Capturing the bridge at Remagen

The Ludendorff Bridge from the north-eastern shore after the attempted demolition. The 300-kilogram (660 lb) weak, industrial-grade demolition charge only succeeded in destroying part of the eastern pedestrian catwalk and a section of main truss (shown above) on the northern side of the bridge.

The Ludendorff Bridge from the north-eastern shore after the attempted demolition. The 300-kilogram (660 lb) weak, industrial-grade demolition charge only succeeded in destroying part of the eastern pedestrian catwalk and a section of main truss (shown above) on the northern side of the bridge.

Sgt. Alexander A. Drabik First across the bridge

Sgt. Alexander A. Drabik
First across the bridge

We ran down the middle of the bridge, shouting as we went. I didn’t stop because I knew that if I kept moving they couldn’t hit me. My men were in squad column and not one of them was hit. We took cover in some bomb craters. Then we just sat and waited for others to come. That’s the way it was.

Having broken through the Siegfried line the Allies were now making unexpectedly swift advances into Germany as the defences crumbled. They knew however that a major barrier awaited them. The Rhine river is the natural defensive feature on Germany’s borders. It was here that Hitler was planning to make his last stand – every bridge was to be blown up and the eastern bank defended in depth. And it was to cross the Rhine that the Allies were preparing an amphibious and airborne assault second only to the Normandy invasion.

On the 7th March 1945 a small US Army reconnaissance unit came within sight of the Rhine at Remagen, surprised to find the railway bridge across still intact. An assault was swiftly organised. Everett Holles, an NBC Radio war correspondent spoke to those who made the attack:

On beyond the four towers of the Apollinariskirche that glistened in a light drizzle of rain they saw Remagen’s 400-yard-long, three-span bridge across the Rhine. The bridge ran to the village of Erpel on the east bank and across it lay two railroad tracks. Other American forces had come up against the same sort of thing before, but always, as they came to the Rhine crossings, the bridges went up in great explosions before their eyes, set off by German demolition engineers.

Traffic was still moving across the Ludendorf Bridge. On the other side locomotives puffed, awaiting orders to pull out. Lt. Col. Leonard Engemann of Minneapolis, in command of a reconnaissance party, was determined to save this bridge if it was at all possible. So, at 3:50 o’clock, a platoon led by Lieut. Emmett Burrows of New York City, sped down the slope to the bridge entrance.

There was a flurry of shooting as the Germans, taken completely by surprise, scurried about trying to organize a defense. A German gun was knocked out, some German soldiers killed. Then the Yanks, crouching low against machine gun fire coming from the bridge towers, ran out onto the bridge. Just as they stepped on the span, an explosion occurred three-quarters of the way down the bridge. The Germans were setting off demolition charges, and the men thought surely their chance was gone. But no, only slight damage was done. They raced on.

Sgt. Alexander A. Drabik, a tall, lanky former butcher from Holland, Ohio, was the first American across the Rhine, the first invader to reach its east bank since the time of Napoleon. But he wanted all the honors passed on to a young lieutenant of the engineers, John W. Mitchell of Pittsburgh.

‘While we were running across the bridge – and, man, it may have been only 250 yards but it seemed like 250 miles to us – I spotted this lieutenant, standing out there completely exposed to the machine gun fire that was pretty heavy by this time.’

‘He was cutting wires and kicking the German demolition charges off the bridge with his feet! Boy that took plenty of guts. He’s the one who saved the bridge and made the whole thing possible – the kinda guy I’d like to know.’

Soon the bridge was swarming with Americans, while Mitchell, joined now by other engineers, cut and jerked out wires leading to dynamite charges. Gingerly they detached detonators and lifted boxes of explosives from the piers.

Later, from prisoners, the Americans learned that the Germans planned to blow up the span at precisely four o’clock. But the German officer assigned the demolition job was drunk when the American tanks reached Remagen. This officer, a lieutenant, had gone into the town of Eprel as the Yanks approached and spread the word boastfully that ‘the bridge goes up at four o’clock this afternoon’.

German soldiers and civilians, gathering from miles around, were sitting in ‘grandstand’ seats at every vantage point on the east bank, waiting for the spectacular event to come off, when Burrows’ patrol ran onto the bridge – ten minutes before the hour fixed for its destruction. The German lieutenant signaled the plunger down. Two small explosions occurred, but the bridge only shuddered and remained standing. Several of the fuses had been faulty.

1st Army commander Omar Bradley was soon informed, he responded:

Hot dog . . .this will bust ’em wide open. Shove everything you can across!

See Everett Holles: Unconditional Surrender

Soon the bridge was soon the subject of sustained German attempts to blow it up, with Hitler ordering V2 rockets to be fired at as well as bombing and heavy artillery. The US Army brought up the largest single concentration of Anti-Aircraft batteries to successfully defend the bridge over the next 10 days, before it finally collapsed. By this time five divisions had got across the bridge and the bridgehead they established disrupted the German plans for the whole defence of the Rhine.

The 47th Infantry Regiment, attached to the 9th Infantry Division, marches through Remagen to cross the Ludendorff Bridge on March 7, 1945.

The 47th Infantry Regiment, attached to the 9th Infantry Division, marches through Remagen to cross the Ludendorff Bridge on March 7, 1945.

First U.S. Army men and equipment pour across the Remagen Bridge; two knocked out jeeps in foreground.  Germany, March 11, 1945.

