Eben Emael

Alles over forten,bunkers,verdedigingslinies en andere militaire bouwwerken.

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Eben Emael

Berichtdoor Tandorini » 08 jun 2008, 10:05

Voorgeschiedenis
Om de bouw van het fort te begrijpen, moeten we terug naar de 19de eeuw, meer specifiek naar 1871. De Frans-Duitse oorlog was afgelopen. België, als jonge staat, vreesde dat Duitsland en Frankrijk nog meer conflicten zouden uitvechten en dat deze wel eens op Belgisch grondgebied zouden kunnen plaatsvinden. Om dit te voorkomen werden rond Antwerpen, Luik en Namen grote betonnen forten gebouwd. De twaalf forten rond Luik waren tegen Duitsland gericht, de negen Naamse forten tegen Frankrijk en Antwerpen werd naar voren geschoven als het militaire hoofdkwartier.

Hiermee was echter de streek tussen Visé en de Nederlandse grens niet verdedigd. Door geldgebrek kwam er hier geen fort. Toen in 1914 de Groote Oorlog (Eerste Wereldoorlog) uitbrak, drong een groot deel van het Duitse leger via dit gebied België binnen. Toch duurde het tot 1932 voordat met de bouw van Eben-Emael werd begonnen .

Beschrijving
Het fort, uitgegraven in een mergelheuvel, heeft een driehoekige vorm en beslaat een oppervlakte van 800 bij 900 meter. Het werd aan de ene kant beschermd door een enorme wand die veertig meter hoog en steil oprees uit het Albertkanaal, terwijl de andere kant werd beveiligd door een grote tankgracht.

Het fort bestaat uit twee niveaus: het niveau O ligt 45 meter onder de grond, waar maar liefst 1200 soldaten voor langere tijd konden worden gehuisvest zonder dat ze bevoorraad hoefden te worden. Niveau 1 ligt 25 meter onder de oppervlakte en bestaat uit 4 km lange gangen die tot alle gevechtsposities toegang gaven. Op het dak tenslotte stonden de gevechtskoepels en de machinegeweerbunkers.

Het garnizoen van het fort bestond uit 1200 man, waarvan twee groepen van 500 artilleristen en nog eens 200 man militair personeel (elektriciens, keukenpersoneel,...). Ze stonden onder leiding van majoor Jean Jottrand. Het fort werd voortdurend bemand door één groep artilleristen, de andere had intussen buitendienst in het dorpje Wonck, een zevental kilometers verder gelegen.

De bewapening bestond uit twee batterijen. Batterij I bezat drie geschutskoepels met in totaal vier kanonnen van 75mm en twee van 120mm die 360° konden draaien, naast vier kazematten (betonnen bunkers) met samen twaalf 75mm kanonnen. Batterij II was uitgerust met verdedigingsbunkers. Elk van die bunkers had 60mm kanonnen, machinegeweren en zoeklichten. Het fort had ook nog enkele nepkoepels zonder bewapening om de vijand in te misleiden.

Sterke verdediging, zou je op het eerste zicht denken. De zwakke plek was echter dat er nauwelijks luchtverdediging was voorzien. Enkel aan de zuidzijde was een kleine batterij luchtdoelkanonnen geplaatst. Dit zou een fatale vergissing blijken. Daarnaast was de oppervlakte van het fort zelf ook niet ondermijnd.

Het Albertkanaal werd verdedigd door de 7de Infanteriedivisie, bestaande uit 16.600 man onder leiding van generaal Eugène Van Trooyen die deel uitmaakten van het 1ste Legerkorps o.l.v. generaal Alexis Vander Veken. Drie regimenten werden langs het kanaal opgesteld: het 2de Karabiniers in het noorden, het 18de linie in het centrum en het 2de Grenadiers in het zuiden (binnen de sector van Eben-Emael).

De Duitse plannen
Eben-Emael was voor de Duitsers van groot strategisch belang. Zij moesten immers zo snel mogelijk de bruggen over het Albertkanaal ongeschonden in handen krijgen om de opmars van hun tankdivisies te bespoedigen. Om in deze opdracht te slagen, hadden de Duitsers zich grondig voorbereid. De soldaten die aan de actie zouden deelnemen, hadden in het grootste geheim maanden aan een stuk geoefend in de streek van Altwater op vroegere Tsjechische kazematten en in een plaats dichtbij Hildesheim op een gelijkaardig terrein als dat van Eben-Emael. De soldaten van de Sturmabteilung Koch van de 7de Fliegerdivsion , die de klus moesten klaren, leefden die maanden in volledig isolement. Contact met militairen van andere eenheden was ten strengste verboden. Ze wisten overigens zelf niet wat hun doel zou zijn.

