Eben Emael, Belgium

Eben Emael is a village with a historic fortification on Belgium's eastern border, best known for a battle that took place there during the German invasion of France and the Low Countries in May 1940.  Today one can visit the underground network of tunnels with a guided tour.  

There is no problem with parking at the site of the fortification.

On 10 May 1940 the Nazis launched their offensive in the west which required the neutralisation of a number of defensive positions,the strongest of which was Fort Eben Emael, whose artillery pieces covered each of the three bridges over the Albert Canal.

Eben Emael had six 120mm guns with a range of 16km, sixteen 75mm guns, twelve 60mm anti-tank guns; twenty-five twin-mounted machine-guns and AA guns. 

One side of the fort faced the canal, whilst the rest of the fort was defended by minefields, ditches, a six metre high wall, pillboxes with machine-guns and fifteen searchlights. Tunnels connected defensive positions to the command centre and ammunition stores. The fort also had a hospital, living quarters and a power station.

Belgian plans called for local troops to destroy the bridges and fight a delaying action before retiring to positions along the River Dyle.

The attacking force was named Sturmabteilung Koch after its leader, Hauptmann Walter Koch.  Hauptmann Koch divided his force into four assault groups. Group Granite, under Oberleutnant Rudolf Witzig, composed of eighty-five men in eleven gliders was to capture Fort Eben Emael. Group Steel, commanded by Oberleutnant Gustav Altmann, and formed of ninety-two men and nine gliders, would capture the Veldwezelt bridge. Group Concrete, commanded by Leutnant Gerhard Schächt and composed of ninety-six men in eleven gliders, would capture the Vroenhoven bridge. Group Iron, under Leutnant Martin Schächter, composed of ninety men in ten gliders would capture the Cannes bridge. 

Surprise was essential. German estimates believed that they might get sixty minutes, after which the superior numbers of the defending Belgians would begin to come to bear. The plan was to eliminate as many positions as possible. Ten minutes were alloted for the destruction of the guns trained on the bridges. 

The plan called for between nine and eleven gliders to land on the western bank of the Albert Canal by each of the three bridges just prior to 05:30 on 10 May. They would overwhelm the defenders, remove any demolition charges and then prepare to defend the bridges against an expected counter-attack. Forty minutes later, three Ju-52 transport aircraft would fly over each position, dropping a further twenty-four airborne troops as reinforcements with machine-guns and ammunition. Simultaneously, the force assigned to assault Fort Eben Emael was to land on top of the Fort in eleven gliders, eliminate any defenders attempting to repel them, cripple what artillery they could with explosive charges, and then prevent the garrison from dislodging them. 

At 04:30, forty-two gliders carrying 493 troops tlifted off from two airfields in Cologne. The aircraft maintained radio silence, forcing the pilots to rely on a chain of signal fires that pointed towards Belgium; the radio silence also ensured that senior commanders of the assault force could not be informed that the tow-ropes on one of the gliders had snapped, forcing the glider to land inside Germany. Another pilot of a second glider released his tow-rope prematurely, and was unable to land near its objective. Both gliders were carrying troops assigned to Group Granite and were destined to assault Fort Eben Emael, thereby leaving the Group understrength; it also left it under the command of Oberleutnant Witzig's second-in-command, as Witzing was in one of the gliders forced to land. As the Ju-52's turned away after releasing the gliders, Belgian anti-aircraft artillery positions detected them and opened fire, alerting the defences in the area to their presence.

Two of the bridges over the Albert Canal were captured but the bridge at Canne was blown up.

Group Granite landed on the roof of Fort Eben-Emael and the airborne troops were abe to put explosives on the emplacements which housed the artillery pieces that could target the captured bridges. A number of cupulas were knocked out using hollow charge explosives. 

Unable to dislodge the Germans from the roof of the fort and under attack from Stukas and German reinforcements, the garrison surrendered at 12:30 on the following day, having suffered sixty men killed and forty wounded; more than a thousand Belgian soldiers were taken prisoner. Group Granite had suffered six killed and nineteen wounded.

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