The Germans opened World War I by invading neutral Belgium on 4 August 1914. They captured Brussels unopposed on 20 August. Following a siege, Antwerp was captured on 9 October with Bruges, Ostend and Zeebrugge falling in rapid succession, leaving the remaining Allied forces bottled in a narrow wedge of territory to the south of the River Yser. After a breakthrough, the Germans marched on the channel ports of Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne. Here they blocked the line of retreat of the Allied armies on the western front. An artillery bombardment from Allied ships inhibited German attacks along the coast, while the town of Dixmude on the inland end of the defensive line repelled repeated German assaults. On the verge of being overrun, the Belgians finally decided to open the sluice gates at Nieuport, creating an impassable 1-mile wide lake, effectively terminating the German offensive.
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