Het innemen van het fort zou geen routineklus worden. Daarom werden nieuwe wapens en methodes ingezet. Verrassing was het belangrijkste element. De belangrijkste verdedigingsposten moesten snel worden ingenomen en/of vernietigd voordat de Belgen de kans kregen om de bruggen over het Albertkanaal op te blazen. Daarom zouden de luchtlandingstroepen met zweefvliegtuigen zo dicht mogelijk bij hun doel worden afgezet. Bovendien moesten de Duitsers gebruik maken van een nieuw wapen: de holle lading. Bij dit soort explosieven kon het grootste deel van de ontploffingskracht op één punt worden geconcentreerd. Afhankelijk van de hoeveelheid gebruikte springstof kon men daarmee gaten slaan in pantserstaal met een dikte van 18 tot 30cm.

Tegelijk met het fort moesten ook de bruggen van Veldwezelt, Vroenhoven en Kanne veroverd worden. Om deze opdracht tot een goed einde te brengen, werden naast de luchtlandingstroepen o.l.v. kapitein Koch ook landstrijdkrachten van het 6de leger (Legergroep B) onder het commando van generaal von Reichenau ingezet. Het ging hier om de 3de en 4de Panzerdivision , de 20ste Gemotoriseerde Divisie, het 151.Infanterieregiment en het 51.Pionierbataillon . Hun rol bij het veroveren van Eben-Emael was beperkt, zij moesten vooral zorgen voor het behoud en de uitbreiding van de bruggenhoofden aan het Albertkanaal.

De groep Fallschirmjäger werd in verschillende teams ingedeeld met telkens een ander doel. Elk doel kreeg een codenaam. De groep Stahl, die bestond uit 10 zweefvliegtuigen (1 officier en 91 manschappen), moest de brug van Veldwezelt veroveren. Beton werd gevormd door 11 zweefvliegtuigen met 5 officieren en 129 man (waaronder kapitein Koch) en moest de brug van Vroenhoven onbeschadigd in handen krijgen. De brug van Kanne kreeg als codenaam Eisen en moest veroverd worden met 2 officieren en 88 manschappen. Eben-Emael zelf tenslotte werd Granit genoemd. Hiervoor werden 11 zweefvliegtuigen ingezet met 2 officieren en 85 parachutisten. De codenamen verwezen naar de bouwmaterialen waaruit de verschillende doelen waren opgetrokken. Samen werden dus ongeveer 350 man ingezet, verdeeld over 42 zweefvliegtuigen. Dit is zeer weinig, maar is te verklaren door het beperkte aantal beschikbare zweefvliegtuigen en de lading die sommige groepen moesten meenemen. Zo had de groep Granit maar liefst 2,5 ton explosieven bij waarmee de geschutskoepels van het fort moesten worden opgeblazen.

De Aanval
Op 9 mei 1940 werd de Duitse luchtlandingsgroep in gereedheid gebracht. s' Nachts vertrokken de zweefvliegtuigen, getrokken door Junkers 52 transportvliegtuigen, vanaf de vliegvelden Ostheim en Butzweilerhof bij Keulen. Het sleeptouw van twee toestellen, waaronder dat van luitenant Witzig, die de leiding had over de aanval op Eben-Emael, brak echter snel. Zij moesten de operatie opnieuw beginnen en kwamen uren later aan.
In de buurt van Aken werden de zweefvliegtuigen losgekoppeld en vlogen ze met een snelheid van 120 tot 140 km per uur verder. Om 04.25uur (5 minuten voor de landmacht de Belgische en Nederlandse grens zou oversteken) landden ze op de bovenbouw van Eben-Emael.

Deze onverwachte aankomst verraste het fortgarnizoen compleet. Voor de Belgische verdedigers goed beseften wat er gebeurde, was de strijd al in volle gang. De Duitsers sprongen meteen uit hun zweefvliegtuigen om de geschutskoepels en bunkers langs achter aan te vallen. Ze hadden als eerste opdracht de (schaarse) luchtafweer, de observatieposten en de mitrailleurbunkers te vernietigen. Daarna moesten de op Maastricht gerichte artillerieposten uitgeschakeld worden. Commandant Jottrand beval onmiddellijk om de bruggen van Kanne, Ternaaien en Klein-Ternaaien op te blazen. Vervolgens beval hij "Vuur met alle stukken!". De meeste koepels en kazematten bleven echter stil, want zij waren reeds uitgeschakeld. Minder dan een kwartier na de aanval was de bovenbouw van het "onneembare" fort grotendeels in Duitse handen. Granaten werden in de bunkers en koepels geworpen, de Belgische soldaten werden met vlammenwerpers uit de kazematten verdreven. In de gangen hing al gauw een verstikkende rook, terwijl ook de verlichting uitviel. Ondertussen waren de bruggen van Veldwezelt en Vroenhoven onbeschadigd veroverd door de Duitse parachutisten. Ook hier waren de Belgische soldaten volkomen verrast door de aanval.

