The Belgian Resistance (French: Résistance belge, Dutch: Belgisch verzet) is the term used to denote the collection of Belgian resistance movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of Belgium during World War II. Within Belgium, resistance was fragmented between a large number of different regional and political organizations which, aside from sabotage and attacks on military installations or lines of communication, also published of underground newspapers, gathered intelligence information and maintained various escape networks that helped Allied airmen trapped behind enemy lines. The men and women of the resistance came from both French and Flemish groups in the country. During the war, it is estimated that approximately 5% of the national population were involved in resistance activity. Some estimates put the number of resistance members killed during the war at over 19,000, roughly 25% of its "active" members.
Belgium was a neutral country, but by November 1939 intelligence reports of an impending German attack reached a peak. The Germans had invaded Poland and France and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany.
The Germans wanted to remove potential aggressors to their west to avoid fighting on two fronts, a strategy which crippled their abilities in World War I. The German Army needed to push through neutral Belgium in order to attack France. The French and British sent soldiers to aid in the fight against the Germans but despite their efforts, the Germans secured the unconditional surrender of Belgium after 18 days of fighting. The King of Belgium, King Leopold III, went against his cabinet by deciding to surrender the country. King Leopold III was taken as a prisoner of war. Despite this, while imprisoned, in 1942 he sent a letter to Adolf Hitler which has been credited with saving an estimated 500,000 Belgian women and children from deportation to munitions factories in Germany. The members of the cabinet retreated to England, where they set up a government in exile.
Immediately after the surrender, numerous resistance groups were formed in Belgium to harass the German Army. These were made up particularly of soldiers of the defeated army, communists and students. Due to Germany's failure to sway the Belgian citizens during the German occupation in World War I, the invading army sought to establish itself as a liberating force from British imperialism. However, many citizens were quick to aid in the fight against the Germans. The situation in Belgium is documented in Roger Motz's book Belgium Unvanquished which describes the atmosphere of resistance as being "relentless".
Reportedly, more German troops were killed in Belgium in 1941 than in occupied France. Due to the large number of Belgian citizens who were willing to aid the resistance fighters, supply lines were established and evasion routes were charted. The Belgian resistance fighters were determined to aid the Allies in any way they could.
Unusually the Belgian resistance would also come to include the Légion Belge, a far right resistance movement led by dissident Rexists and the National Legion of Paul Hoornaert who opposed the occupation.
The Belgian resistance effort was fragmented between various groups and never became a unified organization during the German occupation. The Belgian government in exile dealt with Belgian resistance groups collectively with the largest group, the Armée Secrète, but the government in exile had independent liaison with the various smaller, regional groups.
The resistance in Belgium was highly fragmented, and a plethora of independent groups operated around the country, many of which had distinct political or regional affiliations:
|Name||Dates operational||Political stance||Notes|
|Secret Army (AS)||1944-1945||Various, many center-right||The biggest national resistance organization which existed around the country and was sympathetic to the government in exile.|
|Front of Independence (FI)||1941-1944||Left-wing||The second biggest resistance group, formed before the Armée secrète and politically left-wing. It was responsible for the Faux Soir hoax in 1943.|
|Partisans Armés (PA)||1940-1943||Communist||A communist resistance group, closely affiliated with the Communist Party of Belgium. It was always quite small in size, and was nearly destroyed by German arrests of its leading members in 1943.|
|Groupe G||1942-1944||Various||A small politically non-aligned group made up of students, notable for a series of highly successful attacks on railway lines.|
|Belgian National Movement (MNB)||1940-1944||Centerist||A group based in Brussels which, amongst other things, published the clandestine newspaper La Voix des Belges. It was severely undermined by German raids in 1944.|
|Committee of Jewish Defence (CDJ)||1942-1944||A tiny, but highly successful, organization focused on providing false papers to persecuted Jews in Belgium.|
|Belgian Military Organisation of Resistance (OMBR)|
|Patriotic Militia||Communist||The Milices were intended to be a mass movement, working alongside the much smaller Partisans Armés (PA) group|
|Witte Brigade-Fidelio||1940-1944||An Antwerp-based group, specializing in propaganda but which was also active in the Allied liberation of Antwerp in 1944.|
|Revived Belgian Army||1940-1941|
|Belgian Legion||1941-1943||Various, including Fascism|
|National Royalist Movement (MNR)||1940-1944||Fascist||Supporters of installing an authoritarian regime under Leopold III|
|Army of Liberation|
|Legion of Campine (KL)|
As the "Air War" in Europe became more significant, large numbers of RAF and USAAF pilots were shot down over Belgium, which many bombers had to cross to reach their targets. German ground forces would attempt to arrest downed pilots and intern them in Prisoner of War Camps, so a key role of the resistance was to hide these pilots and attempt to find a way for them to return to England. The Comet Line had a series of safe houses throughout Belgium, where allied airmen were given civilian clothes and were moved from house to house, staying with Belgian families who supported the resistance. The resistance would aid the airmen by giving them false papers and guiding them to either neutral Spain or Switzerland. The networks were so well co-ordinated that in one well-known incident, which was filmed, a German soldier was shown lighting the cigarette of an American Navigator who was disguised as a Belgian civilian. Though many airmen were able to escape successfully, many others were caught by the Germans, sometimes after months of successful evasion.
The principal contribution of the Belgian resistance was sabotage, particularly of the important railway routes which carried German troops through the country. Between June and September 1944, 95 railroad bridges, 285 locomotives, 1,365 wagons and 17 tunnels were all blown up by the Belgian resistance.
One faction of the resistance, known as Groupe G carried out numerous successful sabotage missions. The Germans were continuously tested by the resistance groups. Through its activities during the war, Groupe G forced the Germans to expend 20 million man-hours of labour on repairing sabotage done by the underground.
Belgian resistance organisations were active in gathering intelligence through the war, and it is estimated that around 80% of all reconnaissance information from resistance groups in Europe received by the allies came from groups in Belgium.
Resistance organizations were also involved in publishing underground newspapers. Most were published bi-monthly like La Voix des Belges and were intended as sources of uncensored news, however others like the one-off Faux Soir were produced and distributed as propaganda which would
After liberation, many former members of the resistance joined the regular Belgian army's "fusilier battalions" which managed to recruit 100,000 additional men in Belgium between September 1944 and VE Day.
Resistance fighters captured by the Germans would either be imprisoned or shot. Members were always at risk of being captured or betrayed. The Germans had agents working against the resistance forces. The agents were told to make connections within the underground communities in order to gather intelligence. German agents, working within the resistance groups, were responsible for the arrests of hundreds of Belgian citizens, Allied soldiers and resistance fighters. Escape routes were sometimes traps and many downed airmen, as well as resistance fighters, were captured this way.
The use of sabotage as an effective weapon was not realized until World War II. The German Army lost thousands of trains during the war due to acts of sabotage. German units were spread throughout Europe and many smaller units were targeted by resistance fighters. Ambushes were a common tactic used. Rail lines were very often targeted to disrupt the flow of materials and men for the German Army. Stretches of track were rigged with explosive charges and would be set to explode as the train passed over them. The resistance groups cost the German Army millions of dollars worth of equipment[clarification needed] and had a large psychological effect on the German soldiers. By stalling and delaying the German forces, the Belgian Resistance group prevented the Axis from ever establishing a stable base of operations in occupied Belgium.
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