Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Belgian Franctireurs 1914


fritz
 Share

Recommended Posts

In other context I just read through some reports of the advance through Belgium and found this coverage. Probably not verifiable in itself, but it shows the impression of Belgian resistance that existed at the time.

25.8.1914

17.Res.Div.: Straßenkampf in Löwen

"Inf.Regt.163: „In Landen sollte das Bataillon ausgeladen werden; beim Eintreffen hielt der Bataillonskommandeur Oberstleutnant Kutscha, die Meldung in Händen, daß ein Ausfall der Belgier aus Antwerpen bevorstehe. Oberstleutnant Kutscha befahl daher die Weiterfahrt bis Löwen, wo das Bataillon bei Tagesanbruch eintraf. Am Bahnhofe sahen wir die ersten belgischen Gefangenen, welche nach Deutschland abtransportiert werden sollten. Nach dem Entladen des Zuges wurde aus den Feldküchen Kaffee getrunken, dann auf dem Bahnhofsplatz vorläufig gelagert. Die Einwohner umstanden das Bataillon neugierig, aber friedlich, verkauften Zigaretten, Schokolade und Ansichtskarten. Um 9 Uhr vorm. wurde das Bataillon alarmiert und marschierte mit klingendem Spiel nach Bueken, um sich dort zur Verfügung der 18. Reserve-Division zu stellen. Von ferne hörte man den Gefechtslärm der Schlacht von Mecheln. Das Bataillon biwakierte nördlich Bueken. Auf der Dorfstraße standen die Fahrzeuge der Feldartillerie. Um 5 Uhr nachmittags eröffnete die Bevölkerung, die sich bisher friedlich gegen uns gezeigt, teilweise sogar aus den Feldküchen mitgegessen hatte, aus Verstecken plötzlich Feuer auf die Truppen und Fahrzeuge. Aus Fenstern, Bodenluken und Türen wurde geschossen. Verluste an Pferden und Verwirrung bei den Fahrzeugen traten ein. Neun Einwohner wurden mit den Waffen in der Hand gefangen, die dann von einer Gruppe der 9. Kompagnie erschossen wurden. Ein widerwärtiger Auftrag für Soldaten. Bueken wurde zur Strafe in Brand gesteckt. Das I. und II. Bataillon und die M.G.K. waren mittlerweile bei Herent eingetroffen und stellten sich dort bereit. Auch hier erfolgte zu gleicher Zeit ein hinterlistiger Feuerüberfall auf die Truppe, so daß auch hier bewaffnete Einwohner erschossen und die Gebäude, aus denen gefeuert ward, in Brand gesteckt werden mußten. Die große Bagage des Regiments war in Löwen zurückgeblieben. Punkt 5 Uhr nachmittags erfolgte auch hier seitens der Bevölkerung ein hinterlistiger Feuerüberfall, der Verluste an Pferden und an Material anrichtete. Um 11 Uhr 30 abends rückte das Regiment wieder in Löwen ein, um dort zur Ruhe über zu gehen. Das III. Bataillon übernahm die Vorposten und den Brückenschutz bei Cologne. Das Regiment hatte durch den Überfall der Zivilbevölkerung einen Verlust von 2 Toten und 15 Verwundeten zu beklagen.“

Besides other events, the report describes several attacks of Belgian civilians, causing great confusion, losses of horses and material and 17 casualities (two dead) in one day. Several civilians who were cought armed were executed and houses from which the units had received fire were burned. There are other similar reports.

http://www.1914-18.info/erster-weltkrieg.p...on&start=10

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Robert;

I don't want to comment on Louvain, as I have not studied it in detail, and it was one of the most important incidents and situations relating to the topic of the Belgian franc tireurs, and I do not want to comment based on fragmentary study.

