The 'Battle of Remagen' was a battle between US and German forces during the Allied invasion of Germany in World War II for the Ludendorff railway bridge across the Rhine river at Remagen (7/25 March 1945).
The 18-day battle is significant because in it the Allies unexpectedly captured the Ludendorff bridge over the Rhine river before the Germans had demolished it, and were able to hold it against German counterattacks and also to build further temporary crossings in relative safety. The availability of a bridgehead across the Rhine river advanced by three weeks the Western Allies' planned crossing of the Rhine river eastward into the German heartlands.
After breaking through the 'Siegfried-Linie', Major General John W. Leonard’s US 9th Armored Division of Lieutenant General Courtney H. Hodges’s US 1st Army had advanced unexpectedly quickly toward the Rhine river. The men of the division were totally surprised to see one of the last bridges across the Rhine river still standing. The Germans had wired the bridge with about 6,170 lb (2800 kg) of demolition charges, but when they tried to detonate the charges, only some of the charges exploded. The US forces then captured the bridge and rapidly expanded their first bridgehead across the Rhine river, two weeks before Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery’s meticulously planned 'Plunder' farther to the north, and this was instrumental in preventing the Germans from regrouping their forces to the east of the Rhine river and consolidating their positions.
The 'Battle of Remagen' led both the US and German forces to employ new weapons and tactics in combat for the first time. During the 10 days following the bridge’s seizure on 7 March and until its failure on 17 March, the Germans used virtually every weapon at their disposal to try to destroy the bridge: these weapons included infantry, armour, howitzers, mortars, floating mines, mined boats, a railway gun and the 600-mm (23.62-in) Karl-Gerät super-heavy mortar. They also attacked the bridge using the newly developed Arado Ar 234B-2 twin-turbojet bomber and V-2 ballistic missile. To protect the bridge against air attack, the Americans positioned an exceptionally potent concentration of anti-aircraft weapons. The US forces counted 367 different German aircraft attacking the bridge over the next 10 days, and claimed to have shot down nearly 30% of the aircraft despatched against them. The German air offensive failed.
On 14 March, Adolf Hitler ordered SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Hans Kammler, head of the German secret weapons effort, to launch V-2 missiles in order to destroy the bridge. This marked the first time the missiles had been used against a tactical objective and the only time they were fired on a German target. The 11 missiles launched killed six Americans and a number of German citizens in nearby towns, but none landed closer than some 545 yards (500 m) from the bridge. When the Germans sent a squad of seven naval demolition swimmers wearing Italian underwater breathing apparatus, the Americans were ready. For the first time in combat, they had deployed the top-secret Canal Defence Lights, which in the dark detected the frogmen, who were all killed or captured.
The unexpected availability of a bridgehead on the eastern side of the Rhine river more than two weeks in advance of 'Plunder' allowed the Allied commander-in-chief, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, to modify his plans to end the war. The Allies were able to effect the rapid transport of five divisions across the Rhine river into the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland. The bridge had endured months of aircraft bombing, direct artillery hits, near misses, and deliberate demolition attempts, but finally collapsed at 15.00 on 17 March, killing 33 US engineers and wounding another 63. By then, however, US Army combat engineers had finished building across the river a tactical steel treadway bridge and a heavy-duty pontoon bridge followed by a Bailey bridge. More than 25,000 troops crossed into Germany before the Americans broke out of the bridgehead on 25 March, some 18 days after the bridge had been captured.
The Rhine river near Remagen is about 295 yards (270 m) wide, and it was here that the Ludendorff bridge had been built by Russian prisoners of war during World War I to facilitate the movement of supplies from Germany to the Western Front in France. The bridge connected the village of Erpel on the eastern side with the small town of Remagen on the western bank, and carried two rail lines and pedestrian catwalks over a total length of 440 yards (400 m), while the main steel structure was 1,066 ft (325 m) long. The arch had a span of 512 ft (156 m) and at its highest was was 92 ft (28 m) above the water. An elevated overpass on each end of the span connected the approaches to the bridge and allowed a rail line or roads to pass below it, parallel to the river. As it had been built for military purposes, it had solidly built stone towers on either side of the rails on both banks, equipped with fighting loopholes and accommodations for up to one battalion of troops. On the eastern side, a 1,299-ft (396-m) tunnel was cut at almost 90° through Erpeler Ley, a steeply sloping hill overlooking the river.
The designers built cavities into the piers for the insertion of demolition charges, but when they occupied the Rhineland after World War I, the French filled these cavities with concrete. After they had reoccupied the Rhineland and with this regained control of the bridge, in 1938 the Germans attached to the bridge girders 60 zinc-lined boxes each capable of containing 8.1 lb (3.66 kg) of explosive. The system was designed to detonate all 60 charges simultaneously, but by 7 March 1945, the charges had been removed and were stored nearby. The Germans placed additional charges on the two piers. Inside an inspection shaft in the western pier, the Germans placed 4,409 lb (2000 kg) of explosive, and on the eastern pier attached two 661-lb (300 kg) charges to the girders connecting the bridge to the pier. Weighing some some 6,173 lb (2800 kg), the charges were attached to an electric fuse and connected by electrical cables run through protective steel tubes to a control circuit located in the entrance to the tunnel under Erpeler Ley. As a back-up, the Germans attached a primer cord to the charges, for manual ignition, under the eastern pier.
During the autumn of 1944, the Allies had made repeated attempts to destroy the bridge in order to disrupt German efforts to reinforce their forces on the western side of the Rhine river. On 9 October 1944, a raid by 33 bombers damaged the bridge, which was reported as destroyed, but the bridge was back in use again by 9 November. A few weeks later, on 28 December, 71 Consolidated B-24 Liberator four-engined heavy bombers were despatched to strike the bridge. They hit it with four bombs, but the Germans quickly repaired the damaged. Bombers of the 446th Bombardment Group attacked the bridge again on the next four consecutive days between 28 and 31 December. More bombers struck at the bridge during raids in January and February 1945. On 5 March, B-24 bombers of the 491st Bombardment Group attempted one more time to destroy the bridge, but failed.
'Lumberjack' was planned to prepare the way for Montgomery’s massive 'Plunder', an operation that rivalled the 'Neptune' (iii) landings in Normandy in size and complexity, eventually involving more than one million troops in more than 30 divisions. Montgomery’s typically cautious plan was to cross the Rhine river late in March and invade central Germany, and his plan included a large force of transport aircraft to ferry paratroopers and gliderborne infantry across the Rhine to create an air-head ahead of the riving crossing.
Montgomery’s ground assault plan included the British 21st Army Group, comprising Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s British 2nd Army, General Sir Henry Crerar’s Canadian 1st Army and Lieutenant General William H. Simpson’s US 9th Army, and these were to cross the Rhine river in the area to the north of the Ruhr following the airborne assault. To the south, Montgomery would be supported by Lieutenant General Omard N. Bradley’s US 12th Army Group, including Hodges’s US 1st Army, which was to capture dams on the Rur river and then trap the Germans in a pincer move to the west of the Rhine river. Plans for 'Plunder' had begun in England during August.
After pushing the Germans back in the aftermath of the failed 'Wacht am Rhein', the Allies quickly advanced into western Germany. Eisenhower established a twofold mission: firstly, to prevent the German forces defending the western bank of the Rhine river from escaping to the eastern bank; and secondly, to allow the Allied forces to select a river crossing where they could concentrate the attack leaving minimum forces defending the remainder of the front. The Allies held little hope they would be able to capture a Rhine river bridge intact, and therefore brought forward vast quantities of bridging equipment. Even so, Eisenhower left a standing order 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'.
On 1 March 1945, of the 22 road and 25 railway bridges across the Rhine river, only four remained standing: the Hohenzollern bridge in Köln, which was destroyed by the Germans on 6 March; the Rhine bridge at Bonn, which was blown by the Germans on the evening of 8 March; the Kronprinz Wilhelm bridge at Urmitz, which was destroyed by the Germans on 9 March; and the Ludendorff bridge at Remagen.
Early in March, formations and units assigned to 'Lumberjack', including the US 9th Armored Division, were tasked with mopping up German army elements trapped on the western bank of the Rhine river and preventing any counterattack against the 9th Army’s flank.
To the south of the 1st Army, Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s US 3rd Army was also to support Montgomery’s advance across the Rhine river. But the 1st Army had been delayed by two weeks when the Germans released water from the Rur river dams, flooding the valley below and slowing the advance of Hodges’s forces. During the two weeks that the valley was flooded, Hitler refused to allow Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, the Oberbefehlshaber 'West', to withdraw German forces to the eastern side of the Rhine river, for Hitler believed that this move would only delay the inevitable fight and ordered von Rundstedt to fight where his forces stood. By the time the flooding subsided and the 9th Army was able to cross the Rur river on 23 February, other Allied forces were also close to the Rhine river’s western bank, and the German formations and units on the western bank were cut to pieces: about 280,000 Germans were taken prisoner, and another 120,000 were dead, wounded or missing.
