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 village of Remagen.  Expecting this would be the climax of its seven day drive across 40 miles of German territory, the tankers and armored infantrymen planned to reach the banks of the Rhine and stop while the Allied high command completed plans for crossing the last barrier into the heart of Germany.  Retreating Germans had already blown bridges spanning the Rhine at Cologne, Bonn, and Coblenz.  When the 9th Armored reached Remagen, it expected to see the blasted remains of the Ludendorf Bridge.  Instead, the structure was still standing!  The German engineers assigned to destroy it had apparently delayed their work too long.[70]


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 Rhine.  The third was preparing backup charges in case of failure of stage two.  The Krauts blew the crater at about 1520 when the 9th Armored Division approached the bridge.  Ninth Armored Division shells or bullets apparently cut the electric circuit to the second stage explosives, since they did not explode when the Kraut engineers tried to set them off.  When the Germans detonated their backup charge, it damaged the upstream truss, but failed to drop the bridge.


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 Rhine, but we were lucky.  The one heavy charge that didn’t explode had either a faulty cap or something went wrong with the explosive itself.  Besides that, before we started across, one of the cables to the main charge had been cut in two, evidently by a million-in-one direct hit by our artillery.


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.[71] 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 bridge.[72] 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 Ludendorf Bridge was a dramatic victory by the 9th Armored Division and a monumental failure by the defending Kraut engineers![73]


Armored infantrymen, engineers, tanks, tank-destroyers and anti-aircraft crews started rolling over the Rhine River bridge, which had suddenly become the most important military objective on the Western Front.[74] Some 8000 men made it across the bridge in less than a day.  Of these, half were our 78th Lightning Division soldiers.  For hours at a time, reinforcements could not cross when German artillery blasted holes in the bridge.  Combat engineers, under heavy shelling, worked constantly to repair the damage so other troops could cross.[75]


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.[76]


Upon learning of the seizure the Ludendorf Bridge, General Eisenhower declared it “worth its weight in gold” and the Krauts tried desperately to destroy it with bombers and even demolition frogmen.  Hitler convened a summary court that quickly held five Nazi officers responsible for the situation and condemned them to death. 


This was the first crossing of the Rhine by an invading army since Napoleon’s time over a century earlier.  As a combat engineer, I was especially fascinated with this fortuitous event that illustrated so clearly the significance in war of obstacles that we combat engineers devote so much of our attention to creating and overcoming.  During the occupation of the Rhineland after World War I, a French engineer lieutenant had on his own initiative filled the Ludendorf Bridge’s demolition chambers with concrete.[77] This act could have introduced the critical factor that caused the failure of the Germans’ attempt to demolish the bridge.  In any case, it is interesting to contemplate the major effect several young engineer officers had on the Ludendorf Bridge and its impact on the course of World War II.


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.[78] 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:


       After the evening meal, Captain Camm dispatched the executive officer to a town halfway to the Rhine with instructions to seek out housing closer to the front.  Captain Camm then left to check in with the 311th Infantry as usual before going to bed.  I have no idea how far he had to go, since we had advanced rapidly during the last several days.


       My 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 Rhine on dry feet.  I said, “You’ve got to be kidding--these people are not going to make that mistake!”  I later had to admit he was correct.  To this day, I wonder if he had some sort of weird intuition.  I know he had no direct way of knowing what had already taken place.


       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.[79]


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 Appolinaris Mountain above Remagen, we saw the Remagen bridge about a mile away.


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 Rhine River past a column of about twenty American tanks parked bumper to bumper.  Their compact formation bothered me as a too attractive target for enemy artillery.  I wanted to stop when our column had cleared the bridge exit, but the tanks were in the way.  As we got past the tanks, I asked soldiers on the road, “ How far is it to the front line?”  They replied, “You just crossed it!”  Just then, German 20-millimeter antiaircraft shells came in popping on the pavement beside me.  Quickly halting the column, I waved our trucks to the right side of the road and directed my men to take cover in nearby cellars.  Meantime, enemy artillery wounded one of my men repairing a flat tire.  I found the regimental CP back down the road and told Colonel Willingham the bridge required urgent repair.  He said, “Don’t worry about it, Frank, our regiment is crossing over now.  We need you with us.”  Soon his1st Battalion was advancing north out of Erpel to face and overcome the Kraut 20mm anti-aircraft guns.  Meantime, First Sergeant Titus had selected houses for us to occupy, and we moved our trucks to several large, beautiful mansions overlooking the Rhine River just north of Erpel.


