Operation Lumberjack

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Operation Lumberjack
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
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
Belligerents
 United States
 Belgium[1]
 Germany
Commanders and leaders
United States Courtney Hodges Nazi Germany Erich Brandenberger
Strength
1st Army 7th Army

Operation Lumberjack was a military operation with the goal to capture the west bank of the Rhine River and seize key German cities near the end of World War II. The First United States Army launched the operation in March 1945 to capture strategic cities in Germany and to give the Allies a foothold along the Rhine.

One unexpected outcome was the capture of the Ludendorff bridge, a strategic railroad bridge across the Rhine, in the Battle of Remagen. Despite the German's attempts to destroy the bridge, Allied forces captured it intact and were able to use it for ten days to establish a beachhead on the far side before it finally collapsed as a result of damage inflicted by the retreating German army.

Strategic importance[edit]

The Germans had repeatedly frustrated Allied efforts to cross the Rhine. Previously crossings had been limited to small infantry reconnaissance patrols by boat. When elements of the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion, Combat Command B, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion reached the heights overlooking the town of Remagen, they were stunned to find that the Ludendorff Bridge was still standing.[2] The Ludendorff bridge was the last standing bridge across the River Rhine, which formed the last natural line of defense that the Germans hoped could be used to substantially resist the Western Allied advance.

Initially, officers in the 27th began calling for artillery to drop the bridge and trap German forces on the west bank. Unable to secure artillery support, the 27th continued to observe the bridge. When word of the bridge's status reached General William Hoge, commanding Combat Command B, he issued orders for the 27th to advance into Remagen with support from the 14th Tank Battalion.[2]

Importantly, the battle convinced the Allied high command in Western Europe that they could envelop the German industrial area of the Ruhr as opposed to focusing primarily on General Bernard Montgomery's plan, Operation Plunder, which would bring the British 21st Army Group across the Rhine into northern Germany.

With the 21st Army Group firmly established along the Rhine, Bradley's 12th Army Group prepared to execute Operation Lumberjack. General Omar Bradley's plan called for the U.S. First Army to attack southeastward toward the juncture of the Ahr and Rhine Rivers and then swing south to meet Patton, whose U. S. Third Army would simultaneously drive northeastward through the Eifel. If successful, Lumberjack would capture Cologne, secure the Koblenz sector, and bring the 12th Army Group to the Rhine in the entire area north of the Moselle River. The 12th Army Group also hoped to bag a large number of Germans.

Allied forces[edit]

The Rhineland campaign.

During the operation, the U.S. First Army controlled the III, V, and VII Corps. III Corps had the 9th Armored Division and the 1st, 9th, and 78th Infantry Divisions attached. V Corps had attached the 2nd, 28th, 69th, and 106th Infantry Divisions attached as well as the 7th Armored Division, although the 7th was not committed to the operation and had transferred to the III Corps by March 7. The VII Corps controlled the 3rd Armored Division and the 8th, 99th, and 104th Infantry Divisions.[3]

German forces[edit]

From north to south, the attacking U.S. forces were confronted by the LXXXI (9th and 11th Panzer Divisions, and the 476th, 363rd, and 59th Infantry Divisions) and LVIII Panzer Corps (353rd and 12th Infantry Divisions, as well as the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division) of the German Fifteenth Army, and the LXXIV (85th and 272nd Infantry Divisions, as well as the 3rd Airborne Division), LXVII (89th and 277th Infantry Divisions), and LXVI Corps (5th Airborne Division) of the German Fifth Panzer Army.[4] Over 75,000 German troops were on the western banks of the bridge. Their only escape route was across the Ludendorff bridge. Hitler ordered that the charges should not be laid until the very last moment, although the circuits could be in place, and that bridges should be demolished only as a last resort.[5]

Battle[edit]

The Ludendorff Bridge (German: Ludendorffbrücke) four hours before it collapsed, ten days after it was captured by the Allies.

Bradley launched Lumberjack on 1 March. In the north, the First Army rapidly exploited bridgeheads over the Erft River, entering Euskirchen on 4 March and Cologne on the fifth. Simultaneously, the Third Army swept through the Eifel to the Rhine.

The distance advanced by U.S. units during Lumberjack varied between about 10 to 40 miles (16 to 64 km). In the north, the U.S. VII Corps advanced to the banks of the Rhine River in Cologne, while its neighbor to the south, III Corps, advanced to positions near Bonn and into Remagen. Further south, the V Corps pushed about 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 km) into the High Eifel.