Leonard, commander of the 9th Armored Division, later recalled that on 6 March Major General John Millikin, commander of the US III Corps, told him in reference to the Ludendorff bridge 'You see that black line on the map. If you can seize that your name will go down in history.' In the last week of February, Colonel Charles G. Patterson, the anti-aircraft artillery officer for III Corps, led a meeting for brigade and group commanders during which they discussed what they would do if they were lucky enough to capture a bridge intact.
On 2 March, Millikin assigned Lieutenant Colonel Leonard E. Engemann’s 14th Tank Battalion to the northern flank and attached it to the 1st Division. The 9th Armored Division’s Combat Command B attacked toward the Erft river, and Combat Command A advanced towards he Ahr river. The two combat commands were then to move to the south to take Remagen and Sinzig before linking with the flank of Patton’s 3rd Army.
On the 1st Army’s right flank, to the south of Bonn, the 9th Armored Division moved swiftly, and the closer it came to the Rhine river, the more quickly it advanced. The speed of the US movement toward the river surprised the Germans.
When the 1st Army captured Köln and reached the Rhine river’s western bank, it was greeted as a major success of the Allied campaign, but German engineers blew the Hohenzollern bridge on 6 March, shortly before the 3rd Armored Division arrived.
Eisenhower had offered his senior generals some latitude in choosing the exact points at which they crossed the Rhine river, although two areas where the Rhine river valley is relatively broad were generally considered favourable. The first was between Köln and Bonn in the north, and the other between Andernach and Koblenz in the south. Both areas offered some challenges, but also offered relatively rapid access to the Autobahn network and into the Lahn river valley connecting with the corridor linking Frankfurt-am-Main and Kassel. The least favoured crossing points were those in the area around the railroad bridge at Remagen. The upstream confluence of the Ahr river to the south of Remagen added considerable speed and turbulence to the Rhine river at Remagen, and the US forces in the Remagen area were not even intended to cross the river.
In geographic terms, the north-western shoulder of the bridge was situated on a shallow salient exposed to the eastern bank of the Rhine river. There was only one primary road into Remagen from the west, and that did not parallel the normal Allied axis of supply. From a logistical viewpoint, therefore, the location of the bridge was badly situated near the 1st Army’s southern flank. The ground on the eastern side of the bridge rose steeply from the river. Inland, the acutely sloped terrain and gullies constituted natural tank traps against advancing armour. The rough, wooded Westerwald forest rose from the Rhine to heights between 655 and 1,315 ft (200 and 400 m) about 545 yards (500 m) inland. The primary road network on the river’s eastern side was severely limited, for it consisted of only a river-bank road and two narrow mountain roads, any of which could be easily blocked.
The staff of General Gustav von Zangen’s 15th Army, an element of Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model’s Heeresgruppe 'B', believed that the Allies would cross the Rhine river using the open terrain of the Rheinbach valley near the Ahr river. von Zangen thought that the Rheinbach valley offered the Allies a natural funnel for military operations. He argued with Model that the US forces would have to be stupid not to take advantage of this hole and push tanks toward the Rhine river 'like water flowing downhill'. von Zangen believed that the Rhine river towns of Sinzig and Remagen were likely targets of the 1st Army, and tried but failed to persuade Model to block the US forces by withdrawing two corps from the 'Westwall' defenses along the German frontier and placing them at Remagen to protect the Ludendorff bridge.
A number of command changes in February and early in March now complicated the German defence of the Rhine river crossings. Before the US advance to the river, the 22 road and 25 railway bridges across the Rhine river were the responsibility of the German Wehrkreise (military districts), which reported not 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 the more northerly Wehrkreis VI to the more southerly Wehrkreis XII. Late in February, the German forces on the Western Front were reeling backward and had instituted a number of command changes in an effort to try to enhance their ability to stem the Allied advance. Responsibility for the bridges, including that at Remagen, was shifted to the army, although the Wehrkreis officers tried to retain their command authority. The anti-aircraft units around the bridges did not report to the army, the Wehrkreis or the Waffen SS, but to the Luftwaffe.
On 1 March, in the course of 'Grenade', General Hasso von Manteuffel’s (from 9 March Generaloberst Josef Harpe’s) 5th Panzerarmee and von Zangen’s 15th Armiy switched zones and responsibility for the bridges. Genealleutnant Walter Botsch, commander of the LIII Corps in General Hans Felber’s 7th Army, was assigned to defend the area on Bonn and Remagen, and visited the Rhineland on an inspection 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 anti-aircraft gun crews. Botsch promised Hauptmann Willi Bratge, the combat commander for the bridge, that he would send a battalion of men to aid in the bridge’s defence, but his request was turned down. He also failed in a request for labourers, additional explosives, radio equipments and signals equipment. He was promised a heavy anti-aircraft battalion, but this never arrived.
By 6 March, the 9th Armored Division was only 8.7 miles (14 km) from the Rhine river, and on this same day, Botsch was so quickly transferred that he did not have time to brief his replacement, Generalmajor Richard von Bothmer. The new commander was unable to visit Remagen,as he was concentrating on the defence of Bonn. Instead, he despatched a liaison officer to Remagen during the evening of 6 March, but the officer was caught by the rapid US advance and taken prisoner when he accidentally entered the US lines. When retreating Germans informed Bratge on the evening of 6 March that US forces were nearing Remagen, Bratge tried to contact Botsch, unaware that he had been reassigned.
Hitler had issued orders that the 'Siegfried-Linie' was to be held at all costs. The rapid Allied penetration of the border fortifications had disrupted German communications, command structure, and their entire defence of the Rhine river’s western bank. It would have been logical to fall back to the rover’s eastern side and regroup, but Hitler adamantly refused to allow any retreat and irrationally demanded that the army recapture the territory it had lost. Units that were threatened with the possibility of being overrun or surrounded could not fall back to a more defensible position. To protect themselves from Hitler’s wrath, resulting in a court martial and a firing squad, commanders falsified reports to cover their real losses and, in order to shift blame, issued orders that could not be realistically fulfilled. Thoroughly routed by the beating they had been receiving, the Germans could not hold the areas which they still controlled, much less retake ground which had been lost. As a result, the US forces advanced ever more rapidly toward the Rhine river. An unintended consequence was that German forces paid less attention to the bridges across the river.
On 6 March, General Edwin Graf von Rothirch und Trach, the commander of the LIII Corps with responsibility for the Remagen area, wandered into the US lines and was taken prisoner. His successor was Botsch. In the midst of this confusion, General Otto Hitzfeld, commanding officer of the LXVII Corps, was told at 01.00 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 03.00 with an eight-man radio unit, but during their 40-mile (65-km) journey they had to bypass a US armoured unit and ran short of petrol, forcing them to make an additional detour to refuel. The radio unit became separated, and Scheller did not reach Remagen until 11.15, less than two hours before the Americans. Bratege, the German commandant at Remagen, was initially relieved when Scheller announced he was assuming command, but then learned that Scheller had not brought with him the battalion of reinforcements promised by Botsch.
During 6 March, the anti-aircraft gun crews of General Wolfgang Pickert’s III Flakkorps on the top of the 590-ft (180 m) Erpeler Ley, tactically overlooking the Ludendorff bridge, had been ordered by the Luftwaffe to help defend Koblenz. The corps' replacement unit was not motorised and currently sited on the outskirts of Remagen. As the Americans advanced towards the Rhine river on the night of 6/7 March, 14 of the Flak gunners 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 Americans' 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 these units were not yet in place at 14.00 when the first Americans arrived.
Bratge commanded only 36 convalescing soldiers, some of whom could not even fire a weapon. The bridge was also defended by an engineer company of 125 men commanded by Hauptmann Karl Friesenhahn, 180 Hitlerjugend 'soldiers', a Luftwaffe anti-aircraft unit of 200 men, 20 men of the rocket-equipped 3rd Batterie of the 900th Fliegerabwehrlehrversuchsabteilung, 120 Eastern 'volunteers' and about 500 Volkssturm, a total of about 1,000 men, of whom most were ill-equipped and poorly trained.
On 6 March, the last 800 men of Generalmajor Wilhelm Viebig 's 277th Volksgrenadierdivision crossed the bridge to the eastern bank. On the morning of 7 March, German engineers laid wooden planks over the railway tracks to allow vehicles to use the bridge. Bratge attempted to persuade the soldiers crossing the bridge to stay and defend it, but most were leaderless stragglers and their only concern was to get across the Rhine river.
The German defensive doctrine called for positioning the majority of the defenders in the front line, leaving minimal troops to reinforce rear areas.
