GEORGE ROGERS and the BRIDGE at REMAGEN
Copyright 2000 by Emerson Thomas McMullen and George Rogers

Stephen Ambrose stresses citizen soldiers in his 1997 book by the same name. One such citizen soldier is George Rogers, Professor Emeritus of History, now retired from Georgia Southern University. Later in this article, he tells about his part in the events surrounding the spectacular taking of a bridge over the Rhine River. I will give the bigger picture first. .

The Bridge at Remagen (1957/1998) by Ken Hechler is thoroughly researched and the key book on the subject. In the Preface, Hechler ties together the large number of "strange coincidences" involved in the taking and holding of the bridge with the Bible passage "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Paul, Romans 8:31b). A framed version of the quotation is on the wall of a house in the town of Remagen. The verse was also in big black letters on a framed canvas on the wall of the house where German officers were sentenced to death by a Hitler court- martial for failure to demolish the bridge.

The Bridge's Significance

The loss of the bridge was a big demoralizing blow to the Germans and a psychological lift to the Allies. Both sides expected the bridges on the Rhine to be blown. It seemed that other forces were at work when the bridge was lost, not as in a battle where mathematical odds were at work, but by accident, so to speak. "Remagen killed us," German generals said over and over. It was a blow to their pride. "We are a military people. We are not careless." General Eisenhower said it shortened the war, and his chief of staff termed the bridge "worth its weight in gold."

Hitler was particularly incensed and alarmed at the loss. He was counting on a split between the Western allies and the U.S.S.R. that would save Germany. He needed to hold the Western advance in order to gain time to allow this to happen. He called the loss of the bridge a military catastrophe of the first order and a national disaster. He fired the Commander in the West, Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt and four other generals. General von Bothmer, the commandant of Bonn and Remagen, was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. His supposed "suicide" did not satisfy Hitler's bloodlust. He appointed Major General Rudolf Hubner to head a special court-martial that, unique among trial bodies, had its own execution squad. Four days after the loss of the bridge, this court tried and executed Major Hans Scheller and Lieutenant Karl Heinz Peters, and condemned to death Captain Willi Bratge in absentia. (He was an American prisoner by then.) The next day, this court tried and executed Majors Herbert Strobel and August Kraft.

The Bridge

Prior to World War I, Field Marshall Count von Schlieffen and one of his staff officers, General Erich Ludendorff successfully advocated more bridges across the Rhine in the event of war. The one at Remagen was built in 1916 and named the Ludendorff Bridge. It had three spans of 278, 513, and 278 feet in length, with two heavy stone towers at each end containing small apertures for gun emplacements. The four towers could house a full battalion of men. It was a railroad bridge with dual tracks that could be planked over to provide for vehicular traffic. In spite of its military function, its symmetry made it attractive, as far as bridges go. The bridge is shown at the right. The picture is from atop the Erpeler Ley, an escarpment that rises over 500 feet from the river and has a railroad tunnel through it

When the French took charge of the bridge after the Great War, they filled its two large demolition chambers with concrete. During World War II, the Germans found there was no way to remove the concrete without destroying the bridge. This concrete made it harder to bring the bridge down when the time came.

The Ludendorff bridge was tough. It had been subjected to sporadic air attacks during the course of WWII, but on 19 October 1944, thirty-three planes of the Ninth Air Force attacked and reported they had "destroyed" the Ludendorff Bridge. On 29 December a full-scale air raid badly damaged the western end of the bridge, next to the town of Remagen. It was hit again in a 2 January 1945 attack, and again on 28 January. Each time repairs were made and traffic continued.

Commands with Unintended Consequences

Hitler was stung by every battlefield reversal and often overreacted. An American bomb happened to hit the demolition chamber of the Mulheim Bridge at Cologne and set off the charge there, destroying the bridge. Hitler commanded: 1) That in areas more than five miles behind the front lines, only initial preparations be made (that is, the demolition charges be stored in the vicinity). 2) That igniters should be attached to demolition charges only at the last moment. 3) That both the order for preparation for demolition and the order for the demolition itself be in writing. To make sure everyone understood, Hitler initiated court-martial proceedings for those "responsible" for the loss of the Cologne-Mutheim Bridge. All this would affect the situation at Remagen.

