Please excuse this being in English (Australian), but I would value any comments or corrections. This is the introduction to an upcoming series of scenarios for wargamers covering the 18-day campaign in Belgium. If you have time...
In this fourth series of scenarios I pit the Germans against the Belgians. The eighteen-day campaign in Belgium has not been given anywhere near the attention it deserves, overshadowed in may ways by the German move through the Ardennes, and also tarnished somewhat by the accusations and hysterical smears that the French and the British threw at the Belgians and their king after the capitulation. But the Belgians deserve more credit than that. While their policy of neutrality certainly infuriated the French, and, in retrospect can be seen as ultimately futile, it did make sense at the time when viewed through most Belgian eyes. What is sometimes forgotten is that the Belgians backed their neutrality with impressive spending on defence. With a GDP and population similar to the Dutch they mobilised and armed an Army three times larger, which included over two hundred armoured vehicles. While the Belgians were surprised on the Albert Canal on 10th May, they retreated in good order to the KW Line (known to the Allies as the Dyle Line) and agreed to cooperate (but not align) with the Allies. They had recovered their equilibrium and were strongly entrenched on the KW Line by the 15th, easily defeating the first German attacks. The retreat from that line was not because of any problems the Belgians had, but was caused by the German breakthrough at Sedan and the subsequent threat to the French and British rear. The Belgian withdrawals, firstly to the Scheldt and then to the Lys, were in concert with the Allies and at the Allies request, but this compromised the Belgians ability to sustain its force by giving up Antwerp and Brussels. The Belgians cooperated as best they could, even agreeing to lengthen their own lines at some risk to free up two British divisions to counter-attack to the south. The subsequent fighting on the Lys was some of the most ferocious in the whole campaign, and the Belgians gave as good as they got. Their subsequent capitulation was both advised in good time to the Allies, should not have been any surprise, and was understandable. As Telford Taylor remarks in his book The March of Conquest: ‘the verdict on the Belgian Army must certainly be “well done”’. The Germans were also respectful. As recorded by Taylor, one German officer wrote: ‘It was astonishing to see that the Belgians fought with increasing tenacity the nearer the end approached’’. Respect is due to any nation that confronts aggression with the skill and ferocity that the Belgians did.
The Belgians modernised their forts around Liege and built the modern fort at Eben Emael in the inter-war years. These forts and the defences along the Albert Canal would form the Advance Position with the mission to delay an initial German invasion long enough for the country to mobilise and then, hopefully with support from the French and British, withdraw to the Main Position on the KW Line to the east of Brussels.
The Germans were well aware that any delay on the Advance Position might seriously upset their plans, so planned spectacular coup de main operations against Fort Eben Emael (151. Death on Silent Wings) and against the Albert Canal bridges north of the fort (152. Bridges at Dawn) using gliders for the first time in combat operations. These operations not only were designed to accelerate the German advance through the plains of Belgium, but also keep the eyes of the Allies on this axis while the mass of the German armour made its approach march through the Ardennes. In this area the Belgians had light covering forces of the Chasseurs Ardennais, but these troops were stubborn fighters in ideal defensive terrain and disrupted Guderian’s first day at Bodange (153. Unintentional Heroes) and Rommel’s at Chabrehez (154. Grey Wolves Bite).
The success of the German glider-borne troops against Eben Emael and the Albert Canal bridges allowed the 4th Panzer Division to cross the bridges and break-out to the west (155. Durchbruch!) on the morning of 11 May. Meanwhile, elements of the German 6th Army had exploited the gap between the Dutch and Belgian defences along their common border, and forces now tried to cross the Albert Canal in the vicinity of Hasselt at Lummen where the Belgian 14th Division confronted the German 14th (156. Four Teens Fight). A crossing further west at Beringen threatened the Belgian troops with encirclement, prompting a hasty withdrawal (157. Swamp Breakout). This withdrawal imperilled the Belgian 18th Division that had moved forward to the Turnhout Canal to support the ill-fated French drive into Holland (158. Allied Defence in the North) further exacerbated by additional German crossings of the Albert Canal near Kwaadmechelen and their advance on the southern side of the Canal (159. Hasty Defence).
The advance of the 4th Panzer Division and the crossings downstream on the Albert Canal compelled the Belgians to fall back to the KW Line in a coordinated withdrawal, albeit a few days earlier than hoped. The Allies moved forward to man the Dyle Line, their term for the KW Line, as far as Wijchmaal where the Belgians took over, and it was here that the Germans first tested the Belgians (160. First Test on the KW Line). Despite success on the KW Line, the Belgians withdrew in concert with the Allies, with a first intermediate delay line on the Willebroek Canal where the Belgians committed their tank squadron to hold the line (161. Tanks to the Front!) The Germans attacked along the line, including against the defences still protecting Antwerp (162. Hold the Line!) The next delay line was on the Dender where the Chasseurs Ardennais had to scramble when the time for withdrawal was not coordinated with the British (163. Side Door Left Open). The new defensive positions had to be developed quickly with tired troops, and sometimes the Germans were amongst the Belgians before they knew it, as happened when they crept over (and under) the Scheldt near Antwerp (164. Lancers Counter-Attack) prompting a swift counterattack with Belgian light armour.
