A Brief History
On March 7, 1945, the fortunes of war cost a German Field Marshall his job, and five German officers a sentence of death! Meanwhile, the same events earned two American soldiers the Distinguished Service Cross and another a Silver Star.
Digging deeper, we find German forces being shoved back into Germany on the Western front by General George Patton’s veteran army.
The last obstacle to invading Germany was the Rhine River, historically an extreme obstacle. The Germans had destroyed the bridges across the Rhine to prevent allied troops from crossing, but had left the “Ludendorff Bridge” located at Remagen intact to allow retreating German troops and their equipment to fall back into Germany.
Confusion caused by changes in the chain of command and in communication caused the defensive detachment on the bridge to wait longer than they should have to blow the charges that were placed to destroy the bridge. Compounding the problem, the officer in charge of destroying the bridge was given half the amount of explosives he had requested and worse yet, the explosives he was given were of a type with less explosive power.
The explosives were set off right as American lead troops were arriving on the West bank, the mighty blast lifted the bridge an then…. It fell back into place! In one of those golden moments when opportunity knocks, the lead American soldiers answered the door! Rushing across the bridge, small numbers of US soldiers engaged the tiny (considering what was at stake) German detachment of about 36 soldiers, overwhelming it and seizing both sides of the bridge.
American engineers quickly worked to remove the remaining explosive charges and troops and equipment began pouring into Germany securing the bridgehead. Despite strenuous efforts by German soldiers to retake the bridge, and even more strenuous efforts to destroy the bridge (including attacking with jet bombers, V-2 rockets, artillery, frogmen with explosives, and mines floating down the river) the bridge held up for 10 days while American forces firmly entrenched themselves on German soil.
After 10 days the bridge collapsed, even though American engineers had done all they could to reinforce it with steel beams. By that time engineers had constructed pontoon bridges across the river which was made possible by having so many US forces on the far side.
A cracked angle to this story is that the Ludendorff Bridge was built by Imperial Germany during World War I to facilitate moving German forces and equipment into France in the effort to conquer France! Ironically, the ultimate use of the bridge was to hasten the defeat of Germany in 1945.
This bridge and the events of March 1945 are commemorated in the 1969 movie, The Bridge at Remagen, and the bridge appears in several video games, including Panzer Front, Panzer Leader, Call of Duty: Finest Hour, and Battlefield 2142: Northern Strike.
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