Eben-Emael and the Defence of Fortress Belgium 1940, Clayton Donnell

Eben-Emael and the Defence of Fortress Belgium 1940, Clayton Donnell

The key to the plans for the defense of Belgium in 1940 was the line of forts around Liege and Namur, which were meant to hold up any German attack long enough for Belgium’s allies to arrive on the scene.  This including both older forts that had been modernised to some extent and modern forts that took into account the lessons of the First World War.

The general image of this entire campaign is dominated by the fate of Fort Eben-Emael, widely considered to be the strongest of the Belgian forts, and which fell to a very small airborne force on the second day of the battle. However as this book demonstrates, those forts that had to be attacked in a more traditional manner held out for much longer, with several holding out for over two weeks, even though the infantry that was meant to be guarding the gaps between the forts was withdrawn within a few days of the start of the German attack. As a result the forts had to hold in isolation, increasingly far behind the front line, and yet most were still able to fight off several German attacks before finally falling.

The book starts with an account of the fall of Eben-Emael, which fell after a daring aerial assault that bypassed almost all of its’ anti-infantry defenses and left the garrison largely helpless. We then move on to a look at the nature of the Belgian forts – when they were built, how they were armed and armoured, how they were modified between the wars, and their role in the defensive plans. The bulk of the book then gives us a day by day account of the role of these forts, tracing the progress of the German attacks, but also showing how the forts were able to use their guns to delay the Germans, and to protect each other against ground attack.

What this book demonstrates is that in general the Belgian forts actually performed the role they had been designed for, despite the early fall of Eben-Emael. However the retreat of the Belgian field army meant that they were soon isolated, and the defeat of Allied troops elsewhere along the long front line meant that the front line continued to move further away from the forts. Their main weakness turned out to be against air attack – the Germans soon had almost total air supremacy over the forts, and the anti-aircraft guns on the forts were far too small in number. It also becomes clear that conditions inside any of the forts that were under active attack quickly became pretty unbearable, making the performance of their Belgian defenders even more impressive.

1 – 10 and 11 May 1940: The Tragedy of Fort Eben-Emael
2 – The Defences of Belgium
3 – Friday, 10 May 1940: Opening Action at Liege
4 – The Fortified Position of Namur from 10 to 14 May 1940
5 – Saturday, 11 May 1940
6 – Sunday, 12 May 1940
7 – Monday, 13 May 1940
8 – Tuesday, 14 May 1940
9 – Wednesday, 15 May 1940
10 – Thursday, 16 May 1940
11 – Friday, 17 May 1940
12 – Saturday, 18 May 1940
13 – Sunday, 19 May and Monday, 20 May 1940
14 – Tuesday, 21 May 1940
15 – Wednesday, 22 May to Wednesday, 29 May 1940: The Last Heroic Days
16 – Conclusions


Author: Clayton Donnell
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2021

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