Another Hitler command that had unintended consequences was to hold the West Wall to the last man. This meant that a unit being encircled could not fall back to a more defensible position. It also meant that reserves had to be committed at the line and so none were available to contain a breakthrough. To protect themselves from court-martial, commanders doctored strength figures to cover losses, falsified reports to shift any blame to others, became suspicious of each other, and issued impossible orders so as to have a paper cover in case of proceedings against them for a defeat. Naturally, morale declined in this climate. All attention was focused on holding the West Wall defensive position instead of protecting the bridges crossing the Rhine.

It may sound like Hitler was acting like the madman he is often portrayed as, but he was too systematically cruel and calculating to be out of touch with reality. There are other reasons besides insanity for this particular piece of seemingly irrational behavior. One is the assassination attempt of 20 July 1944. Hitler became deeply suspicious of most of his field commanders. Scattered here and there throughout the officer corps were intensely loyal or patriotic men like General Hubner, but most were appalled at the way the war was going. Fortunately for the Allies, this distrust hindered the effectiveness of the German war effort. Hitler made sure notices naming those officers and men executed for "treason" were conspicuously posted. Often Hitler also took retaliation against family members. There were fewer and fewer carrots available so the use of the stick became more and more heavy-handed.

Defending the Bridge, Germany

One problem in defending the bridge at Remagen was the constant changing of the command responsibility for it. Let us look just at the last week the bridge was in German hands. On 1 March 1945, just six days before the Americans would take the Ludendorff Bridge, Lieutenant General Walter Botsch was assigned to defend the Bonn-Remagen area. Ever conscientious, he immediately visited the Ludendorff Bridge. He correctly sized up the undermanned defensive situation immediately and requested a reinforced regiment be assigned there. This recommendation was turned down. He was promised a heavy antiaircraft battalion, but it never arrived. Similarly, requests for laborers and additional explosives, radios, and signal equipment were not met. It was defeatist for his superiors to worry about what was happening in the rear.

General Botsch did learn how to navigate through the messed-up chain-of-command situation there and gained the trust of the key people. Suddenly, on 6 March he was transferred, without even time to brief his replacement, General von Bothmer, on the problems. Anyway, Bothmer was argumentative and uncooperative and only worsened the situation by raising petty jurisdictional questions. He never visited Remagen, but concentrated on Bonn.

Captain Willi Bratge had thirty-six men left in his company defending the bridge on the evening of 6 March. Not knowing of the command change, he unsuccessfully tried to contact General Botsch. Bratge was concerned about what was happening. German troops were retreating across the bridge, saying the Americans were advancing quickly. Meanwhile, General von Bothmer had sent a liaison officer to Remagen that night, but he was not up-to-date on the latest positions and was captured when he wandered into the American lines.

Allied spearheads had broken up communications, units, and the cohesion of the Western Wall. The logical thing to do was to fall back to the Rhine and regroup. As already mentioned, Hitler refused any such thing and instead ordered his men to recapture the ground that had been lost. The exhausted German troops were not able to hold on to what they had, much less retake territory. The net result was that the Americans moved even more quickly toward the Rhine.

One of the embattled units being decimated by the American onslaught was LXVII Corps, commanded by General Otto Hitzfeld. In the midst of the confusion of poor communications, trying to find a lost division, and repeated orders to counterattack, General Hitzfeld was told at 1:00 a.m., 7 March, that he now had the responsibility of defending the Ludendorff Bridge. He was forty miles from Remagen and knew little about the bridge. At 1:20 a.m., Hitzfeld made his adjutant, Major Hans Scheller, Commandant of Remagen and sent him off with eight men and a radio to take charge of defending the bridge. That order turned out to be Scheller's death sentence. Within five days the energetic and capable Scheller would be shot by a firing squad.

Along the way to Remagen, Scheller ran low on gas, had to detour around American tanks, was separated from his men and the radio, and did not reach the bridge until after 11:00 a.m. He found a traffic jam of men and vehicles vying to cross the Rhine. The only person there with rank enough to handle the mess was Captain Bratge, who was directing traffic instead of organizing the bridge's meager defenses.

Earlier that morning, Bratge called his old headquarters about reports of an American advance. He had only been able to talk to a Lt. May at Division Headquarters who told him "Don't soil your underwear." May said the tanks he heard about were headed for Bonn and Cologne.

