The BELGIAN ARMED FORCES (Dutch : Defensie; French : La Défense)
is the national military of
Belgium . The
Belgian Armed Forces
Belgian Armed Forces was
Belgium became independent in October 1830. Since
that time Belgian armed forces have fought in World War I, World War
II, the Cold War (
Korean War and army of occupation of the Federal
Republic of Germany), Kosovo, Somalia and Afghanistan. The
ParaCommando Brigade intervened several times in Central-Africa, for
maintaining public order and evacuation of Belgian citizens. The Armed
Forces comprise four branches: the Land Component , the Air Component
, the Marine Component and the Medical Component . It is currently
active in Lebanon, Afghanistan, the Gulf of Aden and conducting
anti-ISIS operations in Iraq.
* 1 History
* 1.1 Establishment
* 1.2 Early history
Army in 1914
* 1.4 World War I
* 1.5 Between the Wars
World War II
World War II
* 1.7 Post 1945
* 2 Current status
* 3 Land Component
* 4 Air Component
* 5 Marine Component
* 6 Famous Soldiers and Officers
* 7 Chiefs of Staff since 1958
* 8 Belgian Royal family in the
Belgian Armed Forces
Belgian Armed Forces
* 9 See also
* 10 Notes
* 11 References
* 12 External links
Belgium broke away from the Netherlands in 1830–31 it was
initially expected that a neutral buffer state, with its borders
guaranteed by France, Britain and Prussia, could avoid the need for an
expensive permanent military force, relying instead on the part-time
militia of the existing
Garde Civique (Civil Guard). The need for a
regular army was however soon acknowledged. The basis for recruitment
was one of selective conscription under which exemptions could be
purchased by obtaining substitutes. In practice this meant that only
about a quarter of each year's eligible intake actually served, with
the burden falling on the poorer classes.
Soldiers of the Corps Expeditionnaire Belge during the
Franco-Mexican War .
As part of the national policy of even-handed neutrality, the 19th
Army was deployed as an essentially defensive force in
fortifications facing the Dutch, German and French borders.
Mobilisation plans simply required reservists to report to their
depots, without arrangements being made in advance for deployment in a
particular direction or against a particular enemy. Recruitment
difficulties caused the army to remain below its intended strength of
20,000 men, although new legislation in 1868 tightened the basis for
conscription. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 required full
mobilisation for nearly a year, a process which showed up serious
training and structural weaknesses. The presence of Belgian forces in
strength along the country's borders did however ensure that the
combat at no time spilled over into Belgian territory.
As late as the 1890s the Belgian
Army still retained a system of
selective service, at a time when most European states were moving to
a principle of universal obligation, according to the Prussian model.
Belgium conscripts were selected through the drawing of ballots,
but individuals could escape service by paying for substitutes. This
system favored the well-off and had been discarded elsewhere as
inefficient and unpatriotic. For those conscripted the terms of
service required eight years in the regular army (of which part might
be spent on "unlimited leave"), followed by five years as a reservist.
Various categories of volunteer enjoyed such privileges as being able
to specify their branch of service, bounties and higher pay.
Papal Army based in Rome included from 1860 a battalion-sized
unit known as the Tirailleurs Franco-Belges (Franco-Belgian
Sharpshooters). Recruited amongst volunteers from both countries, this
Pontifical Zouaves in 1861 and fought as an allied force on
the French side in 1871 during the Franco-Prussian War.
In 1864 a Corps Expeditionnaire Belge (Belgian Expeditionary Corps)
was raised for service in Mexico. Originally intended to serve as the
Guard of the Belgian-born Empress Charlotte this 1,500 strong force
was largely drawn from volunteers seconded from the Belgian Army.
Known popularly as the
Belgian Legion , it saw active service in
Mexico as part of the Imperial forces, before returning to
disbandment in March 1867.
From 1885 the
Force Publique was established as the military garrison
and police force in the
Belgian Congo , then under the direct rule of
King Leopold II
King Leopold II . Initially led by a variety of European mercenaries,
this colonial force was subsequently officered by Belgian regulars
From December 1904 a small detachment of Belgian troops was
permanently based in China as the "Guard of the Belgian Legation in
Reforms undertaken in the early years of the 20th century included
the abolition in 1909 of the system of drawing lots for the selection
of the annual intake of conscripts. In 1913, compulsory and universal
military service was established in Belgium. While this enabled actual
peacetime strength to be increased to 33,000 men (increased to 120,500
on mobilisation), this was only sufficient to provide a basis for the
creation of seven under-strength divisions (one of cavalry) plus
artillery and fortress troops. The Belgian military was also affected
by political and popular reliance on the supposedly certain protection
of the country's internationally guaranteed neutrality. In the words
of the historian Barbara W. Tuchman "the army was considered
superfluous and slightly absurd". Training and discipline were slack,
equipment inadequate and even field uniforms were old fashioned and
Although improvements in the Belgian
Army had been uneven during the
19th and early 20th centuries, one area of successful reform had been
that of increasing the professionalism of the officer corps. The Royal
Military Academy had been established in 1834, to be followed by the
Ecole d'Application for technical training, and the Ecole de Guerre
for staff training in 1868. The Belgian
Army pioneered the practice of
training a corps of finance, personnel and general administration
specialist officers instead of leaving such functions to civil
servants without military experience or inadequately prepared line
officers. There was however a serious shortage of trained officers in
the rapidly expanding army of 1913.
