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Coordinates: 50°47′50″N 5°40′51″E / 50.79722°N 5.68083°E / 50.79722; 5.68083

Map of the area between Belgium and the Netherlands near Fort Eben-Emael
A cupola in Fort Eben-Emael's after penetration by a shaped charge
Entrance area, July 2007

Eben-Emael was a Belgian fortress between Liège and Maastricht, near the Albert Canal, defending the Belgian-German border. Constructed in 1931–1935, it was reputed to be impregnable and at the time, the largest in the world. But on 10 May 1940, 78 paratroopers of the German 7th Flieger (later 1st Fallschirmjäger Division) landed on the fortress with gliders (type DFS 230), armed with special high explosives to damage the fortress and its guns. As the fortress had no defence against air-attacks or machinegun positions, one day later, when they were reinforced by the German 151st Infantry Regiment, at 13:30 h on 11 May, the fortress surrendered. 1200 Belgian soldiers were captured.

Eben-Emael, an underground fort, was Belgium's hope to defend its eastern borders from invasion, charged with defending or destroying three key bridges. It also gave protection to the south of what was called the Gap of Vise. A fortress to protect this approach to Liège had been conceived in the latter 19th century, but only became politically convincing after the Albert Canal was dug to provide a route for Belgian river transport that did not require entering Dutch territory. Thus the fortress was only completed in 1935, being sited between the river and the canal that bypassed it. With its steel and concrete cupolas, Fort Eben-Emael was thought to be impenetrable.

However, the Germans had planned the capture of the fort well in advance. In preparation they had practiced assaulting a full-scale mock up of the fort's exterior in occupied Czechoslovakia using the recently built and captured Beneš Wall that was modeled to a large degree on the western designs.[1] Adolf Hitler himself conceived of a plan to take over the fort by getting men on the fort by using gliders (it would have been difficult and messy to parachute a large number of men into the small area) and utilizing the new top secret shaped charge (also called "hollow charge") bombs to penetrate the cupolas[citation needed].

Good espionage and superior planning, combined with unpreparedness on the Belgian side, helped make the May 10, 1940 execution of Hitler's top secret plan a swift and overwhelming success. The capture of Eben-Emael involved the first utilization of gliders for the initial attack and the first use of hollow charge devices in war. The gliders led by First Lieutenant Rudolf Witzig landed on the "roof" of the fortress. There they were able to use the hollow charges to destroy or disable the gun cupolas. They also used a flamethrower against machine guns. The Belgians did destroy one of the key bridges, preventing it from being used by the Germans but also preventing a relieving force from aiding the fortress.

After its capture, the fort was evaluated for use as an underground factory for the V-1 rocket, but production was never undertaken.

Fort Eben-Emael is now open for the public to visit.

See also

References

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Notes

Bibliography

  • Saunders, Tim (2005). Fort Eben Emael 1940 : Battleground Series. Pen and Sword. ISBN 1844152553. 
  • Dunstan, Simon (2005). Fort Eben Emael - The key to Hitler's victory in the west. Osprey Publishing (UK). ISBN 1841768219. 

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