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Belgian Airmed Forces

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Belgian Airmed Forces
French: La Défense belge
Dutch: Belgische Defensie
German: Belgische Streitkräfte
Emblem o the Belgian Airmed Forces
Service branches Laund Component
 Air Component
 Marine Component
Medical Component
Meenister o DefenceDidier Reynders
Chief o DefenceGeneral Marc Compernol
Active personnel24,500
Reserve personnel3,300 (2019)
Budget4.303 billion ($4.921 billion) (2019)[1]
Percent o GDP0.93% (2019)[1]
Relatit airticles
RanksBelgian militar ranks

The Belgian Defence Forces (Dutch: Defensie; French: La Défense) is the naitional militar o Belgium. The Belgian Airmed Forces wis established aifter Belgium became independent in October 1830. Syne that time Belgian airmed forces hae fought in Warld War I, Warld War II, the Cauld War (Korean War an airmy o occupation o the Federal Republic o Germany), Kosovo, Somalie an Afghanistan. The ParaCommando Brigade intervened several times in Central-Africae, for maintainin public order an evacuation o Belgian citizens. The Airmed Forces comprise fower braniches: the Laund Component, the Air Component, the Naval Component an the Medical Component.

History[eedit | eedit soorce]

Establishment[eedit | eedit soorce]

When Belgium broke awey frae the Netherlands in 1830 it wis initially expectit that a neutral buffer state, wi its mairches guaranteed bi Fraunce, Breetain an Proushie, caud avoid the need for an expensive permanent militar force, relyin insteid on the pairt-time militia o the existing Garde Civique (Ceevil Gaird). The need for a regular airmy wis houaniver soon acknowledged. The basis for recruitment wis ane o selective conscription unner which exemptions caud be purchased bi obtainin substitutes.[2] In practice this meant that anelie aboot a quarter o each year's eligible intak actually servit, wi the burden fawin on the poorer clesses.

Early history[eedit | eedit soorce]

Sodgers o the Corps Expeditionnaire Belge during the Franco-Mexican War

As pairt o the naitional policy o even-haundit neutrality, the 19th century Belgian Airmy wis deployed as an essentially defencive force in fortifications facing the Dutch, German an French mairches. Mobilisation plans simply requirit reservists tae report tae thair depots, withoot arrangements bein made in advance for deployment in a pairticular direction or against a pairticular enemy. Recruitment difficulties caused the airmy tae remain below its intendit strenth o 20,000 men, awtho new legislation in 1868 tightened the basis for conscription. The Franco-Proushie War o 1870 required full mobilisation for nearly a year, a process which shawed up serious training an structural weaknesses. The presence o Belgian forces in strength alang the kintra's mairches, supportit bi intelligence providit bi the Belgian ceevil security service, did houaniver ensure that the combat at nae time spilled owed intae Belgian territory.

As late as the 1890s the Belgian Airmy still retained a seestem o selective service, at a time when maist European states wur muivin tae a principle o universal obligation, accordin tae the Proushie model. In Belgium conscripts wur selectit throu the drawing o ballots, but individuals caud escape service bi paying for substitutes.[3] This seestem favoured the weel-off an haed been discardit elsewhere as inefficient an unpatriotic. For those conscriptit the terms o service requirit aicht years in the regular airmy (o which pairt micht be spent on "unlimitit leave"), follaed bi five years as a reservist. Various categories o volunteer enjoyed sic privileges as bein able tae specify thair brainch o service, boonties an heicher pay.[4]

The Papal Airmy based in Rome includit frae 1860 a battalion-sized unit kent as the Tirailleurs Franco-Belges (Franco-Belgian Sharpshooters). Recruitit amangst volunteers frae baith kintras, this became the Pontifical Zouaves in 1861 an fought as an alleed force on the French side in 1871 during the Franco-Proushie War.

