Belgian Armed Forces
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.
1.2 Early history
Army in 1914
1.4 World War I
1.5 Between the Wars
1.6 World War II
1.7 Post 1945
2 Current status
3 Land Component
4 Air Component
5 Marine Component
7 Famous Soldiers and Officers
8 Belgian Royal family in the Belgian Armed Forces
9 See also
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
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, supported by intelligence
provided by the Belgian civil security service, 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 became the
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. 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
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
Army order 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
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 Antwerp,
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
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, providing over 12,000 askaris
under Belgian officers for the Allied offensive of February 1916.
The most significant Belgian action was the capture of
September 1916, by a force under the command of
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
Liège and 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
Belgium in World War II
On 1 September 1939, when the
Wehrmacht invaded 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
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, 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, numbering some 350 men by
1943. Most military Belgian vessels of the Belgian navy were
interned in 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.
See also: Structure of the
Belgian Armed Forces
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, to
Belgium (in co-operation with Luxembourg) sent a detachment
known as the Belgian United Nations Command. Later
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 command-and-control
As a safeguard against
Belgium being invaded again, two major bases,
Kitona and Kamina, were established in the Belgian Congo. They were
almost viewed as a 'national redoubt,' permitting the survival and
rebuilding of forces if
Belgium were 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, the three independent armed forces have been merged into
one unified structure and organised with four components which
consisted of about 32,000 active members. They are structured as
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 as
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 &
Trg), and to the Chief of Defence (CHOD). Another command is the
Assistant Chief of Staff Intelligence and Security, which consists of
the military intelligence (ADIV - SGRS).
Belgian Armed Forces
Belgian Armed Forces bases are guarded by Regimental Police (Land
Component), Force Protection (Air Component) and Service for
Protection of Quarters (Naval Component).
As a result of the increased threat of terrorism which became apparent
in January 2015, the
Belgian Armed Forces
Belgian Armed Forces were committed in Operation
Homeland, to assist the police with securing high-profile targets in
the major cities. After the attacks of 22 March 2016, this military
protection was expanded to include soft targets in the public space,
increasing the commitment of troops to between 1250 and 1800
(Operation Vigilant Guardian).
Belgium, which is a member of the
NATO and the EU, is currently
restructuring its armed forces to be able to faster respond to
humanitarian crises or disasters occurring in the world
(peacekeeping). In order to do so, the Belgian Land
Component has phased out almost all tracked vehicles in favour of
wheeled vehicles. Examples are the new
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 A400M,
NHI NH90 to accompany other aircraft for
humanitarian missions such as the Agusta 109 and Alouette 3
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
Belgian Land Component
Belgian Land Component and Structure of the Belgian
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
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may be challenged and removed. (December 2012) (Learn how and when to
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Main article: Belgian Air Component
An F-16 jet of the Belgian Air Component
Belgian Air Component
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 Navy
The 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 Albatros)
BNS P902 POLLUX Patrol ship (Replacing the Valcke, Stern and Albatros)
BNS A958 Zenobe Gramme (training ship)
BNS A992 Alpa (royal yacht)
A Belgian military intelligence service was founded on 1 April 1915.
General Information and Security Service, known as ADIV
(Dutch) or SGRS (French) and part of the organisational chart of
Belgian Defence as ACOS-IS (Assistant Chief of Staff Intelligence and
Security) provides security intelligence for the Armed Forces as well
as strategic intelligence for the Belgian government. Its focus is on
The Battallion ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition
and Reconnaissance) also conducts military intelligence with a
tactical goal of preparing and supporting operations abroad.
Famous Soldiers and Officers
General Alphonse Jacques de Dixmude
General Victor van Strydonck de Burkel
General Émile Dossin de Saint-Georges
General Jean-Baptiste Piron
General Léon de Witte de Haelen
General Félix Wielemans
Jean de Selys Longchamps
Pierre Emmanuel Félix Chazal
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&RH Prince Joachim
Ensign 2nd Class (2011)
List of Belgian military decorations
Belgian United Nations Command
Belgian United Nations Command – the Belgian detachment sent to the
Korean War of 1950–53
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^ Barbara W. Tuchman, page 126 "The Guns of August", Constable and Co
^ Fedor von Koppen, page 71 "The Armies of Europe",
^ British War Office, pages 2-3 "Handbook of the Belgian Army",
^ Guy Derie, page 130 "Les Soldats de Leopold Ier et Leopold II",D
^ Guy Derie, page 124 "Les Soldats de Leopold Ier et Leopold II", D
^ Guy Derie, page 134 "Les Soldats de Leopold Ier et Leopold II", D
^ Barbara W. Tuchman, page 127 "The Guns of August", Constable and Co
^ R. Pawly & P. Lierneux, page 4 "The Belgian
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^ (in English) "Belgian Armored Cars in Russia". Retrieved 17 February
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^ John Keegan, page 56 "World Armies", ISBN 0 333 17236 1
^ "Units of the Belgian armed forces in the United Kingdom
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^ "The Belgian Commando Troops, 1942–1945". be4046.eu. Retrieved 4
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^ Thomas, text by Nigel (1991). Foreign volunteers of the allied
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^ "HMS Kernot ex P16". Marine Belge. Archived from the original on 23
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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 <<Congo
1955-1960>>, Academie royale des Sciences d'Outre-Mer
(Bruxelles) pp.413–422 (1992)
^ For Cometro and the metropolitain forces in the Congo at
independence, see Louis-François Vanderstraeten, De la Force publique
à l'Armee nationale congolaise : histoire d'une mutinerie :
juillet 1960, Bruxelles : Académie Royale de Belgique ;
Paris-Gembloux : Duculot, ©1985. ISBN 2-8031-0050-9,
^ Het Nieuwsblad; saturday 19, sunday 20 and monday 21 july 2008
^ Lasoen, Kenneth (2018). "War of Nerves. The Domestic Terror Threat
and the Belgian Army". Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. 42.
Belgium Selects Piranha IIIs $850M APC Contract, Controversies
Ensue". Defense Industry Daily. 10 February 2006.
^ "Eigen PS-volk eerst - Politics.be". politics.be.
^ Lasoen, Kenneth (2017). "For Belgian Eyes Only. Intelligence
Cooperation in Belgium". International Journal of Intelligence and
CounterIntelligence. 40: 464. doi:10.1080/08850607.2017.1297110.
^ Standing Review Committee of the Intelligence Services, Committee I
(2014). Activiteitenverslag 2013 - Report d'activités 2013 (PDF).
Antwerp: Intersentia. p. 13.
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CIA World Factbook document "2005 edition".
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