Edited by Gerald Boerner
Many of us have seen and been immersed in the World War II movie relating to the first bridgehead established by the Allied forces across the Rhine (Rhein) River. This marked the Western Allies quest of Berlin. This was one of the last bridges left spanning the river despite the best efforts of the German to destroy them. And, we might say, the efforts of the Allied Air Forces to take them down.
The Ludendorff Bridge located at Remagen has been erroneously been labed as the Bridge at Remagen. In any case, when the American troops arrived. The German forces had “blown” the approached the bridge on the western side of the Rhi e. The railroad bridge itself was still intact. The lack of an intact approach hampered the crossing of heavy equipment, such as tanks an heavy artillery, but the troops were not accompanied by any. So planking was laid over the RR tracks so the troops could cross the Rhine.
With this breakthrough into Germany proper set the stage for the final defeat of Nazi Germany. The western allies advanced from the Rhine through Bavaria and the German heartland while the Russians approached from the east. Peace in Europe was imminent.
So let’s proceed with our exploration of this event in the latter days of World War II… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 3066 Words ]
Quotations Related to OBSTACLE:
“Bureaucracy is not an obstacle to democracy but an inevitable complement to it.”
— Joseph A. Schumpeter
“Conceit is an insuperable obstacle to all progress.”
— Ellen Terry
“In the face of an obstacle which is impossible to overcome, stubbornness is stupid.”
— Simone de Beauvoir
“Fear is your greatest obstacle – so question your fear. If it does not serve your greatest life then do not make it your master.”
— Joy Page
“If the past has been an obstacle and a burden, knowledge of the past is the safest and the surest emancipation.”
— John Acton
“Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.”
— Mohandas Gandhi
“Most success springs from an obstacle or failure. I became a cartoonist largely because I failed in my goal of becoming a successful executive.”
— Scott Adams
“Nothing is given to man on earth – struggle is built into the nature of life, and conflict is possible – the hero is the man who lets no obstacle prevent him from pursuing the values he has chosen.”
— Andrew Bernstein
The Bridge at Remagen: Allies Cross the Rhine during World War II
The Ludendorff Bridge (known frequently by English-speakers during World War II as the Bridge at Remagen)) was a railway bridge across the River Rhine in Germany, connecting the villages of Remagen and Erpel between two ridge lines of hills flanking the river. Remagen is situated near and south of Bonn.
The bridge is notable for its capture on March 7–8, 1945, by Allied forces during the Second World War which allowed the Allies to establish a bridgehead across the Rhine.
The bridge capture was an important strategic event of WW2 because it was the only remaining bridge over the Rhine River into Germany’s heartland and was also strong enough that the Allies could cross immediately with tanks and trucks full of supplies. Once it was captured, the German troops began desperate efforts to damage it or slow the Allies’ use of it. At the same time, the Allies worked to defend it, expand their bridgehead into a lodgement sufficiently large that the Germans could no longer attack the bridge with artillery, and kept it in repair despite the ongoing battle damage.
The ensuing engagement continued for more than a week, including a huge artillery duel, a desperate air battle, and scrambled troop dispositions for both sides along the entire defensive front along the River Rhine as both sides reacted to the capture. One effect of those redeployments was that the Allies were able, within a fortnight, to establish other lodgements using pontoon bridges in several other sectors of the Rhenish front, again complicating the defense for the Germans and hastening the end of German resistance on their western front.
On 23 March the long prepared Operation Plunder, commanded by Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, crossed the Rhine in force to the north near Rees and Wesel (North Rhine-Westphalia).
Operation Lumberjack was a military operation conducted in the last stages of the war in Europe during World War II. It was launched by the First United States Army in March 1945 to capture strategic cities in Germany such as Cologne, and to give the Allies a foothold along the Rhine River.
With the 21 Army Group firmly established along the Rhine, Bradley’s 12th Army Group prepared to execute Operation LUMBERJACK. Bradley’s plan called for the First Army to attack southeastward toward the juncture of the Ahr and Rhine Rivers and then swing south to meet Patton, whose 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.
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.
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 attacked and, although the German defenders attempted to destroy the span, took the bridge on 7 March 1945.
The Allies finally had a bridgehead on the Rhine. Over the coming days the Germans tried desperately to destroy the bridge, but to no avail. Eisenhower told Bradley to push five divisions across the Rhine to secure the bridgehead, but he did not let the 12th Army Group take immediate advantage of the opportunity offered. Instead, on 13 March, Eisenhower ordered Bradley to limit the expansion of the Remagen bridgehead to a maximum width of twenty-five miles and a depth of ten miles, lest it detract from the main effort by the 21 Army Group.
