In early March 1945, German forces in France and the Low Countries were flooding back across the Rhine with American forces in close pursuit. Hitler intended to use the swift, deep, and wide Rhine River as a moat to stop the Allies while he concentrated on defeating the Russians in the East. He ordered all of the bridges blown before they were captured by the Americans.
In early March 1945, all of the Rhine bridges were destroyed except one, the Ludendorff railroad bridge in the German town of Remagen. 75,000 much needed soldiers of the German 15th Army were still on the west side of the Rhine, and the US First Army was still 20 miles away, so the bridge was left standing to allow them to escape. On the morning of 7 March 1945, reconnaissance elements of TF Engeman of Combat Command B of the 9th Armored Division pushed to the Rhine River near Remagen in an attempt to find sites for a possible assault crossing in support of Field Marshal Montgomery’s Rhine crossing operation farther north.
When the scouts crested the ridge outside of town, they were surprised to see the bridge intact and thousands of civilians and soldiers attempting to cross into Germany. They called up the commander of their supporting tank company, LT Karl Timmerman. (All ground scouts eventually realize they need tanks to stay alive. That “snooping and pooping” shit in jeeps and armored cars only works in the movies. You ALWAYS end up fighting for good information)
LT Timmerman took one look at the bridge and ordered his scouts and tanks to attack. He radioed the situation to his commander and requested support. Within ten minutes, Timmerman’s company was attacking; within 20 minutes, TF Engeman; within the hour the rest of Combat Command B; and by the next: the entire 9th Armored Division. In less than two hours, 8,000 soldiers were assaulting Remagen. Before midnight, five divisions of the US First Army were converging on the Ludendorff Bridge, much to the consternation of Eisenhower and Montgomery’s planners. (Omar Bradley sarcastically asked Ike’s operations officer “What the hell do you want us to do, pull back and blow it up?”)
The Germans attempted to blow the bridge with Timmerman’s troopers on it but although some of the charges detonated, most didn’t. American artillery fire cut some wires, TF Engenan’s engineers hastily cut more as they crossed, and slave laborers sabotaged some of the explosives, which were industrial grade, and those that exploded were incapable of demolishing the bridge. Timmerman managed to get 120 troopers across by nightfall. The small bridgehead was very exposed but tank fire from across the river broke the only German counterattack that day.
As engineers tirelessly worked through the evening and night to repair the bridge enough for it to support the weight of the tanks, every soldier in Combat Command B who could hold a rifle crossed into Germany. At dawn on 8 March, there were 9 tanks and 800 soldiers on the east bank. By noon, the entire 9th Armored was across, and within 72 hours 25,000 men of six divisions were inside Germany.
Hitler belatedly threw everything the Germans had left at the bridgehead, including V2 rockets and what remained of the Luftwaffe, but to no avail. The attacks on the Ludendorff Bridge were the last gasp of the Luftwaffe. Most of the American air defense artillery was cannibalized to provide infantry replacements, but every remaining gun in the First Army protected the bridge. Of the hundreds of Luftwaffe sorties, only a single bomber managed to drop its payload near enough the bridge to do damage.
The Americans were across the Rhine in force and nothing could keep them from driving into the heart of Germany. When Stalin learned the Americans were across the Rhine, he authorized a resumption of the Soviet offensive. Stalin halted it along the Oder River in late January because he did not believe the Allies had the ability to force the Rhine and he refused to invade Germany proper alone. That was no longer the case on 7 March. From the moment the Americans crossed the bridge, Germany was doomed.
All because a 23 year old 1st Lieutenant decided to attack.