105 years ago, on the 28th September 1914, the Siege of Antwerp began. It was a massive victory for the German Army during World War I as Antwerp was – and still is – the most important port in Belgium.
On the night of the 27th September the German troops, led by General Alexander von Kluck, launched an artillery bombardment in the southern sector of the outer ring of fortifications which protected the city. They fired over 160 heavy guns, including four 42cm (16.2”) howitzers. The British and French governments agreed to send a small force of troops to support the Belgians, in the hopes of holding out a defence at Antwerp until the main body of the British Expeditionary Force could arrive. By 3rd October, a gap had been forced by the German Army, and the decision was made to evacuate the Royal Court and Belgian Government from the city.
On 6th October, two naval brigades of the British Royal Naval Division arrived in Antwerp to support the troops already there: the Belgian garrison, the Belgian Field Army and the British Marine Brigade. The second RND brigade contained the Hood Battalion, containing 7 officers and 150 men from HMS Unicorn in Dundee. James Hogg, who was present at the siege, wrote an account of his experience:
‘The lull in the firing did not last long however, as it again started and developed into a terrible bombardment of the town behind and the forts on each side of us. It was not very long after when a fort on the right hand side of the trench was struck by a large shell, killing and maiming its plucky little garrison’. He would also remark, ‘As we proceeded on our fearsome journey, we all discovered that there was hardly a gallon of water in the company and many and pathetic were the attempts made to get it by those in need but they were constantly herded back into the ranks by Officers cautioning them that one minute’s unnecessary delay might bring disaster to all’.
With the collapse of the fortifications, the remaining troops began to retreat and the Hood Battalion narrowly avoided internment with the other battalions during the massive evacuation from the city, starting on 8th October. The Siege of Antwerp came to an end on the 10th October 1914.
The Hood Battalion would later be a part of the Gallipoli campaign, and again on the Western Front in Passchendaele. German forces continued to occupy Antwerp until its liberation in 1918.