Author: David Heal
Title: L'Invasion du Luxembourg
Publisher, YSEC

In French.

Table of Contents (translated into English):

CHAPTER 1: THE BACKGROUND                                                
CHAPTER 2: THE SCHLIEFFEN PLAN                                                        
CHAPTER 3: THE BUILD UP                                                           
CHAPTER 4: JULY 27                                                                      
CHAPTER 5: JULY 28                                                                      
CHAPTER 6: JULY 29                                                                      
CHAPTER 7: JULY 30                                                                      
CHAPTER 8: JULY 31                                                                      
CHAPTER 9: AUGUST 1 - THE FIRST INVASION                            
CHAPTER 10: AUGUST 2 - INVASION ­ AGAIN                             
CHAPTER 11: AUGUST 3                                                                
CHAPTER 12: AUGUST 4                                                                
                     THE OFFICIAL ACCOUNT                                                       
CHAPTER 14: PIGEONS VERSUS RADIO                                                   
CHAPTER 15: THE SABOTAGING OF THE RAILWAYS                              
CHAPTER 16: THE AFTERMATH                                                                
CHAPTER 17: STRANDED TRAVELLERS                                                   
CHAPTER 18: SPIES AND RESISTANCE                                                    

Excerpt (translated into English):

It is a strange fact that both World War 1 and the blitzkrieg of World War 2 started with the invasion of a country which is rarely mentioned in the history books, even in this connection. The size of the country - at 2568 km2 it is the smallest economically important country in the world - is certainly responsible for this, but it is a little unfair for the very existence of the country to be completely ignored or for an authoritative publication to say of 2 August 1914, "News had come of the invasion of Luxembourg, and this, though not in itself very serious ..." [1], especially as Great Britain was one of the guarantors of Luxembourg's neutrality. Even when the country is mentioned, the entry is so enigmatic as to be quite incomprehensible to those who do not know the story anyway; witness the statement:

"A twenty four hour brake was ordered to be put on the actual crossing of the frontier of France and Luxembourg. Moltke pathetically records - 'It was a great shock to me, as though something had struck at my heart'. However, his heart attack was soon relieved, for late that evening further telegrams from London showed that Britain was not promising neutrality[2]. The brake was released. And if it had caused some check on his arrangements, some of his advanced troops had actually entered Luxembourg that day in advance of timetable!" [3].

The story of that entry is told in Chapter 9". Those who did not know it already, would never know what is meant by that sentence.

The quite involuntary role which this country played in the start of these two wars can only be understood if it is looked at in the context of the history of the region as a whole and if the strategic concepts forced by geography are understood.

Luxembourg lies on one of the strategic routes of Europe; the southern end of the Ardennes forests and mountains and the West bank of the Moselle river forming the southern part of its eastern border. The city from which the country eventually took its name was founded in 963 on the "Bock" rock by Siegfroi who built a small castle on the rock and took the title of Count of Luxembourg - the name comes from Lucilinburhuc, which probably meant 'little fortress'. Over the following centuries the city grew on the plateau to the west of the castle and it quickly became the strongest fortress of this turbulent region.

Turbulent, because it lies on the border between the "Celtic" - French regions lying to the west and south and the "Germanic" regions lying to the east and north; turbulent also because it lies astride one of the three great strategic routes between the two. The first route lies far to the south through the Gap at Belfort between the Vosges and Jura mountains and the Alps, the second across the Alsace and Lorraine plains through Strasbourg to Metz and Nancy. Luxembourg lies astride the third route down the navigable Moselle river valley from Koblenz as it flows from the hills, forests and swamps of the Ardennes and Eifel ranges into the plains of Lorraine.

Even the railway linking Luxembourg to Koblenz and the main German network was built along the Moselle valley. It is only modern engineering which has been able to take a motorway across the ridges. Not only is this a major route, but the industrial revolution changed it into the shortest route between the industrial Ruhr, and any front line which Prussia and later Germany would establish in northern France.
Its part in this perpetual struggle was made even more certain as the northern half of the country and the country leading up to the Dutch border south of Maastricht is made up of the hills of the Ardennes, whose name, first recorded by Julius Caesar as Arduenna is a latinised version of the Celtic Harts Venns or forests and marshes. Even today they are for the most part impenetrable by any substantial body of people and moving a modern army through with any speed except along the railways is quite impossible as the Germans found at the time of the Battle of the Bulge. An illustration of the frontier feeling here is that whilst the name Ardennes is Celtic, the local name for the north of Luxembourg ' Oesling' or Western Place - is Germanic.

