07 March, 2012

07 March 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
7 March, 1945      0930
Germany

My dearest darling –

Our set-up remains luxurious and I hope we stay put for a couple of days more anyway. We’ve got our power plant hooked up to the wiring in this house – so we have electricity. Yesterday – one of my sergeants did some scouting around and brought back a fancy boudoir or bed lamp – just for a gag. But before we were thru – we had it wired up, plugged in and working – so actually, sweetheart, I read in bed – and didn’t have to get out to turn the light out. Now if that isn’t the way to fight a war – I’d like to know a better way.

Another funny thing happened. I passed by the kitchen i.e. the kitchen in the house the medics are occupying – and there on the table – were 5 freshly killed chickens! I can’t conceive where they came from – but I can figure out that 5 divided by ten (that’s all there are of us here) gives ½ and that’s just what we’ll have – ½ chicken per man – either for dinner or supper today. My! My! And my one sergeant who likes to cook – insists on frying the chickens, having French fries, fried potatoes – and – while he’s boiling the chickens to make them soft – he likes to make chicken soup. Oh – well – we can stand it.


But sweetheart – we’re – or I’m missing the dessert. Couldn’t you possibly fit in? I’d keep you all to myself of course. I sure could do with a bit of you, you know – as the main dish, as a matter of fact – but now I’m straying. Gosh, darling, a little loving would go good right now – wouldn’t it though!

I got mail yesterday. Three letters from you, dear – 2 airmail (23 and 26 Feb) and the V-mail undated. Now that’s the 2nd time you’ve done that! I also heard from Eleanor – thanking me for the gift – which she seemed to like very much; there was a letter – or a short novel I should say from Barbara Tucker. It was an 8 page typewritten letter and she does that about every 4-5 months, bringing me up to date with her Navy career, wanderings, and news of Salem. She’s doing research work for the Navy at G.E. in Schenectady – and doesn’t care for the set-up. She wanted to know about you – or us, and someday I’ll have to sit down and write her a letter. She tells me about her love affairs, etc. and writes a generally amusing letter.

1045

A slight delay, dear, to see a couple of patients. Now I can get started again. Well. I got one more letter and I didn’t enjoy it. It was from the sister of Sgt. Freeman – the boy in my detachment who was injured some time ago. They finally got the sad news that he was seriously injured and they’d hear more later. They found the waiting unbearable and so she wrote me asking for details. The sad part is that that is strictly taboo in the Army and I just can’t tell her the details of how it happened and how badly he was hit. But I wrote her anyway and told her he was alive and would stay so. I couldn’t do any more – but believe me, dear, it was very difficult writing that letter.

Your letter of 23 February, written the day before, was interesting. You were making a strong attempt to know me better than you think you know me – and wondering if you were succeeding. It was in answer to a previous letter of mine – defending my – shall I say – morale-building letters? Darling – as you say – a moody letter, an occasional sad sentence etc. – is best left alone and not taken apart. I do that most of the time, I think – and I know you do too. I don’t think you’ve complained about things half as much as you could have – and I love you for your spirit. If you have been moody for days at a time – I haven’t been aware of it – honestly. You cover up well. As for me – dear – I insist. I just don’t stay moody long. It was always that way with me. Oh – I just don’t brush things off and forget about them. I never did; I’m too introspective for that, but I always tried to rationalize, to temporize, to look for a bright spot. I end up sometimes clinging on a very tenuous support, but it helps and usually it’s enough to see you through a dark period. I’m not referring only to war time. I was always that way, dear. Maybe it’s a good policy, maybe not; in reality – it’s not a policy – it’s a person’s nature – and I guess I’m of that nature. I don’t think I overdo it – because that would be child-like. But it does help, dear. And I’m not trying to pull the wool over your eyes. I just can’t write you discouraging letters – when you’ve got enough to be discouraged about yourself. Damn it – I’m cheery naturally, and I’m not going to let Hitler, his arms or the goddamned war change me. I hope you won’t think from that that I’m irresponsible. I think I see things clearly enough most of the time – and I know I can be serious when I have to be. Yet I’m glad you feel you’re knowing me better – despite being away. I feel the same way about you – and more and more. I’m learning to love you with greater depth and appreciation. I know we’re meant for each other, sweetheart, and I’m sure we’ll be happy together. We’re going to be married and have all the things we both want and I feel that I’m just the guy to do it for you.

And with that cock-sure note – I’ll start to close. We need a little more patience, a little more courage – and continued love. I think we have all that.

For now, dear, so long. Love to the folks; I hope Mother B is continuing to feel better.

All my everlasting love, darling
Greg

* TIDBIT *

about The Bridge at Remagen

The Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen was a railway bridge across the Rhine in Germany, connecting the villages of Remagen and Erpel between two ridge lines of hills flanking the river. Remagen is situated about 20km south of Bonn. Designed by Karl Wiener, the bridge was 325 meters long, with two rail lines and a walkway. Numerous nature activists protested against the construction, fearing that the beauty of the Rhine valley at this point would be destroyed. After it was finished the bridge was considered to be among the most beautiful bridges along the river Rhine.

During World War I, General Ludendorff had the bridge built by the Cologne-based company Grün and Bilfinger beginning in 1916 to connect the Right Rhine Railway, the Left Rhine Railway and the Autobahn in order to facilitate transport to the Western Front. Russian POWs were used during construction. The final result was a 4,642-ton bridge with one unique feature: on the Erpel side of the Rhine river it led into a 383m long tunnel through the mountain, "Erpeler Ley", which was carved for this very purpose. The excavation material was transported to the north side of the village in small lorries.