Battle of Remagen[edit]

In the First Army area, a task force of the 9th Armored Division—commanded by Lt. Col. Leonard Engeman—advanced toward Remagen as part of the Lumberjack offensive. As the armored task force reached the edge of the city, it discovered that the Ludendorff railroad bridge over the Rhine was, surprisingly, still standing.

Engeman ordered Company Commander Lt. Karl H. Timmermann to capture the bridge. The German commander had requested 600 kilograms (1,300 lb) of military explosives, but received only 300 kilograms (660 lb) of weak industrial explosives. They failed to do the job and the bridge lifted slightly and settled back into place. At about 1530 hours, Timmerman led an under-strength squad of men to capture the bridge, half of which he sent to the east side to provide covering fire to the rest of the men. He ordered the other half of his men to remove the demolition charges. The men dodged machine gun fire, moving from bridge girder to girder, cutting demolition wires, and removing as many of the remaining explosive charges as possible, not knowing if the Germans would detonate them at any second.[6][7] Timmerman set out removing charges himself.

While we were running across the bridge... 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!"[7]

Timmerman was the first officer to cross the river and Alexander A. Drabik was the first enlisted man across.[6] 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 bank. The remainder of B Company with the rest of A/27th AIB, found and eliminated more explosives on the bridge. After the bridge was initially secured, Lt. Mott led B Company in hasty bridge repairs that allowed the first Sherman tanks to cross the bridge by 22:00 that evening.

The Allies finally had a bridgehead on the Rhine, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower told Bradley to push five divisions across the Rhine to secure the bridgehead. Eisenhower ordered Bradley to limit the expansion of the Remagen bridgehead to a maximum width of 25 mi (40 km) and a depth of 10 mi (16 km), to avoid distracting from the main effort by the 21st Army Group.

In next few days, the Germans tried desperately to destroy the bridge, including air attacks by Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter-bombers, V-2 ballistic missiles and frogmen trying to implant explosives. The battle ended on 25 March 1945 when the allied forces could break out of their bridgehead and advance into the rest of Germany. Several German officers who had been assigned the task of destroying the bridge when ordered were court-martialed for their failure and were convicted, sentenced to death and executed.[citation needed]

The Ludendorff bridge collapsed ten days after it was captured on 17 March, but the Allies had meanwhile built three pontoon bridges about 1,000 yards (910 m) down river and had strengthened their bridgehead on the east shore.

The bridge was not rebuilt after the war. However, the bridge towers remain and in 1980 a peace museum was open to the public.[8]

In popular culture[edit]

The battle was depicted in the novel The Bridge at Remagen by Ken Hechler, which was later adapted into the film of the same name.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thomas, text by Nigel (1991). Foreign volunteers of the allied forces : 1939-45. London: Osprey. p. 16. ISBN 9781855321366. 
  2. ^ a b "Bridge at Remagen". Retrieved July 26, 2012. 
  3. ^ MacDonald, Map VIII
  4. ^ Tessin, Georg (1975). Verbände und Truppen der deutschen Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS im Zweiten Weltkrieg 1939-1945 2. Osnabrück: Biblio-Verlag. p. 283. ISBN 978-3764810832. 
  5. ^ Parfitt, Allen (2007). "A Path Across the Rhine: The Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, March 1945". Military History Online. Militaryhistoryonline.com. Retrieved September 16, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Lewis Betty (2001-07-14). "Interview with Ken Hechler, WWII Historian, author of The Bridge at Remagen". Archived from the original on June 11, 2009. Retrieved 2008-03-07. 
  7. ^ a b Eye Witness to History (2008). "Capturing the Bridge at Remagen, 1945 - Crossing the Rhine River". eyewitnesstohistory. Retrieved September 16, 2012. 
  8. ^ Peace Museum Bridge at Remagen Website of the museum. Retrieved July 21, 2013.

 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document "Rhineland, 15 September 1944 – 21 March 1945".

Other sources[edit]

  • Charles MacDonald, The Last Offensive, Washington: GPO, 1973.
  • Georg Tessin, Verbände und Truppen der deutschen Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS 1939 - 1945, Volume 2, Osnabrück:Biblio Verlag, 1973.
  • Georg Tessin, Verbände und Truppen der deutschen Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS 1939 - 1945, Volume 4, Osnabrück:Biblio Verlag, 1975.

External links[edit]