Ludendorff Bridge

Ludendorff Bridge

The Ludendorff Bridge (in World War II, frequently called the Bridge at Remagen ) was a railway bridge across the Rhine in Germany, connecting the villages of Remagen and Erpel between two ridge lines of hills flanking the river. Remagen is situated south of Bonn.

The bridge is notable for its capture on March 7—March 8 1945 by Allied forces in the Second World War as its capture allowed the allies to establish a bridgehead across the Rhine and expand that into a lodgement in a desperate and frantic battle where both sides raced to reinforce changing the entire nature of the conflict on the Western Front. A lodgement across the Rhine anywhere presented the allies with an opportunity to return to a battle of maneuver and conserve men, while the Third Reich had almost succeeded in establishing a stable defensive line along the rough terrain of the Rhine valley buying time to restore strength and prolong the war.

The bridge capture was an important strategic turning point during WWII because it was the only remaining bridge which led over the Rhine River 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 redeployment 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.

History

The bridge was built by Grün & Bilfinger [cite web |url=http://www.bilfingerberger.com/C1257130005050D5/vwContentByKey/W26U3AX8814LUNADE/$FILE/bb_historie_en.html
publisher=Bilfinger Berger |title=Corporate history animation
] between 1916 and 1919 to connect the Right Rhine Railway, the Left Rhine Railway and the "Ahrtalbahn" de icon to facilitate transport to the Western Front. It was a key element of a planned strategic railway that was to start in Neuss, cross the Rhine at Remagen and connect with the Ahr Valley railway that connected with the Eiffel railway that has lines into Luxembourg 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 Düsseldorf. 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 de icon, 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 Koblenz. 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 Wesel in today's North Rhine-Westphalia 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. cite journal |author =Jan Nowak-Jeziorański |title=Małe państwo i wielkie zwycięstwo (Small state and a great victory) |journal =Gazeta Wyborcza |date=1993-08-13 |issue=188 |pages=13 |id= |url=http://szukaj.gazeta.pl/archiwum/1,0,131279.html?kdl=19930813GW |language=pl icon |format= |accessdate= ] Dubious|date=March 2008 Sergeant Alexander A. Drabik of Holland, Ohio was the first American soldier to cross the bridge, thereby becoming the first American soldier to cross the Rhine River into Germany; Lieutenant Karl Timmermann was the first officer over the bridge. Both were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their actions. Combat Command B of the 9th Armored was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for capturing the bridge.

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 several further German efforts to destroy it, such as the first tactical use of a V-2 ballistic rocket. 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 Museum of Cavalry and Armor at Fort Knox, Kentucky, 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 [http://www.wrightmuseum.org/ 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.

Hitler's reaction was 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 American prisoner of war by this time.

Bombardment following capture

After the bridge was captured and put to use, the Germans made repeated, unsuccessful efforts to bring it down. Their methods included bombing from the air and bombardment with field artillery. Andy Rooney, then a "Stars and Stripes" reporter, observed and described a series of such, unsuccessful, attempts by individual Luftwaffe dive bombers to bombard the bridge. [cite journal |author=Rooney Andy |title=Bridge a Blow to Jerry |journal=Stars & Stripes |edition=London Edition |date=1945-03-13]

On March 17, 1945, eleven V-2 rockets were fired at the bridge. The rockets were launched from the Hellendoorn area of Holland, about convert|200|km|mi north of Remagen.

The purpose of the V-2 launches was to destroy the bridge, but not one of the rockets hit the intended target. A number of buildings in the vicinity of the bridge were destroyed, and at least six American soldiers were killed during the rocket bombardment.

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 wounded. However, by then the Americans had established a substantial bridgehead on the far side of the Rhine and had additional pontoon bridges in place. The collapse was not caused by a direct hit from a V-2, as the nearest 'strike' was convert|270|m|yd away. However, the bridge had been weakened by the earlier bombing attacks. Some speculate that the wear and tear of weeks of bombardment, combined with the vibrations produced when a V-2 slammed into the earth at convert|4800|km/h|mph, was enough to bring about the collapse of the bridge.Fact|date=March 2008 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.Fact|date=March 2008

The Bridge ruins today

The surviving towers of the old bridge now house a museum. [ [http://www.bruecke-remagen.de/index_en.htm The Bridge at Remagen museum] ]

The Bridge in film

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

Literature

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Notes and references


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Further reading

* [http://www.1940.co.uk/history/article/remagen/ramagen.htm Barber Neil "The Bridge at Remagen"]
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* |year=1985 |publisher=Scherz |isbn=9783502165521
*|isbn=9780931902352


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