A Belgian army military commander and former military tutor to the Belgian King, Albert I, Leman was tasked with defence of the fortress at Liege against advancing German forces en route to France. Liege – together with its outer ring of satellite forts – occupied a vital position, blocking the narrow gap between the ‘Limburg appendix’ and the Ardennes, the best entrance into Belgium.
Considering the value of Liege, the German army had set in place special procedures for its capture, chiefly in the form of unusually heavy artillery, including the mammoth Krupp 42-cm howitzer, in addition to the use of Zeppelins in dropping bombs.
Somewhat dilapidated in design in any event, and certainly undermanned, the forts were reduced to rubble under the Germans’ heavy artillery between 5-16 August 1914 in what was the first land battle of the war.
Nevertheless the stubborn defense thrown up by Leman and his defenders slowed the German advance enough for the action to be considered something of an Allied victory. Anything that slowed the rapid advance of the Schlieffen Plan was of vital importance in the early weeks of the war.
Leman was finally captured and had to be carried out of the fort wounded and unconscious. Having spent the remainder of the conflict as a German prisoner of war he returned to Belgium a hero following the 1918 Armistice.