Jur's Reviews > Patrouilleurs aan het Ijzerfront. De helden van het Niemandsland

Patrouilleurs aan het Ijzerfront. De helden van het Niemandsland by Robert Lambrecht
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Sep 26, 2014

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Read in April, 2012

There is not much interest in the Belgian army of the First World War, and this is not entirely justified. Even though it took no part in the major battles between November 1914 and September 1918, it covered the important Channel ports of Northern France. Because they were well dug in behind the Yser inundations, the Germans never seriously tried an offensive in this sector. This book deals with an interesting chapter in this otherwise largely inactive army.

Lambrecht argues that during 1917 many (mostly junior) officers in the Belgian army came to recognise that it was necessary to find an answer to increased German aggression on the frontline. These troops should be able to hold their own against the German assault troops. However, the Belgian army commanders shared the British and French doubts about creating elite units, afraid that this would sap the fighting spirit of the line units. These doubts remained strong throughout the Belgian army all through the war and this meant that no uniform approach was taken and the total number remained small, maybe a 1,000 in the entire Belgian army of 160,000 men.

From the spring of 1917 small groups of patrouilleurs were formed at different organisational levels. These men were taken mostly out of their parent units and trained and lodged separately. Since they usually operated at night, they were exempt from normal frontline duties. On the other hand, they took their leave and rotation in and outside of the frontline with their parent units.

Training was based on German and to a lesser extent French examples. However, as training was organised at the level of the parent unit, no uniform method of operations was established and experiences were not disseminated throughout the army.

The patrouilleurs adopted their own gear and armament, reflecting their requirements for speed, silence and comfort. Greatcoats were cut short, non-standard items appeared. This partially reflected the more individualistic nature of the soldiers selected for the patrouilleurs. A large part of them didn’t fit well into the hierarchical nature of the army and many of them volunteered for the prospect of action and relative freedom.

The book offers several accounts of the raids performed by the patrouilleurs in the Diksmuide and Ypres sector. To the credit of the author, these are not all great successes and these examples show how difficult it is to plan and execute a raid. The Belgians had to learn the hard way, and because of the fragmented organisation each unit had to reinvent the wheel. However, my reading is that they attained a reasonable level of proficiency.

When the Belgian army resumed offensive operations in September 1918, the patrouilleurs were disbanded and they played no more role on the battlefield.

Sadly for most of you, this book is in Dutch.
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