The Eben Emael Raid of May 10, 1940
Stronger than the Maginot line in France or than the West Wall in Germany: that was the reputation of fort Eben-Emael in 1939. This colossus was built by the Belgian army between 1932 and 1935 to reinforce a weak point in its defense system against Germany: the Meuse valley in the region of Maastricht.
Eben-Emael is a gigantic fort. 17 bunkers of different types are spread across a surface of 75 ha (150 soccer fields). The maximal fire power is 2100 kg per minute. The bunkers are deployed similarly to a fighting ship: on the top of the hill you find the long distance artillery; around the border you find the short distance defense bunkers and other obstacles. The shape of the fort is an isosceles triangle. On its east side there is an impressive “natural” protection system which is the passage of the Albert Canal through the hill, with 60 meters high steep walls. On the west side there is a water defense system that allowed over-floating the area. In the south there was a dry antitank ditch. Deep in the mountain, 60 meters below its highest point, there is the underground barrack fully equipped for a garrison of 1200 soldiers: sleeping rooms, kitchen, showers, technical rooms, hospital, water source, etc. An impressive tunnel structure of 5.5 km links all bunkers together.
Military experts from different countries agreed in the late 30s that this military position was one of the strongest fort of Europe. Only one word could summarize the edifice: impregnable!
How do you neutralize the strongest fort of Europe? A traditional ground attack with artillery and infantry would cost time, material and people, while the German military leaders wanted to force a fast breakthrough. An innovative and daring plan was setup. The key idea was to use large gliders to transport elite-troops. On Mai 10, 1940, at daybreak, the gliders landed on top of the fort. There was no official war declaration. In a few minutes, the Germans used new explosive –“shaped charges”— to destroy most of the Belgian guns. It was a success, in less than 15 minutes most of the artillery was damaged. The three bridges over the Albert canal, located in the north direction, underwent a similar attack. Two of them were taken intact. Counterattack were useless. The regimen gave up after 31 hours of fight. After this short but intensive attack, the final toll stands at 650 death in and around Eben-Emael (10% of the total losses in Mai 1940). The German success had multiple consequences. Not only there was a break through the Albert Canal but the fall of Eben-Emael had a major psychological effect on the Belgian and Allies that helped the German troops. The largest fort of Europe had been taken in a minimum of time. This breakthrough had a much larger strategic scope. As planned the French and English troops penetrated into Belgium that opened the way for the Germans through the Ardenne. The result is well known: the allies were surrounded in Belgium and pushed back towards Duinkerken and Calais. (Text from www.fort-eben-emael.be/)
The photos above show the damage of a 50 kg hollow charge. The detonation even destroyed the staircase up to the Maastricht 1 bunker. 6 Belgian soldiers were killed by the explosion.
The photos above show photos on top of the Fort (left to right, top to bottom):
Casemate Visé 2 / Casemate Maastricht 2 / View from Maastricht 2. On the far right is Coupole 120 / Couple 120, which German Fallschirmjaeger tried to blow up with a 50 kg hollow charge / Casemate Maastricht 1, German Fallschirmjaeger blew the doors open and charged more hollow charges / Bloc 2 at watery trench, view in southern direction.
Some German Fallschirmjagers and their whereabouts
Hubert von der Ruhr
Oberjäger Hubert von der Ruhr, was a member of “sMG Halbzug Ringler”, who jumped in support of the gliderborne assault force (Sturmgruppe STAHL) whose objective was to take, in tack, the Veldwezelt Bridge over the Albert Kanal. Obj. von der Ruhr was in the second JU52 to drop members of the MG Team at 06:15, and was the third man in the stick. The first paratrooper (in the stick) parachute did not open and he was killed upon impact with a pole on the ground. The second was wounded badly upon landing, and Obj. von der Ruhr was killed by machine gun fire while attempting to land in the area of Kip van Hees (an 85 m high plateau to the right of Veldwezelt). The area of Kip van Hees was defended by Belgian MG platoons lead by Sergeants Schauman & Devalkeneer. Jg.von der Ruhr is buried at the Dutch cemetery at Ysselsteyn.
Helmuth Bögle belonged to Trupp 5, whose task was the MICA antiaircraft position on the plateau of the fort Eben-Emael. He was killed while attacking the "Baraquement Graindorge" (barrack). This building housed the personnel that maintained the weapons of the Fort. Trupp 5 together with the men of Trupp 8 attacked the position, throwing 3 hollow charges inside.
German war Cemetery
Only a few Kilometers from Venray, a City of 33.000 residents is the German war cemetery Ysselsteyn. 31.598 dead are buried here, among them many of the Eben Emael raid. Only the dead remain!