August 4, 1914 – Germany Declares War on Neutral Belgium

On this date in history, Germany declared war on Belgium so it could invade that country on its way to conquer France, in accordance with a plan drawn up by its military years before.


“The Schlieffen Plan” was created by General Count Alfred von Schlieffen in December 1905, and modified by von Schlieffen’s successor as army chief of staff, Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. It envisaged delivering a knockout punch in the West by advancing through Belgium and northern France and capturing Paris. The German Army actually asked for “permission” to ravage Belgium on August 2, but the Belgians refused.

The Schlieffen Plan

The Schlieffen Plan

As a result of Germany’s invasion, Britain declared war on Germany. (Under the 1839 Treaty of London, the European powers recognized and guaranteed the independence and neutrality of Belgium , inter alia. It should be noted that the German Confederation also signed the treaty.) Nevertheless, Germany’s Chancellor professed surprise that Great Britain would make war “for a scrap of paper.”

Unfortunately for Germany, rather than delivering a knockout punch in the West, the French were able to distract the French Army in Alsace-Lorraine, and the British and French together were able to bring a halt to the German onslaught at the Battle of the Marne. However, prior to that time, there were huge losses on both sides, including the horrendous day of August 22, 1914 in The Battle of the Ardennes, in which 27,000 Frenchmen were killed, and many more wounded.

As for the Belgians, it was here Germany got in practice for its later atrocities in World War II. Some 6,000 Belgians were killed (including civilians, women and children), and 25,000 homes and other buildings in 837 communities destroyed. There was widespread looting. Women and children were confined, marched for long distances, mutilated, and publicly raped. You can read the testimony of eyewitnesses to the atrocities here.

Adolf Hitler, while denying there were more than “three or four” acts of violence in Belgium, reputedly stated that: “The old Reich knew already how to act with firmness in the occupied areas.”

A Belgian sentry in front of destroyed property in Antwerp, Belgium in September 1914.

A Belgian sentry in front of destroyed property in Antwerp, Belgium in September 1914.

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