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World War II

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Operation Dragoon

The second invasion of France, aimed to speed up the liberation of the country and to capture the large harbours of Southern France, was much smaller in scope than the massive D-Day in Normandy. The opposing German forces were also much weaker in number and quality.

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War in The Marolles

An atypical and popular Brussels neighbourhood, the Marolles are considered to be the centre of what is known as the Brussels "zwanze", a form of humour that is both mocking and self-deprecating. It is also a district that has a reputation for being rebellious and insubordinate.

CegeSoma/State Archives

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September ’44: The first liberated city in Belgium

For three quarters of a century, or so, two Belgian cities – Mons and Tournai – have been competing for the honour of being the country’s “first liberated city”. The question is not only symbolic. For a time, a third

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Colmar Pocket

The American and French offensive in mid-November 1944 was a success, resulting in liberation of most of Alsace. However, the Germans retained a large bridgehead on the western bank of the Rhine around the city of Colmar, a thorn the side of Allied 6th Army Group.

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Liberation of Alsace

The liberation of the Alsace happened in stages. Logistical difficulties, broken terrain, stubborn German resistance, and differences among Allied commanders meant that fighting to liberate the region took many weeks.

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Operation Cannonshot

Operation Cannonshot was the code name for the Canadian crossing of the IJssel at Gorssel and Wilp on April 12, 1945. After a failed attempt of Operation Market Garden’s to liberate the Netherlands, much depended on this operation. The 48th Highlanders of Canada, part of the first Canadian Infantry Division, went through the Achterhoek towards the IJssel in order to break through the German front. The success of Operation Cannonshot marked the start of the liberation of the northern part of the Netherlands.

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Bombardment of Cities

Among the military operations conducted by the Allies to liberate Europe the bombing campaign remains the most controversial, as one of its aims was specifically to break German morale through terror bombing of Germany’s civilian population.

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Rongy, the first commune to be liberated…by Belgians

Apart from the actions carried out by the armed resistance forces in September 1944, Belgium's strictly military contribution to its Liberation was rather minimal. It was personified by the First Belgian Group, later known as the "Brigade Piron" after its commanding officer, Colonel Jean-Baptiste Piron (1896-1974).

CegeSoma/Rijksarchief

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Cuesmes, “collateral damage” of the Liberation

A part of the municipality of Mons since 1971, the large village of Cuesmes, half rural and half industrial, saw tragedy unfold on its soil during the Liberation, similar to that experienced in several neighbouring localities, from Jemappes to Sars-la-Bruyère

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The 1st U.S. Infantry Division in Mons

Mons, the capital of Hainaut province, owed its rapid liberation principally to the men of the 3rd Armored Division (“Spearhead”). However, curiously, it was the men of the 1st Infantry Division of the United States that would be long commemorated in monumental memory.

CegeSoma/State Archives

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The Mons Pocket, or the “petit Stalingrad” of the Borinage

Crushed and definitively vanquished by the Allies on the borders of Normandy in the “Falaise pocket”, the Nazi armies began a general withdrawal in the evening of 17 August 1944. Their goal: to rejoin the Reich…and the fortified positions of

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Bernard Montgomery’s visit to Brussels

Brussels. 7 September 1944. On the way to his headquarters, the Field Marshal Montgomery made a short, unexpected stopover in Brussels. The visit was not announced in the newspapers, which had begun to circulate again since 5 September. But news of his arrival travelled quickly by word of mouth and a large crowd gathered on the Grande Place.

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The Oberfeldkommandantur under fire

There was little fighting involved in the liberation of Brussels. However, here and there, a handful of clashes resulted in casualties or the arrest of German soldiers. The headquarters of the Oberfeldkommandantur at the place du Trône is one of the places where these battles were concentrated.

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The fire at the Palais de Justice

The fire at the Palais de Justice on 3 September 1944 remains one of the key moments of the Liberation of Brussels. In collective memory, this arson further fueled hatred for the occupier. Was the fire the final, desperate act of an occupying regime wildly lashing out in its death throes or was it a symbol of Belgium’s regained liberty?

CegeSoma/State Archives

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The Unknown Soldier

As early as 4 September 1944, people flocked to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Since 1922, this sepulchre had been the ultimate site of memory of the First World War. It is not surprising then that on 11 November 1940, Brussels patriots met there as a means to express their rejection of the occupation.