ARMY IN 1914
A Belgian machine gun team, 1914 See also: Belgian
of battle (1914)
On the eve of World War I, the Belgian
Army comprised 19 infantry
regiments (line, Chasseurs à pied , Grenadier and Carabinier ), 10
cavalry (Guides ,
Lancers and Chasseurs à cheval ) and 8 artillery
(mounted, field and fortress). Support forces included engineers,
gendarmerie , fortress troops, train and civil guards . The seven
divisions of the Field
Army were intended to provide a mobile force
while the 65,000 fortress troops provided garrisons for the
substantial forts constructed around
Liège and Namur .
These fortifications had been built in several stages beginning in
1859, though a number were still incompleted in 1914. While
well-designed and built by 19th century standards, these fixed
defences with their sunken artillery turrets had been rendered
obsolete by recent advances in heavy siege artillery howitzers.
WORLD WAR I
Belgian carabiniers defending Liege in August 1914 Main
Belgium in World War I
At the start of World War I in August 1914, the Belgian armed forces
were being restructured, due to this measure and the rapid occupation
Belgium only 20% of men were mobilised and incorporated into the
armed forces. Ultimately, 350,000 men were incorporated into the
Belgian armed forces, although one third of these did not participate
directly in combat.
Invaded by surprise by the
Imperial German Army , which was
approximately 600,000 men strong, the small, ill-equipped,
117,000-strong Belgian army succeeded, for ten days, in holding the
German army in front of
Liège in 1914. They fought between the
emplaced forts in the area and with their support. This strategy was
based on the Napoleonic concept of fighting the advance force and
preventing a portion of the enemy forces joining the main body. At the
time, the authorities and the public celebrated a determined Belgian
resistance that the Germans did not expect.
For four years, under the command of King Albert I , the Belgian army
guarded the important sector of the Allied left wing between
Nieuwpoort , on the coast, and
Ypres with the help of the forces of
the Entente but did not participate in any of the major Allied
offensives, which were deemed unnecessarily expensive in terms of cost
and manpower by the King of the Belgians.
In 1916, a body of Belgian armoured cars were moved from the IJzer
front to help the
Russian Empire . The force found itself alongside an
identical body sent by the British on the Eastern Front .
In Africa a company-sized unit of Belgian colonial troops
participated in the occupation of the German colony of
Togoland , The
Force Publique subsequently played a major role in the East African
Campaign against German forces in
German East Africa
German East Africa , providing over
12,000 askaris under Belgian officers for the Allied offensive of
February 1916. The most significant Belgian action was the capture of
Tabora in September 1916, by a force under the command of General
Charles Tombeur .
In Belgium, after four years of war, as of 26 May 1918, the army had
166,000 men of which 141,974 were combatants, forming twelve infantry
divisions and one cavalry division. It had 129 aircraft and 952 guns
of all calibres. From September, the Belgian army was involved in the
Allied offensive until the final victory of 11 November 1918.
BETWEEN THE WARS
Fort Eben-Emael was part of the Fortified Position of
was completed in 1935
Armistice with Germany
Armistice with Germany of 1918, the Belgian government
sought to retain the strategy of 1914. Little effort was made to
acquire tanks and aircraft for the Belgian armed forces, while instead
the Government strengthened the fortifications of Liege and Antwerp.
This was despite the fact that during World War I the forts had proved
ineffective despite strong support from artillery and infantry. Until
Belgium remained allied to France and the United Kingdom.
Army underwent a series of reductions from 12 divisions
in 1923 to only four after 1926. The rank and file consisted almost
entirely of conscripts serving full-time for only 13 months, before
entering the reserves.
WORLD WAR II
World War II
World War II
On 1 September 1939, when the
Poland , King Leopold
Belgium ordered a general mobilisation, in which 600,000
Belgians were mobilised. Despite warnings from the French and British
governments, the king refused an alliance.
Belgium was invaded,
defeated, and occupied in an 18 Days\' Campaign after 10 May 1940.