Vele soldaten, volledig ontredderd, vluchtten naar de diepergelegen kazerne. Het was kapitein-commandant Van der Auwera die ze terug naar hun gevechtsposten beval. Het verzet van de Belgen raakte beter georganiseerd en werd steeds hardnekkiger, maar een echte tegenaanval kwam er niet. De artilleristen waren onvoldoende bewapend en geoefend. Daarnaast kwam de Luftwaffe geregeld bombarderen om tegenaanvallen te neutraliseren. Doordat de veroverde posten werden aangeduid met hakenkruisen, wisten de Stuka-piloten perfect waar ze hun dodelijke lading moesten afgooien.

In de voormiddag van 10 mei werd Eben-Emael onder vuur genomen vanaf de forten van Pontisse en Barchon in een poging om de Duitse overweldigers van de bovenbouw te verdrijven. Deze zaten echter goed beschut in de veroverde kazematten en bunkers. Bovendien was dat geschut niet zwaar genoeg om echte schade toe te brengen. De enige oplossing was de kazematten van buiten af opnieuw te veroveren. Dit vereiste een gecoördineerde actie van artillerie en infanterie wat zo goed als onmogelijk was omdat de meeste communicatielijnen waren vernietigd. Rond 09.30uur bereikte een peloton van het 2de Grenadiers o.l.v. luitenant Wagemans het fort. Een uur later voerden zij een tegenaanval uit die door een tussenkomst van Stuka's grotendeels mislukte. In de middag deed kapitein-commandant Van der Auwera een nieuwe poging, die opnieuw door voortdurende luchtaanvallen verhinderd werd. Rond 14.00 uur kwam eindelijk het detachement uit Wonck aan. Zij hadden het op hun tocht naar het fort zwaar te verduren gehad door bombardementen. Omstreeks 16.00 uur schoten ze de grenadiers ter hulp en zetten een tegenaanval op touw die de Duitsers naar het noordelijk gedeelte van Eben-Emael dreef. De nacht zorgde echter voor dekking. Bovendien moest Wagemans zich met zijn grenadiers rond 20.00 uur helemaal terugtrekken vanwege gebrek aan munitie.

In de nacht van 10 op 11 mei slaagden de Duitsers erin zware explosieven tot ontploffing te brengen in de schachten van het noordelijk gedeelte. Ze deden dit om te voorkomen dat er tegenaanvallen vanuit het fort zelf werden uitgevoerd. De explosie werd in het gehele fort gevoeld en veroorzaakte zeer zware schade. Vele soldaten werden verschrikkelijk verbrand. In de vroege ochtend van 11 mei kregen de parachutisten versterking van het 51.Pionierbataillon, 26 uur later dan gepland. Ze hadden bij Maastricht vertraging opgelopen, waar de Nederlanders de twee bruggen en de spoorwegbrug hadden opgeblazen. Daarna stootten ze op heel wat tegenstand bij het oversteken van het Albertkanaal. In ieder geval, zij voegden zich onmiddellijk bij de aanvallers, drongen de ondergrondse galerijen binnen met vlammenwerpers en holle ladingen, waarmee ze de Belgische verdedigers uit hun laatste schuilplaatsen verdreven.

Als gevolg van deze explosies, nog versterkt door de luchtbombardementen en het artillerievuur, leek het wel alsof het hele fort elk ogenblik in de lucht kon vliegen. De opgejaagde en ontmoedigde Belgische verdedigers gehoorzaamden niet meer en trachtten te ontsnappen aan de chaos. De verdediging stond op instorten. Ook commandant Jottrand had dit ingezien en nam contact op met de bevelhebber van het Belgische IIIe legerkorps om het slechte nieuws te melden. Vooraleer zich over te geven werden nog een aantal geschutskoepels en andere zware wapens door de Belgen zelf vernietigd.

Om 10.15 uur ging kapitein Vamecq, vergezeld van een trompettist en een soldaat met een witte vlag richting Bloc I om het fort over te geven. Vanwege de hevige bombardementen en beschietingen op de ingang lukte het niet om contact te maken met de vijand. Uiteindelijk lukte dat wel bij de tweede poging. Na enkele trompetsignalen werd het vuren gestaakt. Eben-Emael werd zonder voorwaarden overgegeven aan kapitein Haubold van het 151.Infanterieregiment (en dus niet de aan Fallschirmjäger!).

