The Fall of Eben Emael, Belgium 1940
Author: Chris McNab
Artists: Peter Dennis, Mark Stacey, Alan Gilliland
Series & number: Raid 38
Formats: Softcover; PDF; ePub
Hitler’s Blitzkrieg against Western Europe depended upon a sweep through Belgium. The sweep through Belgium depended upon taking several key bridges intact. Three of those bridges were defended by the new state-of-the-art fortress Eben Emael. The steel and concrete fort was built within ramparts and walls protected by a flooded anti-tank ditch, atop 60m-high cliffs overlooking a wide canal. It bristled with machine guns plus fast-firing and heavy artillery in revolving armored casements, which in turn were supported by overlapping fields of fire from machine guns and other cannon, manned by up to 1,000 troops ensconced in underground quarters interlaced by guarded tunnels. Nearby garrisons could rush to reinforce the fort while nearby supporting artillery could bombard it if necessary. Eben Emael’s artillery could range out to devastate approaching armies, or destroy the bridges if the enemy survived their approach.
So how did less than a company of light infantry subdue Eben Emael with infantry weapons in only 20 minutes? The Fall of Eben Emael, Belgium 1940
explains it in detail.
Author Chris McNab brings his insight and expertise into this riveting true story of the first modern special forces attack. He recounts the history of people jumping off and out of aeroplanes for military purposes in his narrative about how the Nazis combined the concept with their expertise with gliders. Germany’s Fallschirmjäger were elite from the beginning, constituted with the very best soldiers the Third Reich had; so high the caliber of those men that most gave up higher rank to be a Fallschirm Jäger (Private.) Contrasted with the Fallschirmjäger are the soldiers of the Belgian Army garrisoning Eben Emael. Equipment, training, and uniforms are discussed; the author is quick to caution against judging too hard the failings of the garrison by putting into perspective many aspects of their performance.
Neutralizing Eben Emael is a story that has fascinated me for decades and this book does a splendid job of presenting a blow by blow account of the raid. The author recounts the attack by squad and objective for the initial attack, then follows with a general account of the consolidation of the effort. Surprisingly, many of the participating Fallschirmjäger survived the war. Their experience and those of some Belgian survivors enlightens this story above most WW2 histories.
Compositions of the German forces are shown in a sidebar: Unit; Commander; Objective; Manpower. Fallschirmjägers attacked the fort with special weapons, not the least was their DFS 230 gliders. Just how risky this was is illuminated by accounting for the fort anti-aircraft umbrella of batteries of quadruple machine guns, and the trouble with landing gliders even under ideal conditions. Once the Fallschirmjäger were on the ground they were equipped with a couple of other new man-portable weapons with which to challenge their steel and concrete objectives. The success or failure of these weapons is discussed in detail, as are their targets, Eben Emael’s batteries, blockhouses, underground structures and turrets.
Belgium had plans to neutralize any upstarts that made it onto the grounds of the fort beyond overlapping fields of fire by machine guns and canister-firing cannons: sally ports for local counterattacks; artillery ranged onto the fort; reinforcements in the town of Eben Emael.
All of those aspects are discussed to set the scene for the four actions – the attack on the fort and the attacks on the three adjacent bridges. Each battle is discussed in detail. Finally, Mr. McNab examines the fallout from the raid. The fate of the combatants and post-war hearings into the raid . The affect upon Fallschirmjäger forces for the rest of the war. Even the propaganda value.
The Fall of Eben Emael, Belgium 1940
is recounted through 80 pages of almost two dozen chapters and subsections:
a. Airborne warriors2. Origins
a. Fall Gelb3. The Plan
b. The right force
c. The fort of Eben Emael
a. Training begins4. The Raid
a. On the way5. Analysis
b. Coupole Nord
c. Mi-Sud and Mi-Nord
d. Maastricht 1 and Maastricht 2
e. Consolidation the attack
f. The bridges
g. Securing Eben Emael
a. Lightning attack6. Conclusion
b. The heros
7. Bibliography and Further Reading
The body of the text is fortified with many sidebars and explicative set outs. Amongst one of the more illuminating is The 10 Commandments of the Fallschirmjäger.
Photographs, artwork, graphics
Dozens of black-and-white and color photographs fortify the text. I only found a couple of black-and-whites that I haven’t seen before. All of the color photos are recent exposures of the fort today. These include close-ups of weapons damage done by the Germans to the fortifications. These are excellent resources for modelers and historians. Also for modelers of figures is a post-raid photo of an awards ceremony; the dramatic difference in height of several of the 1/1 scale Fallschirmjäger invited much discussion concerning mixing of modeling scales in dioramas! Additionally, Fallschirmjäger uniforms and kit are illustrated to good effect. The majority of the wartime photos are good quality.
Three artists contributed to this title with original artwork, including a two-page bird’s eye view of the fortress and periphery. It shows the positions where the gliders came to rest and is keyed to identify the forces and objectives. Shading illustrates fields of fire for the machine guns and cannon positions. Further illustrations include:
A. Inside the 75mm Casemates: cut-away displaying the components of two levels of a triple 75mm casemate
B. German Fallschirmjäger and Belgian Infantryman, 1940: color illustration of the adversaries with their primary and special weapons
Two dramatic centerfolds present “in action” color scenes:
1. Assault on Maastricht 2: Trupp 1 seek cover next to their gun emplacement objective as demolition charges shatter the morning
2. The Attack on Veldwezelt Bridge: Stürmgruppe ‘Stahl’ storm the pillboxes and bridge, attempting to save the structure form demolition
A color map illustrates the Fall Gelb
route into Belgium; keyed are forts, observation posts; bridges; rings showing the range of Belgium artillery from the forts. This map also features two insets: North West Europe; the airborne route to Eben Emael.
As Osprey is known for, the accompanying descriptions explain the action as well as make mention of soldier’s equipment.
This extraordinary story is one of the most engaging books I've read in a long time as it incorporates six of my favorite elements of WW2 - Fallschirmjäger; assault gliders; 1940 Blitzkrieg; (very) small unit actions against vastly superior forces; incredible plans within a mil of catastrophe; actions requiring panache and elan.
Mr. McNab brings the reader into fort Eben Emael raid that opened Blitzkrieg
upon Western Europe. It is an excellent resource for modelers and historians. This incredible but true attack is worthy of any techno-thriller series I’ve read since the 1980s! No doubt the information and knowledge at the author’s disposal could fill far more than the 80 pages in this format. Yet he takes a complex operation and explains it in a smoothly readable and concise manner: planning, organization, training, equipment, composition, action, aftermath, and analysis. Artwork is high quality and the color photographs of Eben Emael today elevate the content.
I really have no meaningful complaints against this title and wholeheartedly recommend it!
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