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Crossing Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen

Bridge at Remagen

Bridge at Remagen

Crossing the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, March 1945

     This is a combat infantryman's experience crossing the Rhine River over the Ludendorff Bridge, at Remagen, Germany in March 1945 . . . before it collapsed into the river.

     I was a S/Sgt. Platoon Guide in Company B, 394th Inf. Reg., 99th Division. Here is what I recall as the most impressionable happenings to me.

     After the Bulge and many patrols, we jumped off across the Cologne Plains toward the Rhine River. It seemed that we hardly slept and ate our rations on the move; our push was fast and furious. We had some tough battles, some of which were hot and heavy, but they lasted for hours instead of days, one such battle was crossing the Erft Canal where we were pinned down by fire from a village — and some of those manning the machine guns were women.

     Those machine guns had us pinned down out in an open field where cover was almost non-existent. To clear that village it would be necessary to expose us and endanger the men to casualties. But just at that time, two P-51 fighter planes returning from a mission spotted our predicament and made two or three strafing passes on the village which allowed us to move in and take the village without any casualties.

     We were moving so fast that our supplies had a hard time keeping up. We, the infantry, would catch a ride on anything that moved. We would climb on tanks, jeeps, trailers, anything so that we didn't have to walk.

     Moving that fast may sound as though there was more moving than fighting, but we had lots of casualties during that time, including our company commander.

     We finally pulled up near the Rhine River between Dusseldorf and Cologne. The beautiful, historical church spires in Cologne were in clear view. We thought, boy, we will get some rest while the high command decides how and when to cross the Rhine.

     Was that ever a bad guess! We were loaded on trucks and headed south. We didn't know where to hell we were going except up-river somewhere to cross over. We were so tired we thought it would be good to ride for awhile. That was the wildest truck ride I ever took. Those black truck drivers must have enjoyed what they were good at, because they drove as fast as an old 6x6 would go, up hill, down hill, around curves and corners — all at the same speed. As usual, we were packed in, but we still bounced all over that truck. I thought at the time this was as bad as combat, but at least in a firefight we could fight back and defend ourselves.

     We finally arrived near Remagen in the early evening of March 10th, off loaded and walked on to the edge of the town. We were told that a railroad bridge had been captured and we would cross it and help establish a bridgehead on the other side, but we had to hold up for orders before crossing. We took cover where we could find it; my platoon was in a basement of a building.

     It was rather terrifying, pitch dark, constant shelling, unable to see what was going on. We finally got word that we were going across. We were instructed to form lines, single file, on either side of the street, which had many stranded vehicles. We would proceed up the street to a ramp leading up to the bridge and turn 90 degrees left and keep going, without stopping for anybody or anything.

     It was pitch dark except for flashes from exploding shells. We crouched down and used the vehicles and buildings for protection. I was crouched next to a jeep and trailer when a shell exploded nearby with a thud. A piece of shrapnel the size of your fist had gone completely through the trailer just above my back. When the orders were given to go, it meant we weren't to stop for anything or anybody. We could not even assist the wounded. This seemed cold and inhuman as our buddies were our life.

     When we reached the ramp it was more understandable why we could not stop. According to a statement in the story of the 394th Regiment booklet, shells were coming in at the rate of one every 30 seconds, which included all sizes of shells, from mortars up to the huge railroad guns, and shrapnel was flying everywhere. We already knew from experience at the Bulge and Elsenborn Ridge that the Germans were deadly accurate with their artillery.

     That ramp became known as "Dead Man's Corner," and for good reason.

     As we ran toward the bridge, we stepped and jumped over the dead and wounded.

     It was obvious why we could not clog the traffic. It is a hollow feeling to hear your buddies yelling, "Medic! Medic! I'm hit! I'm bleeding to death! I'm dying!"

     The MPs also had it tough at "Dead Man's Corner." They were waiving and yelling, "Move it! Move it!" and as one would fall, another would take his place. With a shell bursting every 30 seconds, life was short at or near that corner.

     You have heard the phrase "I was scared shitless." Well, it fits very well for a GI when he rounded "Dead Man's Corner" and looked out at the bridge: so dark you could only see the sky above, the framework of the bridge, and the rushing water of the Rhine River 50 feet below. Not only did you worry about the Germans fire out in no man's area (out on the bridge), but the gaping holes in the floor of the bridge, some large enough that a tank could fall through. You've run and walked until you feel that you no longer have another step left in you and you begin to think it isn't worth it, because the Jerries will mow you down as soon as you set foot on the other side. But somehow that feeling passes and you just gut-up and tell yourself "I'll get him before he gets me."

     We finally made it across, but everybody didn't make it. After we got across the bridge, we were surprised to find that the rail tracks entered into a tunnel, only a short distance from the riverbank, which was cut through a mountain. This afforded the Germans a perfect cover and line of fire to attack the American GIs trying to cross the bridge. We lost some men crossing the bridge, but etched in our memories, we found dead German soldiers sprawled across the tracks inside the tunnel killed during the battle of the crossing.

     Also, we later learned the German artillery was set up behind the mountain for perfect protection while shelling the bridge and "Dead Man's Corner."

     Now that we have fought our way across the Rhine River and endured the heavy shelling and gunfire, we think, "Here is a town and buildings we have fought for and cleared of Germans. Now we can get some rest." Wrong!

     For a moment we had forgotten that the infantry didn't do it that way. We were to launch an attack and finish clearing the Germans out, drive them back into the hills, and establish a larger bridgehead across the river.

     We had to make it safe for the rear personnel to get their rest!

     We did hole up for a couple of days in our foxholes. At least we were not on the move, but supplies were limited and we were getting only one "K" ration per day for a day or so. This gave us a chance to view the beautiful mountain countryside and view the river. Late one afternoon, there was a sudden rapid fire from our BARs and rifles causing us to think we were under attack. Upon further investigation, we learned that some GIs had spotted some deer on the mountainside, and you never know what an idle GI will do for fun. It also gave the Service Company a chance to gather the dead soldiers.

     It was a very sad view when a truck loaded with dead American soldiers, stacked like cordwood, rolled by. A stern reminder of what we had just gone through.

     The Germans threw everything they had at the bridge in their attempt to knock it down. They used, for the first time we were told, jet-propelled planes and dive-bombers in the attacks on the bridge. Our planes were trying to guard the bridge and apparently had never seen a jet and had no idea of their speed. Two of our P-38s were protecting the bridge from both sides of the river and, as they attempted to close in on a jet, they hooked wings and pancaked to the ground. Both pilots bailed out and landed safely.

     The U.S. P-38s were no match for the German jets.

     And only 10 days after the Ludendorff Bridge was captured, it finally collapsed into the Rhine River from the constant pounding, killing 26 men. But in those 10 days before its collapse, no less than five divisions, with their vehicles, supplies, and equipment had safely crossed the bridge while pontoon bridges were being built at the same time.

     I hope this account gives some information from the viewpoint of an infantryman who was among the first to cross the bridge before it collapsed into the river. It is difficult to recall all the thoughts that ran through my mind, because in combat your thoughts change with every situation.

     I will never forget the night of March 10, 1945, as I rounded "Dead Man's Corner."

     Slipping on mud, blood, and who knows what else. Then seeing that black tunnel of the bridge with streaks of light from bursting shells and knowing that we had to get on the other side, and thinking this must be what hell might be like.

     The 99th was the first complete Infantry Division to get across the Rhine River. The 1st Battalion, 394th Infantry Regiment, was chosen to lead the 99th Division across the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen.

B.C. Henderson B/394

Woodlands, Texas