German invasion of Luxembourg
The German invasion of Luxembourg was part of Case Yellow (German: Fall Gelb), the German invasion of the Low Countries (Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) and France during World War II. The battle began on 10 May 1940 and lasted just one day. Facing only light resistance, Luxembourg was quickly occupied. The Luxembourgish government, and Grand Duchess Charlotte, managed to escape the country and a government-in-exile was created in London.
The outbreak of World War II on 1 September 1939 put Luxembourg’s government in a delicate situation. On the one hand, the population’s sympathy lay with Britain and France; on the other hand, due to the country's policy of neutrality since 1867's Treaty of London, the government adopted a careful non-belligerent stance towards its neighbours. As of 1 September, Radio Luxembourg stopped broadcasting. In spring 1940, fortifications were erected along the borders with Germany and France. The so-called Schuster Line, named after its constructor, consisted of massive concrete roadblocks and bridge blocks with steel doors. A series of nine radio outposts were established along the German border with a receiver station in the local volunteer corps barracks. The official aim of these obstacles was to slow down the progress of any invading army and give time for the guarantors of Luxembourg's neutrality to take counteractions against the invaders. However, compared to the massive power of the German forces, it only had symbolic character and helped to calm down the population. Except for its small Luxembourgish Volunteer Corps, Luxembourg did not possess an army, due to the treaty's restrictions.
After several false alarms in the spring of 1940, the probability of a military conflict between Germany and France grew. Germany stopped the export of coke for the Luxembourgish steel industry. Late in the evening on 9 May the Grand Ducal government came into possession of a document from the German command. Dated 23 April, 1940, it detailed plans for occupying strategic points within the country, and also laid out plans of action for Luxembourger Nazis.
The border posts were put on full alert. Police were mobilized to defend public buildings and to start arresting fifth columnists. The economic councilor and the chancellor of the German legation were detained for questioning. They had allegedly used legation cars for organizing subversive activities within the country, but since they still enjoyed diplomatic privilege, the police were forced to release them.
The steel doors of the Schuster Line were ordered closed on 10 May 1940 at 03:15, following movements of German troops on the east side of the border rivers Our, Sauer and Mosel. In the meantime, German special forces dressed as civilians and supported by Germans living in Luxembourg—the so-called Stoßtrupp Lützelburg—tried to sabotage the radio stations and the barricades along the German–Luxembourgish border but their attempts were foiled by the police. The Royal Family was evacuated from its residence in Colmar-Berg to the Grand Ducal palace in Luxembourg City.
The German invasion, made up of the 1st, 2nd, and 10th Panzer Divisions began at 04:35. They did not encounter any significant resistance save for some bridges destroyed and some land mines, since the majority of the Luxembourgish Volunteer Corps stayed in their barracks. The border was only guarded by soldiers that had volunteered for guard duty, customs officials, or by Gendarmes. One by one the radio outposts fell. Planes flew overhead, heading for Belgium and France, though some stopped and landed troops within the country.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Joseph Bech, in the presence of Prime Minister Pierre Dupong, attempted to contact the German ambassador at the legation and at his private residence, but they were informed that he was not present. At 06:30 the majority of the government, including Dupong and Bech, evacuated the capital via motorcade to the border town of Esch. Here a group of 125 German special operations troops had landed via Fieseler Storch, with orders to hold the area until the main invasion force arrived. A Luxembourgish police officer confronted the soldiers and asked that they leave, but he was arrested. The government motorcade encountered a roadblock at a crossroads manned by the German units and were forced to detour through the countryside to avoid capture.
Following consultation with her minsters, Grand Duchess Charlotte decided to abandon the palace. Accompanied by her husband, Prince Felix, her mother, Dowager Grand Duchess Marie Anne, and members of the Grand-Ducal suite, she departed for the border village of Redange. Meanwhile, Hereditary Grand Duke Jean and two of his sisters, accompanied by an Aide-de-camp, were to wait at the border for confirmation of occupation. Around 08:00 the prime minister and his entourage passed over the border before making contact with French troops at Longlaville. Last minute telephone calls with Luxembourg City revealed the city to be completely surrounded.
Charlotte's party was able to link up with the government motorcade at Longwy. They were joined by the Hereditary Grand Duke at Sainte-Menehould. His party had been held up by the German troops near Esch, and they only escaped when their chauffeur drove straight through the soldiers.
Luxembourgish police resisted the German troops, however, to little avail; the capital city was occupied before noon. Total Luxembourgish casualties amounted to 75 police and soldiers captured, six police wounded, and one soldier wounded. At 08:00, elements of the French 3rd Light Cavalry Division (3 DLC) of General Petiet, supported by the 1st Spahi Brigade of Colonel Jouffault and the 2nd company of the 5th Armoured Battalion (5 BCC), crossed the southern border to conduct a probe of German forces; these units later retreated behind the Maginot Line. British and French planes bombed Bascharage. On the evening of 10 May 1940, most of the country, with the exception of the south, was occupied by German forces. More than 90,000 civilians fled from the canton of Esch-sur-Alzette as a consequence of the advance. 47,000 evacuated to France, 45,000 poured into the central and northern part of Luxembourg.
Grand Duchess Charlotte and the government of Premier Pierre Dupong fled to France, Portugal and the United Kingdom, before finally settling in Canada for the duration of the war. Charlotte, exiled in London, became an important symbol of national unity. Her eldest son and heir, Jean, volunteered for the British Army in 1942. The only official representative left behind was Albert Wehrer, head of the office of State Affairs, as well as the 41 deputies.
- Thomas, Nigel. Hitler’s Blitzkrieg Enemies 1940: Denmark, Norway, Netherlands & Belgium p. 15
- Horne, Alistair, To Lose a Battle, p.258-264
- Raths,Aloyse 2008 Unheilvolle Jahre für Luxemburg – Années néfastes pour le Grand-Duché, p. 7
- Waller, George Platt. Defiant Diplomat George Platt Waller: American Consul in Nazi-occupied Luxembourg, 1939-1941
- Government of Luxembourg. Luxembourg and the German Invasion, Before and After, Hutchinson & Co. Accessed 13 March 2016