On the afternoon of 7 March, Engemann led Task Force 'Engemann' toward Remagen. Part of Combat Command B, the task force comprised C Troop of the 89th Reconnaissance Squadron manning M8 light armoured cars and M3 half-tracks; Company A of 27th Armored Infantry Battalion equipped with M3 half-tracks under the command of Major Murray Deevers; one platoon of Company B, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion under the command of Lieutenant Hugh Mott; and three companies of the 14th Tank Battalion: Lieutenant Karl H. Timmermann’s Company A, Lieutenant Jack Liedke’s Company B and Lieutenant William E. McMaster’s Company C.
The three tank companies each comprised three platoons. Lieutenant John Grimballs' 1st Platoon of Company A had five of the newest T26E3 Pershing heavy tanks, although only four were operational on 7 March. The other platoons were each equipped with five M4A3 Sherman medium tanks, and the company also had a command unit of three more Sherman tanks. The company’s orders were to capture the town of Remagen, and then continue to the south to link with Patton’s 3rd Army, but had not been given any specific instruction regarding the Ludendorff bridge.
At 12.56, scouts of the 89th Reconnaissance Squadron arrived on a hill on the northern side of Remagen overlooking the little town, and were astonished to see that the Ludendorff bridge was still standing. It was thus one of only three remaining bridges across the Rhine river that the Germans had not yet blown in advance of the Allied armies' advance. Timmermann and Grimball followed the scouts on the rise to see for themselves and radioed the surprising news to Engemann. Arriving on the rise, Engemann could see retreating German vehicles and forces filling Remagen’s streets, all heading over the bridge, which was full of soldiers, civilians, vehicles and even livestock. Earlier attacks by Allied aircraft had destroyed the vessels normally employed to ferry civilians and workers across the Rhine river, so all now had to use the bridge.
Bratge was in Remagen on the western approach to the bridge directing traffic onto the bridge. Timmermann called for artillery to fire on the bridge using proximity fuses to slow the German retreat, but the artillery commander refused because he could not be sure that US troops would not be hit.
When Major Ben Cochran, the operations officer of Combat Command B , arrived and saw that the bridge was still standing, he radioed Brigadier General William M. Hoge, commander of Combat Command B, and Hoge joined them as quickly as he could. Engemann was cautiously considering his options when Hoge ordered him to move immediately into the town and take the bridge as quickly as possible. Timmermann had been promoted only the night before to commander of Company A, and Engemann ordered him and his company of dismounted infantry into Remagen supported by Company A of the 14th Tank Battalion. Hoge had no intelligence on the number and size of the German forces on the river’s eastern bank, and the standing bridge could have been a trap. Hoge risked losing men if the Germans allowed US forces to cross before destroying the bridge and trapping the US troops on the eastern bank. But the opportunity was too great to ignore.
At 13.50, the men of the 9th Armored Infantry Battalion’s Company A set out for the town, and 30 minutes later Engemann led forward the 17 tanks of Company A. The men and tanks arrived at about the same time and advanced quickly through Remagen against light resistance. The Germans relied for local defense on Volkssturm, citizens who were conscripted close to their homes in the belief that they would defend their towns and villages. German defensive policy did not include planning for the defence in depth of any area. There were no anti-tank ditches or mines, barbed wire, or trenches on the route to Remagen. The few defensive obstacles that had been constructed were too weak to block tanks or had been placed in open terrain, and the roadblocks the Germans had built usually allowed plenty of room for vehicles to pass. The sole defence which slowed the Americans was a machine gun manned by infantry over the town square, which two of the Pershing tanks quickly destroyed. Relatively unmolested, the Americans arrived in strength at the western end of the bridge and the tanks began covering the bridge and the eastern shore with tank rounds, destroying a locomotive attached to a string of freight cars on the railway line parallel with the river.
At about 15.00, US troops learned from a German soldier captured on the edge of Remagen that the bridge was scheduled to be destroyed at 16.00. Timmermann called on the artillery to fire on Erpel with burning white phosphorus shells to create a smoke screen.
Soon after the US troops arrived on the ridge overlooking Remagen, German forces on the western bank near the town were alerted to the approaching armour and raced back across the bridge. Bratge wanted to demolish the bridge as early as possible to avoid its seizure, but he had first to secure written authorisation from Scheller, who had assumed command only at 11.15 that morning. By the time the US forces arrived, most of the civilian Volkssturm had melted away, leaving the main German force on the eastern side of the Rhine.
Written permission was required because on 14/15 October 1944 an US bomb had struck the chamber containing the demolition charges on the Mulheim bridge in Köln, destroying the bridge prematurely. Hitler was angered by this incident and ordered those 'responsible' for the destruction of the Mulheim bridge to be court martialled. He also ordered that demolition explosives should not be laid until the very last moment, when the Allies were within 5 miles (8 km) of the bridge. The bridges should be demolished only after the receipt of an order in writing from the officer in charge, and only as a last resort and at the last possible moment. This order left officers responsible for destroying bridges nervous about both the consequences if they blew up the bridge too soon and if they failed to blow it up at all.
After he had seen how poorly the bridge was defended, Scheller attempted to commandeer passing German troops, including a vehicle carrying five men and a machine gun, but the driver simply accelerated the vehicle across the bridge. Scheller concluded the bridge could not be defended and was ready to destroy it when Leutnant Karl Peters pleaded for extra time to get his unit across the bridge. Peters, commanding the 3rd Batterie of the 900th Fliegerabwehrlehrversuchsabteilung was in charge of the new and top-secret Henschel Hs 297 anti-aircraft rocket-launcher system, which was able to fire 24 high-velocity rockets with great accuracy, and could not allow the equipment to fall into Allied hands. Scheller knew artillery was in short supply and delayed the bridge’s destruction.
Hauptmann Karl Friesenhahn was the technical or bridge commander and thus responsible for the demolition charges. Bratge had requested 1,323 lb (600 kg) of military explosives, but at 11.00 on 7 March received only 661 lb (300 kg). Worse still, he found he had been sent Donarit, a much weaker ammonium nitrate-based industrial explosive used in mining. With no other option, he placed all 661 lb (300 kgb) on the bridge’s south-eastern pier. At 14.00, as the first elements of the US force approached the bridge’s western end, he detonated a charge under the stone archway that connected the approach embankment with the bridge, blowing a 30-ft (9.1-m) crater in the road bed, hoping it would slow the tanks and infantry. Scheller and Bratge entered the railway tunnel where the electric switch controlling the detonators 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 toward the tunnel. Bratge shouted at Friesenhahn to blow the bridge, but Friesenhahn replied they had to get the order in writing from Scheller, who was at the other end of the 405-yard (370-m) tunnel that curved at almost 90° under Erpeler Ley. Bratge ran to find Scheller, got the order in writing, and when he returned to tell Friesenhahn to detonate the charges, Friesenhahn in turn required Bratge to give him the order in writing.
German machine guns in the towers guarding the western approach to the bridge fired on the advancing US troops. At 03.20, 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 US shells hitting the area around them. Both Friesenhahn and Bratge knew the dire consequences to them personally and to the German defensive situation if they failed to destroy the bridge. 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. a non-commissioned officer volunteered to leave the tunnel under Erpeler Ley to light by hand the primer cord to the explosives attached to the eastern pier, and ran some 90 yards (82 m) through small arms fire, exploding tank shells, smoke and haze, lit the primer, and ran back to the tunnel.
At 15.50, 10 minutes before they believed the Germans were scheduled to blow the bridge, the guns of Company A, 14th Tank Battalion, drove the German defenders from the bridge’s road surface and from the stone piers of the bridge. In addition, the tanks engaged the Flak guns on the eastern bank, from which they were opposing the crossing.
Timmermann led an under-strength squad of men of the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion onto the western side of the bridge despite the risk that the bridge could be destroyed with them on it. Just as the Americans approached, the secondary explosives were triggered. Both the Germans and the Americans watched the smoke and haze clear from the explosion and were shocked and surprised to see that the bridge was still standing. Only the charge on the south-eastern pier, two-thirds of the way across, had exploded, but the weak industrial explosive had failed to bring down the well-built steel bridge. Nevertheless, the explosion blew large holes in the planking covering the railway lines above the pier, twisted some of the steel supporting girders, and cut a 30-ft (9.1-m) gap in the truss supporting the bridge’s southern side. Timmermann saw Germans running around and assumed they were preparing a second blast. Members of the first platoon gained control of the two bridge towers on the western bank, took prisoner two German machine gun crews, and then used the towers to provide covering fire for the troops crossing the bridge.
Timmermann deployed half of his men to the southern side, where German machine gun fire from the stone tower on the far right end was most intense, in order to provide covering fire. He ordered the other half of his men to remove the demolition charges from the western half of the bridge. Sergeant Mike Chinchar led an infantry platoon down the catwalk on the left side of the bridge, dodging from one bridge pillar to the next.
