This unanswered question was asked by Lt Karl Timmerman, Commander of Company A, 27th Armoured Infantry Battalion when ordered to capture the Ludendorff Railway bridge at Remagen 7th March 1945. Timmerman had taken command after his commanding officer Lt Edwards had been killed and then his replacement Capt Krier had been wounded. His company consisted of Jeeps, half tracks, M8 armoured cars and M26 Pershing tanks. The battalion followed the route through the German villages of Adendorf, Arzdorf, Fritzdorf, Oeverich, Niederich and Birresdorf from Stadt Mechenheim until the final approach to Remagen. Most of these villages were driven through without incident with locals adorning their houses with white sheets but at Fritzdorf there was a road block which Timmerman out flanked and after an exchange of small arms fire the German defenders quickly surrendered. At Oeverich they were attacked with a Panzerfaust but the defenders were quickly subdued with a few rounds from the Pershings. In the village of Niederich they engaged a small group of German defenders who quickly surrendered but their officer was so enraged he pulled out his pistol and started to fire wildly at the American troops but fell down dead riddled with bullets.
Just short of Remagen, Timmerman stopped to question a family in their home when he heard shouting from the lead scout and when he turned the corner he could see the bridge was still intact. Unfortunately you can no longer see this as there are now tree’s blocking the view as I found out on a recent visit to Remagen where we followed the same route Lt Timmerman had taken.
Original picture shows US army in Remagen and the approach down to the Rhine and how it looks today.
You can only begin to imagine what actually happened here when Timmerman lead his men across to capture the bridge intact and yes the Germans did try to blow it up and the fuse was destroyed by bombing so the explosives were lit manually only to fail to destroy the bridge as they were insufficient. There were MG positions on the east towers and by the railway entrance and in a partially submerged canal barge but these were soon dealt with. It helps having a few Pershing tanks available.
Views of the west towers today with only the west, east towers and some approaches left intact. These west towers are now a museum which has some artefacts but is dedicated to peace and friendship.
Major Scheller had been sent to blow the Bridge but even though this failed he escaped back to head quarters to report on the situation at Remagen only to face a court martial and was executed by firing squad. Within 24 hours of the bridges capture some 8,000 American troops had crossed the Rhine and a week later 25,000.
Hitler then ordered the bridge to be destroyed and this area became one of the most heavily defended against aircraft in the whole of the European theatre. But what the Germans couldn’t achieve, nature took its course. Weakened by attacks and the attempt to blow it up the bridge finally collapsed into the Rhine 17th March killing 25 American engineers.
Original picture taken from the left bank. Notice the railway line running parallel to the Rhine which is still there today.
East towers as they are today. The railway is still very active.
Pontoon bridges were erected north and south of the bridge to continue the push into Germany east of the river. Lt Timmerman received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in capturing the bridge intact. He’d also restored his family honour as his father had deserted during the first world war and this set the record straight. Timmerman was sent to Korea in 1950 but in 1951 he became ill and returned to the US and was diagnosed with cancer and died the same year.
East bank railway tunnel entrance then and now. There were machine gun positions stationed in front of the tunnel entrance. Today this tunnel is used for plays and concerts.
Timmerman’s Distinguished Service Cross citation:
“For extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy 7 March, in Germany. Upon reaching the Ludendorff railroad bridge across the Rhine river, Second Lieutenant Timmerman, aware that the bridge had been prepared for demolition, and in the face of heavy machine gun, small arms, and direct 20mm gun fire, began a hazardous trip across the span. Although artillery shells and two explosions rocked the bridge, he continued his advance. Upon reaching the bridge towers on the far side he cleared them of snipers and demolition crews. Still braving intense machine gun and shell fire, he reached the eastern side of the river where he eliminated hostile snipers and gun crews from along the river bank and on the face of the bluff overlooking the river. By his outstanding heroism and unflinching valor, Second Lieutenant Timmerman contributed materially to the establishment of the first bridgehead across the Rhine river”.
Original pictures taken from “After the Battle” magazine No 16 1st published 1977. Published by Battle of Britain prints international ltd, London, England.