Unknown to Captain Bratge, the Luftwaffe-controlled antiaircraft guns and their crews in a strategic position on top of Erpeler Ley had been ordered to Koblenz on 6 March. Their place was to be taken by a similar unit on the outskirts of Remagen. Only this unit had nothing to move the guns. They started to drag them themselves. The night of 6-7 March, fourteen men of the crews deserted. Some gave themselves up to the Americans, others changed into civilian clothes and slipped away. Bratge only learned of all this the next day when he saw the remainder of the crew manhandling the guns across the bridge. Bratge angrily ordered the gun commander to get his guns atop the Erpeler Ley as soon as possible. Perhaps an infantry commander ordering around a Luftwaffe officer affected the speed with which the order was carried out. In any event, the guns were not in this dominating position when the Americans arrived. To cap off the morning, only 300 kilograms of the expected 600 kilograms of explosives showed up, and it was not the standard military issue, but a weaker industrial grade. The engineers used it for the backup emergency explosive and put it where it would be most effective if used.

Bratge had little chance to explain any of this when Scheller came up to him at the traffic control point. Ten minutes later the Americans had fought to the top of the hill overlooking Remagen. They could see puffs of smoke and hear rifle and machine gun fire. Scheller took charge. He stopped a vehicle with five men and a machine gun and ordered them to turn around. It was his intent to commandeer troops to defend the bridge. As if in answer to this idea, the driver of the vehicle gunned it forward and across the bridge before anyone could stop them. The bridge would have to be blown. At this point an artillery captain approached and pleaded for time. His unit was on the road. Scheller knew artillery could not be spared at this stage of the war and so held up demolition.

The Taking of the Bridge

Lieutenant General Courtney H. Hodges, Commander of the U.S. First Army, was pushing his divisions toward the Rhine as fast as possible. Once there he could stop without fear of a counterattack, and be in a position to furnish reinforcements to General Patton in the South or Field Marshall Montgomery in the North. However, events would change this somewhat subordinate role into a lead one. On 7 March Combat Command B of the 9th Armored Division under Brigadier General William M. Hoge was ordered to occupy Remagen on the west bank of the Rhine.

It was a cold cloudy day and Lt. Harold Larson's Piper Cub had to fly low as he looked for targets of opportunity for 9th Division artillery. As he neared Remagen, he was surprised to see the Ludendorff Bridge looming up out of the fog. He radioed back to General Hoge who immediately sent orders for the units nearest Remagen to take the town. He formed these units, the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion and the 14th Tank Battalion into a task force under Lieutenant-Colonel Leonard Engeman. This task force reached the outskirts of Remagen about noon.

The lead U.S. unit was Company A, led by Second Lieutenant Karl Timmermann, who had just assumed command. (His picture is on the right.) He contacted Colonel Engeman, whose first thought was to bring artillery fire down on the troops going across. Engeman told Timmermann to take the town. Hoge was notified and he set out in a jeep to see the bridge for himself. When Hoge arrived at Remagen he looked, and urged speed in taking the town. He also started to think about taking the bridge.

Meanwhile, Timmermann had carefully fought through the town and was at the bridge by 1600. Germans on the east bank were firing machine and antiaircraft guns at his company. The German engineer in charge of demolishing the bridge, Captain Friesenhahn, first blew a huge crater at the bridge approach. That kept tanks from making a quick dash across and capture the bridge. Timmermann and his men discussed what to do. He said the Germans would blow the bridge next. Then, looking through his field glasses at the activity of the demolition squad, he decided they were waiting for them to go out on the bridge and then destroy it. Tanks joined the infantrymen and lined up along the bank firing machine guns and cannons at the Germans. Everyone was tense, waiting for the bridge to blow. Sergeant Alex Drabik ambled up and made a rare statement: "Lieutenant Timmermann, looks like we're gonna get some sleep tonight." "Yeh, Alex, we'll get some hot meals too and shack up here for a couple of days," Timmermann answered. But there would be little rest ahead for them.

South of Remagen, Lieutenant-Colonel William R. Prince had rushed the bridge over the Ahr and seized it along with about 400 prisoners. His catch included some civilians who had an attitude problem. Two of these claimed (probably falsely) that the bridge at Remagen was to be demolished at four o'clock. Prince took no chances and sent a priority message to Hoge's headquarters about the information. When Hoge received it at 3:15 he had a decision to make. He had just been ordered to turn South to link up with the left flank of Third Army. Should he risk disobeying orders and losing men in an attempt to take the bridge? He decided to take the bridge. He calculated he might lose a platoon on the bridge when the Germans blew it. He ordered Engeman to fire white phosphorus and smoke shells at the Germans, lay down covering fire, bring up engineers to cut the demolition wires, and take the bridge as soon as possible.