Tot slot
De snelle val van Eben-Emael was een overweldigend tactisch succes (net als de hele Fall Gelb -operatie). Zonder de inzet van revolutionaire methodes en wapens in combinatie met snelheid en verrassing was dit niet mogelijk geweest. Hadden de Duitsers Eben-Emael enkel met grondtroepen aangevallen, hadden ze ongetwijfeld zware verliezen geleden. Zo hield het zwakkere en kleinere fort van Aubin-Neufchâteau, aangevallen door infanteriedivies op de klassieke manier, stand tot 21 mei. Op luchtlandingstroepen was Eben-Emael echter niet voorbereid. Ook het psychologisch effect van deze spectaculaire overwinning is van groot belang. De Duitse propaganda maakte steeds melding van "een nieuwe aanvalsmethode" zonder iets te zeggen over de holle ladingen. Aan de geallieerde zijde gaf dit natuurlijk aanleiding tot heel wat geruchten en speculaties over geheime wapens. De Fransen met hun al even onneembare Maginotlinie werden nerveus van dit soort berichten. Als het sterkste en meest moderne fort ter wereld al in enkele uren kon lamgelegd worden, wat zou dan het lot van hun Maginotlinie zijn? De Duitse aanval op deze versterking kwam er echter niet. Totaal onverwacht dook de Duitse speerpunt in de Ardennen op. In ieder geval, na de val van Eben-Emael werden dergelijke constructies als compleet achterhaald geklasseerd. Oorlog was niet langer een statisch gegeven; snelheid en beweging werden de troeven van de toekomst.

Het onneembaar geachte fort werd dus in minder dan twee dagen door een beperkte troepenmacht veroverd. Terwijl er aan Belgische zijde 24 doden en 64 gewonden vielen, verloren de Duitsers amper 6 manschappen en raakten er 18 gewond. Luitenant Witzig werd voor dit huzarenstukje beloond met het Ridderkruis, een van Duitslands hoogste onderscheidingen.

Tijdens de bezetting gebruikten de Duitsers Eben-Emael als kazerne en als werkplaats voor het herstellen van machines. Op 11 september 1944 heroverden de geallieerden het fort zonder één schot te lossen. Tekenend voor de vergane glorie van dergelijke versterkte vestingen.

Bronnen:
- De Vos L., Decat F., België in de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Mei 1940, van Albertkanaal tot Leie, Kapellen, 1990

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NEC JACTANTIA NEC METU ("zonder woorden, zonder vrees")

Avatar:De Siciliaanse vlag,oorspronkelijk uit 1282,de triskelion (trinacria) in het midden,is van oorsprong een oud Keltisch zonnesymbool.


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Re: Eben Emael

Berichtdoor Tandorini » 20 jul 2008, 18:41

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Afbeelding

Coup de Main at Eben Emael.
The take-off signal flashed in the darkness and the sound of aero-engines rose to a roar as the first three Ju 52s began to move across the airfield. They did so more sluggishly than usual, for each dragged a heavy burden—a second aircraft without engines: a glider!

As the tow-rope grew taut the latter jerked forward and jolted faster and faster down the runway. Then, as the towing craft left the ground, the glider pilot drew the stick carefully towards him, and the rumbling of his under- carriage grew suddenly silent. Seconds later the glider was sweeping noiselessly over hedges and fences and gaining height behind its Ju 52. The difficult towed take-off had been accomplished.

The time was 04.30 on May 10, 1940. From Cologne’s two airfields, Ostheim on the right bank of the Rhine, Butzweilerhof on the left, sections of three Ju 52s were taking off at thirty second intervals, each towing a glider. Becoming airborne, they steered for a point above the green belt to the south of the city, there to thread themselves to a string of lights that stretched towards Aachen. Within a few minutes forty-one Ju 52s and forty-one gliders were on their way.

The die had been cast for one of the most audacious enterprises in the annals of war: the assault on the Belgian frontier fortress of Eben Emael, and the three bridges to the north-west leading over the deep Albert Canal—the keypoints of the Belgian defence system to the east.

In each of the forty-one gliders a team of parachutists sat astride the central beam. According to their appointed task their number varied between eight and twelve, equipped with weapons and explosives. Every soldier knew exactly what his job was once the target was reached. They had been rehearsing the operation, initially with boxes of sand and models, since November 1939.

They belonged to “Assault Detachment Koch”. Ever since this unit had reached its training base at Hildesheim, it had been hermetically sealed off from the outside world. No leave or exeats had been granted, their mail was strictly censored, speech with members of other units forbidden.

