Shaped or hollow-charge explosives were discovered by an American, Charles Munroe, in 1888. Improved upon by German scientist, Egon Neumann, in 1910, the hohlladungwaffe was held by the German Army as a close secret. It was Hitler, himself, who came up with the idea for a glider attack on the fort. Paratroopers trained for the operation from early November, 1939 until the day of the attack. The troopers never witnessed the effects of the explosion of the weapons they were to carry until the 10 May, so close to the vest the secret was kept. The 50 kg charges were kept in two parts for easier handling by two men. The parts were very delicate which meant the delivery system had to be by glider instead of parachute. The charges did not fully penetrate the observation domes but blast and shock waves detached fragments from the interior of the dome to kill or seriously wound anyone inside. Observation domes were the primary targets – taken out, the guns were ‘blind’ - with any other leftover charges to be used directly upon the gun emplacements. It should be said that while the hollow-charges did give the Germans an edge, the primary reason they overcame the Belgian defenders that day was because they were much better trained and led. Lack of defending infantry and inattention from the fort’s commander were really what caused the fort’s demise.
Bloc 01 was sited 100 meters outside the main fort, but it was the most important observation post of all since it overlooked the Albert Canal, the Lanaye Locks and the Meuse River all the way across the Dutch countryside to the German border. This position was never attacked by the Germans. In what was but another error on the part of the Belgian command, the fort had been forbidden to fire into Dutch territory in observance of that country’s neutrality. This allowed the Germans, who were easily in view and gun range as they rolled by Maastricht, to be given a free ride. Most of the fort’s guns never were fired including the largest 120 mm guns.
After visiting the interior of the fort – maybe taking the extended guided tour to the gun cupolas – it is time to turn your attention outside. A trail will take you to the top of the fort where you can see the gun casements and cupolas from the German perspective. The damage done by the German raiders is still evident on many of the observer cupolas and gun emplacements. Hollow-charge explosions which the Germans set atop the domes are still there. The charge holes usually did not completely breach the cupolas but shock waves inside killed or wounded those present besides damaging the internal workings of the guns thus making them inoperative. The sunny day I walked atop the fort a motorized glider passed ironically overhead.