In the tunnel at the other end of the bridge Major Scheller gave the order to demolish the bridge, but nothing happened when Captain Friesenhahn turned the key activating the ignition charge. The circuit had just been checked and it was good. A tank shell must have broken the protected line just before Friesenhahn sent the ignition signal. He called for volunteers to go out and light the primer cord for the emergency demolition charge. At first no one volunteered; finally Sergeant Faust said he would do the job. As Faust crawled the eighty to ninety yards out onto the bridge, Friesenhahn momentarily worried that the 300 kilograms of the weaker explosive would be enough to drop the bridge. Faust returned and there was a sudden roar - timbers, dirt, and dust shot up, and the bridge seemed to lift off its foundations. The Germans breathed a sigh of relief.

So did the Americans in Able Company, on the other side. "Thank God, now we won't have to cross that damned thing," said one. "We wouldn't have had a chance," said another. But Timmermann stared into the thick haze and yelled "Look - she's still standing!" As the dust and smoke cleared away, they could see Germans working frantically - it looked like they were going to try to blow up the bridge again. Timmermann saw that the bridge was damaged (see the picture at right) but passable. He called the platoon leaders together and gave the plan for crossing the bridge. The men hesitated - they were tired and it looked like certain death. Timmermann stood up to rally them to follow him, but had to duck as a machine gun from one of the two towers opened up. He ducked down, but a tank shell opened a big crack in the tower and the firing ceased. Timmermann moved out to the bridge urging his men to "git going." They followed. The engineers, led by First Lieutenant Hugh B. Mott, joined them and began cutting demolition wires.

In spite of the tank fire, the machine guns in the towers opened up again and more fire came from the tunnel. Snipers on a barge were zeroing in on the first platoon, which had stopped about one-third of the way across because of the heavy fire.

Timmermann ran back to get a tank to take out the barge, which it did. Racing back to the men, he ordered Sergeant Joseph DeLisio, leader of the third platoon, to move up and take out the main machine gun emplacement. He started forward and his men followed. The soldiers of the second platoon, bobbing and weaving, moved up, too. Even when the 20mm antiaircraft guns opened up, they kept moving forward.

At the middle of the bridge, the engineers found TNT bundles and cut them loose; they fell into the Rhine. Later they came across the main explosives and deactivated them. DeLisio reached the tower where the most fire was coming from. A stray bullet ricocheted around him, but one of his men told DeLisio he was hit. DeLisio said no, felt for blood and finding none, went up into the tower and captured the crew. He threw the gun out the window and the men on the bridge now moved forward with more confidence. Soldiers of the first platoon silenced the other tower's machine gun. Drabik, a squad leader under DeLisio, was the first across the Rhine; Timmermann was the first officer.

Drabik turned left up the river road, and went about 200 yards with his squad following. He stopped and set up a skirmish line in a series of bomb craters to fight off a possible counterattack. Timmermann sent DeLisio and four of his best men to check out the railroad tunnel. DeLisio fired two shots into it and several engineers ran out with their hands up. The easy capture misled DeLisio as to the stronger force deeper into the tunnel. He reported the tunnel clear and joined Drabik along the river road. Perhaps it was well for them that he and the other four did not go further into the tunnel and provoke a fire fight with a much larger force.

By a little after four o'clock, Timmermann had 120 men across. He knew he needed the high ground and ordered Lieutenant Emmett J. Burrows to take the second platoon up the Erpeler Ley. Footing was difficult - the lower slope was steep and the upper one had loose rock. Several men were injured when they fell. To top it off, 20mm fire from antiaircraft guns and mortar shells injured more. Only a few reached the top. What they saw made them hold their position quietly. There were a handful of Germans nearby, but they could see many more in the neighboring towns. Timmermann called for reinforcements. His men had only light machine guns - no heavy ones or any antitank weapons. If the Germans had counterattacked between four and five o'clock, the bridgehead would have been wiped out.

On the Remagen side of the bridge Mott's engineers were doing everything possible to fill in the big crater and the approach and get the bridge prepared enough for tanks and other vehicles to cross. Runners kept coming back, asking for more help. The Americans on the defensive perimeter were so spread out they lost contact with each other. Because of the confusion and rumors of approaching Tiger tanks, parts of the three companies already across the Rhine ended up back in Remagen by nightfall.

