The Remagen Bridge in March 1945 from the northeastern bank of the Rhine before it collapsed into the Rhine.
|Official name||Ludendorff Bridge|
|Other name(s)||Bridge at Remagen|
|Design||through arch bridge|
|Total length||325 m (355 yd)|
|Piers in water||Two|
|Constructed by||Grün & Bilfinger|
The Ludendorff Bridge (sometimes referred to as the Bridge at Remagen) was in early March 1945 one of two remaining bridges across the River Rhine in Germany when it was captured during the Battle of Remagen by United States Army forces during the closing weeks of the Second World War. Built in 1918 to help deliver reinforcements and supplies to the German troops on the front, it connected the villages of Remagen and Erpel between two hills flanking the river. The town of Remagen is located close to and south of the city of Bonn.
At the end of Operation Lumberjack (1-7 March 1945), the troops of the American 1st Army approached Remagen and were surprised to find that the bridge was still standing. Its capture enabled the U.S. Army to more quickly establish a bridgehead on the eastern side of the Rhine. After the U.S. forces captured the bridge, Germany vainly tried to destroy it multiple times over the next two weeks. While it stood, the bridge enabled the U.S. Army to quickly get 25,000 troops, six Army divisions, and thousands of heavy tanks, artillery pieces and trucks across the Rhine. The bridge collapsed on 17 March 1945, ten days after it was captured, killing 18 U.S. Army Engineers. It was never rebuilt. The towers on the west bank were converted into a museum and the towers on the east bank are a performing art space.
Remagen had first founded by the Romans about 2,000 years earlier. Over that long period of time, it had been destroyed multiple times by invading armies from several nations. The town was rebuilt each time. Under the Schlieffen Plan, a bridge was planned to be built here in 1912, as well as bridges in Engers and Rudesheim.
German General Erich Ludendorff was a key advocate for building this bridge during World War I. It was designed to connect the Right Rhine Railway, the Left Rhine Railway and the Ahr Valley Railway (Ahrtalbahn) and carry troops and supplies to the Western Front. Construction began in in 1916. It was designed by Karl Wiener. Work on the bridge pillars and arches was done by leading construction companies Grün & Bilfinger with the steel bridge built by MAN-Werk Gustavsburg. They used Russian prisoners of war of war as labor. It was constructed between 1916 and 1919 and carried two railway lines and two pedestrian catwalks on either side.
It 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. It was designed to connect the Right Rhine Railway, the Left Rhine Railway and the Ahr Valley Railway. The bridge was named for the its chief advocate German General Erich Ludendorff.
The railway bridge had three spans: two on either side 85 metres (279 ft) long and a central arch span of 156 metres (512 ft). It had dual tracks that could be covered with planks to allow vehicular traffic. The steel section was 325 metres (1,066 ft) long, and it had an overall length of 398 metres (1,306 ft). On the eastern bank the railway passed through Erpeler Ley, a steeply rising hill over 500 feet (150 m) high. The tunnel was 383 metres (1,257 ft) long. The arch at its highest measured 28.5 metres (94 ft) above the water. It was normally about 48 feet (15 m) above the Rhine.
The 4,640 tonnes (5,110 tons) structure cost about 2.1 million marks when it was built during World War I. Since the bridge was a major military construction project, both abutments of the bridge were flanked at either end by stone towers with fortified foundations that could shelter up to a full battalion of men. To protect the bridge, both an engineering unit and a military unit were assigned to the bridge. The towers were designed with fighting loopholes for troops. From the flat roof of the towers troops had a good view of the valley.
The designers had also built cavities into the concrete piers where demolition charges could be placed. Explosives could be installed at the base of the piers in case it came under attack. Electrical circuits, protected by steel tubing, had been included so engineers would be able to detonate the bridge from the safety of the rail tunnel beneath the Erpeler Ley. As a backup, they laid primer cord that could be manually ignited. They believed they could easily destroy the bridge when necessary with minimal preparation.
When the French occupied the Rhineland after the Great War, they filled these cavities with concrete. In 1938, after the Germans reacquired the Rhineland and control of the bridge, zinc-lined boxes were placed at key structural points. They connected the boxes by electrical cable protected by steel pipe to a point inside the rail tunnel under Erpeler Ley where engineers could safely detonate the charges.
