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Belgian Franctireurs 1914


fritz
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Hi Bob,

As the main points get bogged down in long posts, here is the core of my question...

Unfortunately, I seem to be quite unable to respond briefly. First of all, I should state what I am and am not studying, re: Belgium. I am studying the siege of Antwerp, in which my grand-father had an interesting role, and more generally, his actions in Belgium; and finally, the duel between the German 42 cm howitzers and the Austrian and German 30.5 cm mortars (my g-f having had an important role in the use of these weapons) and the Belgian and French forts in 1914. I am writing a book about my g-f and another, with a partner, on the big guns and the forts. I am not specifically studying the deaths of Belgian civilians, or the irregular fighting, but constantly come across mention of these matters. I would guess that I have read at least 150 or 200 books, letters, articles, etc. on Belgium in the last 11 years, almost all in German, French, and Flemish/Dutch. I probably have read more Belgian sources than German. Just bought five more Walloon/French books in Belgium on one day in the last month, written by the same Walloon, who is/was quite anti-German, but a seemingly fairly good historian. A dear Belgian e-friend has helped me a lot, although he and I certainly do not see eye to eye on everything.

"Fact of the matter is, within days of the outbreak of the war, German units were lining up men, women, children, BABIES... and murdering them. Irrespective of whether they had taken up arms or not."

1) Do you believe the above did/did not happen

I have seen quite a number (many, many dozens, or more) of lurid accounts of such events, like for some reason a young father is shot in the town, the young wife, seeing this, cries; the Germans, seeing her crying, immediately puts her against the wall and shoots her; seeing his mother shot, the 5-6 year old son wimpers; the Germans, seeing the child whimper, puts the child against the wall and the infant is also shot by the firing squad. Or, in a major Belgian post war tome, a "German letter", of course, only in French, no date, no place, no names, no hint how the belgians got the letter, paraphrasing a letter from a German officer in Belgium to his brother on the Eastern Front: "Yes, it is hard work crucifying people, but we have good morale, and we work hard - - - "

If you systematically add up these accounts (there were hundreds and hundreds of books published between 1914 and 1918 cataloging these events) they would add up to thousands and many thousands of victims, including bus-loads of women, children, and infants. Many or most of these stories seem implausable on the face of it. I have not studied it in detail, but have seen that in 1915 the Belgians and Germans roughly agreed that about 6000 Belgian civilians died. (I think someone in the thread just mentioned a figure a bit under 6000.) It is crystal-clear to me that there was a great deal of franc tireur activity on the part of Belgian civilians, I have belgian sources for this as well (I will later post a citation for an interesting book by a Flemish professor from Liege, who discussed the phenomenon; he fled the town and quickly got to the UK, and published his book IN ENGLISH in the UK.) Clearly (to me) there are many more reported murders of innocent civilians than could have happened, if you accept the widely accepted global figures have any merit.

In the Brit/Belgian literature of the period there are numbers of arguments that it is lawful for civilians or soldiers in civilian clothes to open fire on uniformed troops of another state, and they cannot be held responsible legally. I have not worked thru the tortured arguements, nor compared the alleged international law statutes with clearly correct copies of these texts, but in practice I have never seen a country, to this very day, tolerate such behavior. (I might briefly mention that there are three US and UK studies that about 3/4 of a million civilians have been killed in Iraq, besides combatants; I think that these are too high, but it seems that about 200,000 civilians have been killed there, about half by "the Coalition of the Willing" (mostly US and UK, mostly in the early years), plus many tens of thousands of Iraqi "insurgents"; I have not heard many shrieks of outrage over these recent acts.)

The official allied arguments (I can provide citations) that it is legal for civilians and men in civilian dress to fire on the enemy's troops is a left-handed admission that there were civilians firing on German troops, understood on all sides.

I would say that some of the 6000 or so were caught red-handed in an act routinely punished by death by all organized armies, down to the present day, some were in some murky situation, and I am sure that a large part were shot unjustly. I think that our real question is what are the proportions here. I will also state that I am very troubled by the speed with which numbers of alleged franc tireurs were shot; they could have not had a "fair" trial. One of my grand-father's letters mentioned 125 being shot at one place at one time. Generally in the war the Germans had the highest standards of military justice of all the combatants, with all defendants having a real lawyer (and officer) defense attorney, etc.

2) If yes, are you saying its OK

Any shooting of an innocent civilian is certainly not OK. An aunt of mine, a 26 year old mother of two, was axed to death at the end of WW I by the victors. A number of relatives, civilians and a couple of soldiers, were killed by the victors in diverse ways after WW II. I am hardly one to approve of such an obscenity.

3) Who else did anything like that in the war.

There are all sorts of examples of such matters, done by all forces. Do you know the fine book by a Dr. Dunn, something like The War as We Knew It, by a fighting Brit military doctor; he described the French Army shooting numbers of Flemish civilians in Allied-held Flanders, for absurd reasons (for example, plowing with white horses; most Flemish farmers used white plow horses, French farmers usually use darker plow horses; also hanging out laundry to dry, clearly artillery fire directions in underwear code for the German artillery), including two young women shop clerks that he knew. This book is a classic, one of the best personal narratives of the war. No one cared about the Flemish, the Walloon-centric Belgian government despised them, so no one write about this. It probably is also one of the reasons that Belgium is probably falling apart now.

But what is "like that"? I certainly don't know of a similar circumstance, on either side.

Can all be answered in 10 words or less.

Not by me!

Best

Chris

Extravagent Best,

Bob

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Gordon Corrigan, that great debunker of Great War mythology, always disdainful of hyperbole regarding that conflict, writes :

It is probably unnecessary to say that there is not the slightest shred of evidence to substantiate any of these increasingly lurid tales of individual nastiness......There is, however, ample evidence of officially condoned acts of terror during the initial invasion of Belgium, acts which, if committed in a later war, would have led to trial for war crimes.

( Mud, Blood and Poppycock, page 182)

He writes that, in 1871, the francs-tireurs , some of them in civilian clothes, had compelled the Prussians to deploy almost one third of their strength in guarding their lines of communication, and that many of their troops had been killed in ambush and by snipers.