In 1864 a Corps Expeditionnaire Belge (Belgian Expeditionary Corps) wis raised for service in Mexico. Oreeginally intendit tae serve as the Gaird o the Belgian-born Empress Charlotte this 1,500 strang force wis lairgely drawn frae volunteers seicontit frae the Belgian Airmy. Kent popularly as the Belgian Legion, it saw active service in Mexico as pairt o the Imperial forces, afore returnin tae Belgium for disbandment in Mairch 1867.

Frae 1885 the Force Publique wis established as the militar garrison an polis force in the Belgian Congo, then unner the direct rule o Keeng Leopold II. Initially led bi a variety o European mercenaries, this colonial force wis subsequently offeecered bi Belgian regulars aifter 1908.

Frae December 1904 a smaw detachment o Belgian truips wis permanently based in Cheenae as the "Gaird o the Belgian Legation in Peking".

Reforms unner in the early years o the 20th century includit the abolition in 1909 of the seestem o drawing lots for the selection of the annual intak o conscripts. In 1913, compulsory an universal military service for men wos established in Belgium. While this enablit actual peacetime strength tae be increased tae 33,000 men (increased tae 120,500 on mobilisation), this wis anelie sufficient tae provide a basis for the creation o seiven unner-strenth diveesions (ane o cavalry) plus artillery an fortress truips. The Belgian militar wis awso affectit bi poleetical an popular reliance on the suppositly certain protection o the kintra's internaitionally gairanteed neutrality. In the words o the historian Barbara W. Tuchman "the airmy wis conseedert superfluous an slichtly absurd". Trainin an discipline wur slack, equipment inadequate an even field uniforms wur auld fashioned an impractical.

Awtho improvements in the Belgian Airmy haed been uneven durin the 19t an early 20t centuries, ane aurie o successful reform haed been that o increasing the professionalism o the officer corps. The Ryal Militar Academy haed been established in 1834, tae be follaed bi the Ecole d'Application for technical trainin, an the Ecole de Guerre for staff trainin in 1868. The Belgian Airmy pioneerit the practice o training a corps o finance, personnel an general admeenistration specialist officers insteid o leaving sic functions tae ceevil servants withoot militar experience or inadequately prepared line officers. Thare wis houaniver a serious shortage o trained officers in the rapidly expanding airmy o 1913.[5]

Airmy in 1914[eedit | eedit soorce]

A Belgian machine gun team, 1914

On the eve o Warld War I, the Belgian Airmy comprised 19 infantry regiments (line, Chasseurs à pied, Grenadier and Carabinier), 10 cavalry (Guides, Lancers an Chasseurs à cheval) an 8 artillery (moontit, field an fortress). Support forces includit ingineers, gendarmerie, fortress truips, train an ceevil gairds. The seiven divessions o the Field Airmy were intendit tae provide a mobile force while the 65,000 fortress truips providit garrisons for the substantial forts constructit aroond Antwerp, Liège an Namur. These fortifeecations haed been biggit in seiveral stages beginnin in 1859, thou a nummer wur still incompletit in 1914. While weel-designed and built by 19th century standards, these fixed defences wi thair sunken artillery turrets haed been renderit obsolete bi recent advances in heivy siege artillery howitzers.

Warld War I[eedit | eedit soorce]

Belgian carabiniers defendin Liege in August 1914

At the stairt o Warld War I in August 1914, the Belgian airmed forces wur bein restructurit, due tae this measure an the rapid occupation o Belgium anelie 20% of men wur mobilised and incorporated into the airmed forces. Ultimately, 350,000 men wur incorporatit intae the Belgian airmed forces, awtho ane thirt o these did nae pairticeepate directly in combat.

Invadit bi surprise bi the Imperial German Airmy, which wi approximately 600,000 men strang, the smaw, ill-equippit, 117,000-strang Belgian airmy succeedit, for ten days, in hauldin the German airmy in front o Liège in 1914. Thay fought atween the emplacit forts in the aurie an wi thair support. This strategy wis based on the Napoleonic concept o fechtin the advance force an preventin a portion o the enemy forces jynin the main body. At the time, the authorities an the public celebratit a determinit Belgian resistance that the Germans did nae expect.

