On 7 March, the 9th Armored Division’s Combat Command
B under Brigadier General William H. Hoge (who began his Army career in the
Corps of Engineers) rumbled into the Rhine
A Kraut engineer company had carefully prepared the
bridge for demolition in three stages.
The first stage was blowing a thirty-foot crater at the bridge entrance
blocking armored vehicles from dashing across the bridge. The second was emplacing explosives to
detonate on order, collapsing the bridge into the
When intelligence indicated the Germans would blow the bridge at 1600 hours, General Hoge quickly ordered his 27th Armored Infantry Battalion to seize it. At 1550, Lieutenant Karl Timmerman of A Company of the 27th was ordering his men to grab the bridge. Timmerman had barely finished his order when an explosion shook the east span of the bridge. Seeing the three spans still standing, he repeated his order shouting, “Let’s go!” Running and ducking like halfbacks on a broken field gallop to avoid the machine gun and sniper fire, A Company reached the towers on the far side of the bridge in fifteen minutes. One of them said:
The bullets didn’t worry us half as much as the bridge. We expected the Heinies to blow the bridge right out from under us at any minute, so we didn’t waste any time getting to the other side. It didn’t matter how many Germans might be there; we just wanted to get off that bridge fast. And if there’s anybody that thinks he can’t double-time four hundred yards, he’s got marbles in his head.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Mott and Sergeants Dorland and Reynolds of the 9th Armored engineers dashed onto the bridge as the infantry began to cross. They quickly cut all wires on the west and center spans of the bridge, preventing electricity from getting through to set off the caps on the 40 pound charges the Jerry’s had planted on the bridge’s crossbeams under the decking. Then they dashed to the far side to cut the main cable controlling the entire demolition set-up. When they found the cable too heavy to cut with their small pliers, they solved the problem by riddling it with three well-aimed shots from a carbine. Then they found a 500-pound TNT charge with time fuses about two-thirds the way across the bridge near the north railing that had not exploded, even though the cap had been fired. Across the board-covered tracks, they found where the blast occurred just before Able Company started across the bridge. It had knocked out one of the main diagonal supports on the upstream side of the main arch, destroying a section of bridge flooring and leaving a six-inch sag at the damaged pier. One man observed:
Both piers had 350-pound TNT demolitions in
them that hadn’t been set off. The
Germans had enough stuff on that bridge to drop it right to the bottom of the
Other men went into the railroad tunnel at the far end
of the bridge and rounded up five PW's, all engineers. At the same time, the armored engineers
worked under intense sniper fire from the upstream east bank to cut every
demolition wire they could find. With
the bridge safe for heavy traffic at 1630 and a company bridgehead firmly
established, General Hoge ordered reinforcements to cross.
By 2200, a 9th Armored Division tank dozer had filled in the crater at the
bridge entrance enough for trucks and tanks to get over it to cross the damaged
Just before dawn, Kraut engineers attempted a counterattack to blow the bridge,
but 78th Division soldiers from the 310th Infantry had already secured the far
shore abutment, where they intercepted and captured the Kraut engineers. Seizure of the
Armored infantrymen, engineers, tanks, tank-destroyers
and anti-aircraft crews started rolling over the
Among its other claims to lasting fame, the bridge was probably the American’s best antiaircraft supported bridge in the world. Ack-ack self-propelled and heavy gun units set up to ward off Luftwaffe air attacks are believed to have made up the heaviest antiaircraft concentration ever assembled in such a small area.
Upon learning of the seizure the
This was the first crossing of the
I didn’t learn of the momentous seizure of the Ludendorf until after supper on the night of 7 March. After selecting an appropriate town to advance to in the morning, I sent our new executive officer, Lieutenant Bondurant, out to the town with an advance party to pick out the best houses and departed myself to check in with the 311th Infantry Headquarters, as usual. There I learned our 311th Combat Team was attached to the 9th Armored Division and ordered to cross the Ludendorf bridge as soon as possible and assemble north of Erpel, a town at the east end of the bridge, prepared to attack northward. I was to do likewise with my company, with no need to clear the Regiment’s routes to Erpel. Realizing my company would depart before I returned, I drove directly to our new destination, arriving only a few minutes after them. Lieutenant Timm has described events back at the company as follows:
the evening meal, Captain Camm dispatched the executive officer to a town
halfway to the
jeep driver, “Moose” Lagravinese, got a hankering for chicken and “liberated”
an old hen. With my “pidgin Kraut,” I
negotiated some potatoes and onions from a German family, and we in platoon
headquarters fixed our own late night repast.
