Battle of Remagen

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This article is about the World War II battle. For the film about this battle, see The Bridge at Remagen. For the bridge itself, see Ludendorff Bridge. For the town, see Remagen.
Battle of Remagen
Part of the Invasion of Germany in World War II
CROSS THE RHINE WITH DRY FEET COURTESY OF 9TH ARM'D DIV-LUDENDORFF BRIDGE.jpg
American forces cross the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen
Date 7 – 25 March 1945
Location Remagen, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany
50°34′45″N 7°14′39″E / 50.57917°N 7.24417°E / 50.57917; 7.24417Coordinates: 50°34′45″N 7°14′39″E / 50.57917°N 7.24417°E / 50.57917; 7.24417
Result Allied victory
  • Allies secure intact bridge over Rhine
Belligerents
 United States
 Belgium[1]
 Germany
Commanders and leaders
United States Courtney Hodges Nazi Germany Erich Brandenberger
Strength
1st Army 7th Army

The Battle of Remagen was a battle during World War II for control of the Ludendorff Bridge and the rapidly expanding Allied bridgehead on the eastern shore of the Rhine River, Germany's last major natural barrier and line of defense. During a rapid advance after capturing the Siegfried Line, the 9th Armored Division, First U.S. Army, was very surprised to see that the railroad bridge was still standing. The Germans had wired the bridge with 638 kilograms (1,407 lb) of explosives, but only a portion of them detonated. When U.S. forces captured the bridge, they were able to establish the first bridgehead across the Rhine.

The battle for control of the bridge caused both the American and German forces to employ new weapons and tactics in combat for the first time. To protect the bridge, the Americans positioned the largest concentration of antiaircraft weapons during World War II[2][3]:189 leading to "the greatest antiaircraft artillery battles in American history." The Americans also employed for the first time in combat the extremely bright Canal Defence Lights,[4][5]:410 which were successfully used at night to detect enemy frogmen wearing Italian underwater breathing apparatus.

The Germans were desperate to destroy the bridge. They dispatched dozens of aircraft including ME-109s, FW-190s, Heinkel dive-bombers, and Stuka dive-bombers, but the Americans shot down over 70% of the aircraft attacking the bridges. When the German's traditional aircraft failed, they attacked the bridge using the secret Arado Ar 234 turbojet bombers and Messerschmitt 262 jet fighters, their first tactical use against a strategic target during the war.[6][7] When these too failed, on 17 March they fired 11 V2 rockets at the bridge, the first time the missiles had been used against a strategic target.[8]

The unexpected availability of the first major crossing of the Rhine caused Allied high commander Dwight Eisenhower to alter his plans to end the war. The ability to establish a bridgehead on the eastern side of the Rhine and to quickly transport five divisions into Germany allowed U.S. forces to envelop the German industrial area of the Ruhr more quickly than planned. Over 25,000 troops crossed the Ludendorff Bridge and two others before the Americans broke out of the bridgehead on 22 March 1945, 15 days after it was captured. After months of aircraft bombing, direct artillery hits, near misses, and deliberate demolition attempts, the Ludendorff Bridge finally collapsed at 3:00 PM on 17 March. Thirty-two U.S. Army Engineers were killed and 63 were wounded. By this time U.S. Army Combat Engineers had finished the longest tactical steel treadway bridge constructed during the war and a heavy duty pontoon bridge across the Rhine. The Ludendorff Bridge was not rebuilt following World War II.

Background[edit]

Romans originally built a settlement at Remagen in the first century AD.[9] Over that long period of time, it had been destroyed multiple times by invading armies from several nations. The town was rebuilt each time. In March, 1945 about 5,000 people lived in the town. The Rhine near Remagen was about 270 meters (890 ft) wide.[8] The Ludendorff Bridge had been built by Russian prisoners of war during World War I to help transport supplies from Germany to France.

Bridge construction and design[edit]

Main article: Ludendorff Bridge
B-24 Liberators from the 446th Bomb Group on their way to a target.

The bridge carried two rail lines and pedestrian catwalks on either side across the Rhine. The total length was 400 meters (1,300 ft) long while the main steel structure was 325 meters (1,066 ft) long. The arch spanned 156 meters (512 ft) and at its highest measured 28 meters (92 ft) above the water. The bridge was normally about 15 meters (49 ft) above the Rhine. Since it was built for military purposes, it had towers on either side of the rails on both banks, equipped with fighting loopholes and accommodations for up to a battalion of troops.[8] The designers had also built cavities into the piers where demolition charges could be placed, but when the French occupied the Rhineland after World War I, they filled these cavities with cement. After the Germans reacquired the Rhineland and control of the bridge, in 1938 they placed 60 zinc-lined boxes each containing 1.8 kilograms (4.0 lb) of explosives on the bridge supports,[10] connected by electrical cable to a control circuit located in the tunnel under Epeler Lay.

On the eastern side, a 117-meter (384 ft)-long tunnel was cut through the Erpeler Ley hill.[11] The bridge connected the village of Erpel on the eastern side with Remagen on the west bank. It had been named after the World War I German General Erich Ludendorff, who had been a key proponent for building this bridge. During the Allied bombing campaign, they destroyed more than half of Erpel's buildings, all of which had been built during the 17th and 18th century.[11]

Allied advance into Germany[edit]

Main article: Operation Lumberjack
Operation Lumberjack, 1-7 March 1945.

During the fall of 1944, the Allies repeatedly attempted to destroy the bridge to disrupt German efforts to reinforce their forces to the west. On October 9, 1944, a raid by 33 bombers damaged the bridge and it was reported as destroyed, but the bridge was back in use again on November 9. A few weeks later on December 28, 1944, 71 B24 Liberator bombers were dispatched to strike the bridge. They hit it with four bombs but the Germans quickly repaired it.[12] The 446th Bombardment Group attacked the bridge again on the next four consecutive days from December 28–31, 1944.[13] More bombers struck at the bridge during raids in January and February 1945.[11] On 5 March 1945, B-24 bombers from the 491st Bombardment Group attempted one more time to destroy the bridge, but failed.[14]

In early March, units assigned to Operation Lumberjack, including the U.S. Army's 9th Armored Division, were tasked with mopping up elements of the German Army trapped on the west bank of the Rhine and to prevent a counterattack against the Ninth Army's flank.[15] U.S. troops quickly captured the cities of Cologne and Bonn. The 9th Armored Division on the right flank of the First Army had moved swiftly towards the Rhine. The closer the division got to the Rhine, the more quickly it advanced. The speed of their movement towards the Rhine surprised the Germans.[16]

British tanks moving into the German city of Kevelaer in March 1945.

Operation Lumberjack was preparing the way for Field Marshal Montgomery's massive Operation Plunder. Montgomery's typically cautious plan to cross the Rhine in late March and invade central Germany depended on a large array of transport aircraft to drop paratroopers and glider-borne infantry across the Rhine to set up the crossing.[17] Montgomery's ground assault plan was for the British 21st Army Group to cross the Rhine north of the Ruhr after the airborne assault. To the south, Montgomery would be supported by Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley's 12th Army Group, including the 9th Armored under the command of Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges. First Army was given the objective of capturing dams on the Röer River and then trapping the Germans into a pincher move west of the Rhine.

