Doubtful Defenders Can Hold Out;
Fresh British Troops Held Back.
Special to The Great War Project
(7-8 October) On this day a century ago, the Germans begin the artillery bombardment of Antwerp city itself.
So far, the battle for Antwerp is focused on the forts that circle the city. The relentless German shelling opens up holes in the defensive forts surrounding the city.
But now the Germans target the city, where thousands of Belgians remain. Diarist Louise Mack is sheltering under the bombardment. As the first shell explodes, she writes, “I shut my eyes, clenched my hands, and sank on the floor by my bedside, saying to myself, ‘God I’m dead.’ And I thought I was too. The enormity of that sound-sensation seemed to belong to a transition from this world to the next.”
In historian Martin Gilbert’s account of the battle…
the first civilian to die under the German bombardment of the city is a fourteen-year-old boy.
“The second to be killed is a street sweeper decapitated as he was running for shelter.”
The Belgian defenders of the city have nothing to resist the German artillery barrage.
Their situation worsens when the British, who dispatch thousands of fresh troops to nearby Ostend, hold them there instead of sending them on to Antwerp, as the city is pleading for and expects. Tension between the British and French commands grinds the defense of the city to a halt.
That night Britain’s Prime Minister Asquith orders the smaller contingent of British troops in Antwerp – those that Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill sent to the city — to pull out. “There is alas nothing to be done but to order our naval men to evacuate the trenches tonight,” writes Asquith.
“The Belges ran away and had to be forced back at the point of the bayonet into the forts, while the Germans at a safe distance of five or six miles thundered away with their colossal howitzers.”
The British and Belgians are holding onto the city, but just. All signs point to the abandoning of Antwerp in the next couple of days. In the words of historian Max Hastings…
“Antwerp was doomed.”
That night the British start their withdrawal. According to one officer, “the devil himself was holding high holiday in Antwerp that night of 8 October. It was a real inferno.”
Also on October 8th a century ago, British aircraft attack and destroy the first German Zeppelin stationed on the ground at a base in Dusseldorf.