The Kingdom of Belgium, formerly called Hapsburg Netherlands or Austrian Netherlands (16th through 18th centuries), is a country in northwest Europe. Straddling the cultural boundary between Germanic and Latin Europe, Belgium is home to two main linguistic groups - the Flemings and the French-speakers, mostly Walloons - plus a small group of German-speakers. Belgium's two largest regions are the Flemish-speaking region of Flanders in the north and the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia. The Brussels-Capital Region, officially bilingual, is a mostly French-speaking enclave within the Flemish Region. A small German-speaking community exists in eastern Wallonia. Belgium's linguistic diversity and related political and cultural conflicts are reflected in the political history and a complex system of government.
Historically, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg were known as the Low Countries, which used to cover a somewhat larger area than the current Benelux group of states. From the end of the Middle Ages until the 17th century, it was a prosperous center of commerce and culture. From the 16th century on, many battles between European powers were fought in the area of Belgium, earning Belgium the nickname "the battleground of Europe". After more than 200 years of Spanish and Austrian rule, both under the House of Hapsburg, Belgium spent brief periods as a French possession (1792-1815) and a Dutch province (1815-1830), before being recognized as an independent kingdom in 1830. This did not protect it from German invasion and occupation for the greater part of twoworld wars.
Belgium remained under German military occupation for the period between the wars much the way Canada remained occupied by the United States. In the opening moves of the Second Great War in Europe, Anglo-French forces drove the Germans out of Belgium in 1941 and were greeted as liberators by the population. The Germans began reconquering Belgium from the Entente in late 1943.
In 1944, a British bomber carrying a superbomb intended for a German city, was intercepted by German jet fighters and shot down in Belgian territory. The superbomb it carried detonated ineffectually between Ghent and Bruges, essentially ending Britain's hope of carrying on the war against Germany.
Belgium declared her neutrality when a second world war broke out in the fall of 1938. Despite great French and British pressure, she refused to let Allied units through her territory or to prepare for an eventual German invasion that came just as Germany was done dismantlingCzechoslovakia a month later. French and British troops tried then to slow the German advance in Charleroi and later on the Dyle River, but Germany emerged victorious on both occasions. Belgium surrendered after just three weeks of fighting and was occupied by Germany.
In the aftermath of the so-called "big switch" of 1940, Britain and France ended their war with Germany, and attacked the Soviet Union. German forces withdrew from France, but remained in Belgium. When the big switch fell apart in 1941, Allied troops again began pushing into Belgium throughout in 1942 and 1943.