Later, 163 Belgian troops were rescued during the
Dunkirk evacuation ,
and Belgium's new navy, the Corps de Marine, only reformed in 1939,
After the defeat in 1940, significant numbers of Belgian soldiers and
civilians escaped to Britain to join the Belgian forces in exile .
The Belgian government, under
Hubert Pierlot , evacuated to London
where it remained until the liberation in 1944.
Belgian soldiers formed the
1st Belgian Infantry Brigade (which also
included an artillery battery of soldiers from
Luxembourg ) more often
known as the Brigade Piron after its commanding officer, Jean-Baptiste
Piron . The Brigade Piron was involved in the Normandy Invasion and
the battles in France and the Netherlands until liberation.
Belgian Commandos training in Britain, 1945
Belgians also served in British special forces units during the war,
forming a troop of No.10 Commando which was involved in the Italian
Campaign and Landings on Walcheren . The British 5th
Service (SAS) was entirely made up of Belgians.
Two Belgian fighter units, the 349th and 350th Squadrons , were
formed in the
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force , with over 400 pilots. The 350th
Squadron alone claimed over 50 "kills" between its formation in
November 1941 and the end of the war.
Two corvettes and a group of minesweepers were also operated by the
Belgians during the
Battle of the Atlantic
Battle of the Atlantic , numbering some 350 men by
1943. Most military Belgian vessels of the Belgian navy were interned
Spain , except for the patrol craft P16, which managed to escape to
the United Kingdom, where it became HMS Kernot .
Force Publique also participated in the East African Campaign and
were instrumental to forcing the Italian surrender in Abyssinia .
BELGIUM IN WORLD WAR II
Strength of primary military organizations
Total personnel over time
May - June 1940
600,000 - 650,000
Free Belgian Forces
June 1944 – May 1945
April 1941 – May 1945
SS figures from Kenneth Estes A European Anabasis.
Structure of the Belgian Armed Forces in 1989
The harsh lessons of
World War II
World War II made collective security a priority
for Belgian foreign policy. In March 1948
Belgium signed the Treaty of
Brussels , and then joined
NATO in 1948. However the integration of
the armed forces into
NATO did not begin until after the
Korean War ,
Belgium (in co-operation with
Luxembourg ) sent a detachment
known as the
Belgian United Nations Command . Later Belgium
contributed a corps to NATO's
Northern Army Group . Defence
expenditure grew along with the force size. In 1948 the army was
75,000 strong which grew to 150,000 by 1952. A major defence review
in 1952 set a target of three active and two reserve divisions, a
400-aircraft air force and a fifteen-ship navy. Forty anti-aircraft
defence battalions were created, linked with radar and a centralised
As a safeguard against
Belgium being invaded again, two major bases,
Kamina , were established in the
Belgian Congo . They were
almost viewed as a 'national redoubt,' permitting the survival and
rebuilding of forces if
Belgium was again invaded.
Following a change in government in 1954 conscript service was
reduced to 18 months. The Belgian
Army gained nuclear capability in
the 1950s with Honest John missiles initially and then with
nuclear-capable tube artillery. It also adopted the U.S. Pentomic
organisation, but then switched to a triangular division structure by
the early 1960s. Just after independence in the Congo, a Metropolitan
Command (Cometro) was active to control the Belgian forces there.
Since 2002, by a
Royal Order issued by Albert II of
Belgium the three
independent armed forces were merged into one unified structure and
organised with four components which consisted of about 32,000 active
members. They are structured as follow:
* Land Component , previously known as the Land Force (Force
Terrestre / Landmacht / Heer);
* Air Component , previously known as the
Air Force (Force Aérienne
/ Luchtmacht / Luftmacht);
* Marine Component , previously known as the Naval Force (Force
Navale / Zeemacht / Seemacht),
* Medical Component , previously known as the Medical Service
(Service Médicale / Medische dienst / Sanitätsdienst).
The budget of €3.4 billion is divided amongst the four components
* 63% is spent on salaries
* 25% is spent on equipment maintenance
* 12% is spent on new investments
The operational commands of the components (COMOPSLAND, COMOPSAIR,
COMOPSNAV and COMOPSMED) are subordinate to the Staff Department for
Operations and Training of the Ministry of Defence , which is headed
by the Assistant Chief of Staff Operations and Training (ACOS Ops ">
In order to do so, the
Belgian Land Component
Belgian Land Component has phased out almost
all tracked vehicles in favour of wheeled vehicles. Examples are the
MOWAG Piranha and
Dingo 2 vehicles currently bought to replace
vehicles such as the Leopard 1A5BE . In addition, the Air Component
has bought new aircraft such as the Airbus
NHI NH90 to
accompany other aircraft for humanitarian missions such as the Agusta
109 and Alouette 3 helicopters.
