Primary Documents - German Request for Free Passage through Belgium, and the Belgian Response, 2-3 August 1914
On 2 August 1914, the day before Germany declared war on France, the German government wrote to the Belgian government demanding the right of free passage across Belgium for its troops, so that the latter could most efficiently invade France and reach Paris.
Belgium's reply to what amounted to a German ultimatum (grant free passage or suffer occupation as an enemy of Germany) was delivered on 3 August 1914. It was a clear refusal of free passage. Click here to read the Belgian ambassador to Germany's account of the German request and Belgium's denial.
On the same day as the Belgian reply Germany declared war on France; the former invaded Belgium the next day, which resulted in Britain's entry into the war to defend Belgian neutrality.
Germany to Belgium
Delivered by the German Ambassador at Brussels von Below Saleske, to M. Davignon, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs
2 August 1914
Reliable information has been received by the German Government to the effect that French forces intend to march on the line of the Meuse by Givet and Namur. This information leaves no doubt as to the intention of France to march through Belgian territory against Germany.
The German Government cannot but fear that Belgium, in spite of the utmost goodwill, will be unable, without assistance, to repel so considerable a French invasion with sufficient prospect of success to afford an adequate guarantee against danger to Germany.
It is essential for the self-defence of Germany that she should anticipate any such hostile attack. The German Government would, however, feel the deepest regret if Belgium regarded as an act of hostility against herself the fact that the measures of Germany's opponents force Germany, for her own protection, to enter Belgian territory.
In order to exclude any possibility of misunderstanding, the German Government make the following declaration:
Germany has in view no act of hostility against Belgium. In the event of Belgium being prepared in the coming war to maintain an attitude of friendly neutrality towards Germany, the German Government bind them selves, at the conclusion of peace, to guarantee the possessions and independence of the Belgian Kingdom in full.
Germany undertakes, under the above-mentioned condition, to evacuate Belgian territory on the conclusion of peace.
If Belgium adopts a friendly attitude, Germany is prepared, in cooperation with the Belgian authorities, to purchase all necessaries for her troops against a cash payment, and to pay an indemnity for any damage that may have been caused by German troops.
Should Belgium oppose the German troops, and in particular should she throw difficulties in the way of their march by a resistance of the fortresses on the Meuse, or by destroying railways, roads, tunnels, or other similar works, Germany will, to her regret, be compelled to consider Belgium as an enemy.
In this event, Germany can undertake no obligations towards Belgium, but the eventual adjustment of the relations between the two States must be left to the decision of arms.
The German Government, however, entertain the distinct hope that this eventuality will not occur, and that the Belgian Government will know how to take the necessary measures to prevent the occurrence of incidents such as those mentioned. In this case the friendly ties which bind the two neighbouring States will grow stronger and more enduring.
Belgium to Germany
Delivered by the Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, M. Davignon, to the German Minister in Brussels, Herr von Below Saleske.
3 August 1914
This note has made a deep and painful impression upon the Belgian Government. The intentions attributed to France by Germany are in contradiction to the formal declarations made to us on August 1, in the name of the French Government.
Moreover, if, contrary to our expectation, Belgian neutrality should be violated by France, Belgium intends to fulfil her international obligations and the Belgian army would offer the most vigorous resistance to the invader.
The treaties of 1839, confirmed by the treaties of 1870 vouch for the independence and neutrality of Belgium under the guarantee of the Powers, and notably of the Government of His Majesty the King of Prussia.
Belgium has always been faithful to her international obligations, she has carried out her duties in a spirit of loyal impartiality, and she has left nothing undone to maintain and enforce respect for her neutrality.
The attack upon her independence with which the German Government threaten her constitutes a flagrant violation of international law. No strategic interest justifies such a violation of law.
The Belgian Government, if they were to accept the proposals submitted to them, would sacrifice the honour of the nation and betray their duty towards Europe.
Conscious of the part which Belgium has played for more than eighty years in the civilisation of the world, they refuse to believe that the independence of Belgium can only be preserved at the price of the violation of her neutrality.
If this hope is disappointed the Belgian Government are firmly resolved to repel, by all the means in their power, every attack upon their rights.
Britain introduced conscription for the first time on 2 February 1916.
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