The German Aggression
THE FINAL warning came at the beginning of May. On Saturday the 4th, the Netherlands Government had news that the Netherlands would be attacked in the next few days.1 Security measures were immediately reinforced, Army leave was stopped and men on leave were recalled. There was less tension in Belgium; public opinion was used to these continuous alarms; it was aware that every precaution had been taken, and it remained calm; security measures were ready; the authorities were able to confine themselves to recommending special vigilance.
There was no fresh information during the days of the 8th-9th. In private conversations, Axis diplomats were reassuring.
On the evening of the 9th, secret information came through that the aggression would occur at dawn on the following day. In previous months, the Belgian authorities had received similar information. At about ten o'clock, guards at different points on the frontier began to report that they could hear confused noises in German territory: footsteps, voices, motors, and moving traffic. At about eleven o'clock, the Luxemburg authorities were informed that National Socialists in the Grand Duchy had been warned.
These signs were a disquieting confirmation of the earlier information. The authorities were at once notified. At midnight the Prime Minister, the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Justice, the Principal Private Secretary, and the Secretary of the King, the Military Attorney-General, met in the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who had with im his chief collaborators. They discussed the situation quietly and awaited information. It was not the first time since the beginning of the conflict
that similar circumstances had brought them together in this room in the middle of the night. Outside, the sleeping town lay silent. At about one o'clock, the Belgian Minister at Luxemburg telephoned that clashes had occurred between the police and National Socialist formations who were trying to seize by force the barriers put up on the main roads leading to the German frontier.
From two o'clock in the morning, the Dutch wireless stations announced, time after time, that aeroplanes going from east to west were flying over various localities in the Netherlands. It was impossible to ascertain the importance and significance of this information, but all the signs pointed in the same direction. The Government decided there and then to introduce a state of siege and to arrest suspected persons in the eastern provinces so as to prevent internal action against our lines of defence.
As the night wore on, there was a fairly long lull. When dawn was about to break, the peace of the capital had not been disturbed.
From 4.30, information wsa received which left no shadow of doubt: the hour had struck. Aircraft were first reported in the east. At five o'clock came news of the bombing of two Netherlands aerodromes, the violation of the Belgian frontier, the landing of German soldiers at the Eben-Emael Fort, the bombing of the Jemelle station.
While the Minister of National Defence was checking this information, Brussels was suddenly awakened to a radiant dawn at 5.17 a.m. by the mournful sound of the sirens, and soon the windows at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where the chief members of the Government were still assembled, were shaking by the firing of anti-aircraft artillery and German bombs dropped on the Evere aerodrome and on several parts of the town.
It was at once decided to appeal to Belgium's guarantors, and this was done.
At 8.30 the German Ambassador came to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When he entered the Minister's room, he began to take a paper from his pocket. M. Spaak stopped
him: "I beg your pardon, Mr. Ambassador. I will speak first." And in an indignant voice, he read the Belgian Government's protest: "Mr. Ambassador, the German Army has just attacked our country. This is the second time in twenty-five years that Germany has committed a criminal aggression against a neutral and loyal Belgium. What has just happened is perhaps even more odious than the aggression of 1914. No ultimatum, no note, no protest of any kind has ever been placed before the Belgian Government. It is through the attack itself that Belgium has learnt that Germany has violated the undertakings given by her on October 13th, 1937, and renewed spontaneously at the beginning of the war. The act of aggression committed by Germany, for which there is no justification whatever, will deeply shock the conscience of the world. The German Reich will be held responsible by history. Belgium is resolved to defend herself. Her cause, which s the cause of Right, cannot be vanquished."
The Ambassador was then able to read the note he had brought: "I am instructed by the Government of the Reich," he said, "tot make the following declaration: In order to forestall the invasion of Belgium, Holland, and Luxemburg, for which Great Britain and France have been making preparations clearly aimed at Germany, the Government of the Reich is compelled to ensure the neutrality of the three countries mentioned by means of arms. For this purpose, the Government of the Reich will bring up an armed force of the greatest size, so that resistance of any kind will be useless. The Government of the Reich guarantees Belgium's European and colonial territory, as well as her dynasty, on condition that no resistance is offered. Should there be any resistance, Belgium will risk the destruction of her country and the loss of her independence. It is therefore in the interests of Belgium that the population be called upon to cease all resistance and that the authorities be given the necessary instructions to make contact with the German Military Command."