The reason there had been no counterattack was that discipline had broken down in the tunnel and Scheller could not reach his headquarters. He finally took off on a bicycle without informing Bratge. Eventually he made it, but he Americans managed to shoot the messengers Bratge sent. When the Germans finally did try to leave the rear of the tunnel, the Americans were there and opened fire. There were still not enough U.S. troops to take the force in the tunnel, but the Germans didn't know that - they surrendered. It was 5:30.

Hoge reported to his division commander "Well, we got the bridge," and the word went up the chain of command. Leaders on both sides started to push men and materials toward Remagen. Hoge was relieved of the order to link up with Patton. Some U.S. planners didn't like the intrusion into their plans because the terrain was not as suitable as further north or south. But a bridge is a bridge, and it was across the Rhine!

The Americans won the race to get the most men and equipment to the bridgehead. In military parlance, they got there firstus', fastus', and with the mostus'. In the twenty-four hours after the capture of the bridge, the U.S. Army got nearly 8,000 men across the Rhine. Next is George Rogers' personal account helping to explain how the 99th Infantry, dubbed the "battle babies," and an antiaircraft battalion got to the bridgehead. Rogers received the Bronze Star for his WWII service.

Remagen Bridge: 1945

The time was late winter of 1944-45 and my battalion was deployed in defensive positions around a massive fuel dump in the fir forest a few miles northwest of Aachen (captured by First Army, mid-October 1944). We were technically an "ack-ack" unit with nearly 800 men, 32 rapid-fire 40 mm guns, and 32 M-51 quadruple mount 50 caliber machine guns. However, as a separate battalion directly under First Army's command, we sometimes were assigned missions that involved detached units. I was a warrant officer assigned as Battalion Reconnaissance Officer and when we lost our communication officer, I was assigned those duties also. In my two functions, I was frequently away either checking potential routes of movement (especially small bridges whose strength might have been weakened) or at First Army Headquarters conferring with my superiors, or sometimes on a separate mission in command of a small detachment. Such a mission came rapidly with the capture of Remagen bridge across the Rhine River.

I got back from some reconnaissance mission about 1:30 a.m. and unrolled my sleeping bag in an out-of-the way corner of our command post. About 3:30 a.m. our S-3 shook me awake apologized with the addition that he had no one else available and told me that he had just received orders from First Army to have forty (40) 2 1/2 ton empty trucks with drivers and assistant drivers at a point on the map of the Rhineland designated only by coordinates. I was to lead them there with my driver and jeep and make contact with units of the 99th Infantry Division. A quick look at our operations map showed that spot still under German control. The S-3 and I just looked at each other and shrugged. Maybe First Army knew something we did not or maybe I was about to become a combat infantry officer in command of 81 trained drivers. By 5:30 a.m. we had the convoy assembled. It consisted of ten trucks from each of our four batteries, lined up in order: A, B, C, and D. I led with my jeep, turning left onto the main road toward Aachen. As soon as I had gone far enough to line them up for a quick check, I halted the convoy and raced backwards, counting trucks to thirty. Obviously, D battery had turned the other way. So we raced to the west and overtook the wayward trucks. After getting them turned around accompanied by lots of cussing from angry drivers, we were all faced in the right direction.

As we entered the outskirts of a desolate and burning Aachen, I was stopped at a checkpoint manned by an infantry major and two Mps. He took a look at our convoy, found a place on the list on his clipboard and pointed to the left fork in the road ahead. I already knew that was correct so I saluted and said "Thank you, sir." All of a sudden he boomed out. "We cross the Rhine today." Then he pointed to my route and gave the "hurry-up" hand signal.

Our rendezvous point turned out to be a small German village with little visible damage and absolutely no one in sight. I signaled for our trucks to stop, drove back along the convoy instructing each driver to stay very near his truck and to remain very alert since we were in enemy country. I don't think the latter was really necessary since there was a lot of tense awareness present. I then returned to the lead truck to tell the driver to wait there while I scouted around in the jeep to make contact with the infantry. I did not tell them that I hoped the infantry would let me identify myself before shooting.

