By , the Allies had developed sophisticated combined-arms tactics employing artillery, aeroplanes, tanks and infantry in coordinated attacks that, by the end of , had battered the German Army into submission.
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But the cost was beyond measure. Rapid demobilization quickly led to the loss of such capabilities and expertise. It had been the war to end wars, and any repetition was inconceivable. To many, the power of the defence now so outweighed that of the offensive arms that attack was futile. To the French, the answer lay in a refinement of the field fortifications that had proved so effective during the Great War.
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As the saviours of France in World War I, there were few who would argue against them. In January , the Minister of War and former Minister of Veterans Affairs, Andre Maginot, proposed that a powerful line of fortresses be built from Switzerland to the Ardennes and from the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea barring any invasion from the east.
Most of the forts were deep underground and thus 4 The psychological effect on the Allies of the destruction of the Liege forts was considerable, leading the French to remove many artillery pieces from their static fortresses that were now deemed to be too vulnerable. These included those from Forts Douaumont, Souville and Vaux with almost catastrophic consequences during the Battle of Verdun in See Osprey Campaign Verdun by William Martin Osprey Publishing Ltd: Oxford, impervious to conventional artillery fire with interconnecting tunnels stretching for scores of kilometres.
Thousands of men lived subterranean lives for months at a time to service the Maginot Line's formidable array of artillery weapons and machine guns. The line stretched as far as the Ardennes Forest. Similarly, the line did not extend along the Franco-Belgian border, although a very basicstring of pillboxes and strongpoints was later built along the frontier. The construction of such massive fortifications consumed a large percentage of the defence budget, but more significantly it gave rise to a belief that the Maginot Line was impregnable against conventional assault.
Furthermore, funds were diverted from the creation of modern mechanized forces as advocated by younger officers, such as Colonel Charles de Gaulle. Tanks remained subordinate to the infantry as they had been during World War I. Worst of all, it engendered a mentality of positional warfare among the French High Command that infected the Belgian Army as well.
The other victors of World War I drew different conclusions from the French, beyond the common desire not to repeat the slaughter in the trenches. Anglo-French forces advanse into Belgium Sichelschnitt Plan lschnitt Schlieffen Plan lschnitt The Schlieffen Plan of was designed to envelop Paris from the north-east, but determined resistance from the Belgian. British and French armies disrupted the strategy and it faltered on the Marne andYser Rivers resulting in four years of ghastly trench warfare.
In , the Germans lured the British and French mobile forces into Belgium. They then unleashed the 'Sichelschnitt' or 'sweep of the scythe' to split the Allied armies and precipitate the fall of France in just 42 days. Eventually, with war clouds in Europe looming once more, Britain embarked on the creation of a strategic bomber force that would allow her to strike at her enemies without recourse to the commitment of ground troops on the Continent.
In the s, there was a belief that 'the bomber will always get through' to wreak havoc on the enemy as shown to devastating effect during the Spanish Civil War of The British promptly negated their own argument by inventing radar. To America, any future conflict in Europe became anathema and she withdrew into a self-imposed period of 'isolationism' that effectively emasculated the ability of any international body like the League of Nations to constrain expansionist powers such as Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan.
The common denominator of all the victors of World War I was that none was prepared mentally or materially for the next war. By the terms of the Versailles Treaty of , Germany was made to pay dearly for her war of aggression between and - the French demanding 'L'Allemagne paiera! Parts of the Rhineland were occupied and other economic assets were appropriated. The German army was reduced to , volunteers, and much of the High Seas Fleet, as well as all submarines, was seized by the Royal Navy. Over a third of the army's artillery, some 5, pieces and 25, machine guns, was surrendered to the Allies.
It signalled a humiliating defeat for the German people.
Many veterans of the war felt that the German Army had not been defeated by force of arms but had been betrayed by deceitful politicians at home. The myth that the German Army had been 'stabbed in the back' was born. It was a recipe for resentment and revenge; embodied in the figure of Adolf Hitler.
Position Fortifiee de Liege As one of the victorious Allies, Belgium received a proportion of the war booty, including many of the aforementioned artillery weapons and machine guns. On 7 September , France and Belgium signed a defensive pact, transforming their temporary wartime alliance of necessity into a lasting treaty. In , after Germany failed to deliver reparation shipments on schedule, Belgian troops joined the French army in the occupation of the Ruhrgebiet.
However, they encountered determined passive resistance and the occupying troops gradually withdrew from the Rhineland over the coming years. It was a portent of the resurgence of the German nation, compounded by the rise to power of the Nazi party in Once more the threat from the east became apparent to the Belgian government and once more it undertook a comprehensive review of the nation's defences.
With the economy shattered by the war and the brutal German occupation, Belgium was in no position to lavish large quantities of public money on defence, ranging from The Belgian Chief of the General Staff during the early s, General Maglinse, supported the French doctrine of strong fortifications along the border regions while another school of thought within the Belgian High Command and political establishment favoured a mobile defence based on a strategic withdrawal to the Scheldt to conform with their French ally in time of war.
Neither faction prevailed and the continuing schism ultimately led to compromise. De Broqueville, that a commission be created to investigate the rebuilding of the Belgian fortification system that had been largely destroyed during World War I. The commission delivered its report on 24 February with the recommendation that a fortified defensive line be constructed on the eastern border along the Meuse River - the Position Fortifiee de Liege.