First U.S. Army men and equipment pour across the Remagen Bridge; two knocked out jeeps in foreground. Germany, March 11, 1945.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Follis May 3, 2018 at 12:29 am

My father Robert R. Follis received a bronze star for being one of the engineers that disarmed the Ludendorf bridge. However, I have yet to see his name mentioned in any of the articles written on the action.

Monika Dorelat March 14, 2018 at 7:49 am

I think it’s about time that the truth came out about the capture of the Ludendorff Bridge on the 7 March 1945. There was only one German military personal on that bridge keeping the USA military at bay and that was my father Vincent Willi Dorelat. My father never talked about the war, he always said there was nothing to be proud of in killing people that had never done him wrong or had any quarrels with, but one day I remember this very clearly we were watching the film ” The Bridge at Remagen” and it was advertised as being the true story of what happened that day. When that had finished my father was so angry that they had so blatantly lied ,saying that the bridge was occupied by lots of German infantry when in fact there was only one German defending the bridge ,by having situated armament around the bridge and he was able to make the USA Military think there were more than himself keeping them at bay and when they finally managed to capture my father they would not believe that he was the only one fighting them. After being captured he was sent to a POW camp in France where he managed to escape by taking note of how the other POW’s that had tried to escape and were captured again, my father managed to steal a map and compass and one night escaped, he travelled overland keeping as far away as possible from road ways. After this unusual outrage from my father the war was never talked about again.

delmer priest March 11, 2018 at 3:08 am

my uncle crossed the remagen bridge on march 10, he was kia on march 20.

R.C.G. August 11, 2017 at 12:28 pm

Re 1, May’17 – Priv. (Uncle) Bruce L. Gentry. (#33779028) Born TN, but resided, Enlisted Chester Co. S.E. PA. He was a Inf. ‘BAR’ – Scout/Point man. After the Battle Hurtgen Forest, He crossed the (Rhein) Ludendorf Bridge, Remagen 7 Mar. And – as BAR Point/ ‘Scout’ – was Captured POW +/- 8 March 1945. POW Railroad cars to ”Stalag 12A” Dietz, Limburg, Lahn River. He was in the 47th Inf. but on occasions was assigned, ‘lent out’ to smaller (CCB’s ?) Scout, Recon, ‘attack’ units. Years late but Nevertoo late – I’d like to discover more. PS: I have visited Remagen, Ludendorf Bridge (remains) Museum – two (2) times & Limburg once. But not the Dietz ‘Stalag 12A’. It might now be a German Mil installation. ? Just trying to learn more. Visit if something of WWII historic interest remains.

RCG May 1, 2017 at 6:42 pm

My Uncle Bruce L. Gentry. Born +/- Mt. City, TN. Enlisted (?) in SE Penna. (33779028 ?) Inf. BAR Point/Scout. +/- Nov. ’44 his units past thru Aachen rubble into the Battle Hurtgen Forest. Survived to be among the 1st to cross (Mar.7 ?) the Ludendorff Bridge, Remagen. … But as a Pfc. Inf. BAR Point/Scout was taken POW (Thanks Lt) Rail Car’s to Staglag 12-A. I’m thinking 47th Inf. … ? attached the 27th Armored Inf. Bn. 9th AD ? But something He rarely & then talked little about. PS: I have visited the Remagen – “Bridge” Museum. Otherwise I’ve no idea what units He served.

Mulcahy November 29, 2016 at 6:59 pm

My Uncle, James Mulcahy was also one of the first over the Bridge at Remagan. Looking for any info or suggestions for reference. My uncle unfortunately is long gone. Having survived the Battle of the Bulge and the Remagan crossing, he was killed in a car accident only 6 months after coming home from WWII. He was a good friend to another soldier with the last name of Simmons. Seeking any info or suggestions for resources.
Thank You-Mike Mulcahy
Mjmulcahy@ameritech.net

Dan Dossa January 26, 2016 at 9:30 pm

My father was the third man across the bridge during the assault. He always griped about the oft published picture of the sign the 9th Armored Div. put up saying cross the Rhine with dry feet courtesy of the 9th Armored Division. He always maintained it was the infantry that took the bridge. Thanks.

marian March 10, 2015 at 2:24 am

My grandfather was a Field Artillery Colonel and was asked if he could get his big guns up the hill on the opposite bank that night. He replied that he could if the road could be kept clear for 12 hours. When he arrived, he lowered the guns and fired them essentially like rifles to drive the Germans away and keep them off. He only told me this story because I asked him point blank.

A captured German officer later told a friend of my parents that those guns drove them out of their defensive positions.

marian March 10, 2015 at 2:18 am

My grandfather, an Artillery Colonel, was asked if he could to bring up his heavy guns that night up the hill on the opposite bank. He said it could be done if the road could be kept clear for 12 hours. When he arrived he lowered the guns and later joked that he used them essentially as very long rifles, shooting onto the opposite bank to drive out the Germans and prevent them from returning. It was the only anecdote he ever told about the war and then only because I asked him point blank.

A captured German officer later told someone my parents knew that the guns had driven the Germans out of their defensive positions.

Michael Foley March 8, 2015 at 1:11 am

This is just about the most dramatic small-unit action of the whole western campaign. To think of those guys running through machine gun fire across a 250 yard long bridge, cutting wires and all the time knowing that the whole bridge could blow up at any second… Incredible!

Thanks so much for this blog. I may not post comments too often, but I read this everyday.

Otto Maddox March 7, 2015 at 8:58 am

Courtesy of the US Ninth Armored division.

Otto Maddox March 7, 2015 at 8:58 am

Courtesy of the US Ninth Armored division.

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