Battle of Belgium

Battle of Belgium

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The Battle of Belgium or Belgian Campaign formed part of the greater Battle of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

, an offensive campaign by Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 during the Second World War. It took place over 18 days in May 1940 and ended with the German occupation of Belgium following the surrender of the Belgian Army
Belgian Army
The Land Component is organised using the concept of capacities, whereby units are gathered together according to their function and material. Within this framework, there are five capacities: the command capacity, the combat capacity, the support capacity, the services capacity and the training...

.

On 10 May 1940, Germany's armed forces, the Wehrmacht
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

, invaded Luxembourg, The Netherlands
Battle of the Netherlands
The Battle of the Netherlands was part of Case Yellow , the German invasion of the Low Countries and France during World War II. The battle lasted from 10 May 1940 until 14 May 1940 when the main Dutch forces surrendered...

, and Belgium under the operational plan Fall Gelb (Case Yellow). The Allied Armies attempted to halt the German Army in Belgium
Dyle Plan
The Dyle Plan or D Plan was the primary war plan of the French Army to stave off the expected German attack during Fall Gelb. It was conceived by French General Maurice Gamelin in 1940...

, believing it to be the main German thrust. After the French had fully committed the best of the Allied Armies to Belgium between 10 and 12 May, the Germans enacted the second phase of their operation, a break-through
Manstein Plan
The Manstein Plan was the primary war plan of the German Army during the Battle of France in 1940.-Overview of the Plan:Developed by German Generalleutnant Erich von Manstein, the plan greatly modified the original 1939 versions by Franz Halder of the invasion plan known as Fall Gelb...

, or sickle cut, through the Ardennes
Ardennes
The Ardennes is a region of extensive forests, rolling hills and ridges formed within the Givetian Ardennes mountain range, primarily in Belgium and Luxembourg, but stretching into France , and geologically into the Eifel...

, and advanced towards the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

. The German Army (Heer
Heer
Heer is German for "army". Generally, its use as "army" is not restricted to any particular country, so "das britische Heer" would mean "the British army".However, more specifically it can refer to:*An army of Germany:...

) reached the Channel after five days, encircling the Allied Armies. The Germans gradually reduced the pocket of Allied forces, forcing them back to the sea. The Belgian Army surrendered on 28 May 1940, ending the battle.

The Battle of Belgium included the first tank battle of the war, the Battle of Hannut
Battle of Hannut
The Battle of Hannut was a Second World War battle fought during the Battle of Belgium which took place between 12 and 14 May 1940 at Hannut, Belgium...

. It was the largest tank battle in history up to that date but was later surpassed by the battles of the North African campaign
North African campaign
During the Second World War, the North African Campaign took place in North Africa from 10 June 1940 to 13 May 1943. It included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts and in Morocco and Algeria and Tunisia .The campaign was fought between the Allies and Axis powers, many of whom had...

 and the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War II)
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...

. The battle also included the Battle of Fort Eben-Emael
Battle of Fort Eben-Emael
The Battle of Fort Eben-Emael was a battle between Belgian and German forces that took place between 10 May and 11 May 1940, and was part of the Battle of the Netherlands, Battle of Belgium and Fall Gelb, the German invasion of the Low Countries and France...

, the first strategic airborne operation using paratrooper
Paratrooper
Paratroopers are soldiers trained in parachuting and generally operate as part of an airborne force.Paratroopers are used for tactical advantage as they can be inserted into the battlefield from the air, thereby allowing them to be positioned in areas not accessible by land...

s.

The German official history stated that in the 18 days of bitter fighting, the Belgian Army were tough opponents, and spoke of the "extraordinary bravery" of its soldiers. The Belgian collapse forced the Allied withdrawal from continental Europe. The British Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 subsequently evacuated Belgian ports during Operation Dynamo
Operation Dynamo
The Dunkirk evacuation, commonly known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, code-named Operation Dynamo by the British, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, between 26 May and the early hours of 3 June 1940, because the British, French and Belgian troops were...

, allowing the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 to escape and continue military operations. Belgium was occupied by the Germans until the winter of 1944–1945, when it was liberated by the Western Alliance
Western Allies
The Western Allies were a political and geographic grouping among the Allied Powers of the Second World War. It generally includes the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, the United States, France and various other European and Latin American countries, but excludes China, the Soviet Union,...

.

Belgium's strained alliances


The Belgian strategy for a defence against German aggression faced political as well military problems. In terms of military strategy
Military strategy
Military strategy is a set of ideas implemented by military organizations to pursue desired strategic goals. Derived from the Greek strategos, strategy when it appeared in use during the 18th century, was seen in its narrow sense as the "art of the general", 'the art of arrangement' of troops...

, the Belgians were unwilling to stake everything on a linear
Linear
In mathematics, a linear map or function f is a function which satisfies the following two properties:* Additivity : f = f + f...

 defence of the Belgian–German border, in an extension of the Maginot Line
Maginot Line
The Maginot Line , named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, was a line of concrete fortifications, tank obstacles, artillery casemates, machine gun posts, and other defences, which France constructed along its borders with Germany and Italy, in light of its experience in World War I,...

. Such a move would leave the Belgians vulnerable to a German assault in their rear, through an attack on the Netherlands. Such a strategy would also rely on the French to move quickly into Belgium and support the garrison there.
Politically, the Belgians did not trust the French. Marshal Philippe Pétain
Philippe Pétain
Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain , generally known as Philippe Pétain or Marshal Pétain , was a French general who reached the distinction of Marshal of France, and was later Chief of State of Vichy France , from 1940 to 1944...

 had suggested a French strike at Germany's Ruhr
Ruhr
The Ruhr is a medium-size river in western Germany , a right tributary of the Rhine.-Description:The source of the Ruhr is near the town of Winterberg in the mountainous Sauerland region, at an elevation of approximately 2,200 feet...

 area using Belgium as a spring-board in October 1930 and again in January 1933. Belgium feared it would be drawn into a war regardless, and sought to avoid that eventuality. The Belgians also feared being drawn into a war as a result of the French–Soviet pact of May 1935
Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance
The Franco–Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance was a bilateral pact between the two countries with the aim of containing Nazi Germany's aggression in 1935. It was pursued by Louis Barthou, who was the French Foreign Minister but he was assassinated before negotiations were finished...

. The Franco-Belgian agreement stipulated Belgium was to mobilise if the Germans did, but what was not clear was if Belgium would have to mobilise in the event of a German invasion of Poland.

The Belgians much preferred an alliance with Great Britain. The British had entered the First World War in response to the German violation of Belgian neutrality. The Belgian Channel port
Port
A port is a location on a coast or shore containing one or more harbors where ships can dock and transfer people or cargo to or from land....

s had offered the German Imperial Navy valuable bases, and such an attack would offer the German Kriegsmarine
Kriegsmarine
The Kriegsmarine was the name of the German Navy during the Nazi regime . It superseded the Kaiserliche Marine of World War I and the post-war Reichsmarine. The Kriegsmarine was one of three official branches of the Wehrmacht, the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany.The Kriegsmarine grew rapidly...

and the Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

bases to engage in strategic offensive operations against the United Kingdom in the coming conflict. But the British government paid little attention to the concerns of the Belgians. The lack of this commitment ensured the Belgian withdrawal from the Western Alliance
Western Allies
The Western Allies were a political and geographic grouping among the Allied Powers of the Second World War. It generally includes the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, the United States, France and various other European and Latin American countries, but excludes China, the Soviet Union,...

, the day before the German re-occupation of the Rhineland
Remilitarization of the Rhineland
The Remilitarization of the Rhineland by the German Army took place on 7 March 1936 when German military forces entered the Rhineland. This was significant because it violated the terms of the Locarno Treaties and was the first time since the end of World War I that German troops had been in this...

. The German remilitarisation of the Rhineland served to convince the Belgians that France and Britain were unwilling to fight for their own strategic interests, let alone Belgium's. The Belgian General Staff
General Staff
A military staff, often referred to as General Staff, Army Staff, Navy Staff or Air Staff within the individual services, is a group of officers and enlisted personnel that provides a bi-directional flow of information between a commanding officer and subordinate military units...

 was determined to fight for its own interests, alone if necessary.

The Belgian place in Allied strategy


The French were infuriated at King Leopold III's open declaration of neutrality in October 1936. The French Army
French Army
The French Army, officially the Armée de Terre , is the land-based and largest component of the French Armed Forces.As of 2010, the army employs 123,100 regulars, 18,350 part-time reservists and 7,700 Legionnaires. All soldiers are professionals, following the suspension of conscription, voted in...

 saw its strategic assumptions undermined; it could no longer expect closer cooperation with the Belgians in defending the latter's eastern borders, enabling a German attack to be checked well forward of the French border. The French were dependent on how much cooperation they could extract from the Belgians. Such a situation deprived the French any prepared defences in Belgium to forestall an attack, a situation which the French had wanted to avoid as it meant engaging the German Panzer Division
Panzer Division
A panzer division was an armored division in the army and air force branches of the Wehrmacht as well as the Waffen-SS of Nazi Germany during World War II....

s in a mobile battle. The French considered invading Belgium immediately in response to a German attack on the country. Nevertheless the Belgians, recognising the danger posed by the Germans, secretly made their own defence policies, troop movement information, communications, fixed defence dispositions, intelligence and air reconnaissance arrangements available to the French military attaché in Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

.

The Allied plan to aid Belgium was the Dyle Plan
Dyle Plan
The Dyle Plan or D Plan was the primary war plan of the French Army to stave off the expected German attack during Fall Gelb. It was conceived by French General Maurice Gamelin in 1940...

; the cream of the Allied forces, which included the French Armoured divisions, would advance to the Dyle river in response to a German invasion. The choice of an established Allied line lay in either reinforcing the Belgians in the east of the country, at the Meuse
Meuse
Meuse is a department in northeast France, named after the River Meuse.-History:Meuse is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on March 4, 1790...

Albert Canal
Albert Canal
The Albert Canal is a canal located in northeastern Belgium, named after King Albert I of Belgium. It connects the major cities Antwerp and Liège and the Meuse and Scheldt rivers. It has a depth of , a free height of and a total length of...

 line, and holding the Scheldt Estuary, thus linking the French defences in the south with the Belgian forces protecting Ghent
Ghent
Ghent is a city and a municipality located in the Flemish region of Belgium. It is the capital and biggest city of the East Flanders province. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys and in the Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of...

 and Antwerp, seemed to be the soundest defensive strategy.
The weakness of the plan was that, politically at least, it abandoned most of eastern Belgium to the Germans. Militarily it would put the Allied rear at right angles to the French frontier defences; while for the British, their communications located at the Bay of Biscay
Bay of Biscay
The Bay of Biscay is a gulf of the northeast Atlantic Ocean located south of the Celtic Sea. It lies along the western coast of France from Brest south to the Spanish border, and the northern coast of Spain west to Cape Ortegal, and is named in English after the province of Biscay, in the Spanish...

 ports, would be parallel to their front. Despite the risk of committing forces to central Belgium and an advance to the Schedlt or Dyle lines, which would be vulnerable to an outflanking move, Maurice Gamelin
Maurice Gamelin
Maurice Gustave Gamelin was a French general. Gamelin is best remembered for his unsuccessful command of the French military in 1940 during the Battle of France and his steadfast defense of republican values....

, the French commander, approved the plan and it remained the Allied strategy upon the outbreak of war.

The British, with no army in the field and behind in rearmament, was in no position to challenge French strategy, which had assumed the prominent role of the Western Alliance. Having little ability to oppose the French, the British strategy for military action came in the form of strategic bombing
Strategic bombing
Strategic bombing is a military strategy used in a total war with the goal of defeating an enemy nation-state by destroying its economic ability and public will to wage war rather than destroying its land or naval forces...

 of the Ruhr industry.

Belgian military strategy



Upon the official Belgian withdrawal from the Western Alliance, the Belgians refused to engage in any official staff meetings with the French or British military staff for fear of compromising its neutrality. The Belgians did not regard a German invasion as inevitable and were determined that if an invasion did take place it would be effectively resisted by new fortification
Fortified Position of Liège
The fortified position of Liège was established following World War I by Belgium to fortify the traditional invasion corridor from Germany through Belgium to France. The Belgian experience of World War I, in which the Belgian Army held the invading force for a week at Liège, impeding the German...

s such as Eben Emael.
The Belgians had taken measures to reconstruct their defences along the border with the German state upon Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

's rise to power in January 1933. The Belgian government had watched with increasing alarm the German withdrawal from the League of Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...

, its repudiation of the Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of...

 and its violation of the Locarno Treaties
Locarno Treaties
The Locarno Treaties were seven agreements negotiated at Locarno, Switzerland, on 5 October – 16 October 1925 and formally signed in London on 3 December, in which the First World War Western European Allied powers and the new states of central and Eastern Europe sought to secure the post-war...

. The government increased expenditure on modernising the fortification
Fortification
Fortifications are military constructions and buildings designed for defence in warfare and military bases. Humans have constructed defensive works for many thousands of years, in a variety of increasingly complex designs...

s at 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....

 and Liège
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....

. New lines of defence were established along the Maastricht
Maastricht
Maastricht is situated on both sides of the Meuse river in the south-eastern part of the Netherlands, on the Belgian border and near the German border...

–Bois-le-Duc canal, joining the Meuse, Scheldt and the Albert Canal. The protection of the eastern frontier, based mainly on the destruction of a number of roads, was entrusted to new formations (frontier cyclist units, "Chasseurs Ardennais"). By 1935, the Belgian defences had been completed. Even so, it was felt that the defences were no longer adequate. A significant mobile reserve was needed to guard the rear areas, and as a result it was considered that the protection against a sudden assault by German forces was not sufficient. Significant manpower reserves were also needed, but a bill made for the provision of longer military service and training for the army, was rejected by the public on the basis that it would increase Belgium's military commitments as well as the request of the Allies to engage in conflicts far from home.

King Leopold III made a speech on 14 October 1936 in front of the Council of Ministers, in an attempt to persuade the people (and its Government) the defences needed strengthening. He outlined three main military points for Belgium's increased rearmament:
a) German rearmament, following upon the complete remilitarization of Italy and Russia (the Soviet Union), caused most other states, even those that were deliberately pacifistic, like Switzerland and the Netherlands, to take exceptional precautions.

b)There has been such a vast change in the methods of warfare as a result of technical progress, particularly in aviation and mechanisation, that the initial operations of armed conflict could now be of such force, speed and magnitude as to be particularly alarming to small countries like Belgium.

c) Our anxieties have been increased by the lightning reoccupation of the Rhineland and the fact that bases for the start of a possible German invasion have been moved near to our frontier.


