The king amongst fortresses: Eben-Emael

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by Marcel, Aug 26, 2013.

  1. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    #1 Marcel, Aug 26, 2013
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2013
    During my vacation I had the opportunity to visit the great fortress of Eben Emael.

    I think you all heard about this fortress but if not, I'll give an introduction. I will post pictures in a later post:

    In the 1930'ies, the Belgians created the Albert canal, up north, close to the Dutch city of Maastricht. At one point they had to carve through the St. Pietersberg (St Peter's mountain), a hill made of chalk. This resulted in a deep cutting in the chalk, with walls 60 m high. The Belgians thought it would be a good idea to make it into a big fortress. After all, the lack of fortresses in that particular area in the previous war enabled the Germans to push through, north of Li├Ęge. The big walls of the canal would serve as a tank-wall and the canal itself would be a big tank-ditch. To make the fort, the Belgians drilled 5 km of tunnels in the chalk, deep under ground which connected 17 bunkers, loaded with canons. The fort is a triangle of 600m wide and 750 meters high. It was considered to be the biggest and most powerful fort in the world at the time, impregnable and big problem for the German army.
    The Germans did not know how to solve this problem, until the Belgians helped them. Feeling secure at 35 km from the border (ample of warning) they build a soccer-field on top of the fortress and started playing there. The Germans concluded that soccer on the fort meant there were no mines on top, so they could land there with gliders. They devised an ingenious plan to use a small group of highly trained pioneers, who would use gliders to land on top of the fort (don't have to climb a 60m wall) and use a new secret weapon (hollow charges) to blast their way in and neutralize it. It had to be done by surprise, before declaration of war and before the main force would cross the border. The strength of this glider group would be 11 aircraft, each containing 8 soldiers.
    On may 10th 1940, at 04.20h this plan was executed. 2 gliders did not reach the target (1 would arrive 2 hours later), 2 attacked dummy positions, so only 7 gliders with 56 Germans arrived on top of the fort. They managed to destroy the guns and scare the crews into hiding at the lower level within 20 minutes. The Fortress now was deaf, blind and powerless. Meanwhile they blasted their way into the turrets and bunkers and where sheltered from Belgian artillery fire and their own Stuka's. They beat off 2 Belgian counterattacks and later that day the fortress surrendered. The road to the rest of Belgian was open.

    The attack on the fort is significant for a couple of reasons.
    - This was the first major attack with pioneers using hollow charges against a heavily fortified position
    - It was the first attack only made with gliders
    - It was the best example to show that the time of fortresses was really over, they had no chance against a more modern kind of war.
    - It was a major blow for allied moral. Beating a such a powerful fortress within 20 minutes with a handful of soldiers was unheard off. Many soldiers wondered what kind of devils this Wehrmacht soldiers were to pull off such a trick.
     
  2. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    Today, this fortress is still there. It is still army-property, but at certain weekends it is open for public. The last 20 years, a group of volunteers is allowed to restore the fortress. The do payed guided tours in different languages for the public to finance it. I highly recommend anyone who has the chance to pay a visit to this historic site and help these volunteers to preserver and tell the story.If anyone is interested, I can post the dates for this year. First inside the fortress. Underground, the fortress consists 2 levels and 1 level on top. Lowest level are large underground barracks and a big span of tunnels at the middle level. These tunnels connect storage spaces and also the bunkers and turrets on the top level.

    Officers mess:
    img_3465.jpg

    My son at the door of one of the prisons
    img_3459.jpg

    One of the reserve inner barrels for the artilery. There was also one bended barrel, destroyed by the Germans, but I did not get a good picture of it.
    img_3460.jpg

    One of the gliders. This was how the soldiers ware crammed in those flimsy aircraft.
    img_3463.jpg

    Heavy armored doors. Entrance to the stairways leading to the Artillery bunker "Maastricht 1". One was shut and fortified with sandbags
    img_3501.jpg

    The other side of the same doors. The germans exploded one of their charges here. See how the thick door was bend under the violence. The other door was blown clear, killing the 6 Belgian soldiers on guard behind it. This is all on the middle level.
    img_3500.jpg

    What is left of the stairs leading to the bunker after the explosion.
    img_3499.jpg

    One of the guns in bunker Vise 1, top level. This buker had 3 of these guns.
    img_3494.jpg

    Interior of Vise 1
    img_3493.jpg

    The ammunition lift of Vise 1.
    img_3492.jpg

    Belgian defense post in the tunnels. Usually they only had riffles, not a machinegun
    img_3482.jpg

    A German sign still there as evidence for German use during WW2. This is on the door leading to turret 120, the biggest gunturret on the fort.
    img_3481.jpg

    Really long tunnles as you can see.
    img_3475.jpg

    The "filter chamber". Here the air from outside was filtered for poisonous gas.
    img_3473.jpg

    The piple leading to the main ventilator.
    img_3472.jpg

    The stairs, connecting the lower barracks with the middle layer. This photo was taken after I climbed it, so from top down.
    img_3471.jpg
     
  3. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    #3 Marcel, Aug 26, 2013
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2013
    Entrance to the fort.
    img_3454.jpg