While we were eating about 2300, Platoon Sergeant Florence announced we
were going to cross the
About midnight, I went outside just to listen and check around. An artillery battery nearby had long since ceased firing for lack of targets within range. Then I heard someone and challenged him. He was a junior officer from Battalion - I believe it was Lieutenant Naylor. He told me about the 9th Armored’s capture of a bridge and said the 311th Combat Team was alerted to go across as soon as possible. Battalion was attaching a water point and a truck with trailer loaded with extra explosives to our company. I had already told him Captain Camm was at Regiment and where our company CP would be after the captain returned.
Naylor took off and I went to bed expecting to be awakened in an hour or two. I couldn’t believe it when I awoke next morning with the sun streaming into my room. I hurried out and found Lieutenants Monroe and Siegele watching the chow line move along. Sergeant Pearson had breakfast under way, and no one had seen the Chief. I then told them about Naylor’s midnight visit, and we became worried about the Chief. As the senior lieutenant present, I suggested we get breakfast over with as quickly as possible and get moving. We had to have faith that Captain Camm would find us. The logical place to go would be the town where the Executive Officer had gone. Roads would be jammed, but we could get off the main route to get to this town.
I remember the stream of traffic on the main road and wondering how we would ever manage to break in to it. I’m hazy on specifics, but I believe the MP’s waved us into the stream as part of the 311th team. At the first opportunity, we pulled off that road and headed for “our town,” making better time on the side roads. It was nearly noon when we pulled into the town. Our executive officer seemed disappointed we were not going to occupy the houses he had selected. We had barely filled him in when we heard a jeep come squealing around the corner. It was our Chief standing up and swinging his arm in the assemble signal. He didn’t waste any time in getting us all back on the road to Remagen.
What had happened to delay Captain Camm? I don’t remember if we ever had time to find out. The next hours and days were busy and exciting. In any event, he hadn’t hit a stray mine in some road shoulder, which was always a worry. We went on to cross the bridge with not a shell exploding nor a plane in sight until we were safely over. We had done it with dry feet as Sergeant Florence’s “dream” predicted.
Having noted that the main route to Remagen was choked
with the 9th Armored Division, I led the company on side roads a bit to the
north. Not knowing whether any of the
German army was lurking along our route, I ordered the company to man rifles
out the sides of our trucks and follow me.
As we passed through the towns, we found white sheets hanging on houses
signaling the absence of German soldiers.
Thanks to these white sheets, we were able to rush all the way to
Remagen without incident. When we came
around a curve atop the
Our company convoy of 21 vehicles, including 4-ton truck and trailer with bulldozer, followed me straight down through Remagen to the bridge. Pausing, we found no traffic on the bridge and no MP traffic control. Right at the bridge entrance, there was a twenty-foot wide bomb crater. The bridge was decked with wood treads in the railroad tracks. We squeezed around the crater and proceeded over the bridge. As we crossed, I noticed that German demolitions had cut a major beam in the south truss of one span, but, surprisingly, the bridge had not collapsed. Figuring we could make it across if 9th Armored tanks had, we kept crossing. When we got to Erpel at the other side, I knew we had to keep moving to clear the bridge for those behind us to cross.
Turning left, we proceeded north along the
Our 311th Infantry Regiment was the first complete
infantry regiment across the
The Germans reacted quickly to the surprising survival
Soon, German artillery aiming directly at the bridge
made crossing it a harrowing experience.
Engineers and military policemen working to keep the bridge open became
strictly expendable. As one engineer put
it, “While working on that bridge, we were just fugitives from the law of
averages.” They were under direct fire
and frequent shell fire, varying from 50 to 250 rounds daily, including
everything from 88’s to 380’s. Many were
killed; many were seriously injured. But
they didn’t stop. Traffic conditions and
bridge repair were so bad that the bridge was practically unusable during
daylight on 9 March, the third day.
