Operation Beton

concrete

German airborne operation by part of Hauptmann Walter Koch’s Fallschirmjäger-Sturmabteilung ‘Koch’ of Generalleutnant Kurt Student’s 7th Fliegerdivision and Generalleutnant Hans Graf von Sponeck’s 22nd Luftlande-Division to take and hold the Vroenhoven bridge in Belgium during the first day of ‘Sichelschnitt’ (10 May 1940).

This was one of a series of four related enterprises by the German airborne arm against the Belgian forces of Major General Eugene L. J. Vantrooy’s 7th Division within Lieutenant General Maximilien Alfred Théodore Chevalier de Nève de Roden’s I Corps (10 May 1940). The other elements of this airborne undertaking were ‘Granit’ against Fort Eben Emael, and ‘Stahl’ and ‘Beton’ against the bridges at Veldwezelt and Canne respectively.

Commanded by Leutnant Gerhard Schächt, the ‘Beton’ force comprised 96 men delivered in 11 DFS 230A assault gliders. Ten of the 11 gliders landed next to the Vroenhoven bridge at 05.15, the eleventh having been hit by anti-aircraft fire en route to the bridge and forced to land prematurely in the Netherlands. The gliders were engaged by heavy anti-aircraft fire as they landed: one of the gliders was hit and stalled in mid-air, severely wounding three airborne troops when it crash-landed, although the remainder of the troops in the gliders emerged unscathed. The rest of the gliders landed without being damaged.

One of the gliders landed near the fortification housing the detonator set for the demolition charges attached to the bridge, allowing the airborne troops inside it to exit and assault the position. They killed the occupants and tore out the wires connecting the explosives to the detonator set, ensuring the bridge could not be destroyed. The remaining Belgian defenders resisted fiercely, mounting several counterattacks in an attempt to recapture the bridge, and these were repelled only with the aid of several machine guns dropped by parachute to the airborne troops at 06.15.

Constant Belgian counterattacks meant that the ‘Beton’ force was not relieved until 21.40 by an infantry battalion advancing from the German frontier in ‘Sichelschnitt’, having suffered loss of seven men killed and 24 wounded.