On 24 April 1937, the French and British delivered a public declaration that Belgium's security was paramount to the Western Allies
Western Allies
The Western Allies were a political and geographic grouping among the Allied Powers of the Second World War. It generally includes the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, the United States, France and various other European and Latin American countries, but excludes China, the Soviet Union,...

 and that they would defend their frontiers accordingly against aggression of any sort, whether this aggression was directed solely at Belgium, or as a means of obtaining bases from which to wage war against "other states". The British and French, under those circumstances, released Belgium from her Locarno obligations to render mutual assistance in the event of German aggression toward Poland, while the British and French maintained their military obligations to Belgium.

Militarily, the Belgians considered the Wehrmacht to be stronger than the Allies, particular the British Army and engaging in overtures to the Allies would result in Belgium becoming a battleground without adequate Allies.
The Belgians and French remained confused about what was expected of each other if or when, hostilities commenced. The Belgians were determined to hold the border fortifications along the Albert Canal and the Meuse, without withdrawing, until the French Army arrived to support them. Gamelin was not keen on pushing his Dyle plan that far. He was concerned that the Belgians would be driven out of their defences and would retreat to Antwerp, as in 1914. In fact, the Belgian divisions protecting the border were to withdraw and retreat southward to link up with French forces. This information was not given to Gamelin.
As far as the Belgians were concerned, the Dyle Plan had advantages. Instead of the limited Allied advance to the Scheldt, or meeting the Germans on the Franco-Belgian border, the move to the Dyle river would reduce the Allied front in central Belgium by 70 kilometres (43.5 mi), freeing more forces for use as a strategic reserve. It was felt it would save more Belgian territory, in particular the eastern industrial regions. It also had the advantage of absorbing Dutch and Belgian Army formations (including some 20 Belgian divisions). Gamelin was to justify the Dyle Plan after the defeat using these arguments.

On 10 January 1940, in an episode known as the Mechelen Incident
Mechelen Incident
The Mechelen Incident of 10 January 1940, also known as the Mechelen affair, was an event during the Phoney War. A German aircraft with an officer on-board carrying the plans for Fall Gelb , a German attack on the Low Countries, crash-landed in neutral Belgium near Vucht, in the modern-day...

, a German Army Major
Major
Major is a rank of commissioned officer, with corresponding ranks existing in almost every military in the world.When used unhyphenated, in conjunction with no other indicator of rank, the term refers to the rank just senior to that of an Army captain and just below the rank of lieutenant colonel. ...

 Hellmuth Reinberger crash-landed in a Messerschmitt Bf 108
Messerschmitt Bf 108
-Popular culture:Bf 108s and postwar Nord 1000s, played the role of Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters in war movies, including The Longest Day, 633 Squadron, Von Ryan's Express and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.-See also:-References:Notes...

 near Mechelen-sur-Meuse. Reinberger was carrying the first plans for the German invasion of western Europe which, as Gamelin had expected, entailed a repeat of the 1914 Schlieffen Plan
Schlieffen Plan
The Schlieffen Plan was the German General Staff's early 20th century overall strategic plan for victory in a possible future war in which the German Empire might find itself fighting on two fronts: France to the west and Russia to the east...

 and a German thrust through the Belgium (which was expanded by the Wehrmacht to include the Netherlands) and into France. The plan was nothing more than a land grab to occupy the low countries
Low Countries
The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany....

 as a base to conduct naval, aerial and ground offensives.

The Belgians suspected a ruse, but the plans were taken seriously. Belgian intelligence and the military attaché in Cologne
Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

 correctly suggested the Germans would not commence the invasion with this plan. It suggested that the Germans would try an attack through the Belgian Ardennes and advance to Calais
Calais
Calais is a town in Northern France in the department of Pas-de-Calais, of which it is a sub-prefecture. Although Calais is by far the largest city in Pas-de-Calais, the department's capital is its third-largest city of Arras....

 with the aim of encircling the Allied armies in Belgium. The Belgians had correctly predicted the Germans would attempt a Kesselschlacht (direct translation: "Cauldron battle", meaning encirclement battle), to destroy its enemies. The Belgians had predicted the exact German plan as offered by Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein was a field marshal in World War II. He became one of the most prominent commanders of Germany's World War II armed forces...

.

The Belgian High Command warned the French and British of their concerns. They feared that the Dyle plan would put not just the Belgian strategic position in danger, but also the entire left wing of the Allied front. King Leopold and General Raoul Van Overstraeten, the King's Aide de Camp, warned Gamelin and the French Army Command of their concerns on 8 March and 14 April. They were ignored.

Belgian plans for defensive operations



The Belgian plan, in the event of German aggression [italics in original] provided for:
(a) A delaying position along the Albert Canal from Antwerp to Liege and the Meuse from Liege to Namur, which was to be held long enough to allow French and British troops to occupy the line Antwerp–Namur–Givet
Givet
Givet is a commune in the Ardennes department in northern France very close to the Belgian border. It lies on the river Meuse where Emperor Charles V built the fortress of Charlemont....

. It was anticipated that the forces of the guarantor Powers would be in action on the third day of an invasion.

(b) Withdrawal to the Antwerp–Namur position.

(c) The Belgian Army was to hold the sector–excluding Leuven
Leuven
Leuven is the capital of the province of Flemish Brabant in the Flemish Region, Belgium...

, but including Antwerp–as part of the main Allied defensive position.


In an agreement with the British and French Armies, the French 7th Army under the command of Henri Giraud
Henri Giraud
Henri Honoré Giraud was a French general who fought in World War I and World War II. Captured in both wars, he escaped each time....

 was to advance into Belgium, past the Scheldt Estuary in Zeeland
Zeeland
Zeeland , also called Zealand in English, is the westernmost province of the Netherlands. The province, located in the south-west of the country, consists of a number of islands and a strip bordering Belgium. Its capital is Middelburg. With a population of about 380,000, its area is about...

 if possible, to Breda
Breda
Breda is a municipality and a city in the southern part of the Netherlands. The name Breda derived from brede Aa and refers to the confluence of the rivers Mark and Aa. As a fortified city, the city was of strategic military and political significance...

, in the Netherlands. The British Army's British Expeditionary Force
British Expeditionary Force (World War II)
The British Expeditionary Force was the British force in Europe from 1939–1940 during the Second World War. Commanded by General Lord Gort, the BEF constituted one-tenth of the defending Allied force....

 or B.E.F, commanded by General
General
A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given....

 Lord Gort
John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort
Field Marshal John Standish Surtees Prendergast Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort, VC, GCB, CBE, DSO & Two Bars, MVO, MC , was a British and Anglo-Irish soldier. As a young officer in World War I he won the Victoria Cross at the Battle of the Canal du Nord. During the 1930s he served as Chief of the...

, was to occupy the central position in the Brussels–Ghent gap supporting the Belgian Army holding the main defensive positions some 20 kilometres (12.4 mi) east of Brussels. The main defensive position ringing Antwerp would be protected by the Belgians, barely 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from the city. The French 7th Army was to reach the Zeeland or Breda, just inside the Dutch border. The French would then be in a position to protect the left flank of the Belgian Army forces protecting Antwerp and threaten the German northern flank.

Further east, delaying positions were constructed in the immediate tactical zones along the Albert Canal, which joined with the defences of the Meuse west of Maastricht. The line deviated southward, and continued to Liege. The Maastricht–Liege gap was heavily protected. Fort Eben-Emael
Fort Eben-Emael
Fort Eben-Emael is an inactive Belgian fortress located between Liège and Maastricht, on the Belgian-Dutch border, near the Albert Canal, and designed to defend Belgium from a German attack across the narrow belt of Dutch territory in the region. Constructed in 1931–1935, it was reputed to be...

 guarded the city's northern flank, the tank country lying in the strategic depth
Strategic depth
Strategic depth is a term in military literature that broadly refers to the distances between the front lines or battle sectors and the combatants’ industrial core areas, capital cities, heartlands, and other key centers of population or military production...

s of the Belgian forces occupying the city and the axis of advance into the west of the country. Further lines of defence ran south west, covering the Liege–Namur axis. The Belgian Army also had the added benefit of the French 1st Army
French First Army
The First Army was a field army of France that fought during World War I and World War II. It was also active during the Cold War.-First World War:...

, advancing toward Gembloux
Gembloux
Gembloux is a Walloon municipality located in the Belgian province of Namur, on the axis Brussels-NamurOn 1 January 2006 the municipality had 21,964 inhabitants...

 and Hannut
Hannut
Hannut is a municipality of Belgium. It lies in the country's Walloon Region and Province of Liege. On January 1, 2006 Hannut had a total population of 14,291...

, on the southern flank of the B.E.F and covering the Sambre
Sambre
The Sambre is a river in northern France and Wallonia, southern Belgium, left tributary of the Meuse River. The ancient Romans called the river Sabis.-Course:...

 sector. This covered the gap in the Belgian defences between the main Belgian positions on the Dyle line with Naumr to the south. Further south still, the French 9th Army advanced to the Givet–Dinat axis on the Meuse river. The French 2nd Army was responsible for the last 100 kilometres (62.1 mi) of front, covering Sedan, the lower Meuse, the Belgian–Luxembourg border and the northern flank of the Maginot line.

German operational plans




The German plan of attack required that Army Group B
Army Group B
Army Group B was the name of three different German Army Groups that saw action during World War II.-Battle for France:The first was involved in the Western Campaign in 1940 in Belgium and the Netherlands which was to be aimed to conquer the Maas bridges after the German airborne actions in Rotterdam...

 would advance and draw in the Allied First Army Group into central Belgium, while Army Group A
Army Group A
Army Group A was the name of a number of German Army Groups during World War II.-Western Front, 1940:During the German invasion of the Low Countries and France Army Group A was under the command of General Gerd von Rundstedt, and was responsible for the break-out through the Ardennes...

 conducted the surprise assault through the Ardennes. Belgium was to act as a secondary front with regard to importance. Army Group B was given only limited numbers of armoured and mobile units while the vast majority of the Army Group comprised infantry divisions. After the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

 was reached, all Panzer division
Panzer Division
A panzer division was an armored division in the army and air force branches of the Wehrmacht as well as the Waffen-SS of Nazi Germany during World War II....

 units and most Motorised infantry
Motorised infantry
In NATO and most other western countries, motorised infantry is infantry which is transported by trucks or other motor vehicles. It is distinguished from mechanized infantry, which is carried in armoured personnel carriers, infantry combat vehicles, or infantry fighting vehicles...

 were removed from Army Group B and given to Army Group A, to strengthen the German lines of communication and to prevent an Allied breakout.
Such a plan would still fail if sufficient ground could not be taken quickly in Belgium to squeeze the allies against two fronts. Preventing this from happening were the defences of Fort Eben-Emael and the Albert Canal. The three bridges over the canal were the key to allowing Army Group B a high operational tempo. The bridges at Veldwezelt, Vroenhoven and Kanne
Kanne
Kanne is a small town in the southeastern part of the Belgian province of Limburg right on the border with the city of Maastricht in the Dutch province of Limburg. The town has 1156 inhabitants of which a significant part have the Dutch nationality....

 in Belgium, and Maastricht
Maastricht
Maastricht is situated on both sides of the Meuse river in the south-eastern part of the Netherlands, on the Belgian border and near the German border...

 on the Dutch border were the target. Failure to capture the bridges would leave Reichenau's German 6th Army
German Sixth Army
The 6th Army was a designation for German field armies which saw action in World War I and World War II. The 6th Army is best known for fighting in the Battle of Stalingrad, during which it became the first entire German field army to be completely destroyed...

, the southern-most army of Group B, trapped in the Maastricht-Albert Canal enclave and subjected to the fire of Eben-Emael. The fort had to be captured or destroyed.

Adolf Hitler summoned Lieutenant-General Kurt Student
Kurt Student
Kurt Student was a German Luftwaffe general who fought as a fighter pilot during the First World War and as the commander of German Fallschirmjäger during the Second World War.-Biography:...

 of the 7. Flieger-Division (7th Air Division) to discuss the assault. It was first suggested that a conventional parachute drop be made by airborne forces to seize and destroy the forts' guns before the land units approached. Such a suggestion was rejected as the Junkers Ju 52
Junkers Ju 52
The Junkers Ju 52 was a German transport aircraft manufactured from 1932 to 1945. It saw both civilian and military service during the 1930s and 1940s. In a civilian role, it flew with over 12 air carriers including Swissair and Deutsche Luft Hansa as an airliner and freight hauler...

 transports were too slow and were likely to be vulnerable to Dutch and Belgian anti-aircraft guns. Other factors for its refusal were the weather conditions, which might blow the paratroopers away from the fort and disperse them too widely. A seven-second drop from a Ju 52 at minimum operational height led to a dispersion over 300 metres alone.

Hitler had noticed one potential flaw in the defences. The roofs were flat and unprotected; he demanded to know if a glider
Military glider
Military gliders have been used by the military of various countries for carrying troops and heavy equipment to a combat zone, mainly during the Second World War. These engineless aircraft were towed into the air and most of the way to their target by military transport planes, e.g...

, such as the DFS 230
DFS 230
|-See also:-External links:* http://www.warbirdsresourcegroup.org/LRG/dfs230.html* http://www.luftarchiv.de/flugzeuge/dfs/dfs230.htm...

, could land on them. Student replied that it could be done, but only by 12 aircraft and in daylight; this would deliver 80–90 paratroopers onto the target.
Hitler then revealed the tactical weapon that would make this strategic operation work, introducing the Hohlladungwaffe (hollow-charge) – a 50 kilograms (110.2 lb) explosive weapon which would destroy the Belgian gun emplacements. It was this tactical unit that would spearhead the first strategic airborne operation in history.