During that night, General Craig, early commander of the bridgehead,
called Corps Headquarters and stated, “If you don’t keep troops moving across
the bridge, this will become another
Each divisional engineer battalion operated four water
points to provide safe drinking water for its division, usually supporting each
regiment with one and remaining units with the fourth. Accordingly, when we crossed the
Our forces took immediate steps to protect the Ludendorf Bridge from enemy attack, placing barriers upstream to intercept explosive charges floated down to destroy the bridge. At night, tank-mounted searchlights were deployed for the first time to watch upstream for swimmers approaching with explosives. Sure enough, several Kraut swimmers in heated suits were captured trying to reach the bridge with explosives! As an added precaution against divers, our forces exploded depth charges every few minutes under the bridge.
From our mansion, we could look upstream about a mile
and see the Corps engineers repairing the Remagen bridge and others beginning
to assemble floating rafts on the west side of the
On our first day in the mansion, we saw four German
Stuka dive-bombers attack the
The mansion we occupied that first night in Erpel is pictured in our 78th division memory book. We soon learned it was the home of Herr Mauser, the German munitions magnate. We remained there a day, allowing occupants to stay in the cellar. As we were leaving, Sergeant Titus told me the owner of the house wanted to speak to me and ushered in an old gentleman. The old man handed me a small package wrapped in white tissue paper and said in English, “I’m Mr. Mauser, owner of this house. I want to thank you for the way your men have treated my house. Please accept this as a token of my appreciation.” On opening the package, I was dumbfounded to find a brand-new .32 caliber Mauser pistol. I thanked Mr. Mauser and left, realizing only later that Germans under our control had to turn in all their guns. The pistol had no ammunition, but I managed to get some and carried it in my hip pocket until the end of combat. It was much handier for night use than my army carbine. Of course it was of little value in the daytime.
My father’s aide, Jim Anderson, tells me that during this period, Dad and some of his staff were standing near the Remagen Bridge on the west side of the Rhine River looking for artillery positions to support 78th Division troops across the Rhine. When heavy enemy mortar shells began exploding around them, a German civilian ran out and guided them into a nearby basement, possibly saving their lives.
A day or so after we crossed the Rhine, my company ran out of food because traffic over the Ludendorf bridge was one way forward and our truck couldn’t get back across to fetch rations. As a result, we had to forage for food in the German houses until a floating bridge opened, permitting us to go back for food.
More seriously, this one-way traffic prevented
ambulances from carrying casualties back across the
Evacuation of the wounded was
critical. Company C, 303rd Engineer
Battalion established a ferry service with captured boats that materially
relieved the situation. This service was
made available to all units in the bridgehead for the evacuation of the
wounded, and is responsible for the saving of many lives. The boats were also used to establish wire
communication, which was nonexistent, with supporting troops on the West Bank
As the 311th Infantry expanded its part of the bridgehead, other battalions were attached until finally Colonel Willingham had to handle seven battalions of infantry and the Division Recon Troop.
As we supported the 311th attack north along the
Rhine, we realized the Krauts could load a railroad train full of explosives
and drive it along the railroad tracks beside the
German civilians managed, in general, to stay out of our way as we advanced against the Krauts. Our principal contacts with them came when we moved temporarily into their houses, as exemplified in the following comments by Lieutenant Timm about leaving Unkel to look for quarters in Rheinbreitbach:
our executive officer began showing me his choices for where to stay, I thought
right away they were too exposed. The
hills above must have been full of Krauts looking down our throats. Going into one house, we found a very
attractive young woman dressed in black.
Polite but agitated, she showed us a casket bearing an elderly man. He was probably her grandfather, who had died
in the stress of the war. This pretty
much spooked me. More importantly, there
wasn’t enough room for our trucks, which would probably be hammered worse than
our first night across the
Sure enough, mortars began dropping in. I ran out and found my trucks empty--the men had found basements. Dashing down a stairwell, I found my own basement. It was jammed full of old women and children. I stayed in the entrance, wondering how many Kraut soldiers were hidden inside. An old lady kept tugging at me to get back, and of course she was right if a round had come down that stairwell. I moved in a bit but got out as soon as the mortars stopped. I like to think she still had a spark of humanity and was not trying to lure me into further trouble.