But I have been reading more on Belgium, material from all sides, and my opinions have formed further. The situation was a "perfect storm" of conditions leading to whatever happened. I will again, at the risk of sounding curious, that the events flowed out of a extraordinary nexus of factors. The Germans, for their part, as a matter of national survival, had to pass thru Belgium at extraordinary speed as a matter of national survival. The Belgians, for their part, resisted furiously, using all sorts of unconventional tactics, many revolving about ambushes (by both military formations and armed civilians), sudden forays by armored cars, possibly troops wearing German uniforms (I have a number of reports suggesting that, but I am not convinced), the formation of special formations for irregular warfare, surprise demolitions behind the lines, etc. Then you add into the mix the rather curious Belgian uniforms, the sometimes curious and unpredictable Garde civique, curious equipment and tactics, etc.

But I think that it must be admitted that there were significant numbers of incidents of Belgian civilians firing on German troops. I have translated many reports of this from the original hand-written manuscripts written literally on the battle-field, by participantd, including my grand-father's letters, long before the enormous propaganda war that broke out clearly triggered fabrications and stretched defenses on both sides. Additionally, I have often seen writings in English denying this, while Belgian writings in French, intended for domestic consumption, praise efforts at irregular defense by civilians.

Two points: I still have not got to the bottom of assertions, for example by English writers writing on these events, that international conventions legally protected civilians firing on uniformed forces. This does not seem to be the custom of war, and I have to say that even as we speak US and NATO forces seem to happily destroy armed civilians, and their surroundings, not only when fired on, but even by people that seem to be considering such actions. This argument probably should not be pushed further, as contemporaneous events, but there seems to be a disconnect here. (Can this be discussed in Skittles?)

Finally, I am aware that some of my comments may be against the views of some. I have recently received very welcome and useful help and guidence from people who might be considered on the "other side" of this debate, and I pray that my ruminations will not upset them or lead them to cease cooperating on this area of study. I am very thankful for their assistance.

Bob Lembke

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Bob. Happy New Year to you and your compatriots. I don't think there is any doubt that there were franctireurs in Belgium and Alsace-Lorraine. The main criticism was the over reaction by the German Army against it. There was a predisposition to believe that any shots coming from an unexpected direction, always liable to occur when inexperienced troops are moving into new territory, were being fired by franc-tireurs. This was not helped by the uniforms worn by some Belgian forces. The taking, holding, execution and deportation of hostages and the vast sums of money demanded as indemnity( seldom if ever returned) was rightly condemned by most and only defended by the German high command. The grounds for the propaganda, exaggerated though it was, were factual. Those who could remember the Kaiser exhorting German troops setting off to fight against the Boxer Uprising, to " behave like their ancestors, the Huns", would have no difficulty believing the propaganda.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Happy New Year to you All,

I think that's a fair summing up Tom.

The bulk of the "actions", particularly in the south of Belgium, were in the first few weeks of the war; in the rest of the 4 years of occupation there were hardly any such incidents (apart from the labour deportations in 1916, which is a different topic which we have discussed previously)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I largely agree with Tom and Steve, and my view of this topic is steadily evolving, and more critical, generally speaking, of the Germans.

I just got back from Florida (where I almost drowned myself at free-diving, a good diver at 28 does not necessarily equate to a good diver at 70), and I brought along a book on Belgium by a quite expert American correspondent, for a second read. (Powell, E. Alexander, Fighting in Flanders, 1915, New York) Powell was strongly on the side of the Belgians, and sometimes slipped in inventions of fact to the benefit of the "Belgian argument", but was an experienced and intrepid war correspondent and included a lot of interesting material. But he did describe how the Belgians were frequently operating outside of the rules of war, sometimes to their benefit, sometimes to their loss (like nutty cavalry charges). He also mentioned an interesting pair of incidents which reflects on another cause (in my mind) for so many things going wrong. Powell was in the area and knew the participants in of one of the incidents, and took a dramatic part in the second incident. I wonder if anyone has any insight into these incidents, which supposedly might have led to severe reprisals against Ghent. I'll paraphrase this interesting scenario.

