The war between the Belgians and Germans remained a fluid one, where the armies moved too often and too quickly for a static front to develop. This was partially the result of the Belgian strategy to keep their armies intact while delaying the Germans as long as possible. The Belgians would therefore often offer a defense, but then later retreat before their defense could be overwhelmed. Such strategy epitomized their tactics at the Battle of Haelen as well, on August 12.
One of the Belgian armies had set up their defense behind the Gete River. As a large German Cavalry force to the North pushed farther and farther West, the Belgians grew increasingly concerned of a strike to the south directly on their army’s flank. They decided that a retreat would be necessary, but they needed to fight a delaying action first in order to keep their Germans away from their vulnerable withdrawal. They decided to make a stand at the village of Haelen.
German command had intended to seize Haelen and its bridge over the Gete some days earlier, but the horses’ fatigue had forced them to wait until August 12. When they finally arrived, the Germans moved so rapidly and brought up artillery so quickly that they soon had control of the bridge and Haelen.
The main Belgian line, however, had been formed to the West of Haelen, and now the Germans encountered resistance that they could not brush aside. Part of the problem was the bridge that they had seized: in attempting to blow it up, the Belgians had only partially destroyed it, but they had damaged it enough that the Germans were unable to move their artillery across it.
After several unsuccessful attacks, the Germans withdrew. They would eventually pass through Haelen without a fight, but by then the Belgians would have completed a successful withdrawal of their army to the south.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
About 30 miles to the southwest, Germans were preparing to break through the pivotal fortress city of Liège. Massive guns had arrived on August 10, and after two days of preparing them, they began to fire on August 12. The Belgians suddenly found themselves facing artillery rounds from 305mm Skoda siege mortars borrowed from Austria, as well as the massive 420mm howitzer (nicknamed “Big Bertha” to hide the true identity of the thing) which the Germans had secretly developed and produced at the Krupp steelworks. The larger of these two weapons was a true monster of machinery.
It weighed about seventy-five tons, had to be transported by rail in five sections and then set in concrete before being fired. It could fire up to ten 2,200 pound projectiles per hour with each shell having a hardened lead tip and a time-delayed fuse for maximum penetration before exploding. It had a range of about 9 miles, and had such a high trajectory that its shells came down on its targets almost vertically. When ready to fire, its crew moved about 300 yards away and covered themselves with protective padding . . . the gun had to be fired electronically.
Though it required so much preparation, the results were worth it: “Big Bertha” could penetrate even the toughest section of the forts at Liège, breaking apart thick stone fortifications and vaporizing anyone inside. Victory at Liège was soon at hand.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And finally, August 12 also saw Great Britain declare war on Austria-Hungary, one day after France had done so. This would complete the first round of declarations of war. Another would not come until nearly two weeks later. For reference, here is a summation of all the declarations thus far:
|28-Jul||Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.|
|1-Aug||Germany declares war on Russia|
|3-Aug||Germany declares war on France|
|4-Aug||Britain declares war on Germany|
|5-Aug||Montenegro declares war on Austria-Hungary|
|6-Aug||Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia|
|6-Aug||Serbia declares war on Germany|
|8-Aug||Montenegro declares war on Germany|
|11-Aug||France declares war on Austria-Hungary|
|12-Aug||Britain declares war on Austria-Hungary|