We scrambled out of there and decided to stay on the other side of Rheinbreitbach, even if the Krauts were sitting on the Drachenfels peak reacting to our movements. We managed to find quarters in some pretty nice homes with flower gardens, walls, etc. My boys were not too particular about using gates and garden paths, sometimes climbing over walls. An elderly white-haired lady came out and called, “Boys! Boys! Shame on you! What would your mothers think?” This in perfect English. How Victorian and incongruous this was with our guys getting hurt and dying just down the road! We didn’t laugh at her, but we did laugh--just a glimpse of how crazy war can be. To this day, I chuckle to myself when I think of it.
Meantime, Sergeant Robert Steelman, privates first class Joseph James and Jimmie Lewis and Private Carl Arnett from the 1st squad of Bill Monroe’s 3rd Platoon were removing mines from a road barrier near Honnef. Suddenly a barrage of Kraut artillery shells fell nearby, wounding Arnett badly enough to require his evacuation. Such is the sporadic fate of engineers in battle!
On 11 and 12 March, our 311th Regiment turned back heavy counterattacks by 9th and 11th Panzer Division units striving to regain control of Honnef four miles downstream from Remagen. In this action, our Dogma Charlie mines disabled a German Panther tank, and our infantry sat nearby picking off the tank crew one by one as they tried to leave the tank.
On the fifth day, 11 March, there were fifty-eight air
raids on the Ludendorf bridge and our ack-ack people knocked down twenty-six of
On the same day, our Corps engineers completed their first floating bridge over
About this time, I looked up and saw an amazing fighter-sized German aircraft flying two or three time faster than I’d ever seen an airplane fly before. It was a jet aircraft, which the Germans had introduced into battle for the first time in the Remagen bridgehead. Some 25 years later when I saw Hobie Cat catamarans whiz past other sailboats, I recalled how this first jet had likewise astonished me.
A few days after we crossed, our battalion commander,
Lieutenant Closner, gave the most absurd dinner I ever attended. It was in the Mauser house, which his
battalion headquarters had occupied after we left. He used its fancy crystal, china, and silver to serve an elegant dinner. When invited to join Colonel Closner for
dinner, I thought I was coming to battalion headquarters for a briefing and
simple dinner; instead it was to a gourmet meal with my fellow company
commanders and me dressed in our cruddy combat clothes mingling with cleanly
dressed battalion staff officers. We
really hadn’t seen much of those headquarter types. They got baths regularly and just didn’t live
as we did--32we lived like the infantry.
But that evening we drank wine from crystal goblets, and we ate off
The next morning I awoke with an intense headache, so
I dropped by an aid station to get some aspirin. The medics took my temperature and said I had
a 104-degree fever. They put me to bed
without more ado, and I was out of action.
I told my jeep driver to go back and tell the company executive officer
who had joined us recently when Lt. Phelan left to take command of Company
A. The next morning, I woke up without
fever but still a bit groggy and talked the medics into releasing me . When I got back to the company, I found a
mess! Though our highly competent and
decentralized platoon leaders had things well in hand during the twenty hours I
was gone, our new company executive officer had decided, for some reason, that
we didn’t have enough engineers supporting the 311th Infantry. As a result, he
had called Battalion and told them we needed another company to reinforce our
effort as soon as possible. Battalion
was busy getting more engineers forward to help. Finding the situation no different from when
I left, I quickly rescinded the request and continued as usual. The infantry never complained about any lack of support. This incident shows what can happen when an
untrained officer takes over an outfit.
We shouldn’t deploy any more engineer support forward than really needed
because we need those engineers behind us building the bridges and keeping up
the MSR (
On 13 March, my birthday, our regiment began attacking
the historic Siebengebirge, or
Drachenfels is one of the legendary spots of the
earth, rich with mythical lore of the ancient Germans, including the Teutonic
Knight, Siegfried. Nibelung legends say that after Siegfried slew a dragon there, he
bathed in the dragon’s blood and became invulnerable except where a leaf lodged
against his skin.
Our 311th Infantry also took a bath in blood in capturing the dragon’s ancient
domain. The 2nd Battalion, 311th
Infantry captured Drachenfels on15 March and liberated at the same time 1,000
slave laborers working in an underground airplane parts factory.