A German Army (Powell says the 9th) was approaching Ghent on September 8th (Powell had had an interesting dinner with the commander, Gen. von Boehn) and the "burgomaster" (as Powell called him) of Ghent, fearing the German Army marching thru Ghent, and possible severe disturbances that the mayor feared, drove out to Gen. Boehn's HQ to negotiate to persuade the Germans to avoid entering Ghent and instead march about the city. His negotiations were successful and von Boehn agreed to march about, given several conditions; that no Belgian troops were to occupy the city, that the Garde civique be disbanded, and that the city supply the army with certain supplies, the principal one being 100,000 cigars.

The mayor was back an hour from his successful trip when two German soldiers, out to purchase medical supplies, got lost and drove into Ghent. In front of the American Consulate the German car encountered a Belgian armored car, driven by an American citizen of Belgian ancestry (William van Calck of Pittsburgh) that had just entered Ghent on a scouting run, and the Belgian armored car machine-gunned the German car, severely wounding both Germans, and also rammed the German car. This occurred before the US Vice-Consul van Hee, in the door-way of his Consulate. This worthy, realizing that the mayor had assurred Gen. von Boehn that there were no Belgian troops in Ghent, immediately jumped in his car and picked up the mayor and rushed out to Gen von Boehn's HQ and reported the incident. Von Boehn was furious and mentioned the reprisals inflicted on cities when Germans had been fired on, but van Hee argued that the US had special relations with Ghent. Supposedly, Boehn stated: "If you will give me your personal word that there will be no further attacks on Germans who may enter the city, and that the wounded soldiers will be taken under American protection and sent to Brussels by the American consular authorities when they have recovered, I will agree to spare Ghent and will not even demand a money indemnity." (page 109.)

In the course of the conversation Gen. von Boehn complained about articles written by Powell, describing German atrocities, and van Hee replied that by coincidence Powell had just entered Ghent, and von Boehn asked the US diplomat to ask Powell to motor out to have dinner on the next day with van Hee, giving van Hee a safe-conduct for Powell to come out to dinner the next day. The next morning Powell, van Hee, and Powell's photographer were driving thru Ghent on his way when he encountered a mob of several thousand Belgians, who were chasing two Germans on horseback who had also blundered into Ghent on a wagon and who were trying to escape Ghent on the draft horses. Powell (he had left his Belgian military driver behind driving to the German HQ) drove into the mob, blowing his horn, and the Germans were taken into the car just as the mob surged about the car. Van Hee stood on the seat and supposedly called out: "I am the American Consul! These men are under my protection! You are civilians, attacking German soldiers in uniform. If they are harmed your city will be burned about your ears." At that moment a burly Belgian jumped on the running board and pointed a pistol at the Germans, but the photographer knocked his hand up, and Powell gunned the engine and they roared off. Powell wrote: "had those German soldiers been murdered by civilians in the city streets no power on earth could have saved the city from German vengance. General von Boehn told me so himself." Powell drove out of Ghent and after sundry events reached von Boehn's HQ for dinner and a spirited conversation on several things, principally on the events in Aerschot and Louvain, Powell having visited both.

I have to say that I am coming across numerous accounts of small numbers of Germans, like communications troops, being picked off by civilians and/or Belgian soldiers. My grand-father's letters recall several, including a first-aid post being raided, and 43 wounded soldiers being killed. This was in a letter written at the time, not some incident dreamed up or embellished in 1915 during the great propaganda (on both sides) debate. My grand-father was fired on several times, once having to crawl under his staff car for cover from sniper fire. The diary of the German sergeant in my g-f's army corps, which I am translating from the manuscript that I bought on e-Bay, recounts such incidents that he witnessed, as well as the results of German reprisals, and perhaps unprovoked attacks as well, which disturbed this seemingly fair-minded obxerver.

Whatever the balance of these events are, there exact nature, there was a great deal of irregular warfare going on, some by regular troops, some by formations formed for "special warfare", and certainly some by civilians. (Powell, very pro-Belgian, described priests fighting. The sergeant mentioned a priest captured with other men and a 12 year old fighting against his unit.) I have no doubt that some German actions were completely over the top, some reflecting far too hasty "justice" (my g-f mentioned 125 captured franc tireurs being shot at one time, it is hard to imagine that they received proper trials.)

An incredible mess.

