Belgium's Vehicle History

Before War

Wants Neutrality

Belgium had alliances with the western powers but in 1935 and 1936 the Socialist-Catholic-Liberal government, with support from King Léopold III, declared that Belgium would only defend Belgian territory.1

Budget

In 1936 the Belgian's increased expenditures on the military to be 25% of the national budget.2 The Belgian's didn't want to rely on the French as there were disagreements after World War I and then when France wouldn't extend the Maginot Line to the coast the Belgian's felt that France only saw Belgium as the next battleground against Germany.2

Mobilization

On August 25, 1939, mobilization began and by May 1940 there were 18 infantry divisions, 2 Chasseurs Ardennes divisions (partially motorized) and 2 motorized cavalry divisions. This was a total of about 650,000 men.2 There were few anti-aircraft guns, 10 tanks, 250 aircraft, and no navy.1

King Léopold was the commander in chief of the forces and initiated limited discussions with the French and British military commands.1

When the war started in September 1939, Hubert Pielot, the prime minister, resolved to protect the Belgian frontier from any direction. The army was thus positioned along the French and German border.1

With invasion alerts occurring in November 1939 and in January 1940, defenses were increased. The embassy in Berlin warned the government that the attack was imminent. When the attack did come on May 10, 1940, they weren’t surprised.1

Fall of Belgium

The Invasion

When the Germans invaded there were approximately 300 armored fighting vehicles in the Belgian Army, but these were spread out to different units to be used as infantry support.2

After the Albert Canal had been breached, the king withdrew most of the army east of Brussels into defensive lines.1

The British and French entered Belgium on May 10th and moved into defensive positions between Antwerp and Namur.1

Once the Germans moved through the Ardennes the Allies started to retreat. By May 28 the situation was hopeless and the king surrendered.1

Surrender

The German forces rapidly overcame the Belgian defenses and on May 28 Léopold negotiated surrender of the Belgian forces. He then returned to his palace at Laeken and remained there for the next 4 years.1

The ministers meanwhile went to France and declared the King unable to rule because of his self-imprisonment. At Limoges, on May 31, the Belgian parliament criticized the King’s actions. This only widened the rift between the King and the ruling parties of Belgium.1

Occupation

France Falls

When France fell the ministers tried to reconcile with the King but he refused. He hoped the Germans would restore some of their independence with negations.1

Meeting with Hitler

Léopold met with Hitler at Berchtesgaden on November 19, 1940. Léopold was hoping to get a general political settlement with Hitler. Hitler, on the other hand, didn’t want to talk about the future he envisioned for Belgium.1

Léopold returned to Belgium and remained there until June 1944 when he was deported to Germany. He continued to refuse to see any representatives from the Belgian government in exile as he viewed them as traitors. However, as the occupation went on, the populace of Belgium supported the King less and less.1

Occupation

Some areas of Belgium were incorporated back into Germany in May 1940. The Germany military head for the remainder of Belgium was General von Falkenhausen. However, most decisions were left to the president of the Militärvewaltung (military administration) Eggert Reeder.1

Only shortly before the Germans started to retreat from Belgium did control revert to a civilian administration, lead by Reich Commissioner Ghohé.

The Germans kept about 70,000 POWs interned in Germany throughout the war.1

Pierlot and Spaak made it to England, and with De Vleeschauwer and Gutt announced the rebirth of the Belgian government on October 31, 1940. They eventually received recognition from the Allied governments and signed cooperation agreements in January 1941.1

Exile

New Government

Marcel-Henri Jaspar left his colleagues, who remained in Vichy France, in the summer of 1940 to go to London and form a government in exile. He declared a pro-British government on July 5, 1940.1

The colonial minister, Albert De Vleeschauwer, left Lisbon and went to London in the hopes of preventing the British government from recognizing Jaspar. He persuaded the British by promising the resources in the Belgian Congo.1

Military In Exile

In October 1941 a battalion was formed and based at Tenby, Wales. They grew to 3,000 soldiers but only a little over half were armed. The Pierlot government chose Major Jean Piron to form the new Belgian Army. In 1943 the Piron Brigade was formed and had strength of 2,000 by 1944. It was moved to France in August 1944 and participated in the battle of Arnhem.1

There were also about 300 men in commando and Special Air Service (SAS) units. The RAF created a Belgian unit in 1942 with 1,200 men, of which 200 were killed. The Royal Navy had a Section Belge with 300 men. The warships Bodetia and Buttercup were manned by Belgian officers and men.1

About 40,000 in the Belgian Congo participated in the East African campaign.1

Once Belgium was liberated about 75,000 men joined the Belgian Army and served the remainder of the war.1

The Pierlot government regained power and installed Prince Charles as regent. Shortly after an unpopular policy to unarm resistance fighters, Pierlot resigned. The Socialist Archille Van Acker replaced him.1

Population

8,200,0001, 8,386,553, 8,400,0003

Casualties May 1940: KIA: 8,098, MIA: 5001

Sources:

  1. The Oxford Companion To World War II, by I.C.B. Dear, M.R.D. Foot, 2001
  2. Western Allied Tanks 1939-45, David Porter, 2009
  3. World War II in Numbers, Peter Doyle, 2013
20th Century American Military History Crucial Site