Timmermann was unexpectedly joined by a three-man detachment of the 9th Armored Engineer Battalion’s Company B under the command of Mott, accompanied by Sergeants Eugene Dorland and John Reynolds, who climbed under the bridge and began cutting the wires leading to the remaining demolition charges.
As noted above, the railway tracks on the bridge were covered with wooden planks, allowing vehicles to pass. Once on the bridge, the US infantrymen came under fire from German snipers on a partially submerged boat on the eastern bank and from MG 42 machine guns from the bridge’s eastern towers, as well as from houses in Erpel. A 14th Tank Battalion Sherman destroyed the boat. All the tanks joined in shelling the opposite side of the river and the infantry covered the bridge and eastern side with machine gun fire, enabling ground troops to get onto the bridge. The tanks provided effective fire support to the infantry and suppressed fire from the German positions.
The US 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 whether or not the Germans would detonate the rest of them at any second.
The US troops got across the bridge to the eastern bank in fewer than 15 minutes. Sergeant Alexander A. Drabik was the first soldier to cross this bridge, and thus became the first soldier since the the time of the Napoleonic Wars early in the 19rh century to cross the Rhine river and capture German territory. Drabik and his entire squad made it across the bridge without injury.
Sergeant Joe DeLisio ran through the intense German fire, followed by Timmermann and the others. Bratge tried to organise a counterattack to throw the Americans back across the bridge, but was prevented from doing so by the fire of the US tanks. Bratge looked for Scheller, but found he had already escaped out of the tunnel’s far end.
Timmermann was the first US American officer to cross the bridge. Following him, Dorland reached the far shore and destroyed the main demolition switch box. DeLisio captured a German machine gun team in the eastern tower. The rest of the 27th Armoured Infantry Battalion’s Company A followed them, and after the eastern shore was initially secured, Mott led Company B of the 9th Armored Engineer Battalion in locating and eliminating more live demolition charges. A platoon led by Lieutenant Emmett Burrows climbed Erpeler Ley and cleared out the snipers, after which he and his men were hit by concentrated artillery and mortar fire. They then climbed down the hill towards the town to the far entrance of the railway tunnel.
Inside the tunnel, Bratge tried to collect all available men and organize an escape toward Osberg, where they could form a counterattack, but were surprised to find that US forces had already seized control of both tunnel entrances. The Americans fired machine guns and threw hand grenades into the tunnel, killing a young boy and wounding several civilians. The civilians begged Bratge to tell the Americans to stop firing, and then on their own fashioned a white flag and surrendered. The remaining engineers and convalescing troops followed them out, and Friesenhahn and Bratge were the last two men to be taken prisoner within the tunnel.
Mott and his two sergeants found about 353 lb (160 kg) of unexploded charges on top of one of the piers. They discovered that one of the steel pipes carrying the wires connecting to the main charge had been severed, possibly by artillery. Combat engineers also found that a 507-lb (230-kg) TNT demolition charge had not exploded when its blasting cap failed. The Americans later undertook an intensive search for additional German demolitions and found another 1,411 lb (640 kg) in wells inside the piers.
Millikin, the commanding officer of the US III Corps, had previously ordered Leonard to direct Combat Command A to the south along the western bank of the Rhine river, across the Ahr river, and link with the 3rd Army. Hoge did not have orders to cross or capture the bridge, but he decided to disobey his orders and reroute those forces across the bridge to reinforce the bridgehead. With some forces already on the bridge, Hoge got new orders to stop what he was doing and move his unit to the south in the direction of Koblenz. Hoge waited for a platoon to reach the river’s eastern bank, hoping the bridge would stand, and then called Leonard, the commander of the 9th Armored Division, to inform him the bridge had been captured.
Colonel Harry Johnson, Leonard’s chief-of-staff, relayed the news up the chain of command to Colonel James H. Phillips, the US III Corps' chief-of-staff for operations, at about 17.00. Millikin ordered that the 47th Infantry be motorised and despatched to Remagen as soon as possible. Millikin attached Major General Lindsay McD. Silvester’s 7th Armored Division to the III Corps so it could relieve Major General Louis A. Craig’s 9th Division, which was already crossing the Rhine, and also ordered Major General Walter M. Robinson’s 2nd Division to relieve Major General Edwin P. Parker’s 78th Division so it too could cross the Rhine river and defend the Remagen bridgehead. Hodges, commander of the 1st Army, confirmed Millikin’s decision to continue the enlargement of the bridgehead.
Hodges relayed the news to the headquarters of Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s US 12th Army Group at 20.15. Major General Harold R. Bull, Eisenhower’s assistant chief-of-staff for operations, was at Bradley’s headquarters when they learned the bridge had been captured. Bull was skeptical of any plans to use the Remagen crossing, and told Bradley that 'You’re not going anywhere down there at Remagen. You’ve got a bridge, but it’s in the wrong place. It just doesn’t fit in with the plan.' Bradley replied 'What the hell do you want us to do, pull back and blow it up?'
Bradley contacted Eisenhower at his forward headquarters in Reims, France. Called to the phone by an aide, Eisenhower now learned of the bridge’s capture. He told his guests, a group of airborne forces commanders, 'That was Brad. He’s got a bridge across the Rhine. And he apologized for it, said it was badly located at Remagen.' Five divisions had been designated to seize Köln, which had already surrendered, so Eisenhower told Bradley to redirect those divisions across the bridge at Remagen. Eisenhower then tactfully called Montgomery to relay the news, since it affected Montgomery’s long-planned 'Plunder'.
Official orders were passed to Hoge to seize the bridge. By dusk, the combat engineers had partially filled the crater in the approach ramp with a tank dozer and once the sun went down, used the darkness to begin hasty repairs of the bridge. Until 00.00 on 7/8 March, the eastern bank was secured by only about 120 troops of Company A, 27th Armored Infantry Battalion and the 1st Platoon, Company B, 27th Armored Infantry Battalion, 9th Armored Division. Had the Germans launched an effective counterattack against this small force, they might have prevented the Americans from establishing the bridgehead.
After the bridge had been captured, US Army military engineers and technicians of the 276th Engineer Combat Battalion and specialised welders and steel workers of the 1058th Bridge Construction and Repair Group immediately started work to repair battle damage, fill holes in the deck, and reinforce the bridge. At 04.30 on 8 March, the 1/310th Infantry of the 78th Division crossed the Ludendorff bridge, followed in the next two days by the rest of the division. The 78th Division was joined by Major General Ira T. Wyche’s 79th Division and Major General Walter E. Lauer’s 99th Division.
The commanding officer of 7th Armored Division, Major General Robert W. Hasbrouck, was instructed immediately to move a combat command, reinforced by one battalion of infantry, to an area near Remagen where it would relieve the 60th Infantry of the 9th Division. The 310th Infantry of the 78th Division was the first unit to follow the 9th Armored Division across the Rhine river. To maximise effective command and control, Millikin decided initially to attach all units as they crossed the river to Combat Command B of the 9th Armored Division, and before long Hoge was thus in effective command of all or a portion of the 9th, 27th and 78th Divisions.
The III Corps had previously attached a treadway bridge company to the 9th Armored Division’s column, but the division rapidly found itself in need of greater bridge-building resources. Over the next two days, the headquarters of the 1st Army headquarters collected three heavy pontoon battalions (the 51st and 291st Engineer Combat Battalions), two treadway companies, and a DUKW amphibious truck company. All were assigned to the III Corps and given the task of building two tactical bridges across the Rhine river. The two small roads leading into Remagen from the west and south rapidly became choked for miles with hundreds of amphibious trucks, bridging equipment, anti-aircraft batteries, tanks, supply vehicles, trucks with trailers, and thousands of troops which had been diverted to take advantage of the unexpected bridgehead. The approaches to the bridge were frequently backed up with troops waiting for their turn to cross the bridge. First Lieutenant Jack Hyde of the 9th Military Police Company was the 9th Division’s officer in charge of the flow of men and materials across the bridge, and established a rigid traffic control and holding patterns that his unit enforced.
When the bridge was initially taken, US engineers were not sure it could support the weight of the tanks, but there were only some 120 US troops on the river’s eastern bank and these needed immediate reinforcement. At about 00.00 the engineers opened the bridge to armour. At 00.15 on 8 March, two platoons of nine Sherman tanks from Company A, 14th Tank Battalion, gingerly crept across the bridge in close formation following white tape left by the engineers outlining the holes. When they reached the eastern bank, the tanks moved into blocking positions to secure the bridgehead. Immediately behind the Shermans, an M10 tank destroyer of the 656th Tank Destroyer Battalion fell part way into the hole in the bridge deck left by the German demolition charge. The engineers briefly considered pushing the tank destroyer into the river, but decided this might further damage the bridge. The engineers worked all night to jack up the tank destroyer, and at 05.30 finally got a tank on the eastern side to come back and pull the tank destroyer across the hole.
