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Visiting battlefields: The Bridge of Remagen – a field trip

Posted by Denny Koch on July 5, 2010

The Erpeler Ley and Ludendorff Bridge

Andreas and I used a prolonged weekend to visit the Bridge of Remagen which is located in western Germany, about 50 km (=31 miles) south of Cologne in the Federal State of Rhineland-Palatinate. The Bridge across the Rhine river was destroyed in World War II on March 17th, 1945 after 10 days of heavy fighting between German and US troops.

After the destruction, the Ludendorff Bridge was never rebuilt but remained ruined as a memorial. Today, the bridge towers at Remagen (on the left bank of the Rhine) house a famous war museum, telling the story of the Remagen bridge. On the opposite bank, high above the medieval town Erpel, the volcanic basaltic rock “Erpeler Ley” offers a great overview of the Rhine valley, the bridge and the Eifel region. This mountain was called “Flak Hill” by the advancing US forces due to its strategic position and flak emplacements.

Denny at Remagen station

We went to Remagen by train. The town was founded by the Romans 2000 years ago (celtic name: Rigomagos, latin: Rigomagus). First, we visited the town and went to the tourist information. Remagen was partly destroyed during the War, so the town consists of the typical ugly mix of medieval townhouses and modern eyesores, mainly built in the 50s, supplemented by modern ambitious and less ambitious buildings.

Nevertheless, there are some places of interest besides the bridge, such as a Roman museum, the infamous POW camp “Golden Mile”, and the Apollinaris Abbey located on an old Roman sanctuary. This church, located on the Apollinaris hill, was unaffected by the war.

After a short stroll through Remagen we went down to the Rhine promenade. The weather was good, mostly sunny, sometimes cloudy but no rain. The remains of the Ludendorff bridge are widely visible because the black towers are quite high. The bridge is a famous tourist feature and quite popular among US and British tourists as well as other foreign and German tourists visiting the Rhine valley.

The Towers of the Remagen bridge, containing the museum

Remagen Peace Museum

The museum opens at 10 a.m. It was about this time when we reached the bridge and we were already greeted by a large group of German cyclists, very noisy and uninterested Dutch pupils and some single visitors from abroad. The museum is maintained by honorary volunteers and the entry fee is quite moderate – 1 Euro for students and 3,50 Euro for adults. The main source of revenue is the selling of small pieces of the bridge stones, sealed in resin together with a certificate of authenticity. These pieces are quite popular, especially among US veterans and as a souvenir by US tourists.

A former loading jetty of a factory close to the bridge

In 2003, a completely new exhibition was set up in the old bridge towers and we were surprised how large the museum really was. A loop road leads through the 3 levels of both bridge towers. Each floor deals with a specific topic related to the bridge – the German guards, the US 9th Armored division, German und US newspaper reports during the war concerning the fighting at the Rhine, the construction of the bridge during WW I, the destruction of the bridge, and the enormous prisoner-of-war-camp “The Golden Mile” the US Army had set up in Remagen and Sinzig with drawings, artefacts and photographs from the prisoners.

In addition, the museum presents letters, photos and gifts which it received from US veterans over the past few years. Veteran meetings between US and German veterans or the former prisoners at the Golden Mile are held at the Bridge.

Here are some impressions from the museum:

German and US press

"Stars and Stripes", in the background: The Erpeler Ley rock This banner was handed over to the museum in 1992 by J.S. Kimmit who had crossed the Rhine at Remagen as a soldier in 1945

Pre-war photographs of the bridge

The German garrison at Remagen

The German officers who failed their orders to destroy the bridge. They were sentenced to death by Nazi High Command

View from one of the bridge windows to the Rhine and the Erpeler Ley

Exhibits from the POW camp "Golden Mile"

Besides the exhibits (including some rare stuff such as a V2 fragment), photos, authentic maps and various equipment, the museum contains some multimedia panels where visitors can watch short documentations, some with previously unrevealed recordings or taken from the newsreels, about the bridge, the fightings in the entire Rhine region, or about Remagen during the War, an interview with mayor Peter Kürten who had the idea of creating this museum. The films are available in German and English. As a matter of fact, the entire museum is bilingual, thus allowing the anglophone visitors to benefit from the many interesting exhibits as well.

Denny besides a dud aircraft bomb

 

Andreas below a bridge scale model

 

Rhinecrossing

We spent some hours in the museum (ignoring the noisy and annoying Dutch pupils) before returning to the Rhine promenade. Next, we wanted to take a look at the bridge from the German defender’s position by crossing the Rhine with a ferry and climbing the Erpeler Ley – Flak Hill. A small ferry crosses the Rhine every 30 minutes and we took it to reach Erpel.

