When the Germans invaded Belgium, beginning in early August 1914, they had no intention of wresting away every inch of Belgian territory . . . at least not yet. Rather, the primary reason for marching through Belgium was simply to obviate a confrontation with the French forces closer to the Franco-German border. In the interest of speed, certain cities had to be taken, of course, including Liege, a crucial intersection of roads and bridges for any army passing through the area. As the war slowly matured, however, German chief of staff Erich Falkenhayn set his sights on another Belgian target of critical importance: the port city of Antwerp.
Many reasons existed, of course, for taking the city, but none greater than the British threat: Antwerp represented the only place in the surrounding region capable of supporting large numbers of shipping. When the initial elements of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had gone to France, for example, they had landed at Le Havre . . . nearly 225 miles from Antwerp. If the Entente could hang onto Antwerp, the British could pour in their reinforcements almost directly upon a German flank. Thus the Germans prioritized their siege of the city as sit became clear that they would be unable to win a quick war over France.
Bombardments of the city began on September 28, with the Germans immediately beginning the process of tightening their forces like a large noose around the city and surrounding forts. Huge guns helped to reduce the forts which protected Antwerp, and slowly the Germans gained strategic points.
As it became clear that the Germans would eventually overpower the defenders, surrounding and then cutting them off, the decision was made to withdraw many of the troops from the area and leave the city to eventual surrender, which occurred on October 10.
The struggle for Antwerp was significant for two reasons:
1) Belgian and British forces had organized several sorties from the city while under siege, effectively forcing the Germans to re-route troops which had originally been directed to extended the line on the main line traveling North after the Battle of Aisne. Had the siege not distracted them, the Germans might have won the “Race to the Sea,” and at least changed the course of the war on the Western Front.
2) The German capture of the city transformed it from one of the Entente’s strategic assets into their highest priority target. The British, especially keen on opening a new port for transporting their troops and supplies, nearly always had an eye on recapturing Antwerp. This represented a primary factor in the ensuing battles near Ypres and Flanders.