While the bridge was blocked to vehicles, the remaining troops in Combat Command B crossed on foot. The eastern side of the bridge and the town of Erpel was secured overnight by the nine Sherman tanks and the troops of Combat Command B. Although the Americans had crossed the bridge, their toehold on the eastern bank was tenuous. The Germans still maintained control of the heights overlooking the bridge and the area around the tiny bridgehead. If the Germans had been able to create a co-ordinated and concentrated counterattack within the first 48 hours, it is entirely possible they could have pushed the Americans back across the river.
In the 36 hours after the bridge’s seizure, the Americans moved additional units across the bridge. After the 1/310th Infantry had crossed the bridge at 05.00, it turned to the south and immediately encountered a strong German force that prevented them from advancing, leaving the Germans in position on the heights overlooking the bridgehead. Although the Ludendorff bridge was not well situated in operational terms as a result of the poor road network around it, by the evening of 8 March more than 8,000 US men had crossed the bridge and enlarged the bridgehead to a depth of 1 mile (1.6 km) and width of 2 miles (3.2 km). On the morning of 9 March, the first ferry was crossing the Rhine river carrying troops and vehicles.
In the week after their capture of the bridge, the US troops massed anti-aircraft artillery of every description, virtually bumper to bumper, to protect the bridgehead from air attack. On the afternoon of 7 March, Captain Carlton G. Denton, the commander of Battery D of the 482nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion, squeezed his battery to the head of Combat Command B and reached the bridgehead at 03.00 am on 8 March. The US Army called on all of the automatic weapons battalion-sized units from each of the III Corps' divisions, and Colonel James Madison, in charge of III Corps' 16th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group, despatched two batteries.
By 06.00 am on 9 March, there were five US anti-aircraft battalions watching for targets. Each battalion comprised four batteries of M3 half-tracks vehicles each armed with a M45 'Quadmount' anti-aircraft weapon system with four 0.5-in (12.7-mm) heavy machine guns:thus there were 80 or more heavy machine guns defending the captured Ludendorff bridge. During the day, the 109th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion was positioned on the western bank and the 634th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion occupied the eastern side. By 12.00. these had their SCR-584 radars and directors aligned and were thus totally ready to fire on German aircraft.
Fighters of the USAAF’s 404th Fighter-Bomber Group and 359th Fighter Group maintained a strong defensive air umbrella over the bridge to try to prevent Luftwaffe attacks, and also flew many raids against German vehicles, armour, railway lines and marshalling yards in the vicinity of Remagen, knocking out trains, transports, tanks, supply trucks, and reinforcements headed towards the bridgehead. On 14 March, they destroyed 21 aircraft, mostly Junkers Ju 87D Stuka single-engined dive-bombers and Junkers Ju 88 twin-engined medium bombers, and damaged 21 more aircraft. On 15 March, they destroyed 256 motor vehicles and damaged 35 tanks and 12 other armoured vehicles.
During the evening of 9 March, the US troops on the eastern bank were bolstered by the arrival of the 309th Infantry, the remainder of the 310th Infantry, and the 60th Infantry. On 10 March, the 311th Infantry attacked to the north in the direction of Bad Honnef, while the 309th Infantry advanced to the north-west, encountering very strong resistance near Bruchhausen. The 47th Infantry to the east encountered significant resistance, forcing a slight withdrawal, but with the aid of the 310th Infantry, again moved forward. To the south-east, the 60th Infantry advanced, and in the south, Combat Command B of the 9th Armored Division moved forward to the south of Linz. The Allies encountered heavy resistance in places and received fire from small arms, self-propelled weapons, mortars, and artillery. The remainder of the 9th Division crossed the Rhine river during the evening of 10 March.
When the Ludendorff bridge had been captured on 7 March, Scheller had tried to reach his superiors by radio and telephone, but neither was operational. He therefore set off on a bicycle, the only transport he could find, to report in person. Scheller reached the headquarters of the LXVII Corps at about 00.00. Bratge and Friesenhahn, along with the other Germans inside the tunnel, were captured by US troops who had climbed over to the far side of Erpeler Ley. As a result of their inability to communicate with other forces, the Germans in the immediate area were left to counterattack with whatever forces they could gather in the area. There were no reserves readily available and most of the area’s essential combat units were still on the western bank and trying to get across the river.
For most of the first day, Model was unaware the bridge had been captured. Like most of the German leadership in the area, he was on the move, in his case trying to save portions of the LXVI Corps and LXVII Corps, which had been pushed up against the western bank of the Rhine by Major General Hugh J. Gaffey’s 4th Armored Division above Andernach. On the night of 7 March, Model finally learned that the Allies had crossed the bridge and put General Joachim von Kortzfleisch, commander of Wehrkreis III, in command until von Zangen could extricate his 15th Army from the Rhine river’s western bank. Kortzfleisch cobbled together about 100 men from Luftwaffe anti-aircraft forces, Hitlerjugend, Volkssturm and police units who attacked unsuccessfully throughout the night to reach and blow the bridge.
During the morning on 8 March, Major Herbert Strobel, in charge of the engineers, received conflicting orders. Generalleutnant Richard Wirtz, his senior engineering officer, ordered him to continue ferrying operations to rescue German troops isolated on the western bank, while Generalleutnant Kurt von Berg, in charge of the Kampfbereich XII Nord, ordered him to gather every man available and counterattack. Strobel chose the latter course of action and assembled his engineers, including those manning ferries, to attack and blow the bridge. Wirtz countermanded him and ordered the ferries back into operation. When von Berg learned of this he was furious. Strobel managed to assemble about 100 engineers and attacked early that morning. Some of the engineers carrying explosives reached the bridge but were immediately captured.
The Germans were determined to eliminate the bridge and thereby cut off the US forces on the river’s eastern bank. von Rothkirch und Trach, commander of the LIII Corps, had been captured on 6 March, and on 9 March General Hans Felber, commander of the 7th Army, appointed Botsch in his place with orders to develop a plan within 24 hours to retake the bridge. For this task Botsch could call on Generalleutnant Wend von Wietersheim’s 11th Panzerdivision with 4,000 men, 25 tanks and 18 pieces of artillery, General Wend von Wietersheim; Oberst Helmut Zollenkopf’s 9th Panzerdivision of about 600 men, 15 tanks and 12 pieces of artillery; Oberstleutnant Heinrich Drewes’s 106th Panzerbrigade 'Feldherrenhalle' with five tanks; and one regiment of Oberst Horst Niemack’s Panzer-Lehr Division, which was a shadow of its former highly-regarded self and now comprising only about 300 men and 15 tanks. The 11th Panzerdivision was some 60 miles (100 km) to the north in Düsseldorf, however, and lack of fuel made the movement of any force difficult and, moreover, the route to Remagen was jammed with traffic and highly liable to attack by US aircraft.
Botsch wished to wait for all of the formations and units to arrive, and then to attack in force, but Model countermanded him and required an immediate counterattack with whatever forces were on hand. On 9 March, the 67th Infanterieregiment tried to stop US progress, but its attacks were too weak and scattered to ensure success as 'overcast skies and limited visibility restricted aerial support during the day'. Once the 11th Panzerdivision arrived, moreover, its armoured vehicles broke down frequently, and this rendered effective defence considerably more difficult.
Based on intelligence received through 'Ultra' decrypts, the III Corps' intelligence officer believed that the Germans were assembling a large force to destroy the bridgehead but, unknown to the Allies, the formations and units which the Germans had grouped to drive the Americans back were impressive only on paper. None of the notionally sizeable German units attacking the bridgehead was cohesive and many were severely understrength after being reduced during the 'Battle of the Bulge' in 'Wacht am Rhein'. From 10 to 13 March, the German forces included mostly the remnants of 11 divisions. Reinforcements included Generalmajor Wilhelm Söth’s 3rd Panzerdivision and about 200 men of Generalleutnant Theodor Tolsdorff’s 340th Volksgrenadierdivision, but these latter were largely untrained and comprised mostly inexperienced replacements culled from Wehrkreis units up and down the Rhine river. Illustrating the difficulties the German forces faced in getting their armour to the front is the fact that it took 10 days to bring the first five Panzerjäger Tiger Ausf. B Jagdtiger heavy tank destroyers of the 2nd Kompanie of Hauptmann Scherf’s 512th schwere Panzerjägerabteilung to the front as a result of communications breakdowns and the threat posed by fighter-bombers. The same battalion’s 1st Kompanie lost four Jagdtiger vehicles in rearguard actions and three to mechanical breakdowns. When they finally engaged the US armour around Herborn, the Jagdtigers began to attack US tanks at long range and claimed it destroyed 30 of them, but no operational victory was gained.