In contrast to Remagen, Erpel was never destroyed in the war. It is a very small medieval village with typical half-timbered houses and narrow alleys. Erpel is famous for a gothic church, constructed on the remains of an even older church from the 10th century. We didn’t know much about Erpel when we arrived there, but we were positively surprised by the medieval authenticity.

Erpel

The Erpeler Ley is about 200 metres high and can be climbed by a small steep path in the woods which is signposted in an exemplary fashion.

Because of the famous overview, the Ley is a popular point of interest for Rhine tourists who can reach the plateau on top of the rock by bus or car as well. We decided to walk in order to experience the battlefield feeling of the German defenders who were entrenched on the hill and in the woods and of the US troops who eventually captured the hill. We climbed for about one hour, meeting only few wanderers in the woods.

Climbing "Flak Hill"

The high plateau is marked by a cross on the summit of the mountain with some banks for resting. In addition, there is a small restaurant for hungry and thirsty tourists (especially those arriving by bus ;).

We enjoyed the view from the hilltop over Remagen, the Rhine and even the mountainous Eifel region far in the Southwest.

The overview over the bridge was excellent so we instantly understood why it was chosen as a flak position to protect the railway bridge of Remagen.

The fact that the Germans were heavily scattered in March 1945, many of them on the run and on their way to inner Germany, together with heavy allied air attacks, provided for relatively small resistance. Only a few flak positions, some even operated by Hitler youth, were left when the 9th Armored Division reached the bridge.

The vast area of the former infamous POW camp Golden Mile between Remagen and Sinzig could be estimated from the hilltop as well – 260,000 German prisoners (men as well as women) were held there in April 1945 by US forces. There were no housings, so the prisoners were forced to dig ground holes where they slept in shifts, covered by canvas to protect themselves from the constant downpour. Many of them died in this camp due to the inadequate supply situation and rapidly spreading diseases.

On top of the Erpeler Ley

The Bridge at Remagen as seen from Flak Hill

Today, a Peace Chapel housing a Black Madonna reminds of this place. The Golden Mile was officially acknowledged as a memorial in 2002 when the museum was expanded for a section dealing with this aspect of the war. When the chapel was opened in 1987, many former prisoners, some of them so traumatized that they avoided Remagen since the war, came together here. Many US tourists visit the chapel as well.

The former POW camp "Golden Mile" between Remagen and Sinzig, the entire area was a POW camp

After enjoying the view, we visited a memorial located on the plateau. It reminds of the zeppelin Hindenburg. Then we went back to Erpel where we had to learn that the ferry captain was having his lunch break. We returned to the village, visited the old church, the baroque town hall and then waited at the Rhine bank for our ferry back to Remagen, watching the ships passing by.

Back in Remagen, we followed the pilgrim path up to the Apollinaris hill which houses a monastry with Dutch monks and nuns today. The pilgrim path leads along a quite modern Way of the Cross and small chapels up to the hilltop.

The Apollinaris Abbey at Remagen

A very strange crypt built from various volcanic rocks, strongly reminded us of a Voodoo altar

Here, the huge abbey is located on an old Roman sacred place. More steps lead up to an even higher spot with a huge statue of the Saint Francis. There were some rites going on in the church, so we couldn’t move around and take pictures.

After spending an entire day in Remagen and Erpel, we concluded the day in a small typical German restaurant with local beer and Rhineland cuisine.

The Ludendorff Bridge definitely is worth a trip. The museum is very interesting, the exposition is accurate and the honorary volunteers tend to it carefully and with enthusiasm. I think the idea of selling little pieces of the bridge is great (you don’t have to be afraid that the bridge towers are lost someday; the pieces are taken from the bridge itself which fell into the Rhine in 1945), especially for veterans who fought there.

Some of the exposits are really rare, for example the V2 pieces, the many personal photographs, the original maps, the newspapers and field books, passports and improvised carved objects from the prisoner camp. You can spend some hours climbing the bridge towers, enjoying the view over the Rhine from various windows and reading and studying all the stuff presented in the various rooms.

A ferry trip over the Rhine is great as well and the view from Flak Hill should not be missed if you visit the bridge.

For more information (available in German, English, French, and Dutch), visit the official Remagen bridge website at: www.bruecke-remagen.de.