Bob

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well

As I live about 100 meters from the place where the incident with the Belgian armoured car (corner of the Lammerstraat and the Sint Pietersnieuwstraat in Gent) took place, I think I have to reply.

The period of september 1914 was a very confused time in the unoccupied (Flemish part) of Belgium. The majority of the Belgian army was in and near the town of Antwerp. Elsewhere there were troops in training , cavalrypatrols, armoured cars and garde civique under the command of a general Clooten. One of these units had contact near Kwatrecht and Melle with parts of the 162 and 163 German regiments (81 brigade, 17 reserve division, IX reserve korps under General Max von Böhn.

On the evening of 07/09/1914 this general send a letter (carried by a certain Wisser, a garde civique from Liège ? ) to Emile Braun, mayor of Ghent. In this letter he ordered mayor Braun to come to his headquarters to negotiate the surrender of the town of Ghent. Mayor Braun arrived the next day in Oordeghem where he met general von Böhn who agreed not to occupy Ghent if the following demands where met.

1. the garde civique was to be disbanded

2. a number of supplies were to be delivered to the german army, eg. 100000 cigars,

150 ton of oats, 1000 bottles of mineral water, 1000 bottles of champagne, bandages, 100 bicycles, 10 motor cycles etc.

3. mayor Braun had to guarantee the absence of Belgian military . now this strikes me as odd. Did a German general really think that a local mayor could really and legally promise such a thing?

The rest is more or less what Alexander Powell said in his book. A Belgian armoured car under command of Lieutenant Kervyn de Lettenhove met a German car which apparently shot first and the Belgians returned fire. (Communal sources doubt that vice consul Van Hee was present)

I have no further information of the second incident. There are however diaries (the Flemish writer Virginie Loveling) that state that after the dissolution of the Garde Civique groups of dockers had taken up arms. There was apparently anger over the use of German labour as strike breakers !!!

Carl

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well

As I live about 100 meters from the place where the incident with the Belgian armoured car (corner of the Lammerstraat and the Sint Pietersnieuwstraat in Gent) took place, I think I have to reply.

The period of september 1914 was a very confused time in the unoccupied (Flemish part) of Belgium. The majority of the Belgian army was in and near the town of Antwerp. Elsewhere there were troops in training , cavalrypatrols, armoured cars and garde civique under the command of a general Clooten. One of these units had contact near Kwatrecht and Melle with parts of the 162 and 163 German regiments (81 brigade, 17 reserve division, IX reserve korps under General Max von Böhn.

On the evening of 07/09/1914 this general send a letter (carried by a certain Wisser, a garde civique from Liège ? ) to Emile Braun, mayor of Ghent. In this letter he ordered mayor Braun to come to his headquarters to negotiate the surrender of the town of Ghent. Mayor Braun arrived the next day in Oordeghem where he met general von Böhn who agreed not to occupy Ghent if the following demands where met.

1. the garde civique was to be disbanded

2. a number of supplies were to be delivered to the german army, eg. 100000 cigars,

150 ton of oats, 1000 bottles of mineral water, 1000 bottles of champagne, bandages, 100 bicycles, 10 motor cycles etc.

3. mayor Braun had to guarantee the absence of Belgian military . now this strikes me as odd. Did a German general really think that a local mayor could really and legally promise such a thing?

The rest is more or less what Alexander Powell said in his book. A Belgian armoured car under command of Lieutenant Kervyn de Lettenhove met a German car which apparently shot first and the Belgians returned fire. (Communal sources doubt that vice consul Van Hee was present)

I have no further information of the second incident. There are however diaries (the Flemish writer Virginie Loveling) that state that after the dissolution of the Garde Civique groups of dockers had taken up arms. There was apparently anger over the use of German labour as strike breakers !!!

Carl

Dear Carl;

Again wonderful insight into these tangled matters from our Flemish friend! In balance I feel that Powell is a useful source with some level of journalistic standards (often missing in those days, alco not unknown today), but I have caught him in some embellishments. His description of these events seemed plausable, if somewhat dramatic and emphasising his role in these matters. (He has several descriptions of very dubious "journalists" wandering about Belgium at the time.) Powell included dramatic examples of the tireless energy and astonishing merits of Van Hee.

