Fort Eben-Emael
Overview
 
Fort Eben-Emael is an inactive Belgian
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 fortress located between Liège and Maastricht
Maastricht
Maastricht is situated on both sides of the Meuse river in the south-eastern part of the Netherlands, on the Belgian border and near the German border...

, on the Belgian-Dutch border, near the Albert Canal
Albert Canal
The Albert Canal is a canal located in northeastern Belgium, named after King Albert I of Belgium. It connects the major cities Antwerp and Liège and the Meuse and Scheldt rivers. It has a depth of , a free height of and a total length of...

, and designed to defend Belgium from a German attack across the narrow belt of Dutch territory in the region. Constructed in 1931–1935, it was reputed to be impregnable and at the time, the largest in the world. The fort was successfully neutralized
Battle of Fort Eben-Emael
The Battle of Fort Eben-Emael was a battle between Belgian and German forces that took place between 10 May and 11 May 1940, and was part of the Battle of the Netherlands, Battle of Belgium and Fall Gelb, the German invasion of the Low Countries and France...

 by glider-borne German troops on 10 May 1940 during the Second World War.
Encyclopedia
Fort Eben-Emael is an inactive Belgian
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 fortress located between Liège and Maastricht
Maastricht
Maastricht is situated on both sides of the Meuse river in the south-eastern part of the Netherlands, on the Belgian border and near the German border...

, on the Belgian-Dutch border, near the Albert Canal
Albert Canal
The Albert Canal is a canal located in northeastern Belgium, named after King Albert I of Belgium. It connects the major cities Antwerp and Liège and the Meuse and Scheldt rivers. It has a depth of , a free height of and a total length of...

, and designed to defend Belgium from a German attack across the narrow belt of Dutch territory in the region. Constructed in 1931–1935, it was reputed to be impregnable and at the time, the largest in the world. The fort was successfully neutralized
Battle of Fort Eben-Emael
The Battle of Fort Eben-Emael was a battle between Belgian and German forces that took place between 10 May and 11 May 1940, and was part of the Battle of the Netherlands, Battle of Belgium and Fall Gelb, the German invasion of the Low Countries and France...

 by glider-borne German troops on 10 May 1940 during the Second World War. The action cleared the way for German ground forces to enter Belgium, unhindered by fire from Eben-Emael. Still the property of the Belgian Army, the fort has been preserved and may be visited.

Situation

The fort is located along the Albert Canal where it runs through a deep cutting at the junction of the Belgian, Dutch and German borders, about 20 kilometres (12.4 mi) northeast of Liège. A huge excavation project was carried out in the 1920s to create the Caster cutting through Mount Saint Peter
Mount Saint Peter
Mount Saint Peter is a ridge running north to south between the valleys of the Geer and the Meuse from Maastricht in the Netherlands to the area of Liège in Belgium....

 to keep the canal in Belgian territory. This created a natural defensive barrier that was augmented by the fort, at a location that had been recommended by Brialmont in the 19th century. Eben-Emael was the largest of four forts built in the 1930s as the Fortified Position of Liège I
Fortified Position of Liège
The fortified position of Liège was established following World War I by Belgium to fortify the traditional invasion corridor from Germany through Belgium to France. The Belgian experience of World War I, in which the Belgian Army held the invading force for a week at Liège, impeding the German...

 (Position Fortifiée de Liège I (PFL I)). From north to south, the new forts were Eben-Emael, Fort d'Aubin-Neufchâteau
Fort d'Aubin-Neufchâteau
The Fort of Aubin-Neufchâteau is a Belgian fortification located near Neufchâteau. The fort was built in the 1930s as part of the fortified position of Liège, augmenting the twelve original forts built to defend Liège in the 1880s with four more forts closer to the Belgian frontier with Germany...

