The Bridge at Remagen
The Ludendorff Bridge was originally built during World War I as a means of moving troops and logistics west over the Rhine to reinforce the Western Front. The bridge was designed by Karl Wiener an architect from Mannheim. It was 325 metres long, had a clearance of 14.8 metres above the normal water level of the Rhine, and its highest point measured 29.25 metres. The bridge carried two railway tracks and a pedestrian walkway. During World War II, one track was planked over to allow vehicular traffic.
The Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen—the last standing on the Rhine—was captured by soldiers of the U.S. 9th Armored Division on 7 March 1945, during Operation Lumberjack. On 7 March 1945, soldiers of the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion, led by Lieutenant Karl H. Timmermann, from West Point, Nebraska, approached the bridge, and found it standing. The first American soldier across the bridge was Sergeant Alex Drabik; Lt. Timmermann was the first officer across.
Although the bridge's capture is sometimes regarded as the "Miracle of Remagen" in U.S. histories, historians[who?] debate the strategic importance of the capture of the bridge at Remagen. General Eisenhower said that "the bridge is worth its weight in gold". However, few U.S. units were able to operate east of the Rhine ahead of the main crossings in the south, under Generals Patton and Bradley, and in the north, under Field Marshal Montgomery (Operation Plunder). Ultimately, only a limited number of troops were able to cross the Rhine before the bridge's collapse. However, the psychological advantage of having crossed the Rhine in force and in pursuit of the retreating Wehrmacht improved Allied morale while communicating disaster to the retreating Germans.
In the immediate days after the bridge's capture, the German Army Command desperately attempted to destroy the bridge by bombing it and having divers mine it. Hitler ordered a flying courts-martial that condemned five officers to death. Captain Bratge, who was in American hands, was sentenced in absentia while the other four (Majors Scheller, Kraft and Strobel, and Lieutenant Peters) were executed in the Westerwald Forest.
Soldiers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked long hours to stabilize and repair the bridge (with American combat troops stationed to guard the bridge sometimes shooting out their worklights to minimize visibility of their position to the enemy). To increase traffic capacity, the engineers also laid pontoon bridges upstream and downstream of the Ludendorff Bridge. However, ten days after its capture, the bridge suddenly collapsed into the Rhine, killing twenty-eight soldiers of the Army Corps of Engineers. Some[who?] speculate that the wear and tear of weeks of bombardment, combined with the vibrations produced when a V-2 rocket slammed into the earth at 4,800 kilometres per hour (3,000 mph), was enough to cause the collapse of the bridge.
By the time of the bridge's collapse, the Americans had established a substantial bridgehead on the far side of the Rhine and had additional pontoon bridges in place. Because the pontoon bridges and other secured crossing points had supplanted the bridge, its loss was neither tactically nor strategically significant. Still, the Ludendorff Bridge remained important as the first point at which Allies crossed the Rhine.
Bridge at Remagen on the Rhine
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