To the north, Major General George Patton's Third Army would also support Montgomery. But the First Army had been delayed by two weeks when the Germans released water from the Roer River dams, flooding the valleys below and making it impossible for Hodges' units to move forward. Hodges left standing orders that if any unit found a bridge intact, they were to "exploit its use to the fullest, and establish a bridgehead on the other side."[18] Major General John Leonard, commanding officer of the 9th Armored Division, later recalled that on the night before, III Corps commander Major General John Milliken told him over the phone, "You see that black line on the map. If you can seize that your name will go down in history."[19] In the last week of February, Colonel Charles G. Patterson, the antiaircraft artillery officer for III Corp, led a meeting for brigade and group commanders during which the discussed what they would do if they were lucky enough to capture a bridge intact.[6]

On 2 March, Milliken assigned the 14th Tank Battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Leonard E. Engeman to the north flank and attached it to the 1st Division. The 9th Armored's Combat Command B waited for relief at the Erft River, and Combat Command A advanced towards the Ahr River where they were to cross and link up with the flanks of Patton's Third Army.[20] General Eisenhower offered his generals some latitude in choosing the exact points for crossing the Rhine, though two areas were generally considered favorable. The first was between Cologne and Bonn in the north, and the other was between Andernach and Koblenz in the south. Both had some challenges, but offered relatively rapid access to the autobahn and into the Lahn River Valley connecting to the Frankfurt-Kassel corridor. The least favored crossing points were in the area around the railroad bridge at Remagen.[20] When the First Army captured Cologne, it was greeted as a major success of the Allied campaign to capture the west bank of the Rhine. But the Germans had blown up the Hindenburg bridge.[16]

German defensive confusion[edit]

Before the U.S. advance on the Rhine, the 22 road and 25 railroad bridges across the Rhine were the responsibility of the German Wehrkreise, or military districts. These troops did not report to an Army command but to the military arm of the Nazi Party, the Waffen-SS. During February, responsibility for the Ludendorff Bridge was transferred from Wehrkreise VI to Wehrkreise XII. In late February, German forces were reeling backwards and they had instituted a number of command changes to try to stem the Allied's advance. Responsibility for the bridges, including the Ludendorff Bridge, was shifted to the Army, although the Wehrkreise officers tried to retain their command authority. The antiaircraft units around the bridges didn't report to the army, the Wehrkreise or the Waffen SS, but to the Luftwaffe.[20]

On 1 March during the U.S. Operation Grenade, the Fifth Panzer and Fifteenth Armies switched zones and responsibility for the bridges.[20] Lt. Gen. Walter Botsch, Commander of LIII Armeekorps, was assigned to defend the Bonn-Remagen area.[4] He visited the Rhineland to inspect the troops and on 5 March found that the Ludendorff Bridge was defended by only 36 men, most of them convalescents recovering from injuries, along with a few engineers and antiaircraft gun crews.[3] Botsch promised Captain Willi Bratge he would send a battalion of men to help defend the bridge, but his request was turned down. He also requested without success laborers, additional explosives, radios, and signal equipment. He was promised a heavy antiaircraft battalion, but it never arrived.[4]

German troops, armed with Panzerfaust anti-tank rockets, in February 1945.

By 6 March, the 9th Armored was already just 14 kilometers (8.7 mi) from the Rhine.[8] On the same day, Botsch was so quickly transferred that he did not have time to brief his replacement, General Richard von Bothmer. Bothmer was unable to visit Remagen, as he was concentrating on defending Bonn.[4] Instead, he dispatched a liaison officer to Remagen the evening of 6 March, but he was caught up by the rapid advance and was captured when he accidentally entered American lines. When retreating Germans informed Captain Bratge on the evening of 6 March that the Americans were nearing Remagen, Bratge tried to contact Botsch, unaware that he had been reassigned.[4]

The rapid Allied advance had disrupted German communications, command structure, and their entire defense of the Siegfried Line. It would have been logical to fall back to the Rhine and regroup, but Hitler absolutely refused to allow a retreat and irrationally demanded that his Army recapture the territory it had lost. The German troops, thoroughly routed by the beating they had been receiving, could not hold on to the area they controlled, much less retake ground. As a result, the Americans advanced even more rapidly towards the Rhine.[4]

On 6 March, General of the Cavalry Edwin Rothkirch, commanding officer of LIII Korps with responsibility for the Remangen area, had wandered into U.S. lines and been captured. In the midst of this confusion, General der Infanterie Otto Hitzfeld, the new commanding officer of LXVII Corps, was told at 1:00 AM on 7 March that he was now responsible for defending the Ludendorff Bridge. Hitzfeld dispatched his adjutant, Major Hans Scheller, to take command of Remagen. Scheller left at 3:00 AM and took a radio unit of eight men but during their 64-kilometer (40 mi) trip they had to route around American tanks and ran low on gas, forcing them to detour furthur so they could refuel. The radio unit got separated and Scheller didn't arrive until 11:15 AM, less than two hours before the Americans.[4] Bratge was at first relieved when Scheller announced he was assuming command, but then learned that no reinforcements were coming.[8]

During 6 March, antiaircraft gun crews emplaced on top of the 180-meter (590 ft) high Erpeler Ley, strategically overlooking the Ludendorff Bridge, had been ordered by the Luftwaffe to help defend Koblenz. The replacement unit was not motorized and was placed on the outskirts of Remagen. As the Americans advanced towards the Rhine on the night of 6–7 March, 14 men from the antiaircraft gun crews deserted. Bratge only learned about the replacement unit's presence on 7 March when he saw what was left of the unit manhandling its guns across the bridge. Aware of the American's impending arrival, he angrily ordered the unit's Luftwaffe commander to get the weapons moved to the top of Erpeler Ley as quickly as possible, but the units were not yet in place at 2:00 PM when the first Americans arrived.[4]

Americans find Bridge intact[edit]

Map of the Remagen bridgehead 7-24 March 1945.

On the afternoon of 7 March 1945, Lt. Col. Leonard Engeman led a task force towards Remagen, a small village of about 5,000 residents on the Rhine. The task force, part of Combat Command B, consisted of one platoon of the 89th Reconnaissance Squadron, Company A of 27th Armored Infantry Battalion (AIB) equipped with M3 Half-tracks, one platoon of Company B, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion, and Companies B and C of the 14th Tank Battalion. Companies B and C of 14/27 AIB each consisted of three platoons, and one of them was assigned five of the newest heavy-duty T26E3 M16 Pershing. All the other platoons were equipped with five M4A3 Sherman tanks, and the company also had a command unit of three more Sherman tanks.[19]

At 12:56, Engeman arrived on a hill overlooking the village. He was surprised to see that the Ludendorff Bridge was still standing.[19] It was one of 22 road and 25 railroad bridges across the Rhine, and the only one the Germans had not yet blown up in advance of the Allied army's advance.[21][22] Retreating German vehicles and forces filled Remagen's streets, all heading over the bridge, which Timmerman could see was full of soldiers, civilians, vehicles and even livestock.[8] Captain Bratge was in Remagen on the western approach to the bridge trying direct traffic onto the bridge.[8][16] Timmerman called for artillery fire on the bridge to slow down the German retreat, but the artillery commander refused because he could not be sure that U.S. troops would not be fired upon.[20][8]

Battle for the bridge[edit]

