In history’s first major airborne assault, just after dawn on 10 May, 1940, 71 German paratroopers from Luftwaffe General Kurt Student’s elite 7th Fliegerkorps landed from ten gliders atop Belgium’s Fort Eben Emael.
Huge, heavily armed, Eben Emael was Europe’s most powerful fortress. The fort covered an area equal to 70 American football fields, or 900 x 700 meters. The fortress, and smaller Belgian forts, defended the vital Meuse River and Albert Canal bridges that were the gateway from Germany into Belgium. Even so, landing heavily-laden gliders atop the fort was a memorable achievement of flying and courage.
In only 30 minutes, Assault Group Granit knocked out the fort’s artillery turrets, casemates, and observation cupolas, using a new weapon, shaped charge explosives, that bored holes through steel or concrete.
As a survivor told me while showing me the fort’s vast interior, as a result of the explosive detonated by the German assault group, Eben Emael’s lights failed, and its kilometers of galleries filled with toxic fumes. The 1,000-man garrison, blinded and gasping for air, surrendered. Other German paratroopers seized nearby canal and river bridges.
Germany’s May 1940 offensive through Belgium was designed to avoid attacking the Maginot Line, and to crush the Anglo-French armies. Contrary to mistaken popular belief, the Maginot Line was not “outflanked.” Its mission was to defend Lorraine’s coal and steel industry, which it did. The Line was eventually taken from the rear, but only after the defeat of the French field army in the north.
The Fliegercorp’s “coup de main” against Ft. Eben Emael led by Oberleutenant Rudolf Witzig, was the ultimate example of daring, skill and military glory.Planned by Gen. Eric von Manstein, Germany’s brilliant May 1940 campaign ranks among history’s greatest military triumphs.
Seventy years later, Germany is being called on to lead another audacious campaign: rescuing the beleaguered European Union from the dangers of financial and political disintegration.
Chancellor Angela Merkel warned last week that the European Union was in grave danger: “if the euro falls, Europe falls.”
The New York stock exchange’s recent stomach-churning, 3.6% plunge shows how dangerous this crisis has become. America’s fragile economic recovery hangs in the balance. Now, there are new worries about China.
Germany’s ultra-cautious chancellor, Angela Merkel, is no Lt. Witzing. It has taken her months to reluctantly confront the eurozone financial crisis that erupted in Greece and now threatens the EU’s other financial weak sisters, Spain, Portugal, Italy, even Britain.
Most thrifty Germans bitterly oppose bailing out their prodigal EU cousins. But unless Germany, Europe’s most powerful economy, acts, the financial crisis could overwhelm the EU, as Merkel somberly noted.
But even this massive rescue failed to calm frightened markets. Last week, the euro fell to near \$1.21 before recovering to \$1.25. After Merkel vowed to fight short-selling speculators, spooked financial markets plunged. France joined Germany in vowing war against currency speculators — most of whom are concentrated in anything-goes London.Two weeks ago, Merkel launched a \$1 trillion bailout of Greece that was grudgingly voted by the German parliament last Friday.
Chancellor Merkel and France’s President Nicholas Sarkozy joined in calling for tough new regulation of Europe’s financial industry that produces howls of anguish from overpaid bankers and money managers.
German banks are owed \$900 billion by Europe’s sunny financial delinquents. There is growing fear in Europe and the US that Europe’s debtor nations may not be able to repay their huge borrowings, even with German and French help.
If these debtors are forced to reschedule (postpone) their bonds, or default on them, this repudiation could bring down the German and French financial systems, provoking a worldwide debacle.
Ironically, the euro, like Britain’s pound, has long been seriously overvalued. Its natural equilibrium is \$1.21—1.25. A lower euro will strengthen Germany’s exports of high-quality products.
This latest crisis was primarily caused by Europe expanding a bridge too far, too fast. The euro zone should have remained a rich nation’s club of Germany, France, Luxembourg, Holland, Austria, and Finland until other European nations were ready to join the single currency.
Instead, Greeks, Italians and doubtlessly others cooked their books and finagled their way into the eurozone. EU authorities closed their eyes. There was no EU mechanism to enforce proper budget compliance — just as the US lacked effective regulation that should have prevented the titanic financial fraud that caused Wall Street’s 2008 meltdown.
The political-financial integration of Europe had three primary objectives: ending its murderous political rivalries that caused two world wars; lessening America’s potent influence over the continent; and returning Europe to its former world power status. Germany’s great strength and energy were to be harnessed into becoming Europe’s economic locomotive.
Now, most Germans fear they will end up permanently subsidizing Europe’s financial delinquents and wonder if sustaining the EU and eurozone are worth the price.
Why should prudent, taxpaying Germans face ever-higher bills to finance the EU, which many European call a bureaucratic monstrosity obsessed by regulating the shape of vegetables and the size of cheeses?
Because abandoning the quest for a truly unified Europe would be a historic tragedy. Two world wars teach us this. Germany must grit its teeth and come to Europe’s rescue. The European Union, for all its failings, remains the world’s leader in human and animal rights, culture, democracy and civilized behavior.
Of course, if and when Germans do manage to rescue Europe, they will inevitably be criticized for acting … too German!
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada. He is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.