If the memory of this had an impact on the way the Germans behaved in 1914, is it not reasonable to assume that the Franco -Belgian populace might also have been apprehensive about reprisal, which had been vicious in 1871 ? If so, the existence of large numbers of Belgian irregulars indulging in francs-tireur operations is implausible, especially if, as Zuber contends, the Belgians succeeded in minimising their losses.

Phil (PJA)

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A partial answer to Bobs last post---in part.

We do not bae our assessment of atrocities against civilians on contemporary documents alone, but on the (we are right to assume) assiduous work in research that great historians today have done. When there judgments are seen to be profoundly sound on other matters, we are right to assume they are just as right on these. Terraine, Barnett, Strachan et al are no 'fly by night' writers of rubbish for the 'History Channel' but top flight historians of great International standing.

You concentrate on the "lurid" but avoid the factual----actually the facts are quite horribly lurid enough---to deny them is to deny history itself.

You mention "about 6,000 civilians died" I did earlier, but I think I said 'murdered'-----not all of them perhaps---perhaps----but I maintain most of them were murdered. This is not what many want to hear, but there you have it.

The deaths of Iraqis is not alone the work of the coalition Bob, and it is invidious to presume that that is factual. Many are killed in revenge attacks by their 'own people', many are factional killings, many are gang related, many are simple accidents---when a roadside device kills a soldier it might also kill a few of the 'nationals' at the same time. I will retain my sympathies mostly for our own deaths.

When Mosquitos attacked Gestapo Headquarters in Copenhagen, but one was shot down and crashed into a school killing children, some other Mossies bombed the smoke and flames, thinking, in the centre of the city, at rooftop height, that was the target!

Later when the tragedy was learned in full, the Danes accepted it with "Brave and Stoic hearts, and acclaimed it a blow for freedom" say's Basil Embry, who flew on the mission. My point, 'colateral damage' is unavoidable and ought to be expected....War is all tragedy.

Three Mosquitos and one Mustang were lost on that raid, 7 brave men lost-----as brave soldiers are lost in Iraq, and elsewhere. More tragedy.

You are right to abhor 'end of war' pointless deaths, but a really inexplicable, cruel and pointless one was visited, within hours of the commencement of the armistice in 1918, on the civilian population of Mezieres----shelled with gas and incendiary -----burning a Hospital to the ground----What demonic urge to violence and murder drove that sensless act of wanton violence on a civilian population can only be guessed at--again I say the dreadful word payback----those French peasants you talk of might well have felt damned good reason to be vindictive.....

Dave.

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"If you systematically add up these accounts (there were hundreds and hundreds of books published between 1914 and 1918 cataloging these events) they would add up to thousands and many thousands of victims, including bus-loads of women, children, and infants. Many or most of these stories seem implausable on the face of it. I have not studied it in detail, but have seen that in 1915 the Belgians and Germans roughly agreed that about 6000 Belgian civilians died. (I think someone in the thread just mentioned a figure a bit under 6000.) It is crystal-clear to me that there was a great deal of franc tireur activity on the part of Belgian civilians, I have belgian sources for this as well"

Bob... ignore all that... let me try and be more specific...

The monuments in these towns with woman, children and infants, shot by the Germans.... explain that one.

Best

Chris

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Gordon Corrigan, that great debunker of Great War mythology, always disdainful of hyperbole regarding that conflict, writes :

It is probably unnecessary to say that there is not the slightest shred of evidence to substantiate any of these increasingly lurid tales of individual nastiness......There is, however, ample evidence of officially condoned acts of terror during the initial invasion of Belgium, acts which, if committed in a later war, would have led to trial for war crimes.

( Mud, Blood and Poppycock, page 182)

Have heard of the book, not familiar with him.

He writes that, in 1871, the francs-tireurs , some of them in civilian clothes, had compelled the Prussians to deploy almost one third of their strength in guarding their lines of communication, and that many of their troops had been killed in ambush and by snipers.

This is a major point in the whole situation, but one which I did not mention so far. There was a great deal of franc tireur activity in the Franco-Prussian War. The Germans were certainly expecting it in 1914. However, I maintain that they also received it, in good measure. As I have said, I have read about 100 Belgian books etc. on Belgium 1914, and some (exclusively in French) sing the praises of franc tireur activity, the tradition of this form of warfare, praise priests for leading civilians in fighting against German troops, etc. As I said, you can't have it both ways; praise and boasting of irregular warfare in French; while denying it in English (presumably for the UK, US, and Canadian public).

My grand-father was a very able, level-headed man, very practical. (Very different than my father, who at that time could only be described as a killer and a very dangerous young man, and the frequent recipient of letters from his father imploring him to think before he spoke, not to be a hot-head, etc. I can itemize 27 Germans {his company commander and 26 sailors} that he killed between the fall of 1916 and the winter of 1918-19. Among the incidents g-f mentioned in the letters from Belgium was being set out to recover a field-piece and limber from the woods; the crew had been shot, stripped of weapons and perhaps of uniforms. He collected the equipment and stated that he had it sent back to Germany. He also wrote that in the adjoining village the Belgians had attacked an aid station and killed 43 wounded German soldiers. My grand-father was not some private or even isolated line officer; he was the commander of one of the four sections (Section Id) of the Operations Section of the Generalkommando of III. Reservekorps, which had been enlarged to a strength of six divisions; he reported directly to the Ia, the 1. Generalstabsoffizier of the army corps. So he knew what was going on as well as anyone. I previously mentioned that sniper fire caused him to dive out of his staff car for shelter from sniper fire, presumably from a franc tireur, probably not improving his mood. One problem in Belgium, which may sound that I am minimizing the seriousness of things, is that in part the difficulty was a sort of "cultural clash" However, as one looks at this, and especially with the aid of my Belgian/Flemish "e-friend", is that a lot of things were going on which was irregular warfare carried out by the Belgian Army, including special units formed to carry out sabotage and the occasional ambush. This must have enhanced the perception of civilian military activity, a dangerous perception.