Each soldier had signed a declaration : “I am aware that I shall risk sentence of death should I, by intent or carelessness, make known to another person by spoken word, text or illustration anything concerning the base at which I am serving.”

Two men were, in fact, sentenced to death for quite trifling lapses, and only reprieved after the operation had succeeded. Obviously its success, and there- by the lives of the paratroops, depended on the adversary having no inkling of its imminence. Secrecy was carried so far that while the men knew the details of each other’s roles by heart, they only discovered each other’s names when all was over.

Theory was succeeded by practical exercises by day, by night, and in every kind of weather. Around Christmas time the operation was rehearsed against the Czech fortified emplacements in the Altvater district of the Sudetenland.

“We developed a healthy respect for what lay ahead of us,” reported First-Lieutenant Rudolf Witzig, leader of the parachute sapper platoon which was due to take on the Eben Emael fortifications single-handed. “But after a while our confidence reached the stage where we, the attackers, believed our position outside on the breastworks safer than that of the defenders inside.”

Outside on the breastworks . . . but now did they propose to get that far?

The construction of the fortress, like that of the Albert Canal itself, dated from the early ‘thirties. Forming the northern bastion of the Lüttich (Liège) defences, it was situated just three miles south of Maastricht, in a salient hard by the Belgian-Dutch frontier. In that position it dominated the Canal, the strategic importance of which was plain: any aggressor advancing along the line Aachen-Maastricht-Brussels would have to cross it. The defence had made preparations so that all its bridges could be blown at a moment’s notice.

The fortifications themselves were embedded in a hilly plateau, and ex- tended for 900 yards north and south, 700 yards east and west. The individual emplacements were scattered, seemingly at random, over a five-cornered area (see plate following page 96). In fact, with their artillery casemates, armoured rotating cupolas carrying 75-mm and 120-mm guns, plus anti-aircraft, anti- tank and heavy machine-gun positions, they constituted a shrewdly planned defence system. The different sectors of the complex were connected by underground tunnels totalling nearly three miles in length.

The fortress seemed all but impregnable. On its long north-eastern flank was an almost sheer drop of 120 feet down to the Canal. The same applied to the north-west, with a similar drop to a canal cut. To the south it was protected artificially—by wide anti-tank ditches and a twenty-foot-high wall. On all sides it was additionally protected by concrete pillboxes let into the sides of the walls or cuttings, which bristled with searchlights, 60-mm anti- tank guns and heavy machine-guns. Any enemy attempt to get into the place seemed doomed to failure.

The Belgians had foreseen every possibility but one: that the enemy might drop out of the sky right amongst the casemates and gun turrets. Now this enemy was already on his way. By 04.35 all the forty-one Ju 52s were air- borne. Despite the darkness and the heavily laden gliders behind them there had not been a single hitch.

Captain Koch had divided his assault force into four detachments, as follows:

1. “Granite” under First-Lieutenant Witzig, eighty-five men with small arms and two and a half tons of explosives embarked in eleven gliders. Target: Eben Emael fortifications. Mission: to put outer elements out of action and hold till relieved by Army Sapper Battalion 51.

2. “Concrete” under Lieutenant Schacht. Ninety-six men and command staff embarked in eleven gliders. Target : high concrete bridge over Albert Canal at Vroenhoven. Mission: to prevent bridge being blown, form and secure bridgeheads pending arrival of army troops.

3. “Steel” under First-Lieutenant Altmann. Ninety-two men embarked in nine gliders. Target: steel bridge of Veldwezelt, 3¾ miles NW of Eben Emael. Mission: as for “Concrete”.

4. “Iron” under Lieutenant Schächter. Ninety men embarked in ten gliders. Target: bridge at Kanne. Mission : again as for “Concrete”.

Rendezvous was duly made between the two groups of aircraft, and all set course for the west, following the line of beacons. The first was a fire kindled at a crossroads near Efferen, the second a searchlight three miles further on at Frechen. As the aircraft approached one beacon, the next, and often the next but one, became visible ahead. Navigation, despite the dark night, was there- fore no problem at least as far as the pre-ordained unhitching point at Aachen. Yet for one aircraft—the one towing the last glider of the “Granite” detachment—things went wrong while still south of Cologne.

Just ahead and to starboard its pilot suddenly noticed the blue exhaust flames of another machine on a collision course. There was only one thing to do: push his Ju 52 into a dive. But he had, of course, a glider in tow! The latter’s pilot, Corporal Pilz, tried frantically to equalise the strain, but within seconds his cockpit was lashed as with a whip as the towing cable parted. As Pilz pulled out of the dive the sound of their mother aircraft died rapidly away and suddenly all was strangely silent.