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The National Shooting Range

The National Shooting Range was located in the municipality of Schaerbeek. During both wars, patriots were executed there. It had therefore become a major site of memory in the capital. As soon as the occupation ended, both in November 1918 and September 1944, many commemorations were organised at the range.

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The Red Ball Express

The Red Ball Express was a truck convoy which supplied US forces between August 25th and November 16th 1944, and which contributed enormously to the success of the armies. The convoy was staffed largely by African-American soldiers, who worked tirelessly to supply the front line.

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Engelandvaarders and Das Englandspiel

An estimated 1,800 Dutch citizens, the so-called Engelandvaarders, attempted to escape to England during World War Two. Some fell victim to the ‘Englandspiel’, whereby Allied secret agents who returned to the Netherlands from England were betrayed, captured and forced to maintain communications with England but through messages written by the Germans.

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The Hague in World War Two

In the early morning of 10 May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. The Hague became the centre of German rule in the Netherlands. This is the story of a city's devastation, the deportation of Jews, 'justice' in the Oranjehotel and many more atrocities until the delayed liberation on 8 May 1945.

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Bombing of the Bezuidenhout: 3 March 1945

On 3 March 1945, The Hague's Bezuidenhout district was bombed by the British as they attempted to eliminate the V-2 launching pads that the occupying German forces had erected in Haagse Bos. More than 500 people were killed with many others injured.

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The Friendly Invasion

Quickly following the United States’ entrance into the Second World War in December 1941, hundreds of thousands of American troops crossed the Atlantic to the UK to assist with the war effort in Europe. They remained in large numbers throughout the rest of the war from 1942 to 1945. This event became known as the ‘Friendly Invasion’.

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Liberation of Stutthof

The concentration camp in Stutthof was initially founded to eliminate and persecute Poles. Later in the war the role of Stutthof changed as it became an integral part of the planned extermination of European Jews. Before the Soviet Army could liberate Stutthof, the surviving prisoners were send on horrible “death marches”.

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Victorious powers in Berlin

The Second World War in Europe ended in the spring of 1945 with the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. The fate of the German people now lay in the hands of the four victorious powers, the USA, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and France. Germany and Berlin were placed under a shared four-party administration.

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The Rhineland Offensive

The Allied Rhineland Offensive comprised several large-scale military operations during the last months of the Second World War in Europe. The two main objectives of these combined British, American and Canadian operations were to clear the area west of the Rhine and to accomplish the crossing of the river itself. If successful, the offensive would mean a final blow to the last German line of defense in the West.

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Operation Fortitude South

As D-Day approached, Kent became the stage for one of the War’s greatest deception plans, Operation Fortitude South. In order to mislead the German army and conceal the real location of the Allied invasion of Western Europe, extensive military preparations were made around Dover. But it was all fake.

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Towards the German capitulation in the Netherlands

In May 1940 the Netherlands was occupied by German forces. It would take five years before they could be ousted. The final drive to liberate the whole country was launched in February 1945 after the so-called ‘Hunger Winter’ had led to 20.000 fatalities in the still occupied territory.

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Operation Pluto

Operation Pluto (Pipelines Under The Ocean) represents one of wartime’s greatest feats of engineering. Huge pipelines were successfully developed and laid beneath the Channel between Southern England and France. Fuel could safely be transported to the troops in Europe. The pipelines contributed largely to the success of the Allied operations after August 1944.

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Ambiguous liberation

The European drama of 1939-1945 resulted in widespread destruction. Millions were killed, maimed, displaced or traumatized. The liberation of the countries occupied by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany was therefore an enormous relief. However, Joseph Stalin, the totalitarian leader of the Soviet Union, who played an essential role in defeating Nazi Germany, had his own idea about this liberation. Soon he forcibly installed communist regimes in Poland and other countries.

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The Campaign of Monte Cassino

The Allied campaign of Monte Cassino was fought in four phases between January and May 1944. The town of Cassino was a key stronghold on the Gustav Line, the German defence line in Central Italy designed to prevent Allied advance towards Rome. The Allies suffered about 55,000 casualties, the Germans 20,000.

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Preparations for D-Day

D-Day is one of the most remembered campaigns of the Second World War. The operation involved troops from Britain, the United States, Canada and several other countries. On 6 June 1944 the Allied forces sailed across the English Channel to begin their campaign to gain victory against the German forces. Planning the invasion was an enormous undertaking.

