Archive for March 7th, 2008

In 1945, the Rhine River was of intense interest to both the Allied forces and the German troops fighting in opposition, albeit for entirely different reasons.  For the Allies, it was the last major natural obstacle on the march to Berlin and resounding victory.  For the Germans, it was the last good place to slow the enemy and somehow stave off total defeat.

German troops had placed demolition charges on the bridges crossing the Rhine, which they proceeded to detonate as they crossed in retreat.  Most all of them had already been blown as Allied troops approached the Rhine on March 7th.  Most of them except one.  The Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen was still intact.  This double-tracked railroad bridge was, for all intents and purposes, the last bridge across the Rhine, and it was the last bridge standing that could support heavy armor.

The Ludendorff had also been set with explosives and orders were given to blow the bridge only when Allied soldiers were less than five miles distant.  But the American advance was so rapid that it caught up with the German retreat, and artillery and tank rounds were falling amongst the engineers as they finally cleared the eastern edge of the bridge.

And when the demolition team closed the circuits to the explosives, the signals traveled through the wires…all the way to where they’d been cut, probably by non-German engineers forced to fight for Germany.  A very rapid second attempt was made to blow the bridge with a 300-kilogram emergency charge, but it only succeeded in lifting the bridge, and setting it right back down again.  And so the Ludendorff stood as elements of the U.S. 9th Armored Division crossed it and set up a beachhead over the next twenty-four hours.

Then the battle really began, with German forces using artillery, aircraft, and even V-2 rockets in an attempt to destroy or at least damage the bridge.  The bridge held…until March 17th, when it finally collapsed as repairs were being made. But by then the eastern beachhead was secure and there were additional pontoon bridges already in place, which largely negated the loss.

Recommended Reading: The Bridge at Remagen – Hechler’s book is probably the most famous book about the Ludendorff, so I have to mention it.  But another work in my collection is Peter Allen’s One More River: The Rhine Crossings of 1945 – it provides a great look at all the various breachings of the Rhine…a terrific, well-paced read.

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