The seven occupants then glided back to Cologne—one of them the very man who was supposed to lead the assault on the Eben Emael fortress, First- Lieutenant Witzig. Pilz just managed to clear the Rhine, then set the glider softly down in a meadow. What now?

Climbing out, Witzig at once ordered his men to convert the meadow into an airstrip by clearing all fences and other obstacles. “I will try to get hold of another towing plane,” he said.

Running to the nearest road he stopped a car and within twenty minutes was once again at Cologne-Ostheim airfield. But not a single Ju 52 was left. He had to get on the ‘phone and ask for one from Gutersloh. It would take time. Looking at his watch he saw it was 05.05. In twenty minutes his detachment was due to land on the fortress plateau. Meanwhile the Ju 52 squadrons, with their gliders behind them, droned westwards, climbing steadily. Every detail of their flight had been worked out in advance. The line of beacons to the German frontier at Aachen was forty-five miles long. By then the aircraft were scheduled to reach a height of 8,500 feet: a flight of thirty-one minutes, assuming the wind had been correctly estimated.

Squatting in their gliders, the men of detachment “Granite” had no idea that their leader had already dropped out of the procession. For the moment it was not all that important. Each section had its own special job to do, and each glider pilot knew at exactly which point of the elongated plateau he had to land: behind which emplacement, beside which gun turret, within a margin of ten to twenty yards.

It would moreover have been bad planning if the loss of individual gliders had not been provided for. As it was, each section leader’s orders included directions as to what additional tasks his team would have to perform in the event of neighbouring sections failing to land.

Nor was Witzig’s glider the only one to drop out. Some twenty minutes later that carrying No. 2 Section had just passed the beacon at Luchenberg when the Ju 52 in front waggled its wings. The glider pilot, Corporal Brendenbeck, thought he was “seeing things”, especially when the plane also blinked its position lights. It was the signal to unhitch! Seconds later the glider had done so—all thanks to a stupid misunderstanding. It was only half way to its target, and with an altitude of less than 5,000 feet there was no longer a hope of reaching the frontier.

The glider put down in a field near Düren. Springing out, its men requisitioned cars and in the first light of day sped towards the frontier, which the Army at this time was due to cross.

That left “Granite” with only nine gliders still flying. Sooner than expected the searchlight marking the end of the line of beacons came into view ahead. Situated on the Vetschauer Berg north-west of Aachen-Laurensberg, it also marked the point at which the gliders were to unhitch. After that they would reach the Maastricht salient in a glide, their approach unbetrayed by the noise of the towing aircraft’s engines.

But in fact they were ten minutes too early. The following wind had proved stronger than the Met. men had predicted, and for this reason they had also not reached the pre-ordained height of 8,500 feet, which would enable them to fly direct to their target at a gliding angle of one in twelve. Now they were some 1,500 feet too low. Lieutenant Schacht, leader of “Concrete” detachment, wrote in his operations report: “For some undisclosed reason the towing squadron brought us further on over Dutch territory. Only when we were some way between the frontier and Maastricht did we unhitch.”

Obviously the idea was to bring the gliders up to something like the de- creed altitude. But if this move contributed to the security of the force in one way, it certainly hazarded it in another. For now the droning of the Junkers engines alerted the Dutch and Belgian defence.

The time was shortly after 05.00 hours—nearly half an hour still before Hitler’s main offensive against the West was due to open. Though eight to ten minutes ahead of time, owing to the wind, the gliders needed, in fact, another twelve to fourteen to bring them over the target. At five minutes before zero hour these silent birds of prey were to swoop down amongst the pill- boxes of the Canal bridges and the fortress… before any other shot was fired. But now the element of surprise seemed to have been lost.

At last the gliders were set free, and the noise of their mother aircraft died away in the distance. But the Dutch flak was now on its toes, and opened fire on the gliders before they reached Maastricht. The little red balls came up like toys, amongst which the pilots dodged about in avoiding action, happy that they had sufficient height to do so. None was hit, but the long and care- fully guarded secret of their existence was now irrevocably exposed.

As long ago as 1932 the Rhön-Rossitten-Gesellschaft had constructed a wide wing-span glider designed for making meteorological measurements at high altitude. The following year, taken over by the newly established German Institute for Gliding Research (DFS) at Darmstadt-Griesheim, this flying observatory—known as “Obs”—was used for the first gliding courses under Peter Riedel, Will Hubert, and Heini Dittmar. It was tested for the first time in tow by Hanna Reitsch, later to become one of the world’s best known women pilots, behind a Ju 52.