, Fort de Battice
Fort de Battice
The Fort of Battice is a Belgian fortification located just to the east of the town of Battice. The fort was built in the 1930s as part of the fortified position of Liège, augmenting the twelve original forts built to defend Liège in the 1880s with four more forts closer to the Belgian frontier...

 and Fort de Tancrémont
Fort de Tancrémont
The Fort de Tancrémont is a Belgian fortification located about south of Pepinster. The fort was built in the 1930s as part of the fortified position of Liège, augmenting the twelve original forts built to defend Liège in the 1880s with four more forts closer to the Belgian frontier with Germany...

. Tancrémont and Aubin-Neufchâteau are smaller than Eben-Emael and Battice. Several of the 19th century forts designed by General Henri Alexis Brialmont
Henri Alexis Brialmont
Henri Alexis Brialmont was a Dutch-born Belgian military engineer. He was one of the leading fortifications engineers in the 19th century....

 that encircled Liège were reconstructed and designated PFL II.

A great deal of the fort's excavation work was carried out on the canal side, sheltered from view and a convenient location to load excavated spoil
Spoil (archaeology)
In Archaeology, spoil is the term used for the soil, dirt and rubble that results from an excavation, and discarded off site on spoil heaps. These heaps are commonly accessed by barrow runs.-Spoil management:...

 into barges to be taken away economically. The fort's elevation above the canal also allowed for efficient interior drainage, making Eben-Emael drier than many of its sister fortifications.

Description

Fort Eben-Emael was a greatly enlarged development of the original Belgian fortifications designed by General Henri Alexis Brialmont
Henri Alexis Brialmont
Henri Alexis Brialmont was a Dutch-born Belgian military engineer. He was one of the leading fortifications engineers in the 19th century....

 before World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. Even in its larger form, the fort comprised a relatively compact ensemble of gun turrets and observation posts, surrounded by a defended ditch. This was in contrast with French thinking for the contemporary Maginot Line
Maginot Line
The Maginot Line , named after the French Minister of War André Maginot, was a line of concrete fortifications, tank obstacles, artillery casemates, machine gun posts, and other defences, which France constructed along its borders with Germany and Italy, in light of its experience in World War I,...

 fortifications, which were based on the dispersed fort palmé concept, with no clearly defined perimeter, a lesson learned from the experiences of French and Belgian forts in World War I. The new Belgian forts, while more conservative in design than the French ouvrages, included several new features as a result of World War I experience. The gun turrets were less closely grouped. Reinforced concrete was used in place of plain mass concrete, and its placement was done with greater care to avoid weak joints between pours. Ventilation was greatly improved, magazines were deeply buried and protected, and sanitary facilities and general living arrangements for the troops were given careful attention. Eben-Emael and Battice featured 120mm and 75mm guns, giving the fort the ability to bombard targets across a wide area of eastern Liège region.

Eben-Emael occupies a large hill just to the east of Eben-Emael village, bordering the Albert Canal. The irregularly-shaped fort is about 600 metres (1,968.5 ft) in the east-west dimension, and about 750 metres (2,460.6 ft) in the north-south dimension. The fort was more heavily armed than any other fort in the PFL I. In contrast to the other forts whose main weapons were in turrets, Eben-Emael's main weapons were divided between turrets and casemate
Casemate
A casemate, sometimes rendered casement, is a fortified gun emplacement or armored structure from which guns are fired. originally a vaulted chamber in a fortress.-Origin of the term:...

s.
  • Block B.I, entrance block with two 60mm anti-tank guns and machine guns.
  • Blocks B.II, B.IV and B.VI flanking casemates disposed around the perimeter ditch to take the ditch in enfilade with two 60mm guns and machine guns.
  • Block B.V similar to II, IV and VI, with one 60mm gun.
  • Cupola 120, one twin 120mm gun turret, with a range of 17,5 km. There were also three dummy 120mm turrets.
  • Cupola Nord and Cupola Sud each had one retractable turret with two 75mm guns, with a range of 10,5 km.
  • Visé I and II each house three 75mm guns, facing south.
  • Maastricht I and II each house three 75mm guns, firing north in the direction of Maastricht.
  • Canal Nord and Sud were twinned blocks housing 60mm guns and machine guns covering the canal. Sud was demolished when the canal was enlarged.
  • Mi-Nord and Sud are machine gun blocks (mitrailleuses) in the main surface of the fort. They were crucial in defending the top of the fort.
  • Block O1 overlooks the canal and guarded the locks of Lanaye. It housed a 60mm gun and machine guns.

