Engineer Moment In History – March 2016


Crossing the Rhine!
Provided by the U.S. Army Engineer School’s Historian’s Office

Rhine crossing

Pontoon bridge built by the 291st Combat Engineers across the Rhine, downstream from the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, between

In early March of 1945, the Allied strategy involved a rapid, large-scale advance into Germany, an effort intended to end the war quickly and with the least destruction possible. However, the push east by four divisions, the 1st Infantry Division, the 9th Infantry Division, the 9th Armored Division, and the 78th Infantry Division, was stalled at the Rhine River. The US was stymied by the retreating Wehrmacht elements’ destruction of bridges leading across the Rhine. A lone railway bridge, the Ludendorff Bridge, at a small town called Remagen still stood intact. This bridge held the key to the Allied forces’ full throttle push into Germany.

On the 7th of March 1945, the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion discovered the intact state of the bridge and reported it back to higher. The order to take the bridge was given, with the 9th Armored Engineer Battalion to provide an Engineer reconnaissance element. Men from Baker Company’s 2nd platoon were the first across the bridge, checking its serviceability for Infantry to cross and locating and disarming various charges that the fleeing Wehrmacht had set on the bridge. By midnight, the 9th had completed hasty repairs, and the Allied main body began to cross.

On the 10th of March, the 276th Engineer Combat Battalion assumed maintenance and repair duties. That same day, the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion, in conjunction with the 998th and 988th Treadway Bridge Companies, began constructing a Treadway to facilitate increased movement across the Rhine. Their progress was hampered by not only heavy sniper fire, artillery and bombing, but also by debris floating downstream in the swift currents of the Rhine. Through careful observation and maintenance of netting placed upstream of the bridge and their tireless efforts and sheer determination, the bridge was completed by 1700 hours on the 11th of March, and the 291st became the first Allied unit to construct a tactical bridge across the Rhine.

A second bridge, that was a heavy reinforced ponton bridge, was begun by the 51st Engineer Combat Battalion. Assisted by elements of the 181st and the 552nd Engineer Heavy Ponton Battalions, and completed only five hours after the 291st’s bridge, more equipment and personnel began moving East across the Rhine all while under fire from the enemy that still put up resistance on the East side of the Rhine.

For 6 more days, repair operations continued on the Ludendorff Bridge in an effort to continue the flow of men, heavy equipment, and materiel across the bridge. Allied forces continued the fight to expand the bridgehead, now aided by P-38 Lightning aerial patrols to curtail attacks by the German Luftwaffe. Unfortunately, movement across the bridge as well as enemy fire from artillery and JU-87 Stukas continued to weaken an already critically damaged structure, and on the 17th of March 1945, the structure of the Ludendorff Bridge gave way and collapsed, taking 100 Engineers with it into the swift waters of the Rhine. After the bridge collapsed, the 148th Engineer Combat Battalion, assisted by the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion, began immediate efforts to construct a Class 40 Floating Bailey Bridge downstream from the former site of the Ludendorff. The bridge was completed within 48 hours, and the flow of Allied assets east into Germany once again recommenced.

By capturing, securing, and maintaining the Ludendorff Bridge for as long as possible, the Allies were able to continue and eventually successfully complete their accelerated push into Germany, which ultimately led to Germany’s defeat.

Image found at the following link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/291st_Engineer_Combat_Battalion_(United_States)#/media/File:Rhine_River_pontoon_bridge_wwii.png

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