Military Bureau for the Investigation of Offenses Against the Laws of War.
The Revolt of the Belgian Population
on August 20, 1914.
Andenne is a small Belgian industrial town of about 8,000 inhabitants, on the southern bank of the Meuse, situated halfway between the fortresses of Huy and Namur. The German troops had repeatedly to touch Andenne in their advance. Thus on August 20, 1914, two infantry regiments and a battalion of sharpshooters marched northward in the direction of Coutisse towards Andenne where they were to cross the Meuse on the pontoon bridge. Major-General, Freiherr von Langermann and Erlencamp was the leader; while Major von Polentz was a the head of one of the infantry-battalions.
The attitude of the inhabitants of Andenne towards the passing troops was seemingly friendly. They handed them water, and the soldiers believed that they might peacefully pass the town in the stillness of the evening, and thus reach the Meuse which flows in the north. But no sooner had the head of the marching columns arrived at the Meuse bridge than the tranquil picture of the town suddenly changed and the inhabitants, as unfortunately happened so often in Belgium, showed their true character. On this occasion their actions took the shape of unequalled deviltry. The church-bells pealed a signal from the belfry. When it died away, the inhabitants who only a moment ago had been so ready to help had disappeared from the streets, locked their houses, and closed their shutters. On all sides a raging fire began to pour down on the unsuspecting troops. Shots were fired in the town from cellar-windows and roof-apertures which had been cleverly prepared. Hand-bombs and hand-grenades were raining down on the soldiers who were for the time defenseless; machine guns sent their murderous bullets into the ranks of the soldiers. At the same time hidden franctireurs began to shoot from the Meuse heights which face the end of the bridge. Besides, men and women in a mad rage poured out of half-opened windows boiling water on the German troops; amongst the men of Major von Polentz alone more than a hundred men were injured by scalding.
The troops had to defend themselves resolutely against these brutalities. They entered the houses and shot the cowardly assailants down in their hiding places; the houses which served them for such purpose were set afire. During those fights about 200 inhabitants lost their lives.
That was the course which the street fights took at Andenne and proven beyond question by the appended official report of Major-General [p. 54] von Langermann and Erlencamp and by the statements made on oath by Major von Polentz and reservist Roleff—all of them eye witnesses, and as further corroborated by the supplementary report of Lieutenant Goetze.
Berlin, March 29, 1915.
Military Bureau for the investigation of offenses against the laws of war.
(Signed) Major Bauer.
(Signed) Dr. Wagner,
District Court Councillor.
Berlin, January 21, 1915.
In the afternoon of August 20, 1914, I received orders to advance from Coutisse to Andenne with the brigade (1st and 2nd Guard Regiment of the Reserves and Reserve Battalion of the Guard-Sharpshooters) and there to cross the pontoon bridge over the Meuse. At Andenne, an industrial town, we had to stop for about ten minutes, and the citizens standing in front of the houses in the narrow street, through which we passed, readily passed us drinking water and showed themselves remarkably friendly towards us. No sooner had I crossed the bridge at the head of the first Guard Regiment when a fierce rifle fire suddenly greeted us from the hill opposite the bridge and simultaneously from the houses. Not only men shot at us, but also as reported to me-several of the women. Our men entered the houses from which the shots came and shot down the armed tenants. The houses from which we were attacked were set on fire at my order. This measure was effective; the rifle fire gradually decreased and finally stopped altogether; but later it revived when all the troops in the rear of my brigade passed through the town. Strange to say our losses were slight. The franctireurs were very poor marksmen. I did not see one single French or Belgian soldier in the whole town and its vicinity. The fire directed against us solely came from the civilian population. As reported to us afterwards a document was found, I think it was the next day, in possession of the mayor of the town from which it appeared that the assault upon us by the population had been planned to the smallest detail and was to take place at a fixed hour. Shortly before the appointed time all the inhabitants who had acted so kindly towards us while we passed through the streets went into their houses, locked them and at the fixed minute fire was opened on us. No cruelties whatever were committed by the troops under my command; in particular all inhabitants who showed themselves in the streets without arms, were spared; if they aroused suspicion in any manner they were merely arrested.