Ernst Udet soon got wind of the project and went to inspect the “Obs” at Darmstadt. He at once recognised a possible military application. Could not large gliders like this be used for bringing up supplies to the front line, or in support of a unit that had become surrounded? Perhaps it could even operate as a kind of modern Trojan horse by landing soldiers unnoticed be- hind the enemy’s back.

Udet, in 1933, was still a civilian, and not yet a member of the new camouflaged Luftwaffe. ‘But he informed his comrade of World War I, Ritter von Greim, about the “Obs”, and shortly afterwards the Institute received a con- tract to build a military version. The prototype, under the designation DFS 230, duly emerged under the direction of engineer Hans Jacobs. The “assault glider” of World War II fame was thus already born.

Series production started in 1937 at the Gothaer vehicle factory. Its wings were high-set and braced, its box-shaped fuselage was of steel covered with canvas, and its undercarriage jettisonable: the landing was made on a stout central skid. This was another mark of Udet’s influence: as early as the twenties he had made some venturesome landings on Alpine glaciers with a ski- undercarriage.

The unladen weight of the assault glider was only 16 cwt, and nearly 18 cwt could be loaded—equivalent often men plus their weapons.

By autumn 1938 Major-General Student’s top-secret airborne force included a small glider-assault commando under Lieutenant Kiess. Tests had shown that such a method of surprise attack on a well-defended point had a better chance of success than parachute troops. In the latter case not only was surprise betrayed by the noise of the transport aircraft’s engines, but even if the troops jumped from the minimum height of three hundred feet they still swayed defenselessly in the air for fifteen seconds. Further, even the minimum time of seven seconds to get clear of the aircraft spread them out on the ground over a distance of about 300 yards. Precious minutes were then lost freeing themselves of their parachutes, reassembling, and finding their weapon containers.

With gliders, on the other hand, surprise was complete thanks to their uncannily silent approach. Well-trained pilots could put them down within twenty yards of any point. The men were out in no time through the broad hatch at the side, complete with weapons, and formed a compact combat group from the start. The only restrictions were that the landing had to await first light, and the area had to be known in advance.

It was this dictate of time that nearly caused the whole Albert Canal and Eben Emael operations to miscarry. For the Army supreme commander proposed to launch the opening attack of the western campaign at 03.00 hours, in darkness. Against this Koch argued that his detachment must make its own assault at least simultaneously with the main one, and preferably a few minutes earlier. And before dawn this was impossible.

At that point Hitler himself intervened and fixed zero hour at “sunrise minus 30 minutes”. Numerous test flights had shown that to be the earliest moment at which the glider pilots would have enough visibility.

So it was that the whole German Army had to take its time from a handful of “adventurers” who had the presumption to suppose that they could subdue one of the world’s most impregnable fortresses from the air.

At 03.10 hours on May 10th the field telephone jangled at the command post of Major Jottrand, who was in charge of the Eben Emael fortifications. The 7th Belgian Infantry Division, holding the Albert Canal sector, imposed an increased state of alert. Jottrand ordered his 1,200-strong garrison to action stations. Sourly, for the umpteenth time, men stared out from the gun turrets into the night, watching once again for the German advance.

For two hours all remained still. But then, as the new day dawned, there came from the direction of Maastricht in Holland the sound of concentrated anti-aircraft fire. On Position No. 29, on the south-east boundary of the fortress, the Belgian bombardiers raised their own anti-aircraft weapons. Were the German bombers on the way? Was the fortress their objective? Listen as they might, the men could hear no sound of engines.

Suddenly from the east great silent phantoms were swooping down. Low already, they seemed to be about to land: three, six, nine of them. Lowering the barrels of their guns, the Belgians let fly. But next moment one of the “great bats” was immediately over them—no, right amongst them!

Corporal Lange set his glider down right on the enemy position, severing a machine-gun with one wing and dragging it along. With a tearing crunch the glider came to rest. As the door flew open, Sergeant Haug, in command of Section 5, loosed off a burst from his machine-pistol, and hand-grenades pelted into the position. The Belgians held up their hands.

Three men of Haug’s section scampered across the intervening hundred yards towards Position 23, an armoured gun turret. Within one minute all the remaining nine gliders had landed at their appointed spots in the face of machine-gun fire from every quarter, and the men had sprung out to fulfill their appointed duties.

Section 4’s glider struck the ground hard about 100 yards from Position 19, an anti-tank and machine-gun emplacement with embrasures facing north and south. Noting that the latter were closed, Sergeant Wenzel ran directly up to them and flung a 2-lb. charge through the periscope aperture in the turret. The Belgian machine-guns chattered blindly into the void. Thereupon Wenzel’s men fixed their secret weapon, a 100-lb. hollow charge, on the observation turret and ignited it. But the armour was too thick for the charge to penetrate: the turret merely became seamed with small cracks, as in dry earth. Finally they blew an entry through the embrasures, finding all weapons destroyed and the gunners dead.