Our 311th Infantry Regiment was the first complete infantry regiment across the Rhine,[80] and we were the first complete Engineer company across.  Our mobile company kitchen was the first Allied kitchen to serve hot meals across the Rhine, since the infantry kitchens were still back with their trains on the other side of the Rhine.  The following day, our 78th Division became the first infantry division to get all its infantry across the Rhine.  It seems fitting that our 78th Division that, by its capture of Schwammenauel Dam, had made possible the great drive to the Rhine, was the first to cross the Nazi’s last great natural obstacle.[81] Incidentally, this was the first time assault crossing of the Rhine since  55 BC, when Julius Caesar forced a crossing of the Rhine 12 miles south of Remagen.[82]


The Germans reacted quickly to the surprising survival of the Ludendorf Bridge.  General Model moved all troops in the vicinity to meet this unexpected American success, and directed Lieutenant General Fritz Bayerlein to destroy the bridgehead.  The 11th Panzer Division and 106th Panzer Brigade closed in, and General Goering ordered the Luftwaffe to make an all-out effort to destroy the bridge with bombs.  German aircraft attacked the bridge ten times on 9 March.[83]


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.[84] 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 Anzio.”[85]


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 Rhine with the 311th Infantry separate from the rest of the division, my company took along a water point from Battalion Supply.  They set up the first water point across the Rhine, dispensing water within two hours after we arrived.  The water supply point consisted of four men with a large canvas water tank, a couple of pumps, and an infiltration unit using chlorine to purify water.  They processed water from the Rhine River into their canvas tank and dispensed it into 5-gallon water cans brought in by the units served.  Unfortunately an enemy shell landed right on the water point that first day, killing two of our supply point specialists!


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 Rhine downstream from the bridge.  Discovering we had a bulldozer on our side, the Corps engineers asked for its help in preparing their bridge and ferry abutments on our side of the river.  Soon they were building a floating treadway bridge and a ponton bridge alongside the Ludendorf Bridge under the cover of billowing white clouds of smoke from their portable smoke generators. They also assembled and operated three treadway bridge ferries to carry tanks over the Rhine.[86]


On our first day in the mansion, we saw four German Stuka dive-bombers attack the Ludendorf Bridge, only to be knocked down by our antiaircraft artillery.  One pilot bailed out and was floating down in his parachute over the Rhine.  As every .50 caliber machine gun and many riflemen on the ground were shooting at him, I suddenly realized American soldiers on the other side of the river would be shooting toward us as he reached the water and shouted, “Cease fire and get under cover.”  Just after that, all sorts of flack landed around us.  I didn’t like this firing at the German pilot in the parachute.  Having done his best, he had to bail out and was no longer a threat to us.  About the same time, our division G-4 was killed crossing the bridge, perhaps by this flack!


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.[87]


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 Rhine for medical care.  This gave our privates first class Peitler and Richards the idea of using abandoned German river boats to evacuate casualties[88]from Unkel on the Rhine.  On 9 March, two men from each platoon and the motor pool  (Sgts. John Stache & Ruline O’Neill; Tech-5’s Hank Green, George Larson, & Maurice Zohns; and Pfcs. Howard Iser, Stanislaw Peitler & Paul Richards) took over two forty-foot diesel-powered German boats.[89] They ferried across a number of wounded men for the medics.  They laid a 307th Field Artillery Battalion “quad” communications cable across the river bottom to provide artillery support to the 311th Infantry.  They also laid a similar cable for 308th Field Artillery support of the 309th Infantry.  They tied cobblestones to the cable every so often to weigh it down to the river bottom.  During this operation, an enemy artillery shell came in and killed the 308th wire truck driver, Ted Estus, on the West Bank of the Rhine.[90]  These were the first reliable telephone lines across the Rhine, since wires laid across the Remagen Bridge were shot out almost as soon as they were laid.[91] Corps took one line, Division another, leaving other lines for the artillery battalions.  On the night of 12 March, the forward switchboard operator, Pfc. John Carlson, said, “Nothing but colonels and generals were talking on our line all night.  We figured our line must have been the only one working.”[92] The artillery was supporting our bridgehead operations from the West Side of the Rhine where their ammunition trucks could resupply without crossing the river.  This telephone line enabled artillery forward observers with infantry east of the Rhine to frustrate an enemy counterattack, undoubtedly saving a number of GI lives.  The Stars and Stripes reported on our use of captured boats.  A proposed Presidential Citation of the 311th Infantry for outstanding performance of duty in the crossing of the Rhine stated:


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 of the Rhine.