Engemen informed the Operations Officer of Combat Command B, Maj. Ben Cothran, that the bridge was still standing, and he radioed Brig. General William M. Hoge, commanding officer of Combat Command B, 9th Armored Division. Hoge told Engemen to get into town as fast as possible, and Engemen ordered Lieutenant Karl H. Timmermann, commanding 27th AIB, and one company of dismounted infantry to accompany the tanks into Remagen.[22][20] Hoge had no intelligence on the number and size of German forces on the east bank. The standing bridge could have been a trap. The Germans might have allowed U.S. forces to cross before destroying it and isolating the American troops on the east bank. But the opportunity was too great to pass up.[16] At 1:50, A/27/9 AIB set out for the town. Thirty minutes later, Lt. John Grimball led the 17 tanks of A/14/9 AIB forward.[22] The troops and tanks arrived at about the same time and advanced quickly through Remagan against light resistance, mostly from snipers. They arrived at the western end of the bridge and the tanks began covering the bridge and the east shore with tank rounds, destroying a locomotive attached to a string of freight cars between the bridge and the tunnel under Epeler Lay.[16][19]

At about 3:00 PM, U.S. soldiers learned from a German soldier captured on the edge of Remagen that the bridge was scheduled to be destroyed at 4:00 PM.[16][20]:214 Timmerman called for artillery to fire on Erpel with burning white phosphorus shells to create a smoke screen.[23]

Germans blow up the approach[edit]

Soon after the American troops arrived, Scheller's forces on the west bank near Remagen were alerted to the approaching U.S. armor and raced back across the bridge. The German commandant at Remagen, Capt. Willi Bratge, wanted to demolish the bridge as early as possible to avoid capture. He had only 36 soldiers to defend the bridge. But Bratge was unaware until 11:15 AM when Maj. Hans Scheller arrived that General Hitzfield had transferred authority for the bridge to someone else. When Scheller saw how inadequately the bridge was defended, he attempted to order a vehicle carrying five men and a machine gun to turn around, but the driver simply gunned the vehicle across the bridge, ignoring Scheller's order. Just when Scheller was ready to destroy the bridge, Lieutenant Karl Peters pleaded for extra time to get his unit across the bridge. Peters was in charge of a battery of 24 new, top secret rocket launchers, the Henschel Hs 297. It could fire high-velocity antiaircraft rockets with tremendous accuracy and he could not allow it to fall into enemy hands.[3]:214 The experimental rocket launcher had been assigned to the "3./FlakLehruVersAbt 900" ("3rd Anti Aircraft Training and Testing Division") near Remagen.[24] Scheller knew artillery was in short supply and held up demolition.[20]:215[20]

On October 14-15, 1944, an American bomb luckily struck the chamber containing the demolition charges on the Mulheim Bridge in Cologne, prematurely destroying the bridge. Hitler was very angered by this incident and ordered those "responsible" for the destruction of the Mulheim Bridge court-martialed. He also ordered that demolition explosives should not be laid in place until the very last moment, when the Allies were within 5 miles (8.0 km) of the bridge. The bridges should only be demolished following an order in writing from the officer in charge, and only as a last resort and at the last possible moment.[25] This left officers responsible for destroying bridges in the event enemy approached nervous about the consequences if they blew up the bridge too soon or if they failed to blow it up at all.[4] Hitler also issued orders that the West Wall be held at all costs which meant that the German forces paid less attention to the bridges across the Rhine.[4]

Captain Karl Friesenhahn was in charge of the demolition charges on the bridge. He had earlier requested 600 kilograms (1,300 lb) of military explosives, but at 11:00 AM of 7 March he received only 300 kilograms (660 lb) of "Donarit", a much weaker ammonium nitrate-based industrial explosive used in mining. Without any other option, he attached 150 kilograms (330 lb) to each pier of the bridge. At 2:00 PM, as the first elements of the U.S. forces came close to the western approach, he detonated a charge under the stone archway that connected the approach embankment with the bridge, blowing a 9.1-meter (30 ft) crater in the road bed, hoping it would slow down tanks and infantry.[15]:1642 Scheller and Bratge entered the railroad tunnel where the electric circuit for the detonator was located. Friesenhahn followed them, but before he could get to the tunnel, the concussion from an exploding shell knocked him unconscious. He regained his senses 15 minutes later and continued towards the tunnel. Bratge yelled at Friesenhahn to blow up the bridge, but Friesenhahn replied he had to get the order from Scheller, who was at the other end of the tunnel under Epeler Lay, over 117 meters (384 ft) away.[8] Bratge, fearful of repercussions from Hitler, insisted on getting the exact timing and wording of the order in writing from Scheller.[20]:215

U.S. forces cross bridge[edit]

The 68 kilograms (150 lb) weak industrial-grade demolition charge tore out part of the eastern pedestrian catwalk and main truss on the northern side of the Ludendorff Bridge.
U.S. Army illustration of the battle for the bridge.

German machine guns opened up on the American troops from the towers that guarded the western approach to the bridge. At 3:20, Friesenhahn made the last connections to the detonator and twisted the handle, but nothing happened. He tried again and all they heard was the sound of American shells hitting the area around them.[8]

Friesenhahn decided that the electrical circuit must have been broken by the shelling and sought volunteers to repair it, but machine gun and tank fire persuaded him there was insufficient time. Corporal Anton Faust volunteered to leave the tunnel under Erpeler Lay and manually light the primer cord to the secondary explosives that had been placed earlier in the day. He dodged through the smoke and haze resulting from the American shells and headed for the bridge.[8][20]:216

At 3:50 PM, 10 minutes before they believed the Germans were scheduled to blow the bridge up, Company Commander Lt. Karl H. Timmermann led an under-strength squad of men from the 27 AIB onto the west side of the bridge, despite the risk that the bridge could be destroyed with them on it.[22][26] Just as the Americans approached, Corporal Faust set off the secondary explosives.[2] Both the Germans and the Americans watched the smoke clear from the explosion and were shocked to see the bridge was still standing. Only the charge on the southeast pier, two-thirds of the way across, had exploded, but the weak industrial explosive had failed to bring down the well-built steel bridge.[16] The explosion blew large holes in the planking covering the rails above the pier, twisted some of the steel supporting girders, and cut a 9.1 meters (30 ft) gap in the truss supporting the southern side of the bridge. Timmerman thought the pedestrian catwalks on both sides were intact. He saw Germans running around and assumed they were preparing a second blast.[8]

Timmermann deployed half of his men to the south side to provide covering fire to the rest of the men. He ordered the other half of his men to remove the demolition charges from the western side of the bridge.[27] A three man detachment from 2/B/9 AEB led by Lt. Hugh Mott, accompanied by Sgt. Eugene Dorland and Sgt. John Reynolds, climbed under the bridge and began cutting the wires leading to the remaining demolition charges.[22]

The railroad tracks were covered with wood planks, allowing vehicles to pass.[16] Once on the bridge, the infantry came under fire from German snipers on a partially submerged boat on the west bank and MG 42 machine gun fire from the eastern towers of the bridge, as well as from houses in Epeler. The 14th Cavalry tanks destroyed the boat and shelled the opposite side of the river, enabling ground troops to get on the bridge. The tanks successfully provided fire support to the infantry and suppressed fire from the German positions.[28] Members of the first platoon gained control of the two bridge towers on the west bank and captured two German machine gun crews. They then used the towers to provide covering fire for the troops crossing the bridge.[16][22]

U.S. Army captures bridge[edit]

An M26 Pershing fires at German positions across the Rhine.

The U.S. troops dodged German machine gun and small arms fire on top of and under the bridge, moving from bridge girder to girder, cutting demolition wires and tossing explosive charges into the river, not knowing if the Germans would detonate the rest of them at any second.[29][30]

Lt. Timmerman was among those removing the charges. CBS Radio war correspondent Everett Holles was accompanying the troops. He witnessed Timmerman removing charges.

