At the outset of World War II, Belgium's Fort Eben Emael was thought to be virtually impregnable. But at dawn on May 10th, 1940, it fell in just half an hour to a force of only 71 Nazi warriors.
On May 10th, 1940, 10 German gliders landed on top of the fort dropping a unit of only 78 paratroopers. As Eben-Emael was prepared for assaults from below and not from above, the Germans took the 1100 man Belgian garrison by suprise. Within only 18 minutes Eben-Emael was captured, and was no longer a thread to the advance of the German Sixth Army into Belgium.
Numbers range 71-78 paratroopers. Also the number inside ranges some sources say 500 garrison others say up to 1100 men
Fort Eben-Emael was reputed to be the strongest military stronghold in the world. On May 10th 1940, Fort Eben-Emael was attacked by the Germans as part of their blitzkrieg attack on Western Europe. The speed with which Eben-Emael fell and how the raid was executed was symptomatic of just how devastating blitzkrieg could be.
Fort Eben-Emael was north of the large Belgium city of Liege. It commanded the Albert Canal and was seen by the Belgium military as being the principle barrier against an attack from her eastern borders. As well as the Albert Canal, the fort also had a commanding position over the high bridges over the canal. If an enemy captured these bridges, their ability to move military vehicles and troops would have been greatly helped. Without the control of these bridges, such movement into Belgium would have been severely restricted and the mobility that blitzkrieg needed for success would have been blunted.
The fort itself was awesome. Built between 1932 and 1935, it abutted the Albert Canal at Caster. From north to south, the fort was 900 meters long and from east to west, it was 700 meters. The fort was a base for infantry and artillery units, and the defences of the fort were placed so that each mutually covered the other should the fort come under attack. Getting into the fort would have been very difficult. Two of the walls were 40 meters high and nearly vertical. Climbing them in an assault would have been all but impossible. The other sides of the fort were protected as a result of a man-made ditch around them, again making any assault difficult. To further complicate any assault, outer trenches had been built and more walls, the majority of which were 4 meters high.
The weaponry within the fort was also awesome. The fort contained 7.5-cm cannons, 12-cm revolving cannon; machine guns; searchlights; anti-tank cannons and anti-aircraft cannon. Dummy weapon emplacements were built to fool the enemy.
The fort itself was connected within by a series of tunnels that totalled many kilometres. There was only one access to these tunnels at Fort 17 in the south-west of the vast complex. The fort was effectively self-sufficient as it contained barracks, sick bays and a communication centre. The tunnel complex was built with a ventilation system complete with filters in case of a poison gas attack.
However, Eben-Emael had one major weakness. It was vulnerable to an attack from the air. The German High Command knew that they had to capture intact the bridges over the Albert Canal if blitzkrieg was to function. They also knew that a paratrooper attack – so devastating in Holland – would be unlikely to be successful at Eben-Emael as it would give the defenders too much time to react as the paratroopers descended. They therefore decided on a mode of attack the defenders would be surprised by – the use of gliders carrying troops. The gliders would land at half-light inside the fort thus negating its defences. Such an attack would possess a high surprise factor which would not be achieved using paratroopers.
The attack had to be carefully co-ordinated so that it took place just at the same time as the main Wehrmacht attack across the Belgium border. In this way, the Belgium army would be fully occupied and no units outside of the fort could come to its aid.
Tags: World war 2, WW2, Dangerous missions, Fall of Eben-Emael, western front, blitzkreig, gliders, paratroopers, nazi, France, Germany, Maginot line, belgium, Sixth army, panzer, wehrmacht, Waffen SS, complex, Hitler, luftwaffe, defense
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