Also interestingly, some Belgian sources blame attacks on German troops (I believe in Liege) to the actions of Russian foreign students at the university. Again, hard to argue that a) the attacks did not occur; and B) anyway, the Russian students did it.

If the memory of this had an impact on the way the Germans behaved in 1914, is it not reasonable to assume that the Franco -Belgian populace might also have been apprehensive about reprisal, which had been vicious in 1871 ? If so, the existence of large numbers of Belgian irregulars indulging in francs-tireur operations is implausible, especially if, as Zuber contends, the Belgians succeeded in minimising their losses.

Implausable, perhaps, but I maintain that it happened big-time. The Flemish professor from Liege described the phenomenon. He said that one problem was that Liege was the center of the large Belgian arms industry, and a lot of the finishing work on weapons was done at home in thousands of family work-shops; hence thousands of families had military-grade firearms about. His book was published in the UK late 1914 or early 1915 and hardly was German propaganda. I will rustle up a citation.

I am currently reading a book by Zuber, and I and my writing partner will spend a day with him in a couple of months. What Zuber book are you refering to?

Phil (PJA)

Bob

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Bob

Hi Bob,

Although I begin to get the feeling that you think my posts not worthy of an answer, I shall perservere in good spirit regardless of the dearth of response from you.

I have little respect for Zuber, as I have already indicated. He has been mentioned a few times here, so it is a reasonable brief diversion I think to outline why I think him seriously flawed as a Historian. To claim that the German Army was the best in 1914 (as he does) is a travesty ----it was the Biggest----but not the best--

"Over the course of years German military authorities had evolved a system of warfare which recognised that campaigns must be fought in the fog of war. The system of strategy therefore consisted of three features; a bold advance, an enveloping attack and full initiative in the commanders of minor units. In that type of warfare an energetic offensive replaced accurate information"

Little had changed by 1918---what was it Ludendorff said of the big offensive strategy, itself opportunist in the extreme---?

"Tactics had to be considered before purely strategical objects which it is futile to pursue unless tactical success is possible" and further---

"I forbid myself to use the word 'strategy'. We chop a hole. The rest follows. We did it that way in Russia..."

A Terraine tells us ---"This is not the way to win a war...."

But back to my quote above regarding 1914 'systems' and "bold advances" and "energetic offensives".

Well, if that isn't reminiscent of the French in 1914 and the infamous and wasteful plan XVII then I don't know what is---and the real best (or equal best---I claim the Serbian army well up the list) army, was the the BEF ---in 1914 the BEF (six Divisions) possessed 1,200 motorised transport vehicles---The five ARMIES of the right wing of the German advance through Belgium had only 500 between them.

Pretty advanced, for 1914, that minor point alone, I think. The one below from the German observer in 1904 is much more apposite and telling, I maintain.

Its only limitation in 1914 was, of course, its size----small ultra proffessional military elites are fine, but in a war of mass armies, with mass casualties an unavoidable concomitant, they (the elite) feel the losses more acutely.

But the undoubted 'best' army in 1914 was the BEF, "that perfect thing apart" ----even a German observer earlier , in 1904, had remarked ----

"In their manoeuvers the British infantry showed great skill in their use of ground. Their thin Khaki-clad skirmishers were scarcely visible. No detachment was ever in close order within three thousand yards. Frontal attacks were entirely avoided...Volley firing is abolished."

By which he meant the precision volleys of Blenheim, Quebec (that 'one perfect volley') and Waterloo, to name a very few, were out, and the 'Monro doctrine' of fire and movement established------ so modern in its outlook, helped to fruition by the Financial turning down of more machine guns-----Lloyd George was chancellor of the exchequer in 1909----not the so called 'military minds" limitations-----which is largely mythology of the most pernicious kind anyway, fostered, amongst others too many to mention, by the Welsh fiend himself, Lloyd George.

"The Prussian military aristocracy was not overthrown in November 1918. Its power in the army and the Empire was destroyed by the appalling sacrifice of life made in 1914...."

Take, briefly, Mons----

"The Germans came over in mass formations and we opened fire........." "The Germans pushed home their attacks in a fashion that astounded the regimental officers and soldiers facing them. Their uniforms were not as conspicuous as those of the french; there was less flying colours, blowing of bugles and beating drums; but the target they presented was just as obvious, They were in square blocks....and you just could'nt help hitting them...." "poor devils of infantry....they advanced in companies of quite 150 men in files five deep, and our rifle has a flat trajectory up to 600 yards, guess the result"

Did the Germans use Belgian schoolgirls as human shields at Mons on one occasion? The Northumberland Fusiliers believe implicitly that they did, and they were there!

Zuber is an 'agenda' driven -------mmmm, 'historian'---my opinion, give it as much, or as little, weight as you feel it warrants.

Dave.

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The Zuber book that I refer to is The Mons Myth , Bob. I read another one about the Battle of the Frontiers. It certainly shook me up when I read his accounts of these battles, but there is something intrinsically suspect in his approach : I find it hard to find the words for what I'm trying to say....it's as if the sun was shining out of the German bottom.

As for franc-tireurs, there is a degree of consensus that German soldiers were jumping at shadows. If franc -tireur activity was as widespread as they suspected, the several thousand Belgian civilian victims of reprisal would have been multiplied tenfold.

I write "degree of consensus", because it's important we acknowledge the story of your grandfather, and the mention of 43 German wounded done to death would be sufficient to justify reprisal.

What happened to the threat of franc- tireurs after 1914 ? Did the static nature of warfare bring an end to this threat ? Or was the killing of five or six thousand civilians, including women and children, an effective deterrent ?

Phil (PJA)

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Hi Bob,

Although I begin to get the feeling that you think my posts not worthy of an answer, I shall perservere in good spirit regardless of the dearth of response from you.

Dave.

Dave;

I have been interested in discussing several things with you, but our discussions have generally been wildly OT, and often against the rules of the Forum. Also, unfortunately, I think that you cannot access the Skittle's Club OT sub-forum; otherwise we could pursuer the discussion there.