12 Responses to “Visiting battlefields: The Bridge of Remagen – a field trip”

  1. John D. Bybee said

    Denny and Andreas, I finally got my article on 1Lt. Karl H. Peters and his 3/900 Fohn missile batteries at Remagen on 8 March 1945 done. Do you have an email address to send the text to?
    Tks.
    John

  2. John D. Bybee said

    Andreas Ludwig/ Denny Koch,
    I am working on an article about 2Lt. Emmet James Burrows (9th AD) who trained at nearby Camp Ellis, Illinois and the became the 2nd American officer to cross the Remagen Bridge.
    I noted you have a photo on this site that shows the five German officers shot for losing the Remegen Bridge. I can’t read the names below the photos. Do you have a larger photo or a key to the names?
    Thanks
    John

    • John,

      we don’t have a larger pic but here’s what wikipedia says about these officers:

      “A flying court-martial chaired by Lieutenant General Rudolf Hübner found five officers guilty of “cowardice” and “dereliction of duty” under sentence of death four of whom, Major Scheller, Lieutenant Karl Heinz Peters, Major Herbert Strobel and Major August Kraft, were executed on the day of sentencing in the Westerwald (two in Rimbach, two in Oberirsen). Their family pension rights were revoked but reinstated after the war. The fifth officer, Hauptmann Bratge, was convicted and sentenced in absentia, having become an American prisoner of war by this time.”

      Hope that helps and good luck with your article. Maybe you wanna share it with us? 🙂

      • John D. Bybee said

        Andreas,
        Thanks for the info on Remagen. Sure, I’ll share the article. I’ll attach to an email.
        The second article I’m working on deals with 1Lt. Karl H. Peters and his Fohn missile battery(s) of 3/900 Flak Training and Test Battalion at Remagen. This spring I talked with author Ken Hechler and he clearly remembers when the 9th AD captured Peters’ missile batteries. I see links from Remagen missiles to alleged German SAM attacks on 15th AF 485th BG B-24s and 2nd BG B-17s over southwestern Hungary and Austria on 17 and 27 Dec. 1944.

  3. Ed said

    I’m sorry that I didn’t edit my last reply. . There were NO FLAK guns on top of the Erpelrer Ley. The Germans were shelling our guys who were trying to scale the hill, They came under fire from German guns that were positioned on the EAST side of the river, and NORTH of the bridge. . But they finally got to the top. The first U.S. troops arriving there the saw a group of people about 150 yards away. One guy wanted to start shooting, but twas ordered NOT to as to not give away their [osition.
    There has been a tremendous amount of publicity given to the capture of the bridge, but NO ONE has yet written about the expansion of the bridgehead. THAT is going to change. In 2013 there will appear in ARMCHAIR GENERAL MAGAZINE the full story. Three U.S. Infantry Divisions took part; the 78th, 9th, and 99th. Also, This coming July the Museum will received the official declassified AFTER ACTION REPORTS of the 78th ID, and the same for the 1st Battalion of the 311th Regiment that covers the period from March 8th to March 20th. That was the battalion that attacked Honnef on the morning of the 9th of March.
    I must say here, and now, that I appreciate VERY MUCH the fact that the people of Remagen, through it’s mayor, embarked on this endeavor to create the MEMORIAL TO PEACE. I understand that the daughter of one vet, who was with our 9 Armored Division, and appeared at the Museum in a wheelchair, was a mite perturbed that they charged her, and her father for admission, and that there wasn’t provided a means to get her father from floor to floor. She should be happy that the MUSEUM is even there. Neither the German nor the U.S Government contributed a penny towards the making of the Museum. Nor do they contribute anything towards it’s maintenance. It has a VOLUNTEER STAFF. I say ,”KUDOS TO MAYOR KURTEN, AND THE PEOPLE OF REMAGEN, plus those who contribued to ithe Museum’s creation”. PEACE

