The Bridge of Remagen – Between Truth and Legend
Contemporary witnesses remember March of 1945


The bridge towers on the Remagen side as seen from the Erpel towers

Who doesn't know the Hollywood movie and its numerous TV reruns:
"The Bridge of Remagen" – US troops of the 9th Tank Division and Infantry Division take the strategically important bridge after heavy fighting.

A movie with numerous sequences, heavy fighting, lots of casualties, and the final capture of the undamaged Ludendorff-Bridge that connected the two villages Erpel and Remagen. A bridge with railroad tracks and pedestrian walkways. The dramatically staged movie is right with respect to the fact that this strategically highly important bridge was captured by the allied forces and made the quick transfer of troops to the right side of the Rhine river possible. According to many historians and military analysts this caused WW-II to end several weeks earlier than without the capture of the bridge.

The bridge also collapsed on March 17, 1945, 10 days after its capture due to previous damages. This happened after for US troops already had transferred man and material to the right side of the Rhine river in order to continue their victorious offensive against the German Reich.

Historically incorrect and invented – and therefore legend – is the fact that lots of fighting took place during the capture. The movie also depicts STUKA bombings, which did take place, but only after the bridge was already captured in a final attempt by the Germans to destroy the bridge before allied troops could make full use of it. There was only one casualty on the German side: Erpel resident Willi Feltens. He had been mistaken for a soldier and shot. Shortly after that he died in the mountain tunnel, 73-year engineer Karl Busch remembers.

Also slightly wrong is the title "The Bridge of Remagen" with it connecting Erpel and Remagen. It was built after strategy considerations for WW-I. Yet after being finished in 1918 it did not reach the originally planned strategic importance, Unkel resident Gerhard Gelderblom states, but was of great importance for the western front during WW-II.

The 'destiny bridge' that connected Remagen and Erpel

Two bridge towers each remain on both Remagen and Erpel sides of the Rhine river. These days the Remagen towers contain a peace museum. Karl Busch states that his father helped to build the bridge as a sub-contractor with up to 60 workers.

Not only the US military was highly surprised about the capture of the bridge. The German Army High Command was, too. The fighting following the capture of the bridge that went all the way up into the "Westerwald" caused many casualties on both sides, including many civilians.

The madness of the last weeks of the war

Not many contemporary witnesses that experienced these important events first hand are alive any more. Many of Erpel's residents sought shelter from the bombing raids in the "Dwarfs Hole", today called "Mariengrotte" (a former gallery). Other residents fled into the tunnel of the bridge and experienced this day horrified.


Karl-Josef Dung, back then 6 years old, was among the many residents seeking shelter in the Ludendorff-Bridge tunnel in March 1945

Witnesses like Karl-Josef Dung (then 6 years old), Heinrich Lindlohr (14), Ludwig Leer (15), and Karl Busch (16) were in the tunnel on March 7, 1945, where they – along with their parents, other family members and the German soldiers – surrendered to the US troops. The brothers of homeland researcher Willi Christmann named Hans (15) and Werner (14) were in the tunnel seeking shelter from the bombs and grenades.

It was the madness of the last weeks of the war, where the only goal was to survive and nobody believed in the "final absolute victory" any more. Ludwig Leer mentioned that about 40 German soldiers were in the tunnel at the time of surrender. The same is told by Heinrich Lindlohr in great detail about the events on this day. His family and he were in the back part of the tunnel – the exit facing Erpel's so called "concrete bridge" – where US troops had positioned themselves just a few hours after crossing the bridge.

It was Heinrich Lindlohr's sister Anni Lindlohr, – who got married later and took on the name Bündgen – who held the white flag and walked towards the US troops on that March 7, 1945.

The bridge tunnel was also the last resort for Karl-Josef (then 6 years old) to find shelter from all the bombs. He was dressed only in pullovers and coats and was afraid to fall down: he would not have had the energy to get up again. His family had to surrender to the Americans as well, but could go home after a brief check. All of this happened on the back end of the tunnel close to the "concrete bridge", which still exists today.