Underground galleries extend over 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) beneath the hill, connecting the combat blocks and serving the underground barracks, power plant, ammunition magazines and other spaces. Fresh air was obtained from intake vents over the canal.

Personnel

In 1940 Eben-Emael was commanded by Major Jottrand. There were around 1200 Belgian troops stationed at the fort, divided into three groups. The first group was permanently stationed at the fort and consisted of 200 men technical personnel (doctors, cooks, weapon maintenance technicians etc.). The two other groups consisted of 500 artillerists each. In peace time one group would be stationed at the fort for one week. The other group would be in reserve at the village of Wonck, about 5 km away. These two groups would switch places every week.

Except for some of the officers and NCOs, most of the men were conscripts. The majority of these were reservists and were called up after the Invasion of Poland in 1939. Infantry training was poor, since the men were considered purely as artillerists.

1940

On 10 May 1940, 78 paratroopers
Fallschirmjäger
are German paratroopers. Together with the Gebirgsjäger they are perceived as the elite infantry units of the German Army....

 of the German 7th Flieger (later 1st Fallschirmjäger Division
1st Parachute Division (Germany)
The German 1st Parachute Division was a German elite military parachute-landing Division that fought during World War II. A division of paratroopers was termed a Fallschirmjäger Division...

) landed on the fortress with gliders
Military glider
Military gliders have been used by the military of various countries for carrying troops and heavy equipment to a combat zone, mainly during the Second World War. These engineless aircraft were towed into the air and most of the way to their target by military transport planes, e.g...

 (type DFS 230
DFS 230
|-See also:-External links:* http://www.warbirdsresourcegroup.org/LRG/dfs230.html* http://www.luftarchiv.de/flugzeuge/dfs/dfs230.htm...

), armed with special high explosives to attack the fortress and its guns. Most of the fort's defenses were lightly manned and taken by complete surprise. Much of the fort's defensive armament was destroyed in a few minutes. The attackers were unable to penetrate inside the underground galleries, but the garrison was unable to dislodge them from the surface of the fort. The fortress surrendered one day later, when the German paratroopers were reinforced by the German 151st Infantry Regiment. While 1200 soldiers were authorized to be at the fort on any given day, only 650 were at the fort with an additional 233 soldiers 6 km away at the time of the German assault.

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
Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

 using the recently built and captured border fortifications
Czechoslovak border fortifications
The Czechoslovak government built a system of border fortifications from 1935 to 1938 as a defensive countermeasure against the rising threat of Nazi Germany that later materialized in the German offensive plan called Fall Grün...

 that were modeled to a large degree on western designs. Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 himself conceived of a plan to take over the fort by getting men on the fort by using gliders to overcome the problem of concentrating an airdrop on a small target, and utilizing the new top secret shaped charge
Shaped charge
A shaped charge is an explosive charge shaped to focus the effect of the explosive's energy. Various types are used to cut and form metal, to initiate nuclear weapons, to penetrate armor, and in the oil and gas industry...

 (also called "hollow charge") bombs to penetrate the cupolas.

Good espionage
Espionage
Espionage or spying involves an individual obtaining information that is considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage is inherently clandestine, lest the legitimate holder of the information change plans or take other countermeasures once it...

 and superior planning, combined with unpreparedness on the Belgian side, helped make the 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
Rudolf Witzig
Rudolf Witzig was a German Fallschirmjäger during World War II and Oberst in the Bundeswehr. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves...

, 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
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

but also preventing a relieving force from aiding the fortress.

Present day

Fort Eben-Emael is now open for the public to visit. While still military property, it is administered by the Association Fort Eben-Emael, which provides tours and activities.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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