Botsch could not group the forces at his notional disposal into an effective counterattack. The Panzer-Lehr Division was composed of three replacement formations whose resources were much greater on paper than in reality. Major Fromme’s 653rd schwere Panzerjägerabteilung, for example, should have been able to deploy two dozen Jagdpanther tank destroyers, but could seldom get more than one-third of these into the field at any one time. Along with the 9th Panzerdivision and 11th Panzerdivision, the German tank destroyers were tasked with stopping the Allies, but Model held back the 11th Panzerdivision on 10 March when the Panzer-Lehr Division did not arrive. When the 9th Panzerdivision and 11th Panzerdivision did finally attack the US 311th Infantry at Bad Honnef, 4 miles (6.4 km) downstream from Remagen on 11 March, they were ineffective and consumed dwindling supplies of petrol for no result.
On 13 March, Botsch planned to attack the Americans near Bruchhausen with three battalions totalling about 1,500 effective troops, facing five US battalions, totalling some 3,000 men, in reserve.
On 8 March Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, the chief of the operations staff of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, told Hitler that the Allies had captured the Ludendorff bridge intact. Hitler was furious and ordered the bridge destroyed at all costs. Over the next 10 days, the German high command tried nearly every weapon at its disposal to destroy the bridge. In an indication of the Germans' dire military situation, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring initially sought volunteers from among the pilots of the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt 262A twin-turbojet fighter-bomber force for suicide missions to attack the bridge, but the Me 26aA’s bomb sight prevented made this impossible. To supplement propeller-driven aircraft, Göring formed Oberstleutnant Robert Kowalewski’s Gefechtsverband 'Kowalewski', which included about 40 Arado Ar 234B-2 twin-turbojet bombers of the III/Kampfgeschwader 76, normally based in Norway. The bombers were escorted by about 30 Me 262A-2a fighter-bombers of the I/Kampfgeschwader 51 on their 7 March mission. This was the first time the Ar 232 had been employed to attack a tactical target. When fully loaded with external bombs, the bombers were capable of flying at more than 410 mph (660 km/h), which was a speed greater than almost all Allied aircraft except the latest Hawker Tempest Mk V, and so fast that the American anti-aircraft units had trouble tracking them. Over a period of six days, the III/KG 76 flew nine missions against the bridge. While extremely fast for their time, the bombers were not accurate and dropped their 2,209-lb (1000-kg) bombs without success. The Germans lost seven jet aircraft, including two shot down by Allied aircraft.
Aircraft of Oberst Lothar von Heinemann’s 9th Fliegerdivision attacked the bridge with a variety of propeller-driven aircraft, including Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter-bombers, and even obsolete Ju 87D dive-bombers. The dive-bombers were able to approach the bridge at high altitude and stoop almost vertically onto the bridge. The Eifel hills around the river, about 1,510 ft (460 m) high, required the pilots either to dive on the bridge from high altitude, avoiding the hills, or to approach at low altitude from up- or down-river. The heavy US anti-aircraft defences required the German pilots to take violent evasive action, reducing their accuracy. On 8 March, 10 Ju 87s of the I Nachtschlachtgruppe attempted an attack, but lost six of their number.
Later in the same day, at 16.44, eight dive-bombers and one Bf 109 fighter made a low-level attack straight up the river to attack the bridge, and the US 482d AW shot down eight aircraft. Some 30 minutes later, eight more dive-bombers attacked straight along the river at an altitude of 2,950 ft (900 m), without taking evasive action, and the anti-aircraft fire of the 90-mm (3.54-in) heavy guns of the 413th AAA Gun Battalion brought down all of the aircraft. The intensity and concentration of the US anti-aircraft fire repeatedly prevented the Germans from knocking out the bridge. Such was the intensity of the US anti-aircraft fire that as the tracer bullets concentrated on the aircraft the air around them was lit up with a pink glow.
On 9 March, the Germans despatched 17 aircraft to attack the bridge, but their bombs missed. The US forces reported that they had probably downed 13 of the 17 German aircraft. The aircraft also attacked the many vehicles and troops crowding the roads around the bridge, and in this had some success. The Luftwaffe also used the Kampfgeschwader 200 special-purpose unit which, among other tasks, was quite experienced in the operation of turbojet-powered aircraft and captured Allied machines. On 9 and 10 March, nine Fw 190G-1 fighter-bombers of the 11./KG 200 were despatched from Twente to Frankfurt-am-Main to operate against the bridge by night. They duly attacked, but scored no hits. The Americans estimated that from 7 to 17 March they shot down 109 aircraft and probably destroyed 36 others, out of a total of 367 sent to attack the bridge.
Between 7 and 14 March, while under attack by 11 weakened German divisions, the five US divisions of Major General Edwin H. Brooks’s US V Corps and Major General J. Lawton Collins’s US VII Corps took prisoner 11,200 Germans and themselves lost only 863 men.
On 14 March Hitler ordered SS-Obergruppenführer Hans Kammler to attack the bridge with V-2 ballistic missiles. The German general staff was shocked that Hitler had ordered the use of such weapons, designed for the are attack role and therefore relatively inaccurate, on German soil where they would very likely kill German citizens and troops. Three days later, the Batterie SS Abteilung 500 at Hellendoorn in the occupied Netherlands, about 125 miles (200 km) to the north, fired 11 V-2 rockets at the bridge. This was the V-2’s first and only use against a tactical target, and the only time they were fired on a German target during the war.The inaccurate missiles landed as far away as Köln, 40 miles (65 km) to the north. One missile struck the town of Oedingen, destroying a number of buildings, killing three US soldiers and a number of German residents, and wounding many others. One missile struck the command post of the 284th Combat Engineers in Remagen at 12.20, missing the bridge by about 295 yards (270 m), and the blast damaged or destroyed buildings in a 330-yard (300-m) radius, killing three soldiers and wounding 30 more.
The Germans floated an explosives-filled barge down the river, but the US forces captured it. The Germans also floated mines down the river, but these too were intercepted by a series of log and net booms that the 164th Engineer Combat Battalion had built upstream to protect the tactical bridges. Hitler summoned a favoured special operations commander, SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, who on 17 March organised the despatch of a special naval demolitions squad using Italian underwater breathing apparatus to plant mines. Before the squad could set out, it was learned that the Ludendorff bridge had finally collapsed, and Skorzeny ordered the seven SS frogmen instead to attack the pontoon bridge between Kripp and Linz. The water was extremely cold, about 7 °C (45 °F), and the US forces had by that date advanced so far up the Rhine river that the swimmers had to enter the river 11 miles (17 km) upstream of their target. They floated downstream using oil drums for support, but were discovered by the 738th Tank Battalion, which operated the secret 13-million candlepower M3 Lee tank-mounted Canal Defence Lights being used operationally for the first time in World War II. Two frogmen died of hypothermia, two were killed, and the other three were taken prisoner.
Of all the weapons used by the Germans to attack the bridge, it was only artillery that inflicted much damage. The Germans had more than 100 pieces of artillery in the area around the bridge, including 50 105-mm (4.13-in) medium howitzers, 50 150-mm (5.91-in) heavy howitzers and 12 210-mm (8.27-in) heavy howitzers. Targeting the bridge’s eastern approach was complicated by the steep slopes of Erpeler Ley close to the eastern shore, but the German artillery was easily able to hit the Ludendorff bridge itself and the western bank together with the approaches to it and the tactical bridges. A German forward artillery observer had infiltrated Remagen, and this enhanced the accuracy of the German artillery fire. On 8/9 March, the German artillery hit the bridge 24 times. On 9 March, it hit an ammunition truck on the bridge, the resulting explosion leaving a 15-ft (4.6-m) hole in the decking and putting the bridge out of operation for several hours. At 12.00 on 10 March, the German artillery struck a petrol truck, and for the next two days the Americans diverted all petrol and ammunition convoys to ferries. The falling shells killed troops, destroyed large numbers of vehicles as well as many buildings in Remagen, and rendered very hazardous the tasks of the combat engineers.
On 11 March, the Germans rerouted the Karl-Batterie 628, a two-gun section operating the Karl-Gerät howitzer, a 600-mm (23.62-in) super-heavy mortar, toward Remagen. The weapon itself weighed 124 tons, and fired a shell weighing up to 4,780 lb (2170 kg. Karl-Batterie 628 arrived on 20 March. The range for its 2,756-lb (1250-kg) lightest shell was slightly more than 10,935 yards (10000 m), but after it had fired only 14 rounds, which missed all of the bridges and damaged only a handful of random houses, the weapon had to be moved to the rear for repairs. The Karl-Batterie 428 was also ordered towards Remagen on 11 March, but was then rerouted to the US 1st Army’s sector.
The German ground offensive had thus been wholly unsuccessful, and Model was so unhappy with this performance that he transferred all of the LIII Corps' armour to General Carl Püchler’s LXXIV Corps.