Soon thereafter, I rode up the narrow winding path to its top to assure it was
free of mines. From its summit, I could
readily see the spires of Cologne Cathedral up north and the
The launch sites of the Krauts’ famed V-1 rockets, the Nazi’s-called “miracle weapon,” had been in the woods southeast of Honnef, Developed by the German scientist VonBraun, they were forerunners of the intercontinental ballistic missiles that Von Braun later helped us to develop in our “Cold War” with the Soviet Union that began three years later.
In mid-March, thirty-seven rifle platoons of black
soldiers were distributed among divisions at the front. They had been organized and trained in
On 15 March, we removed German Teller antitank mines
from underneath cobblestones in the main roads of Rhondorf.
That same day, the Krauts lost heavily to our concentrated air defenses that
managed to knock down sixteen of twenty-one fast Luftwaffe bombers launched
March 17, the 11th day, and also St. Patrick’s Day,
may be considered the end of the critical days of the operation. By this time, we had five infantry divisions
across (78th, 9th, 99th, 1st, and 26th) facing eight Wehrmacht divisions (11th
and 9th Panzer; 3rd Parachute; 272nd, 326th, 277th, 62nd and 26th
On the afternoon of 17 March, Lieutenant Colonel Clayton A. Rust, CO of the 276th Engineer Battalion, was directing his men in their repair work on the bridge. They were making light repairs while a railroad engineer unit worked on the heavy repairs. Lieutenant Colonel Rust was standing in the center of the bridge when he heard what he thought was a rivet shearing off. He said:
It was like a rifle shot. Then I heard another popping noise behind
me. The bridge was shaking and dust was
coming up through the vibrating flooring.
I realized what was happening and started running toward the
Rust struggled to the surface, grabbed a loose plank
and floated downstream until a rescue boat picked him up. The
As our 311th Infantry continued driving north along
the Rhine, it uncovered the far shore abutments of most of the six military
bridges thrown across the
On 17 March, two jeeps, followed by a squad truck of Bill Monroe’s 3rd Platoon, were riding near Konigswinter on a road previously cleared of mines when the truck struck a hidden mine, wounding Technician Fifth Class Johnny Marcum, Private First Class Frank Jagacki, and privates Harold Elsebough and Edgar McCalmen. In a thorough search of the area afterwards, our men found more mines. We suspected that local civilians had laid the mines behind our lines, but we never confirmed this suspicion.
As the papers report, we are across the
What a sight the
Yesterday, we took over new living quarters in a huge apartment building that easily houses my entire company. The furnishings are elegant with fine paintings on the walls. Soon after we settled in, Lieutenant Timm told me an old man had refused to vacate his room until he could speak with “der Commandante.” When I found him reclining on a sofa in his room, he saluted and said he was an 83 year old retired soldier from the Imperial German Army, “Not a Nazi!” He indicated that the American infantry commander that took the town had told him to reserve his room for the new commander, and he was carrying out instructions. His granddaughter was with him. She was a poised and attractive girl of about 19 years. In poor English, she said her grandfather was a German officer receiving medical care here with her help. When we replied that we would evacuate her grandfather as a wounded prisoner, she asked for a pass to accompany him. I referred her to our Military Government officials who are just taking over government of the town. Today she returned to say she needed a place to stay. Despite offers from some of my men for her to stay with them, I sent her back to the Military Government people. This was their problem. Mine is to fight! Reflecting that my sister, Felicia, is about the same age as this girl, I was saddened by this incident, even though this girl could raise a son to fight me sometime in the future. There is so much tragedy in war! (17 Mar 45)
During a lull in the fighting, Lieutenant Bill Monroe
and I decided to go back across the Rhine and visit the city of
I had never before seen such utter devastation! Our bombers had shredded the enormous city of
On a rare occasion of luxury, I was taking a nice hot bath in a long German tub, when German artillery shells began falling outside. Realizing the iron tub provided superb protection around me, I thought, “To hell with them!” and continued soaking--much as we stopped dashing to the basement after our first few weeks under fire, thinking a shell either had our name on it or it didn’t.