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.[93]


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 Rhine into our lines to explode.  Accordingly, we sent crews out every night to cut the railroad tracks with explosives.  When these crews first went out north of the Ludendorf Bridge, they found several enormous craters on the Rhine valley floor that seemed to match big explosions we had heard in that vicinity.  We surmised these were from huge Kraut railroad guns trying to destroy the bridge.  Other GI’s confirmed our guess, saying they had heard the huge shells coming, sounding like freight trains as they passed.[94] Later, I heard the Germans had fired eleven V-2 rockets at the bridge.  These rockets undoubtedly created the huge craters.


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:


       When 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 Rhine when we had several radiators and tires punctured. 

       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.[95]


In the Rhine Valley, we encountered no extensive minefields as in the Siegfried Line, but we did run into many log barriers and other road blocks hastily thrown up across the main routes of advance.  About four miles north of the Remagen Bridge near Honnef, Sergeant James Vernon and privates first class Warren Kilpatrick and Vernon Anderson from Lieutenant Bill Monroe’s 3rd Platoon found a log barrier and proceeded to remove it.  After carefully searching the ground for mines, they began dismantling the structure when suddenly a hidden mine exploded, wounding all three men. The wily Krauts had secreted a mine in the barrier![96] Needless to say, this also slowed our subsequent removal of log barriers as we searched them for booby traps!


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.[97] 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.[98] 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 them.[99] On the same day, our Corps engineers completed their first floating bridge over the Rhine.  It was a 1,032-foot Class-40 steel treadway bridge.  The next day, they completed a 969-foot Class-40 reinforced heavy ponton bridge.  With these two bridges in operation, they closed the Ludendorf Bridge for repairs by an engineer port construction and repair group.[100]


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.[101] 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 beautiful Meissen china with silver utensils!  I hadn’t lived like that since we were on the ship crossing the ocean, and I felt the same sense of unease.


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 (Main Supply Route).


On 13 March, my birthday, our regiment began attacking the historic Siebengebirge, or Seven Mountains, just beyond Honnef, losing thirteen percent of the fighting strength of the 2nd Battalion that first day.  Drachenfels, one of the seven mountains, rises from the Rhine River to a height of 1053 feet in less than four hundred yards.  Having almost perpendicular cliffs on three sides, it is a veritable eagle’s nest.  Located at a bend in the Rhine, it provides over six miles of observation up and down stream.  From castle ruins there, nearly 900 feet above the river, Kraut observers had directed accurate artillery fire on Ludendorf bridge.  This explains the intensity of Kraut artillery fire that fell on the bridge.  Our success in expanding the Remagen bridgehead depended more on the capture of Drachenfels than any other action, except, of course, the unplanned capture of Ludendorf Bridge.


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.[102] Our 311th Infantry also took a bath in blood in capturing the dragon’s ancient domain.[103] 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.[104] 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 Ludendorf Bridge to the south.


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.[2]


In mid-March, thirty-seven rifle platoons of black soldiers were distributed among divisions at the front.  They had been organized and trained in Europe from 2253 black in-theater volunteers.[105] Our division received three platoons--the first Negro combat troops to arrive east of the Rhine and assigned one to each regiment for use intact as a platoon in a rifle company.  The 311th placed its platoon in G Company.  Good soldiers, who did a fine job in combat, they laid down such a huge volume of fire on the enemy that supply units were hard-put to keep them in ammunition.  Whenever we’d hear a prolonged burst of rifle fire along our front, we knew they were there.  Accordingly, they carried double loads of ammunition over their shoulders.  Soon the Krauts were referring to them as our special groups of night fighters in natural camouflage.  Receiving a second Negro platoon a month later, the 311th Infantry placed them in L Company.[106] Reporting on their performance, our 78th Division commander, Major General Parker, said, “ Morale: Excellent.   Manner of performance: Superior.  Men were eager to close with the enemy and to destroy him…  When given a mission, they accept it with enthusiasm; and even when losses to their platoon were inflicted, the colored boys pressed on.”  The combat performance of the black platoons throughout our front line divisions influenced highly the decision after World War II to integrate black soldiers into American combat units.[107]


On 15 March, we removed German Teller antitank mines from underneath cobblestones in the main roads of Rhondorf.[108] 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 against Ludendorf Bridge. 


