Namur (addition) - Encyclopedia




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This article from the 1922 extension to the 1911 encyclopedia is an update of the information in the article Namur, Belgium (Capital).

Namur' (see 19.159 *). - In 1914 the pop. numbered 32,453. The manufacture of glass and glassware had been recently established. An athletic sports ground was laid out and a fine open-air theatre built before the World War in the park on the citadel hill. The Germans entered Namur on the evening of Aug. 23 1914, deliberately set fire to the town in five places, and gave way to looting. All the houses in the Place d'Armes and its vicinity were burned and the Hotel de Ville destroyed; and between Aug. 23 and 2 5, 75 civilians were shot without motive. A war contribution of 50,000,000 fr. was levied and Namur became a cavalry headquarters and base.

THE Siege Of 1914 In the defence scheme of Belgium, Namur, with Liege and the small intermediate fort of Huy, had the role of barring the line of the Meuse against attack from the East. It had in addition to secure the left flank of the field army in case of an invasion by the French, and, further, as against eastern invasion, it supported the right flank of an army disposed on the line of the Gelte to resist an enemy who might have mastered Liege. The last named was the case which actually arose in Aug. 1914 and led to the attempt being made to hold Namur in spite of the disheartening experience of the power of the German heavy artillery which the Belgians had just suffered at Liege.

The permanent defences of Namur at the outbreak of war in 1 9 14 consisted in a ring of nine forts catalogued here in clockwise, or E. - S. - W. - N., order - three (Maizeret, Andoy, Dave) in the great bend of the Meuse E. of the towns, two (St. Heribert and Malonne) in the angle of the Meuse and Sambre S. of it; two (Suarlee and Emines) on the open N.W. front astride the Gembloux road; two on the N.E. front covering the Tirlemont road (Fort Cognelee) and the St. Frond road (Fort Marchouelette) respectively. In each of the intervals between fort and fort, infantry and field artillery positions were constructed on mobilization, and included in the defence system of each interval were two, three or four infantry redoubts. The principal line of defence followed in general the imaginary perimeter of the fort-ring, but in the E., conforming to the requirements of the broken ground, the line of trenches redoubts was drawn back, notably near Fort Maizeret, where it passed at a distance of a mile behind the fort, and also at Fort St. Heribert on the S. front.

Although it was a ring-fortress, of Brialmont's design, similar in all respect to Liege from the technical point of view, the tactics of both attack and defence were very different from those employed in the earlier siege. Not being exposed to surprise, the garrison had ample time to protect the intervals of the forts with trenches, redoubts and wire, as well as to clear the foreground. Moreover, at the time of the attack, Namur was, so to speak, a strong salient point on the general line of battle of the field armies and not an isolated stronghold. To right and left of it, the German offensive was meeting, or about to meet, the French IV. and V. Armies and the British Expeditionary Force. The attack was carried out by those German corps which in the line of battle lay opposite to the fortress, and not by a special force. It was carried out not in two stages as that of Liege had been - coup de main on the intervals followed by methodical battering of the forts - but in one effort, the infantry attack and the siege artillery bombardment being simultaneous and interdependent. It is therefore, in some respects, -the tactical prototype of the Verdun struggle of 1916, with the two important differences that in Aug. 1914 troops had not learned the strength of a trench-network or become familiar with the effects of super-heavy artillery, and that at Verdun the artillery had been removed from the forts, which were treated purely as infantry strongpoints.

The garrison of Namur, under Lt.-General Michel, consisted of the 4th Div. (3 mixed bdes.), four fortress infantry regiments, the garrison artillery and engineers appropriate, and various small units, and numbered about 27,000 combatants, reinforced during the defence by one French infantry regiment.

The attacking army consisted of four divs. (later five) (Guard Res. Corps, half VII. Res. Corps, XI. Corps) drawn from the inner wings of the II. and III. Armies, formed as a temporary Army Group under General von Gallwitz, and provided with a siege train which included one battery of 42-cm. and 4 batteries of Austrian 30.5-cm. howitzers as well as 21-cm. howitzers and medium guns.