Traffic was still moving across the Ludendorff Bridge. On the other side locomotives puffed, awaiting orders to pull out. Lt. Col. Leonard Engemann of Minneapolis, in command of a reconnaissance party, was determined to save this bridge if it was at all possible. So, at 3:50 o’clock, a platoon led by Lieut. Emmett Burrows of New York City, sped down the slope to the bridge entrance. There was a flurry of shooting as the Germans, taken completely by surprise, scurried about trying to organize a defense. Sgt. Alexander A. Drabik, a tall, lanky former butcher from Holland, Ohio, was the first American across the Rhine, the first invader to reach its east bank since the time of Napoleon. But he wanted all the honors passed on to a young lieutenant of the engineers, John W. Mitchell of Pittsburgh. "While we were running across the bridge – and, man, it may have been only 250 yards but it seemed like 250 miles to us – I spotted this lieutenant, standing out there completely exposed to the machine gun fire that was pretty heavy by this time. He was cutting wires and kicking the German demolition charges off the bridge with his feet! Boy that took plenty of guts. He’s the one who saved the bridge and made the whole thing possible"[30]

As they crossed the bridge, the found that the catwalk near the eastern pier on the upstream side of the bridge was gone. Sergeant Joe DeLisio ran through the intense German gunfire and Timmermann and the others followed him.[8] Bratge tried to organize a counter attack to throw the Americans back across the bridge, but the American tank's shell fire stopped him. He looked for Scheller and found he'd already escaped out the far end of the tunnel.[8] The U.S. troops got across the bridge to the east bank in less than fifteen minutes.

Sergeant Alexander A. Drabik of Holland, Ohio, ran the entire 117 meters (384 ft) long bridge with only one pause as the Germans tried to blow up the bridge. His squad, with other soldiers, secured the eastern side of the bridge by running through the settling dust and smoke from the explosion. Drabik was the first American soldier to cross this bridge, and the first enemy since the Napoleonic Wars to cross the Rhine and capture German territory.[31]

Drabik and his entire squad made it across the bridge without injury.[3][30][6][32] Drabik later said:.

We ran down the middle of the bridge, shouting as we went. I didn't stop because I knew that if I kept moving they couldn't hit me. My men were in squad column and not one of them was hit. We took cover in some bomb craters. Then we just sat and waited for others to come. That's the way it was.[33]

Bill Ryan described crossing the bridge.

All I remember is debris everywhere, and there was still Germans laying there - shot and killed. The engineers were at the far end. "Hey you dumb Yanks, you'd best double time it, the bridge is going up at any minute!" So we double-timed the whole bridge. It was amazing that it was the last remaining bridge standing, and its just lucky the explosives didn't all go off, or we'd have gone down.[34]

The Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen from the west bank of the Rhine after it was captured by U.S. troops.

German-born Lieutenant Karl H. Timmermann was the first American officer to cross the bridge.[29] Following him, Sgt. Dorland reached the far shore and destroyed the main demolition switch box. Sgt. DeLisio captured a German machine gun team in the eastern tower.[8] The rest of A/27 AIB followed them, and after the eastern shore was initially secured, Lt. Mott led B Company, 9th Engineers in finding and eliminating more live demolition charges on the bridge. A platoon led by Lt. Emmet Burrows climbed Epeler Lay and cleared out the snipers, after which he and his men were hit by concentrated artillery and mortar fire. They then climbed down the far side of the hill to the railroad tunnel. Bratge tried to round up all available men and organize a counterattack, and when they started to leave the tunnel for Osberg, American gun fire and hand grenades blocked their escape, and they were captured.[8]

Lt. Mott and his two sergeants found about 160 kilograms (350 lb) of unexploded charges in one of the piers. They discovered that one of the wires connecting to the main charge was severed, possibly by artillery.[16] Combat engineers also found a 230 kilograms (510 lb) demolition charge of TNT had not exploded when the blasting cap failed.[22] A Polish worker later said another worker had tampered with the blasting caps, though his claims could not be verified.[3]:226

III Corps had previously issued orders for Combat Command A of the 9th AID to continue south on the west bank of the Rhine and across the Ahr River to connect with Patton's 3rd Army. With the bridge captured, General Hoge wanted to reroute those forces and send them across the bridge to reinforce the bridgehead. Division commander Maj. Gen. John W. Leonard agreed with Hoge and they were contacted and given new orders. By dusk, the engineers had filled the crater in the approach ramp and began hastily repairing the bridge.[16][5]:504

At 11:00 that night, nine Sherman tanks gingerly crept across the bridge following white tape left by the engineers outlining the holes and began securing the bridgehead.[5]:504 Following the Shermans, an M10 Tank Destroyer from the 656th Tank Destroyer Battalion fell part way into the hole left by the German demolition charge in the bridge deck. The engineers briefly considered pushing it into the river, but decided they might further damage the bridge. They worked all night to jack the tank up and finally reopened the bridge at 5:30 AM. This allowed armored units to continue to reinforce the eastern bridgehead.[5]:504 At 5:30 AM, the 2d Platoon, Battery A, 482d Automatic Weapons Battalion, was the first antiaircraft units to reach the east shore.[6]

Bridgehead established[edit]

U.S. military cross the Ludendorff Bridge.

Colonel Harry Johnson, the chief of staff of the 9th Armored Infantry, called Colonel James H. Phillips, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army III Corps at about 5:00 PM to let him know that the bridge had been captured. Major General Milliken ordered that the 47th Infantry Regiment be motorized and dispatched to Remagen as soon as possible. To maximize effective command and control, Milliken decided to initially attach all units as they crossed the river to Combat Command B, 9th Armored Division.[19]

Soldiers from the 47th Infantry Regiment, temporarily attached to the 9th Infantry Division, march through Remagen towards the Ludendorff Bridge on 8 March 1945.[35]

When the headquarters of First US Army learned at 8:15 PM on 7 March about the sudden capture of Ludendorff Bridge, it confirmed III Corp's decision to continue to enlarge the bridgehead. It attached the 7th Armored Division to III Corps so they could relieve the 9th Infantry Division who were crossing the Rhine. They also ordered the 2d Infantry Division to relieve the 78th Infantry Division so it too could cross the Rhine and defend the bridgehead. First Army also dispatched a 90-mm antiaircraft battalion, a treadway bridge company, and a DUKW company to III Corps.[19]

General Eisenhower ordered Omar Bradley to secure the bridgehead, but he limited the expansion to a maximum width of 40 km (25 mi) and a depth of 16 km (9.9 mi), an area that could be held by five divisions. Bradley told General Hodges to limit his units' advances to 1,000 yards (910 m) per day with the goal of preventing the German forces from consolidating their positions. Hodges' First Army had captured a bridge and established a bridgehead with less than a battalion of men. Now he was instructed to hold his forces once they reached the German autobahn, about 7 miles (11 km) from the bridge, and to wait for Montgomery to complete his meticulously planned crossing of the Rhine by the entire 21st Army Group as Operation Plunder.[20]

After the bridge was captured, U.S. Army military engineers and technicians worked strenuously to strengthen the bridge. They repaired battle damage and reinforced the bridge with steel beams. While under repair, the 78th, 79th, and the 99th Infantry Divisions crossed the Ludendorff Bridge. Thousands of vehicles and tens of thousands of troops were diverted to take advantage of the unexpected bridgehead. All roads leading to the bridge were clogged for miles with vehicles and men.[16] The first reporter at the bridgehead was Stars and Stripes combat correspondent Andy Rooney.[36][37] Forty years after the event, he wrote about his luck. "It was a reporter`s dream. One of the great stories of the war had fallen into my lap."[38]

A view of Ludendorff Bridge from the top of Erpeler Ley. Don Feltner, a member of Company C., 656 Tank Destroyer Battalion, is looking down on the bridge.