The account did state that the mayor made the agreement with von Boehn largely out of fear that the large working class districts might erupt into violence if the Germans entered Ghent. When I read the book I thought that the mayor really had little authority to make such an agreement, and might even open him up to legal charges, but that he was desperate to avoid urban combat and reprisals.

Was Virginie Loveling the author of the diaries, or a later editor of them? I will launch my book-detective wife on the hunt, in any case.

Carl, I have an interesting photo, which I understand (without expert basis) is on the steps of the City Hall of Ghent. It is a group photo of the Generalkommando of III. RK, including Gen. von Beseler and my grand-father. Will try to figure out how to send you a scan. (I am not up to speed on graphics.)

Carl, thanks again for your valuable input.

As to the armored car, Powell only mentioned the Belgian-American. He was the chauffer (sp?) of a rich American; they were touring Austria on the outbreak of war; the Austrians siezed the big touring car, and the driver made his way to Belgium.

I really value this detail, Carl.

Bob

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Quote Bob : 'The Germans, for their part, as a matter of national survival, had to pass thru Belgium at extraordinary speed'

Yep, And the national survival and neutrality of Belgium was only a small detail, the German even didn't bother to declare war, just 'snap'.

Cnock

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The alliance system that developed in the run up to the war, and the militaristic mentalities prevalent in several countries, made the war all but unaviodable. WW I was just about the most massive piece of stupidity that the human race has ever engineered, in large part a quarrel between cousins. The fact that a passage thru, or an invasion of, Belgium was essencial to Germany's survival does not make it right in the least.

Since we are taking a trip down the "national guilt" lane, why is it that we never seem to take shots at, for example, Great Britain, who during WW I invaded a number of countries for reasons much less essential to its survival? Iraq was invaded, and the visitors stayed for 50 years, bringing in "Bomber" Harris and his aircraft to make the restive natives pasific. Greece (I am not sure of my history here) was invaded, the monarchy overthrown, for reasons much less urgent or vital, but the overthrow and occupation of the "cradle of democracy" is never examined. Iran is invaded and its rough-and-ready democracy (they had adopted the US Constitution in 1906) is overthrown, one of the five times the West did it in the 20th century, each time being careful to steal lots of oil. (Surprising that earlier, when these countries mostly produced pistacios (sp?-funny green nuts), not petroleum, and before the Royal Navy had started switching from coal to bunker oil, these countries did not seem to be quite as in need of Western enlightenment.

Cnock, you contribute a lot to this forum, which I really appreciate. But I am a bit thin-skinned here. In 1943 my mother and I came close to being jammed into a concentration camp (I was an especially dangerous 4-year old US citizen, of murderous intent), and when I first went to school my teachers would declare exercises in patriotism and beat me before the class to celebrate democracy or something, as I was a German-American (and an English-American, and a Danish-American, and a Scots-American, those probably had less to do with it); we had been in the US 20 years. (My parents finally took me out and put me in a private school for my protection.) So now I am a cranky old ****. If we were studying WW II, we would be immersed in a very different kettle of fish. I know that the topic of Belgium 1914 is a sensitive one. I think we have made useful progress here with our exchanges in this interesting and troubling area of inquiry.

Cranky Bob

Link to comment
Share on other sites

hello again

I'm not conviced that the German invasion of Belgium was essential to German national survival but i'm sure that German planners (let's not bring the Schlieffen plan up again !) saw it as essential to German national survival.

Mayor Braun was in a difficult situation. There was no direct contact with the Belgian authorities, the town had a large, unruly and politically very active labour force, rumours of German atrocities were rife, there was an influx of (numbers for september) about 45000 refugees from elsewhere in the country who needed food and shelter. So I can understand that he tried to keep German forces out of his town.

