Defence of Antwerp 1914
Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines Location: Belgium Period/ Conflict: World War I Year: 1914 Date/s: October 1914 Following the fall of the Liege forts on 16 August 1914, the Belgian Army withdrew to Antwerp, where it re-grouped at the 'National Redoubt'.
This consisted of over 40 forts and several lines of defences around the port. While the main German invasion force elected to bypass Antwerp and advance through Belgium and into France, it was still necessary to detach four divisions towards Antwerp in order to prevent the 145,000 Belgian troops there attacking the main force's flank.
Churchill took an active part in directing these operations, crossing the Channel frequently in the cruiser Adventurer to confirm the force’s needs were adequately provided for, and at one stage intervening to make sure that heavy lorries and additional buses were sent.
The defence and fall of Antwerp, Belgium in 1914. British Naval Brigade with machine guns and armoured cars go to strengthen the defence. Group of soldiers standing around. Primitive armoured cars with the letter RN on the sides. Huntley Film Archives (Click image to watch)
It was a successful operation, but the Royal Marines were withdrawn three days later, and were embarked in the 7th Battlecruiser Squadron, the same units that had ferried them across the Channel.
Worries that the cruisers posed too tempting a target brought the amphibious operation to an end. From this early episode we find the genesis and evolution of “the Dunkirk circus”—with Churchill at the centre of operations and decision-making.
After resisting several sorties from the city, the Germans finally launched an all-out attack on Antwerp in September. As the battle raged, the Belgian government appealed for British aid and units of the Royal Naval Division was despatched to the city, arriving on 3 October.
Although their presence boosted Belgian morale the Germans still took Antwerp on 9 October.
‘I think everything will be all right now, Mr. Burgomaster,’ he called in a voice which could be distinctly heard throughout the lobby. ‘You needn’t worry. We’re going to save the city.’ Winstone Chrurchill, Antwerp 1914