During the defence of Liege, the Belgian army was concentrated along the Gelte line, facing E., waiting for the arrival of French and British forces N. of the Sambre. In this position Namur covered its right and Antwerp its left. But when the Germans had made good the passage through Liege and deployed their I. and II. Armies facing the Gelte, they manoeuvred to cut off the Belgians from Antwerp, their main base, and the King therefore fell back gradually in that direction, giving up contact with Namur. At the same time the French V. Army was assembling in the angle of the Sambre and the Meuse, and thus the Belgian fortress came to occupy the centre of the French northern battle-line. The Germans, meantime, leaving a containing force in front of the positions around Antwerp, initiated the great wheel of their right wing which was to envelop the French or British left. The pivot of this wheel was not, however, Namur but Thionville, and thus Namur had to be tackled by open force during the progress of the wheel. During Aug. 18-19 the left of the German II. Army advanced slowly on Namur from the direction of Huy, clearing out of the woods and villages the very active outpost forces of the garrisons, while the right of the III. Army was still far back in the Ardennes. On Aug. 20 the union of the two portions of von Gallwitz's forces was completed and the XI. Corps stood with its right flank on the Meuse, west of Audenne, and its left about Floree. The 1st Guard Res. Div., which had hitherto followed the S. bank of the Meuse, had been switched to the N. bank when the XI. Corps became available, and after a fierce fight with the inhabitants of Audenne stood behind the sister div. (3rd Guard Div.) a few kilometres back of Audenne and E. of Hingeon. The right of the Guard Res. Corps, therefore, instead of reaching the region of Hemptinne, extended (evening Aug. 20) no further north than Pontillas.

This rightward movement, though its immediate cause was the arrival of the XI. Corps, marked the beginning of a change of plan. The original intention was to press the attack home on the E. and S.E. points of Namur. On Aug. 20 this was changed, owing ostensibly to the discovery that siege operations were extremely difficult in the woods and deep valleys of the S.E. front, but really to the arrival of large French forces on the Sambre which constituted a threat to von Gallwitz's exposed right wing, the weight of the attack being shifted to the N.E. and N. front. During Aug. 21, while the 3rd Guard Div. with one bde. of the 1st Guard Res. Div. continued to advance in the region of Hingeon and Vezin, and the rest of the 1st Guard Res. Div. completed its flank march to Hemptinne, the 38th Div. of the XI. Corps was taken out of the line and formed in reserve at and S. of Audenne. Thus there were two divs. N. and one div.

S. of the river with one in reserve on the Meuse itself. Of the siege artillery, however, a considerable portion was and remained S. of the Meuse, for in order to avoid the delays that had been so serious at Liege, von Gallwitz had emplaced his heavy and super-heavy pieces at the very outset of the attack, before the change of plan. Thus the main attack, N. of the river, took the form of an "abbreviated siege" a la Sauer - full-force assault on the intervals combined with smothering and ruin of the fortswhile the operation S. of it rather resembled the second phase of Liege, viz. methodical ruin of the forts in succession by heavy artillery under cover of an infantry screen.

During Aug. 22, while heavy fighting continued in the foreground of Fort Marchouelette, the rightward shift was corn pleted by bringing the 38th Div. and the 1st Guard Res. Div. (somewhat intermingled) into the N.E. area, opposite forts Cognelee and Marchouelette. At the same time the 3rd Guard Div. condensed as much force as possible on its right, opposite the latter fort. A div. (the 14th Res. Div.) arriving from the II. Army was disposed on the N.W. side, to threaten Forts Emines and Suarlee. Thus 22 divs. out of five were placed on the front selected for assault, which was little more than 3 m. wide. No general reserves were kept back. The artillery was in position and opened fire in the morning, except some of the super-heavy batteries which were not ready till the afternoon. On the morning of Aug. 23 the assault was to be made. According to the German official account, there were many misgivings, for it was evident progress had hitherto been slow, the intervals were known to be well prepared and manned, and it was thought that the time allowed for crushing the forts was too short.

Von Gallwitz, however, persisted in his decision and in reality the defence was on the point of collapse. Fort Marchouelette, bombarded by 21-cm. howitzers from io A.M. on Aug. 21 and by 42-cm. howitzers from the morning of Aug. 22, was almost incapable of resistance, and collapsed in ruin, with two-thirds of the garrison dead, at 1:40 P.M. on Aug. 23. Fort Cognelee, under bombardment by the Austrian 30-5-cm. howitzers on the previous evening, had given in some time before. But here the battle had already passed inside the fort ring. The unsuccessful fighting and notably a counter-attack in the evening of Aug. 22 had exhausted the defenders of the interval trenches and redoubts, many of which were lost before dawn of Aug. 23. To sustain the battle, moreover, Lt.-General Michel had expended practically all his reserves.