As we turned the jeep away, I had my driver stop. I jumped out to run back the few steps to tell the driver something and swung myself up onto the running board. Almost at once there was a "spat" as a rifle slug tore through the canvas of the truck a few inches above my head. It then ricocheted around in the empty bed and many men erupted from their cabs with weapons ready. Obviously, the shot had been fired at a downward angle. The rifleman had probably been a bit nervous and had pulled the trigger instead of squeezing it. The men never located the sniper and since that was not our mission, I wanted them very close to the trucks.

After a very brief several hundred yards I made contact with an infantry company and their lieutenant furnished a guide to his CO, a lieutenant-colonel, who gave me a big smile and salute and said he was "damn glad" to see me. Apparently he was expecting us for he next asked where my trucks were. Within a few minutes we were part of his "command" and I would take orders from him until he released me (as per his orders) the next morning. Until that time I was merely a part of the truck convoy trying to make sure that my men were fed, allowed to replenish their ammunition clips and to rest a bit before the long night trip under black out driving conditions. Since our trucks had a machine gun mounted above the cab, I asked the colonel if he wanted them manned. He said no and his decision made sense. We did not want some frightened machine gunner firing in the night with the trucks jammed with infantrymen.

As soon as full darkness arrived, we loaded up the infantrymen and moved out. My jeep was merely part of the convoy and I still did not know where we were heading. Probably only the colonel and one or two of his officers knew. When we arrived (wherever it was) the infantry disembarked and disappeared into a steady slow rain. We stayed in our vehicles, dozing as we could in our seats. From somewhere close a battery of 8 inch howitzers kept up an incessant firing. The shells passing overhead sounded like fast freight trains. It did not aid our efforts to sleep.

By daybreak, the rain had stopped and we were parked in a very muddy field. I told my men to breakfast on a K-ration, managed to shave and sought the colonel for orders. He looked very weary, said he wished he could keep us but his orders were to send me with my trucks immediately back to our own battalion area. We hurriedly gassed up from the extra cans each truck carried and by late morning were back at our battalion across the Belgian border. We found that they were waiting for us with all guns out of revetments ready to be hitched up. Cans of gasoline stood ready and as soon as hitch-up was complete motors were turned off and gas tanks were filled. Within less than an hour the entire battalion was en route to Remagen and by nightfall were emplaced in antiaircraft positions around the bridge across which moved a steady stream of First Army men and machines toward the east bank of the Rhine.

Conclusion

In a week, the Americans had 25,000 men across the Rhine, while the Germans moved only 20,000 front-line troops into the area to counterattack. Part of the problem was Hitler's "no retreat" order had resulted in no organized reserves in the German Army to immediately shift over to the bridgehead. Also, armored vehicles had problems getting there due to air attacks and fuel shortages. There were disagreements in the chain of command. In addition, crafty and capable General Model, the one who could have organized a quick and heavy counterattack, was at the front and out of touch with his headquarters.

Defending the Bridge, US

Very quickly the Americans had at Remagen one of the greatest antiaircraft concentrations of the war. (One installation is shown at the right.) It was a good thing, too. Having failed in counterattacking, the Germans next tried to take out the bridge along with the pontoon and treadway bridges the engineers had built. On 15 March, twenty-one fast bombers attacked, but sixteen were lost. The new jet planes were sent also, but the Luftwaffe could not knock down the bridge. Next frogmen tried to bring explosives down the river on the night of 16 March. The first use of searchlights mounted on tanks blinded the swimmers and one by one, they were captured.

Hitler also tried a 17-centimeter railroad gun. It was difficult for the shells to clear the Erpeler Ley and so the greatest damage was to Remagen. The V-2 rocket was an inaccurate weapon, but Hitler ordered that they be used, regardless of the risk to the civilian population or friendly troops. About eleven V-2's were fired at the bridge, but all missed. The last V-2 hit the Remagen area on the morning of 17 March. Hours later, the bridge collapsed into the Rhine. Probably the vibrations from the constant repair work, the antiaircraft batteries, and the explosives hitting nearby, plus the earlier damage from the emergency demolition all took their toll. The collapsed killed twenty-eight men and injured sixty-three others, mostly engineers working on the bridge.

Nevertheless, the bridge had served the Allies well. Beside what was mentioned at the start of this report, there were other results of the Americans seizing the bridge. The unsuccessful attacks of a Panzer Lehr and the 9th and 11th Panzer divisions consumed much-needed gasoline. The breakthrough gave no chance for a much-needed rest for the German troops. It was the springboard for the major offensive east of the Rhine. Also, it made the other Rhine crossings easier. Overall the American capture of the bridge was one of the great shifts in the history of the war in Europe. It happened because the accumulation of lessor events and decisions added up to an overwhelming result. It seems that Hechler was right in implying that behind this chain of strange coincidences was the hand of God, ala Romans 8:31.

