In 1906, a Belgian law mandated an increase in the protection of Antwerp with a series of 17 forts in a 95km line of defense. Construction began in 1909. Fort van Breendonk (spelled Breendonck at the time) was built of non-reinforced concrete. The moat around the fort averaged 3.75 meters deep and almost 50 meters wide. The earth from the excavation was piled on top of the concrete to hide and protect it. Artillery was aimed mostly towards the south (where enemies were expected to approach) but also to the sides to help defend neighboring forts. These guns were capable of keeping the enemy at a distance from Antwerp, but they were already outclassed at the time of their installation, by the heavier German 305mm and 420mm guns.
Germany invaded Belgium on 4 August 1914. Five days later, realizing that the fortís gunners would need a clear view, the Belgians destroyed nearly 200 houses in Willebroek town. On 9 September, the Germans were ordered to take Antwerp. They began bombarding the forts on the 28th. Fort van Breendonk was hit on 1, 6 and 8 October. It could not withstand the Germanyís 305mm mortar shells and the range of the fortís own weapons was 8-9 km too short to reach the enemy. The Fort and Antwerp fell on 9 October 1914.
A plaque was installed in 1926 at the left of the back or side entrance of the fort:
Glory and honor to
Fort de Breendonck.
Gratitude and admiration for the heroes fallen for the country:
Weyans Francois, Commanding Captain
Cetros Maurice, Soldier.
Fort, you stoicly resisted from 27 September to 8 October 1914 the actions of the enemy, particularly a violent bombardment of 563 305mm shells. Your action was not in vain because you contributed to covering the retreat of army on the left bank of the Scheldt. May the heroism of your glorious defenders, leader and soldiers, serve as an example to future generations.
Starting in 1940, the Nazis used Fort van Breendonk as a transit camp in World War II. See the article about the Fort during World War II.
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