Your very long current post does not seem to expend a single word on the topic of the thread.

Don't take that as a reproach; I have felt that I am the forum champion of OT, but sadly I may have been eclipsed, and by a mere stripling. (Cannot even certify that that was correctly spelt.)

Wonder why you are acutely concerned about how large a portion of 6000 Belgian civilians killed in Belgium by the Germans almost 100 years ago were killed "justly" or "unjustly", but you are unconcerned and unsympathetic about the 100,000 or more Iraqi civilians killed in Iraq recently by US and UK forces, in the recent adventure, just as criminal, but much less necessary, as the frolic by the "Coalition of the Willing". (For full disclosure, my Cousin Ben was exploded in Iraq, and the US Army approached me to sign up as an interpreter for the US Army.)

Gleefully,

Bob

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Ahh, back to Belgium - - - -

The Zuber book that I refer to is The Mons Myth , Bob. I read another one about the Battle of the Frontiers. It certainly shook me up when I read his accounts of these battles, but there is something intrinsically suspect in his approach : I find it hard to find the words for what I'm trying to say....it's as if the sun was shining out of the German bottom.

I am only aware of several books by him on German military planning in the 30 years before the Great War.

He may have a "German bottom", but he has an American corpus, as far as I know. But he did serve for three years in the 12. Panzer Division.

As for franc-tireurs, there is a degree of consensus that German soldiers were jumping at shadows. If franc -tireur activity was as widespread as they suspected, the several thousand Belgian civilian victims of reprisal would have been multiplied tenfold.

The atrocity literature is full of accounts of drunken German units wandering about in the dark, evidentially on "pub crawls" (organized by a Manchester tourist office?), in their alcoholic haze firing on each other, and then taking out their rage on the hapless Belgian citizenry. I think that sort of story should generally get tossed on the rubbish heap. But there is the fog of war, and possibly the Germans fired on each other once or twice.

There seems to be a range of factors that led up to what happened, even if we have trouble clearly establishing what happened. There was the expectation and fear of franc tireur activity. There was the reality of considerable franc tireur activity. (If anyone strongly disputes that, I will happily dig out 30 or 40 or 50 or more sources, Belgian as well as German, American war correspondent, that will establish that.) There was the considerable use of irregular tactics of several sorts by the Belgian Army, which I have myself only recently become aware of. There was the curious nature and use of uniforms by the Belgians. There were questions involving the garde civique, the Belgian formations which seem to have been 50% civilian militia, and 50% upper-middle class gentlemen of leisure fraternity. There were questions about the Walloon/Flemish divide.

I write "degree of consensus", because it's important we acknowledge the story of your grandfather, and the mention of 43 German wounded done to death would be sufficient to justify reprisal.

There are many curious events to pick over. There was the widely reported incident in which a Belgian mayor invited a German colonel or general to dinner, and the mayors son shot the officer to death at the dinner table. Belgian sources report that he was killed by drunken German soldiers rioting in the street outside and shooting the officer at the table, something that seems if anything improbable on ballistics grounds. I have some incidents in which I have perhaps ten accounts of a single incident, from the various participants, and they often are wildly divergent.

What happened to the threat of franc- tireurs after 1914 ? Did the static nature of warfare bring an end to this threat ? Or was the killing of five or six thousand civilians, including women and children, an effective deterrent ?

The real question is why what ever happened happened at all. It certainly was not a feature of German occupation elsewhere. To me it is certain that there was a lot of franc tireur activity that set it off. After 1914? I have not read of any armed action or reprisals after that. I think that things settled down into an unpleasant occupation, and the Belgians realized that the Germans were not going to eat them. In that vein, I have a letter written by my father at Verdun in 1916 stating that he was hoping to get some leave and travel to Belgium, "where there was lots of food". (Probably an overstatement.) My father did a lot of trafficking in food and luxury items, much captured on storm raids on Allied positions, and in part kept both branches of his family fed back in Germany.

I would be cautious of stories of firing squads shooting women and children, especially children. In a couple of 100 books, probably more Belgian than German, I have not seen a creditable accout of a woman or child shot. But that is not what I am researching. But as I work on my research (not on these matters) it has become increasingly apparent that serious and regrettable matters occurred.

My grandfather did something naughty in Belgium, not shooting anyone or anything like that, and I am going to try to enlist my Belgian e-friend and get to the bottom of the matter, and possibly identify the victim. (No, we don't still have the loot.) He "scored" a choice piece of loot. (The sergeant in the diary I bought also admitted to a transgression, he was in an empty house, and there was a choice ham, perhaps 3 lbs, on the kitchen table, he popped it into his rucksack.)

Phil (PJA)

Bob

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Hi Bob,

"Your very long current post does not seem to expend a single word on the topic of the thread"

Ah but it wasn't meant to----I make it quite clear in that post that as Zuber had been mentioned a few times earlier I felt it a "reasonable brief diversion" to discuss "briefly" his views on Germans and British in 1914.

That is what I said Bob, isn't it---right up front. Zuber had been mentioned, I offered some opinions on him----what on earth is wrong in your opinion with that?

You seem much taken with Iraq Bob, and that is perfectly alright----I am not, but it is certainly OT also, is it not?

I am afraid that you have not addressed a single comment or observation of mine-----it IS terrible that your relative was "axed to death" at the end of WW1-----You have chosen not to condemn the merciless shelling of Mezieres in the last hours of that same war........

More innocents murdered by Germans in WW1---perhaps that is "propaganda" ---or the Paris Gun, or the Zepplin, or Gotha---more propaganda perhaps...

You say you would be "cautious of children being shot by firing squads"--------well, would you if we were discussing the Wermacht in Russia in WW2?? Why the ready acceptance of one, and the "caution" (read disbelief, I think) of the other??

Your somewhat strident (and very arrogant) dismissal of English language histories, which I admit up front has me almost gagging with anger, led to me offering the obvious and widely accepted all over the world value of translators and the translations they manafge on our behalf, again, you chose not to answer.