Thus the German assault of Aug. 23, delivered with very heavy forces and accompanied by an intensive bombardment of the forts by super-heavy and of the intermediate positions by heavy field artillery, was completely successful. The break occurred near Fort Cognelee where the French contingent began to retreat about 10:30 A.M. One by one, from left to right, the fighting groups of this front gave way; the rightmost, on the Meuse, being the last to conform, were mostly cut off and forced to surrender, though they had had no difficulty in maintaining the frontal defence against the weakened left of the 3rd Guard Div. The Emines - Suarlee sector troops, turned on their right after the break-through near Cognelee, withdrew in succession from right to left towards the Sambre bridge at Bauce, but the forts, intact, prevented any attempt to break through on the part of the newly arrived 14th Res. Div. outside this front and Fort Emines inflicted losses on the Germans as they pursued southward from Cognelee. Meanwhile, the bombardment on the E. front, where, as has been noted, a large part of the German siege artillery still remained, had destroyed Fort Maizeret before nightfall of Aug. 22, though the infantry in front did not realize the fact till 2 P.M. on Aug. 23, long after it had been evacuated. The artillery then turned upon Fort Andoy, but this fort repulsed a premature attack of the weak infantry forces in its front, and was unconquered at nightfall. Nevertheless, the collapse of the interval defence N. of them caused the commander of the E. sector to withdraw from his line of redoubts from about 12:30 P.M. and by 7:30 P.M. all troops except the garrisons of Forts Andoy and Dave had taken refuge in the southern sector, W. of the upper Meuse.

Once through the main line of defence von Gallwitz's attackmass met only disconnected resistances on its way to Namur, and the Germans entered the town at 7 P.M. The Sambre bridges were however blown up, and the rest of the evening had to be given up to reorganization of the much mixed-up units which had converged on the narrow front Bouge - Namur - Pont de Bauce. On the morning of Aug. 24 von Gallwitz prepared to reduce the remaining forts; the 38th Div. by way of Bauce was to attack Fort Malonne, the 22nd Div. to continue its attack from E. to W. against Forts Andoy and Dave, and the 1st Guard Res. Div. from Namur, the 14th Res. Div. outside, and the siege artillery which had reduced Marchouelette and Cognelee, were to capture Forts Emines and Suarlee. The 3rd Guard Div. remained in Namur, ready to support any of these three attacks as required, and to overawe the inhabitants, with whom there was sporadic fighting followed by house-burnings.

Lt.-General Michel, meantime, after collecting the disordered forces coming in from N. N.W. and E. in the area between the Sambre and Fort St. Heribert, had decided that it was impossible to remain there, the more so as on the one flank the French V. Army on the Sambre was already beginning to fall back, and on the other a German advance on Dinant was hourly threatened. The retreat of the Namur garrison began on the same night; it was not possible to carry it out according to a scheme, and each column had, in the main, to fend for itself. Part of the retreating forces narrowly escaped capture by troops of the German II. Army which were advancing in pursuit of the French. Finally, however, the remnant of the Belgian 4th Div. was reassembled and sent by train to Havre and thence by sea to rejoin the army at Antwerp. The total number of prisoners taken by the Germans was about 6,70o.

The Germans had still to reduce the remaining six forts which barred the roads and railways necessary for the further advance of the German II. Army. This task was promptly taken in hand Aug. 24. On that day Emines and Suarlee, hitherto immune, were heavily bombarded, while from front and rear the infantry closed up on them. South of the Sambre, however, Fort Malonne fell without resistance to the bold summons of a Prussian Guard lieutenant with four men, and Fort St. Heribert capitulated after a short bombardment by field and medium calibres. Against Fort Andoy, the bombardment of Aug. 23 continued till the fort was surrendered, a heap of ruins, at 11 A.M. on Aug. 24. On Aug. 25 at 3 P.M. the last fort on the E. side, Dave, surrendered to bombardment by 21-cm. and medium artillery.

To the reduction of Emines and Suarlee, the whole power of the 42-cm. and 30.5-cm. artillery N. of the Meuse was devoted on the morning of Aug. 25. In a few hours their cupolas were pierced or jammed and their concrete galleries and chambers blown in, and both surrendered about 4 P.M. (C. F. A.)

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