The rapid advance
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.
The 1st U.S. Army, on its way to Tournai, crossed the Belgian border in the morning of 2 September 1944 in the hamlet of Cendron (Hainaut). On the same day the German authorities and Belgian Nazi collaborators packed their bags, whereas the 2nd British Army at Douai, France, received the order to march on to Brussels. The British soldiers arrived in Belgium on 3 September and in the evening, together with the Belgian Brigade Piron, they entered the capital. On 17 September almost the entire territory was liberated. This rapid liberation was partly made possible by the Resistance Groups, that had been particularly active. They guided the Allied troops, prevented destruction by the fleeing Germans, such as at the Antwerp harbour, and hunted down collaborators.
The Allied troops received a hero’s welcome in Belgium. In town and country the streets were coloured by the American, British, French, Soviet and, of course, Belgian flags. They brought with them items that had become very scarce, like real coffee, chocolate, Coca-Cola, cigarettes, jazz music and much more. The legitimate authorities of Belgium were re-established. In the absence of King Leopold III, Prince Charles was appointed Regent on 20 September. Now that the occupier had left, it was time to punish collaborators. Sanctions were imposed and the citizens used a form of popular justice: women were shorn, lynchings were numerous, even though real executions were rare. But Germany had no intention to give up yet. On 16 December Hitler surprised everyone with a last offensive in the Belgian Ardennes, known as the Battle of the Bulge. It took another six weeks of fierce fighting until on 4 February 1945 the complete Belgian territory was liberated.
Hubert Pierlot, born in Cugnon, Belgium, was Prime Minister of the Belgian government in exile in London from September 1940 to September 1944. During the war he played an important role in the negotiations between the Allied powers. After the liberation of Belgium Pierlot returned to Brussels, where he headed a government of national unity until February 1945.
On Sunday 3 September 1944, shortly before 20:00, the British Second Army entered Brussels by the Avenue de Tervuren. On the Boulevard de Waterloo, the liberators were welcomed by jubilant crowds of Belgians, celebrating the liberation of the capital city from the German occupation.
The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History, located in the Jubelpark (Jubileepark) in Brussels, presents thousands of unique and amazing objects, stemming from ten ages of military history. Not only uniforms and prestigious distinctions, but also works of art, musical instruments and an exceptional collection of planes, guns and tanks. One gallery is dedicated to the Second World War.
Jean-Baptiste Piron, born in Belgium in 1896, was a military officer who fled to England during the Second World War. He returned to Belgium as commander of the 1st Belgian Infantry Brigade, also known as Piron Brigade. At the end of the war he participated in the liberation of Belgium and the Netherlands.
Like the other children in La Roche, Andrée Collin was eagerly looking forward to Christmas of 1944. In September the Americans had liberated the Belgian town from Nazi occupation. There were plans for a banquet and a ball on 25 December. Hitler’s counteroffensive in the Ardennes brought a nightmare instead.
Augusta Chiwy was a Belgian nurse who risked her life treating badly wounded American soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge. Her story remained unknown until very late in her life when the Belgian king awarded her the highest honor and a documentary about her courage won an American Emmy.
In the course of 1944, Belgian cities suffered more and more from the devastating and methodic Allied bombings. The air raids aimed at the strategic points occupied by the Germans, but did not avoid cities adjoining these points. Numerous civilians were killed. The city of Kortrijk was bombed three times.
In the morning of 18 August 1944 twenty Belgian civilians were killed at the town of Courcelles by members of the Rexist Movement, a group of ultra right Belgian civilians. After the Normandy landings in June 1944, tensions between German authorities, collaboration movements and the Resistance grew more intense, in particular in the Wallonian province Hainaut.
In July 1942 Kazerne Dossin (Dossin Barrack), a former military base in Mechelen, was designated Sammellager, a transit camp for Jews, Roma and Sinti. Between July 1942 and September 1944, thousands of Jews and gypsies were transported from here to concentration camps in Germany. Nowadays, Kazerne Dossin is a Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights.
Originally built to defend Antwerp, Fort Breendonk was a Nazi concentration camp from September 1940 till September 1944. Around 3,500 prisoners passed through this camp. Fort Breendonk is one of the best conserved concentration camps in Europe and is a symbol that perpetuates the memory of the suffering, the torture and the death of so many victims.
In addition to being Belgium’s capital city, Brussels is the capital of Europe and the beating heart of the European Union. Its European district is unique and its renowned squares, like the Grand-Place, are prestigious. During WWII Brussels suffered from
Home to an extensive collection of original uniforms, weapons, artefacts, and scale models, the Canada-Poland War Museum is one of the most interesting private institutions preserving memory of the war and liberation of Belgium.
Charles of Belgium, brother of King Leopold III, was Regent of Belgium from September 1944 to July 1950. Nine governments followed one after the other during this regency, which was marked by the Royal Question and the post war restoration of the country’s economic activity.
On 13 July 1944, the military administration which had been in place since 28 May 1940 and headed by General von Falkenhausen was replaced by a civilian administration under the authority of the SS. This change came about at the behest of the Führer, who considered the military administration too lax in its fight against the resistance.
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).