Bob you can read the diaries of Virginie Loveling (in Flemish) on this site

http://www.kantl.be/ctb/pub/loveling/html/

Carl

Link to comment
Share on other sites

These questions are not going to go away, neither will they ever have easy answers. I don't think that any of us need shoulder the blame for our ancestors nor should we seek to share their glory. There is another thread running where it is made obvious that the powers that were in Germany saw all problems and alternatives in a military light and sought military solutions to them. The non-military aspects of the invasion of France through neutral territories were ignored.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mayor Braun was in a difficult situation. There was no direct contact with the Belgian authorities, the town had a large, unruly and politically very active labour force, rumours of German atrocities were rife, there was an influx of (numbers for september) about 45000 refugees from elsewhere in the country who needed food and shelter. So I can understand that he tried to keep German forces out of his town.

Bob you can read the diaries of Virginie Loveling (in Flemish) on this site

http://www.kantl.be/ctb/pub/loveling/html/

Carl

Many thanks for the link. I was literally about to pick up the phone to call my wife and get her to look for the writings of Virginie Loveling and their availability in the US. I don't find it too hard to read Flemish, although I have not read much to date, but I really have to get a better Dutch/English dictionary; I only have a smallish paperback one from my wife's university bookstore.

Yes, Mayor Braun was certainly in a difficult place, to say the least. And one can also understand that the Germans would rather not go into Ghent right away. In one of his letters, my grand-father wrote about his joy at leaving Brussels for open country, describing the city as "a powder-keg".

How did Braun fare? Did he survive politically? Were his efforts appreciated?

Bob

PS: Tom, thanks for your wise words.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"German forces apparently considered the Gendarmerie ( a nation wide police force) as non military and therefore liable to be shot when found bearing arms. From a Belgian point of view they were an essential part of the army so perfectly allowed to fight. franc tireur or not ? I have heard of this question, but really do not understand it..."

This caught my eye in this (rather long) thread. The Belgian Gendarmerie were part of the Belgian armed forces. I've not heard of them being considered non-military by the Germans. Do you have any examples?

Paul

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Paul;

I believe that that was the German view of the garde civique, which was described by this Powell fellow (he seems a keen observer, but was not Belgian, and hardly omnicient) as largely ceremonial in purpose, "of the better classes", and "ill-trained", more like the Shriners than a military force. He felt that they were quite dangerous to have about. (I would not cite him if I were better read from the Belgian side.) The Germans seemed to generally have insisted that the garde civique stack arms and disperse wherever they went.

Was that also the German view of the Gendarmerie? Or were they the same? It seems that generally the actual Belgian police (some of them?) quickly resumed their duties under German command. (I am sure that a book or two could be written on that topic alone.) The name of the Gendarmerie suggests a police force, but of course almost everything about the Belgian Army seems curious to the outside observer, and if it really was a military force perhaps the Germans simply mistakenly thought that they were police on linguistic grounds.

At the risk of seeming to trivialize a very serious and tragic set of events, I continually am getting the impression that the unhappy events between the Germans and the Belgians in 1914 were a series of cultural misunderstandings. (I know that that sounds like a massive trivialization of these sad matters.)

I would like to return to a critical question. I have a (borrowed) book written by a British officer in 1915, I think, who was both an expert in military law and Germany, who maintained that international law upheld the right of civilians to take up arms and shoot at uniformed troops of an invading army, despite their not wearing any sort of uniform, and not being members of an organized military force. I was quite surprised by this assertion, which to me seems quite at odds with what is sometimes called "the usage of war". Certainly in the present day US and NATO forces do not give quarter to any guy in a bedsheet who shoots at them with an AK-47, nor do they extend the status of POW to any such individual caught shooting at them. What is the truth here? Have the rules of war changed? If the then "rules of war" permitted civilians to shoot and even kill uniformed troops and then claim combatant status, proper rations, etc. when overpowered we have to view the activity of the German Army in Belgium in 1914 in quite a different light. I have poised this question several times and no one seems to "rise to the bait", so to speak. This is a central question. I honestly do not know the answer. But I do not know of any army that accepts such behavior.

Bob

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bob, whatever the status of individuals who wear the equivalent of 'bedsheets' might be, there is no excuse that I am aware of for then shooting other civilians and burning whole villages as a means of suppressing the behaviour of said individuals.

