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Belgium
 
 

Brigade Piron

 

Belgium was officially neutral at the start of World War Two but in the Spring 1940 “Blitz Kreig” Offensive German Parachute Forces quickly captured the key fortress of Eben Emael and armoured forces over ran the small Belgian Regular Army. Their aim being to outflank the French Forces holding the major defensive feature along the Franco-German border, in the area of the Upper Rhine, known as the Maginot Line, by an advance through the Ardennes into Northern France.

Elements of the Belgian Army also formed part of the defensive screen which enabled the British Expeditionary Force to be evacuated through Dunkirk. A small number of Belgian Troops (initially some 400 men) also escaped to England and moved to a concentration area in Pembrokeshire in South Wales There under the direction of the Belgian Military Attaché staff in London they formed a Rifle Battalion and a cadre of supporting Arms. Subsequently this slowly expanded to a strength of approximately 1000 men (these included a Rifle Company initially trained and recruited in Canada).

 

With the commencement of detailed planning for the Allied Invasion of Europe (Operation Overlord) the role of the Belgian Troops, now known as the Brigade Piron after the name of their Commander, was changed to become three Infantry Heavy all arms mobile columns. The Brigade landed in France in August 1944 as part of the 21st Army Group and took an active part in the Liberation of their Homeland including the famous dash to Brussels by the Guards Armoured Division in early September 1944.

 

In mid November 1944 the Brigade was relieved of front line duties and moved to the Louvain area to reorganise. A further 2500 men were recruited and the Group expanded to a full Brigade (based on British Army organisations) with three Infantry Regiments and integrated Supporting Arms. After further intensive training the Brigade resumed combat duties in late March 1945 as part of the Canadian 1st  Army tasked with the liberation of the Netherlands. After the German Surrender in May 1945 the Brigade was moved to the Münster area of Westphalia as part of the British Zone of Occupation to undertake the appropriate military tasks such as disarming all former German soldiers, collecting and guarding all abandoned military equipment and re-establishing essential civilian services.  The Brigade Headquarters was established in Oelde, with Infantry Battalion Headquarters in Sendenhorst, Ludinghausen and Wadersloh. RHQ of the Artillery Regiment was also in Ludinghausen.

 

In December 1945 the Brigade returned to Belgium for disbandment and its soldiers returned to civilian life.

 

In later years following the establishment of the NATO Alliance and the creation of the Northern Army Group (NORTHAG) of Allied Forces Belgium committed an Army Division to the defence of Western Europe in the event of an attack by Warsaw Pact Forces. Exact details are unclear at the time of writing but it is believed that the Division’s Tactical Area of Responsibility was the southern borders of the former British Zone with elements of a Brigade permanently based in the Soest area (complimenting the Canadian NATO Brigade) and elements of a second Brigade in the Troisdorf area to the east of the River Rhine near Cologne.

 

For further detailed information on the wartime history of the Brigade Piron go to 1st Belgian Group 1940-1945.

JPW