Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Eben Emael (10–11 May 1940)

Belgian frontier fort and site of a German special operation to seize the Belgian frontier defenses at the opening of Germany's campaign in the west on 10 May 1940. fall gelb (Operation yellow) involved three army groups poised to split the British, Belgian, and French forces and gain the Channel coastline for continuing operations against Great Britain.

Eben Emael was a reinforced, concrete-and-steel bunker system located on the Albert Canal at its junction with the Meuse River north of Li?ge, Belgium, and about 3 miles south of Maastricht in the Netherlands. The fort's plateau top was wedge-shaped, 1,100 yards long on its north-south axis, and 800 yards wide across the southern baseline. The entrance was at the southwest corner at casemate number 3. The fort guarded the bridges over the canal and the routes to the interior of the Low Countries and France beyond. At the time of the attack on 10 May, about 700 soldiers manned the fortress bunkers, which were designed for a detachment of 1,200. Belgian regular army officer Major Jean Fritz Lucien Jottrand had command. The garrison of Fort Eben Emael had been alerted to activity across the German border shortly after midnight on 9–10 May, but it took several hours to put things in order. Alerts were common, and the troops were quartered in villages near the fort.

The Germans, already skilled in assault tactics from their World War I experiences, had developed special teams to reduce fortifications. The secret operation against the fort, code-named granite, had Adolf Hitler's personal interest. Captain S. A. Koch, an officer in Major General Kurt Student's airborne forces, was chosen to lead the attack. Artillery preparations cratered the ground around the fort to provide cover for the advancing German troops, and they suppressed the fire of the fort's guns.

The glider attack was to occur at the same time as other events on the ground, but flight problems required the Ju-52 tow planes to penetrate Dutch airspace to get to the required release altitude. The Dutch were alerted and began antiaircraft fire.

On the early morning of 10 May, 10 DFS-230 gliders, each carrying a squad of seven or eight men, landed silently on top of the fort. Lieutenant Rudolf Witzig's command glider had prematurely disconnected and landed in a field near Köln (Cologne). Sergeant Helmut Wenzel took charge, until Witzig's arrival at 6:30 a.m.

The assault force used shaped-charge explosives to penetrate the casemates and cupolas. Throughout the afternoon and night of 10 May, the Germans and Belgians fought inside the dank passageways of the fort. Rubber assault boats and the employment of flamethrowers helped the attack group to cross the canal and close on the fort. While the engineers of the assault detachment kept the bunker garrison occupied, Captain Koch's other airborne forces attacked the bridges over the Albert Canal. The next day, a German division arrived to complete the capture of the remaining bridges and forts. Lieutenant Witzig's assault force suffered only 26 casualties in its successful mission. Major Jottrand and his captured Belgian soldiers, after resisting for just over one day, were marched off to a prison camp in Germany to sit out the war. Vital bridges at Veldwezelt and Vroenhoven were also secured, and the German Sixth Army was able to advance. Its tanks took Li?ge the next day.

John F. Votaw


Further Reading
Gudmundsson, Bruce I. Stormtroop Tactics: Innovation in the German Army, 1914–1918. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1989.; Mrazek, James E. The Fall of Eben Emael. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1970.
 

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