U.S. Military Police 1LT John "Jack" Hyde was the 9th Division's officer in charge of the flow of men and materials across the bridge. He established a rigid traffic control and holding patterns that his unit enforced. Only four months before while a 2LT during the Battle of the Bulge, he refused LTG George Patton access to a restricted area. Patton demanded to be let through, and when Hyde refused, Patton asked for Hyde's name. Given Patton's penchant for a violent temper, Hyde expected a dressing down, but Patton instead made sure that Hyde was promoted to first lieutenant. Hyde received a Silver Star for his bravery and gallantry under fire at the Ludendorff Bridge.[39]

Antiaircraft defense[edit]

After the U.S. Army captured the bridge, they lined up flak trucks and artillery of every description virtually bumper to bumper to protect the bridgehead. On the afternoon of Wednesday, 7 March, Captain Carlton G. "Pappy" Denton, Commander, Battery D, squeezed his 482nd antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion to the head of Combat Command B. They arrived at the bridgehead at 3:00 AM on 8 March.[19] The Army called on all of the automatic weapons battalion from each division in III Corp. Colonel James Madison, in charge of III Corps' 16th Antiaircraft Artillery Group, dispatched two batteries.[6]

By 6:00 AM on 9 March, there were five U.S. antiaircraft battalions, each with four batteries armed with eight M15 and eight M16 AAA halftracks, totaling 1280 individual weapons. During the rest of the day, the 109th Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion was positioned on the west bank and the 634th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion occupied the east side. By noon, they had their SCR-584 radar and directors aligned and ready to fire on Luftwaffe aircraft.[6] U.S. Air Force fighter aircraft maintained a strong defensive umbrella over the bridge to try to stop Luftwaffe attacks. During the next 15 days, the Allies expanded the bridgehead as rapidly as they could. They encountered heavy resistance in places and received fire from small arms, self-propelled weapons, mortars, and artillery.[19]

Colonel Patterson, in charge of the antiaircraft artillery for III Corp, described the antiaircraft defenses as the "million dollar show," because "it cost the American taxpayers a million dollars in antiaircraft ammunition" every time a German aircraft dared attack the bridge. "We had anti-aircraft from water level all the way to the top of the mountain where the railroad bridge went across. My instructions to the aircraft were, "Don't worry about identification. If anything approaches Remagen Bridge, shoot it down."[18]:183

German counterattack[edit]

When the Ludendorff Bridge was captured, Major Scheller tried and failed to reach his superiors via radio and telephone. He set off on a bicycle to report in person and got to the German command post around midnight. Captains Bratge and Friesenhahn, along with the other Germans inside the tunnel, were captured by U.S. soldiers who had climbed over to the far side of Epeler Lay.[20]:216 General of the Cavalry Edwin Rothkirch, commanding officer of LIII Armee Korps, had been captured on 6 March. His superior, General Hans Felber, 7th Army commander, appointed Fritz Bayerlein in his place. Bayerlein was the former commander of the Panzer Lehr Division during the Battle of the Bulge.[40] On the night of 7 March, German officers cobbled together about a hundred antiaircraft troop and engineers who attacked through the night, trying to blow the bridge up. Field Marshal Model, Army Group B commander, could not be reached. He was trying to save portions of the LXVI and LXVII Corps who had been pushed up against the west bank of the Rhine by the 4th Armored Division above Andernach. On the morning of 8 March, he finally ordered the 11th Panzer Division, a force of 4,000 men, 25 tanks, and 18 artillery pieces, to counterattack, but it was more than a day's travel away.[20]

The Germans were determined to eliminate the bridge and isolate the American units on the eastern shore.[19] Model designated Bayerlein to lead the effort to retake the bridge. On 9 March a German counterattack by the 67th Infantry Regiment began, but was too weak to ensure success. Bayerlein reformed the Panzer Lehr Division, but it was a shadow of its former self, comprised of only about 300 men and 15 tanks. He also called on the remnant of the 9th Panzer Division, totaling about 600 men and 15 tanks, and what was left of the 106th Panzer Brigade with five tanks. But Bayerlein could not muster the forces at his disposal into an effective counterattack. The 11th Panzer didn't get to the bridgehead until 10 March and by then was only able to initiate small, localized attacks.[20]

The Germans had more than 100 artillery in the area around the bridge, including 105 mm howitzers, 150 mm guns, and howitzers. Targeting the bridge was complicated by limited visibility due to the steep slopes of Epeler Lay overlooking the eastern approach. Artillery hit the bridge and the approaches many times, and the Germans targeted the floating pontoon and treadway bridges as they were built. The falling shells made the jobs of the combat engineers more risky.[20] Bayerlein was unable to make progress and Field Marshal Walter Model was so unhappy with his performance that he transferred all of the LIII Corp's armor to Carl Püchler's LXXIV Corps.[40]

Combat Engineers repairing the Ludendorff Bridge on 17 March 1945 four hours before it collapsed.

Hitler was furious about losing the bridge and ordered it destroyed at all costs.[41] The German High Command tried nearly every weapon at their disposal to destroy the bridge over the next ten days. They also flew ME-109s, FW-190s, Heinkel dive-bombers, and Stuka dive-bombers.[4] The terrain around the river required the pilots to either dive on the bridge from high altitude, avoiding the hills, or fly at low altitude from up or down river. At 4:44 on Thursday, 8 March, three Stuka dive bombers and one ME109 fighter made a low-level attack straight up the river to attack the bridge, and the U.S. 482d AW shot all four down. Thirty minutes later, eight more Stukas attacked, and the accurate antiaircraft fire brought down all eight aircraft.[6] The Stuka was able to approach the bridge at high altitude and dive almost perpendicular on the bridge.[6] Although accurate, it was slow, and due to the intense AAA fire, it and the other aircraft failed to knock out the bridges.[4][42] The American antiaircraft fire was so intense as the tracer bullets concentrated on the aircraft that the air around the planes was lit up with a pink glow.[42]:92 On 9 March, the Germans sent 17 aircraft against the bridge, but the heavy antiaircraft defenses required them to take violent evasive action and their bombs missed. The U.S. forces probably downed 13 of the 17 German aircraft on Friday.[6]

When their propeller-driven aircraft failed, the Germans flew the top secret tactical Arado Ar 234 turbojet bomber of 3rd Group/KG 76, escorted by Messerschmitt 262 jet fighters, for the first time.[6][7][43] Carrying external bombs, the jets were capable of flying at over 660 kilometers (410 mi), faster than almost all Allied aircraft, and so fast that the American antiaircraft units had trouble tracking them.[6] Over six days, III/KG-76 flew nine sorties against the bridges. While extremely fast for their time, they weren't accurate enough and dropped 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb) bombs without success. The Germans lost seven jet aircraft, two to Allied aircraft.[4][20]

A Canal Defence Light used to illuminate the bridge and river area at night.

The Germans floated a barge down the river carrying explosives but the U.S. forces captured it. They floated mines down the river, but they were intercepted by a series of log and net booms that U.S. engineers built upstream to protect the tactical bridges.[16] Hitler summoned special operations commander Otto Skorzeny, who on 17 March sent a special naval demolitions squad using Italian underwater breathing apparatus to plant mines.[20][44][45][46] Before they could set out, they learned that the Ludendorff Bridge had fallen, but Skorzeny ordered the seven SS frogmen to attack the pontoon bridge between Kripp and Linz. The water was extremely cold, about 7 °C (45 °F), and they entered the river 17 kilometers (11 mi) upriver. But they were discovered by the 738th Tank Battalion who operated extremely bright Canal Defence Lights, employed for the first time in combat during World War II.[5]:410[4] Two men died of hypothermia, two were killed, and the other three were captured.[47][48]:336-337

On 14 March Hitler ordered the use of V2 ballistic missiles against the bridgehead. The German General Staff was shocked that Hitler would order the use of the inaccurate weapons on German soil when they would very likely kill German citizens and troops.[8] On 17 March, the Germans fired eleven V2 rockets against a strategic target for the first time[8] from the Hellendoorn area of the Netherlands, about 200 kilometers (120 mi) north of Remagen. The inaccurate missiles landed as far away as Cologne, 64 kilometers (40 mi) to the north, while one missed the bridge by only 460 to 730 meters (1,510 to 2,400 ft). They also struck the towns of Oeverich and Remagen, destroying a number of buildings and killing six U.S. GIs and a number of German residents and wounding many others.

On Sunday, 11 March, they rerouted Karl-Batterie 638, a two gun section firing the 540mm super-heavy mortar towards Remagen. Its shells were 60 cm (24 in) in diameter, and weighed 2,170 kg (4,780 lb). The range for its lightest shell of 1,250 kg (2,760 lb) was just over 10 km (6.2 mi).[49] Batterie 638 arrived on 20 March and fired 14 rounds in an attempt to destroy the newly built bridges. Karl-Battery 428 was also ordered towards Remagen on 11 March, but served in the 1st Army sector instead.[50]

Expanded bridgehead[edit]

C Company, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion welcomed later troops with the sign, "CROSS THE RHINE WITH DRY FEET, COURTESY OF 9TH ARM'D DIV"

C Company, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion, placed a large sign on the north tower on the western side of the bridge that welcomed soldiers: "Cross the Rhine with dry feet courtesy of 9th Arm'd Div".[8] The M26 Pershing T26E3s that had been instrumental in capturing the bridge were too heavy to risk moving across the weakened bridge. They had to wait five days before they were transported across the river by pontoon ferry on March 13.[51][52]

The few roads around Remagen were choked with traffic for miles with vehicles and troops and were frequently backed up at the approaches to the bridge. The commanding officer of 7th Armored Division, Major General Robert W. Hasbrouck, was instructed to immediately move a combat command, reinforced by one battalion of infantry, to an area near Remagen where it would relieve the 60th Infantry Regiment. The 310th Infantry Regiment, 78th Infantry Division, was the first unit to follow the 9th Armored Division across the Rhine. On Monday, 12 March 1945 the Belgian 16th Fusilier Battalion came under American command and one company crossed the Rhine at Remagen on 15 March. The 78th expanded the bridgehead, taking Bad Honnef and cutting part of the Autobahn, on 16 March.[19]

The Germans assembled units that were only "impressive on paper:" the 26th, 62d, 272d, 277th, and 326th Volksgrenadier Divisions; the 3d and 5th Parachute Divisions; and the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division. They were mostly comprised of inexperienced replacements found from among the Wehrkreise units up and down the Rhine. The Americans described German resistance as "moderate to light."[20]

Additional bridges[edit]

An M26 Pershing T26E3 of A Company, 14th Tank Battalion, is transported aboard a pontoon ferry built by the First Engineer Heavy Pontoon Battalion across the Rhine on 12 March 1945.

Once the bridge was captured, the Americans needed additional capacity to get troops and armor across the Rhine to expand and defend the bridgehead. They immediately began building additional bridges. On 8 March at 3:00 PM, the 990th, 988th and 998th Treadway Bridge Company and Detachment 1 of the 508 Engineer Light Pontoon Company[53] began delivering sections of M2 Pontoon Bridge and the combat engineers began building sections while still under artillery fire.[54] German artillery fire was especially accurate and targeted the pontoon bridges as soon as the U.S. troops began building it. Dozens of shells hit the bridge but engineers continued their work.[16]

The 291st Combat Engineer Battalion commanded by David E. Pergrin began constructing a Class 40 steel treadway bridge at 10:30 AM on 9 March about .40 kilometers (0.25 mi) down river of the bridge.[19][55] The crews and the bridge were struck by artillery and tank rounds and suffered several direct hits, slowing work on the bridge. They completed the first tactical bridge across the Rhine in 32 hours at 5:10 PM on Saturday, 10 March. At 315 meters (1,033 ft) it was the longest tactical bridge ever built.[56] A German forward artillery observer with a radio was captured in Remagen, and artillery fire gradually let up.[5]

The Americans also built a Class 40 295-meter (968 ft) reinforced heavy pontoon bridge 3.2 kilometers (2.0 mi) upstream on the bank of the Rhine between Kripp to Linz. German planes bombed and strafed the bridges during construction, killing three men and injuring two others. The Americans completed the second bridge and it opened for traffic at 11:00 PM on March 11,[44] and was reinforced the next day to carry heavier traffic. Once the second tactical bridge was open, the treadway bridge was used for eastbound traffic and the pontoon bridge for westbound traffic. Combat Engineers also completed a Bailey Bridge on March 20.[45]

When the treadway and pontoon bridges were operational, the engineers closed the Ludendorff Bridge for repairs on Monday, 12 March. Its steel framework was more resistant to artillery and bombs and allowed it to carry heavier loads like the heavy M26 Pershing tanks, making it worth repairing. On 10 March a direct hit from an artillery shell killed the battalion executive officer of the 276th Engineer Combat Battalion and injured 19 others.[19] On the same day, the Luftwaffe attacked the bridge for six and one-half hours, and U.S. antiaircraft gunners claimed credit for about 28 of the 47 aircraft. By Wednesday, 14 March, the Americans had 16 gun batteries and 33 Automatic Weapon batteries, totaling 672 antiaircraft fire units, arrayed for miles around the bridgehead. It was the largest concentration of anti-aircraft weapons during World War II[2][3]:189 and ranks among "the greatest antiaircraft artillery battles in American history."[6] Their fire was so intense that shells falling back to earth caused 200 friendly casualties, but they successfully destroyed 70% of the aircraft attacking the bridges.[6]

Bridge fails[edit]

An aerial view of the Ludendorff Bridge after it collapsed into the Rhine River on 17 March 1945. Two treadway pontoon bridges are visible to the north. The photograph was taken by Forward Artillery Observer 1Lt. Adrian Kibler, Sr., 991st Field Artillery Bn.

Although the Ludendorff railroad Bridge was not well situated due to the poor road network around it,[15] 8,000 soldiers crossed the Rhine during the first 24 hours after its capture[22] and 25,000 troops and thousands of vehicles crossed it and the other newly built bridges within the next 15 days.[57] But on 17 March at 3:00 PM the Ludendorff Bridge suddenly collapsed into the Rhine.[14][58] About 200 U.S. Army engineers from the 276th Combat Engineer Battalion and 1058th Bridge Construction and Repair Group were working on the span when it fell.[8][14] Seven were killed, 22 went missing, three died later on from injuries, and 63 others were injured.[3]:201

Lt. Col. Clayton A. Rust, Battalion Commander of the 276th Engineer Combat Battalion, was on the bridge when it collapsed. He fell with the bridge into the Rhine, was briefly pinned underwater, and then floated down steam to the pontoon bridge where he was pulled out of the water. He later reported, "The bridge was rotten throughout, many members not cut had internal fractures from our own bombing, German artillery, and from the German demolitions. The bridge was extremely weak. The upstream truss was actually useless. The entire load of traffic, equipment and dead load were supported by the good downstream truss...it buckled completely under a load which of course it was not designed to carry."[3]:200

The Ludendorff Bridge on 17 March 1945 after it fell into the Rhine.

Before it collapsed, five U.S. divisions had already used it and the adjacent pontoon bridges to cross into Germany, creating a well-established bridgehead almost 40 kilometers (25 mi) long, extending from Bonn in the north almost to Koblentz in the south, and 10 to 15 kilometers (6.2 to 9.3 mi) deep. The battle for control of the area around Remagen ended on 25 March 1945 when the Allied forces broke out of the bridgehead and advanced into Germany.[22]

Breakout[edit]

First U.S. Army men and equipment pour across the Remagen Bridge; two knocked out jeeps in foreground. Photograph by Sgt. William Spangle, Germany, March 11, 1945
For more details on this topic, see Operation Plunder.

The Panzer Lehr Division along with the 9th and 11th Panzer Divisions unsuccessfully counterattacked, consuming dwindling supplies of gasoline. The breakthrough at Remagen meant that the beleaguered German forces lost a much-needed chance to regroup east of the Rhine. The unexpected attack across the Rhine forced Eisenhower to change his plans[59] and made the other crossings during Operation Plunder in late March easier.[4]

When the Americans captured the Ludendorff Bridge, it created a sudden added burden on German defenses and multiplied their confusion. They had been expecting a thrust across the Rhine, but not at Remagen and not so soon. Once the bridgehead was consolidated, on March 22 Combat Command B advanced to the south along the Rhine towards Ehrenbreitstein. The 9th Infantry Division then sped south on the German autobahn and captured Limburg, setting the example for the swift armored advances of the rest of the American forces across central Germany who captured the industrial heartland of the Ruhr. After capturing Limburg, Combat Command B covered 67 miles (108 km) in one day during the drive to the north, and Combat Command A advanced 70 miles (110 km) in 11 hours. On March 29, Combat Command A captured more than 1200 Germans.[16]

Aftermath[edit]

The collapsed Ludendorff Bridge on 27 March 1945.

German courts martial[edit]

Adolf Hitler was incensed by the loss of the bridge. He personally appointed Generalleutnant Rudolf Hübner as Commander of “Fliegendes Sonder-Standgericht West” ("Flying Special Court Martial West).[60] He directed him to court-martial and execute the officers who failed to destroy the bridge.[3]:204[22] Hübner and two others who had no legal experience traveled to Army Group B headquarters with their own two-man execution squad. On March 11, in violation of German military rules of justice, Hübner was both prosecutor and judge. Col. Richter Janert, Army Group B's legal officer, offered Hübner a copy of the German military code of justice, but Hübner waved it aside, insisting that the only authority he needed was Hitler's. Hübner tried Captain Bratge first. He had been captured by the Americans and was tried in absentia. Hübner sentenced Bratge to death for delaying the order to blow the bridge. But since Bratge was a prisoner of war, his sentence could not be carried out.[61]

Hübner then tried Maj. Scheller and after him Lt. Karl Heinz Peters. Scheller had only arrived at 11:15 AM, two hours before the Americans attacked the bridge. Peters was a passerby trying to get his experimental antiaircraft system back across the Rhine. But the outcome of the trial was predetermined. The men were executed the next day with a shot to the back of the neck in Rimbac and buried where they fell in shallow graves. On the day Scheller and Peters were sentenced, Maj. Herbert Strobel and Maj. August Kraft were summoned to Field Marshal Model's office in Oberirsen, unaware of the charges pending against them. On March 12 Hübner also conducted speedy trials for them. The next day the two men were given 30 minutes to write to their families before they were escorted to a wooded site and executed with a bullet to the back of the head. The executioners covered their bodies with a few shovel-fulls of dirt and left them where they fell. A sixth officer, Engineer Commander Capt. Friesenhahn, had been captured. But he was not convicted as he was found by the court to have done everything within his power to destroy the bridge.[16][3]

Hitler also dismissed Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, Commander-in-Chief of the Western Front, and four other generals. Generalmajor Richard von Bothmer, commander of Bonn and Remagen, was prosecuted because he gave Bonn up without a fight. Von Bothmer was demoted to private and sentenced to five years in prison. His wife was dead and his son had been killed in the war. Bothmer grabbed a pistol belonging to a court official and committed suicide in the courtroom on 10 March.[61] Hitler replaced him with Field Marshal Albert Kesselring from the Italian Front. Kesselring rebuked the troops for their costly failure. "We have suffered unnecessary losses and our present military situation has become nearly catastrophic."[16]

Kesselring and Model sent out a special dispatch on 18 March to every unit in the German military describing the executions.[20]

...an important bridge across the Rhine had fallen into enemy hands without being damaged, despite the fact that all preparations for its demolition had been made. This has happened because the responsible leaders have abandoned the bridgehead. They have acted in an irresponsible and cowardly way. The five guilty officers were condemned to death by court martial, one of them, a captain, in absentia. The sentence was executed against three majors and one lieutenant. The above information is to be communicated to all troops as rapidly as possible and should be considered a warning to everyone. Who does not live in honor will die in shame.[3]

But Kesselring's new position lasted almost exactly two months from the day the Ludendorff Bridge was seized when all German forces surrendered on May 8.[16]

Awards for valor[edit]

1Lt. Karl Timmermann was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions leading to the capture of the bridge.
Sgt Drabik, the first U.S. soldier across the bridge, is awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Maj. Gen. John W. Leonard awarded 13 soldiers Distinguished Service Crosses and 152 Silver Star medals.[8] All units that comprised Combat Command B of the 9th Armored Division received Presidential Unit Citations. Among them were Sergeant Alexander A. Drabik of Holland, Ohio, the first American soldier to cross this bridge, and German-born Lieutenant Timmermann, the first American officer to cross the bridge. They were both recognized for their actions with the Distinguished Service Cross.

Sgt. Hugh Mott, who led two other members of 2nd Platoon, B/9 Armored Engineer Battalion, onto the bridge to remove live demolition charges while under fire from the Germans, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in taking the bridge.[62]

A Company, 14th Tank Battalion, was instrumental in helping seize the railroad bridge and establishing the first Allied bridgehead over the Rhine. Once across, they established fighting positions on the eastern side, repelling multiple German counterattacks by armor and infantry. For their actions, four soldiers from the 14th Tank Battalion were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the entire battalion was awarded its second Presidential Unit Citation.[51][52]

1LT John Hyde, who controlled a massive influx of vehicles and troops for more than 15 days, received a Silver Star for his bravery and gallantry under fire at the Ludendorff Bridge.[39]

The 47th Infantry Regiment, which was the first to cross the Rhine on 8 March, bore the brunt of the aggressive German counterattack. For its actions in helping protect the bridgehead, it was recognized with a Presidential Unit Citation.[3]

CCB/9 AIB was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its actions in taking and defending the bridge.