  4. Ed said

    The first U.S.Infantry troops to cross the Rhine at Remagen were members of the 2nd Battalion, 310th, Infantry Regiment, of the 78th Division, which were attached to the 9th Armored Division. They crossed on the night of the March 7th, turned right, and captured a group of German Engineers, who were loaded down wth explosives to blow up the bridge. At that time our outfit, the 311th Regiment were fighting Southward on the Cologne Plain, headed towards the Ahr River, a tributary of the Rhine, which emtied into the Rhine just above Remagen. I was a member of “B” Company, 311th Regiment, 78th Diivision, and were held up in the German town of Antweiler, about half way across the Plain. Our suppply vehicles had been shot up, so we had to remain there while mechanics salved material from disabled German, and American vehicles to repair the damage. On the morning of the 7th we made a forced march all the way to the Ahr River, where we set up our defences. We looked forward to a good rest that night, but it wasn’t to be. At 11 PM on the 7th we were notified to “pack up…we’re moving out. We knew that something was up, because it was the first time since we entered combat (ec.9th, 1944) we had trucks to transport us. Furthermore, the trucks didn’t use their headlights to proceed in the pitch black night. Thet us their little “slits” of light to navigte. After four hours of very slow travel we we arrived at our destination (4:30 AM the morning of the 8th. But we waitd there until 11 Am at the side of the raod, then moved again, and arrived at the Bridgesite, where we crossed at about 11:30 Am. We “detrucked, and proceeded to RUN across the brigde as bullets recoched off the bridge’s girders. At that time the brdgehead was only a few hundred yards wide. When we reached the East bank, we turned left, and, by that night hd progressed as fare as Unkel, about a mile North (downriver) from the bridge. Thinking that we would stay there for the night was an “allusion”. Officers ccme in, and informed us that we would continue fighting that night. Our battalion (1st Bn. of the 311th Regiment (871 men) were to “MAKE ABSOLUTELY NO NOISE, AND TO PHYSICALLY HOLD ON TO THE MAN IN FRONT OF US as to not get lost”. It was pitch black. We then proceeded to hug the bank of the Rhine asthe Germans fired a tremendous volume of 20 mm cannon in our direction. However, we were protected by the riverbank itself since the top of it ws over our heads. Several groups of Germans were surprised, and were captured. By the morning of the 9th we were attacking honnef, about 5 miles North of the bridge. The U.S. media was blacked out as to the action, but Nazi media stated that “SOTM TROOPS of the Americans had cross ed the river in boats, and that savage house-to-house fighting was going on in Honeff. Also at that time, the 9th Infantry Division had expanded the bridgehed to the depth of 2 1/2 mils. We were warned to be prepare to withdraw towards the bridge if the 9th ID couldn’t keep the Germans, with their armored support fromreaching the bridge. But the 9th held. ALL of our artillery support was coming from the West bank of the river. One group, though, set up on one of the islands that was west of Honnef. We had word that the Germans were rushing armor towards the bridgehead with their lights fully on. In one of their atacks in Honnef itself, and in one street over from our defensive position, one of our guys disabled a Panter tank by use of a bazooka, aimed at the right trerad of the tank. On our street I had set up my 6mm mortar in a lawn area that was surrounded by a two story school, about 600 yards inj from the Rhine. Th streets were very narow inj Honnef. Our engineers had laid anti tank mines across the cobblestone streets. At night we culd hear the Germans trying to removed the mines. They succeeded in doing so, EXCEPT FOR TWO OF THEM. Whenever we heard the noise they made in rmoving the mines, I shot my mortar at ALMOST A STRAIGHT UP ANGLE. The next morning A German armored column appeared. We had a Sherman tank with us. They moved around to where it could get a side shot at the Panther–not wanting to face the Panther head on. BUt as the German Pnther progressed it had to turn a little to it’s left because of the ” dog-leg” NATURRE OF THE STREET. wHEN IT DID, THE rear TREAD OF THE TANK HIT ONE OF THE TWP REMAINING MINES, BLOWING IT OFF, AND DISABLING THE TANK. It’s crew abondoned it. Then, one of our guys, Sgt. Ed Patterson of North Calorlia, got a jug of diesel fuel, and made a “molotov Coctail”, lighted a rag it it’s top, and dropped it down the hatch of the tank.
    After the 9th ID had held their ground, we commenced our assault. In Koenigswinter we came across a house that had a HUGE pantry full of foodstuffs. We thought it to be the home of some VERY RICH NAZI. Many of our guys wanted to tach this “VERY RICH NAZI” a lesson, so they proceeded to help themselves to the “bounty”, which included two of three succulant hams that hung within the “pamtry”. . During this “raid” of the pantry a civilian guy was running around, screaming to high heaven something none of us could understand. However, the “invasion” of the pantry came to a sudden halt when a American Captain appearded on the scene, and announced, “GENTLEMEN” (which we weren’t), you will replace what you have perloined into their respective places AT ONCE !. YOU HAVE INVADED THE SWISS LEGATION !! ” The brief period of JOY was GONE. The faces of those who had “perloined” reminded me of the faces of the TEXAS cattle when the found that they had crossed the border into Oklahome.
    By the 17th of March, the day that the bridge fell into the Rhine, we had captured Buel, which is a town across the Rhine from Bonn.
    The declassified After Action Reports of this battle, both for the entire 78th Infantry Division, and the 1st Battalion of the 311th Regiment thereof is being added to the collection of artifacts at the MUSEUM TO PEACE at REMAGEN.

    Ed Mlouf
    Dallas, Texas U.S.A.
    edmalouf@aol.com

  5. Alan Heath said

    My first thought was that it was something to do with the bridges put up by the Americans although it did not make sense because of its height!

  6. Alan Heath said

    The photograph of the remains of the Remagen bridge is not the bridge but that belonging to a former loading jetty of a factory. The former bridge however is very close.

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