The only way to avoid these areas is to come down the valley of the Moselle, cross the valley of the river Sure at the town of Wasserbillig or the Moselle further to the south and head for Luxembourg city. From there the easiest roads into France go either through the gap at Longwy between the foothills of the Ardennes to the west where they run down into France and the iron ore rich hills of the Minette region of Luxembourg to the east or though the gap directly to the south of the city heading to Thionville and Metz.

Little wonder that all these places have world famous fortresses. War has always been a part of the history of this region. On average, from 814 to 1945, the present day Luxembourg was invaded, bombarded or otherwise involved in war every forty years; at least once in every life time. Little wonder that fortresses and castles protect virtually every village, with even farms often having their farm yards surrounded by high walls and closed by massive gates; to such an extent is this the case, that the area is known as the land of castles.

The present Grand Duchy counts 130 chateaux on its territory - one for every 20 km2 and the fortified farms are in addition to these. The national motto of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg "Mir Woelle Bleiwe Wat Mir Sin" - "We Want To Remain What We Are" is a cri de coeur.
The country, or rather county, lay under Germanic influences until 1443 when the city was taken by storm, wrested from the remaining influences of the Charlemagne empire and its aftermath and was incorporated into the Burgundian empire. At that time the Count of Luxembourg's sphere of influence stretched from the Scheldt to the Rhine, an area well over four times that of the present day country and direct control was exercised over an area running from Namur on the west of the Ardennes to beyond Bitburg in the German Eifel. Luxembourg now disappeared from the map of Europe as an independent state and through the following centuries the fortress was held successively by Burgundy, the Spanish Netherlands, France under Louis XIV, Austria-Hungary and revolutionary France.

Throughout these centuries the title of Count and then Duke of Luxembourg survived as one of the lesser titles of whichever Empire was in ultimate control of the area and fortress; even Philip II of Spain and Louis XIV were also 'Duke of Luxembourg'. In the long run it ensured that the country would reappear on the world stage.

Land to the south of the present country, running down to Metz in France was stripped away from the Count in 1659 under the terms of the Treaty of the Pyrenees which brought an end to the Thirty Years War and passed irrevocably into French hands. In compensation the title was raised to that of Duke of Luxembourg.

1814 saw the end of the Napoleonic wars, and at the Congress of Vienna it was decided to block the expansion of France to the north by establishing or rather re-fortifying or garrisoning a line of fortresses along what is now the Franco-Belgian frontier. The largest fortress was Luxembourg, and it was, apparently, the Duke of Wellington personally who insisted that this fortress be given a Prussian garrison and the area reconstituted as a semi-independent state - thus ensuring that Prussia would not control the area and the power controlling the area did not control the fortress. As part of this strategy the Luxembourg lands to the east of the river Sure which were virtually the size of the present country, were handed to German land owners and, in accordance with the terms of the treaty of Vienna, the river Sure was established as the frontier[4].
The country now started a strange period as the settlement gave Luxembourg to the King of the Netherlands as his personal fiefdom. Article 67 of the Congress of Vienna, 1815 says:

".... to be possessed by him and his successors in ownership and sovereignty forever; thus is recognised the autonomy and political individuality of the Grand Duchy".