Forces involved



Belgian forces


The Belgian Army could muster 22 Divisions, which contained 1,338 artillery
Artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 pieces but just 10 tank
Tank
A tank is a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility, tactical offensive, and defensive capabilities...

s. The Belgians began mobilisation on 25 August 1939 and by May 1940 mounted a field army of 18 infantry divisions, two divisions of Chasseurs Ardennais (partly motorised) and two motorised cavalry divisions, a force totalling some 600,000 men. Belgian reserves may have been able to field 900,000 men. The army lacked armour and anti-aircraft guns.
After the completion of the Belgian Army's mobilisation, it could muster five Regular Corps and two reserve Army Corps consisting of 12 regular infantry divisions, two divisions of Chasseurs Ardennais, six reserve infantry divisions, one Brigade
Brigade
A brigade is a major tactical military formation that is typically composed of two to five battalions, plus supporting elements depending on the era and nationality of a given army and could be perceived as an enlarged/reinforced regiment...

 of Cyclist Frontier Guards, one Cavalry Corps of two divisions and one Brigade of motorised cavalry. The Army contained two anti-aircraft artillery and four Army artillery regiments and an unknown quantity of fortress, engineer and signals force personnel.

The Belgian Naval Corps was resurrected in 1939. Most of the Belgian Merchant fleet, of some 100 ships, evaded capture by the Germans. Under the terms of a Belgian–Royal Navy agreement these ships, and the 3,350 sailors and crew, were placed under British control for the duration of hostilities. The General headquarters of the Belgian Admiralty were based at Ostend
Ostend
Ostend  is a Belgian city and municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. It comprises the boroughs of Mariakerke , Stene and Zandvoorde, and the city of Ostend proper – the largest on the Belgian coast....

 under the command of Major
Major
Major is a rank of commissioned officer, with corresponding ranks existing in almost every military in the world.When used unhyphenated, in conjunction with no other indicator of rank, the term refers to the rank just senior to that of an Army captain and just below the rank of lieutenant colonel. ...

 Henry Decarpentrie. The First Naval Division was based at Ostend, while the second and third divisions were based at Zeebrugge
Zeebrugge
Zeebrugge is a village on the coast of Belgium and a subdivision of Bruges, for which it is the modern port. Zeebrugge serves as both the international port of Bruges-Zeebrugge and a seafront resort with hotels, cafés, a marina and a beach.-Location:...

 and Antwerp.


The Aéronautique Militaire Belge (AéMI), the Belgian Air Force, had barely begun to modernise their aircraft technology. They had ordered the Brewster Buffalo
Brewster Buffalo
The Brewster F2A Buffalo was an American fighter aircraft which saw limited service early in World War II. Though the Buffalo won a competition against the Grumman F4F Wildcat in 1939 to become the US Navy's first monoplane fighter aircraft, it turned out to be a big disappointment...

, Fiat CR.42
Fiat CR.42
The Fiat CR.42 Falco was a single-seat sesquiplane fighter which served primarily in Italy's Regia Aeronautica before and during World War II. The aircraft was produced by the Turin firm, and entered service, in smaller numbers, with the air forces of Belgium, Sweden and Hungary...

, Hawker Hurricane
Hawker Hurricane
The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd for the Royal Air Force...

, Koolhoven F.K.56, Fairey Battle
Fairey Battle
The Fairey Battle was a British single-engine light bomber built by the Fairey Aviation Company in the late 1930s for the Royal Air Force. The Battle was powered by the same Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engine that gave contemporary British fighters high performance; however, the Battle was weighed...

, Caproni Ca.312 light bombers and Caproni Ca.335 fighter-reconnaissance aircraft. Only the Fiats, Hurricanes and Battles had been delivered. The shortage of modern types meant single-seat versions of the Fairey Fox
Fairey Fox
The Fairey Fox was a British light bomber and fighter biplane of the 1920s and 1930s. It was originally produced in Britain for the RAF, but continued in production and use in Belgium long after it was retired in Britain.-Fox I:...

 light bomber were being used as fighters.
The AéMI possessed 250 combat aircraft. At least 90 were fighter aircraft
Fighter aircraft
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed primarily to attack ground targets...

, 12 were bomber
Bomber
A bomber is a military aircraft designed to attack ground and sea targets, by dropping bombs on them, or – in recent years – by launching cruise missiles at them.-Classifications of bombers:...

s and 12 were reconnaissance aircraft. Only 50 were of reasonably modern standard. When including liaison and transport aircraft from all services are added, a total strength of 377 is reached; however only 118 of these were serviceable on 10 May 1940. Of this number around 78 fighters and 40 bombers were operational.
The AéMI was put under the command of Paul Hiernaux, who had received his pilot's licence just before the outbreak of the First World War, and had risen to the position of Commander-in-Chief in 1938.
Hiernaux organised the service into three air regiments; the first (1er Régiment d'Aéronautique), which contained 60 aircraft, the second (2e Régiment d'Aéronautique), comprising 53 aircraft and the third (3e Régiment d'Aéronautique), with a further 79 machines.

French forces


The Belgians were afforded substantial support by the French Army
French Army
The French Army, officially the Armée de Terre , is the land-based and largest component of the French Armed Forces.As of 2010, the army employs 123,100 regulars, 18,350 part-time reservists and 7,700 Legionnaires. All soldiers are professionals, following the suspension of conscription, voted in...

. The French 1st Army
French First Army
The First Army was a field army of France that fought during World War I and World War II. It was also active during the Cold War.-First World War:...

 comprised General
General
A general officer is an officer of high military rank, usually in the army, and in some nations, the air force. The term is widely used by many nations of the world, and when a country uses a different term, there is an equivalent title given....

 René Prioux's Cavalry Corps. The Corps was given the 2nd Light Mechanised Division (2e Division Légère Mécanique, or 2e DLM) and the 3rd Light Mechanised Division (3e DLM), which were allocated to defend the Gembloux gap. The armoured forces consisted of 176 of the formidable SOMUA S35s and 239 Hotchkiss H35
Hotchkiss H35
The Hotchkiss H35 or Char léger modèle 1935 H was a French light tank developed prior to World War II.Despite having been designed from 1933 as a rather slow but well-armoured light infantry support tank, the type was initially rejected by the French Infantry because it proved difficult to steer...

 light tanks. Both of these types, in armour and firepower, were superior to most German types. The 3e DLM contained 90 S35s and some 140 H35s alone.

The French 7th Army was assigned to protect the northern-most part of the Allied front. It contained the 1st Light Mechanised Division (1e DLM), the 25th Motorised Division and the 9th Motorised Division. This force would advance to Breda
Breda
Breda is a municipality and a city in the southern part of the Netherlands. The name Breda derived from brede Aa and refers to the confluence of the rivers Mark and Aa. As a fortified city, the city was of strategic military and political significance...

 in the Netherlands.

The third French army to see action on Belgian soil was the 9th. It was weaker than both the 7th and the 1st Armies. The 9th Army was allocated infantry divisions, with the exception of the 5th Motorised Division. Its mission was to protect the southern flank of the Allied armies, south of the Sambre
Sambre
The Sambre is a river in northern France and Wallonia, southern Belgium, left tributary of the Meuse River. The ancient Romans called the river Sabis.-Course:...

 river and just north of Sedan. Further south, in France, was the French 2nd Army, protecting the Franco-Belgian border between Sedan and Montmédy
Montmédy
Montmédy is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France.-Citadel of Montmédy:In 1221 the first castle of Montmédy was built on top of a hill by the Count of Chiny. Montmédy became soon the capital of his territory - later it belonged to Luxembourg, Burgundy, Austria and...

. The two weakest French armies were thus protecting the area of the main German thrust.

British forces



The British
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 contributed the weakest force to Belgium. The B.E.F, under the command of General Lord Gort
John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort
Field Marshal John Standish Surtees Prendergast Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort, VC, GCB, CBE, DSO & Two Bars, MVO, MC , was a British and Anglo-Irish soldier. As a young officer in World War I he won the Victoria Cross at the Battle of the Canal du Nord. During the 1930s he served as Chief of the...

 VC, consisted of just 152,000 men in two Corps
Corps
A corps is either a large formation, or an administrative grouping of troops within an armed force with a common function such as Artillery or Signals representing an arm of service...

 of two divisions
Division (military)
A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions typically make up a corps...

 each. It was hoped to field two armies of two Corps each, but this scale of mobilisation never took place. The I Corps was commanded by Lt-Gen. John Dill
John Dill
Field Marshal Sir John Greer Dill, GCB, CMG, DSO was a British commander in World War I and World War II. From May 1940 to December 1941 he was the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the professional head of the British Army, and subsequently in Washington, as Chief of the British Joint Staff...

, later Lt-Gen. Michael Barker, who was in turn replaced by Major-General Harold Alexander
Harold Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis
Field Marshal Harold Rupert Leofric George Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis was a British military commander and field marshal of Anglo-Irish descent who served with distinction in both world wars and, afterwards, as Governor General of Canada, the 17th since Canadian...

. Lt-Gen. Alan Brooke
Alan Brooke, 1st Viscount Alanbrooke
Field Marshal The Rt. Hon. Alan Francis Brooke, 1st Viscount Alanbrooke, KG, GCB, OM, GCVO, DSO & Bar , was a senior commander in the British Army. He was the Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the Second World War, and was promoted to Field Marshal in 1944...

 commanded II Corps. Later the III Corps under Lt-Gen. Ronald Adam
Ronald Adam
General Sir Ronald Forbes Adam, 2nd Baronet, GCB, DSO, OBE was a British Army officer whose career spanned World War I and World War II...

 was added to the British order of battle
Order of battle
In modern use, the order of battle is the identification, command structure, strength, and disposition of personnel, equipment, and units of an armed force participating in field operations. Various abbreviations are in use, including OOB, O/B, or OB, while ORBAT remains the most common in the...

. A further 9,392 Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 (RAF) personnel of the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force
RAF Advanced Air Striking Force
Before the Second World War it had been agreed between the United Kingdom and France that in case of war, the light bomber force of the Royal Air Force would move to bases within France from which it could operate against targets in Nazi Germany. To achieve this, the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force...

 under the command of Air Vice-Marshal
Air Vice-Marshal
Air vice-marshal is a two-star air-officer rank which originated in and continues to be used by the Royal Air Force. The rank is also used by the air forces of many countries which have historical British influence and it is sometimes used as the English translation of an equivalent rank in...

 Patrick Playfair
Patrick Playfair
Air Marshal Sir Patrick Henry Lyon Playfair KBE CB CVO MC RAF was a commander in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I and a senior commander in the Royal Air Force until his retirement during World War II....

 was to support operations in Belgium. By May 1940 the B.E.F had grown to 394,165 men, of whom more than 150,000 were part of the logistical rear area organisations and had little military training. On 10 May 1940, the B.E.F comprised just 10 divisions (not all at full strength), 1,280 artillery pieces and 310 tanks.

German forces


Army Group B
Army Group B
Army Group B was the name of three different German Army Groups that saw action during World War II.-Battle for France:The first was involved in the Western Campaign in 1940 in Belgium and the Netherlands which was to be aimed to conquer the Maas bridges after the German airborne actions in Rotterdam...

 was placed under the command of Fedor von Bock
Fedor von Bock
Fedor von Bock was a German Generalfeldmarshall who served in the Wehrmacht during the Second World War. As a leader who lectured his soldiers about the honor of dying for the German Fatherland, he was nicknamed "Der Sterber"...

. It was allocated 26 infantry and three Panzer divisions for the invasion of the Netherlands and Belgium. Of the three Panzer Divisions, the 3rd and 4th were to operate in Belgium under the command of the 6th Army's XVI Corps
XVI Army Corps (Germany)
The XVI Corps was a corps in the German Army during both world wars.The original XVI Army Corps was formed in Metz in 1891 and fought in the First World War on the western front. The XVI Corps ended the war under command of the 3rd Army....

. The 9th Panzer Division was attached to the 18th Army
German Eighteenth Army
The 18th Army was a World War I and World War II field army.-World War I:The 18th Army was formed in 1918 by the German OHL and commanded by General Oskar von Hutier.-World War II:...

 which, after the Battle of the Netherlands
Battle of the Netherlands
The Battle of the Netherlands was part of Case Yellow , the German invasion of the Low Countries and France during World War II. The battle lasted from 10 May 1940 until 14 May 1940 when the main Dutch forces surrendered...

, would support the push into Belgium alongside the 18th Army and cover its northern flank.

Armour strength in Army Group B amounted to 808 tanks, of which 282 were Panzer I
Panzer I
The Panzer I was a light tank produced in Germany in the 1930s. The name is short for the German ' , abbreviated . The tank's official German ordnance inventory designation was SdKfz 101 .Design of the Panzer I began in 1932 and mass production in 1934...

s, 288 were Panzer II
Panzer II
The Panzer II was the common name for a family of German tanks used in World War II. The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen II...

s, 123 were Panzer III
Panzer III
Panzer III was the common name of a medium tank that was developed in the 1930s by Germany and was used extensively in World War II. The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen III translating as "armoured battle vehicle". It was intended to fight other armoured fighting vehicles and...

s and 66 were Panzer IV
Panzer IV
The Panzerkampfwagen IV , commonly known as the Panzer IV, was a medium tank developed in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and used extensively during the Second World War. Its ordnance inventory designation was Sd.Kfz...

s; 49 command tanks
SdKfz 265 Panzerbefehlswagen
The SdKfz 265 Panzerbefehlswagen was the German Army's first purpose-designed command tank, and the primary German command tank in service at the beginning of World War II. Converted from the Panzer I Ausf...

 were also operational. The 3rd Panzer Division's armoured regiments consisted of 117 Panzer Is, 128 Panzer IIs, 42 Panzer IIIs, 26 Panzer IVs and 27 command tanks. The 4th Panzer Division had 136 Panzer Is, 105 Panzer IIs, 40 Panzer IIIs, 24 Panzer IVs and 10 command tanks. The 9th Panzer, scheduled initially for operations in the Netherlands, was the weakest division with only 30 Panzer Is, 54 Panzer IIs, 123, 66 Panzer IIIs and 49 Panzer IVs.

The elements drawn from the 7th Air Division and the 22nd Airlanding Division, that were to take part in the attack on Fort Eben-Emael, were named Sturmabteilung Koch (Assault Detachment Koch); named after the commanding officer of the group, Hauptmann
Hauptmann
Hauptmann is a German word usually translated as captain when it is used as an officer's rank in the German, Austrian and Swiss armies. While "haupt" in contemporary German means "main", it also has the dated meaning of "head", i.e...

 Walter Koch
Walter Koch (Fallschirmjäger)
Walter Koch was a member of the Fallschirmjäger during World War II and recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for his actions during the Battle of Fort Eben-Emael. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership...