Due to Belgium's often-complicated politics, restructuring has led to
decisions seen by some as illogical, such as the decision to mount the
(very uncommon) CMI 90 mm cannon on the Piranha 3 (munition is very
scarce and only made by a handful of manufacturers; it will probably
be supplied by Mécar). Finally, other controversies have arisen
around the relocation of Belgium’s ‘cavalry school´.
The Belgian Land, Air, and Medical Components all use the same
military ranks . The Marine Component's ranks are unique in the
Belgian Armed Forces.
Belgian Land Component
Belgian Land Component and Structure of the Belgian
Land Component Belgian Grenadiers at a memorial service
Belgian Land Component
Belgian Land Component is the ground arm of the Belgian Armed
Forces. It currently has 20,100 soldiers and 10,000 civilian staff.
The Land Component Commander (LCC) is Major-
Deconinck. The Land Component consists of one staff (COMOPSLAND), two
brigades and several support units.
This section DOES NOT CITE ANY SOURCES . Please help improve this
section by adding citations to reliable sources . Unsourced material
may be challenged and removed . (December 2012) (Learn how and when to
remove this template message )
Belgian Air Component An F-16 jet of the Belgian
Belgian Air Component is the air arm of the Belgian Armed Forces.
The history of the Belgian
Air Force began in 1910 when the Minister
General Hellebout, decided after his first flight to acquire
aeroplanes. On 5 May 1911 a Farman type 1910 was delivered, followed
by a second on 24 May and two other in August of the same year. The
Air Component Commander is Lieutenant-
General Claude Van De Voorde.
Leopold I , a frigate of the
Belgian Marine Component
Belgian Marine Component is the naval arm of the Belgian Armed
Forces. Belgian Marine ranks are unique within the Belgian Armed
Forces and are similar to those used by other
The Marine Component Commander currently has 1,600 personnel and 20
vessels. The Marine Component Commander is Rear-
Admiral Michel Hofman.
Its current vessels are:
* BNS F930 Leopold I
* BNS F931 Louise-Marie
* BNS M916 Bellis
* BNS M917 Crocus
* BNS M921 Lobelia
* BNS M923 Narcis
* BNS M924 Primula
* BNS A960 Godetia
* BNS A962 Belgica
* BNS P901 CASTOR Patrol ship (Replacing the Valcke, Stern and
* BNS P902 POLLUX Patrol ship (Replacing the Valcke, Stern and
* BNS A958 Zenobe Gramme (training ship)
* BNS A992 Alpa (royal yacht)
FAMOUS SOLDIERS AND OFFICERS
Alphonse Jacques de Dixmude
Victor van Strydonck de Burkel
Émile Dossin de Saint-Georges
Léon de Witte de Haelen
Jean de Selys Longchamps
* Pierre Emmanuel Félix Chazal
CHIEFS OF STAFF SINCE 1958
General Jacques de clarcq (28.02.1958 – 30.11.1959)
General Baron de CUMONT (09.12.1959 – 30.06.1963)
General G. WAGNER (01.07.1963 – 31.03.1965)
General V. DESSART (01.04.1965 – 31.03.1968)
General Baron G. VIVARIO (01.04.1968 – 14.03.1972)
General Aviator Armand CREKILLIE (15.03.1972 –
General Willy GONTIER (01.11.1979 – 30.09.1982)
General Baron Maurice GYSEMBERG (01.10.1982 –
General José CHARLIER (22.07.1988 – 30.09.1995)
* Vice-Admiral, then
Admiral Willy HERTELEER (01.10.1995 –
General Aviator August VAN DAELE (01.01.2003 – 01.04.2009)
General Charles-Henri DELCOUR (02.04.2009 – 29.03.2012)
General Aviator Gerard VAN CAELENBERGE (13.07.2012 – 12.07.2016)
General Marc COMPERNOL (13.07.2016 - )
BELGIAN ROYAL FAMILY IN THE BELGIAN ARMED FORCES
HM The King
HI&RH The Archduchess of Austria-Este
HRH Prince Laurent
Fr : Capitaine de Vaisseau
Nl : Kapitein-ter-zee
HI&RH Prince Amedeo
Second Lieutenant (2007)
HI -webkit-column-width: 33em; column-width: 33em; list-style-type:
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* ^ Isby and Kamps 1985, p.59
* ^ David Isby and Charles Kamps Jr, 'Armies of NATO's Central
Front,' Jane's Publishing Company, 1985, p.59. See also J. Temmerman,
'Le Congo: Reduit National Belge,' in Recueil d'etudes , Academie
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* ^ Het Nieuwsblad; saturday 19, sunday 20 and monday 21 july 2008
* ^ "
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Ensue". Defense Industry Daily. 10 February 2006.
* ^ "Eigen PS-volk eerst - Politics.be". politics.be.
This article incorporates public domain material from the CIA World
Factbook document "2005 edition".
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