This peculiar status left Luxembourg without any right to even a government and it was not until 1857 that the first national elections were held. Guillaume 1 had demanded to be made Grand Duke of Luxembourg rather than Duke, saying "or else", although what he was threatening has never been clear. As he put a Lieutenant here, and never even visited the country, it was not a happy compromise. The struggle for Belgian independence started in 1830 and began a time which is still known as the decade of Troubles. From 1831 to 1839 it was not even certain what the status of Luxembourg was. The final resolution of the problem in 1839 took yet more land from Luxembourg, this time in the Ardennes and handed it over to the new Belgium - a region still known as the province of Luxembourg. But at least the size of the country had been settled definitively and the frontiers have not changed since that date. All through this strange time, Luxembourg had its Prussian garrison sitting as neutrals in the midst of what was to all intents and purposes a civil war. The best that can be said is that the fortress was never used as such.
The Prussian garrison was never popular with the local population which had to put up with indescribable conditions within the city itself. Only about 25 % of the city area was available for civilian use and much of that was taken by monasteries and convents - the present Place Guillaume was then a monastery garden, for example. Thus the ordinary citizen was afforded very little space within the city. Even the water supply was doubtful as the military controlled and had exclusive use of one of the three water wells in the city, the other two belonging to a convent and a monastery. Ordinary citizens had to fetch water from the river Alzette which runs through the lower part of the fortifications; it was a round trip of over a kilometre. Water was so lacking in the city that there was no way of flushing the drains except by rainwater. Inevitably there were cholera outbreaks right into the 1860's and later.

Luxembourg's strategic importance grew when in the 1850's the British decided that a railway to join the Channel to Trieste was necessary to speed travel between Britain and the Empire, especially India. The problem was that, as usual, Britain was not talking to France, and so it was decided that rather than use the obvious route of Calais, Paris, Marseilles, northern Italy, the roundabout route avoiding French territory was preferable i.e. Ostend, Brussels, Luxembourg, Koblenz, Switzerland, Italy. The "Greater Luxembourg Company" was created in London to do this. There were some difficulties due to a proposal to build the line from Antwerp to Strasbourg via Metz, but eventually this was overruled. A convention agreed between the Belgian government and the Company to build the line from Namur to Arlon was signed on 13 January 1852 and then on 25 March of the same year an agreement was reached to build the line from Metz to Thionville and on to the Luxembourg border. The importance of the railways at the time and the way in which they increased the importance of Luxembourg when they had been built is shown by a report produced by the Cologne Chamber of Commerce on the subject in 1856. Amongst other things it says:

"The territory of the Grand Duchy is, in effect, the most direct and advantageous point in the whole European network........."

"...(the Chamber of Commerce) signals to the Prussian government that the prompt building of the line from Luxembourg to Cologne and from the ports of the north to Marseilles and the Mediterranean will have an incalculable effect on the whole of world trade".

"This line gives an advantage of 323 km over travelling via Paris for travel from the North to the South. The importance of the Luxembourg network, thus demonstrated by the largest centre of commerce in Germany cannot be contradicted".[5]

The connection through Luxembourg proved extremely difficult there being two years of sometimes acrimonious discussions with the military authorities over the placing of the station and the lines around the fortress, several sites being discussed.

In the end, the agreement which was reached in 1859, after several sites had been discarded, provided for a station built of wood on a site at the far end of a then almost uninhabited plateau south of the city (on the site of the present station), the northern end of which was occupied by forts on the lip of the deep gorge of the Petrusse valley which still divides the city in two. Although an invading army could not be brought up to the city walls, neither could people from the city reach the railway. A viaduct - Pont Viaduc (known in Luxembourg as the Passerelle or footbridge) had to be built to join the two. The station itself was provided with a fort, Wedell[6], to cover it and the junction of the rails - this has now disappeared completely and is commemorated only by a street name. No ditches, banks or buildings of any sort in stone were allowed anywhere within cannon shot of the fortress. The line to the north was taken across the Petrusse on a viaduct and then through a deepened dry moat incorporated into the fortifications and where the line to Germany branches off from it and curls around one of the outer forts, the embankment was paved to prevent any attacker "digging in" [7].

During the Prussia-Austria war of 1866, Luxembourg failed to support the German Federation, although it remained within the Zollverein which it had been forced to join by Prussian 1842. It did not join the new North German federation under Prussian leadership and thereby took another concrete step towards complete independence.

However, despite this Luxembourg was not a free agent and still was not at the start of World War 1. It was a country necessarily orientated towards Germany. The policy of containing France and leaving a Prussian garrison in the fortress had meant immense German influences, the very fact that France had taken over Luxembourg in 1795 and obliged the young men to serve in the Revolutionary army from 1798 onwards was a reason for French unpopularity[8].