. The force was assembled in November 1939. It was primarily composed of parachutists from the 1st Parachute Regiment and engineers from the 7th Air Division, as well as a small group of Luftwaffe pilots.

The Luftwaffe allocated 1,815 combat, 487 transport aircraft and 50 gliders for the assault on the Low Countries.
The initial air strikes over Belgian air space were to be conducted by IV. Fliegerkorps
4th Air Corps (Germany)
IV. FliegerkorpsFor more details see Luftwaffe Organization was formed 11 October 1939 in Düsseldorf from the 4. Flieger-Division...

under General der Flieger Generaloberst Alfred Keller
Alfred Keller
Alfred Keller was a general in the German Luftwaffe during the Second World War. Born in Bochum, Province of Westphalia, his career in the Imperial German Armed Forces begun in 1897, when he became a cadet in a military school, he retired after the Second World War as one of the most decorated...

. Keller's force consisted of Lehrgeschwader 1
Lehrgeschwader 1
Lehrgeschwader 1 formerly Lehrgeschwader Greifswald was a Luftwaffe multi-purpose unit during World War II, operating fighter, bomber and dive-bomber Gruppen. The unit was formed in July 1936...

(Stab. I., II., III., IV.), Kampfgeschwader 30
Kampfgeschwader 30
-Service history:Formed on 15 November 1939 in Greifswald. I Gruppe formed 1 September, II Gruppe on 23 September and III Gruppe on 1 January 1940, based in Greifswald then Barth...

(Stab. I., II., III.) and Kampfgeschwader 27
Kampfgeschwader 27
Kampfgeschwader 27 “Boelcke” was a Luftwaffe medium bomber wing of the Second World War.- Formation :Formed on 1 May 1939, the Stab and I Gruppe were based in Hanover-Langenhagen, with II and III Gruppe at Wunstorf...

(III.). On 10 May Keller had 363 aircraft (224 serviceable) augmented by Generalmajor Wolfram von Richthofen
Wolfram von Richthofen
Dr.-Ing. Wolfram Freiherr von RichthofenIn German a Doctorate in engineering is abbreviated as Dr.-Ing. . was a German Generalfeldmarschall of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War...

's VIII. Fliegerkorps
8th Air Corps (Germany)
VIII. FliegerkorpsFor more details see Luftwaffe Organization was formed 19 July 1939 in Oppeln as Fliegerführer z.b.V. The abbreviation z.b.V. is German and stands for zur besonderen Verwendung . Fliegerführer z.b.V was renamed to VIII. Fliegerkorps on 10 November 1939...

with 550 (420 serviceable) aircraft. They in turn were supported by Oberst
Oberst
Oberst is a military rank in several German-speaking and Scandinavian countries, equivalent to Colonel. It is currently used by both the ground and air forces of Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway. The Swedish rank överste is a direct translation, as are the Finnish rank eversti...

Kurt-Bertram von Döring
Kurt-Bertram von Döring
Generalleutnant Kurt-Bertram von Döring was a German World War II Luftwaffe Generalleutnant...

's Jagdfliegerführer 2
Jagdfliegerführer 2
Jagdfliegerführer 2 was part of Luftflotte 2 , one of the primary divisions of the German Luftwaffe in World War II. It was formed December 21, 1939 in Dortmund. On September 6, 1943 the unit redesignated Jagdfliegerführer 4 and reformed again in September 1943 from Stab/Jagdfliegerführer Deutsche...

, with 462 fighters (313 serviceable).

Keller's IV. Fliegerkorps headquarters would operate from Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf is the capital city of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and centre of the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region.Düsseldorf is an important international business and financial centre and renowned for its fashion and trade fairs. Located centrally within the European Megalopolis, the...

, LG 1. KG 30 which was based at Oldenburg
Oldenburg
Oldenburg is an independent city in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated in the western part of the state between the cities of Bremen and Groningen, Netherlands, at the Hunte river. It has a population of 160,279 which makes it the fourth biggest city in Lower Saxony after Hanover, Braunschweig...

 and its III. Gruppe were based at Marx. Support for Döring and Von Richthofen came from North Rhine-Westphalia
North Rhine-Westphalia
North Rhine-Westphalia is the most populous state of Germany, with four of the country's ten largest cities. The state was formed in 1946 as a merger of the northern Rhineland and Westphalia, both formerly part of Prussia. Its capital is Düsseldorf. The state is currently run by a coalition of the...

 and bases in Grevenbroich
Grevenbroich
Grevenbroich is a town in the Rhein-Kreis Neuss, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is situated on the river Erft, approximately 15 km southwest of Neuss and 15 km southeast of Mönchengladbach.-City districts:...

, Mönchengladbach
Mönchengladbach
Mönchengladbach , formerly known as Münchengladbach, is a city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is located west of the Rhine half way between Düsseldorf and the Dutch border....

, Dortmund
Dortmund
Dortmund is a city in Germany. It is located in the Bundesland of North Rhine-Westphalia, in the Ruhr area. Its population of 585,045 makes it the 7th largest city in Germany and the 34th largest in the European Union....

 and Essen
Essen
- Origin of the name :In German-speaking countries, the name of the city Essen often causes confusion as to its origins, because it is commonly known as the German infinitive of the verb for the act of eating, and/or the German noun for food. Although scholars still dispute the interpretation of...

.

German air superiority operations


During the evening of 9 May, the Belgian Military attaché in Berlin intimated that the Germans intended to attack the following day. Offensive movement of enemy forces were detected on the border.
At 00:10 on 10 May 1940, at General Headquarters an unspecified squadron in Brussels gave the alarm. A full state of alert was instigated at 01:30 am. Belgian forces took up their deployment positions. The Allied armies had enacted their Dyle plan on the morning of 10 May, and were approaching the Belgian rear. King Leopold had gone to his Headquarters near Briedgen, Antwerp.

The Luftwaffe was to spearhead the aerial battle
Aerial warfare
Aerial warfare is the use of military aircraft and other flying machines in warfare, including military airlift of cargo to further the national interests as was demonstrated in the Berlin Airlift...

 in the low countries. Its first task was the elimination of the Belgian air contingent. Despite an overwhelming numerical superiority of 1,375 aircraft, 957 of which were serviceable, the air campaign in Belgium had limited success overall on the first day. At roughly 04:00, the first air raids were conducted against airfields and communication centres. It still had a tremendous impact on the AéMI, which had only 179 aircraft on 10 May.

Much of the success achieved was down to Richthofen's subordinates, particularly KG 77 and its commander Oberst
Oberst
Oberst is a military rank in several German-speaking and Scandinavian countries, equivalent to Colonel. It is currently used by both the ground and air forces of Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway. The Swedish rank överste is a direct translation, as are the Finnish rank eversti...

Dr. Johann-Volkmar Fisser whose attachment to VIII. Fliegerkorps, was noted by Generalmajor Wilhelm Speidel. He commented it "...was the result of the well-known tendency of the commanding general to conduct his own private war". Fisser's KG 77 destroyed the AéMI main bases, with help from KG 54. Fighters from JG 27 eliminated two Belgian squadrons at Neerhepsen, and during the afternoon, I./St.G 2 destroyed nine of the 15 Fiat CR.42 fighters at Brusthem. At Schaffen-Diest, three Hawker Hurricane
Hawker Hurricane
The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd for the Royal Air Force...

s of Escadrille 2/I/2 were destroyed and another six damaged when a wave of He 111s caught them as they were about to take off. A further two were lost in destroyed hangars. At Nivelles airfield, 13 CR42s were destroyed. The only other success was KG 27s destruction of eight aircraft at Belesle.

In aerial combat the battles were also were one-sided. Two He 111s, two Do 17s and three Bf 109s were shot down by Gloster Gladiator
Gloster Gladiator
The Gloster Gladiator was a British-built biplane fighter. It was used by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy and was exported to a number of other air forces during the late 1930s. It was the RAF's last biplane fighter aircraft and was rendered obsolete by newer monoplane designs even as it...

s and Hurricanes. In return, eight Belgian Gladiators, five Fairey Fox
Fairey Fox
The Fairey Fox was a British light bomber and fighter biplane of the 1920s and 1930s. It was originally produced in Britain for the RAF, but continued in production and use in Belgium long after it was retired in Britain.-Fox I:...

s and one CR42 was shot down by JG 1, 21 and 27. No. 18 Squadron RAF
No. 18 Squadron RAF
No. 18 Squadron of the Royal Air Force operates the CH-47 Chinook HC.2 from RAF Odiham. No. 18 Squadron was the first and is currently the largest RAF operator of the Chinook.-First World War:...

 sent two Bristol Blenheim
Bristol Blenheim
The Bristol Blenheim was a British light bomber aircraft designed and built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company that was used extensively in the early days of the Second World War. It was adapted as an interim long-range and night fighter, pending the availability of the Beaufighter...

s on operations over the Belgian front, but lost both to Bf 109s. By the end of the 10 May, the official German figures indicate claims for 30 Belgian aircraft destroyed on the ground, and 14 (plus the two RAF bombers) in the air for 10 losses. The victory claims are likely an undercount. A total of 83 Belgian machines–mostly trainers and "squadron hacks", were destroyed. The AéMI flew only 146 sorties in the first six days. Between 16 May and 28 May, the AéMI flew just 77 operations. It spent most of its time retreating and fuel withdrawing in the face of Luftwaffe attacks.

10–11 May: The border Battles



The German planners had recognised the need to eliminate Fort Eben-Emael if it was to break into the interior of Belgium. It decided to deploy airborne forces (Fallschirmjäger
Fallschirmjäger
are German paratroopers. Together with the Gebirgsjäger they are perceived as the elite infantry units of the German Army....

) to land inside the fortress perimeter using gliders
Military glider
Military gliders have been used by the military of various countries for carrying troops and heavy equipment to a combat zone, mainly during the Second World War. These engineless aircraft were towed into the air and most of the way to their target by military transport planes, e.g...

.
Using special explosives (and flamethrower
Flamethrower
A flamethrower is a mechanical device designed to project a long controllable stream of fire.Some flamethrowers project a stream of ignited flammable liquid; some project a long gas flame. Most military flamethrowers use liquids, but commercial flamethrowers tend to use high-pressure propane and...

s) to disable the defences, the Fallschirmjäger then entered the fortress. In the ensuing battle
Battle of Fort Eben-Emael
The Battle of Fort Eben-Emael was a battle between Belgian and German forces that took place between 10 May and 11 May 1940, and was part of the Battle of the Netherlands, Battle of Belgium and Fall Gelb, the German invasion of the Low Countries and France...

, German infantry overcame the defenders of the I Belgian Corps' 7th Infantry Division in 24 hours. The main Belgian defence line had been breached and German infantry of the 18th Army had passed through it rapidly. Moreover, German soldiers had established bridgeheads across the Albert Canal before the British were able to reach it some 48 hours later. The Chasseurs Ardennais further south, on the orders of their commander, withdrew behind the Meuse, destroying some bridges in their wake.

Further successful German airborne offensive operations were carried out in Luxembourg which seized five crossings and communication routes leading into France. The offensive, carried out by 125 volunteers of the 34th Infantry Division under the command of Wenner Hedderich, achieved their missions by flying to their objectives using Fieseler Fi 156
Fieseler Fi 156
The Fieseler Fi 156 Storch was a small German liaison aircraft built by Fieseler before and during World War II, and production continued in other countries into the 1950s for the private market...

 Störche. The cost was the loss of five aircraft and 30 dead.
With the fort breached, the Belgian 4th and 7th Infantry Divisions were confronted by the prospect of fighting an enemy on relatively sound terrain (for armour operations). The 7th Division, with its 2nd and 18th Grenadier Regiments and 2nd Carabineers, struggled to hold their positions and contain the German infantry on the west bank. The Belgian tactical units engaged in several counterattacks. At one point, at Briedgen, they succeeded in retaking the bridge and blowing it up. At the other points, Vroenhoven and Veldwezeltz, the Germans had had time to establish strong bridgeheads and repulsed the attacks.

A little known third airborne operation, Operation Niwi, was also conducted on 10 May in southern Belgium. The objectives of this operation was to land two companies of the 3rd battalion
Battalion
A battalion is a military unit of around 300–1,200 soldiers usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel...

 Großdeutschland Infantry Regiment
Großdeutschland Division
The Großdeutschland Division was an elite Heer combat unit of the Wehrmacht. The Großdeutschland was considered to be the premier unit of the German Army and as such it was one of best-equipped unit of the German Armed Forces, receiving equipment before all other units.- Early history -...

 by Fi 156 aircraft at Nives and Witry in the south of the country, in order to clear a path for the 1st and 2nd Panzer divisions which were advancing through the Belgian–Luxembourg Ardennes. The original plan called for the use of Junkers Ju 52
Junkers Ju 52
The Junkers Ju 52 was a German transport aircraft manufactured from 1932 to 1945. It saw both civilian and military service during the 1930s and 1940s. In a civilian role, it flew with over 12 air carriers including Swissair and Deutsche Luft Hansa as an airliner and freight hauler...

 transport aircraft, but the short landing capability of the Fi 156 (27 metres) saw 200 of these aircraft used in the assault. The operational mission was to:

1. Cut signal communications and message links on the Neufchâteau
Neufchâteau
Neufchâteau is a Walloon municipality of Belgium located in the province of Luxembourg.On 1 January 2007 the municipality, which covers 113.79 km², had 6,652 inhabitants, giving a population density of 58.5 inhabitants per km².It includes the former municipalities of Grandvoir, Grapfontaine,...

Bastogne
Bastogne
Bastogne Luxembourgish: Baaschtnech) is a Walloon municipality of Belgium located in the province of Luxembourg in the Ardennes. The municipality of Bastogne includes the old communes of Longvilly, Noville, Villers-la-Bonne-Eau, and Wardin...

 and Neufchâteau–Martelange roads. [Neufchâteau being the largest southern-most city in Belgium]

2. Prevent the approach of reserves from the Neufchâteau area

3. Facilitate the capture of pillboxes and the advance by exerting pressure against the line of pillboxes along the border from the rear.


