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Fortresses of Liege and Namur in the Great War

At the outbreak of the Great War the Germans, in their march through Belgium, were, on the evening of August 4, 1914, closing in on Liege, which lies astride the Meuse River near the eastern boundary of Belgium. The fortifications of Liege had been constructed by Brialment, a Belgian officer, who also designed the fortifications of Namur and Antwerp. They were completed in 1892, and consisted of a circle of forts commanding the main approaches to the city and about 4 miles therefrom. There were six main forts of the pentagonal type and six smaller, triangular in shape; the greatest distance between forts was 7,000 yards, and the average less than 4,000 yards. Each fort had a garrison of about 80 men and an armament of two 6-inch guns, four 4.7-inch guns, two 8-inch mortars, and three or four quick-fire guns, the total number of guns in the 12 forts being about 400. It was intended to construct between the forts lines of trenches and redoubts for infantry and gun pits for artillery, but this had not been done.

The fort itself consisted of a low mound of concrete or masonry, roofed with concrete and covered with earth; a deep ditch surrounded the mound, the top of the latter barely showing above the margin of the ditch. The top was pierced with circular pits, in which " cupolas " or gun turrets moved up and down. Within the mound there were quarters, machinery, stores, etc.

When the Germans appeared the Belgian mobilization was still in progress, and it is probable that the garrison, instead of being 30,000 as was intended, was only 20,000. The Germans, numbering about 30,000, concentrated the attack on the four forts at the southeast sector and opened up with field guns on the night of August 4-5. One of the forts was silenced by this fire on the 5th, and on the 6th the Germans brought up their 8.4-inch howitzers and probably some 11-inch mortars, outranging the Belgian guns. Shells are said to have gone through 12 feet of concrete. The accurate firing of the Germans showed that the forts could not long withstand, and in the afternoon of the 6th the Belgian field force was withdrawn from the city and all the forts abandoned except the northern ones. The Germans left the remaining forts in peace until the 13th, when the 11-inch mortars opened on them, and by the loth all had been captured. The cupolas had been smashed and shells had penetrated the roofs and exploded the magazines.

Namur was defended by a ring of nine forts, 2 miles from the city, with an armament similar to that in the Liege forts. The garrison of 26,000 had prepared the defense of the intervals by intrenchments and wire entanglements, and a vigorous defense was intended, as French help was expected. The Germans brought up 32 modern siege pieces, including the 42-centimeter howitzer, its first appearance, and the Austrian 12-inch mortar, and placed them 3 miles from the Belgian lines. The attack began August 20. On the next day the Belgians had to withdraw from the advanced trenches owing to their inability to reply to the German fire; two forts fell; three others were silenced after an attack of two hours. On the 23d Namur was occupied, and on the 25th the last fort had fallen. One fort had fired only 10 times and was itself struck by 1,200 shells fired at the rate of 20 per minute. The speedy fall of Namur came near playing havoc with the allies' plans, as with the delay caused by its resistance they had intended to complete the concentration along the Belgian frontier.

Other fortified places, such as Lille, Laon, La Fere, and Kheims, along the northeastern French boundary fell before the advancing Germans without striking a blow. The advance was on such a broad front that an attempt at defense would have endangered the safety of the garrisons, and it was imperative that the garrisons join the field army. By August 28 Mauberge of all the northern strongholds alone held out. The defenses had been brought to a high state of efficiency, the intervals well prepared with an armored train running on a track encircling the main line of defenses. The German infantry invested the place August 27, but the siege guns did not go into action until September 3. The place fell September 8 with a loss of 40,000 men.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:08:13 ZULU