Although the Ludendorff bridge collapsed on 17 March, the Allies had built several pontoon bridges across the Rhine by then and had a strong bridgehead on the east shore.
U.S. Capture during World War II
During Operation Lumberjack, on March 7, 1945, troops of the U.S. Army’s 9th Armored Division reached one of the two damaged but usable bridges over the Rhine (a railway bridge in Wesel in today’s North Rhine-Westphalia was the other one), after German defenders failed to demolish it, despite several attempts.
Sergeant Alexander A. Drabik of Holland, Ohio was the first American soldier to cross the bridge, thereby becoming the first American soldier to cross the Rhine River into Germany; Lieutenant Karl Timmermann was the first officer over the bridge. Both were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their actions. Combat Command B of the 9th Armored was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for capturing the bridge.
Allied journalists termed the capture the "Miracle of Remagen." General Dwight D. Eisenhower declared the bridge "worth its weight in gold" and "one of those bright opportunities of war which, when quickly and firmly grasped, produce incalculable effects on future operations". It remained functional (but weakened severely), despite the German detonation of a small charge and a stronger charge a few minutes later. The Allies used the bridge for truck and tank traffic. Eight thousand soldiers crossed it during the first 24 hours after capture.
A large sign was placed on one of the stone towers marked "CROSS THE RHINE WITH DRY FEET COURTESY OF 9TH ARMD DIVISION." The sign is now displayed at the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor at Fort Knox, Kentucky, above an M26 Pershing tank, a type used in the battle. Of the ten Pershing tanks attached to the 9th Division, there is only one surviving example, which is on permanent view at the Wright Museum of WWII History in Wolfeboro, N.H. During the days after the bridge’s capture, the US 9th, 78th and the 99th Infantry divisions crossed the bridge.
Adolf Hitler’s reaction was to dismiss Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt commander-in-chief in the western front, and to court-martial five officers, four of whom, Major Hans Scheller, Lieutenant Karl Heinz Peters, Major Herbert Strobel and Major August Kraft, were executed quickly. The fifth officer, Captain Willi Bratge, was convicted and sentenced in absentia, having become an American prisoner of war by this time.
Bombardment and Collapse
After its capture, the Germans made repeated unsuccessful efforts to destroy it via aerial bombardment, field artillery and the use of floating mines. In one of the few deployments of the type as tactical bombers, Arado Ar 234 jets attempted to destroy the bridge (observed by Stars and Stripes newspaper reporter Andy Rooney), and on March 17, 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 March 17, ten days after its capture, the bridge suddenly collapsed into the Rhine. Twenty-eight 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.
The collapse was not caused by a direct hit from a V-2, as the nearest ‘strike’ was 270 metres (300 yd) away. However, the bridge had been weakened by the earlier bombing attacks. Some speculate that the wear and tear of weeks of bombardment, combined with the vibrations produced when a V-2 slammed into the earth at 4,800 km per hour (3,000 mph), was enough to cause the collapse of the bridge.
The next day, Hitler sent a congratulatory telegram to the officer in charge of the V-2 rocket launching team at Hellendoorn. It is unknown whether Hitler was aware that there had not been a direct hit by a V-2 rocket, but the fact that the bridge collapsed on the same day as the attack, was probably enough for Hitler to associate the collapse directly with the V-2 bombardment
The following was excerpted from the:
Bridge at Remagen Museum’s Web Site
The History of the Bridge
The bridge at Remagen was built during the First World War at the urging of the German generals, so that more troops and war materials could be brought to the Western Front.
The railway bridge was designed by Karl Wiener, an architect from Mannheim. It was 325 meters long, had a clearance of 14.80 m above the normal water level of the Rhine, and its highest point measured 29.25 m. The bridge carried two rail lines and a pedestrian walkway. It was considered one of the finest steel bridges over the Rhine.
The Capture of the Bridge
On 7 March 1945 an advance unit of the 9th US Armored Division, led by LT Karl H. Timmermann, an American of German descent, reached the last intact bridge, just after the German defenders twice failed in their demolition attempts.
The capture of the bridge is known in the annals of the war as the "Miracle of Remagen". General Eisenhower stated that "the bridge is worth its weight in gold". In the days immediately following, the German High Command made desperate attempts to destroy the bridge by bombing and even employing frogmen.
Hitler irately convened a court-martial which condemned five officers to death, four of whom were actually executed in the Westerwald Forest.
On 17 March 1945 the bridge collapsed. At least 30 American soldiers lost their lives.
The Bridge in the Media
The best known work about the episode was written in 1957 by the American author Ken Hechler, and is entitled "The Bridge at Remagen" (7th Revised Printing 2004 ISBN 0-929521-79-X).
