The Battle of Remagen
A history lesson in Tidioute
If we’re being honest with ourselves, not everyone goes to re-enactments for a history lesson. They go for the action, the tanks and authentic fireworks — like the ones that inspired Francis Scott Key.
But The Battle of Remagen was one of those special occurrences in history that, much like Pennsylvania’s own Battle of Gettysburg, had things not gone the way they went, the world we now live in might look a whole lot different.
It’s worth a closer look:
The year was 1944. Although history tells us the war would be over the following year, when German forces took Allies by surprise on December 16, in the offensive dubbed The Battle of The Bulge, things were far from certain.
The 9th Armored Division of The United States Army was part of a deception campaign, Operation Quicksilver, mounted by Allied Forces to confuse the German Army as to the actual location of the Allied Invasion and divert their attention away from the planned Normandy attack that occurred on June 6, 1944.
They were positioned along with The First U.S Army Group (FUSAG) on the coast of Great Britain across from Calais, France, during Operation Quicksilver. Even after the success at Normandy, the German Army remained convinced that the FUSAG was the primary invasion force. Double agents acting on behalf of the Allies were pivotal in convincing the rest of the German Army that the success at Normandy was a fluke and the Allies’ planned attack at Calais was abandoned.
The German Army believed the forces in Normandy simply absorbed the FUSAG, leaving them free to act independently from the rest of the Allied Forces. The 9th armored division was nicknamed ‘The Phantom Division.’
By the time of The Battle of The Bulge, The Phantom Division hadn’t seen much combat, but became engaged as an outnumbered defensive line during the aggressive German attacks. Their heroism threw the Germans off just long enough to give U.S. 101st Airborne time to organize and defend the city of Bastogne. This later led to its liberation when General George Patton’s 3rd Army arrived and relieved the war weary American Forces.
The Phantom Division sustained heavy damage, no doubt leading many on both sides to believe they had been wiped out defending their line. But they had regrouped by February, 1945, thus truly earning the nickname Phantom.
Key to Hitler’s strategy during The Battle of the Bulge was control of The Rhine River, which flows north from the Alps through the German Rhineland and empties into the North Sea. The natural barrier was expected to prevent Allied Forces from crossing into Western Germany.
After German forces had successfully demolished every single bridge that spanned the Rhine, The Phantom Division arrived in the highlands west of Remagen on March 7th, 1945. They could clearly see the Ludendorff Bridge still standing. Although still being utilized by German Forces as an escape route, captured prisoners revealed it was scheduled for demolition later that afternoon.
Rigged with more than three tons of explosives, the German forces attempted to demolish the bridge just as Combat Command B and The Phantom Division approached. When the smoke cleared, the bridge was still there. Only a portion of the charges had detonated, leaving an open window for Allied Troops to make their way across the bridge.
Led by First Lieutenant Karl Timmermann and under heavy fire, Allied troops took off across the bridge. While a portion of the men were ordered to run directly across to engage German forces, others were cutting wires and removing the still live charges before they were able to be successfully detonated.
After repeated attempts by the Germans to destroy the bridge that included a railroad gun, mortars, mined boats and aerial bombing, the bridge did not collapse until 10 days later on March 17th. This left Allied Forces plenty of time to advance into the western Rhineland and to construct pontoon bridges that provided continued access across the Rhine.
The Ludendorff bridge’s construction and repeated attempts to destroy it by both sides throughout the duration of World War II likely contributed to its stamina. Every time it was thought to have been destroyed it was soon brought back into service. The measures taken to reinforce the bridge by Axis forces inadvertently created a unique opportunity for the Allies to advance further into Germany and likely shortened the fighting.
The bridge in Tidioute bares a remarkable resemblance to The Ludendorf Bridge, as does the surrounding valley nicely recreate the setting.
Having a little background on the history definitely enhanced the excitement this past Saturday.