Published 3:39 pm Friday, March 6, 2020
BY JOHN VICK
On Mar 7, 1945, more than 8,000 U S Troops crossed the Rhine River into Germany by way of the Ludendorff Bridge near Remagen. This was the last bridge left that spanned the Rhine. When Lt. Karl Timm-erman led his 27th Armored Infantry Battalion up to the west end of the bridge, he fully expected it to be rigged with explosives. Realizing that this might be the last bridge into Germany, Timmerman advanced his men across. As the troops were crossing the bridge, an explosion occurred. After the smoke settled, to Timmerman’s amazement, the bridge still stood. When Hitler learned that the explosion had failed to destroy the bridge, he had the 4 officers responsible, executed. In defense of the German officers, they had delayed blowing the bridge so that many thousands of German troops could make it back across the Rhine to avoid capture. Even when they decided to blow it up, they had not been given enough explosives to do the job.
Whatever the causes, the American military leaders were justifiably proud and fortunate that their entrance into Germany was ahead of their planned schedule.
“Hot dog Courtney. This will bust them wide open….shove everything you can across it”, exclaimed Gen. Omar Bradley, 12th Army Group commander to Gen. Courtney Hodges, commander of the 1st Army.
Meanwhile, back in the states, Mary Timmerman, mother of Lt. Timmerman got a long distance phone call. She was afraid, at first, because she had two sons in the US Army and two brothers fighting on the German side. She answered the phone and a voice boomed out,
“This is the Omaha World-Herald calling. Your son Karl has just crossed the
Remagen bridge into Germany. Do you know what that means?” “I know what that means to me. Is he hurt?” she replied. “No, he’s not hurt, but listen to this: Karl Timmerman was the first officer of an invading army to cross the Rhine since Napoleon.” “Napoleon I don’t care about. How is my Karl?”, she asked.
Lt. Timmerman’s troops fanned out from the eastern end of the bridge, securing it from the German defenders who were still trying to hold back the Americans. During the next 10 days, the Germans employed nearly every weapon at their disposal in an attempt to destroy the bridge.
The bridge would collapse on Mar 17, but it had endured attacks from German howitzers, mortars, floating mines, mined boats, a railroad gun and a giant 600 mm super heavy mortar. The desperate attacks included attacks by over 367 aircraft from the Luftwaffe, including the new Arado Ar 234B turbojet. The Americans claimed to have shot down over 30% of the attacking aircraft.
On Mar. 14, Hitler ordered SS Gen. Hans Kammler to fire V2 rockets at the bridge. This was the first time the V2 had been fired “in a tactical situation” [as opposed to the random launches against England]. The 11 missiles launched killed 6 American troops and several German civilians but none came any closer to the bridge than ¼ mile.
By the time the bridge collapsed on Mar 17, close to a division of troops [15,000] had crossed into Germany. By that time the Army had built a tactical steel Treadway bridge, a heavy duty pontoon bridge and a Bailey bridge [a prefabricated truss bridge] across the Rhine. Some 25,000 American troops had crossed into Germany by the time they broke out of the bridgehead on Mar 25.
When the Ludendorff Bridge collapsed on Mar 17, some 33 Army combat engineers were killed and some 63 were injured. The bridge was never rebuilt.
The Remagen Bridge was made famous after the war in a 1957 book by Kenneth W Hechler, “The Bridge at Remagen. The book was made into a movie of the same name which was released in 1969. It starred George Segal, as the American commander ordered to take the bridge and Robert Vaughn and the German commander who was ordered to defend it.
[Sources: Wikipedia, The Business Insider, The Encyclopedia Britannica and History.net]