Today a focus on Belgium. This rather prosperous western European nation has been the site of some of the most horrendous battles in history. Amazingly none of the battles involve the Belgians themselves who seem to have some sort of a national travel holiday when a war starts.
We’ll start with the quintessential story of defeat. In 1815, Wellington’s British army defeats Napoleon and the French at Waterloo in Belgium. Contrary to popular belief the Belgian town was not named after a London train station.
The British had such luck they returned 100 yrs later to Belgium for a little epic known as the Great War. So as the 20th century dawned the part of Belgium known as Flanders became synonymous with military futility. First the French the the British then the ANZACS battled over the muddly ground. There was a notable victory when the Canadians took the ridge during the Battle of Passchendaele . The battle was renamed from the Fourth Battle of Ypres by Allied commanders who were worried it sounded like they weren’t making any progress. Contrary to popular belief the Belgian area known as Flanders was not named for a character on the Simpsons.
In WWII Germany planned their massive western offensive in 1940 through the Ardenne forest of Belgium. In a neighborly gesture they once again invited the British and the French, who promptly forgot that 20 yrs had passed, and left their tanks at home. Dunkirk almost became the new term for a Waterloo but thankfully the British had Winston Churchill as their spokesman. The term “Spin” wouldn’t be coined until several years later as it was considered a technology vital to the war effort.
The Ardennes became the seen of another WWII moment when the Germans tried a replay of 1940 in 1944 with the American. In this case it was the Germans that forgot a few years had passed. The Americans, with more planning, remembered the tanks and also brought General Patton plus, when the skies cleared, enough aircraft to choke Chicago’s O’Hare airport. The French and British pointed out after the American victory. “Yeah but we loosened the bottle pretty good for you”. The Canadians had declined the invitation to Belgium and spent most of the campaign in Dutch mud this time.