Eighty yards farther to the north Sections 6 and 7 under Corporals Harlos and Heinemann had been “sold a dummy”. Positions 15 and 16—especially strong ones according to the air pictures—just did not exist. Their “15-foot armoured cupolas” were made of tin. These sections would have been much more useful further south. There all hell had broken loose at Position 25, which was merely an old tool shed used as quarters. The Belgians within it rose to the occasion better than those behind armour, spraying the Germans all round with machine-gun fire. One casualty was Corporal Unger, leader of Section 8, which had already blown up the twin-gun cupola of Position 31.

Sections 1 and 3, under N.C.O.s Niedermeier and Arent, put out of action the six guns of artillery casements 12 and 18. Within ten minutes of “Granite” detachment’s landing ten positions had been destroyed or badly crippled. But though the fortress had lost most of its artillery, it had not yet fallen. The pillboxes set deep in the boundary walls and cuttings could not be got at from above. Observing correctly that there were only some seventy Germans on the whole plateau, the Belgian commander, Major Jottrand, ordered adjoining artillery batteries to open fire on his own fort.

As a result the Germans had themselves to seek cover in the positions they had already subdued. Going over to defence, they had to hold on till the German Army arrived. At 08.30 there was an unexpected occurrence when an additional glider swooped down and landed hard by Position 19, in which Sergeant Wenzel had set up the detachment command post. Out sprang First-Lieutenant Witzig. The replacement Ju 52 he had ordered had succeeded in towing his glider off the meadow near Cologne, and now he could belatedly take charge.

There was still plenty to do. Recouping their supplies of explosives from containers now dropped by Heinkel 111s, the men turned again to the gun positions which had not previously been fully dealt with. 2-lb. charges now tore the barrels apart. Sappers penetrated deep inside the positions and blew up the connecting tunnels. Others tried to reach the vital Position 17, set in the 120-foot wall commanding the canal, by suspending charges on cords.

Meanwhile hours passed, as the detachment waited in vain for the Army relief force, Engineer Battalion 51. Witzig was in radio contact both with its leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Mikosch, and with his own chief, Captain Koch at the Vroenhoven bridgehead. Mikosch could only make slow progress. The enemy had successfully blown the Maastricht bridges and indeed the one over the Albert Canal at Kanne—the direct connection between Maastricht and Eben Emael. It had collapsed at the very moment “Iron” detachment’s gliders approached to land.

On the other hand the landings at Vroenhoven and Veldwezelt had succeeded, and both bridges were intact in the hands of the “Concrete” and “Steel” detachments. Throughout the day all three bridgeheads were under heavy Belgian fire. But they held—not least thanks to the covering fire provided by the 88-mm batteries of Flak Battalion “Aldinger” and constant attacks by the old Henschel Hs 123s of II/LG 2 and Ju 87s of StG 2.

In the course of the afternoon these three detachments were at last relieved by forward elements of the German Army. Only “Granite” at Eben Emael had still to hang on right through the night. By 07.00 the following morning an assault party of the engineer battalion had fought its way through and was greeted with loud rejoicing. At noon the remaining fortified positions were assaulted, then at 13.15 the notes of a trumpet rose above the din. It came from Position 3 at the entrance gate to the west. An officer with a flag of truce appeared, intimating that the commander, Major Jottrand, now wished to surrender.

Eben Emael had fallen. 1,200 Belgian soldiers emerged into the light of day from the underground passages and gave themselves up. In the surface positions they had lost twenty men. The casualties of “Granite” detachment numbered six dead and twenty wounded.

One story remains to be told. The Ju 52s, having shed the gliders of “Assault Detachment Koch”, returned to Germany and dropped their towing cables at a prearranged collection point. Then they turned once more westwards to carry out their second mission. Passing high over the battle- field of Eben Emael they flew on deep into Belgium. Then, twenty-five miles west of the Albert Canal they descended. Their doors opened and 200 white mushrooms went sailing down from the sky. As soon as they reached the ground, the sound of battle could be heard. For better or worse the Belgians had turned to confront the new enemy in their rear.

But for once the Germans did not attack. On reaching them the Belgians discovered the reason: the “paratroops” lay still entangled in their ‘chutes. They were not men at all, but straw dummies in German uniform armed with self-igniting charges of explosive to imitate the sound of firing. As a decoy raid, it certainly contributed to the enemy’s confusion.

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Re: Eben Emael

Berichtdoor Gandalf » 20 sep 2008, 20:28

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