For fower years, unner the command of King Albert I, the Belgian Airmy gairdit the important sector o the Alleed left weeng atween Nieuwpoort, on the coast, an Ypres wi the help o the forces o the Entente but did nae pairticeepate in ony o the major Alleed offencives, which wur deemed unnecessarily expensive in terms o cost an manpouer bi the King o the Belgians.

In 1916, a body o Belgian airmourit cars wur muived frae the IJzer front tae help the Roushie Empire. The force foond itsel alangside an identical body sent bi the Breetish on the Eastren Front.

In Africae a company-sized unit o Belgian colonial truips participitatit in the occupation o the German colony o Togoland, The Force Publique subsequently played a major role in the East African Campaign against German forces in German East Africa, providin ower 12,000 askaris unner Belgian officers for the Allied offencive o Februrar 1916.[6] The maist signifeecant Belgian action wis the capture o Tabora in September 1916, bi a force unne the command o General Charles Tombeur.

In Belgium, aifter fower years o war, as o 26 Mey 1918, the airmy haed 166,000 men o which 141,974 wur combatants, furmin twal infantry diveesions an ane cavalry diveesion. It haed 129 aircraft an 952 guns o aw calibres. Frae September, the Belgian Airmy wis involvit in the Alleed offencive until the final victory o 11 November 1918.

Atween the Wars[eedit | eedit soorce]

Fort Eben-Emael wis pairt o the Fortified Position o Liège an wis completit in 1935

After the Airmistice wi Germany o 1918, the Belgian govrenment socht tae retain the strategy o 1914. Little effort wis made tae acquire tanks an aircraft for the Belgian airmed forces, while insteid the Govrenment strenthenit the fortifeecations o Liege an Antwerp. This wis despite the fact that durin Warld War I the forts haed pruivit ineffective despite strang support frae artillery an infantry. Until 1936, Belgium remained alleed tae Fraunce an the Unitit Kinrick.

The Belgian Airmy unnerwent a series o reductions frae 12 diveesions in 1923 tae anelie fower aifter 1926. The rank an file conseestit awmaist entirely o conscripts servin full-time for anelie 13 month, afore enterin the reserves.[7]

Warld War II[eedit | eedit soorce]

On 1 September 1939, when the Wehrmacht invadit Poland, King Leopold III o Belgium orderit a general mobilisation, in which 600,000 Belgians wur mobilised. Despite wairins frae the French an Breetish govrenment, the King refused an alliance. Belgium wis invadit, defeatit, an occupeed in an 18 Days' Campaign aifter 10 Mey 1940. Later, 163 Belgian truips wir rescued durin the Dunkirk evacuation, an Belgium's new navy, the Corps de Marine, anelie refurmit in 1939, awso pairticeepatit.

Aifter the defeat in 1940, signeeficant nummers o Belgian sodgers and civilians escaped to Breetain tae Jyne the Belgian forces in exile. The Belgian govrenment, under Hubert Pierlot, evacuated tae Lunnon where it remained until the liberation in 1944.

Belgian sodgers furmed the 1st Belgian Infantry Brigade (which awso includit an artillery battery o sodgers frae Luxembourg) mair eften kent as the Brigade Piron aifter its commandin officer, Jean-Baptiste Piron. The Brigade Piron wis involvit in the Normandy Invasion an the battles in Fraunce an the Netherlands until liberation.

Belgian Commandos trainin in Breetain, 1945

Belgians awso servit in Breetish special forces units durin the war, forming a truip o No.10 Commando which wis involvit in the Italian Campaign an Laundins on Walcheren. The Breetish 5th Special Air Service (SAS) wis entirely made up o Belgians.

Twa Belgian fechter units, the 349t and 350t Squadrons, wur formit in the Ryal Air Force, wi ower 400 pilots. The 350th Squadron alone claimed ower 50 "kills" atween its formation in November 1941 an the end o the war.