The new defensive line was established along the Scheldt River, which included a defensive enclave protecting the city of Ghent. Here the Belgians occupied a semi-prepared position, complete with bunkers and barbed wire, and defended against a German attack towards Kwatrecht on 20 May (165. On the New Defensive Line). The Germans also tried to cross the Scheldt just to the south of Ghent where the river made a large bend around Zingem (166. Defence on the Scheldt). Further north the Germans tried unsuccessfully to seize a crossing of the Ternuezen Canal on the fly (167. Defence on the Canal). The fighting at Kwatrecht was bitter, and the Belgians counterattacked with their remaining tanks on 21st May (168. Counterattack!) The Germans also tried again on the Terneuzen Canal on the 23rd, this time committing bombers and additional artillery to force a crossing (169. Violent Fight on the Canal).
The Belgians were soon obliged to withdraw again, this time to the Lys River. The Germans followed up quickly to attempt crossings before the Belgians were established. One such effort was at Ponthoek, requiring the Belgians to counterattack to hold the line (170. Counter-attack on the Lys). A similar attempt and counter attack was on the Lys Deviation Canal at Stoktevijver (171. Violent Fight on the Lys). The withdrawal to the Lys meant that the juncture with the BEF was at right-angles, a situation that Von Reichenau, commander 6th Army, took full advantage of when he threw two korps at Kortrijk to break the southern end of the Belgian line. (172. Bloody Battle I) (173. Bloody Battle II). The Belgians now realised that any further retreat from the Lys was probably not feasible and so, as the situation worsened, fought with increasing ferocity to hold the river, including at Neerhoek (Scenario 174. Counter attack on the Lys) and at Gottem (176. Fight across the Lys).
But the German push at Kortrijk had caused a huge bulge in the Belgian line, allowing the Germans to now orientate north to try and take the Lys River positions from the flank. The Roeselare Canal became pivotal as an expedient flank guard and the Belgians rushed to man it while the Germans attempted to exploit their advantage. (175. Infiltration on a Boundary). Not only did this threaten the whole line but a German penetration directly through the Belgian 4th Division at Meigem and south of Nevele (177. Expanding Torrent) threatened a double envelopment. The Belgians continued to fight desperately to hold the line, including counterattacking again at Stoktevijver (178. Counterattack at Dawn) and at Nevele (179. Local Counter attack). Despite the counterattack at Nevele the German 56th Infantry Division continued to pour through the rupture at Meigem heading east towards Vinkt (180. Fight for a Bridgehead) forcing the Belgians to commit their few remaining reserves.
By the 26th of May the Germans had been able to bring up their supplies, reserve infantry and heavy artillery. They also committed Luftwaffe assets to break the stubborn Belgian resistance. This allowed more deliberate attacks, including an attack to settle the issue at Stoktevijver and Oostwinkel (181. All-Out Attack). This attack threatened the 1st Carabaniers with encirclement at Kruipuit (183. Envelopment!)
The Belgians reshuffled their forces, including on the northern part of their line east of Maldegem where Chasseurs á Pied defended against low-quality troops from the German 18th Army (182. Hasty Defence). But the Germans now had the force ratios to throw greater numbers of troops into the fight as the Belgian numbers dwindled, forcing the latter to throw engineers and gunners into the front line at Oostrozebeke (184. Fight on the Roeselare Canal).
The Belgians were slowly but surely pushed off the Lys River and fell back as best they could, holding back the advancing Germans in the north near Knesselare with their remaining mobile forces (185. The Convent). By the morning of 27th May the Germans were in full flight, advancing west as quickly as they could with their First Wave infantry divisions near Ingelmunster (186. Beginning of the End) and towards Ypres (187. Isolation of Ypres I). But at some places the Belgians hit back with savage tenacity, nowhere more so than at Vinkt (188. Blood Bath) where the Chasseurs Ardennais smote the German attackers. The Belgians continued to fight back in many places, but were often too slow and too tired to counter the German advance, such as their desperate attempts to hold Maldegem (189. Pre-empted).
On the afternoon of the 27th the northern arm of the German attempt to isolate Ypres attacked near Passendale (190. Isolation of Ypres II) despite a desperate effort by the Belgians to place railway trucks and carriages astride the advance routes. By the afternoon the Germans were streaming ahead either side of Ingelmunster, aiming towards Ardooie (191. The Final Retreat) and Rumbeke (192. Not Dead Yet). Although the Belgians still held some hopes to reform a line, it was clear that the limits of fighting had been reached. On the evening of the 27th the Belgians requested a cease fire and fighting ended on the morning of the 28th after an eighteen days campaign.