The German infantry were engaged by several Belgian patrols equipped with T-15
Belgian armoured fighting vehicles of World War II
The Belgian Army had approximately 200 combat vehicles at the time of the German invasion in May 1940. They were assigned in "penny packets" to various infantry and cavalry divisions for use as support weapons. The Belgian army looked upon their AFVs as defensive weapons.- The Minerva :In August...

 armoured cars. Several Belgian counterattacks were repulsed, among them an attack by the 1st Light Ardennes Infantry Division. Unsupported, the Germans faced a counterattack later in the evening by elements of the French 5th Cavalry Division, dispatched by General Charles Huntziger
Charles Huntziger
Charles Huntziger was a French Army general during World War I and World War II.Born at Lesneven , he graduated from Saint-Cyr in 1900 and joined the colonial infantry. During World War I he served in the Middle Eastern theatre. He was chief of staff of operations of the Allied Expeditionary Force...

 from the French 2nd Army, which had "massive" tank strength. The Germans were forced to retreat. The French, however, failed to pursue the fleeing German units, stopping at a dummy barrier. By the next morning, the 2nd Panzer Division had reached the area, and the mission had largely been accomplished. From the German perspective, the operation hindered rather than helped Heinz Guderian
Heinz Guderian
Heinz Wilhelm Guderian was a German general during World War II. He was a pioneer in the development of armored warfare, and was the leading proponent of tanks and mechanization in the Wehrmacht . Germany's panzer forces were raised and organized under his direction as Chief of Mobile Forces...

's Panzer Corps. The regiment had blocked the roads and, against the odds, prevented French reinforcements reaching the Belgian–Franco-Luxembourg border, but it also destroyed Belgian telephone communications. This inadvertently prevented the Belgian field command recalling the units along the border. The 1st Belgian Light Infantry did not receive the signal to retreat and engaged in a severe fire-fight with the German armour, slowing down their advance.

The failure of the Franco–Belgian forces to hold the Ardennes gap was a fatal mistake. The Belgians had withdrawn laterally upon the initial invasion and had demolished and blocked routes of advance, which held up the French 2nd Army units moving north toward Namur and Huy
Huy
Huy is a municipality of Belgium. It lies in the country's Walloon Region and Province of Liege. Huy lies along the river Meuse, at the mouth of the small river Hoyoux. It is in the sillon industriel, the former industrial backbone of Wallonia, home to about two-thirds of the Walloon population...

. Devoid of any centre of resistance, the German assault engineers had cleared the obstacles unchallenged. The delay that the Belgian Ardennes Light Infantry, considered to be an elite formation, could have inflicted upon the advancing German armour was proved by the fight for Bodange, where the 1st Panzer Division was held up for a total of eight hours. This battle was a result of a breakdown in communications and ran contrary to the operational intentions of the Belgian Army.

Meanwhile, in the central Belgian sector, having failed to restore their front by means of ground attack, the Belgians attempted to bomb the bridges and positions that the Germans had captured intact and were holding on 11 May. An unspecified squadron which attempted to do so lost 11 out of 12 aircraft during one mission. The German counter-air operations were spearheaded by Jagdgeschwader 26
Jagdgeschwader 26
Jagdgeschwader 26 Schlageter was a Luftwaffe fighter-wing of World War II. It operated mainly in Western Europe against Great Britain, France the United States but also saw service against Russia. It was named after Albert Leo Schlageter, a World War I veteran and Freikorps member arrested and...

under the command of Hans-Hugo Witt, which was responsible for 82 of the German claims in aerial combat between 11 and 13 May. Despite the apparent success of the German fighter units, the air battle was not one-sided. On the morning of 11 May, 10 Junkers Ju 87
Junkers Ju 87
The Junkers Ju 87 or Stuka was a two-man German ground-attack aircraft...

 Stukas of Sturzkampfgeschwader 2
Sturzkampfgeschwader 2
Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 Immelmann was a Luftwaffe Dive bomber-wing of World War II. It was named after Max Immelmann in 1939.The unit was originally formed as Fliegergruppe Schwerin in 1934; the first Stuka wing of its type, attaining the sobriquet 'Immelmann' in 1935...

were shot down attacking Belgian forces in the Namur–Dinant gap, despite the presence of two Jagdgeschwader27
Jagdgeschwader 27
Jagdgeschwader 27 Afrika was a World War II Luftwaffe Geschwader. It was most famous for service in the North African Campaign, supporting the Deutsches Afrikakorps.- Formation:...

and 51
Jagdgeschwader 51
Jagdgeschwader 51 Mölders was a Luftwaffe fighter wing during World War II, named after the fighter ace Werner Mölders in 1942. JG 51's pilots won more Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes than any other Jagdgeschwader, and flew combat from 1939 in all major theatres of war. Flying Bf 109s and then...

. Nevertheless, the Germans reported a weakening in Allied air resistance in northern Belgium by 13 May.

During the night of 11 May, the British 3rd Infantry Division under the command of General Bernard Law Montgomery, reached its position on the Dyle river at Leuven
Leuven
Leuven is the capital of the province of Flemish Brabant in the Flemish Region, Belgium...

. As it did so the Belgian 10th Infantry Division, occupying the position, mistook them for German parachutists and fired on them
Friendly fire
Friendly fire is inadvertent firing towards one's own or otherwise friendly forces while attempting to engage enemy forces, particularly where this results in injury or death. A death resulting from a negligent discharge is not considered friendly fire...

. The Belgians refused to yield but Montgomery claimed to have got his way by placing himself under the command of the Belgian forces, knowing that when the Germans came within artillery range the Belgians would withdraw.

Alan Brooke, commander of the British II Corps sought to put the matter of cooperation right with King Leopold. The King discussed the matter with Brooke, who felt a compromise could be reached. Van Overstraeten, the King's military aide, stepped in and said that the 10th Belgian Infantry Division could not be moved. Instead, the British should move further south and remain completely clear of Brussels. Brooke told the King that the 10th Belgian Division was on the wrong side of the Gamelin line and was exposed. Leopold deferred to his advisor and chief of staff. Brooke found Overstaeten to be ignorant of the situation and the dispositions of the B.E.F. Given that the left flank of the B.E.F rested on its Belgian ally, the British were now unsure about Belgian military capabilities.
The Allies had more serious grounds for complaint about the Belgian anti-tank defences along the Dyle line, that covered the Namur–Perwez gap which was not protected by any natural obstacles. Only a few days before the attack, General Headquarters had discovered the Belgians had sited their anti-tank defences (de Cointet defences) several miles east of the Dyle between Namur–Perwez.

After holding onto the Albert Canal's west bank for nearly 36 hours, the 4th and 7th Belgian infantry divisions withdrew. The capture of Eben-Emael allowed the Germans to force through the Panzers of the 6th Army. The situation for the Belgian divisions was either to withdraw or be encircled. The Germans had advanced beyond Tongres and were now in a position to sweep south to Namur, which would threaten to envelope the entire Albert Canal and Liege positions. Under the circumstances, both divisions withdrew. On the evening of 11 May, the Belgian Command withdrew its forces behind the Namur–Antwerp line. The following day, the French 1st Army arrived at Gembloux, between Wavre and Namur, to cover the "Gembloux gap". It was a flat area, devoid of prepared or entrenched positions.

The French 7th Army, on the northern flank of the Belgian line, protected the Bruges
Bruges
Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is located in the northwest of the country....

Ghent
Ghent
Ghent is a city and a municipality located in the Flemish region of Belgium. It is the capital and biggest city of the East Flanders province. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys and in the Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of...

Ostend
Ostend
Ostend  is a Belgian city and municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. It comprises the boroughs of Mariakerke , Stene and Zandvoorde, and the city of Ostend proper – the largest on the Belgian coast....

 axis and, covering the Channel ports, had advanced into Belgium and into the Netherlands with speed. It reached Breda
Breda
Breda is a municipality and a city in the southern part of the Netherlands. The name Breda derived from brede Aa and refers to the confluence of the rivers Mark and Aa. As a fortified city, the city was of strategic military and political significance...

 in the Netherlands, on 11 May. But German parachute forces had seized the Moerdijk
Moerdijk
Moerdijk is a municipality and a town in the South of the Netherlands, in the province of North Brabant.- History :The municipality of Moerdijk was founded in 1997 following the merger of the municipalities of Fijnaart en Heijningen, Klundert, Standdaarbuiten, Willemstad and Zevenbergen. At that...

 bridge on the Hollands Diep
Hollands Diep
Hollands Diep is a wide river in the Netherlands and an estuary of the Rhine and Meuse river. Through the Scheldt-Rhine Canal it connects to the Scheldt river and Antwerp....

 river, south of Rotterdam, making it impossible for the French to link up with the Dutch Army. The Dutch Army withdrew north to Rotterdam
Rotterdam
Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands and one of the largest ports in the world. Starting as a dam on the Rotte river, Rotterdam has grown into a major international commercial centre...

 and Amsterdam
Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of August 24, 1815 and its successors. Amsterdam has a population of 783,364 within city limits, an urban population...

.
The French 7th Army turned east and met the 9th Panzer Division about 20 kilometres (12.4 mi) east of Breda at Tilburg
Tilburg
Tilburg is a landlocked municipality and a city in the Netherlands, located in the southern province of Noord-Brabant.Tilburg municipality also includes the villages of Berkel-Enschot and Udenhout....

. The battle resulted in the French retiring, in the face of Luftwaffe air assaults, to Antwerp. It would later help in the defence of the city. The Luftwaffe had given priority to attacking the French 7th Army's spearhead into the Netherlands as it threatened the Moerdijk bridgehead. Kampfgeschwaders 40 and 54
Kampfgeschwader 54
Kampfgeschwader 54 "Totenkopf" was a Luftwaffe bomber wing during World War II .Its units participated on all of the fronts in the European Theatre until it was disbanded in May 1945. It operated two of the major German bomber types; the Heinkel He 111 and the Junkers Ju 88...

supported by Ju 87s from VIII. Fliegerkorps
8th Air Corps (Germany)
VIII. FliegerkorpsFor more details see Luftwaffe Organization was formed 19 July 1939 in Oppeln as Fliegerführer z.b.V. The abbreviation z.b.V. is German and stands for zur besonderen Verwendung . Fliegerführer z.b.V was renamed to VIII. Fliegerkorps on 10 November 1939...

helped drive them back. Fears of Allied reinforcements reaching Antwerp forced the Luftwaffe to cover the Scheldt estuary. KG 30 bombed and sank two Dutch gunboats and three Dutch destroyers, as well as badly damaging two Royal Navy destroyers. But overall the bombing had a limited effect.

12–14 May: The battles of the central Belgian plain


During the night of 11/12 May, the Belgians were fully engaged in withdrawing to the Dyle line, covered by a network of demolitions and rearguards astride Tongres.
During the morning of 12 May, King Leopold III, General van Overstraeten, Édouard Daladier
Édouard Daladier
Édouard Daladier was a French Radical politician and the Prime Minister of France at the start of the Second World War.-Career:Daladier was born in Carpentras, Vaucluse. Later, he would become known to many as "the bull of Vaucluse" because of his thick neck and large shoulders and determined...

, General Alphonse Georges (commander of the First Allied army Group, comprising the B.E.F, French 1st, 2nd, 7th and 9th Armies), General Gaston Billotte (coordinator of the Allied Armies) and General Henry Royds Pownall
Henry Royds Pownall
Lieutenant General Sir Henry Royds Pownall KCB, KBE, DSO was a British general, who held several important command and Staff appointments during World War II. In particular, he was Chief of Staff to the British Expeditionary Force in France and Belgium until the fall of France in May 1940...

, Gort's chief of staff, met for a military conference near Mons
Mons
Mons is a Walloon city and municipality located in the Belgian province of Hainaut, of which it is the capital. The Mons municipality includes the old communes of Cuesmes, Flénu, Ghlin, Hyon, Nimy, Obourg, Baudour , Jemappes, Ciply, Harmignies, Harveng, Havré, Maisières, Mesvin, Nouvelles,...

. It was agreed the Belgian Army would man the Antwerp–Leuven line, while its allies took up the responsibility of defending the extreme north and south of the country.
The Belgian III Corps, and its 1st Chasseurs Ardennais, 2nd Infantry and 3rd Infantry divisions had withdrawn from the Liege fortifications to avoid being encircled. One regiment, the Liege Fortress Regiment, stayed behind to disrupt German communications. Further to the south, the Namur fortress, manned by VI Corps' 5th Infantry Division and the 2nd Chasseurs Ardennais with the 12th French Infantry Division, fought delaying actions and participated in a lot of demolition work while guarding the position.
As far as the Belgians were concerned, it had accomplished the only independent mission assigned to it: to hold the Liege–Albert Canal line long enough for the Allied units to reach friendly forces occupying the Namur–Antwerp–Givet line. For the remainder of the campaign, the Belgians would execute their operations in accordance with the overall Allied plan.

Belgian soldiers fought rearguard actions while other Belgian units already on the Dyle line worked tirelessly to organize better defensive positions in the Leuven–Antwerp gap. The 2nd Regiment of Guides and the 2nd Carabineers Cyclists of the 2nd Belgian Cavalry Division covered the retreat of the 4th and 7th Belgian divisions and were particularly distinguished at the Battle of Tirlemont and the Battle of Haelen.
In light of the withdrawal to the main defensive line, which was now being supported by the British and French Armies, King Leopold issued the following proclamation to improve morale after the defeats at the Albert Canal:

Soldiers

The Belgian Army, brutally assailed by an unparalleled surprise attack, grappling with forces that are better equipped and have the advantage of a formidable air force, has for three days carried out difficult operations, the success of which is of the utmost importance to the general conduct of the battle and to the result of war.

These operations require from all of us – officers and men – exceptional efforts, sustained day and night, despite a moral tension tested to its limits by the sight of the devastation wrought by a pitiless invader. However severe the trial may be, you will come through it gallantly.

Our position improves with every hour; our ranks are closing up. In the critical days that are ahead of us, you will summon up all your energies, you will make every sacrifice, to stem the invasion.

Just as they did in 1914 on the Yser, so now the French and British troops are counting on you: the safety and honour of the country are in your hands.

Leopold.


To the Allies, the Belgian failure to hold onto its eastern frontiers (they were thought to be capable of holding out for two weeks), was a disappointment. The Allied Chiefs of Staff had sought to avoid an encounter mobile battle without any strong fixed defences to fall back on and hoped Belgian resistance would last long enough for a defensive line to be established. Nevertheless, a brief lull fell on the Dyle front on 11 May which enabled the Allied armies to get into position by the time the first major assault was launched the following day. Allied cavalry had moved into position and infantry and artillery were reaching the front more slowly, by rail. Although unaware of it, the First Allied army Group and the Belgian Army outnumbered and outgunned Walther von Reichenau
Walther von Reichenau
Walter von Reichenau was a German Generalfeldmarschall during World War II.-History:Reichenau was born in Karlsruhe to a Prussian general and joined the German Army in 1903. During World War I he served on the Western Front...