About this time, Sergeant Sisk, one of my finest sergeants, was killed. Always at the front in the thick of things, he was riding with explosives in a jeep along a road cleared of mines when an undetected mine exploded under him. His destroyed jeep remained beside the road and haunted me daily until we moved on. We lost another fine soldier, Technician Fourth Class Roger V. Vouga, when a stone wall collapsed on him, crushing him to death as he was clearing a road somewhere north of Honnef. About half the deaths of my company occurred in accidents like this. Our engineers worked in an intensely dangerous environment, even when out of range of the enemy!
On 20 March our 311th Infantry reached the
Major General J. Lawton Collins, the VII Corps
commander, told his 237th Engineer Combat Battalion he would reward them with a
beer party if they built a treadway bridge over the Rhine near
As Army Chief
of Staff General George Marshall stated in his Biennial Report about the
Remagen bridgehead: “The prompt seizure and exploitation of the crossing
demonstrated American initiative and adaptability at its best... The bridgehead provided a serious threat to
the heart of
On 23 March, the British Second and American Ninth
Armies crossed the Rhine north of the Ruhr to begin the final battle for
We are not allowed to quote selected excerpts from newspapers, so if we send anything, we must send the whole newspaper. As our only source of written news, the “Stars and Stripes” is devoured by all of us. It is truly a soldier’s newspaper--even to its occasional coarseness. We get thirty copies for our 170 men, who really complain when our copies don’t arrive.
As we advance, we often come across our own propaganda leaflets dropped or shelled over to the enemy. These leaflets dwell mainly on war news and on providing free passes for deserters into our lines. The Jerry’s are using a lot of these passes now.
As announced in the news, we have captured the “Seven
Hills” famous in ancient legends as the home of the Seven Dwarfs. One of these hills called Drachenfels
contained the lair of the great dragon that Roland slew. Shortly after this feat, Roland fell in love
with a maiden nearby, but he had to go off to war before he could marry
her. Waiting in vain for his return, she
finally consoled herself by becoming a nun in a convent on an island in the
Just below is a nightclub overlooking the Rhine and atop
an adjoining hill is Petersberg, the best hotel in
One poignant scene I’ll never forget seeing was of a wounded German soldier alongside a country road with his head cradled in the arms of a weeping fraulein holding him tenderly and sorrowfully. Such a classic portrayal of the misery of war! This touched me deeply, even though I hated the Germans with a passion-- they were killing my soldiers for Hitler!
My jeep driver, Technician Fifth Class John W. Crouse,
and I were stealthily checking a demolished autobahn bridge where it had
Up near the
We are now in a truly beautiful country with rolling hills and pretty little glades. The valleys have soft green floors bordered by steep slopes of trees, wandering like ribbons deep into the countryside. Spring is here. The trees are budding, with the willows already covered with leaves and all sorts of flowers popping out. The fruit trees are ablaze with blossoms.
I have just returned from another three days at the rest
That night we went to the Allied Officers Club and its large dance hall seating about two hundred couples--all sorts of officers with young ladies bearing proper invitation cards. We had a good time listening to the orchestra and eyeing the local talent. Occasionally we’d approach a beauty of interest and ask the conventional, “Voulez-vous m’accordez cette dance?” Some were good dancers and some quite dull. After dancing a couple of times with a cute gal that looked like a doll, I invited her and her girlfriend to our table. We had quite a time mixing up our French and English speech. She was quite a coquette!
The next day we returned to
The next day, we met Nardine at the Catholic church and attended mass in French, which I hardly understood. Nevertheless I was able to be in church on this Easter morn and pay my own respects. Afterwards I tried to buy her an Easter egg, but found that while they observe the Easter bunny, they know nothing about Easter eggs. We left her with “Bon jours” just before noon when we were due to catch the truck back here. Alas, the trucks never came, so we had to stay another night. Off we went to Nardine's, but she could not find the chaperone required until the day of marriage. Once again, we’d bumped up against their customs! After a sociable chat, we left and called on my buddy’s friend, Francine. Yes, she could find a chaperone, so the evening was cast. We called at 1930 and spent a pleasant evening with Francine and her family and a girl companion for me. They could speak English rather well, so we spent the evening talking about the war, listening to records (mostly American), and singing songs while the father played the piano. He is Commissioner of the Prefecture--some big shot it seems. We left at midnight, ending our pass. (5 Apr 45)