By noon on 4 August 1914 the main German armies were marching into Belgium. The Belgians had fortified Liege with six forts containing heavy guns and a network of gun positions. The forts were held by General Gérard Leman with 22,000 men.
The Liege forts held out until 15 August German general von Emmich brought up heavy siege mortars. The new guns fired shells weighing almost a tonne and smashed the Belgian forts.
When German soldiers entered the Liege forts, they found General Leman senseless and badly wounded, and took him prisoner. When Leman came to, he asked von Emmich “Please put in your despatch that I was unconscious and did not surrender.” Von Emmich did as requested.
The German advance into Belgium was swift. Many Belgian reservists did not have time to reach a depot to get their uniforms. They began cutting telephone wires and ambushing German supply wagons while still wearing civilian clothes.
The Germans declared that it was against the rules of war for civilians to attack soldiers. In reprisal they executed dozens of hostages and burned the city of Louvain.
The Belgian army continued to fight as it retreated before the German invasion. Soon Belgium became known as “Brave Little Belgium” for standing up to the mighty German army.
Meanwhile, the French had invaded Germany at Sarrebourg and Morhange. The French 2nd Army pushed back the army of Prince Rupert of Bavaria. The French soon occupied most of the territory they had lost to Germany in 1871.
Britain began sending troops to France on the way to help Belgium. One of the first to arrive was Lieutenant R.N. Vaughan of the Royal Flying Corps who landed his aircraft at Boulogne on 13 August. He was immediately arrested by the French who thought he was an Austrian spy.
British and French newspapers exaggerated the stories of German reprisals in Belgium. They were called “German atrocities”. The newspapers printed drawings of German soldiers bayonetting women and babies.