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 troops. The bridge connected the village of Erpel on the eastern side with Remagen on the west bank. 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.
This was one of the four bridges that were guarded by Americans during the U.S. Army's occupation of part of Germany following the Great War.
On October 14-15, 1944, an American bomb luckily struck chamber containing the demolition charges of the Mulheim Bridge in Cologne, destroying the bridge. Hitler demanded that demoltion charges on bridges could only be set when the enemy was within a specific distance, and only exploded by written order. He ordered those "responsible" for the destruction of the Mulheim Bridge court-martialed. This left officers responsible for destroying bridges in the event enemy approached nervous about the consequences if they failed. Hitler also issued orders that the Westwall be held at all costs which meant that the German forces paid less attention to the bridges across the Rhine.
Captured during World War II
In March, 1945 about 5,000 people lived in the town. The Rhine near Remagen is about 300 metres (980 ft) wide. During Operation Lumberjack, on 7 March 1945, troops of the U.S. Army's 9th Armored Division reached the bridge during the closing weeks of World War II and were very surprised to see that the railroad bridge was still standing. It was one of 22 vehicle and 28 railroad bridges across the Rhine, all of which they Germans had systematically destroyed in advance of the Allied's attack. But in this instance the German defenders failed to demolish it and U.S. forces were able to capture the bridge.
The ability to quickly establish a bridgehead on the eastern side of the Rhine and to get forces into Germany allowed the U.S. forces to envelop the German industrial area of the Ruhr. The Allies were able to get six divisions across the damaged bridge before it collapsed on 17 March 1945, ten days after it was captured. The collapse killed 36 U.S. Army Engineers.The unexpected availability of the first major crossing of the Rhine, Germany's last major natural barrier and line of defense, caused Allied high commander Dwight Eisenhower to alter his plans to end the war.
Post World War II history
After the war, the railway crossing was not deemed important enough to justify rebuilding the bridge. 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'. 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 were an obstacle to navigation.
In media and popular culture
- 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.
- In Battlefield 2142: Northern Strike, the bridge was rebuilt as a suspension bridge and sections collapsed. A similar bridge design in the game was seen in Anzio.
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References and notes
- "The Ludendorff Bridge Erpel-Remagen". Retrieved 23 November 2014.
- "Corporate History". Bilfinger Berger. Archived from the original on March 24, 2010.
- MAN Maschinenfabrik Augsburg Nürnberg Bridges Historical advertisement, p. 7
- "V-2s on Remagen; Attacks On The Ludendorff Bridge". V2Rocket.com. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
- McMullen, Emerson Thomas; Rogers, George (2000). "George Rogers and the Bridge at Remagen". Retrieved 18 November 2014.
- The Bridge at Remagen museum
- "US 9th Engineer Battalion". Archived from the original on May 7, 2008. Retrieved July 22, 2005.
- "The 9th: The Story of the 9th Armored Division". Retrieved 2006-06-03.
- Ludendorff Bridge at Structurae
- "The Ludendorff Bridge". Battlefields Europe.[dead link]
- "US 8th Air Force ETO Ace Shot Down over Remagen by Allied Gunners". VFW Magazine.
- Hechler Ken (1998). The Bridge at Remagen: The Amazing Story of March 7, 1945, the Day the Rhine River Was Crossed (3rd ed.). Novato, California: Presidio. ISBN 978-0-89141-860-3.
- "The Bridge at Remagen" Barber Neil
- Lewis Betty (2001-07-14). "Interview with Ken Hechler, WWII Historian author of 'The Bridge at Remagen'". Retrieved 2008-03-07.
- "The 9th: The Story of the 9th Armored Division (Originally from Stars and Stripes)". Retrieved 2008-03-07.
- "The Remagen Bridgehead, a US Army Armor School Study 7–17 March 1945 (scanned copy)". Retrieved 2008-03-07.
- Palm Rolf (1985). Die Brücke von Remagen: der Kampf um den letzten Rheinübergang: ein dramatisches Stück deutscher Zeitgeschichte (in German). Scherz. ISBN 978-3-502-16552-1.
- Dittmer, Luther A. (1995). Die Ludendorff Brücke zu Remagen am 7. März 1945: im Lichte bekannter und neuerer Quellen (in German). Institut für Mittelalterliche Musikforschung. ISBN 978-0-931902-35-2.