Your assumption that I am a "mere stripling" is badly taken Bob. I am 63 years old, and have been involved in this history game---a game I take VERY seriously, for at least 55 of those years----callow, learner, beginner----stripling----I am most assuredly not. The 'number' of posts here means nothing to me, nor the 'ranking'.

They are a measure of longevity, not worth.

You have already alluded to me breaking forum rules---again I answered that it would be a strange history forum indeed that considered discussing history as against the rules.

Also you chose not to answer my rebuttal-----but condescend to offer the same nonsense again! As if by just repeating it enough, it will seem more real! That is not how it works though Bob, is it. IF I have done anything "against the rules" for heavens sake report it to the admin. and let me face the consequences........... You do not interpret the rules, I think, Bob, and if you did, then the discussions here about history would be incredibly narrow.

You offer condescending platitudes but suggest I "don't take it as a reproach"----- What on earth makes you feel you have the right, or ability, or knowledge, to "reproach" me, I wonder?

The reason (obvious I would have thought) that I am "acutely concerned" about 6,000 dead Belgian civilians---and the fact they were mostly murdered, whether a "hundred years ago" or yesterday really makes little difference that I can see, is that that is what we are discussing here---whether Iraq is, or is not "just as criminal" is of no interest to me in this thread---though I have even taken the trouble to briefly address that issue of yours also.

Though, once again, you ignore that answer also....I see a pattern here and it is most disagreeable I'm afraid.

That is not what I try to do. I try to Assume other people who make statements here deserve the courtesy of my attempting, in my lame and halting way, to give some kind of answer----either in agreement, or in disagreement. This is common courtesy I think.

Dave.

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"I would be cautious of stories of firing squads shooting women and children, especially children. In a couple of 100 books, probably more Belgian than German, I have not seen a creditable accout of a woman or child shot. But that is not what I am researching. But as I work on my research (not on these matters) it has become increasingly apparent that serious and regrettable matters occurred."

I withdraw from this...

Bob, even the Germans admit this... why do you not?

Plllleeeeaaasssee... just answer one simple, simple, simple question... The women and children on the monuments... are they figuements of Belgian immagination?

I dont want 100 lines of family biography, or lists of how many languages you read in, or incidents where other people were nasty to the Germans... I just want ONE simple sentence about what you think of the monuments to the dead women and children that even the Germans do not deny they shot.

Please....

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Well said Chris---100% concur. Meaningful answers Bob would be much appreciated and perhaps take us further along a learning experience.

Whilst being an apologist for the Germans in Belgium in 1914 Bob, you might try asking yourself objectively, what on earth they were doing in that country in the first place!

Strachan tells us that --

"But the killing of civilians was not the product simply of alarmed and nervous reservists losing control. It was condoned and promoted from above..........army and corps. commanders endorsed repression of imagined civilian resistance...."

and there is the answer to your earlier critique (a lonely and rare answer to me indeed) about what on earth my quote about Austrian treatment of Serb civilians had to do with anything-----exactly the same attitudes and exactly the same method of waging war-----cow and terrorize the civilian population-----we are going to win so it does'nt matter what we do-----we shall write the history....

By the way Bob, I take lessons from you in " infringing rules" badly when you yourself some way back in this thread brought up 'Bomber Harris' for heavens sake!

Mind you, Sir Arthur is no demon in my eyes.

Dave.

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I have little respect for Zuber...

Take, briefly, Mons---- "The Germans came over in mass formations and we opened fire........."

Dave, these issues have been extensively discussed elsewhere on the Forum, both here and here. The British descriptions are examined in some detail.

Robert

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Robert,

Many thanks----I have not got around the site enough yet to master the 'back thread records' ----slow learner , yes, but also mostly just have'nt bothered.

However, I'm sure that just about everything discussed here has been"extensively discussed" before-----there is always room for a 'new' debate on just about anything------from vR's real or imaginary last words (come to think of it, HE certainly did have some last words), to the Versailles treaty-----or anything else at all really, including this very subject of the Germans in Belgium being very 'Germanic', so I make no apology for delving in my own poor way into subjects that you chaps with your greater longevity (though our 'worth' is totally equal I trust) here may feel have been 'done to death'.

Answering anything I, for one, write, is purely optional, after all.

And I repeat once again, that post was mostly about Zuber-------certainly I made that crystal clear----and I did not mention his name first in this thread (but I would'nt mind betting Robert that Zuber has likewise been "extensively discussed" here ---at some time or another) so was quite happy to have what I called a "brief diversion.....".

Seeing as Bob talked (somewhat pejoratively) about 'Bomber Harris' some way back---and before my involvement in this thread (perhaps that worthy man has also been discussed in the past here) I may, in this thread, at some point, feel fully justified in having a chat about him, as a similar aside to Bob's. I probably won't, but you never know, something 'new'----a different 'take' might be instructive.

Would Bob decide talking about WW2 (and between the wars British bombing, though I note he does not mention Spain in that similar 'pre-war' period, nor the Herero earlier in time) contravene the 'rules', as he has twice decided I am doing--------when he himself started it?

Is it not permissable to mention, in analogous ways, different periods in time? I truly hope not as little sense of the history of any period can be gleaned from such 'blinkered' and restrictive a stance.

Cheers,

Dave.

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Well

This is a thread that seems to flare up from time to time.I just would like to point out some things.

1. There is no doubt that there are lots and lots of mentions of attacks by franc-tireurs in German sources. This does however NOT mean that there were franc-tireurs involved.

2. It is perfectly possible that some civilians shot at the German invaders. This was however discouraged by Belgian authorities. After a long search through Belgian (French and Flemish) sources I found one actual event (a farmer got arrested by local gendarmerie for shooting at a German cavalry patrol in Sint Truiden (Flanders)) and one possible (near Visé at the very start of the invasion).

3. The franc-tireurs psychosis in the German army lasted from the very start of the invasion until october 1914. The number of civilian victims is around 6000. According to Dutch sources there were more than 1000000 civilian refugees in the Netherlands in late 1914. (Belgian population in 1913 was 7600000). The delusion even struck German civilians (eg the panick in the then German town of Eupen). Jack Sheldon makes a reference to the last incident in his rather brilliant work 'Ypres 1914'.

