THE REMAGEN BRIDGE

M26_Pershing_at_Remagen

An M26 Pershing fires at German positions across the Rhine.

On March 7, 1945, a 9th Armored Division platoon discovered a bridge over the Rhine left standing to accommodate retreating German forces. Owing to misplacement of explosives, German engineers failed to destroy it as the Americans rushed across. General Eisenhower redirected troops toward Remagen and shifted the weight of his offensive from the northern to a central axis. Quick exploitation by U.S. forces resulted in rapid encirclement of the Ruhr, eliminating Germany’s heavy industrial heartland, along with a 325,000-man army, from the war.

To the south of Bonn along the Rhine lies the relatively small town of Remagen, important only because the Ludendorff railroad bridge spanned the river at that point. In midafternoon on 7 March, a task force of the American 9th Armored Division, led by several new Pershing tanks, advanced through the flotsam of escaping Germans. As the Americans approached the bridge from the west, a large explosion greeted them. An even larger explosion followed, clearly designed to drop the bridge into the Rhine. To the astonishment of Germans and Americans alike, when the smoke cleared, the bridge still stood—the charges had lifted the bridge straight up in the air instead of twisting it, and the bridge had come backdown on its pillars.

The Americans reacted without orders; infantrymen, supported by heavy machine gun and tank fire, rapidly crossed and drove the Germans back. By night the Americans had pushed a small force of tanks across the river—and within 24 hours they had 8,000 men across. Over the course of the next ten days, Hodges pushed a substantial force across the Rhine River in the face of desperate German efforts to destroy the bridge. The bridge’s capture had delighted Eisenhower and Bradley, although neither showed much interest in exploiting the advantage. To Hodges’s fury, Eisenhower limited First Army to a maximum of five divisions in the bridgehead, while Bradley ordered First Army to limit its advance to 1,000 yards per day and to hold in place once it reached the Frankfurt autobahn.

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