'
Photos from 'the New York Times Sunday Supplement'
Photos from 'Lukomorie' : a Russian magazine from 1914


Belgian Troops by the Inner Fortifications

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