Early in 1945, Eisenhower had given Montgomery and the British 21st Army Group the responsibility of being the first Allied formation to cross the Rhine river, after which it was to capture the Ruhr industrial heartland of Germany. Montgomery planned 'Plunder' meticulously through February and into a time early in March with the offensive set to begin on 23 March. Mindful of Montgomery’s plans, Eisenhower ordered Bradley to secure the Remagen bridgehead but to limit the expansion to an area that could be held by five divisions. On 9 March Bradley instructed Hodges to attack to a maximum width of 35 miles (40 km) and depth of 10 miles (16 km). Bradley also told Hodges to limithis 1st Army’s advance to 1,000 yards (915 m) per day with the goal of limiting the US advance while preventing the German forces from consolidating their positions. The 9th Armored Division had captured a bridge and established a bridgehead with less than a battalion of men, and now it and the rest of 1st Army were instructed to hold once they reached the Autobahn linking the Ruhr and Frankfurt-am-Main, about 6.8 miles (11 km) from the bridge.
On the morning of 10 March, the 276th Engineer Combat Battalion, one of the III Corps' units sent to Remagen, relieved Company C. The T26E3 Pershing heavy tanks that had been instrumental in capturing the bridge were too massive to risk moving across the weakened bridge and too wide to use the pontoon bridges, so they had to wait five days before they were transported across the river by pontoon ferry on 12 March.
On the same day, the Belgian army’s 12ème Bataillon de Fusiliers came under US command and one of its companies crossed the Rhine river at Remagen on 15 March.
On the night of 10 March, the 394th Infantry of the 99th Division was tasked to relieve the 9th Division on the eastern bank of the Rhine river after it had Linz am Rhein. The regiment was moved by truck from Meckenheim, 13.5 miles (21.8 km) to the north-west, into Remagen along roads jammed with hundreds of Jeeps, trucks, ambulances and tanks. Driving on both sides of the road, the trucks crawled past the wreckages of tanks burning by the side of the road and dead bodies everywhere. Trucks struck by artillery were just pushed to the side with dead soldiers still inside them. As the day;s light ebbed, the 394th Infantry emerged from the woods on the ridge overlooking the town of Remagen and could see that the bridge was being shelled. The men of the regiment marched the last 5 miles (8 km) and as they moved spasmodically through Remagen, the streets were lit by burning buildings and vehicles. German artillery shells were striking the western shore of the Rhine river at the rate of one every 30 seconds.
The western approach to the bridge was managed by a platoon of the 9th Military Police Company. The infantrymen dodged round discarded equipment, weapons, helmets and packs, and every time a shell came down, the soldiers on the approaches and on the bridge itself were forced to drop where they were with no place to take shelter. The 200-yard (185-m) approach ramp to the bridge was so exposed to German artillery fire, which repeatedly killed soldiers and destroyed equipment lined up to cross the bridge, that the infantrymen nicknamed it 'Dead Man’s Corner'. Medical personnel normally removed bodies as quickly as possible because of the negative impact it had on morale, but here the bodies accumulated so quickly on the approach to the bridge at a time when there were also so many wounded needing attention, that the bodies were stacked head-high.
The 99th Division was the first complete division to cross the Rhine river, and when its regiments had crossed they were all returned to control of the parent formation and pushed through to the Wied river, which they cross on 23 March and continued to advance to the east on the Autobahn linking Köln and Frankfurt-am-main as far as Giessen.
Once the Ludendorff bridge had been captured, the Americans needed additional bridges as back-ups to the structurally weakened Ludendorff bridge, and to get more troops and armour across the Rhine river so they could expand and defend the bridgehead. At 15.000 on 8 March, the US forces began work on the construction of the first bridge. To procure the necessary bridge-building supplies, the 1st Army’s 1111th Engineer Combat Group sent a man into Antwerp, whence the necessary supplies were despatched by train to the front. He surreptitiously marked all of the bridge materials, including those destined for the 3rd Army, as being destined for the 1st Army at Remagen.
While the bridges were being prepared and constructed, a large fleet of craft and vessels was used. Within the next few days, the 819th Amphibian Truck Company arrived with DUKW amphibious trucks, which were employed to carry ammunition, petrol and rations across the river. The 86th Engineer Heavy Pontoon Battalion and the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion were assigned the task of building three pontoon ferries. US Naval Unit 1 brought up 24 LCVP landing craft, which proved themselves especially useful because they could ferry 32 men across the river in seven minutes, which was faster than the men could cross the bridge on foot. All of the craft and vessels shuttled across the river constantly to deliver vehicles, equipment and troops to one side and ferry wounded to the other.
The Germans targeted the pontoon bridges as soon as the US troops started to construct them. Directed by forward artillery observers on the steep hills overlooking the river, the German artillery continually struck the engineers, soldiers, and vehicles on the bridges and the roads leading to them.
At 10.30 on 9 March, the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion began to build a Class 40 M2 steel treadway bridge about 440 yards (400 m) downstream of the bridge with the support of the 988th and 998th Engineer Treadway Bridge Companies. The crews and the bridge were repeatedly struck by artillery fire, suffering several direct hits that destroyed equipment, killed and wounded men, and slowed work on the bridge. During one barrage, 17 engineers were killed or wounded and 19 pontoon floats were destroyed. On 10 March, a direct hit killed the battalion executive officer of the 276th Engineer Combat Battalion and injured 19 others. On the same day, the Luftwaffe attacked the bridge for 6.5 hours; US anti-aircraft gunners claimed credit for shooting down about 28 of the 47 aircraft. When the engineers finished the heavy-duty 1,032-ft (315-m) bridge 32 hours later, at 05.10 on 11 March, it was the first Allied bridge across the Rhine river. A German forward artillery observer with a radio was captured in Remagen, and artillery fire decreased markedly over the next 24 hours.
The 51st Engineer Combat Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Harvey Fraser, built a Class 40, 25-Ton 969-ft (295-m) reinforced heavy pontoon bridge 2 miles (3.2 km) upstream on the bank of the Rhine between Kripp and Linz. Supported by the 181st and 552nd Engineer Heavy Pontoon Battalions, the 51st Engineer Combat Battalion began construction at 16.00 on 10 March even before the far shore had been captured. German warplanes bombed and strafed the bridges during their construction, killing three men and injuring two others. On 11 March, the 9th Armored Infantry Battalion captured Linz and at 19.00, just 27 hours after beginning construction, the engineers completed the second bridge, the fastest-built floating bridge ever completed by the engineers while under fire. The bridge was opened to traffic at 23.00 that night, and was reinforced on the following day to carry heavier traffic. Once the second tactical bridge was open, the treadway and pontoon bridges were used for eastbound and westbound traffic respectively. Tracked vehicles were limited to 5 mph (8 km/h) and wheeled vehicles to 15 mph (24 km/h). One vehicle crossed every two minutes, and within seven days, 2,500 vehicles had used it to reach the far bank.
When the treadway and pontoon bridges were operational, the engineers closed the Ludendorff bridge for repairs on 12 March. The bridge’s steel frame was more resistant to artillery and bombs and allowed it to carry heavier loads such as the M26 Pershing heavy tank, making it worth repair. By 14 March, the Americans had 16 gun batteries and 33 automatic weapon batteries, totaling 672 anti-aircraft weapons, arrayed for miles around the bridgehead. It was the largest concentration of anti-aircraft weapons during World War II. The anti-aircraft fire was so intense that shells falling back to earth caused 200 casualties to their own side. Of the 367 German aircraft that attacked the bridge, the Americans shot down 109, which represents almost 30% of them. The Gefechtsverband 'Kowalewski' lost 18 turbojet-powered jet aircraft in combat, plus several more that were damaged on landing, about one-third of its strength.
On 15 March, engineers determined that the Ludendorff bridge had sagged between 6 and 12 in (15 and 30 cm), and decided that extensive work would be needed before the bridge would be ready once more for use. Meanwhile, the pontoon ferries, DUKWs and LCVPs continued to supplement the two tactical bridges: by 23 March, the LCVPs had carried 13,800 troops and 406 vehicles.
The 78th Division expanded the bridgehead, taking Bad Honnef and cutting part of the Autobahn linking the Ruhr and Frankfurt-am-Main on 16 March.
From the day the bridge had been captured until the middle of March, Millikin had not visited the eastern bank of the Rhine river. Hodges and some of his staff had complained about the poor control of forces on both sides of the bridge and the lack of information on troop dispositions. Hodges also complained later that Millikin repeatedly disobeyed his orders, including a directive to drive his forces to the north along the eastern bank and open a crossing for the VII Corps, and that he failed to attach enough infantry support to the 9th Armored Division. Hodges relieved Millikin 10 days after the bridge’s seizure, on 17 March, and replaced him with Major General James A. Van Fleet, commander of the XXIII Corps.
