On March 7, 1945, Combat Command B of the 9th Armored Division reached the west bank of the Rhine River across from the German city of Remagen. To the surprise of all the Americans there that day, they found the Ludendorff Rail Bridge intact. The Germans had blown nearly every other bridge spanning the Rhine as they retreated behind the river to make a last stand for the Fatherland.
The Americans seized the bridge by coup de main, then reinforced their tenuous hold on the east bank in the days that followed. The bridge was severely damaged, and engineers went to work trying to shore it up. At the same time, pontoon bridges were constructed on either side to increase traffic flow to the east bank. The Germans repeatedly attacked the bridge with air, artillery and even V-2 rockets. They also sent underwater demolitions teams after the bridge, and attempted to use floating mines to destroy it.
These three film clips were taken from the west bank during the struggle to shore up the bridge. The cameramen were part of SFP-186, a special project commissioned by General Marshall to document the final months of the war with color film. The footage ended up classified for decades, and it was only in the late 1990’s that it began to filter out of the National Archives for public viewing. The scenes show the Ludendorff Bridge from different angles, plus some of the U.S. Army’s anti-aircraft defenses arrayed around it. There are also some scenes showing USAAF P-38’s patrolling over the bridge, as well as the wreckage of a downed German aircraft.
On March 17, 1945, the badly damaged Ludendorff Bridge suddenly collapsed, killing eighteen American engineers who were working on it at the time. Though the bridge was gone, the drive into the Reich from the Remagen area was already well underway. Pontoon bridges kept the traffic and supplies flowing to the front line troops.
A few post-war notes:
Today, one of the original bridge’s towers houses a peace museum. In 1993, American computer game company Dynamix Inc. produced a PC-based flight simulator called Aces Over Europe. The game’s box cover, an original piece by noted artist Roger Smith, depicted an Arado 234 Blitz jet bomber attack on the Ludendorff Bridge during the fighting around Remagen that March. Ace Pierre Clostermann in his Hawker Tempest can be seen in the foreground pursuing the German jet. When the mayor of Remagen learned that the bridge and part of his town would be depicted on the box of a computer war game, he threatened to sue the U.S. company. As a result, the European release of the game used a different piece of art for the box cover.