's German 6th Army.

On the morning of 12 May, in response to Belgian pressure and necessity, the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 and the Armée de l'Air undertook several air attacks on the German-held Maastricht and Meuse bridges to prevent German forces flowing into Belgium. 74 sorties had been flown by the Allies since 10 May. On 12 May, 11 out of 18 French Breguet 693
Breguet 693
The Breguet 690 and its derivatives were a series of light twin-engine ground-attack aircraft that were used by the French Air Force in World War II....

 bombers were shot down. The RAF Advanced Air Striking Force
RAF Advanced Air Striking Force
Before the Second World War it had been agreed between the United Kingdom and France that in case of war, the light bomber force of the Royal Air Force would move to bases within France from which it could operate against targets in Nazi Germany. To achieve this, the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force...

, which included the largest Allied bomber force, was reduced to 72 aircraft out of 135 by 12 May. For the next 24 hours missions were postponed as the German anti-aircraft and fighter defences were too strong.

The results of the bombing is difficult to determine. The German XIX Corps war diary
War diary
A war diary is a regularly updated official record kept by military units of their activities during wartime. The purpose of these diaries is to both record information which can later be used by the military to improve its training and tactics as well as to generate a detailed record of units'...

's situation summary at 20:00 on 14 May noted:
The completion of the military bridge at Donchery had not yet been carried out owing to heavy flanking artillery fire and long bombing attacks on the bridging point … Throughout the day all three divisions have had to endure constant air attack — especially at the crossing and bridging points. Our fighter cover is inadequate. Requests [for increased fighter protection] are still unsuccessful.


The Luftwaffe's operations includes a note of "vigorous enemy fighter activity through which our close reconnaissance in particular is severely impeded". Nevertheless, inadequate protection was given to cover RAF bombers against the strength of German opposition over the target area. In all, out of 109 Fairey Battle
Fairey Battle
The Fairey Battle was a British single-engine light bomber built by the Fairey Aviation Company in the late 1930s for the Royal Air Force. The Battle was powered by the same Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engine that gave contemporary British fighters high performance; however, the Battle was weighed...

s and Bristol Blenheim
Bristol Blenheim
The Bristol Blenheim was a British light bomber aircraft designed and built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company that was used extensively in the early days of the Second World War. It was adapted as an interim long-range and night fighter, pending the availability of the Beaufighter...

s which had attacked enemy columns and communications in the Sedan area, 45 had been lost. On 15 May, daylight bombing was significantly reduced. Of 23 aircraft employed, four failed to return. Equally, owing to the Allied fighter presence, the German XIX Corps War Diary states, "Corps no longer has at its disposal its own long-range reconnaissance … [Reconnaissance squadrons] are no longer in a position to carry out vigorous, extensive reconnaissance, as, owing to casualties, more than half of their aircraft are not now available."
The most serious combat to evolve on 12 May 1940 was the beginning of the Battle of Hannut
Battle of Hannut
The Battle of Hannut was a Second World War battle fought during the Battle of Belgium which took place between 12 and 14 May 1940 at Hannut, Belgium...

 (12–14 May). While the German Army Group A
Army Group A
Army Group A was the name of a number of German Army Groups during World War II.-Western Front, 1940:During the German invasion of the Low Countries and France Army Group A was under the command of General Gerd von Rundstedt, and was responsible for the break-out through the Ardennes...

 advanced through the Belgian Ardennes, Army Group B
Army Group B
Army Group B was the name of three different German Army Groups that saw action during World War II.-Battle for France:The first was involved in the Western Campaign in 1940 in Belgium and the Netherlands which was to be aimed to conquer the Maas bridges after the German airborne actions in Rotterdam...

's 6th Army launched an offensive operation toward the Gembloux gap. Gembloux occupied a position in the Belgian plain; it was an unfortified, untrenched space in the main Belgian defensive line. The Gap stretched from the southern end of the Dyle line, from Wavre
Wavre
Wavre is a town and municipality located in the Belgian province of Walloon Brabant, of which it is the capital.Wavre is located in the Dyle valley. Most of its inhabitants speak French as mother tongue and are called "Wavriens" and "Wavriennes"...

 in the north, to Namur in the south, 20 kilometres (12.4 mi) to 30 kilometres (18.6 mi). After attacking out of the Maastricht bulge and defeating the Belgian defences at Liege, which compelled the Belgian I Corps
I Corps (Belgium)
I Corps of the Belgian Army was a army corps active during World War I , World War II, and the Cold War.During the Belgian Campaign of 1940, it initially held defences at Liège but was forced to retreat by the German XVI Panzer Corps...

 to retreat, the German 6th Army's XVI Panzer-Motorised Corps, under the command of General Erich Hoepner
Erich Hoepner
Erich Hoepner was a German general in World War II. A successful panzer leader, Hoepner was executed after the failed 20 July Plot in 1944.- Life :Hoepner was born in Frankfurt an der Oder, Brandenburg...

 and containing the 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions, launched an offensive in the area where the French mistakenly expected the main German thrust.

The Gembloux gap was defended by the French 1st Army, with six elite divisions including the 2nd (2e Division Légère Mécanique, or 2e DLM) and 3rd Light Mechanised Divisions. The Prioux Cavalry Corps, under the command of Rene-Jacques-Adolphe Prioux
René Prioux
René Jacques Adolphe Prioux was a general of the French Army who served in both world wars. A cavalry officer of great talent, Prioux rapidly rose through the officer ranks and commanded the Cavalry Corps of the First Army during the Battle of Belgium in May 1940. He was captured by the Germans...

, was to advance 30 kilometres (18.6 mi) beyond the line (east) to provide a screen for the move. The French 1st and 2nd Armoured Divisions were to be moved behind the French 1st Army to defend its main lines in depth
Strategic depth
Strategic depth is a term in military literature that broadly refers to the distances between the front lines or battle sectors and the combatants’ industrial core areas, capital cities, heartlands, and other key centers of population or military production...

. The Prioux Cavalry Corps was equal to a German Panzer Corps and was to occupy a screening line on the Tirlemont–Hannut
Hannut
Hannut is a municipality of Belgium. It lies in the country's Walloon Region and Province of Liege. On January 1, 2006 Hannut had a total population of 14,291...

Huy
Huy
Huy is a municipality of Belgium. It lies in the country's Walloon Region and Province of Liege. Huy lies along the river Meuse, at the mouth of the small river Hoyoux. It is in the sillon industriel, the former industrial backbone of Wallonia, home to about two-thirds of the Walloon population...

 axis. The operational plan called for the Corps to delay the German advance on Gembloux and Hannut until the main elements of the French 1st Army had reached Gembloux and dug in.

Hoepner's Panzer Corps and Prioux' Cavalry clashed head-on near Hannut, Belgium, on 12 May. Contrary to popular belief, the Germans did not outnumber the French. Frequently, figures of 623 German and 415 French tanks are given. The German 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions numbered 280 and 343 respectively. The 2e DLM and 3e DLM numbered 176 Somua
Somua S-35
The SOMUA S35 was a French Cavalry tank of the Second World War. Built from 1936 until 1940 to equip the armoured divisions of the Cavalry, it was for its time a relatively agile medium-weight tank, superior in armour and armament to both its French and foreign competitors, such as the contemporary...

s and 239 Hotchkiss H35
Hotchkiss H35
The Hotchkiss H35 or Char léger modèle 1935 H was a French light tank developed prior to World War II.Despite having been designed from 1933 as a rather slow but well-armoured light infantry support tank, the type was initially rejected by the French Infantry because it proved difficult to steer...

s. Added to this force were the considerable number of Renault AMR-ZT-63s in the Cavalry Corps. The R35 was equal or superior to the Panzer I
Panzer I
The Panzer I was a light tank produced in Germany in the 1930s. The name is short for the German ' , abbreviated . The tank's official German ordnance inventory designation was SdKfz 101 .Design of the Panzer I began in 1932 and mass production in 1934...

 and Panzer II
Panzer II
The Panzer II was the common name for a family of German tanks used in World War II. The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen II...

s in armament terms. This applies all the more to the 90 Panhard 178
Panhard 178
The Panhard 178 or "Pan-Pan" was an advanced French reconnaissance 4x4 armoured car that was designed for the French Cavalry before World War II...

 armoured cars of the French Army. Its 25mm main gun could penetrate the armour of the Panzer IV
Panzer IV
The Panzerkampfwagen IV , commonly known as the Panzer IV, was a medium tank developed in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and used extensively during the Second World War. Its ordnance inventory designation was Sd.Kfz...

. In terms of tanks that were capable of engaging and surviving a tank-vs-tank action, the Germans possessed just 73 Panzer IIIs and 52 Panzer IVs. The French had 176 SOMUA and 239 Hotchkisses. German tank units also contained 486 Panzer I and IIs, which were of dubious combat value given their losses in the Polish Campaign.

The German forces were able to communicate by radio during the battle and they could shift the point of the main effort unexpectedly. The Germans also practised combined arms
Combined arms
Combined arms is an approach to warfare which seeks to integrate different branches of a military to achieve mutually complementary effects...

 tactics, while the French tactical deployment was a rigid and linear leftover from the First World War. French tanks did not possess radios and often the commanders had to dismount to issue orders. Despite the disadvantages experienced by the Germans in armour, they were able to gain the upper hand in the morning battle on 12 May, encircling several French battalions. The combat power of the French 2e DLM managed to defeat the German defences guarding the pockets and freeing the trapped units. Contrary to German reports, the French were victorious on that first day, preventing a Wehrmacht break-through to Gembloux or seizing Hannut. The result of the first day's battle was:
The effect on the German light tanks was catastrophic. Virtually every French weapon from 25mm upward penetrated the 7-13mm of the Panzer I. Although the Panzer II fared somewhat better, especially those that had been uparmoured since the Polish Campaign, their losses were high. Such was the sheer frustration of the crews of these light Panzers in [the] face of heavier armoured French machines that some resorted to desperate expedients. One account speaks of a German Panzer commander attempting to climb on a Hotchkiss H-35 with a hammer, presumably to smash the machine's periscopes, but falling off and being crushed by the tank's tracks. Certainly by day's end, Prioux had reason to claim that his tanks had come off best. The battlefield around Hannut was littered with knocked-out tanks–the bulk of which were German Panzers–with by far and away the bulk of them being Panzer Is and IIs.


The following day, 13 May, the French were undone by their poor tactical deployment. They strung their armour out in a thin line between Hannut and Huy, leaving no defence in depth, which was the point of sending the French armour to the Gembloux gap in the first place. This left Hoepner with a chance to mass against one of the French Light Divisions (the 3e DLM) and achieve a breakthrough in that sector. Moreover, with no reserves behind the front, the French denied themselves the chance of a counterattack. The victory saw the Panzer Corps out-manoeuvre the 2e DLM on its left flank. The Belgian III Corps, retreating from Liege, offered to support the French front held by the 3e DLM. This offer was rejected.

On 12 and 13 May, 2e DLM lost no AFVs, but the 3e DLM lost 30 SOMUAs and 75 Hotchkisses. The French had disabled 160 German tanks. But as the poor linear deployment had allowed the Germans the chance of breaking through in one spot, the entire battlefield had to be abandoned, the Germans repaired nearly three quarters of their tanks; 49 were destroyed and 111 were repaired. They had 60 men killed and another 80 wounded. In terms of battlefield casualties, the Hannut battle had resulted in the French knocking-out 160 German tanks, losing 105 themselves. Prioux had achieved his tactical mission and withdrew.

Hoepner now pursued the retreating French. Being impatient, he did not wait for his infantry divisions to catch up. Instead, he hoped to continue pushing the French back and not give them time to construct a coherent defence line. German formations pursued the enemy to Gembloux. The Panzer Corps ran into retreating French columns and inflicted heavy losses on them. The pursuit created severe problems for the French artillery. The combat was so closely fought that the danger of friendly fire incidents were very real. Nevertheless the French, setting up new anti-tank screens and Hoepner, lacking infantry support, caused the Germans to attack positions head-on. During the following Battle of Gembloux
Battle of Gembloux (1940)
The Battle of Gembloux was a battle fought between French and German forces in May 1940 during the Second World War....

 the two Panzer Divisions reported heavy losses during 14 May and were forced to slow their pursuit. The German attempts to capture Gembloux were repulsed.

Although suffering numerous tactical reverses, operationally the Germans diverted the Allied First Army Group from the lower Ardennes area. In the process his forces, along with the Luftwaffe depleted Prioux' Cavalry Corps. When news of the German breakthrough at Sedan
Battle of Sedan (1940)
The Battle of Sedan or Second Battle of Sedan was a Second World War battle fought during the French Campaign. The battle was part of the German Wehrmacht's operational plan codenamed Fall Gelb , to encircle the Allied armies in Belgium and north-eastern France...

 reached Prioux, he withdrew from Gembloux. With the Gembloux gap breached, the German Panzer Corps, the 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions, were no longer required by Army Group B and were handed over to Army Group A. Army Group B would continue its own offensive to force the collapse of the Meuse front. The Army Group was in a position to advance westward to Mons
Mons
Mons is a Walloon city and municipality located in the Belgian province of Hainaut, of which it is the capital. The Mons municipality includes the old communes of Cuesmes, Flénu, Ghlin, Hyon, Nimy, Obourg, Baudour , Jemappes, Ciply, Harmignies, Harveng, Havré, Maisières, Mesvin, Nouvelles,...

, outflank the B.E.F and Belgian Army protecting the Dyle–Brussels sector, or turn south to outflank the French 9th Army.
German losses had been heavy at Hannut and Gembloux. The 4th Panzer Division was down to 137 tanks on 16 May, including just four Panzer IVs. The 3rd Panzer Division was down by 20–25 percent of its operational force, while the 4th Panzer Division 45–50 percent of its tanks were not combat ready. Damaged tanks were quickly repaired, but its strength was initially greatly weakened.
The French 1st Army had also taken a battering and despite winning several tactical defensive victories it was forced to retreat on 15 May owing to developments elsewhere, leaving its tanks on the battlefield, while the Germans were free to recover theirs.

