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The Ludendorff Bridge (in World War II, frequently called the Bridge at Remagen) was a railway bridge across the Rhinemarker in Germanymarker, connecting the villages of Remagenmarker and Erpelmarker between two ridge lines of hills flanking the river. Remagen is situated south of Bonnmarker.

The bridge is notable for its capture on March 7March 8, 1945 by Allied forces in the Second World War which allowed the Allies to establish a bridgehead across the Rhine.

The bridge capture was an important strategic turning point during WWII because it was the only remaining bridge which led over the Rhine Rivermarker into Germany's heartlands and was also strong enough that the Allies could cross immediately with tanks and trucks full of supplies. Once captured, the German troops began desperate efforts to knock it down, damage it beyond use and slow the Allies' use of it. At the same time, the Allies worked just as hard to defend it, expand their bridgehead into a lodgement sufficiently large that the Germans could no longer attack the bridge with artillery, and keep it in repair despite the ongoing battle damage.

The ensuing engagement went on for more than a week during which it triggered a huge artillery duel, a desperate air battle, and totally scrambled troop dispositions for both sides along the entire defensive front along the Rhine as both sides reacted to the capture. One side 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 defence for the Germans and hastening the collapse of Nazi Germany.

On 23 March the long prepared Operation Plunder under Montgomery crossed the Rhine in force to the north in around Reesmarker and Weselmarker (North Rhine-Westphaliamarker).

History

The bridge was built by Grün & Bilfinger between 1916 and 1919 to connect the Right Rhine Railway, the Left Rhine Railway and the Ahrtalbahn to facilitate transport to the Western Front. It was a key element of a planned strategic railway that was to start in Neussmarker, cross the Rhine at Remagen and connect with the Ahr Valley railway that connected with the Eiffel railway that has lines into Luxembourgmarker and France. The advantage of such a line was that troops and supplies could be transported to the Western Front from the Ruhr industrial area without having to go through the busy rail centres of Cologne or Düsseldorfmarker. However, by the time World War I ended, the line between Neuss and Remagen had not been completed and never was. This is also the reason why the bridge at Remagen was not rebuilt after World War II.

Designed by Karl Wiener , it was 325 meters long, with two rail lines and a walkway. It was named for the German World War I general Erich Ludendorff, one of the bridge's proponents. It was one of three bridges built to improve rail links between Germany and France during World War I, the other two being the Hindenburg Bridge at Bingen and Urmitz Bridge near Koblenzmarker. This was one of the four bridges guarded during the Third United States Army occupation at the end of World War I.

Capture

During Operation Lumberjack, on March 7, 1945, troops of the U.S. Army's 9th Armored Division reached one of the two damaged but intact bridges over the Rhine (a railway bridge in Weselmarker in today's North Rhine-Westphaliamarker was the other one), after German defenders failed to demolish it, despite several attempts. The fuses of the explosives were cut by two Polish engineers from Silesia, forcibly conscripted into the Wehrmacht. Sergeant Alexander A. Drabik of Holland, Ohiomarker 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.

The Allies hailed the capture as the "Miracle of Remagen." General Eisenhower declared the bridge "worth its weight in gold." It remained intact but severely weakened, despite the German detonation of a small charge and a stronger charge a few minutes later. Eight thousand men crossed it in the first 24 hours alone.

A large sign was put up on one of the stone towers reading "CROSS THE RHINE WITH DRY FEET COURTESY OF 9TH ARMD DIVISION." The sign is now on display at the Patton Museummarker of Cavalry and Armor at Fort Knoxmarker, Kentuckymarker, above an M26 Pershing tank, a type used in the battle. Of the ten Pershings attached to the 9th, there is only one surviving example, which is on permanent view at the Wright Museum of WWII History in Wolfeboro, N.H. In the days after the bridge's capture, the 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 quickly executed. The fifth officer, Captain Willi Bratge, was convicted and sentenced in absentia, having become an Americanmarker prisoner of war by this time.

Bombardment following capture

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 its few deployments as a tactical bomber, Arado Ar 234 jets attempted to destroy the bridge(observed by Stars and Stripes reporter Andy Rooney), and on March 17, 1945, eleven V-2 rockets were fired at the bridge from the Hellendoornmarker area of the Netherlands, about north of Remagen, destroying a number of nearby buildings and killing at least six American soldiers.

Collapse

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 Rhinemarker 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 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 , was enough to bring about the collapse of the bridge.

The following day, Hitler sent a congratulatory telegram to the officer in charge of the V-2 rocket launching team at Hellendoorn. It is unclear whether Hitler was aware that there had been no 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 link the collapse directly with the V-2 bombardment.

Bridge ruins today

Aerial photo of bridge ruins taken in 1953
The surviving towers of the old bridge now house a museum.

The Bridge in media

A Hollywood film inspired by a book written about its capture, The Bridge at Remagen, was made in 1969.

The Ludendorff Bridge features prominently in the final mission of the game Call of Duty: Finest Hour, in which the player must cross the bridge in order to capture it.

In the final mission of the American scenario in the tank simulation game Panzer Front, the player can only finish the campaign if his or her tank destroys enemy forces on the other side of the river before attempting to cross the bridge itself.

In Battlefield 2142: Northern Strike, the bridge was rebuilt as a suspension bridge and sections collapsed. A similar bridge design in the game was seen in Anzio.

Notes

  1. same city
  2. The Bridge at Remagen museum

References



Further reading




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