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 Volksgrenadier).  Ludendorf Bridge remained intact until the bridgehead was secure.


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 West Bank.  But it seemed like I was running uphill.  Then there was a time lag and I came to under water.


Rust struggled to the surface, grabbed a loose plank and floated downstream until a rescue boat picked him up.  The Ludendorf Bridge had finally collapsed at 1505 hours on 17 March, almost ten days to the hour of its capture.[109] The collapse killed twenty-eight engineers and injured sixty-eight more.   Apparently its damaged trusses failed from vibrations sustained during the past few days.[110] In spite of being attacked by 381 German planes according to the official U.S. Army publication, Yank, not a single bomb hit the bridge.  Our 78th Division was credited with seventy-two of 114 German planes destroyed.[111]


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 Rhine.  The engineer battalions building most of these bridges took advantage of the proximity of my engineers by borrowing our company bulldozer to prepare their far shore abutments.  This activity gave me a wonderful chance to watch the various bridges come across.  The one that interested me most was the barge Bailey consisting of Bailey bridge trusses floated on confiscated Rhine River barges.


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.[112]


            As the papers report, we are across the Rhine, and our 78th Division was the first complete division across.  I might add that our 311th Infantry were the first complete regiment across, and my company brought the first kitchen over.  It cooked the first hot American chow on this side of the Rhine! 


            What a sight the Ludendorf Bridge was as it remained standing across the Rhine!   And what a thrill to drive across it with my whole company!  How different from the assault crossing we had expected!  It was an experience I shall never forget. 


            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 Cologne.  We crossed the float bridge at Konigswinter and drove north through Bonn to Cologne.  Along the circumferential road around Cologne, we found entrances to Cologne blocked with barbed wire and signs prohibiting entry.  Desiring strongly to see the famed Cologne Cathedral, we went from entry to entry until we finally found one not blocked and scooted through in our jeep.


I had never before seen such utter devastation!  Our bombers had shredded the enormous city of Cologne into many square miles of complete rubble.  Spotting the twin spires of the cathedral in the distance, we wandered toward them on streets through the rubble until we got next to the Rhine River.  No friendly troops were visible, but we could hear enemy mortars firing beyond the river.  Taking care not to expose ourselves to enemy across the river, we reached the cathedral on the riverbank.  On the plaza next to the cathedral, we found a disabled German tank facing a broken American tank.  Entering the soaring cathedral, we found the Germans had tried to protect priceless stain windows with cushioned wooden crates.  The cathedral’s structure was about 90% intact.  Despite occasional smashed windows, debris covering its floor, and a couple of holes in its roof, it was in remarkably good shape, considering the way everything around for miles was totally demolished.  Seeing this magnificent Cathedral soaring alone in such devastation was truly inspiring!  Several months later, I found Berlin’s half-damaged buildings much less awesome than Cologne’s totally flattened ruins--save for its Cathedral that continued to reach high into the sky! 


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 Sieg River after twelve days of continuous fighting on the east bank of the Rhine.  The days were getting longer and the weather warmer.  Finally, there was time to take a deep breath, to get a bath, to enjoy a meal in reasonable quiet, to catch up on lost sleep.[113] In expanding the Remagen bridgehead, our regiment had captured thirty square miles of area containing twenty-one towns and the Siebengebirge (Seven Mountains), including historic Drachenfels.  Regimental casualties of 694 men were not high compared to the 1284 prisoners captured and uncounted Kraut dead and wounded.  As the 311th history related, “Caesar had his Ides of March; the German Army experienced the same fateful day at Remagen some nineteen centuries later.”[114]


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 Bonn in 10 hours.  When the battalion built the bridge in 10 hours and 11 minutes on 22 March, General Collins considered that close-enough and threw a beer bash for the battalion the next day.  The 1,340-foot bridge became known as the “Beer” Bridge.[115]


 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 Germany...  It became the springboard for the final offensive to come.”[116]

On 23 March, the British Second and American Ninth Armies crossed the Rhine north of the Ruhr to begin the final battle for Germany. 