4. I would personally avoid making to much of the work by Zuber. What he writes on the Belgian army does not stand up to even superficial scrutiny. His work is however worthwhile when it talks about German tactics and training. His rather touching blind faith in German regimental histories is a bit much.

5.I think that it should be possible to quote events from other wars when they have a direct relevance to the topic in question.For instance after the German invasion in 1940 most monuments which mentioned civilian victims in Belgium from 1914, were blown up by the German army. On the 29th of may 1940 belgian civilians in Vinkt (Flanders) were executed as franc tireurs (after the Belgian armistice). There is also a very interesting note from Wehrmacht Supreme Command 06/07/1940 which says : ' we have the greatest interest in the archives of the Belgian General Staff...From them proof can perhaps be provided that show that the 'German atrocities in Belgium' which were used at the time to whip up hatred against us in the whole world, had their origin in the Belgian general Staff which incited the Belgian civil population to resist the German invasion and which put its soldiers in civilian clothing and had them shoot at our troops' It think it is unnecessary to point out that no information satisfactory to the German point of view was ever found. It also shows, Bob :closedeyes: , how widespread the belief in soldiers with civilian clothes was. These archives were taken to Berlin but ended up in Moscow :blink: !!!! It is only a couple of years that they returned to Brussels. In theory they would allow to write a more balanced account of the invasion of Belgium in 1914 (if i only had the time :hypocrite: )

6. As this is a thread that brings out emotional responses extra care should be taken to avoid any possible personal attacks

Carl

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Hi Carl,

A very wise and thoughtful post indeed. I find nothing in it I disagree with.

Cheers,

Dave.

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"I would be cautious of stories of firing squads shooting women and children, especially children. In a couple of 100 books, probably more Belgian than German, I have not seen a creditable accout of a woman or child shot. But that is not what I am researching. But as I work on my research (not on these matters) it has become increasingly apparent that serious and regrettable matters occurred."

I withdraw from this...

Bob, even the Germans admit this... why do you not?

Plllleeeeaaasssee... just answer one simple, simple, simple question... The women and children on the monuments... are they figuements of Belgian immagination?

I dont want 100 lines of family biography, or lists of how many languages you read in, or incidents where other people were nasty to the Germans... I just want ONE simple sentence about what you think of the monuments to the dead women and children that even the Germans do not deny they shot.

Please....

Alternatively, try looking in the cemetery at Dinant, the mausoleum at Rossignol, the cemetery at Tamines.

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I seem to have been put dozens of questions. In the last 24 hours I probably have spent 6 hours on this site, Dave puts dozens of questions directly to me, and is offended when I do not respond (and I always am uncomfortable when I do not respond promptly to a put question).

There seem to be several things going on here. One is questions about the franc tireurs / massacre of innocents.

Clearly in the background there is an animus toward things German, which I fully understand. (I myself have my own prejudices, which I generally keep to myself; for example, I heartily despise religeous fundamentalists, whether Islamic, Christian, or Jewish, and wish that they could all be shipped to some large island {Australia?} and issued bundles of sharp sticks and encouraged to settle matters with "the push of the pike".) In the dark recesses of my mind I harbor animus to people of certain tribes or locations, but again I keep that to myself, and strive to not let such opinions enter into any decisions I might make, like in my rental of my apartments to people.

The nationalistic Brit in particular has many reasons to "have their underwear in a knot" about Krauts; almost all Brit auto firms being owned and run by the Hun (generally to their vast improvement), aside from the stray firm offloaded to India and China; the public sector and perhaps the economy being in a bit of a mess, in contrast to "the land of the stinking cabbage" I read the UK press daily, and keep up with the mayhem, and (in keeping with the concept of ulamma found in al-Islam), the occasional Tube train exploding unexpectedly, payback for the silly idea of 19th century adventures in Pashtoon areas.

I could be offensive and point out that the latest world-wide BBC (no, I'm dropping that - - piling on.)

The other and perhaps more acceptable sub-text is a clash of histographic methodologies. Seeing that so much of the published "history" is fabricated or accidental rubbish, I am a fetishest for primary sources. Several years ago I came across a detailed, delightful, invaluable long and dramatic description of the movement of 42 cm howitzers through a captured Belgian town (Liege, I think, I would have to refer to my materials.), but the description was in English in a secondary source (but one by a writer who interviewed many individuals rarely interviewed and now dead), so I made note of it and looked for the originalfor several years. Finally I found the original in a book written by a Walloon professor of Liege (I had previously mentioned a Flemish professor from Liege), and from the context of the section, and my additional research on the topic, I found that his absolutely delicious, wonderful eyewitness account of German 42 cm howitzers traveling slowly thru Liege is an absolute, complete fabrication and lie, utterly impossible, although I would be estatic to use the dramatic description. So it took me about three years to determine that the wonderful passage that I would love to put in two books is totally bogus and fabricated by a Belgian professor who assured us that he and friends were there.

I got a great deal of oral history from my father, written down at a time when I knew little about WW I and the German Army, and, frankly, I was very sceptical about it, until years of translating (teaching myself to read German and Suetterlin for the purpose) the letters, other of his military documents, many other related sources, etc., I realized that all or almost all of it was dead-on. Bottom line: I did not believe my own father. For years. (A great father, if a cold killer in his youth.)

So, since I am, one way or another, writing about four books on the German Army, and since my father never fought the Americans and only seem to have had a go at the Brits in Flanders once, almost all of my research is in languages other than English. I did a count recently and I think that I have worked in 11 languages on my WW I research, but only extensively in (in order of frequency) German, French, English, Italian, Flemish/Dutch, and Serbo-croatian. But I and my kin tend to be language nuts. My father left high school with six languages. I have either a good deal or usable bits of about 15 languages (but the US Army trying to enlist me as an Arabic translator for Iraq is only a sign of desperation - as of about 5 years ago we had lost almost 300 translators killed, with not one on the deceptive tally of the alleged 4400+ US dead). But the hands-down star is my wife, who has worked in about 80 languages, figures that she uses 40 at work in any given year (some of these are ancient languages), and is currently teaching herself Basque, which is nuts, even to me.