In 1968 David L. Wolper produced an American motion picture, "The Bridge at Remagen". The film depicted the actual historical background, but was fictional in all other aspects.
In addition, a large number of books and articles in newspapers and magazines on the subject of the bridge have appeared.
The Idea of the Memorial
Hans Peter Kürten, at that time Mayor of Remagen, had long busied himself with the idea of constructing a memorial. The negotiations with the German Federal Railway alone lasted seven years before the city could finally aquire the title to the former railroad land. Announcements sent to government officials concerning the intended preservation of the bridge towers and the construction of a Memorial to Peace stirred no interest.
In the summer of 1976, it was necessary to remove the still intact bridge support pilings in the river. The Mayor had the stones deposited on the Remagen river bank, with the idea in mind of selling small pieces of the bridge stones enclosed in synthetic resin and containing a certificate of authenticity.
On 7 March 1978 he went public with his idea and achieved such an unexpected degree of success, that he had realized more than 100.000 DM in sales profits.
Just two years later, on 7 March 1980 the Memorial was opened to the public. In the meantime Kürten had obtained additional help from the Employment Office in the form of a project for the unemployed. The towers of the bridge were cleaned out, windows and doors installed, the walls white-washed and electricity installed.
The towers contain an exhibition which recounts the history of the bridge. In a small video room a documentary done by the Royal Military Academy of Sandhurst is shown. One is reminded of the bridge’s construction, its capture and the battles for the bridge involving German, American, Belgian and British soldiers.
The Bridge at Remagen Crossing of the Rhine River
PREPARED BY RESEARCH AND EVALUATION DIVISION
The Armored School
INTRODUCTION: SEIZURE OF THE LUDENDORF BRIDGE
The purpose of this study is to collect all available facts pertinent to the Remagen Bridgehead Operation, to collate these data in cases of conflicting reports, and to present the processed material in such a form that it may be efficiently utilized by an instructor in preparing a period of instruction. The data on which this study is based was obtained from interviews with personnel who took part in the operation and from after action reports listed in the bibliography. This is an Armored School publication and is not the official Department of the Army history of the Remagen Operation. It must be remembered that the Remagen Operation is an example of a rapid and successful exploitation of an unexpected fortune of war. As such, the inevitable confusion of facts and the normal fog of war are more prevalent than usual. The absence of specific, detailed prior plans, the frequent changes of command, and the initial lack of an integrated force all make the details of the operation most difficult to evaluate and the motives of some decisions rather obscure. The operation started as a two-battalion action and grew into a four-division operation within a week. Units were initially employed in the bridgehead, as they became available, where they were most needed: a line of action that frequently broke up regiments. In cases of conflicting accounts of the action, the authors of this study have checked each action and each time of action included in the study and have evaluated the various reports in order to arrive at the most probable conclusions.
Explore this extensive review of the crossing of the Rhine River at:
The Remagen Bridgehead, March 7-17, 1945
Please take time to further explore more about REMAGEN, LUDENDORFF
BRIDGE, OPERATION LUMBERJACK, BRIDGEHEAD, THE BRIDGE AT
REMAGEN MUSEUM, and the REMAGEN BRIDGEHEAD by
accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below…
Other Events on this Day:
At age 29, inventor Alexander Graham Bell receives a patent for the telephone, beating out Elisha Gray’s attempt to patent a similar invention by only a few hours.
In Battle Creek, Michigan, Dr. John Kellogg serves the world’s first cornflakes to patients in hopes that a better diet will help cure some of their ailments.
The first successful transatlantic radio telephone conversation takes place, between New York City and London.
Businessman Charles Darrow of Atlantic City, New Jersey, trademarks the board game Monopoly.
U.S. troops cross the Rhine River at Remagen using the Ludendorff Bridge, a railroad bright covered with planks, and establishing the first Allied bridgehead in Germany during World War II.
Acting on orders from Gov. George C. Wallace, Alabama state troopers and volunteer officers use tear gas and billy clubs to break up a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. More than 50 people are hospitalized in an event referred to as Bloody Sunday.
The Rev. V. Gene Robinson is invested as the ninth bishop of New Hampshire in a ceremony in Concord, becoming the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Ludendorff Bridge…
Wikipedia: Operation Lumberjack…
Museum Web Site: The Bridge at Remagen Museum…
All World Wars: The Remagen Bridgehead, March 7-17, 1945…
Brainy Quote: OBSTACLE Quotes…
Other Posts on related Topics:
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: D-Day Invasion of Europe: Eisenhower’s Fateful Decision…