    My son on top of the fortress. Nature has been allowed to retake it. You can just see the "chimney" between the trees.
    img_3511.jpg

    Where it all happened. The great field on top of the fort where the gliders landed. In the middle the great turret 120. This was the heaviest and most important turret on the fort.
    img_3517.jpg

    Maastrich 1 bunker. This is the bunker on top of the destroyed staircase in the previous post.
    img_3523.jpg

    An obesrvation post. Don't know which bunker this is. Edit: it is bunker Mi Sud I think. This was one of two bunkers for machineguns that should have defended the top of the fort. Unfortunately it was not manned during the assault.
    img_3520.jpg

    The big turret 120.
    img_3525.jpg

    Here you can clearly see the mark of a 50 kg hollow charge between the two gun positions. It penetrated the thick metal plates and disrupted both guns. One gunn could be repaired, but never fired a shot. The concrete in the hole is put there by the Germans. They wanted to conceal the marks as the hollow charges were still a secret weapon.
    img_3526.jpg
     
  4. Lucky13

    Lucky13 Forum Mascot

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    Great stuff Marcel!
     
  5. meatloaf109

    meatloaf109 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for sharing!
     
  6. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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  7. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Great stuff Marcel.
    It's good to see the actual fortress, and the interior. Virtually every account of the glider assault, in every book, just mentions something along the lines of 'The great fortress at Eben Emael ...", and never describes the place, what it looked like or why it was there. Now I know.
     
  8. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    I suspect hollow charge explosives were also employed by pioneer in 1939 Poland and 1940 Norway.
     
  9. Capt. Vick

    Capt. Vick Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for posting Marcel. Great stuff and a handsome young lad as well.
     
  10. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    Fascinating to see, Marcel; thanks for posting. Very interesting pictures.
     
  11. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    OMFG!!!!!!!! :cool:
     
  12. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    #12 Marcel, Aug 27, 2013
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2013
    I realise it is hard to see how big it really is on photo's. The grass field covers about half of the top of the fortress. The tour I had lasted for 4 hours and we only covered 1/3 of the interior. I hardly had time to look outside before I had to leave again. I'll definately have to go there again to see the rest

    well, not as far as I know off, but please correct me if I'm wrong. The weapon was brand new and top secret. They didn't even use then in the rest of Belgium. The Belgians had a couple of similar forts, most of which were attacked in a convential manner. They mostly lasted until after the surrender and cost thousands of German lives. One would expect the Germans to use this useful weapon there as well, but there is no trace of it. As you can see in the last photo it leaves a rather recognisable mark.
     
  13. s1chris

    s1chris Member

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    Cool photos Marcel, looks like an interesting trip.

    One question though. Do you know/did they explain what the hooks in the ceiling of the air filtration chamber were for?
    I'm not suggesting something sinister, but was thinking maybe some sort of filtration media etc??

    Cheers Chris
     
  14. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    yup, the hooks were used to suspent cannisers from. The cannisters were filled with active carbon and the air was led through them, so the carbon could filter the gas out. Eben Emael was considered to be gas-free, so you needn't wear gasmasks inside during a gas attack.
     
  15. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    Some more background on the attack.
    Here the plan of the fortress with the German attack drawn upon it. The orientation is not correct, the canal runs from SE to NW in reality. The entrance of the fort is on the most westerly part, here right on top of the picture.
    osprey_eben_emael.jpg

    I did not have time to visit the canal-side of the fortress, but managed to take a picture of the canal when I crossed the bridge at Kanne, a few kilometers from the fortress. You see the bridge in front and in the back the big wall opposing the fortress. We're looking in SE direction here. From this viewpoint, the fortress is on the right side of the canal. The wall on that side is similar to what you see here, only it also has bunkers with nasty guns. Imagine that for a conventional ground assault. No wonder everyone thought the fortress to be invincible.
    IMG_3531.jpg

    Here a picture I found on the internet. The view from a machine gun emplacement on the fortress, looking at the same wall as above.
    pg105.jpg

    The hollow charges as they were used on Eben Emael. There were 2 types, a small, 12 kg version which you see here and on the right you can see a part of the bigger 50 kg version, which left it's mark on turret 120.
    IMG_3504.jpg
     
  16. s1chris

    s1chris Member

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    Excellent, thanks for confirming Marcel.
     
  17. razor1uk

    razor1uk Well-Known Member

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    The only way that could be sinsister, would be if they used people or animals mounted/secured by the hooks to pre breath the incoming gas before expelling de-nerve-gassed air somehow it once filtered by there bodies - but that'd require gasmask for the smell at least, and rubber gloves for changing the sinister organic filters.
    Luckily, especially so for those not into S&M rubber masks, as Marcel said only Carbon Filter Systems were suspended.
     
  18. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    Great photos and great info, thanks Marcel!
     
  19. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    Indeed. Many thanks.
     
  20. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Brest-Litovsk, Warsaw and several other locations in Poland are surrounded by forts. Oscarborg fortress protected Oslo (and sank KM Hipper). Norway had some other fortress complexes too.

    Germany would have employed Pioneer against all these forts. I have not seen after action reports so I don't know exactly how the attacks were conducted. But it stands to reason pioneer would have employed hollow charges if they were available.
     
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