Monday, March 7, 2016

The Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen

During World War I the Germans built a bridge over the Rhine river near the town of Remagen, which is just a few miles south of Bonn. The purpose of the bridge was to transport troops and supplies to the Western Front. The WWI German General Erich Ludendorff was an advocate of the bridge and the bridge was named for him. The bridge would allow rail traffic from three rail lines to cross the Rhine. At this point the Rhine is about 300 meters wide. On the east side is a village called Erpel and a steep hill rises behind the village called Erpeler Ley, which the Germans cut through with a railway tunnel. On the west side was the town of Remagen, primarily a resort town. The bridge was of steel construction, three spans, 1306 feet long with concrete/brick supporting towers on each end and two piers in the river. Two rail lines and two pedestrian catwalks ran across the bridge. Planks could be laid to cover the rails for vehicular traffic. Three photos are of the bridge at the time of its capture are shown below.

The photo below is of the bridge from the top of Erpeler Ley.

On March 7, 1945 elements of the American 9th Armored Division approached Remagen and were surprised to find that the bridge was still intact. There were 22 vehicular bridges and 28 railroad bridges across the Rhine at the start of WWII; at this time this was the only one still intact. The Germans had rigged it with explosives but most of them failed to detonate. The American combat engineers, under heavy German fire, cut the wires and removed the explosives. Then the Americans began pushing troops, tanks, supplies, artillery and anti-aircaraft artillery across the bridge. The sign on the bridge tower shown below says "Crossing the Rhine with Dry Feet Courtesy of the 9th Armored Division".

The Germans were a bit upset about this, to say the least. The Rhine river was the natural barrier to the invasion of the German heartland. Hitler had several officers executed for their failure to destroy
the bridge.

The Americans put heavy concentrations of antiaircraft weapons on both sides of the bridge. The Luftwaffe threw everything they had left at the bridge with no success; about 30% were shot down. They also tried artillery and even frogmen, all of which were to no avail. The bridge held up for ten days during which time five or six divisions got across and established a bridgehead. On 17 March about 3 PM the bridge collapsed, killing 28 American soldiers. By that time one or two pontoon bridges had been put in place by the engineers, as shown in the photo below.

The bridge was not rebuilt after the war. The photo below shows the remaining towers on the east bank. The Erpeler Ley is behind it.

The towers remaining on the Remagen side  have been turned into a museum. They are on the right edge of the photos below; there is a flag flying on the top of them.

Below is a photo of Remagen on a pleasant spring evening. A far cry from the evening of 71 years ago, 7 March 1945.

There is a lot of information about this bridge and the battle on the internet. There is also a movie called The Bridge at Remagen, made in 1969.


  1. So interesting. I remember that movie, especially actor, Ben Gazzara, who died 4 years ago.

  2. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.