The Free Belgian Forces were members of the Belgian armed forces in World War II who continued fighting against the Axis after the surrender of Belgium and its subsequent occupation by the Germans. The Belgians fought in several theaters of the war, including Great Britain, East Africa, the Mediterranean, and Northwestern Europe.
The decision of King Leopold III and the Belgian military to surrender on May 28, 1940 after the 18 Days' Campaign was not accepted by many Belgians. Ministers of the sitting Belgian government formed a Government in Exile, first in Paris and, after the Fall of France in London. Under the auspices of the government in exile, Belgian armed forces were organized to continue military operations as part of the allied army while Belgium's colonial resources and troops were made available to the Allied war effort.
Although often co-operating with the Government in Exile, the Belgian Resistance inside the occupied territory itself is not considered part of the Free Belgian Forces.
Ground forces 
The ground troops of the Free Belgian Forces were drawn from three main sources during the course of the war. These were the Force Publique in the Congo, expatriate Belgians in Great Britain and Canada, and after September 1944, Belgians liberated by the Allied campaign in Northwestern Europe.
The Force Publique in Africa 
Three brigades of infantry were mobilized from the Force Publique in the Belgian Congo to fight alongside Allied forces against Italian troops in Africa. In 1940 and 1941, the "Belgian Expeditionary Forces" fought in the British and Commonwealth campaign to defeat the Italian troops in Abyssinia during the East African Campaign.
In late May 1941, Belgian Major-General Auguste-Éduard Gilliaert cut off the retreat of Italian General Pietro Gazzera in Abyssinia and accepted the surrender of 7,000 of his troops. Over the course of the campaign in Abyssinia, Gilliaert's Force Publique received the surrender of nine Italian generals, 370 ranking officers and 15,000 Ethiopian troops before late 1941.
After the successful conclusion of these campaigns, the 1st Belgian Colonial Brigade was redesignated the Belgian Colonial Motor Brigade Group and served in a garrison and rear-area security role in Cairo, Egypt and in British Palestine between 1943-1944.
The Force Publique also sent the 10th Belgian Congo Casualty Clearing Station (CCCS) to the battle zone. Between 1940 and 1945 some 350 Congolese and twenty Belgians, under the command of Medical Colonel Thomas, worked together with the British medical services in Abyssinia, Somalia, Madagascar and Burma.
Despite its military success during the conflict, the Force Publique remained a delicate military force. The unit was racially segregated and blacks were not allowed to be promoted above Non-comissioned ranks, meaning that the unit was commanded by white Belgian officers. In 1944, a Force Publique garrison in Luluabourg mutinied against its officers and the insurrection was only put down by force. Force Publique also had to rely on old or outdated weapons and equipment such as the Stokes Mortar and the St Chamond 75 mm gun.
The Brigade Piron 
Belgians and Luxembourgers civilians living in the United Kingdom and Canada, along with 163 soldiers rescued from Dunkirk, were recruited from May 25, 1940 into 1st Belgian Infantry Brigade. The commander of the Belgian ground troops in Great Britain was Lieutenant General van Strydonck de Burkel. Because of the shortage of manpower, the unit grew slowly, first formed as a battalion, and finally as a brigade in January 1943.
Initially, the brigade had three motorized rifle companies, an artillery battery (of which one troop of four guns was Luxembourgish), an engineer company, an armored car squadron, and combat support units. Also known as "Brigade Piron" (after its commander, Colonel Jean-Baptiste Piron), the Belgian Brigade was equipped with British weapons and uniforms.
The brigade landed at Arromanches in Normandy on August 8, 1944 and fought for the next month on the Normandy coast of France, within the 1st Canadian Army. It was reassigned to the 2nd British Army at short notice and moved to Belgium on September 3 and this allowed the Brigade to assist the liberation of its home country and southern Netherlands.
In November 1944, it returned to Belgium and reorganized. The reorganized brigade had three infantry battalions, an artillery regiment of six batteries, and an armored car regiment. Returning to combat in the Netherlands in April 1945, the brigade's units fought at Nijmegen and Walcheren.
Belgian Special Forces 
In late 1944, two other troops of commandos were formed from liberated manpower who had been members of the Belgian resistance. On liberation, they would be formed into the 1st Commando Regiment of the Belgian Army.
Belgium also contributed a battalion-sized regiment to the Special Air Service (SAS), fighting in northern France, occupied Belgium, and the Netherlands during 1944 - 1945. After liberation, the unit became the 1st Parachute Regiment of the Belgian army, which continued to wear the "Who Dares Wins" badge of the SAS.
The Fusilier Battalions 
After liberation, the civilian population of Belgium was used to form 57 Fusilier (infantry) battalions, four engineer and four pioneer battalions, and 34 motor transport battalions between October 1944 until June 1945, during the last stages of the war in Europe.
