The history-making events at the Remagen Bridge in Germany, during World War II.
Few places can stir the memories as the bridge at Remagen, Germany, midway between Koblenz and Cologne. In fact, the history making events surrounding the bridge have inspired poems, feature movies, books and several TV programs, all with good reason.
Originally built between 1916 and 1918, the bridge was constructed as a two-track railway bridge. Located in a small German town on the Rhine river, it had operational significance during the First World War, but it was during World War II when the bridge truly became well-known.
The story of the Remagen Bridge is on one hand, the story of the fight to capture it as well as to defend or destroy it. On the other hand, the episode marks the beginning of the end of World War II in the west of the German Reich. The action at the bridge is a moving human story and a brilliant stroke of military daring.
Although the Germans intended to destroy the bridge, they were unsuccessful. Several attempts failed, thus the Americans were given a clear passage over the Rhine, altering the course of the war. Hitler laid the blame for the failure on five officers who were collectively responsible for the whole bridge complex, calling them the "traitors of Remagen." Four were immediately executed, however one was already in American hands as a prisoner. Later, historians called these men "innocent scapegoats".
Though the Americans held the bridgehead from early March 1945, the Germans were still not ready to give up their efforts to destroy the bridge at Remagen. On March 15, twenty-one fast bombers flew in to attack the structure, but they too were unable to destroy it. Hitler then ordered divers from the German navy to attempt underwater attacks, though they arrived too late to finish off the weakened structure.
Shortly after three o'clock on the afternoon of March 17, 1945, with a sickening roar of torn steel, the bridge at Remagen finally collapsed and fell into the Rhine. Of the 200 engineers working on it at the time, 93 were wounded and 28 killed. The destruction, ten days after it was liberated by the U.S., did not, however, alter the American advance east of the Rhine, as a pontoon bridge had already been completed.
Visitors approaching the bridge today, either on the Rhine river or along it's banks, will see two towers, all that is left of the original bridge on the west bank. The east bank has two similar dark towers.
In honor of the Americans who died there, an American flag proudly flies from atop one tower on the west bank. What remains of the bridge is home to the Peace Museum, dedicated to the bridge in which the events and the dramatic scenes of March 7th, 1945 are portrayed. Numerous photographs and artifacts are on display, while the letters and documents exhibited make fascinating reading. In addition, the museum contains a unique permanent exhibition dedicated to the history of the Nobel Peace Prize and its holders.
Peaceful in our decade, the tangled remnants of the famous bridge silently speak of momentous events in history. The upper levels of the museum offer fine views of the fast-flowing river and frequent river traffic. Just below is a ramp leading to the water, so you can walk down and stick your toe in, just to say you touched the Rhine, a river which has been labeled "flowing history."
The museum was opened on March 7th, 1980 on the 35th anniversary of the capture of the bridge at Remagen.