Fierce fighting and an allied victory in Belgium

Special to The Great War Project

(13 August) The devastating impact of modern weapons quickly becomes apparent.

German heavy field howitzer, date unknown

German heavy field howitzer, date unknown

The German assault at Liege is nearing its end, and the enormous heavy German artillery guns are proving to be decisive.

Among the murderous German artillery pieces, are four 420mm “monsters” trained on the Belgian fortress at Liege, a crucial obstacle on Germany’s march toward Paris.

Each of these monsters has a crew of 200 men. Horses collapse in the hot summer sun as they labor mightily to pull the guns into position.

The guns are fired electrically from a distance of 300 yards. The shells penetrate armor. “In one place,” writes a historian, “a single shell killed three hundred defenders.”

Belgian forces confront German infantry, artillery, and cavalry at the small Belgian town of Haelen. The Belgians win the battle on this day a century ago only when their cavalry troops dismount and confront the attacking German troops with concentrated rifle fire. The Germans take heavy losses. Reaction on the allied side is euphoric.

Fighting is fierce between German and French troops, with vivid personal stories that have lasting political and military consequences.

A German spotter plane locates French forces near the Belgian town of Dinant, and they come under heavy artillery fire.

“A French platoon commander led his men forward under fire,” writes historian Martin Gilbert. At a bridge he is ordered to take, “he was hit in the knee and fell. A moment later his platoon sergeant fell on top of him, dead.”

“With difficulty he dragged himself away,” Gilbert writes. “It was the baptism of fire for Charles de Gaulle.”