Winston Churchill Travels To 'The Siege of Antwerp'

On 2 October the Germans succeeded in penetrating two of the city's forts.

Churchill was sent to Antwerp to provide a first-hand report on the situation there. Leaving London that night he spent three days in trenches and fortifications around the city. He reported to Kitchener on 4 October that Belgian resistance was weakening with morale low.

Receiving a request from the Belgian government for more assistance, the British dispatched a further 6,000 Royal Navy troops, 2,000 on 4 October and 4,000 on the following day. The original division of 22,000 troops were also en route for Ostend.

Landing at Ostend on 6 October the British naval forces were too late; the Belgian government relocated from Antwerp to Ostend the same day, with the city itself evacuated the following day under heavy artillery bombardment, formerly surrendered by its Military Governor, General Victor Deguise to the Germans on 10 October.

On 4 October the situation was temporarily restored by the arrival of the British Royal Naval Division. British strategy for hundreds of years had been aimed at making sure Antwerp stayed out of hostile hands. This had become something of an obsession, with Antwerp and the Scheldt estuary seen as the best route for a possible invasion of southern England. In one of the more bizarre incidents of the war, Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, arrived in Antwerp and took virtual command of the fighting there for two crucial days. Often criticised as a foolhardy gesture, Churchill’s presence in Antwerp probably helped prolong the defence by a crucial couple of days, during which the main British and French armies moved closer to the coast in the last days of the Race to the Sea.