Between 1932 and 1935, for the sum of 24 million Belgian Francs, Fort Eben-Emael was built on a strategically important place to defend the eastern border of Belgium and to safeguard the roads south of Maastricht coming from Holland. As a part of the “Fortified position of Liège” (PFL I) the fort was the most advanced and prestigious fortification of its kind in that period of time. It was thought to be invincible due to it’s modern weaponry and good location, with a clear view over the Albert Canal, guarding the bridges of Vroenhoven, Veldwezelt and Kanne and the Dutch territory around Maastricht.
Hidden deep beneath the rocksolid Plateau of Caestert (Sint Pietersberg) 17 bunkers of different types lay hidden over a periphery of 75 acres shaped in a triangular form. Everything was connected by a tunnelsystem with a total length of 5.5 kilometres. The fort was designed to endure a long siege, for which an underground base was constructed at a depth of 60 metres complete with all kinds of modern facilities like dormitories, bathrooms with showers, kitchens and even a hospital. The fort could house a garrison of around 1200 men.
On the 10th of may 1940 the myth of Fort Eben-Emael falls with the success of operation “Granite” a part of operation “Fall Gelb”. Without a deceleration of war, German elite-troops land their type DFS 230 gliders on the upper plateau of the fort in the early dawn. Only two MG-posts are guarding the plateau and are quickly overpowered in their surprise. It becomes painfully clear how poorly the fort is prepared to defend against an attack from the air.
The German attackers introduce a new deadly wonder weapon, the shaped charge and manage to blow up almost all the artillery bunkers in less than fifteen minutes. Great confusion overcomes the Belgian defenders, as the fort is now “blind” and unable to see what is happening above.
Other German gliders have landed near the Albert Canal en manage to secure two bridges. The Belgian army undertakes a few counterattacks but without any result. After 31 hours the Belgian garrison surrenders to the German attackers. 650 people have died in the battle in and around fort Eben-Emael.
Visit Fort Eben-Emael, Belgium
We have used the possibility to get a private tour by a personal guide. This is a bit more expensive but well worth the cost. The guides at Eben-Emael are well educated and they can tell you loads of interesting stuff. More important: they can take you places the “standard” tour doesn’t cover.
To be honest we found the tour of 4 hours a little bit short. There is so much to see both in and outside but the long distances in between force you to make choices. Apart from the bunkers and endless tunnels, the fort also has an exhibition area with lots of stuff on display, like original examples of the so called shaped charges and a glider plane like the ones used in the attack.
Be sure to take a flashlight, because the lighting in the fort can be a bit dim and if, like us, you are interested in all the small details, it’ll be of great use. The temperature below is around 15 degrees Celsius so take some warm clothing with you. And please, don’t forget the guide before you leave.
Go to www.fortissimus.be for more information.
Watch the complete LandmarkScout photo album of the trip here: