Ludendorff Bridge

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"Bridge at Remagen" redirects here. For the film about this bridge, see The Bridge at Remagen.
Ludendorff Bridge
Ludendorff-Brücke
Official name Ludendorff Bridge
Other name(s) Bridge at Remagen
Carries Railroads
Crosses Rhine river
Locale Rhineland-Palatinate
Designer Karl Wiener
Design through arch bridge
Total length 325 m (1,066 ft)
Piers in water Two
Constructed by Grün & Bilfinger
Construction begin 1916
Construction end 1919
Collapsed 1945
Coordinates 50°34′45″N 7°14′39″E / 50.579167°N 7.244167°E / 50.579167; 7.244167

The Ludendorff Bridge (known frequently by English speaking people during World War II as the Bridge at Remagen) was a railroad bridge across the Rhine River in Germany, connecting the villages of Remagen and Erpel between two ridges of hills flanking the river. Remagen is located close to and south of the city of Bonn.

At the end of Operation Lumberjack (1 through 7 March 1945), the troops of the American 1st Army approached Remagen and they were much surprised to find that the bridge was still standing.

The Ludendorff Bridge was notable for its capture on 7–8 March 1945 by the U.S. Army during the Battle of Remagen of World War II. This enabled the U.S. Army to establish a bridgehead on the eastern side of the Rhine.

The capture of this bridge was an important event of World War II in Western Europe because this was the only significant bridge still standing over the Rhine from the West into the heartland of Nazi Germany. Since it was a railroad bridge, this bridge was also strong enough that the U.S. Army could cross it immediately with heavy tanks and artillery pieces and trucks full of military supplies. Once the bridge was captured, the troops of the Wehrmacht began strenuous efforts to destroy or damage it, or to slow the U.S. Army's use of it. Among other things the Wehrmacht used heavy artillery and V-2 rockets against the bridge and it also sent frogmen at night to sabotage it.[1] However, these were discovered and shot by soldiers of the U.S. Army Military Police Corps attached to the 9th Armored Division using strong floodlights.

At the same time, the U.S. Army worked to protect and reinforce the Ludendorff Bridge by expanding their bridgehead into a perimeter large enough that the Germans could no longer attack the bridge with artillery or rockets. U.S. Army Air Forces fighter planes also kept a strong defensive umbrella over the bridge to keep the Luftwaffe from attacking it in desperation. U.S. Army military engineers and their technicians worked strenuously to reinforce the bridge, welding in many tons of reinforcing beams to repair it from its ongoing battle damage and overwork. All the while as Military Police were organizing troop, equipment, and traffic flow over the bridge.

The ensuing battle between the U.S. Army and the Wehrmacht continued for more than a week. The battle included a huge, ongoing artillery duel, a desperate air battle between the American and German air forces, and the use of some V-2 rockets against the American bridgeheads.

Units of infantry, artillery, and armour, both US and German, scrambled along the Rhine Valley while both sides reacted to the capture of the bridge and its failure to be destroyed by German explosives experts. One effect of those troop movements was that the Americans were able, within two weeks, to establish other crossings by using their pontoon bridges along their front on the Rhine. This complicated the Wehrmacht's job of defense, for their soldiers were cut off from their meager supplies, partly surrounded, and exposed to aerial bombing. All of this hastened the end of German resistance along the Rhine, forced many Germans to surrender, and opened the door for the U.S. Army to overrun the industrial areas of the Ruhr Valley, etc.

History[edit]

Before World War II[edit]

Under the Schlieffen Plan, a bridge was planned to be built here in 1912, as well as bridges in Engers and Rudesheim. The bridge was designed by Karl Wiener (German). Work on the bridge pillars and arches was done by leading construction companies Grün & Bilfinger[2] with the steel bridge built by MAN (Gustavsburg). It was constructed between 1916 and 1919 with two railway lines and a walkway (note: during World War II, one railway was covered over with planks to provide for truck traffic). Russian prisoners of war were used in the construction work. The bridge section had a total length of 398 meters and it had two massive foothills on the left bank vault openings, each 30 meters in internal diameter.

The main part of the Ludendorff Bridge formed a 325-meter-long steel bridge which consisted of the central two-hinged truss arch bridge, flanked on both sides by parallel anchor arms. The arch span was 156 meters long with arms each 85 meters long. The highest point of the arch bridge was 28.5 meters above the water. The height above the normal water level of the Rhine was 14.8 meters. The 4640 tonne structure cost about 2.1 million marks during World War I. Since the bridge was a major military construction project, both abutments of the bridge were provided with fortified foundations. These towers were equipped with loopholes for the bridge crew, storage, and accommodations for troops. From the flat roofs there was a wonderful view over the valley.

The Ludendorff Bridge was named for the World War I German General Erich Ludendorff, one of the proponents of this bridge. It was designed to connect the Right Rhine Railway, the Left Rhine Railway and the Ahr Valley Railway (Ahrtalbahn) to carry troops and supplies to the Western Front.

The Ludendorff Bridge was one of three bridges built to improve railroad traffic between Germany and France during World War I. The other two were the Hindenburg Bridge at Bingen am Rhein and the "Urmitz Bridge" on the Neuwied–Koblenz railway near Koblenz. This was one of the four bridges that were guarded by Americans during the U.S. Army's occupation of part of Germany following World War I.

U.S. capture during World War II[edit]

Main article: Battle of Remagen

During Operation Lumberjack, on 7 March 1945, troops of the U.S. Army's 9th Armored Division reached one of the two damaged but usable bridges over the Rhine. (The Wesel Railway Bridge in Wesel was the other one), after German defenders failed to demolish it, despite several attempts.

Sgt Drabik receives the DSC
Ludendorff Bridge US Military Map 1945

Sergeant Alexander A. Drabik of Holland, Ohio, was the first American soldier to cross this bridge in 1945, thereby becoming the first American soldier to cross the Rhine into Nazi Germany. The German-born Lieutenant Karl H. Timmermann was the first American officer to cross the bridge. Both men were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their actions. Combat Command B of the 9th Armored Division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for capturing 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 at the bridge on the morning of March 7, 1945. To add to confusion on the German side, Bratge was unaware until 1100 hours of the transfer of authority in the night to Maj. Hans Scheller, the adjutant of the area between Remagen and Schleiden. Scheller was ordered by his commanding general to assume the important task at the bridgehead. The major wanted to keep the bridge open as long as possible so that as many German soldiers and their heavy equipment (tanks and some artillery pieces) were able to cross the bridge. The responsible bridge officer, Captain Carl Friesenhahn, demanded a requisition of 600 kg of demolition explosives, receiving only 300 kg of "Donarit" explosive at 1100 hours, which was a much weaker industrial explosive used in mining. Friesenhahn tried to use it for a quick blast on the right bank side.

At 1340 hrs the main American attack began. The first blast set off by the Germans, who set fire to a portion of the charges, tore a 10-meter-wide crater in the left bank ramp. At 1540 hrs, the bridge itself was seemingly blown up by order of Major Scheller, but it remained standing after all. It was lifted up somewhat and then dropped back into place on its foundations, probably because one wire to the explosives had been destroyed. A three man detachment from 2nd Platoon, B Company, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion (Lieutenant Hugh Mott, Staff Sergeant John Reynolds, and Sergeant Eugene Dorland) moved with the first squad of A/27th AIB to reduce the remaining explosives after the first unsuccessful bridge demolition by the Germans. They were the third, fourth, and fifth US Soldiers onto the bridge. Crossing with lead elements, Dorland destroyed the main demolition switch box on the far shore. The remainder of B Company, 9th Engineers followed with the rest of A/27th AIB, finding and reducing more explosives on the bridge. After the crossing was initially secured, Lt. Mott led B Company in the hasty bridge repairs that allowed the first Sherman tanks to cross the bridge by 2200 that night. One of the last standing bridges over the Rhine had been captured by the U.S. Army.

Allied journalists called the capture of this bridge the "Miracle of Remagen". General Dwight D. Eisenhower declared the bridge "worth its weight in gold"[3] and "one of those bright opportunities of war which, when quickly and firmly grasped, produce incalculable effects on future operations".[4] The Ludendorff Bridge remained usable, despite the detonation of a small charge of explosives by the Wehrmacht and a stronger charge a few minutes later, but weakened significantly.[5] The Americans used the Ludendorff Bridge to carry tanks and trucks as long as they could. Eight thousand soldiers crossed it during the first 24 hours after its capture.

"CROSS THE RHINE WITH DRY FEET COURTESY OF 9TH ARM'D DIV"

A large sign was placed on one of the stone towers by C Co, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion, marked "Cross the Rhine with dry feet courtesy of 9th Arm'd Div". The sign is now on display at the George Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor at Fort Knox, Kentucky, above an M26 Pershing tank, one of the kinds used in the Battle of Remagen. During several days after the capture of the bridge, the 9th Infantry Division (United States), 78th Infantry Division (United States), and the 99th Infantry Division (United States) crossed the Ludendorff Bridge.

U.S. Army Military Police 1LT John "Jack" Hyde commanded a detachment of MP in the 9th Armored Division. Only four months prior, he was a 2LT serving in the Battle of the Bulge when he refused access to LTG George Patton to a restricted area. Patton demanded to be let through and asked for his name. Patton saw that Hyde was promoted, and Patton stopped by the bridge to make sure he was promoted. Hyde was the Division's Officer in Charge of the flow of men and materials across the bridge and established a rigid traffic control that his soldiers enforced. MG William Hoge commended him for his obedience to his post and orders. Hyde received a Silver Star for his efforts, and his military police soldiers much praise, as they were last to cross the Rhine.

A Nazi German "flying court-martial" chaired by Lt. General Rudolf Hübner found five officers guilty of "cowardice" and "dereliction of duty" and they were sentenced to death. Four of these, Maj. Scheller, Lt. Karl Heinz Peters, Maj. Herbert Strobel, and Maj. August Kraft, faced the firing squad on the day of their sentencing in the Westerwald (two in Rimbach, two in Oberirsen). A sixth officer, Capt. Friesenhahn, was exonerated, as the court found that he had done everything within his powers to destroy the bridge, not that it mattered as he had been captured by the Americans. Their families' pension rights were revoked, but then they were reinstated after the defeat of Nazi Germany. The fifth officer, Captain Bratge, was convicted and sentenced in absentia, since he had been captured by the U.S. Army by that time.

Adolf Hitler's main reaction to the capture of the Ludendorff Bridge was to dismiss Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt as the Commander-in-Chief of the Western Front and to replace him with Field Marshal Albert Kesselring from the Italian Front. Kesselring's new position only lasted several weeks before Nazi Germany surrendered on May 7.

Bombardment and collapse[edit]

US military crosses the Ludendorff bridge

After its capture, the Germans made repeated unsuccessful efforts to destroy it via aerial bombardment, field artillery and the use of floating mines. On 9 March 1945 a German counter-attack of the LXVII Armeekorps began, but was too weak to ensure success. The German High Command tried desperately to destroy the bridge in the following days, even using frogmen to plant mines and a railway gun which missed the target. In one of the few deployments of the type as tactical bombers, Arado Ar 234 jets attempted to destroy the bridge[5] (observed by Stars and Stripes newspaper reporter Andy Rooney),[6] and on 17 March 1945, eleven V-2 rockets were launched at the bridge from the Hellendoorn area of the Netherlands, about 200 kilometres (120 mi) north of Remagen, destroying a number of nearby buildings and killing at least six American soldiers.

Later on 17 March, ten days after its capture, the bridge suddenly collapsed into the Rhine.[7] Eighteen U.S. Army engineers were killed while working to strengthen the bridge, and 93 others were injured. However, by then the Americans had established a substantial bridgehead on the far side of the Rhine and had additional pontoon bridges in place.

Post WWII history[edit]

An aerial photograph of the ruins of the Ludendorff Bridge taken during 1953.

The railway bridge was not deemed important enough after WWII and so was not rebuilt after it collapsed. Parts of the land used for the approaching railway lines are now used as an industrial estate on the western bank and a park on the eastern bank.

Since 1980 the surviving towers on the western bank of the Rhine have housed a museum called "Peace Museum Bridge at Remagen" containing the bridge's history and 'themes of war and peace'.[8] This museum was partly funded by selling rock from the two piers as paperweights. The two piers were removed from the river in the summer of 1976 as they constituted an obstacle to navigation.

In media and popular culture[edit]

  • A Hollywood film inspired by a book written about its capture, The Bridge at Remagen, was made in 1969.
  • "Remagen Bridge" is one of the stock scenarios included in the tactical board game Panzer Leader.
  • The Ludendorff Bridge features prominently in the final mission of the game Call of Duty: Finest Hour, in which the player must cross the bridge and capture it.
  • In the final mission of the American scenario in the tank simulation game Panzer Front, the player can only finish the campaign if his or her tank destroys enemy forces on the other side of the river before attempting to cross the bridge itself.

Gallery[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ www.landeshauptarchiv.de
  2. ^ "Corporate history animation". Bilfinger Berger. 
  3. ^ Sarasota-Herald Tribune, April 22, 1945
  4. ^ Dwight D. Eisenhower (1948). Crusade in Europe (April 1952 ed.). p. 418. 
  5. ^ a b Leckie, Robert (1964). The Story of World War II. New York: Random House. p. 172. 
  6. ^ Rooney, Andy (1945-03-13). "Bridge a Blow to Jerry". Stars & Stripes (London ed.). 
  7. ^ "New images of Ludendorff Bridge collapse". Ludendorff Bridge collapse. Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  8. ^ The Bridge at Remagen museum

Further reading[edit]

Coordinates: 50°34′45″N 7°14′39″E / 50.57917°N 7.24417°E / 50.57917; 7.24417