War Crimes in Belgium and Serbia in Week 5 of The Great War

Week 5 of the Mediakraft Networks YouTube show The Great War, written and presented by Indiana Neidell.

The most infamous war crimes of the western front in the Great War were conducted by the Germans in 1914 and are known collectively as ‘the Rape of Belgium’. The Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia too relied on disproportionate violence against civilians to enforce control.

1. Andenne & Dinant

German troops repairing a bridge in Dinant were attacked by citizens of the town. In retaliation they executed 600 of the townspeople, many of whom were not involved in the attack on the men fixing the bridge. A few days later in Andenne General von Bülow sanctioned the killing of 110 people and the destruction of the town.

2. Louvain

The German army siezed the town of Louvain on 19 August 1914. On 25 August the Belgian army counter attacked from Antwerp but did not recapture the town. German officers blamed this attack on the population of Louvain and so a 5 day execution spree was authorised. Contemporary observers were particularly shocked by the prolific killing of women and members of the clergy. In this period 10,000 people fled the town. The action was so shocking that reports were not confined to Europe and it made the headlines of the New York Tribune.

The estimated civilian death toll for Louvain and the other massacres in the rape of Belgium is 6,000.

3. Serbia

The origins of the Great War lay in Austrian-Serbian antagonism and so when the Austrians invaded in 1914 many Serbs who were not officially part of the military began to practice guerrilla warfare against the occupying forces. The traditionalist Austrian commanders were shocked by the Serbian tactics and retaliated brutally. In the first two weeks of the campaign alone 3500 Serbians were executed, many inoccent. These executions are well documented because Austrian commander Conrad von Hötzendorf wanted them to serve as an example to other potential rebels.

Further Reading:

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Alex is a history student at King's College London focusing on Europe and the Near East in the Middle Ages. He currently works writing and editing content for madefromhistory.