Lacking in training, the bulk of the Fusilier Battalions were used to secure rear areas. This task grew demanding as large areas of Germany were overrun in 1945 and the presence of the lightly equipped Belgian units allowed better equipped units of the major allies to resume operations and meant that they did not have to leave soldiers behind to guard their lines of communication. Nevertheless, some 20 of the Belgian Fusilier Battalions were used in combat in the Battle of the Bulge, in the Netherlands, at the Remagen Bridgehead, and in Czechoslovakia at Pilsen.
Among Belgians today, the 5th Fusilier Battalion is particularly remembered for its service with the U.S. Army during the Ardennes Offensive.
In the Far East 
The Congolese 10th (Congo) Casualty Clearing Station supported allied operations in Burma and Indonesia.
After the invasion of 1940, almost all the Belgian fishing fleet left for the United Kingdom, with 226 sailors succeeding in reaching Britain, and another 256 being forced to turn back by bad weather and German Stuka dive-bomber attacks. Many of these sailors went on to join the Free Belgian Navy.
Ships of the Belgian Merchant Marine also supported the Allies. 32 ships were lost in the course of the war.
Air forces 
Although usually randomly posted to various RAF fighter squadrons, No. 609 Squadron had enough Belgian pilots to form a flight. Later, some of the Belgian pilots were organized into two all-Belgian squadrons, the No. 350 (Belgian) Squadron (formed November 1941) and No. 349 (Belgian) Squadron (formed November 1942). By June 1943, some 400 Belgian pilots were serving with the RAF.
Initially part of the air defense of Great Britain, both squadrons later served in the campaign in northwestern Europe supporting the 21st Army Group with No. 83 and No. 84 Groups of the RAF. The British air raid on Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark on March 22, 1945 was led by a Belgian Wing Commander Michel Donnet. Altogether, some 1,200 Belgians served in the RAF. The Belgian Squadrons flew Spitfires operationally with the RAF. No. 350 Squadron claimed some 51 kills during its existence.
Post war 
Ultimately, Belgium mobilized some 100,000 men between the time Belgium surrendered in 1940 and VE Day in 1945. After the war, five of the brigades mobilized by Belgium with liberated manpower and the Brigade Piron formed two divisions of the new Belgian Army and were used in the occupation of Germany. The Belgian commandos and S.A.S. troops were ultimately used to form the Belgian Paracommando Regiment, and Nos. 349 and 350 Squadrons of the RAF formed the postwar Belgian Air Force.
See also 
- Ready 1985. p.44.
- Weller, George (1941). The Belgian Campaign in Ethiopia: A trek of 2,500 miles through jungle swamps and desert wastes. New York: Belgian Information Centre. p. 3.
- Thomas 1991. p.17.
- Willame, Jean-Claude (1972). Patrimonialism and political change in the Congo. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford U.P. p. 62. ISBN 0-8047-0793-6 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Ayimpamle, Théophile. "Les Chroniques du Congo : La Colonie du Congo belge". Retrieved 27 February 2013.
- Bellis 1999. p.45.
- Thomas 1991. p.15.
- Stacey, Colonel C.P (1966). "Clearing the Coastal Belt and the Ports: September 1944". Official History of the Canadian Army. Department of National Defence. p. 323. Retrieved 10 Jan 2010.
- World Armies, p. 57.
- Thomas 1991. p.16.
- Belgian Army in the United Kingdom (1994). pp.134-137
- Ready 1985. p.254.
- Elis 2004. p.390.
- Ready 1985. p.405.
- "Introduction". Be4046.eu. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
- Champion 1973. p.24 gives the figure of 53,000 people mobilized from the liberated territory after September 1944.
Further reading 
- Various (1994). Belgian Forces in the United Kingdom (in French/Dutch). Ostende: Comité 44-94.
- Bellis, Malcolm A. (1999). Commonwealth Divisions: 1939 - 1945 (1st ed. ed.). Crewe: Selbstverl. ISBN 0-95296-930-0 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Thomas, Nigel (1991). Foreign Volunteers of the Allied Forces: 1939-45. London: Osprey. ISBN 1-85532-136-X [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Ready, J. Lee (1985). Forgotten Allies: the Military Contribution of the Colonies, Exiled Governments, and Lesser Powers to the Allied Victory in World War II. Vol. I. Jefferson: Mcfarland. ISBN 0-78647-168-9 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Elis, L.F. et al. (2004). Victory in the West. Vol.II: The defeat of Germany. London: Naval & Military Press. ISBN 1-84574-059-9 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Champion, Lucien (1973). La chronique des 53.000 (in French). Brussels: P. De Méyère.