15–21 May: Counterattacks and retreat to the coast



On the morning of 15 May, German Army Group A broke the defences at Sedan
Battle of Sedan (1940)
The Battle of Sedan or Second Battle of Sedan was a Second World War battle fought during the French Campaign. The battle was part of the German Wehrmacht's operational plan codenamed Fall Gelb , to encircle the Allied armies in Belgium and north-eastern France...

 and was now free to drive for the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

. The Allies considered a wholesale withdrawal from the Belgian trap. The withdrawal would reflect three stages: the night of 16/17 May to the River Senne
Senné
Senné is a village and municipality in the Veľký Krtíš District of the Banská Bystrica Region of southern Slovakia.-External links:*http://www.statistics.sk/mosmis/eng/run.html...

, the night of 17/18 May to the river Dendre and the night of 18/19 May to the river Scheldt
Scheldt
The Scheldt is a 350 km long river in northern France, western Belgium and the southwestern part of the Netherlands...

. The Belgians were reluctant to abandon Brussels and Leuven, especially as the Dyle line had withstood German pressure well.
The Belgian Army, the B.E.F and the French 1st Army, in a domino effect, was ordered/forced to retire on 16 May to avoid their southern flanks from being turned by the German armoured forces advancing through the French Ardennes and the German 6th Army advancing through Gembloux. The Belgian Army was holding the German Fourteenth Army on the K.W line, along with the French 7th and British armies. Had it not been for the collapse of the French 2nd Army at Sedan, the Belgians were confident that they could have checked the German advance.

The situation called for the French and British to abandon the Antwerp–Namur line and strong positions in favour of improvised positions behind the Scheldt, without facing any real resistance. In the South, General Deffontaine of the Belgian VII Corps retreated from the Namur and Liege regions, the Liege fortress region put up stiff resistance to the German 6th Army. In the North, the 7th Army was diverted to Antwerp after the surrender of the Dutch on 15 May, but was then diverted to support the French 1st Army. In the centre, the Belgian Army and the B.E.F suffered little German pressure. On 15 May, the only sector to really be tested was around Leuven, which was held by the British 3rd Division. Thereafter the B.E.F was not pursued vigorously to the Scheldt.

After the withdrawal of the French Army from the northern sector, the Belgians were left to guard the fortified city of Antwerp. Four infantry divisions (including the 13th and 17th Reserve Infantry Divisions) engaged the German Eighteenth Army's 208th, 225th and 526th Infantry Divisions. The Belgians successfully defended the northern part of the city, delaying the German infantry forces while starting to withdraw from Antwerp on 16 May. The city fell on 18/19 May after considerable Belgian resistance. On 18 May the Belgians received word that Namur's Fort Marchovelette
Marchovelette
Marchovelette is a part of the Belgian municipality of Fernelmont located in Wallonia in the Belgian province of Namur.It was formerly a municipality itself until the fusion of Belgian municipalities in 1977....

 had fallen; Suarlee fell on 19 May; St. Heribert and Malonne on 21 May; Dave, Maizeret and Andoy on 23 May.

Between 16 and 17 May, the British and French withdrew behind the Willebroek Canal, as the volume of Allied forces in Belgium fell and moved toward the German armoured thrust from the Ardennes. The Belgian I Corps
I Corps (Belgium)
I Corps of the Belgian Army was a army corps active during World War I , World War II, and the Cold War.During the Belgian Campaign of 1940, it initially held defences at Liège but was forced to retreat by the German XVI Panzer Corps...

 and V Corps
V Corps
V Corps may refer to:*V Amphibious Corps *V Corps , an American Civil War formation*V Corps *V Corps , a non-French Napoleonic war formation*V Corps *V Corps...

 also retreated to what the Belgians called the Ghent
Ghent
Ghent is a city and a municipality located in the Flemish region of Belgium. It is the capital and biggest city of the East Flanders province. The city started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys and in the Middle Ages became one of the largest and richest cities of...

 bridgehead, behind the Dendre and Scheldt
Scheldt
The Scheldt is a 350 km long river in northern France, western Belgium and the southwestern part of the Netherlands...

. The Belgian Artillery Corps and its infantry support defeated attacks by the Eighteenth Army's infantry and in a communiqué from London, the British recognised the "Belgian Army has contributed largely towards the success of the defensive battle now being fought.
Nevertheless, the now-outnumbered Belgians abandoned Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

 and the Government fled to Ostend. The city was occupied by the German Army on 17 May. The very next morning, Hoepner, the German XVI Corps commander, was ordered to release the 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions to Army Group A
Army Group A
Army Group A was the name of a number of German Army Groups during World War II.-Western Front, 1940:During the German invasion of the Low Countries and France Army Group A was under the command of General Gerd von Rundstedt, and was responsible for the break-out through the Ardennes...

. This left the 9th Panzer Division attached to the Eighteenth Army as the only armoured unit on the Belgian front.

By 19 May, the Germans were hours away from reaching the French Channel coast. Gort had discovered the French had neither plan nor reserves and little hope for stopping the German thrust to the channel. He was concerned that the French 1st Army on its southern flank had been reduced to a disorganised mass of "fag-ends
Cigarette filter
A cigarette filter has the purpose of reducing the amount of smoke, tar, and fine particles inhaled during the combustion of a cigarette. Filters also reduce the harshness of the smoke and keep tobacco flakes out of the smoker's mouth.-History:...

", fearing that German armour might appear on their right flank at Arras or Péronne
Péronne, Somme
Péronne is a commune of the Somme department in Picardie in northern France.It is close to where the Battles of the Somme took place during World War I...

, striking for the channel ports at Calais
Calais
Calais is a town in Northern France in the department of Pas-de-Calais, of which it is a sub-prefecture. Although Calais is by far the largest city in Pas-de-Calais, the department's capital is its third-largest city of Arras....

 or Boulogne or north west into the British flank. Their position in Belgium massively compromised, the B.E.F. considered abandoning Belgium and retreating to Ostend
Ostend
Ostend  is a Belgian city and municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. It comprises the boroughs of Mariakerke , Stene and Zandvoorde, and the city of Ostend proper – the largest on the Belgian coast....

, Bruges
Bruges
Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is located in the northwest of the country....

 or Dunkirk, the latter lying some 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) to 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) inside the French border.

The proposals of a British strategic withdrawal from the continent was rejected by the War Cabinet
War Cabinet
A War Cabinet is a committee formed by a government in a time of war. It is usually a subset of the full executive cabinet of ministers. It is also quite common for a War Cabinet to have senior military officers and opposition politicians as members....

 and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS). They dispatched General Ironside
Edmund Ironside, 1st Baron Ironside
Field Marshal William Edmund Ironside, 1st Baron Ironside GCB, CMG, CBE, DSO, was a British Army officer who served as Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the first year of the Second World War....

 to inform Gort of their decision and to order him to conduct an offensive to the south-west "through all opposition" to reach the "main French forces" in the south [the strongest French forces were actually in the north]. The Belgian Army was asked to conform to the plan, or should they choose, the British Royal Navy would evacuate what units they could. The British cabinet decided that even if the "Somme offensive" was carried out successfully, some units may still need to be evacuated, and ordered Admiral Ramsay to assemble a large number of vessels. This was the beginning of Operation Dynamo
Operation Dynamo
The Dunkirk evacuation, commonly known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, code-named Operation Dynamo by the British, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, between 26 May and the early hours of 3 June 1940, because the British, French and Belgian troops were...

.
Ironside arrived at British General Headquarters at 06:00 am on 20 May, the same day that continental communications between the France and Belgium were cut. When Ironside made his proposals known to Gort, Gort replied such an attack was impossible. Seven of his nine divisions were engaged on the Scheldt and even if it was possible to withdraw them, it would create a gap between the Belgians and British which the enemy could exploit and encircle the former. The B.E.F had been marching and fighting for nine days and was now running short of ammunition. The main effort had to be made by the French to the south.

The Belgian position on any offensive move was made clear by King Leopold III. As far as he was concerned, the Belgian Army could not conduct offensive operations as it lacked tanks and aircraft; it existed solely for defence. The King also made clear that in the rapidly shrinking area of Belgium still free, there was only enough food for two weeks. Leopold did not expect the B.E.F to jeopardize its own position in order to keep contact with the Belgian Army, but he warned the British that if it persisted with the southern offensive the Belgians would be overstretched and their army would collapse. King Leopold suggested the best recourse was to establish a beach-head covering Dunkirk and the Belgian channel ports. The will of the CIGS won out. Gort committed just two infantry battalions and the only armoured battalion in the B.E.F to the attack, which despite some initial tactical success, failed to break the German defensive line at the Battle of Arras
Battle of Arras (1940)
The Battle of Arras took place during the Battle of France, in the early stages of World War II. It was an Allied counterattack against the flank of the German army, that took place near the town of Arras, in north-eastern France. The German forces were pushing north toward the channel coast, in...

 on 21 May.

In the aftermath of this failure, the Belgians were asked to fall back to the Yser
Yser
The Yser is a river that finds its origin in the north of France, enters Belgium and flows into the North Sea at the town of Nieuwpoort.-In France:The source of the Yser is in Buysscheure, in the Nord département of northern France...

 river and protect the Allied left flank and rear areas. The King's aide, General Overstraten said that such a move could not be made and would lead to the Belgian Army disintegrating. Another plan for further offensives was suggested. The French requested the Belgians withdraw to the Leie and the British to the French frontier between Maulde
Maulde
Maulde is a commune in the Nord department in northern France.-Heraldry:-References:*...

 and Halluin
Halluin
Halluin is a commune in the Nord department in northern France.-Geography:It is located at the north of the Lille Urban Community, on the Belgian border, contiguous with the Belgian town of Menen.-Heraldry:-Twin towns:...

, the Belgians were then to extend their front to free further parts of the B.E.F for the attack. The French 1st Army would relieve two more divisions on the right flank. Leopold was reluctant to undertake such a move because it would abandon all but a small portion of Belgium. The Belgian Army was exhausted and it was an enormous technical task that would take too long to complete.

At this time, the Belgians and the British concluded that the French were beaten and the Allied Armies in the pocket on the Belgian–Franco border would be destroyed if action was not taken. The British, having lost confidence in their Allies, decided to look to the survival of the B.E.F.

22–28 May: Last defensive battles



The Belgian battle-front on the morning of 22 May extended some 90 kilometres (55.9 mi). From north to south, beginning with the Cavalry Corps which checked its advance at Terneuzen
Terneuzen
Terneuzen is a city and municipality in the southwestern Netherlands, in the province of Zeeland, in the middle of Zeelandic Flanders. With over 55,000 inhabitants, it is the most populous municipality of Zeeland.-Population centres :...

. V, II, VI, VII and IV Corps (all Belgian), were drawn up side by side. Two further signal Corps were guarding the coast. These formations were now largely holding the eastern front as the B.E.F and French forces withdrew to the west to protect Dunkirk, which was vulnerable to German assault on 22 May. The eastern front remained intact, but the Belgians now occupied its last fortified position at Leie. The Belgian I Corps
I Corps (Belgium)
I Corps of the Belgian Army was a army corps active during World War I , World War II, and the Cold War.During the Belgian Campaign of 1940, it initially held defences at Liège but was forced to retreat by the German XVI Panzer Corps...

, with only two incomplete divisions, had been heavily engaged in the fighting and the their line was wearing thin. On that day, 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...

 visited the front and pressed for the French and British Armies to break-out from the north-east. He assumed that the Belgian Cavalry Corps could support the offensives' right flank. Churchill dispatched the following message to Gort:
1. That the Belgian Army should withdraw to the line of the Yser and stand there, the sluices being opened.

2. That the British Army and French 1st Army should attack south-west towards Bapaume and Cambrai at the earliest moment, certainly tomorrow, with about eight divisions, and with the Belgian Cavalry Corps on the right of the British.

Such an order ignored the fact that the Belgian Army could not withdraw to the Yser, and there was little chance of any Belgian Cavalry joining in the attack. The plan for the Belgian withdrawal was sound, the Yser river covered Dunkirk to the east and south, while the La Bassée Canal covered it from the west. The ring of the Yser also dramatically shorted the Belgian Army's area of operations. Such a move would have abandoned Passchendaele and Ypres
Ypres
Ypres is a Belgian municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the city of Ypres and the villages of Boezinge, Brielen, Dikkebus, Elverdinge, Hollebeke, Sint-Jan, Vlamertinge, Voormezele, Zillebeke, and Zuidschote...

 and would have certainly meant the capture of Ostend while further reducing the amount of Belgian territory still free by a few square miles. And of course it would have meanth the loss of all Belgian ports to the East of the Yser, like Zeebrugge and Ostend.

On 23 May, the French tried to conduct a series of offensives against the German defensive line on the Ardennes–Calais axis but failed to make any meaningful gains. Meanwhile, on the Belgian front, the Belgians, under pressure, retreated further, and the Germans captured Terneuzen and Ghent that day. The Belgians also had trouble moving the oil, food and ammunition that they had left. The Luftwaffe had air superiority and made everyday life hazardous in logistical
Military logistics
Military logistics is the discipline of planning and carrying out the movement and maintenance of military forces. In its most comprehensive sense, it is those aspects or military operations that deal with:...

 terms. Air support could only be called in by "wireless" and the RAF was operating from bases in southern England which made communication more difficult. The French denied the use of the Dunkirk, Bourbourg
Bourbourg
Bourbourg is a commune in the Nord department in northern France. It is situated in the maritime plain of northern France, at the heart of a triangle formed by Dunkirk, Calais, and Saint-Omer.-Heraldry:-Historical sites:...

 and Gravelines
Gravelines
Gravelines is a commune in the Nord department in northern France.It lies at the mouth of the river Aa 15 miles southwest of Dunkirk. There is a market in the town square on Saturdays. The "Arsenal" approached from the town square is home to an extensive and carefully displayed art collection....

 bases to the Belgians, which had initially been placed at its disposal. The Belgians were forced to use the only harbours left to them, at Nieuport
Nieuport
Nieuport, later Nieuport-Delage, was a French aeroplane company that primarily built racing aircraft before World War I and fighter aircraft during World War I and between the wars.-Beginnings:...

 and Ostend.

Churchill and Maxime Weygand
Maxime Weygand
Maxime Weygand was a French military commander in World War I and World War II.Weygand initially fought against the Germans during the invasion of France in 1940, but then surrendered to and collaborated with the Germans as part of the Vichy France regime.-Early years:Weygand was born in Brussels...