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The 1st Polish Armoured Division

The Polish First Armoured Division under command of general Maczek played an important role in the liberation of France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The ‘black division’ was feared by its enemies and brought swift liberation to the occupied nations.

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Westerplatte

On 1 September 1939 the Germans attacked the Westerplatte peninsula in the port of Gdańsk. This assault marks the beginning of the Second World War. A small Polish garrison held out for seven days, bolstering the morale of the Polish people. After the war Westerplatte became a symbol of Polish resistance against the German invasion.

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National Socialist Ordensburg Vogelsang

The Ordensburg Vogelsang was a training venue for an upcoming Nazi-elite. Young cadets were persuaded they were racially superior and therefore justified to dispose of other, lesser humans. The imposing architecture supposedly demonstrated the power of the ‘Aryan master race’. However, for the Allies who occupied Vogelsang in 1945, it became a symbol of the predominance of democracy over nazism.

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Gdańsk during the 20th century

For the people of Gdańsk the end of the Second World War was not necessarily a liberation. The arrival of the Soviet Army meant first defeat and then factually a new occupation. The Poles who settled in Gdańsk after the war were not in favor of the Soviet domination. For many Poles the political consequences of the war lasted until 1989 when Poland became an independent and democratic state again.

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Battle of Huertgen Forest

During the autumn and winter of 1944/45, the longest battle of the Second World War on German soil took place in the Huertgen Forest. With this battle, the war precipitated by the Nazi regime returned to Germany. The battle caused numerous casualties on both sides. For the American soldiers, it’s very name – with its first syllable ‘hurt’ – became a byword for injury and death.

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Liberation of Paris

The liberation of Paris didn’t have Allied priority, but an uprising of the population against the Germans on 19 August made it necessary. Thus the 2nd French Armoured Division was sent to Paris and entered the city on 24 August. On 26 August a huge triumphal parade was held on the Champs-Élysées.

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Battle of Berlin

The battle of Berlin was one of the last battles of the Second World War in Europe. The war that had proceeded from Berlin returned to the city. Many soldiers and civilians died in widespread house-to-house fighting.

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Liberation of Belgium

On 2 September 1944 allied troops crossed the Belgian border at diverse places. The process of liberation went fast: in ten days a large majority of the country was liberated. But it did not put an end to the German occupation. Two months later Hitler surprised the Allies with his last offensive: the Battle of the Bulge.

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Battle of the Scheldt

In August 1944 the Allies broke out of Normandy. The speed of the allied advance was so great that they outran their supply lines. In early September the advance came to a halt. The Allies desperately needed a large port to supply their troops and the obvious choice was Antwerp.

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D-Day

The longest Day 6 June 1944 entered history under the now legendary name of D-Day, the Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy. It was the most dramatic part of Operation Overlord, that marked the beginning of the liberation of

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82nd Airborne Division

From 1943 to 1945, the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division was deployed in all of the important operations in western Europe. It took part in military operations in Italy, France, the Netherlands and Belgium as well as on the territory of the German Reich. After the war it was stationed in Berlin as part of the occupying forces.

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Operation Market Garden

Operation Market Garden was one of the largest Allied operations of the Second World War. It aimed to secure the bridges over the rivers Maas (Meuse), Waal and Rhine in the Netherlands in order to outflank the heavy German defences of the Siegfried Line and to insure a swift advance towards Berlin.

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Battle of Normandy

Fought between the iconic landings on 6 June 1944 and the liberation of Paris on 25 August, the Battle of Normandy is often overlooked. Yet this campaign decided the course of the war in Northwestern Europe. The losses were huge: more than 100.000 people were killed during the 80 days, 20.000 of them civilians.

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Atlantic wall in Normandy

Following the invasion of the U.S.S.R. and the entry into the war of the U.S.A. on the British side, German strategy in the West changed from the offensive to the defensive. Hitler agreed to the construction of a fortified line along the western coastline, capable of repulsing any Allied attempt of invasion. Construction work of the Atlantic Wall began in early 1942.

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Battle of the Bulge

In December 1944, when the Allies had advanced unto the Belgian Ardennes, they were completely surprised by three German armies. This was the beginning of the Ardennes Offensive or ‘Battle of the Bulge’. It was a last desperate attempt of the German Wehrmacht to cut through the allied lines. The battle lasted more than six weeks and took many lives on both sides.