            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 Rhine.  Finding her no longer available when he finally returned, Roland built a castle overlooking the convent and watched her daily performing her duties.  Drachenfels is a steep hill with huge cliffs and ruins of an ancient castle on top with a rich history of Romans, Franks, Germans, Flemish nobles, Spaniards and Napoleon.  I rode my jeep up a narrow path to the very top, checking the way carefully for German mines. 


            Just below is a nightclub overlooking the Rhine and atop an adjoining hill is Petersberg, the best hotel in Germany with modern conveniences and a magnificent view of the beautiful Rhine Valley and adjoining hills.  This scene of early pagan sacrifices and site of the famous Peter Chapel shrine is also where Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain.  After checking the road to it for mines, I strode into the bar and ordered an apricot brandy, which I received promptly without charge.   Though I’m not much of a drinker, I had heard that Petersberg served the best apricot brandy in the world.  (24 Mar 45)


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 crossed the Sieg River into enemy territory, when we saw a GI truck screech to a stop on the autobahn to avoid falling into the river.  Suddenly Kraut artillery fire hit the truck and set it on fire.  The driver and his buddy jumped out with their helmets and rifles and ran down the embankment toward us.  As they approached, a couple of Kraut soldiers came out of the bushes with their hands up. The GI’s said they had made a wrong turn on their way back to their Negro quartermaster truck company.  We offered them a ride, so they climbed into our jeep.  Suddenly one of the soldiers shouted, “Wait a minute, I’ve got to get my canteen so my supply sergeant won’t make me pay for it!”  Impressed that he was ready to risk his life to retrieve his canteen, we waited until he returned with it.  He had a good supply sergeant--I wonder how he accounted for the destroyed truck.  We dropped our jeep load of GI’s and prisoners off a few miles back at an MP checkpoint.


Up near the Sieg River on a side road, a small demolished single-span bridge was blown requiring our infantry vehicles to bypass three miles out of their way.  We decided to replace it, even though it was under enemy observation.  Glen Timm ‘s platoon measured the gap carefully one night and spent the next day precutting heavy six-by-twelve bridge timbers to fit as abutments and stringers and three-inch planks for flooring.  After nightfall, they drove to the site and installed the entire span in a couple hours, enabling infantry vehicles to zip through the area day and night.  We engineers were always trying to do such small but useful things for our doughboys!


            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 center in Verviers, Belgium.  One day several of us hitch-hiked over to Liege and were astounded at the life of the “rear echelon Joe’s.”  Our front lines have moved up so far that combat soldiers seldom get back to Belgium anymore.  The town is full of soldiers without weapons, wearing soft hats and ties.  After supper, most seem to have dates with cute little Belgian girls--rough!


            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 Verviers and attended a dance there.  The young ladies were the select of the town, well accompanied by chaperones.  Having attended such dances twice a week for five months, they danced the American way but spoke little English.  One Nardine Fonienne was rather pretty, though a bit short, and very entertaining to talk to.  We spoke mostly in French--I’m becoming fairly good at this now.  At this dance, the dancers could not cut in on each other.  “Ce n’est pas la coutume.”  When the dance concluded, I offered to walk Nardine and her sister home, but “No!  No!  That is not done, but we could meet you at church tomorrow for the Easter service.”  At the end of the evening, she asked me if I’d give her my captain’s bars.  Noticing that many of the girls were wearing officer bars, I complied.  So now there is a little Belgian lass running about with my captain’s bars clasped to her blouse.  Oo-la-la!


            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)