(Signed) Baron von Langermann.
ARMY DEPARTMENT. MILITARY COMMISSION FOR THE
INVESTIGATION OF OFFENSES AGAINST
THE LAWS OF WAR.
Berlin, November 21, 1914.
Present: Military Court Councillor Dr. Wagner as judge.
Military Court Secretary Pfitzner as Clerk of the Military Court.
Major von Polentz of this city appears and declares:
My name is Friedrich von Polentz; my age is forty-two; I am a Lutheran, Major of the 3rd Guard Infantry Regiment.
When during the second half of August I marched through Belgium as battalion commander of the 2nd Guard Reserve Regiment, I repeatedly observed that Belgian civilians took an active part in the hostilities against our troops particularly by firing at us. This was particularly the case in Birdontige near Stavelot and in Evelette, south of Andenne. The worst case occurred in Andenne (between Liege and Namur).
After we had entered this town, a bell signal suddenly was sounded at 6.30 P. M.; thereupon the iron shutters were let down in all the houses; the inhabitants who until then had been standing in. the streets, disappeared, and my troops were fired on from all directions, mainly from cellar hatches and roofs. Moreover boiling water was poured from numerous buildings upon our men. As a result embittered street fighting ensued between the civilians and my soldiers who had given no cause for this perfidious attack. That the attack, at which almost the entire population of the city of Andenne and its suburbs took part, was a carefully laid plot is also shown by the fact that 100 (one hundred) of my men were injured by scalding alone.
The troops which followed us in the marching column were also attacked by the civilian population of Andenne; likewise had the sections which preceded my battalion been fired upon by the civilians.
At Leuze, north of Namur, the parish priest at first met me in a friendly manner and assured me on his word of honor that no hostilities were to be expected from the members of his parish. Nevertheless about fifteen minutes later shots were fired from six to eight houses; they could have only come from the civilian population as the regular hostile troops had long before been repulsed.
Read, approved, signed.
(Signed) Von Polentz.
Witness hereupon was sworn.
(Signed) Wagner. (Signed) Pfitzner.
Berlin, December 5, 1914.
Present: Military Court Councillor Stack.
Corporal Wesselmann Clerk of the Military Court.
There appeared as witness Private Hugo Roleff, and, after having been instructed as to the meaning of the oath, deposed as follows:
My name is Hugo Roleff, my age is twenty-eight, I am a reformed Lutheran, my trade is that of a weaver, I live in Elberfeld, Osterbaum #9.
1 went as private into the field with the 11th company of the 2nd Reserve Guard.
On August 20, 1914, the first section of the 11th company was assigned to protect the artillery munition column. In the evening we arrived outside Andenne. Everything being quiet we drove into the town. Some streets were passed without trouble. When we were about to turn into the main street bells were suddenly rung. Simultaneously a murderous rifle fire was directed at us from all windows and sides. Hand bombs and hand grenades were thrown at us, and machine gun-fire was also directed at us. I noticed this when I lay wounded in the street and very regular shots came from cellar windows, and also I heard the characteristic fire of machine guns.
Our horses ran away, our cart was hit by a hand grenade, the horses fell, the cart tipped over, the carts behind us collided with ours, and wild confusion followed. When the cart tipped over I was thrown off and got both calves crushed. We immediately replied to the fire, as we had been warned to be careful and had prepared ourselves accordingly. Before the munition column was put into order again and able to proceed we had to endure half an hour's steady fire until the rifle guard came to our assistance.
On account of my injury I was first taken to the market square; then I spent two days in the house of a physician who was absent however, after which I was treated in the school house that had been turned into a hospital.
Here I was nursed by German families who had lived there for some time. They told me that the whole assault had been carefully planned and that the clergy had proclaimed the necessary instructions from the pulpit.
Read, approved, and sworn to.
(Signed) Hugo Roleff.
(Signed) Stack. (Signed) Rudolf Wesselmann.