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Friday, March 22, 2013

The Bridge at Remagen

The Ludendorff bridge at Remagen was a railway bridge built during WWI in order to ship men and materiel to the Western front. It was about 1000 ft long. It gained notoriety during WWII for being the first place at which the Allies crosed the Rhine on March 7, 1945. Alexander A. Drabik was the first man across, leading his squad under machine gun fire. Lieutenant Karl H. Timmermann the first officer to reach the eastern side. Both of them received the Distinguished Service Cross for this accomplishment. Crossing the Rhine was of great significance as this was the last natural barrier of any significance in the west protecting the heart of Germany and all other bridges capable of supporting heavy vehicles had already been destroyed. The US 9th Armored Division had the distinction of accomplishing the crossing. This was made possible in part by a series of mishaps on the German side who desperately tried to demolish the bridge but were unsuccessful and the fact that it was only defended by a platoon-size garrison. The responsible German officers were subsequently court-martialed and 4 of them were executed. A few days after the bridge was captured and having being subjected to constant bombardment -including some not so well-aimed V2 rockets-, the bridge collapsed, taking with it 28 combat engineers who were working on it. At this point, the loss of the bridge did not matter that much as other pontoon bridges had already been built and troops could continue to flow into the other side. Also, some argue that this bridge was not sufficient to move enough troops across to continue the advance and the offensive had to wait for the armies to the north and south to get to he eastern bank of the Rhine. Even if that's the case, having crossed the Rhine had great phychological impact on both sides and the war in Europe was over just two months later. The bridge has not been rebuilt since then and today, all that remains are the towers at each end and a small portion of the ramp leading to it on the western side. The towers on the western side have been transformed into a Museum dedicated to Peace. Below are some pictures from my visit a few years ago.

The ramp leading to the bridge from the western side. The ramp is actually partially destroyed. There are about two arches left of it and the broken end of it stands about 20 feet off the ground. In this picture I only framed the portion that is still in good shape. 
View of the bridge standing at the edge of the broken ramp, as far as I could stand. From here you can also see the towers at the eastern end of the bridge. This is the view that the GIs met with (along with the metal structure of the actual bridge) when they crossed it. With the high ground at the other end of the bridge providing artillery cover and the protection of the towers, the bridge could have been a much more costly affair to capture. Luckily, for the GIs it was not adequately defended. Note that today there is quite a bit of overgrowth on what would have been the road/ramp leading to the bridge.

The view of the west-side towers from the river's western edge. Note that there is nothing left of the bridge. Where the bridge would have begun we only see a clean cut.

View of the eastern side, with the eastern bridge towers at the river's edge and the commanding hills in the background. The day of my visit was a bit cloudy so the towers are a bit difficult to see. This picture also shows the width of the Rhine river at this point. 

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