After months of aircraft bombing and, in more recent days, direct artillery hits, near misses and deliberate demolition attempts, the Ludendorff bridge finally collapsed at about 15.00 on 17 March. From the time of its capture 10 days earlier, more than 25,000 troops and thousands of vehicles had crossed the bridge and the two newly built tactical bridges.
The engineers working on the bridge first heard a long bang, like steel snapping, and then the shrieking of broken metal, and then the central portion of bridge suddenly tipped into the river and the two end sections slumped off their piers. About 200 engineers and welders were working on the span when it fell. Lieutenant Colonel Clayton A. Rust, battalion commander of the 276th Engineer Combat Battalion, was on the bridge when it collapsed, and fell into the river. After briefly being pinned under the water, Rust floated downstream to the pontoon bridge, where he was pulled out of the water. Some 28 engineers were killed in the collapse and another 63 were injured. Of those who died, 18 were declared missing, but it is presumed they drowned in the river’s swift current.
Before it collapsed, five US divisions had already used the bridge and two adjacent tactical bridges to cross into the German heartland, creating a well-established bridgehead almost 25 miles (40 km) wide from Bonn in the north almost to Koblenz in the south, and 6.2 tp 9.3 miles (10 to 15 km) deep.
Three hours after the bridge’s collapse, the 148th Engineer Combat Battalion received order from the 1st Army to build a Class 40 floating Bailey bridge at Remagen to help carry critical traffic across the Rhine river. A floating Bailey bridge typically replaced a treadway or pontoon bridges and required substantially more time to build. The company had expected to start building their bridge on 25 March, after the start of 'Plunder', but had been rehearsing for weeks and all the materials it needed were on hand. The 148th Engineer Combat Battalion was assigned extra help from Company C of the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion, and 60 men of the 501st Light Pontoon Company. At 19.30 on 18 March, this team began to replace the heavy pontoon bridge downstream from the Remagen bridge, and finished the 1,258-ft (383-m) bridge a day earlier than ordered at 07.15 on 20 March.
Another tactical bridge was constructed by the 254th Engineer Combat Battalion on 22 March at Bad Hönningen, 5.6 miles (9 km) upstream with the aid of the 990th, 988th and 998th Treadway Bridge Companies and Detachment 1 of the 508th Engineer Light Pontoon Company. This bridge was 1,370 ft (418 m) long, and thus the longest tactical bridge built in the 1st Army’s area of operations. Engineers built additional tactical bridges later in March at Bad Godesberg, Rolandseck, Rheinberg, Worms, Bonn, Wallach, Oppenheim, Mainz and other locations, and also a two-way Bailey bridge on barges at Bonn.
When US forces captured the Ludendorff bridge on 7 March, the Germans were caught completely by surprise and were unprepared to defend against it. The seizure of the bridge imposed a sudden additional burden on the German defensive effort and multiplied the confusion of the Germans, who had been expecting a large build-up along the Rhine river before a thrust across it, so the breakthrough at Remagen meant that the beleaguered German forces lost a much-needed chance to regroup in the regions to the east of the Rhine river. The unexpected attack across the Rhine river also made it possible for Eisenhower to change his plans to end the war.
In the north, Montgomery’s intelligence staff preparing for 'Plunder' estimated that their strength of more than one million men faced Generalfeldmarschall Ernst Busch’s seriously weakened Heeresgruppe 'H' of only about 85,000 men and a mere 35 tanks, but the actual numbers were likely much less. Model’s Heeresgruppe 'B' comprised 27 seriously weakened divisions under the 5th Panzerarmee that lacked significant armoured strength, the 7th Army and the 15th Army, but many of its forces had been sent to the south to help contain the Remagen bridgehead, which greatly facilitated the other crossings during 'Plunder' later in March.
On 19 March, Eisenhower ordered nine 1st Army divisions already across the river to prepare in 'Banknote' to join Patton’s 3rd Army after it had crossed the Rhine river. Patton was determined to get his 3rd Army across the Rhine river before his arch-rival Montgomery, whom he loathed and despised. At 22.00 on 22 March, during the night before the start of Montgomery’s 'Plunder', Patton sent the 11th Infantry of the 5th Division quietly across the Rhine, at Nierstein, without the aid of aircraft, artillery, or airborne troops in this first stage of 'Voyage'. Patton’s force used DUKW amphibious trucks, US Navy landing craft and a ferry for tanks. Patton’s headquarters boasted to Bradley that '[w]ithout benefit of aerial bombing, ground smoke, artillery preparation, and airborne assistance, the Third Army at 2200 hours, Thursday evening, 22 March, crossed the Rhine River.' By s time late in the afternoon of 23 March, engineers had completed a 40-ton treadway bridge. The 3rd Army quickly established a bridgehead 6 miles (9.7 km) deep and took prisoner 19,000 Germans.
By 24 March, the 1st Army had 'three corps, six infantry divisions, and three armored divisions across the Rhine River'. It faced Model’s Heeresgruppe 'B' totalling about 325,000 men. The Allied break-out ended any hope the Germans had of regaining control of the area to the east of Remagen. After taking Limburg, the 9th Armored Division’s Combat Command B covered 108 kilometers (67 mi) in one day during the drive to the north, and Combat Command A advanced 68 miles (110 km) in just 11 hours, and on 29 March the combat command took prisoner more than 1,200 Germans. By 31 March, three weeks after the capture of the Ludendorff bridge, all four US armies were across the Rhine river.
The difficulty of crossing the Rur river had delayed the Allies for four months, and the crossing of the Rhine river in a single day undoubtedly shortened the war in Europe. Eisenhower described capturing the bridge as 'one of those rare and fleeting opportunities which occasionally arise in war and which, if grasped, have incalculable effects on determining future success'. Various sources credit the capture of the Ludendorff bridge with shortening the war in Europe by weeks to months and reducing the number of casualties that the Allies might otherwise have incurred.
Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring described the battle as the 'Crime of Remagen [which] broke the front along the Rhine.' Göring said that the capture of the bridge 'made a long defence impossible'. Generalmajor Carl Wagener, Model’s chief-of-staff, said that the loss of the bridge signalled the end of the war for the Germans.
Hitler was so incensed by the loss of the bridge that he summoned the 'fanatical and reliable Nazi' Generalleutnant Rudolf Hübner from the Eastern Front and personally appointed him to head the Fliegendes Sonder-Standgericht West (flying special court martial west) with orders to court martial and execute the officers who had failed to destroy the bridge. Hübner was accompanied by Oberstleutnant Anton Ernst Berger and Oberstleutnant Paul Penth. None of them had legal experience and they traveled to the headquarters of Heeresgruppe 'B' with two military policemen who acted as the execution squad. On 11 March, in violation of German military rules of justice, Hübner was both prosecutor and judge. Oberst Richter Janert, the legal officer of Heeresgruppe 'B', offered Hübner a copy of the German military code of justice, but Hübner refused it, insisting that the only authority he needed was that of Hitler. Hübner tried Bratge in absentia and sentenced him to death for delaying the order to blow the bridge, but as Bratge was a prisoner of war the sentence could not be carried out.
Hübner then tried Scheller and after him Leutnant Karl Heinz Peters. Scheller had arrived only at 11.15, two hours before the US attack on the bridge. Peters was a passerby trying to get his experimental anti-aircraft system back across the Rhine river. But the outcome of the trial was predetermined: Scheller was convicted of failing to blow up the bridge and Peters of allowing his secret anti-aircraft weapon to fall into US hands, and the two men were executed on the following day.
On the day Scheller and Peters were sentenced, Major Herbert Strobel and Major August Kraft were summoned to Model’s office unaware of the charges pending against them. Kraft and his commanding officer, Strobel, were in charge of the combat engineers in the sector of Koblenz and Remagen, covering 37 miles (60 km) of the Rhine river. Kraft, commander of the 3rd Landespionierbataillon, had laid the charges on the Remagen bridge, and had been 25 miles (40 km) away at the time the bridge was captured. Strobel had ordered Kraft to make a counterattack, which had totally failed. On 17 March Hübner conducted a 20-minute trial for the two men at 11.00, quickly found both men guilty and sentenced them to immediate execution. The men were given about 45 minutes to write to their families before they were escorted to a wooded site and executed. The executioners emptied their pockets, tore up the family letters, covered their bodies with a few shovel-fulls of dirt, and left them where they fell. A sixth officer, the commander of the 12th Pionierregiment, Hauptmann Friesenhahn, had been captured but not convicted, as he was found by the court to have done everything within his power to destroy the bridge.
Hitler disciplined four other generals. Generalmajor Richard von Bothmer, commander of Bonn and Remagen sector, was prosecuted because he yielded Bonn without a fight: he was demoted to private and sentenced to five years in prison; his wife was already dead and his son had been killed in the war. Bothmer seized a pistol belonging to a court official and committed suicide in the courtroom on 10 March. Hitler replaced him with Kesselring from the Italian front.