Epilogue
The P-38 Communication Set up
by George Rogers

I do not remember exactly where the battalion was but I think we had two batteries at Remagen bridge and the other two at the pontoon bridge down the Rhine from Dusseldorf. I am unclear on the date but it was no longer bitter cold so I am guessing late March 1945. I received orders to take part of my communication section to a captured German airfield in the Rhineland and install the wire communications set up needed for an operational P-38 unit. Their ground support personnel would arrive 72 hours later and we must have everything in place so we could disconnect our switchboard, remove it to our truck, set their switchboard in place, connect it up and depart, leaving behind a fully operational wire communication system.

I took my jeep and driver, one wire-laying truck loaded with extra reels of field wire, its driver, the operator of the wire-laying equipment, two linemen and my wire sergeant. We rolled up to the airfield soon after daylight with absolutely no other person in sight and were greatly impressed by the numerous signs in the fields around warning of "Minen." We drove up to a small building and stretching across the middle of the landing strip was a gaping trench about four feet deep and several feet wide at the top. My wire sergeant realized at once that we could take advantage of the trench and bury part of our wire system. He ordered the wire-laying truck back and forth alongside the trench until he had fourteen wires, each numbered and tagged, securely taped into a long bundle. As we lowered it gently onto the pulverized soil we had created in the bottom of the trench, a detachment of engineers equipped with a concrete mixer, etc., drove up. We explained what we had done and asked them to lay concrete with care. The answer was a grin and "No Problem" and they went to work. By noon the four-foot concrete patch was drying in the spring sun with our fourteen wires safely operational underneath.

Meanwhile, the two linemen were stringing wires on existing poles on either side of the strip despite the warning signs for mines. As one lineman put it, "They had to service their own lines. They would not put a mine where they might blow it." I told them to avoid any area of freshly disturbed earth. A greater problem was the minefield at either end of the strip. Since I could not be certain that the weight of landing planes would not nullify our underground lines, I needed at least one wire on the ground at one end of the airstrip and that meant laying wire through the minefield. In retrospect it was a stupid operation and we were incredibly lucky. I told the driver of our wire-laying truck that I would lie on one front fender and Sergeant Hall would lie on the other. The driver would keep the truck in its lowest gear and we would concentrate on the ground a few feet in front of our respective front wheels. If either of us saw anything suspicious, we would throw up an arm and he would hit the brake at once and then back up about three or four feet very carefully. We had each been to a mine and booby-trap training session and were looking for any deviation in sod, soil, vegetation, etc. We laid our one wire successfully and tied in both above ground wires to our switchboard. That afternoon the engineers blew a mine close enough to break our line and we had to go out again to repair it, this time along a pathway marked clear by the engineers.

We created a kind of overlay map showing the airstrip and adjacent areas. On it we drew and labeled our lines and drew an extra heavy black line across the center of the strip denoting our fourteen underground lines. Early on the third day the ground personnel arrived, including a huge bearded captain as communication officer. While our men were swapping switchboards, I showed him our map and started to explain. He pointed to our extra heavy line across mid-field and said "What is this?" As nonchalantly as I could because I knew my men were watching and listening. I replied "Sgt. Hall saw an opportunity and put in a whole reel of wire underground. You have fourteen wires under the airstrip there, tagged at each end." His answer was "You mean we have underground wires across the field?" I said "Yes, sir. You can thank Sgt. Hall here for that." For a moment I feared I was about to receive a massive "bear-hug" and over my shoulder he said "Thank you, Sergeant." I still think I came close to being hugged by a huge bearded captain with the enlisted men standing around and grinning. The captain presented all of us to a lieutenant colonel and told him about the underground lines. This time we were thanked with less exuberance and suddenly radios crackled and P-38s began their graceful landing operations. We loaded up our vehicles, watched landings, and then executed our military goodbyes. I think our salutes were more militarily correct than were theirs. We knew we had done a good job, we felt good, and in a sense that every serviceman understands, we were going "home."

Note from McMullen: For his service to his country, George received the Bronze Star, two of which (front and back) are shown at the right.