Robert

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bob, whatever the status of individuals who wear the equivalent of 'bedsheets' might be, there is no excuse that I am aware of for then shooting other civilians and burning whole villages as a means of suppressing the behaviour of said individuals.

Robert

I agree with you 100%. (I am presently losing friends, even friends of 50 years, due to my present bitter opposition to much of what is termed "counter-insurgency".)

Again, if invading troops are marching thru a village, and a civilian takes a hunting or military rifle and fires out his window on those troops, killing some, or missing, and his home is stormed, and he is captured, was he, in 1914, under the protection of international conventions, and due proper rations, visits from the International Red Cross, letters from home, etc., or was it legal and customary to put him against a wall? I honestly don't know. Have those international conventions changed between 1914 and 2010? (The book that I am referring to is unfortunately not at hand at this moment, and I don't recall the name of the author, an academic and UK Army officer; it seems to have been an important book, a supposed translation of the so-called "German Book of War", with a blistering 70 page forward discussing these issues that far overshadows the translation itself. The author was a captain in 1919, and then he was sent to Versailles, and was granted an extraordinary promotion from captain to brigadier general so that the other conferees that he might talk to would take him more seriously.)

There certainly was no justification to shoot our hypothetical franc tireur's next door neighbor, or burn the neighbor's house.

My wife, who is much smarter than I am, scoffs at these hair-splitting discussions of "war crimes"; she maintains that all war is criminal, and such discussions are silly business.

Bob

Link to comment
Share on other sites

re Emile Braun

German forces under von Beseler finally occupied Gent in october 1914. Braun remained as a very popular mayor until his arrest by the Germans in early 1918. He was imprisoned in Celle. On his return in december 1918 he took his posts as mayor and member of parlaiment up again. Old age (born in 1849) and bad health stopped him from standing in the elections of 1921. In 1922 he received the title of Baron Braun from king Albert. He died in 1927. The square in front of the town hall is still named after him.

ps Interestingly enough his parents were German migrants from Kommern in the Eiffel

Carl

I'll look some things up about the gendarmerie

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Germany seems to have decided that it was illegal for a citizen to take up arms to defend his country. Exactly where the legality or lack of it stems from, I have never understood nor have I ever seen a reference. Many nations would disagree and many would insist that it was not only a citizen's right but also his duty. I doubt whether that stance would have been maintained if the Entente had crossed the Rhine in 1918. The problem probably stems from the fact that Prussia had more trouble defeating a citizens' army in 1870 than it did in rolling up the Emperor and his professional army in the Franco Prussian War. That however is straying off topic except as a reason as to why the Germans reacted so badly in 1914.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There is absolutely no doubt that the Germans thought that ANY shot fired at them was by franc tireurs. There are several diaries of the time that say just that. Quite why they thought it was illegal/unfair for anyone to shoot at them is a mystery.

The cavalry thought and said in reports, that people were fleeing when they saw them and were, obviously, spies!

Equally, and I only came across this recently, there were examples of people paying off old scores by reporting to other villages that people were mutilating German soldiers who had been wounded (there is no evidence at all that this happened in reality). No doubt this did not help the German attitude.

However, it is utterly certain that the German actions were premeditated and quite ridiculous. The priest at Longuyon, who had been working in the hospital since the invasion and the arrival of casulaties, was suddenly taken out and shot as a spy.There was no trial and no evidence. He just happened to be convenient.

I don't hold with what is going on in Afghanistan,but it is a bit different to Dinant, and other places, where groups were taken out and shot by the road in cold blood (women and children as well).

As fo the invasion itself. The Chancellor said, "we have done them a wrong", referring to Belgium and Luxembourg. Can't get much clearer than that. Incidentally, in the same speech he reveals that he has no idea whether the army has actually invaded Belgium or not.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Germany seems to have decided that it was illegal for a citizen to take up arms to defend his country."

"Quite why they thought it was illegal/unfair for anyone to shoot at them is a mystery."

Any army on the world will put irregular formations and armed civilists outside the laws of war. The allies did so as well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Any army on the world will put irregular formations and armed civilists outside the laws of war. The allies did so as well.