Twa corvettes an a group of minesweepers wur awso operatit the Belgians durin the Battle o the Atlantic, nummerin some 350 men by 1943. Maist militar Belgian vessels o the Belgian navy wur internit in Spain, except for the patrol craft P16, which managit tae escape tae the Unitit Kinrick, where it became HMS <i id="mwww">Kernot</i>.

The Force Publique awso pairticeepatit in the East African Campaign an wur instrumental tae forcin the Italian surrender in Abyssinie.

Belgium in World War II
Strength of primary military organizations
Militar Organisation Period Total personnel over time
1940 Airmy May - June 1940 600,000 - 650,000
Free Belgian Forces 1940–1944 ca. 8,000
Belgian Army 1944–1945 June 1944 – May 1945 ca. 100,000
SS volunteers April 1941 – May 1945 ca. 15,000
SS figures from Kenneth Estes A European Anabasis.

Post 1945[eedit | eedit soorce]

The hairsh lessons o Warld War II made collective security a priority for Belgian foreign policy. In Mairch 1948 Belgium signed the Treaty of Brussels, an then jyned NATO in 1948. Houaniver the integration o the airmed forces intae NATO did nae begin until aifter the Korean War, tae which Belgium (in co-operation wi Luxembourg) sent a detachment kent as the Belgian Unitit Naitions Command. Later Belgium contreibutit a corps tae NATO's Northren Airmy Group. Defence expenditure grew alang wi the force size. In 1948 the airmy wis 75,000 strang which grew tae 150,000 bi 1952. A major defence review in 1952 set a target o three active an twa reserve diveesions, a 400-aircraft air force an a fifteen-ship navy. Fowerty anti-aircraft defence battalions wur creatit, linked wi radar an a centralised command-an-control seestem.

As a safegaird against Belgium bein invadit again, twa major bases, Kitona an Kamina, wur established in the Belgian Congo. Thay wur awmaist viewed as a 'naitional redoubt,' permittin the survival an rebiggin o forces if Belgium wur again invaded.

Follaein a chynge in govrenment in 1954 conscript service wis reducit tae 18 month. The Belgian Airmy gained nuclear capability in the 1950s with Honest John missiles initially an then wi nuclear-capable tube artillery. It awso adoptit the U.S. Pentomic organisation, but then switched tae a triangular diveesion structure bi the early 1960s. Juist aifter unthirldom in the Congo, a Metropolitan Command (Cometro) wis active tae control the Belgian forces thare.[8]

Notes[eedit | eedit soorce]

  1. a b "Defence Expenditure of NATO Countries (2012-2019)" (PDF). NATO Public Diplomacy Division. 25 Juin 2019. Retrieved 31 August 2019.
  2. John Keegan, page 55 "World Armies", ISBN 0 333 17236 1
  3. Fedor von Koppen, page 71 "The Armies of Europe", ISBN 978-1-78331-175-0
  4. British War Office, pages 2-3 "Handbook of the Belgian Army", ISBN 978-1-78331-094-4
  5. R. Pawly & P. Lierneux, page 4 "The Belgian Army in World War I, ISBN 978 1 84603 448 0
  6. Peter Abbott, pages 19-21 "Armies in East Africa 1914-18", ISBN 1 84176 489 2
  7. John Keegan, page 56 "World Armies", ISBN 0 333 17236 1
  8. For Cometro and the metropolitain forces in the Congo at independence, see Louis-François Vanderstraeten, De la Force publique à l'Armee nationale congolaise : histoire d'une mutinerie : juillet 1960, Bruxelles : Académie Royale de Belgique ; Paris-Gembloux : Duculot, ©1985. ISBN 2-8031-0050-9, 88–96.

Referances[eedit | eedit soorce]

 This article incorporates public domain material frae the CIA World Factbook document "2005 edition".

Freemit airtins[eedit | eedit soorce]