[70] Sgt. Ed Cunningham, Yank magazine, Vol. 1 #36, 1 Apr 45.  (RJ p. 46.)
[71] Sgt. Ed Cunningham, Yank magazine, Vol. 1 #36, 1 Apr 45.  (RJ pp. 47-48.)
[72] Ken Hechler, The Bridge at Remagen, Pictorial Histories Pub., Missoula, Montana, 1957.
[73] Ken Hechler, The Bridge at Remagen, Pictorial Histories Pub., Missoula, Montana, 1957.
[74] Sgt. Ed Cunningham, Yank magazine, Vol. 1 #36, 1 Apr 45. (RJ p. 48.)
[75] Narrative of 552nd A/A Artillery, “Mission Accomplished,” (RJ p.63.)
[76] Sgt. Ed Cunningham, Yank magazine, Vol. 1 #36, 1 Apr 45. (RJ p. 48.)
[77] Ted Wrona, “How the French Helped Save the Remagen Bridge for Us,” Flash, Sep 90, p. 27.
[78] Donald W. Adams, “307 FA Bn WW II ETO,” The Flash, May 57.  (RJ p.28.)
[79] Glendon Timm, letter to author, 30 March 1998.
[80] Gardner Hatch, 78th Infantry Division, (Paducah: Turner Pub. Co., 1987), p. 35.
[81] CWO E.J. Kahn and T/Sgt Henry McLemore, Fighting Divisions, Inf. Journal Press, 1946. (RJ p.92.)
[82] Col. Thomas H. Hayes, “The Remagen Bridgehead,” Rhine Journey, pp. 45-46.
[83] Col. Thomas H. Hayes, “The Remagen Bridgehead,” Rhine Journey, p. 45.
[84] Sgt. Ed Cunningham, Yank magazine, Vol. 1 #36, 1 Apr 45.  (RJ p. 49.)
[85] Col. Thomas H. Hayes, “The Remagen Bridgehead,” Rhine Journey, p. 45.
[86] Ken Hechler, The Bridge at Remagen, Pictorial Histories Pub., Missoula, Montana, 1957.
[87] James Anderson, in letter to author, Apr 98.
[88] The Stars and Stripes, Mar 22, 1945.
[89] History, 303rd Engineer (C) Battalion, published in Berlin, 1945, p. 47.
[90] Greg Higgins, “The Infantry’s Supporting Artillery,” The Flash, July 2000, p. 39.
[91] Donald W. Adams, “307 FA Bn WW II ETO,” The Flash, May 57.  (RJ p.30)
[92] Greg Higgins, “The Infantry’s Supporting Artillery,” The Flash, July 2000, p. 39
[93] Donald W. Adams, “307 FA Bn WW II ETO,” The Flash, May 57.  (RJ p.30)
[94] Carl Sumpter, “Recollections of the 78th Cav. Recon. Troop,” Flash, Sep 91, p. 76.
[95] Glendon Timm, letter to Frank Camm, 30 Mar 98.
[96] History, 303rd Engineer (C) Battalion, published in Berlin, 1945, p. 46.
[97] History, 303rd Engineer (C) Battalion, published in Berlin, 1945, p. 50.
[98] Gardner Hatch, 78th Infantry Division, (Paducah: Turner Pub. Co., 1987), p. 37.
[99] Col. Thomas H. Hayes, “The Remagen Bridgehead,” Rhine Journey, p. 45.
[100] US Army Corps of Engineers Office of History, Bridge to the Past, Number 2, Jan 95
[101] Ken Hechler, The Bridge at Remagen, Pictorial Histories Pub., Missoula, Montana, 1957.
[102] “War’s Wake in the Rhineland,” The National Geographic Magazine, 1945, p. 12, volume unknown.
[103] Combat journal of Timberwolf Regt.,78th Lightning Div., WWII 1944-45, 311 Inf., pp. 46-47.
[104] Gardner Hatch, 78th Infantry Division, (Paducah: Turner Pub. Co., 1987), p. 38.
[105] Stephen E Ambrose, Citizen Soldier, 1997,  p. 349.
[106] Herman Ulmer, “Remember a Black Platoon,” Flash, Sep 93, p. 87.
[107] Stephen E Ambrose, Citizen Soldier, 1997,  p. 349.
[108] Chester M. Willingham, After Action Report, 311th Inf. Regt., Mar. 1945,” Rhine Journey, p.76.
[109] Sgt. Ed Cunningham, Yank magazine, Vol. 1 #36, 1 Apr 45. (RJ p. 49.)
[110] Ken Hechler, The Bridge at Remagen, Pictorial Histories Pub., Missoula, Montana, 1957.
[111] Carl Sumpter, “ Recollections of the 78th Cav. Recon. Troop.” Flash, Sep 91, p. 76.
[112] History, 303rd Engineer (C) Battalion, published in Berlin, 1945, p. 50
[113] Donald W. Adams, “307 FA Bn WW II ETO,” The Flash, May 57.  (RJ p.30)
[114] Combat journal of Timberwolf Regt., 78th Lightning Div., WWII 1944-45, 311 Inf., p. 54.
[115] US Army Corps of Engineers Office of History, Bridge to the Past, Number 2, Jan 95
[116] Lightning History of 78th Inf. Div., Infantry Journal Press, Wash, DC, 1947, p. 202.
[117] History, 303rd Engineer (C) Battalion, published in Berlin, 1945, p. 50.