On August 9th, 1914, After five bloody and frustrating days of infantry assaults against the forts at Liege, the German high command had had enough. If the Belgian defenders would not capitulate, the German Army would crush them. They sent to Essen, Germany for two massive pieces of artillery and began to set up siege. The artillery was immediately loaded on rail cars and shipped out. On 12 August 1914, the guns arrived. Just outside the city of Liege, the Germans had begun putting the monster together.
Krupp Armoires built this massive gun, a 420mm siege howitzer that fired a shell weighing over 1700 lbs. She was nicknamed “Big Bertha” and her first victim was Fort Pontisse, one of the links in the chain of 12 forts around the city of Liege. These forts had been built by the brilliant architect Henri Brialmont and were thought to be impregnable, but the Germans thought otherwise. At 6:30 p.m., the silence was broken. The massive shell whistled as it cut through the air. It hit short of its target and sent smoke and debris flying high into the air. People over 3 miles away heard the thunderous explosion. The Germans were sighting in on the fort,and they were about to hit the mark. This was the one – they knew they had the range. The men operating the gun braced themselves and fired. The shell hit, crashing into the superstructure leaving a gaping wound of twisted metal and concrete destroying the underneath chambers lying deep in the earth. No more men would die in infantry attacks. Now would come the slow and methodical destruction of the forts.
The Forts at Liege had been destroyed by the modern firepower of the German 42cm siege mortars. Design flaws in the fort had caused their failure, not the courage of the Belgian defenders. Under the most horrifying conditions anyone can imagine these brave soldiers fought on until they had exhausted all hope. No modern human can understand the hygienic conditions inside the forts. Poor ventilation caused putrid odors to form in these close quarters. Waste facilities were even worse. Due to the poor ventilation, when shells destroyed the plumbing it caused sewer gas to build up inside the forts. Life for the defenders became impossible.
On August, 15 1914, The same fate that had met Pontisse had met the other forts. Now the only forts left were Hologne and Flemalle, a German delegation approached the forts to meet with its commander. They informed him that if he did not surrender, like all the other forts his too would be destroyed. The Germans offered to take him to see the destruction of the other forts to help him decide. The Belgian Commandant shook his head. A valiant soldier would not surrender without a fight, so the Belgians had made the decision to defend at all cost. The German delegation pleaded with him to go and see the destruction wrought on the other forts but it was no use. These forts were sitting ducks and to the Germans this was a futile cause, thay wanted to offer the Belgians another way out, a way other than death. This was an age of bravery over brains and returning home a vanquished looser was worse than death.
The German delegation returned to their lines with the sad news, The brave intentions of the Belgian commandant had sealed the fate of the forts. The shelling started and went on at different points through out the day. The Belgians tried in vain to return fire with their smaller guns but it was of no use. At 7:30 on 16 August it had ended. The white flag was hoisted over the fort; the guns fell silent. The German engineers went in to survey the damage, what the saw was total destruction.
The Belgians had put their hopes in stopping Germany into a ring of defensive forts, but the Industrial Revolution had passed the forts by. The might of artillery had crushed the old static defenses of the Belgians.