In the middle of this communication, M. Spaak, who had
by his side the Secretary-General of the Department, interrupted the Ambassador "Hand me the document," he said. "I should like to spare you so painful a task." After studying the note, M. Spaak confined himself to pointing out that he had already replied by the protest he had just made.
During the morning, a fuller note of protest was addressed to the representatives of all the foreign Governments (Appendix 17). Most of them, though neutrals, at once informed Belgium of their sympathy.
In the note which the German Government instructed the German Ambassador to hand in, no definite complaint was made to justify the aggression against Belgium. At the very moment when her aeroplanes were bombing peaceful sleeping citizens, Germany once again represented herself as the protector of their neutrality. Already, however, the German News Service (D.N.B.) had forwarded a communication throwing responsibility for the invasion on the victim. Later on, the Reich published a White Book containing charges of alleged collusion between Belgium, Great Britain, and France. Of the twenty documents reproduced, there are only two which come from a Belgian military authority. They related to operations to be carried out on Belgian or Dutch territories; but all of them are purely defensive, and they are clearly intended to deal with German aggression against Belgium and Holland.
On the basis of the declarations of the Minister of National Defence in the Chamber on February 7th, 1940, the German Government accused the Belgian Government of organizing her defences exclusively against the Reich. The open threats against Belgium from the end of October 1939 amply justified the decision of the High Command to draw up the Army along the frontier, where preparations for an attack were being made. The plan of these preparations had fallen into the hands of the Belgian authorities at the beginning of January. This document, three-parts burnt, is attached (Appendix 13). It is undoubtedly of an aggressive nature. The offensive manœuvres which were to be
carried out by the German western army were not intended to counter an invasion of Belgium by the French and British forces; they were designed, on the contrary, to crush the Belgian Army before Allied help could arrive.
The document, about which the German Government has never been able to furnish any explanation, definitely settles the question of responsibility.
In any case, there could be no justification, in Belgium's view, for the surprise attack made on the country at dawn, when official relations between the two countries were quite normal. Belgium knew she was innocent. When the fight began, the King was able to remind his people of the Belgium of 1914, and to show that now as then she was resolute and blameless.
"For the second time in a quarter of a century," he said, "Belgium--a neutral and loyal country--has been attacked by the German Empire in spite of the most solemn undertakings contracted before the whole world. The Belgian people, who are fundamentally peaceful, have done everything in their power to prevent this, but between sacrifice and dishonour the Belgian of 1940 hesitates no more than did the Belgian of 1914.... France and Great Britain have promised to help us. Their advance troops are already pushing forward to join up with ours. The fight will be hard. Great sacrifices and deprivation will be asked of you, but there can be no doubt about the final victory. I intend to remain faithful to my constitutional oath to maintain the independence and integrity of the territory. Like my father in 1914, I have put myself at the head of our Army with the same faith, with the same clear conscience. The cause of Belgium is pure. With the help of God it will triumph" (Appendix 18).
The Council of Ministers met at the begining of the morning and were informed of the events of the nighth before and of the appeal addressed immediately to the guarantor Powers. Parliament met in the afternoon. It approved unanimously the steps taken by the Government to meet the aggression.
No doubt the nation had hoped to the end that Belgium would be spared war, but during those long months on the brink of danger, it had become familiar with the idea that the fateful hour might strike at any time. I remained calm and well-disciplined. Everyone did his duty.
The German air-raid shortly after dawn caused many deaths. A Government declaration emphasized that Brussels was an open town and that there were no troops there. The Belgian Ambassador in London was instructed at the same time to ask urgently for immediate aid from the British Air Force.
From an early hour, there was violent fighting on the frontier. It was learnt that, taking advantage of a surprise attack at the end of the night, air-borne detachments played an important rôle. The public became obsessed with the idea of parachutists. Nowhere inside the country, however, did enemy agents dare--as in the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg and on an even more extensive scale in Norway and Holland--to commit acts of sabotage or violence.
Only one thing mattered: the defence at all costs of Belgium's independence. It seemed incredible that there could be any doubt as to the attitude to be adopted. As those who some years earlier had defined Belgium's position had hoped, duty was quite clear to all, in the light of the facts.
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