Friday, September 28, 2012

Mystery Photo 19: Remagen Bridge Head

The remaining towers of the Bridge at Remagen, Germany

The Ludendorff  railroad bridge at Remagen, before its destructionin WWII

    The structure pictured in my Mystery photo is the remains of the Bridge at Remagen, immortalized in the American war film, The Bridge at Remagen of 1969. This movie was based on historical facts, but it is otherwise fictionalized. It implies more strategic importance to this bridge than really existed.

     There was indeed a small battle to take the bridge. Soldiers of the US 9th Armored Division conquered the bridge on March 7, 1945. And it is true that the Germans tried very hard after its conquest to destroy the bridge but initially failed. After the Americans took the bridge they spent considerable engineering skills to try to repair what the Germans had done. They were sometimes under sniper fire or air straifing during this repair work and sometimes had to shoot out the lights they were using at night to prevent some of these attacks. The bridge's continued existence was important to the Allies morale and damaged the morale of the retreating Germans, because the first Allied troops to cross the Rhine river in mass crossed this bridge. But it was known that it would not tolerate the degree of traffic necessary to supply the war as it advanced further toward Berlin. It was also located in the middle of the fighting lines. There was more requirements for intact bridges to the south where General Patton's and General Bradley's troops were entering Germany proper. And in the north it was General Montgomery who led the second largest contingent into the Rhineland.

     This bridge at Remagen, called the Ludendorff Bridge was originally a railroad bridge with a single pedestrian pathway. The Germans had put planks across the bridge to allow vehicular traffic. But the Americans quickly put up two ponton bridges both upstream and downstream from the Remagen bridge because they knew the huge and heavy traffic of war would need these extra bridges.
And on the tenth day after capture, the Ludendorff bridge suddenly collapsed into the Rhine killing 28 soldiers of the Army Corps of Engineers. My father was in the 181st Engineering Corps, but his unit had been engaged in erecting one of the ponton bridges 3 miles upstream on the Rhine at Linz.

     There are memorial plaques on these remaining towers  honoring both Americans and Germans killed here. But the bridge no doubt has more presence in our minds because of that famous 1969 movie than because of any real strategic importance in history. Interestingly that symbolic importance has also found its way into several video games, one for Playstation and others. Even the movie that we watch every Christmas, The Wonderful Life refers to some WWII battle scenes and one character is sited as having died at Remagen taking the bridge. Since 2009, an annual reenactment of the battle at Remagen has been preformed at Tidioute, Pennsylvania where a bridge of similar structure to the Remagen bridge crosses the Allegheny River.

     When we did a river cruise on the Rhine a few years ago, I was looking for the remains of this bridge from the deck of our river ship, the Avalon. I felt a certain closeness to the area because I knew my father had been near here in 1945 working on ponton bridges. I was somewhat disappointed in seeing these two small stone towers set against a hill on the Rhine. If not forwarned, I could have easily missed them. For whatever reason, in our minds this bridge and the little town near it which gave the bridge its name have for us symbolized one of the more heroic episodes in the long story of World War II.


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  15. Excellent site. My Uncle George Chandler 341st Engineers died when this bridge fell into the Rhine the 17th of March. I have done extensive research and even spoke to his old Company Commander who was down river when the bridge fell. He told me the 341st crane my Uncle was operating was recovered from the river and they used it for the remainder of the war. My uncle and the crane was on loan and I cannot seem to find a morning report confirming what outfit his was assigned too. Thanks for what you do.