But to return to methodology, I simply do not believe anything I read, unless I can verify it to a reasonable degree. For that purpose I have taught myself (for better or worse) three of the six languages I have used a good deal, including the German that I read about 3-4 hours most days for years and years. (I had my last foreign language class in May 1955.)

Dave takes it rather personally, and seems to think that I think that any English-language history is rubbish. Not true. But the topic of this thread is the existence or non-existence of the Belgian franc tireurs, and for that question English is of very little use, and probably less than useful, due to the hundreds of explicitly commissioned false histories (and even Brit-commissioned Hollywood movies) that were written in that period in English specifically for military-political reasons. (A very interesting case study was that of "Private Peat", the star (plus his wife) of the propaganda campaign, and a Hollywood movie, who wrote a bitter denunciation of war propaganda in 1923. Sort of like the Marlboro man dying of lung cancer.)

Enough. I will retreat into the bunker, and perhaps emerge later to answer a few of the specific questions directly put to me. Arn't we all having fun?

Bob Lembke

PS: One further hoot. My one titled blood relative was Lady Phyliss, who I only visited once in her lovely apartment overlooking Hyde Park, but whom I corresponded with, who moved to Germany to enjoy the 1930's, loved Hitler, but fled to the UK shortly before the war to work in the Foreign Office, and meet her titled husband. Real life (and history) is complicated, comic strips are usually not.

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Very brief response (very difficult for me) to several direct questions on women and children shot and memorials as proof.

I am not studying this topic itself. I have studied the propaganda effort to some degree in a systematic fashion. As my father fouight at Gallipoli and Verdun, I am not a kid, have major medical problems, and am attempting to avoid "mission creep" so I do not croak before I finish the 3-4 books I am actually working on.

But as I have read about 200 books and a few articles on Belgium and northern France in 1914, mostly Belgian and French, and of those, the majority quite anti-German (naturally), I know something about the topic. This does not include say 30 books that are (to me) obvious rank propaganda, some of which are lying about the house as we speak. Of course determining the responsible history from rank propaganda is a very iffy effort, and of course any such attempt is colored conciously and unconciously by one's predjudices; I am in large proportions almost equally German, English, and Danish (Lembke seems to be from a Danish relative by marraige married to my Danish grand-mother, but living in Hamburg), but I identify as a German-American, and as I age I lean further and further to the pro-German attitudes that, in my father, annoyed me so much when I was young.

I have seen many, many reliable accounts (including from my grand-father) of bunches and bunches of Belgian men being shot for real or alleged franc tireur activity. I have never seen an account of a child or woman being shot in any of my sources. (I have seen a number in works that are patently propaganda.) I would imagine that some women were shot, I have read primary sources, like the sergeant's diary, of young teens being captured firing on German troops. I do not accept ANYTHING unless I have verified it to my satisfaction.

I have not ever seen a Belgian memorial. Perhaps I will some day, I hope to visit Belgium for research some day. I do know of a curious incident in Belgium in 1933, in which Walloons erected a memorial to the martyrs of 1914, but before the dedication Flemish folk dynamited and destroyed the memorial. What was that all about? I can cite official Belgian major works published in the mid-1920's by the government which are utter rubbish and fabricated "atrocities". So I would not automatically accept a memorial that I know nothing about as proof of anything. I can assert that if all the sources I have seen listing Belgian civilians killed in 1914 they would certainly sum up to many times the seemingly accepted range of about 6000. At the same time I am sure that many of these memorials honestly depict actual war crimes. I cannot sort them out.

Someone with more life expectancy than I could actually wrestle with this question. There have been successful efforts on this scale. I believe that the South Africans studied the Boer wives and children that were rounded up and put in camps and died, and supposedly documented and named every one of about 9000 or 11,000 (forgot the number, not of much interest to me). The Lebanese documented and individually named some 23,000 odd civilians killed by the Israelis in their invasion of Lebanon in 1982. I have a few even more sensitive atrocities and attempted tallies, but they are both larger and more controversial. The problem is that anyone interested enough to spend years in such an effort probably have very strong views pro or con. You might need teams of celebate Buddist monks trained in demography and histeographic methodology but who never heard of Germany or Belgium and hopefully WW I.

Bob

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Hi Bob,

This is what I take "personally" Bob "stripling" and---

"and are only working in English, you have little chance of getting anywhere close to the truth."

Which sounds like arrogance and extremely unpleasant condescension to me personally, on the one hand, and exactly the same to literally all modern day historians (plenty have been quoted) who are, or write, in the English language------- to me.

You denigrate and almost ridicule great historians of International renown, and great acceptance on this forum mostly, when you imply that English language histories are false.

As for "animus towards things German" Bob, where on earth do you get your ideas from----This from a man who is so subjective that he can, in all seriousness, claim that the German invasion and occupation of Belgium ----itself sheer opportunism and naked aggression, to allow the rapid defeat of France, itself quite vital if a destruction of Russia was to follow hard on those heels------was, and I quote--

"Cultural misunderstanding"

Well Bob, I fervently hope you are a bit more objective when writing your books.

Cheers,

Dave.

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Sigh.... I fold and move on..... no answer to my simple one line question and lifes too short to wait.. ;-)

(but a parting thought... reading 26 books a day in 18 languages for the last 50 years... how can you always be engaged in threads where you have "not really read about" the subject? You have not studied the subject but have read over 100 Belgian books that give you the answer?):-)

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Good afternoon Bob,

This was the very first thread I contributed to in August 2009 and like most contributors I acknowledge the erroneous nature of some of the more outlandish "atrocities" stories; notwithstanding that I cannot understand why you fail to acknowledge the hostage taking and the summary execution of civilians which undoubtedly took place.