Many residents fled into the tunnel of the Ludendorff-Bridge and experienced this day horrified

The situation at the front part of the tunnel was not very different. Many civilians and soldiers sought shelter not only inside the tunnel, but also in the tower niches.

This is where 16-year old Karl Busch was back then. Early that morning he graduated in Linz – where he went to high school – as helper for the anti-air-cannon and not even 2 hours later the Erpel resident had to run into the tunnel for shelter. He was the subject of many media reports, from TV news to US army publications. A short while after that he wrote down his memories about this day. Including the fact that he worked as the translator for an American officer in Erpel after the capture of this now world-famous bridge. He also wrote about the tremendous technical unit that was present in his parent's house – one of the last houses still intact – at Erpel's marketplace after that March 7, 1945.


The tunnel entrance at Erpel's bridge tower – today
It was a communications center, with radios that could reach every part of the world. Today a plaque is attached to this beautiful tutor style house, named "Gertrud House", which reminds everybody of this day in March 1945. Even the house's wine cellar, used in 1944 and 1945 as a bunker during air raids still exists underneath the houses.

Karl Busch – shown here in front of his parents' house, which was utilized as communication headquarters in 1945 – wrote down his tunnel memories a few years ago

Negotiations and Talks

Karl Busch still remembers exactly what happened at the railroad tunnel that March 7. Since he was one of the very few Germans able to speak English he was the first negotiating with the US forces.

One issue was the wounded Willi Felten, who had still been lying in front of the tunnel at that time. Busch negotiated the transport of Willi Felten, who died a shortly after that. Many more negotiations followed after this one, Busch remembers. A day, that also made movie history. Busch still tells his stories as if they happened yesterday: detailed, with lots of background information about what happened inside and outside the tunnel that day. And about all the war-weary German soldiers that had been in the tunnel and who surrendered to the US forces .

Significant

The war had been lost already, but the capture of the Ludendorff-Bridge, the bridge of "Remagen/Erpel" led to quick end of the war. It was a terrible day for many Erpel residents. Many only had blankets or important documents with them while they held out in the tunnel niches until they surrendered with hands high in the air to the American troops, remember Karl Josef Dung and Ludwig Lehr. After a short check they were released to go home or somebody elses house, since most houses had been destroyed. Only the German soldiers became prisoners of war. Many more things could be told about this important part of WW-II history. Especially from the point of view of German or US troops that fought and died in the region of the hills enclosing the Rhine river around Orsberg, Bruchhausen, Vettelschoß, deep into the "Westerwald", as well as Bad Hönningen up to Leutesdorf and Neuwied. Also, there are many valuable memories of other contemporary witnesses about the capture of the bridge.

Detailed Research

Numerous books about the "Bridge of Remagen" have been published. Among them the book "Bridge of Remagen" by Rolf Palm in 1985, in which Busch is mentioned with his statements several times.

Detailed research is the basis of the book by Lothar Brüne (deceased) and Jakob Weiler, who lives in Bad Hönningen. Their book "Remagen March 1945 - A documentation of the the final phase of WW-II" – which has been recently released in an updated version – shows all the events in a detailed fashion as well as background information about strategic and tactical reasons. Parts of this are the reasons why the bridge has not been destroyed in time. The gist is that the bridge was captured by US troops, but not in the way the movie "The Bridge of Remagen" shows it. The capture of the bridge was far less dramatic. However, there were many casualties on both sides during the following advance of allied troops. Among them were many civilians and the German officers responsible for the failed blasting of the bridge. They were shot after a drumhead court-martial.
It was a senseless and insane war that pulled both Remagen and Erpel into it and placed them into world history at the "Bridge of Remagen" against their will.

Source: Unkeler Reporter/Text and pictures: RÖDER



In their book authors Brüne und Weiler research many more reasons, why the bridge was not destroyed in time.