A bridge too far
11th Annual Tidioute re-enactment highlights another notable World War II event
Things were a little bit different for the first time in the 11 years since Tidioute began its annual tradition of hosting their grand World War II re-enactment spectacle.
This past Saturday, thousands of spectators were treated to the same level of drama and excitement this event has become known for in year’s past, but this time, the dedicated performers presented a fresh perspective from a completely different bridge-centric battle.
Whether you’re a student of history, or the many war films produced that are based on historical events, it should come as no surprise that bridges and the control of waterways often played a central role in the strategies of armies on both sides of conflict. Some need to fight their way across, others need to do whatever it takes to prevent that from happening…even if it means blowing it up.
This was the central element of The Battle of Remagen where in March 1945 German attempts to destroy the bridge were ultimately unsuccessful, allowing allied forces to bravely advance across the Rhine river and further into Germany, likely influencing the outcome of the war.
For the demonstration this year, the re-enactors chose to honor the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden; a military operation that took place in the Netherlands from Sept. 17 through Sept. 25. While that mission ultimately became an Allied failure which then led to a German victory at the Battle of Arnhem, this Saturday’s event focused on the Allied forces’ successful liberation of Nijmegen.
The river Waal, the main distributary branch of the river Rhine, served as a natural obstacle between Allied and German forces in the Netherlands. At Nijmegen, the Allies’ objective was to capture the two bridges spanning the river; the Waal Bridge and the Nijmegen railway bridge.
Due to a swift response from German reinforcements, delays at Nijmegen meant that it took too long for Allied forces to secure passage to Arnhem, 10 miles (16km) north of Nijmegen, where they had hoped to occupy the Arnhem Road bridge spanning the lower Rhine and crossing the border into Germany.
By the time Allied troops had secured the Waal bridge at Nijmegen at 15:00 Sept. 20, the British paratroopers under John Frost who had finally reached the Rhine bridge at Arnhem were forced to surrender, thus stopping Operation Market Garden in its tracks.
If not for this defeat, it has been said that had Allied forces been able to secure crossing over the river Rhine, the war may have ended before Christmas 1944. It would not be until the March 1945 before they would be able to advance into Germany at Remagen, Oppenheim, Rees and Wessell.
Operation Market Garden consisted of two sub-operations: Market stood for an airborne assault to seize key bridges, and Garden stood for ground forces moving swiftly over the captured bridges. Heavy fighting leading up to the defeat at Arnhem resulted in casualties to both British and Polish forces and the fighting at Nijmegen cost hundreds of civilian lives and the surrounding buildings in the city sustained heavy damage.
It makes sense that Tidioute would make an ideal location for this historical re-enactment. Aside from the fantastic authentic Panzer tanks, motorcycles, jeeps and other armored vehicles, the bridge to Tidioute itself provides an invaluable level of production value to the proceedings.
Jarred Blass, a US troop re-enactor has been coming to the Tidioute re-enactment for ten years. He also participates in the D-Day re-enactment at Conneaut, Ohio coming up August 15-17.
According to Blass, this year’s re-enactment in Tidioute was meant to have some aerial features, but due to hydraulic problems it was scrapped for safety reasons.
German re-enactors Mike and Chad Felege also make the trip every year to Tidioute and other events in the area.
But the action is not just for the re-enactors. Paula Flanigan lives on Buckingham Street with her son Nick. Along with friend Billy Birchard, every year they get a front row seat to the historical re-enactment.
Sometimes, the re-enactors will come right up on their front porch for an even more immersive and interactive experience.
“It’s grown more and more every year,” Flanigan said.
Tidioute residents Andy and Gus Heenan look forward to the event every year. This year was especially bittersweet after the passing of their friend Bruce Ziegler, a World War II veteran from Tidioute who would attend the event every year.
Sheffield resident Sloan Edmiston made the trip to Tidioute for the first time this year.
According to him, he loved “pretty much everything about it, “ from the re-enactors dressed up, to the amazing fireworks and tanks.
Even out-of-towners were impressed beyond the spectacle. Loran Banks from Fairbanks, Alaska came to town to visit his daughter who lives in Warren.
He said he’s not used to seeing that “level of patriotism,” and respect for history.
According to several participants, next year’s event will again feature the Battle of Remagen. But beyond that, who knows? There’s lots of rich, historic ground to cover.