I am writing this from Jamoigne (I can see Rossignol from the church,) I am at a loss to comprehend what evidence you will accept. It is not an anti-German thread but we must not forget these actions and remember that in times of conflict the civilian population must be protected by respect for the rules of war.

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Hi everyone,

Back to the debate then,

I am no blanket admirer of Niall Ferguson---though I think he is a decent enough historian in the round, but his 'The Pity Of War' draws some conclusions I personally am not very happy with. I mention that because, notwithstanding, I am going to type out somewhat haltingly (I am a one thumb! typist) a section from page 246 of that weighty tome---

"Pace Kraus, there would have been no propaganda without a war, no atrocity stories without atrocities. Although the Entente press wildly exaggerated what went on in Belgium, there is NO QUESTION (my capitals) that the German army did commit 'atrocities' there in 1914. According to evidence from the diaries of German soldiers, and other reliable sources, all the advancing German armies executed civilians, including women and Priests.

Altogether about 5,500 Belgian civilians were DELIBERATELY killed by the German army, most of them in the eleven day period from 18th. to 28th. August 1914; and at least another 500 in France. The Germans also used civilians as human shields and razed numerous villages to the ground. In one case an eighteen year old girl was bayonetted to death. There were also numerous rapes in occupied France"

I make no apology for the capitals (though they do not imply I am 'shouting')------simply that they are, I feel, needed here. Also I don't know why he can't just say 'allies'----the term was used back then as well as 'entente':)

Now both John Terraine (in 'Mons' ) and Ferguson, above, talk of 'human shields' A veritable whose-who of top notch historians publish weighty and well researched books or devote chapters in books, to these atrocities, yet they are still dismissed as 'English"---and therefore have "little hope of getting ANYWHERE near the truth".

There is no "animus" towards Germany here, but I most certainly detect an "animus" towards certain, unpalatable historical truths, and perhaps against Britain.

Dave.

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Sigh.... I fold and move on..... no answer to my simple one line question and lifes too short to wait.. ;-)

(but a parting thought... reading 26 books a day in 18 languages for the last 50 years... how can you always be engaged in threads where you have "not really read about" the subject? You have not studied the subject but have read over 100 Belgian books that give you the answer?):-)

I had vowed, as I just spent 5 hours responding to questions, to not post again today, but I have a lot of respect for you and your many activities here and elsewhere. So I will explain more about my research methods.

I am currently working actively (5-6 hours most days, lately 99% in German, French, and Flemish) with a partner on two books, both partially on Belgium and northern France in 1914, in fact at this moment all the work is on B/nF 1914. I have two or three other books that are to be solely by myself, very low activity, but if something I come across is useful I process it. There is a very inactive project with a partner to help him update a successful German edition of his book and create an English edition and find a publisher.

Here is how I work. I read sources and enter interesting/useful material into 4" by 6" cards, of which I have many thousands. I have time-lines on a word-processing system, two are about 500 single-spaced pages or longer, two or three other very short. I go thru my note cards and enter the interesting items in one or more time-lines, and sometimes in two or three or more places in the same time-line.

Re: the major timelines, each is on a general topic (flame-throwers and family history), and besides the basic time-line on, say, family history, which might be 300 pages long, there are about 20 sub-topics on related, more narrow topics, like "420 mm and 30.5 cm German and Austrian siege guns, 400 mm French siege mortars". (Yes, there was a French 520 mm gun in WW I.) This appendix is about 80 pages long, with an average of say 5 entries per page; some are just 2-3 line mentions; others are sizable chunks of text and source material. This Appendix probably has five sub-appendices, these perhaps with 50 sub-sub-appendices.

In this time-line, and in an associated time-line, I have about 130 pages of time-line solely on the fighting by and against the forts at Liege in August 1914, so perhaps a 1000 references to topical material.

One of the appendices is on franc-tireur activity and, yes, shooting civilians. It may have 10 entries. I am not writing a book about these matters. There are many more references to these matters in the general body of the 1914-1919 timeline (my father fought in the Freikorps in 1919), but I can not easily pull these out. These matters will be dealt with a bit in one of my books, I am sure that my writing partner on the two books we are currently working on has no interest in the matter, or putting it in our book.

I will never be able to write anything definitive on franc tireurs et al. I will never solve the problem. My material is not organized to pull out my stuff. But I do have an informed opinion on it, which probably or certainly be colored by my being a Kraut. For Dave specifically, I believe that Strachan (correct?) is a good historian, I think I have one of his books (which I have not read, like most secondary sources on my shelves), but what you repeated that he wrote is flat wrong, in my opinion.

I also have large spread-sheets that tackle detailed topics. I have spent most of my working life designing and managing the creation of world scale economic and demographic forcasting and managing computer models. I carry that training and experience into my approach to historical research.

I just got a lead on a section by a leading German military historian writing during WW I who is very critical of what went on in Belgium, and clearly wrote that. If I have time I will post it.

Again for Chris, my material simply is not organized to work to a clear answer to the question, and I will never be able to really get to the bottom of what happened, in a quantified way.

Bob

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". For Dave specifically, I believe that Strachan (correct?) is a good historian, I think I have one of his books (which I have not read, like most secondary sources on my shelves), but what you repeated that he wrote is flat wrong, in my opinion."

But if it were only Hew Strachan Bob, who was "Flat wrong"----"in your opinion"---saying these things then perhaps I would doubt there veracity---but it just ain't so simple as that.....

MOST historians today, and one lone voice from the early sixties of great worth, all agree that atrocities took place. Dear me Bob, how long will you turmn your face against a veritable tide, nay, a Tsunami, of evidence....?

Terraine, Barnett, Corrigan, Strachan, Horne----these are not 'fly by nights' but first rate historians.

I am sorry, but I, like others here, have come to the conclusion that nothing is to be gained trying to debate history with you Bob---on this matter at any rate----though I doubt we would agree on almost any matter to do with Germany in the early to mid 20th. century.

What will far distant historians, say a thousand years from now, make of the 20th. century Bob? Do you not agree, (I doubt you do somehow) that they will say the overriding mark of Cain on that century was German militarism.

Of course it was.

Dave.

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