That may well be so but it does not make taking up arms against an invader illegal. I suspect that the German insistence on an unfounded illegality was the usual ruse of attributing to their opponents a crime they were committing or contemplating themselves. In the same way that they accused the French of invading their neutral neighbours and the Entente of using poison gas first. The Germans may well have been uneasy at the glaring illegalty of their invasion and decided to muddy the waters.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good afternoon All,

I think it rather depends on your definition of "irregular formation" ? The Prussian/German army would have preferred a battle between regular units, face-to-face, 3.00pm, Saturday afternoon, pre-arranged venue, winner takes all, but war wasn't (and isn't) like that anymore, a fact I think they found it difficult to accept.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

re the Gendarmerie

The Belgian gendarmerie was a nation wide police force (large towns had their own forces) which was part of the military. In war time they added a military element to their tasks (eg military police). Their uniforms was rather out of date. It still resembled that of Napoleonic grenadier a cheval (including the bearskin bonnet)!!!

re their treatment by the Germans :

* at Visé on 04/08/1914 (the very start of the invasion) the 4 man strong gendarmerie post opened fire on German troops. Two gendarmes were killed. The village was set on fire because " franc tireurs " had fired.

* at Edemolen on 12/09/1914 there was an "interallied" skirmish between Belgian (gendarmerie, garde civique and army armoured cars), French (2 companies of territorial infantry) and 2 British armoured cars and a German cavalry force , Bavarian Schwere Reiter (3 squadrons cavalry about 200 jäger and 2 pieces of artillery. About 10 gendarmes were killed, 5 were taken prisoner. One of these declared that the Germans planned to shoot them as Franc tireurs which did not happen. They were instead used as human shields. Interestingly there are German sources on this topic.

Oberstleutnant Graf von Preysing of the 1 Bavarian Heavy horse says :

Nun hieß es mit den Gefangenen über die Straße zurückkommen. Wie in alter Zeit, wo man während des Gefechts parlamentierte, ließen wir durch den belgischen Feldwebel, dem die Gewehrläufe unserer Reiter folgten, dem Führer des Autos sagen, er solle das Schießen einstellen, damit wir über die Straße hinüberkönnten..

Now we had to cross the street with the prisonners. Like in days , when there were negotiations during a battle, we made the Belgian gendarmes , while our soldiers held them in their sights, say to the commander of the armoured car that he should hold his fire while we were crossing the street (my translation i'm neither German or English speaking)

carl

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good afternoon All,

Thanks Carl, it is sometimes difficult for British and Americans to appreciate where the gendarme fits in in the Belgian (and French) system. We have police and separate armed forces (aka "the military") they have Police, Gendarmerie Nationale and armed forces but the latter two are both part of the military. [As an aside the rivalry between police and gendarmerie is intense and in a few recent cases been blamed for justice been thwarted].

Please also be aware that in 1914 there were many other roles which carried a uniform and were often armed: forest rangers (or equivalent), customs officers, firemen etc. even postmen.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nun hieß es mit den Gefangenen über die Straße zurückkommen. Wie in alter Zeit, wo man während des Gefechts parlamentierte, ließen wir durch den belgischen Feldwebel, dem die Gewehrläufe unserer Reiter folgten, dem Führer des Autos sagen, er solle das Schießen einstellen, damit wir über die Straße hinüberkönnten..

Now we had to cross the street with the prisonners. Like in days , when there were negotiations during a battle, we made the Belgian gendarmes , while our soldiers held them in their sights, say to the commander of the armoured car that he should hold his fire while we were crossing the street (my translation i'm neither German or English speaking)

Carl,

Feldwebel is a singular, not plural, term, and it doesn't mean 'gendarme' or 'gendarmes'. It is a German military rank - a senior NCO of approx sergeant-major level. If the German officer referred to his Belgian prisoner as a Feldwebel, he clearly regarded that man as a member of the military, not as a civilian. Is there any other reference to corroberate the belief that the man sent to parlay was in fact a gendarme?

Mick

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...