The War Illustrated No 39 Vol 2 May 31st 1940

670 The War Illustrated May 31s(, 1940 British Army’s Great Stand at Louvain Bitter must have been the disappointment of the men of the B.H.F. when, after making so fine a stand at Louvain, they had to fallback to conform with the battle line to the south. Here we tell of this opening phase of the campaign. Only a few hours after Belgium’s eastern frontier was" crossed by the German hordes there began on the west another invasion. But the men of the British Expeditionary Force who clattered past the swiftly raised barriers came not as conquerors but as' friends and allies in an hour of desperate need, and as such they were received with transports of joy, just as were their fathers a generation ago. “The successful advance of the B.E.F. into Belgium in conjunction with the French forces,” read a communique issued from British G.H.Q. on May 13, “is continuing as planned. Minor encounters between our cavalry and the enemy have ended to our advantage.” Thus, within three days of entering Belgium, the British Army had taken up the positions allotted to it by the Allied High Command. The communique issued at 1 o’clock on A sin the last war, British soldiers in France and Belgium lightened the burdens o f thousands o f refugees rendered home ­less by German bombard­ment. A British soldier, left, assists an aged couple through the sm o u ld erin g streets o f a Belgian town .British troop s,b elo w,are seen making them selves com for table during the Allied occupation o f L ouvain— awe lc o merest between strenuous bouts o f fighting. Photos, British Official :Crown Copyright The date— Friday, May 10— is one to be remembered. All through that day, the next and the next, the British advance continued, and the Belgian roads were packed with fast-moving convoys of lorries laden with troops, of tanks and armoured cars, of guns big and small. By the evening of the first day of the war some of our mechanized cavalry detachments had secured the bridges over the Dyle at Louvain, representing an advance of some 75 miles in little more than twelve hours. At dawn the next morning they pushed on cautiously until, about ten miles east of the old town, they came into contact with units of the enemy. There was a .certain amount of skirmishing by cavalry •—by which word, in 1940, tanks are meant— and then the British retired to,the line they had established near Louvain. TwIt as not long before the Nazi airmen discovered their ayrival, and their positions were heavily bombed from time to time. Meanwhile, the bulk of the British Army in Belgium was rushed" up and took up its position behind the forward zone. the morning of May 16 stated, briefly enough, that “the B.E.F. after hard fighting today successfully held serious German attacks.” At this time the Allied front, though essentially fluid, ran from the Dutch islands of Walcheren and South Beveland past Antwerp to Louvain on the Dyle (where the British Army was in force) to the Sambre between Namur and Charleroi and thence, west of Mezieres, to Montmedy, w r here the Maginot Line proper has its commencement. In the bard fighting referred into the communique, British troops with French and Belgians on their flanks were heavily engaged in repulsing tank attacks of the most violent and obstinate description directed against Brussels. Louvain was in the very thick of the combat, and almost its only inhabitants were the British soldiers who turned its buildings into strong points and dodged through its streets the bombs and shells. Early on the morning of May 17 the British G.H.Q. announced that “the B.E.F. are in contact with the enemy and fighting is in progress. Attacks oil Louvain have been repulsed.” Within the preceding twenty-four hours there had been heavy infighting the towr n itself as the Germans made, violent attempts to dislodge the British. At onetime they succeeded in seizing the railway station, but were driven out at the point of the bayonet. There w r as one famous Irish regiment which fought the enemy from platform to platform while the broken glass crashed on their heads as the Germans threw grenades through the joof. Sniping in the suburbs went on all day and tanks and dive bombers delivered frequent assaults. All were repulsed. But though the Germans could moreno ’than dent the British front, a withdrawal soon became necessary as a result of the terrific German attack on the French line between M-aubeuge and Sedan. With the 'French army falling back, the Allied High Command found it necessary to avoid the serious risk of being left in the air. So the with-,drawal was effected undercover of night in good order. Brussels and Antwerp had to be abandoned, and a newline was established some 30 miles to the west of the Belgian capital. The Germans were able to do little to hinder the operation indeed, so extensive were the demolitions carricd out by the engineers that the Allied armies were able to break contact and to uptake their new positions loss.•-without
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