It was a key element of a planned strategic railway that was to start in Neuss, cross the Rhine at Remagen and connect with the Ahr Valley railway that connected with the Eiffel railway that has lines into Luxembourg and France. The advantage of such a line was that troops and supplies could be transported to the Western Front from the Ruhr industrial area without having to go through the busy rail centers of Cologne or Düsseldorf.

After its completion the bridge was named after General Ludendorff. The towers on the Rhine shore resembled fortresses. They were equipped with embrasures, troop accommodations, and storage rooms. The high plateaus on top of the towers provided for far-reaching surveillance. The bridge itself was easily and quickly converted for road and pedestrian use: wooden planks could cover up the railroad tracks. While intended as a logistics backbone before World War I, it only served as a retreat pathway for the beaten German Army in 1918.

In the first days of March 1945 the bridge was being equipped with planks just like in World War I. Preparations were taken to be able to destroy the bridge in case of an enemy attack. As a precautionary measure the charges were only to be deployed when the enemy was less than 8 km away. The bridge in Cologne-Mülheim had been destroyed accidentally because a bomb hit had set off the charges. This should not happen a second time.

The Germans had dutifully destroyed each bridge over the Rhine when Allied Forces approached, as had been done in Cologne. However, the Germans were surprised by the American forces at the bridge at Remagen, and had not yet blown it up. For their part, the Americans were surprised to find the bridge intact! But First Army's 9th Armored Division of III Corps took little time in taking advantage of their find.

The bridge was captured at around 16:30 on 7 March 1945 by a small vanguard of the 9th American Panther division under the command of Lieutenant K. H. Timmermann, and became the first bridgehead across the Rhine. Armored infantry fought their way across the bridge under intense enemy fire as the Germans attempted to destroy it with demolition charges. Several explosions damaged part of the bridge, but the main charges failed to fire and the bridge remained standing. Behind them followed Army engineers who quickly set about to defuse the still-remaining explosives and then make quick repairs on the decking. Working in the rain and under fire from Germans on the hilly countryside, engineers finished their quick-fixes by midnight, and shortly thereafter tanks and other heavy armor began pouring across the bridge, along with essential support troops.

U.S. Army Engineers Repair Ludendorff Bridge

Both sides then engaged in a race to reinforce the area which ultimately was won by the American who had much greater resources. The Americans captured the railway tunnel in the early hours of the following morning by passing over the hill and taking it from the rear.

In the days to follow, the Germans used every trick in the book to bring down the bridge, all to no avail. They were hindered by weak forces in the area and the Erpeler Ley hill which actually protected the bridge from attack from the east. Without the possibility of artillery spotting, attacks were much more difficult. Several attacks were made by the Luftwaffe with one bomb scoring a hit but failing to detonate. They sent floating mines down the river, hoping to destroy the bridge’s supports; German frogmen failed in their bid to plant explosives; and even V-2 rockets were fired at the bridge. The Germans also tried to pound the bridge with artillery, only to be met by murderous return fire by American forces.

AA Troops Protect Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen

The rough terrain on the eastern bank of the Rhine at Remagen made the region a less than ideal avenue for the invasion of Germany in Allied strategic planning. Nonetheless, the Allies seized the opportunity to transport troops, tanks, and vehicles across a bridge, rather than over the river by assault boats and pontoon bridges. Allied plans were quickly adjusted to take advantage of this coup. Because of the air attacks and the artillery fire, the engineers at the bridge site requested that smoke be employed, and requests were made of First US Army for a smoke generator unit. Because none was available at this time, however, smoke pots were gathered from all available sources. The 9th Armored Group was ordered to furnish CDLs (search lights mounted on tanks) to assist in protecting the bridge against floating mines, swimmers, riverboats, etc., and depth charges were dropped into the river at five-minute intervals during the night to discourage swimmers bent on demolishing the bridge. Meanwhile, thousands of men and vehicles poured onto the bridgehead that, although suffering repeated German counterattacks for a week, continued to expand east of the Rhine.

Troops Pouring Over the Ludendorff Bridge

Within a week of the first crossing of the Ludendorff Bridge, seven U.S. divisions had established themselves on the east side of the Rhine River. Forty thousand men crossed in ten days. Simultaneously, pontoon bridges were constructed for additional crossing ability. Then, at about 3 pm on 17 March 1945, a loud bang could be heard, followed by the thunder and rumbling of twisting iron. The Ludendorff, severely damaged in the fighting ten days earlier and weakened further from the strain of heavy traffic, collapsed into the Rhine. This happened so quickly that almost nobody was able to get away. 7 people died in the ice-cold water, 18 are still missing, and 66 were injured (of which 3 died later on). That day marked the end of the bridge, only 29 years after its construction.

Medics After Ludendorff Bridge Collapse

Having crossed the Rhine and established a beachhead, the Allied armies prepared to drive into the interior of Germany. Eisenhower changed previous plans and diverted supplies and forces to exploit the Remagen crossing, making it the point of departure for the decisive double encirclement of the Ruhr valley that captured more than 325,000 prisoners and ended organized enemy resistance.

Below are two episodes of the TV program called "The Big Picture." These videos were made by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1965 and narrated by Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, William Hoge and other Americans involved, as well as the German officer in charge at the far side of the bridge. They offer a comprehensive review of the taking of the bridge at Remagen.

BRIDGE AT REMAGEN - PART 1



BRIDGE AT REMAGEN - PART 2

2 comments:

  1. Excellent!!! To see the video and hear the real people talking is just great. My Uncle was killed when this bridge fell into the Rhine. To bad there is no video of the Engineers making repairs.

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    Replies
    1. There is a "United News" Newsreel video of the Engineers making repairs followed by rescue efforts for those who fell with the Remagen Bridge. Here is the address:

      http://youtu.be/2OQGuP36r9o

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