On 28 May 1940, the Belgian Army laid down its arms after 18 days of fighting the best-trained, best-led, and best-equipped army in the world. The under-equipped, tiny army of the officially neutral Belgian Lion had fought harder and with greater localized successes than the vaunted British Expeditionary Force or French regulars. King Leopold III, as commander-in-chief, remained in Brussels, while his Ministers and government fled across the Channel to the United Kingdom. But there remained in Belgium men and women who refused to bend to the German occupier. They acted alone or organized themselves into groups with one aim in mind - sending les Boches back to Germany.
As in other occupied countries, resistance in Belgium took one of two forms: active and/or passive. The type of resistance activity depended on the resistant as well as population and building density and terrain. Southeastern Belgium - the Ardennes - saw much more active resistance than did northern and coastal Belgium, where the population was much more dense and places to hide fewer. In the more built-up areas, information-gathering and clandestine methods of work-stoppage were far more prevalent. In fact, British records from 1942 show that 80% of the intelligence gathered by all resistance movements in all occupied countries in that year came from Belgium. In particular, the reports sent through on the placing of German radar were vital to the Allied bombing campaign.
At first - the summer of 1940 - underground activity was that of isolated individuals. Very soon, however, small groups begain to emerge: Zero, an intelligence-gathering network that grew from a handful of individuals to span across Belgium from France to Holland by Liberation; and Luc, another espionage and escape-line group that grew from a tiny seed to a nationwide secret organization.
By the end of 1941, at least a dozen different armed resistance groups existed in Belgium, some small, some large. It is a peculiarity of Belgium that whenever two Belgians meet in a pub and new association with a new committee will be born. Many of these groups fell foul of the Gestapo. But this ruthlessly Darwinian evolution produced wiser, better, larger resistance organizations.
The largest, Legion Belge, had the full attention of the Belgian Government-in-Exile, not only for its size but also for its poorly-known political views. After lengthy negotiations, facilitated by SOE's agents and transmitters, Legion Belge was reborn in 1943 as l'Armée Secrète (AS). Staffed by a dedicated cadre of former Belgian professional Army officers and NCOs, AS eventually boasted some 50,000 resistants under arms.
Another large and effective group was the Front de l'Indépendance (FL). Though not as large as AS or as active in armed resistance, FL had action groups who participated in light (unarmed) sabotage, psychological operations and downed-airman trafficking.
On 19 April, 1943 Belgian resistants including the recently-deceased Robert Maistriau stopped the Twentieth Convoy, armed only with one revolver, seven cartridges and a red lamp with which to stop the train. The 20th Convoy was the 20th prisoner transport from Belgium to Germany. This exceptional action freed dozens of Jewish and gypsy civilians who were being transported by train from the Dossin army base located in Mechelen, Belgium to Auschwitz. The 20th train convoy transported 1,631 Jews 231 of whom managed to escape. This action is considered one of the bravest and most significant displays of public defiance against the Nazis. Maistriau went on, two months later, to become head of recruitment of Groupe General de Sabotage de Belgique.
It is generally accepted that the most successful group in terms of material destruction through sabotage was the Groupe General de Sabotage de Belgique, or Groupe G. On January 15th 1944, Groupe G blew down all high tension electric lines in Belgium simultaneously. Factories came to a standstill and it is estimated that this one action cost the Germans the equivalent of 10 million man hours of work. Groupe G was headed by scientists and engineers from the University of Brussels and was staffed mainly by students. Groupe G had the knowledge and resources to attack infrastructure targets which had a significant effect on German response to the advancing Allied ground forces, particularly railroads, canals, communications wires, and - as has been noted - the power grid. Groupe G operated all over Belgium, from the Ardennes to Hainault (a heavily industrialized area of Belgium).
Between June and September 1944 Belgian saboteurs, led by Groupe G, destroyed 95 railroad bridges, 12 supply bridges, 285 locomotives, 1,365 vehicles, 15 canal locks, and 17 rail tunnels.
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