Combat Command B, 9th Armored Division is cited for outstanding performance of duty in action from 28 February to 9 March 1945 in Germany. On 28 February, Combat Command B launched an attack from the vicinity of Soller and less than twenty-four hours later crossed the Erft River at Derkum, forcing the enemy into disorderly retreat, the unit headed south-east, reaching the heights west of Remagen on 7 March, where troops of the command could see the Ludendorff Bridge across the Rhine River with large numbers of German troops fleeing across it. At 1500 hours that day a prisoner was captured who revealed that the bridge was mined for demolition and was to be destroyed at 1600 hours. At 1535 hours, one column of Combat Company B reached the western approach to the bridge. The span was still intact. Although the destruction of the bridge was imminent, American troops unhesitatingly rushed across the structure in the face of intense enemy automatic weapons fire. An explosion rocked the bridge but did not destroy it. Engineers scrambled down the abutments, cutting wires leading to other demolition charges and disposing of hundreds of pounds of explosives by hurling them into the river. Bulldozer tanks, working under heavy artillery and small-arms fire, filled craters at the bridge approach to permit vehicular passage. Upon reaching the opposite bank, troops of Combat Command B fought gallantly and cleared the surrounding high ground. Although the strength of the span was unknown, tank units rumbled across the bridge after dark and lent their support to foot troops. Antiaircraft artillery men deployed their weapons so skillfully that in the ensuing days numerous enemy airplanes were destroyed in vain attempts to destroy the bridge. The superb skill, daring and esprit de corps displayed by each officer and man of Combat Command B, 9th Armored Division, in the dash to the Rhine, the capture of the Ludendorff Bridge, and the successful exploitation of this first bridgehead across Germany's formidable river barrier made an outstanding contribution to the defeat of the enemy.[63]

Miracle at Remagen[edit]

Allied journalists called the capture of this bridge the "Miracle of Remagen". The New York Sun reported, "The Germans misjudged by a fateful ten minutes the speed at which the 9th Armored Division was moving... To all who utilized that ten minutes so advantageously goes the deepest gratitude this country can bestow."

General Dwight D. Eisenhower said the capture of the bridge was "one of those bright opportunities of war which, when quickly and firmly grasped, produce incalculable effects on future operations".[64][65] He described the First Army's success: "The whole Allied force is delighted to cheer the First Army whose speed and boldness have won the race to establish the first bridgehead over the Rhine. Please tell all ranks how proud I am of them." He later praised the actions of the individual soldiers who captured it. "The action of the people was beyond praise. Every man in the whole command approaching that bridge knew it was mined. Yet without a moment's hesitation they rushed the bridge. We had losses but they were minor compared to the great prize we won." Eisenhower's Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Walter B. Smith, said the capture of Ludendorff Bridge was "worth its weight in gold."[16][64] General Omar N. Bradley praised the capture of the bridge. It was "... a bold advance, characterized by a willingness to chance great risks for great rewards".[23]

Journalist Hal Boyle reported that American military analysts believed that capturing the bridge had prevented 15,000 casualties that would have otherwise been experienced during the planned crossings of the Rhine.[42]:90

Later history[edit]

The Rhine river and former site of the Remagen Bridge from the northwest.

The bridge was not rebuilt after the war but the standing towers were preserved. The towers on the western side of the Rhine have been converted into a memorial museum and are open to the public.[66] Remagen and Erpel were re-built after the war, restoring much of their historic character. Reconstruction was completed in Erpel during 1968 during the same year the village celebrated its 1500 year anniversary.[11]

On the 17th anniversary of the capture of the bridge on 7 March 1962, a few veterans of both sides of the battle commemorated the event, attended by about 400 townspeople and students. [67] On 7 March 1985, the fortieth anniversary of the battle, 130 U.S. veterans visited the bridge for a memorial service. On September 12, 1991, veterans of the American and German units were added to the "Golden Book" of the community of Erpel during a commemorative ceremony.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

Battle of Remagen commemorative plaque.

Plaques commemorating the battle for the bridge were placed on the wall of the towers on the western side of the Rhine. The 9th Infantry Division retained a foot-long piece of railroad track from the bridge as a memorial to what the division accomplished in its capture of the bridge. It is used in ceremonial activities to inspire current "Gila Battalion" engineers to “go out and perform the mission of the engineer."[68][66]

The sign that C/9th AIB placed on the north tower of the bridge is permanently displayed at the George Patton Museum at Fort Knox, Kentucky, above an M26 Pershing tank like that used to capture the bridge.[8]

Remagen Bridge Peace Museum[edit]

In 1978, Remagen Mayor Hans Peter Kürten formulated a plan to raise money to fund a museum. When the German government decided to remove the piers because they were a navigation hazard, he persuaded the government to allow him to cast pieces of the piers into resin, which he sold. The town was able to raise more than 100.000 DM in profits.[66]

Kürten opened the "Friedensmuseum Brücke von Remagen" (Remagen Bridge Peace Museum) on 7 March 1980 in one of the western towers.[69][66] Exhibits include a history of the bridge, a video documentary, information on the bridge's construction, and documentation about more than 200 wars in the region.[66] In 2003, more than 200 German, American, and Belgian veterans of the World War II battle attended a commemorative event during the 35th anniversary of the museum.[68]

Books and media[edit]

  • Those Damned Engineers, a non-fiction book by Janice Holt Giles.
  • Die Brücke von Remagen von Rolf Palm (German)
  • The Bridge at Remagen a non-fiction book by Ken Hechler.
  • The Bridge at Remagen, a Hollywood movie produced by David L. Wolper, based on the book of the same name.
  • Panzer Leader, a tactical board game, contains a stock scenario named "Remagen Bridge".
  • Call of Duty: Finest Hour requires the player to cross and capture the Ludendorff Bridge in the final mission of the game.
  • Panzer Front, a tank simulation game, requires the player to destroy enemy forces on the other side of the Rhine before crossing the bridge.
  • Battlefield 2142: Northern Strike, features the Ludendorff Bridge as a suspension bridge.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thomas, Nigel (1991). Foreign Volunteers of the Allied Forces: 1939–45. London: Osprey. p. 16. ISBN 185532136X. 
  2. ^ a b c Papadopoulos, Andy (2014). "Hitler's Last Bridge". WWIIs Greatest Raids. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-gj4m2or5A. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Hechler, Ken. The Bridge at Remagen: A Story of World War II (First ed.). Presidio Press. p. 217. ISBN 978-0891418603. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o McMullen, Emerson Thomas; Rogers, George. "George Rogers and the Bridge at Remagen". Archived from the original on November 19, 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2014. 
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  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Semmens, E. Paul. "The Remagen Bridgehead: A Decisive Victory for AAA Soldiers". The Hammer of Hell. ADA Magazine. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Bredow, Wolfgang. "Arado Ar 234 B-2 Blitz" (in German). Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v "V-2s on Remagen; Attacks On The Ludendorff Bridge". V2Rocket.com. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  9. ^ "The Roman Occupation of Southwest Germany". Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  10. ^ "De Brug Bij Remagen" (in Dutch). Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c d e "The Ludendorff Bridge Erpel - Remagen". Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  12. ^ "WWII 8th AAF Combat Chronology". Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  13. ^ "Mission Reports". Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c "The Bridge at Remagen The Ludendorff Bridge". Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  15. ^ a b c Zabecki, David T. (1999). World War II in Europe: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publications. p. 1644. ISBN 978-0824070298. Retrieved 17 November 2014. 
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "The 9th: The Story of the 9th Armored Division". Retrieved June 3, 2006. 
  17. ^ Merc, Steve. "Crossing the Rhine River: March 1945". Globe at War. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  18. ^ a b Wishnevsky, Stephan T. (2006). Courtney Hicks Hodges: from Private to Four-star General in the United States Army. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0786424344. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Leonard, John W. "The Remagen Bridgehead, March 7-17, 1945". Research And Evaluation Division, The Armored School, United States Army. Archived from the original on July 7, 2011. Retrieved November 18, 2015. 
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Bibliography[edit]