In the best bureaucratic tradition, the defence minister appointed a new 'Commission for the Study of National Fortification' on 21 March under General Borrcmans, the inspector general of the infantry.
Its initial meeting was held on 2 April , and the very first mention of the new defensive structure that was to become Fort Eben Emael appeared in a report on the defence of the Limburg region on 24 January On the other hand, faced with the specific danger menacing the area near Maastricht where the Meuse leaves Belgian territory for eight kilometres of its length and where the enclave grows to a width of four kilometres west of the river and faced with the considerable extension of the lines of communication between Aix-la-Chapelle [Aachen] and Maastricht, the Commission has unanimously decided that The Commission has also agreed that these permanent armed defensive structures estimated to contain a battery of four guns of or mm must be part of a larger line to be erected on the flanks of the Loen and that this group of structures should be supported by a permanent garrison The report calling for the construction of this new fort, as well as the refurbishment of the forts around Liege and Namur, was accepted in principle on 7 January On 14 May , instructions were issued for the modernization of the six Liege forts on the eastern bank of the Meuse River.
These were rearming with modern artillery weapons as well as the refurbished German guns of World War 1 vintage; improved ventilation The creation of the Caster cutting through Mount St Peter was a triumph of civil engineering. It was designed and built by the Belgian company Entreprises Reunies with other companies acting as subcontractors. These included the German firms of Hochtief A.
There have been several later assertions that these companies had complete plans of the fortress that allowed such a small force as Sturmgruppe Granit to capture Fort Eben Emael so quickly, but that was not the case. This view shows the southern end of the Caster cutting under construction, with the sheer face that formed part of Fort Eben Emael on the left.
The circles around the various major fortresses represent the ranges of their respective artillery weapons, with the mm guns of Fort Eben Emael reaching almost to the German border. The inner circle indicates the range of the 75mm guns, while the innermost one is of the 81mm mortars. The map also shows the various towns, villages and geographical features in the vicinity of Fort Eben Emael that are mentioned in the text, together with the major Belgian army formations in the area. Interestingly, the first actual document naming Fort Eben Emael appears in a secret report dated 12 June of the Deuxieme Bureau [French military intelligence] filed by General Chardigny, the military attache at the French embassy in Brussels, in which he revealed plans for a fort to be constructed to the north of Liege, in the area of Vise.
Indeed as stated previously, it was to be just north of the invasion route of General von Gluck's First Army in , and close to where General Brialmont had suggested the construction of a fort in the aphorism of horses and stable doors springs to mind. In a subsequent report to the Ministry of War in Paris on 5 November , General Chardigny provided specific details of Fort Eben Emael as to its exact location and proposed armament.
The new forts On 30 June , the occupation of the Rhineland ended and, although now supposedly demilitarized, it no longer provided any buffer zone for the Franco-Belgian alliance from a resurgent Germany. The state of Belgium's defences became evermore critical. As if the dichotomy in the high command was not enough, Belgian domestic internal politics also had a significant influence on defence expenditure and allocation.
The country was divided between two distinct ethnic groups that spoke either French in Wallonia, the southern part, or Flemish in the northern part.
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It was, and remains, a seriously divisive issue. They proposed the continued modernization of the forts around Liege together with those of Namur and Antwerp, as well as the construction of a new fort near the village of Eben Emael and defence works around Ghent. None of the various factions was overly happy with the plan and intense political lobbying ensued with the Walloons being particularly incensed that their region close to Luxembourg remained virtually undefended.
Their cause was embraced by the liberal politician Albert Deveze formerly and subsequently Minister of National Defence.
It provoked a political crisis that engulfed King Albert I. Compromises were sought but eventually the Superior Council for National Defence under the direction of King Albert promulgated its decision on 21 April It endorsed the modernization and extension of the PFL with several new forts including Eben Emael; the abandonment of new fortifications for Antwerp and Ghent; and the creation of a new army formation, the Chasseurs Ardennais, tasked with the defence of the Ardennes region.
He was determined to implement the plan for strong fortifications along Belgium's eastern border and his promise to the Walloons to defend their interests. The debate as to the allocation of defence funds was rekindled. The Minister of National Defence was adamant that any invasion from the east must be contained at the border. In the meantime, military engineers conducted field reconnaissance trips to determine the best locations for the defensive fortifications.
On the Herve Plateau, Battice and Tancremont were chosen as sites for two new powerful forts that greatly enhanced the defences of Liege and Vise. Meanwhile, on 1 April , the first construction works began on the site for the fort of Eben Emael. On 25 June , an appropriation of 50 million Belgian Francs was sought from the defence budget for the initial construction of new forts at Battice Brige Observation post Fort 81 mm mortar, range 3,6 km 75 mm gun, range 10 km mm gun, range 17, 5 km 0 0 5 miles 10 km and Tancremont.
However, on 18 August , a budgetary crisis effectively denied this request and on 7 September it was decided to postpone further expenditure on the new defence line, although the purchase of the land at Battice was undertaken. Nevertheless, the 'Commission for the Study of National Fortification' continued its deliberations.