All this was threatened by a dispute between Prussia and France which arose in 1866/67 over rights to connect the railways and over the ownership of the fortress itself, Napoleon III claiming that it could be used by Prussia to attack France and feeling that he deserved compensation for not joining the Prussia-Austria war. Plainly the British Empire had a vested interest in preventing any dispute which might threaten its use of the railway. The disputatious parties were therefore summoned to a conference in London.

The result of this conference was an admission that neither side really wanted Luxembourg, but it was too strong to allow the other to hold it. The solution was a true British compromise; the fortress would be destroyed by the British. In fact, although neither of the other parties seems to have realised it, the Prussians had already come to the conclusion that because of the increased range and destructive power of modern artillery the fortifications were obsolete, having been mostly built by Vauban in the seventeenth century, although extended by the French during the Revolutionary wars. Plans had already been drawn up for a massive investment in new forts in the countryside several kilometres outside the city and the inner ring (as they would have become) needed upgrading and in many cases, complete rebuilding. Even at this late stage when explosive shells were in use and reasonably near misses could cause as much damage as a direct hit, the artillery still stood on the tops of the bastions without any real protection, just as they had in the days of solid shot.

In addition, stone for the new and rebuilt forts would have needed to be brought from Germany as tests by the Prussians had shown that the local sandstone of which the existing forts were built was too soft to withstand the new armaments.

In view of the speed with which artillery changed at the time, if the Prussians had rebuilt and extended the network of forts they would have been obsolete almost as fast as they were built - although they were not to know this, of course. The Prussians were, thus, secretly pleased to be relieved of the expense and a building programme which would have taken several years to carry out[9].

In the context of what was to come, it is worth noting that both Prussia and France were well aware of the strategic value of the railways through Luxembourg in a future war.

The destruction of the fortress of Luxembourg by the Royal Engineers took 15 years, an indication of its extent and strength and even then much of the underground fortifications had to be left more or less intact and to this day they remain as they were abandoned; as they lie under the city destruction of one would have meant the ruin of the other.

The Treaty of London, signed on May, 11 1867 and approved by Luxembourg in a law dated 21 June 1867, not only agreed to the destruction of the fortress and the removal of the Prussian garrison, but also conferred on Luxembourg a status unique in the history of the world. It was to be the foundation of the problems which would arise at the time of each of the World Wars.

Thus Treaty reads as follows:

Article 2. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg within the territorial limits settled by the Act annexed to the treaty of April 19, 1839, under the guarantee of the Courts of France, Austria, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia, shall constitute henceforward a State perpetually neutral11. 
It shall be obliged to observe this same neutrality towards all the other States.

The high contacting parties undertake to respect the principle of neutrality stipulated by the present Article11.
This principle is, and remains, placed under the sanction of the collective guarantee of the signatory Powers11 of the present Treaty, with the exception of Belgium which is itself a neutral State.

Article 3. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, being neutralised11, in the terms of the preceding article, the maintenance or establishment of fortifications on its territory becomes pointless11. His Majesty the King Grand Duke reserves to himself the possibility of maintaining in the city of Luxembourg the number of troops necessary for the maintenance of good order.

Article 5. His Majesty the King grand Duke[10], by virtue of the rights of sovereignty which he exercises over the city and fortress of Luxembourg, undertakes, for his part, to take the measures necessary to convert the above mentioned place from a fortress into a an open city, by means of demolitions which His Majesty judges to be sufficient to fulfil the intentions of the high contracting parties mentioned in Article 3 of the present treaty. The work required to this effect will begin immediately after the withdrawal of the garrison. They will be undertaken with due regard to the requirements of the inhabitants of the city.