, who had taken over command from Gamelin, were still determined to break the German line and extricate their forces to the south. When they communicated their intentions to King Leopold and van Overstraten on 24 May, the latter was stunned. A dangerous gap was starting to open between the British and Belgians between Ypres and Menen
Menen
Menen is a municipality located in the Belgian province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the city of Menen proper and the towns of Lauwe and Rekkem. The city is situated on the French/Belgian border. On January 1, 2006, Menen had a total population of 32,413...

, which threatened what remained of the Belgian front. The Belgians could not cover it, such a move would have overstretched them. Without consulting the French or asking permission from his government, Gort immediately and decisively ordered the British 5th and 50th Infantry Divisions to plug the gap and abandon any offensive operations further south.

On the afternoon of 24 May, Von Bock had thrown four divisions, of Reichenau's 6th Army, against the Belgian IV Corps position at the Kortrijk
Kortrijk
Kortrijk ; , ; ) is a Belgian city and municipality located in the Flemish province West Flanders...

 area of the Leie. The Germans managed, against fierce resistance, to cross the river at night and force a one mile penetration along a 13-mile front between Wijik and Kortrijk. The Germans, with superior numbers and in command of the air, had won the bridgehead. Nevertheless, the Belgians had inflicted many casualties and several tactical defeats on the Germans. The 1st, 3rd, 9th and 10th Infantry Divisions, acting as reinforcements, had counterattacked several times and managed to capture 200 German prisoners. Belgian artillery and infantry were then heavily attacked by the Luftwaffe which forced their defeat. The Belgians blamed the French and British for not providing air cover. The German bridgehead dangerously exposed the eastern flank of the southward stretched B.E.F's 4th Infantry Division. Montgomery dispatched several units of the 3rd Infantry Division (including the heavy infantry of the 1st and 7th Middlesex battalions and the 99th Battery, 20th Anti-Tank Regiment), as an improvised defence.

A critical point of the "Weygand Plan" and the British Government and French Army's argument for a thrust south, was the withdrawal of forces to see the offensive through which had left the Belgian Army over-extended and was instrumental in its collapse. It was forced to cover the areas held by the B.E.F in order to enable the latter to engage in the offensive. Such a collapse could have resulted in the loss of the Channel ports behind the Allied front, leading to a complete strategic encirclement. The B.E.F could have done more to counterattack von Bock's left flank to relieve the Belgians as von Bock attacked across the fortified British position at Kortrijk. The Belgian High Command made at least five appeals for the British to attack the vulnerable left flank of the German divisions between the Scheldt
Scheldt
The Scheldt is a 350 km long river in northern France, western Belgium and the southwestern part of the Netherlands...

 and the Leie to avert disaster.

Admiral Sir Roger Keyes transmitted the following message to GHQ:
Van Overstraten is desperately keen for strong British counterattack. Either north or south of Leie could help restore the situation. Belgians expect to be attacked on the Ghent front tomorrow. Germans already have a bridgehead over canal west of Eecloo. There can be no question of the Belgian withdrawal to Yser. One battalion on march NE of Ypres was practically wiped out today in attack by sixty aircraft. Withdrawal over open roads without adequate fighter support very costly. Whole of their supplies are east of Yser. They strongly represent attempt should be made to restore the situation on Leie by British counter-attack for which opportunity may last another few hours only.


No such attack came. The Germans brought fresh reserves to cover the gap (Menen–Ypres). This nearly cut the Belgians off from the British. The 2nd, 6th and 10th Cavalry Divisions frustrated German attempts to exploit the gap in depth but the situation was still critical.
On 26 May, Operation Dynamo officially commenced, in which large French and British contingents were to be evacuated to the United Kingdom. By that time the Royal Navy had already withdrawn 28,000 British non-fighting troops. Boulogne had fallen and Calais was about to, leaving Dunkirk, Ostend and Zeebrugge as the only viable ports which could be used for evacuation. The advance of the 14th German Army would not leave Ostend available for much longer. To the west, the German Army Group A
Army Group A
Army Group A was the name of a number of German Army Groups during World War II.-Western Front, 1940:During the German invasion of the Low Countries and France Army Group A was under the command of General Gerd von Rundstedt, and was responsible for the break-out through the Ardennes...

 had reached Dunkirk and were 4 miles (6.4 km) from its centre on the morning of 27 May, bringing the port within artillery range.

The situation on 27 May had changed considerably from just 24 hours earlier. The Belgian Army had been forced from the Leie line on 26 May, and Nevele
Nevele
Nevele is a municipality located in the Belgian province of East Flanders. The municipality comprises the towns of Hansbeke, Landegem, Merendree, Nevele proper, Poesele and Vosselare. On January 1, 2006 Nevele had a total population of 11,217...

, Vynckt, Tielt
Tielt
Tielt is a Belgian municipality in the province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the city of Tielt proper and the towns of Aarsele, Kanegem, and Schuiferskapelle.-History:Some traces of Gallo-Roman occupation have been found in this area...

 and Iseghem had fallen on the western and central part of the Leie front. In the east the Germans had reached the outskirts of Bruges, and captured Ursel. In the west, the Menen–Ypres line had broken at Kortrijk and the Belgians were now using railway trucks to help form anti-tank defences on a line from Ypres–Passchendaele–Roulers. Further to the west the B.E.F had been forced back, north of Lille
Lille
Lille is a city in northern France . It is the principal city of the Lille Métropole, the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country behind those of Paris, Lyon and Marseille. Lille is situated on the Deûle River, near France's border with Belgium...

 just over the French border and was now in danger of allowing a gap to develop between themselves and the Belgian southern flank on the Ypres–Lille axis. The danger in allowing a German advance to Dunkirk would mean the loss of the port which was now too great. The British withdrew to the port on 26 May. In doing so they left the French 1st Army's north-eastern flank near Lille exposed. As the British moved out the Germans moved in, encircling the bulk of the French Army. Both Gort and his Chief of Staff, General Henry Pownall accepted that their withdrawal would mean the destruction of the French 1st Army, and they would be blamed for it.

The fighting of 26–27 May had brought the Belgian Army to the brink of collapse. The Belgians still held the Ypres–Roulers line to the west, and the Bruges–Thelt line to the east. However, on 27 May the central front collapsed in the Iseghem–Thelt sector. There was now nothing to prevent a German thrust to the east to take Ostend and Bruges, or west to take the ports at Nieuport or La Panne, deep in the Allied rear. The Belgians had practically exhausted all available means of resistance. The disintegration of the Belgian Army and its front caused many erroneous accusations by the British. In fact, on numerous occasions, the Belgians had held on after British withdrawals. One example was the taking over of the Scheldt line, where they relieved the British 44th Infantry Division
4th Infantry Division (United Kingdom)
The 4th Infantry Division is a regular British Army division with a long history having been present at the Peninsular War the Crimean War , the First World War , and during the Second World War.- Napoleonic Wars :...

, allowing it to retire through their ranks. Despite this, Gort and to a greater extent Pownall, showed unjust contempt for the Belgians. When it was enquired if any Belgians were to be evacuated, Pownall was reported to have replied, "We don't care a bugger what happens to the Belgians".

Belgian surrender


The Belgian Army was stretched from Cadzand
Cadzand
Cadzand is a town in the Dutch province of Zeeland. It is located in the municipality of Sluis, about 8 km northwest of Oostburg. The village contains 804 inhabitants . Better known to many visitors is the nearby beach at Cadzand-Bad....

 south to Menin
Menin
Menin may refer to:*Menin , office in Ancien Régime France*Umberto Menin, Italian artist*The French name for the Belgian town of Menen *Menin, a tumor suppressor associated with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1....

 on the river Leie, and west, from Menin, to Bruges without any sort of reserves. With the exception of a few RAF sorties, the air was exclusively under the control of the Luftwaffe, and the Belgians reported attacks against all targets considered an objective, with resulting casualties. No natural obstacles remained between the Belgians and the German Army, retreat was not feasible. The Luftwaffe had destroyed most of the rail networks to Dunkirk, just three roads were left: Bruges–Thourout
Torhout
Torhout is a municipality located in the Belgian province of West Flanders. The municipality only comprises the city of Torhout proper. On January 1, 2008 Torhout had a total population of 19,755...

–Dixmude, Bruges–Ghistelles–Nieuport and Bruges–Ostende–Nieuport. Using such axes of retreat was impossible without losses owing to German air supremacy
Air supremacy
Air supremacy is the complete dominance of the air power of one side's air forces over the other side's, during a military campaign. It is the most favorable state of control of the air...

 (as opposed to air superiority). Water supplies were damaged and cut off, gas and electricity supplies were also cut. Canals were drained and used as supply dumps for whatever ammunition and food-stuffs were left. The total remaining area covered just 1,700 km², and compacted military and civilians alike, of which the latter numbered some 3 million people. Under these circumstances Leopold deemed further resistance useless. On the evening of 27 May, he requested an armistice.

Churchill sent a message to Keyes the same day, and made clear what he thought of the request:
Belgian Embassy here assumes from King's decision to remain that he regards the war as lost and contemplates [a] separate peace. It is in order to dissociate itself from this that the constitutional Belgian Government has reassembled on foreign soil. Even if present Belgian Army has to lay down its arms, there are 200,000 Belgians of military age in France, and greater resources than Belgium had in 1914 which to fight back. By present decision the King is dividing the Nation and delivering it into Hitler's protection. Please convey these considerations to the King, and impress upon him the disastrous consequences to the Allies and to Belgium of his present choice.


The Royal Navy evacuated General Headquarters at Middelkerke
Middelkerke
Middelkerke is a municipality located in the Belgian province of West Flanders, on the North Sea, west of Ostend. The municipality comprises the towns of Leffinge, Lombardsijde, Mannekensvere, Middelkerke proper, Schore, Sint-Pieters-Kapelle, Slijpe, Westende and Wilskerke. On January 1, 2006...

 and St. Andrews, east of Bruges, during the night. Leopold III, and his mother Queen Mother Elisabeth, stayed in Belgium to endure five years of self-imposed captivity. In response to the advice of his government to set up a government-in-exile Leopold said, "I have decided to stay. The cause of the Allies is lost."
The Belgian surrender came into effect at 04:00 on 28 May. Recriminations abounded with the British and French claiming the Belgians had betrayed the alliance. In Paris, the French Premier Paul Reynaud
Paul Reynaud
Paul Reynaud was a French politician and lawyer prominent in the interwar period, noted for his stances on economic liberalism and militant opposition to Germany. He was the penultimate Prime Minister of the Third Republic and vice-president of the Democratic Republican Alliance center-right...

, denounced Leopold's surrender, the Belgian Premier Hubert Pierlot
Hubert Pierlot
Hubert Marie Eugène, Count Pierlot was a Belgian Walloon politician and jurist, the 32nd Prime Minister of Belgium between 1939 and 1945 .-Biography:He was a representative of the Catholic Party Hubert Marie Eugène, Count Pierlot (23 December 1883, Cugnon (Bertrix) – 13 December 1963, Uccle)...

, informed the people that Leopold had taken action against the unanimous advice of the government. As a result, the king was no longer in a position to govern and the Belgian government-in-exile that was located in Paris (later moved to London following the fall of France), would continue the struggle. The chief complaint was that the Belgians had not given any prior warning that their situation was so serious as to capitulate. Such claims were largely unjust. The Allies had known, and admitted it privately on 25 May through contact with the Belgians, that the latter were on the verge of collapse.
Churchill's and the British response was officially restrained. This was due to the strong-willed defence of the Belgian defensive campaign presented to the cabinet by Sir Roger Keyes at 11:30 am 28 May. The French and Belgian ministers had referred to Leopold's actions as treacherous, but they were unaware of the true events: Leopold had not signed an agreement with Hitler in order to form a collaborative government, but an unconditional surrender as Commander-in-Chief of the Belgian Armed Forces.

Casualties


The casualty reports include total losses at this point in the campaign. The figures for the Battle of Belgium, 10–28 May 1940, cannot be known with any certainty.

Belgian casualties


Belgian casualties stood at:
  • Killed in action: 6,093 and 2,000 prisoners of war died in captivity
  • Missing: more than 500
  • Captured: 200,000
  • Wounded: 15,850
  • Aircraft: 112 destroyed

French casualties


Numbers for the Battle of Belgium are unknown, but the French suffered the following losses throughout the entire western campaign, 10 May – 22 June:
  • Killed in action: 90,000
  • Wounded: 200,000
  • Prisoners of War: 1,900,000.
  • Total French losses in aircraft numbered 264 from 12 to 25 May, and 50 for 26 May to 1 June.

British casualties


Numbers for the Battle of Belgium are unknown, but the British suffered the following losses throughout the entire campaign, 10 May – 22 June:
  • 68,111 killed in action, wounded or captured.
  • 64,000 vehicles destroyed or abandoned
  • 2,472 guns destroyed or abandoned
  • RAF losses throughout the entire campaign (10 May – 22 June) amounted to 931 aircraft and 1,526 casualties. Casualties to 28 May are unknown. Total British losses in the air numbered 344 between 12 and 25 May, and 138 between 26 May and 1 June.

German casualties


The consolidated report of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht was part of the command structure of the armed forces of Nazi Germany during World War II.- Genesis :...

regarding the operations in the west from 10 May to 4 June (German: Zusammenfassender Bericht des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht über die Operationen im Westen vom 10. Mai bis 4. Juni) reports:
  • Killed in action: 10,232 officers and soldiers
  • Missing: 8,463 officers and soldiers
  • Wounded: 42,523 officers and soldiers
  • Losses of the Luftwaffe from 10 May to 3 June: 432 aircraft
  • Losses of the Kriegsmarine: none

See also


  • Mechelen Incident
    Mechelen Incident
    The Mechelen Incident of 10 January 1940, also known as the Mechelen affair, was an event during the Phoney War. A German aircraft with an officer on-board carrying the plans for Fall Gelb , a German attack on the Low Countries, crash-landed in neutral Belgium near Vucht, in the modern-day...

  • Battle of the Netherlands
    Battle of the Netherlands
    The Battle of the Netherlands was part of Case Yellow , the German invasion of the Low Countries and France during World War II. The battle lasted from 10 May 1940 until 14 May 1940 when the main Dutch forces surrendered...

  • German invasion of Luxembourg
  • Free Belgian Forces
    Free Belgian Forces
    The Free Belgian Forces were members of the Belgian armed forces in World War II who continued fighting against the Axis after the surrender of Belgium and its subsequent occupation by the Germans...