His Majesty the King Grand Duke promises in addition that the fortifications of the city of Luxembourg will not be re-established in the future and that no military establishment will be maintained or created.[11]

But what does it mean? To Luxembourg, and I suspect, any ordinary person, it means that Luxembourg was henceforth to be considered neutral and that its neutrality would be safeguarded by the guarantors who would take action against any nation which threatened that neutrality.
In fact, this treaty is an amazing set of weasel words. It actually says nothing. What is a guarantee? Britain in particular, and the other guarantors, as history turned out, were actually guaranteeing to one another that Luxembourg would remain neutral i.e. any attempt by Luxembourg to create an army, or rebuild the fortifications would be dealt with. There is no mention that if that neutrality was violated, and it could, physically, only be violated by Belgium, Germany or France, that any of the other guarantors had to do anything at all, let alone take any physical action.
In fact, if anyone had paid attention (and it is surprising to say the least, that it does not appear to have come to the attention of anyone in Luxembourg) on June 14, 1867 Lord Stanley of the British Foreign Office, was asked, in a Parliamentary Question, exactly why the government had assumed, 'burdensome obligations' in the treaty signed just five weeks before. He replied :

"The guarantee now given is collective only. This is an important distinction. It means this, that in the event of a violation of neutrality, all the Powers who have signed the treaty may be called upon for their collective action. No one of these Powers is liable to be called upon to act singly or separately. It is a case, so to speak, of 'limited liability'. We are bound in honour - you cannot place a legal construction upon it - to see in concert with others that these arrangements are maintained. But if the other Powers join us, it is certain that there will be no violation of neutrality. If they, situated exactly as we are, decline to join, we are not bound single-handed to make up the deficiencies of the rest. Such a guarantee has, obviously, rather the character of a moral sanction to the arrangements which it defends than that of a contingent liability to make war. It would no doubt give a right to make war, but it would not necessarily impose the obligation.

"Take an instance from what we have done already. We have guaranteed Switzerland; but if all Europe combined against Switzerland, although we might regret it, we should hardly feel bound to go to war with all the world for the protection of Switzerland. We were parties to the arrangements which were made about Poland; they were broken, but we did not go to war. I only name these cases as showing that it does not necessarily and inevitably follow that you are bound to maintain the guarantee under all circumstances by force of arms".

In the House of Lords, the Earl of Derby in reply to a similar question defined the British Government's view in the following manner:

"A several guarantee binds each of the parties to do its utmost individually to enforce the observance of the guarantee. A collective guarantee is one which is binding on all the parties collectively; but which, if any difference of opinion should arise no one of them can be called upon to take upon itself the task of vindication by foce of arms. The guarantee is collective and depends upon the union of all parties signing it; and no one of those parties is bound to take upon itself the duty, of enforcing the fulfilment of the guarantee".

It could not have been clearer. The British government regarded the 'guarantee' to Luxembourg as being simply a meaningless statement, unless we are to assume that in the case of one of the three surrounding countries invading or taking other action against the country's neutrality, that country should agree to take action against itself. Which does not seem a likely proposition. Their response to the invasion was quite in line with their "meaningless statement" policy.


[1]. Oxford History of England, Volume 14.
[2]. Moltke was worried that if Britain remained neutral and prevailed on France to also pledge to remain neutral in a war between Russia and Austria-Hungary, there would only be the enemy in the east to fight when all the planning had been to defeat France first and then Russia. Germany, therefore, according to him, had to have a war with France first because the plans said so! - They were also afraid that if France declared neutrality they might later change their mind and attack Germany from what would then be their rear.
[3]. Liddell Hart's 'History of the First World War'.
[4]. Except at Vianden where, in order to avoid splitting the town, a decision was taken on the spot to move the frontier to the top of the hills to the east of the town, thereby leaving it completely in Luxembourg hands. The Count of Vianden still went bankrupt, however, as virtually all his land was to the east of this line.
[5]. AE 3739.
[6]. General Von Wedell was commander of the fortress of Luxembourg at the time
[7]. See plan at the end
[8]. The announcement that the men of the Department of Forests (as the Ardennes/ Eifel area was known), would be forced to serve in the Napoleonic army led to a rebellion known as the Kloppelkrieg or Club War which was put down with several hundred local casualties.
[9]. Plans for the new forts had already been drawn up in outline and still exist.
[10]. Guillaume III was King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg, hence the strange title here.
[11] My emphasis                                                    

January 9, 2007, (Submitted by David Heal ):

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