Crossing The Rhine

As the Third Army under General Patton advanced across Europe in 1945, the engineer section began accumulating intelligence data on the Rhine River. By the time the first attacks were made on Metz, Army engineer units had been directed to secure long piles, timbers, steel, and floating equipment for fixed bridges. Depots built up stocks for the assault crossing. Road reconnaissance included selection of suitable routes for the overland transportation of the Navy LCM's and LCVP'S. 

On March 7, 1945, First Army seized the Remagen bridge. This was a brilliant, fortunate stroke, but the build-up of the bridgehead was slow against strong German resistance. Downstream the British were assembling troops, artillery, and engineer equipment for a powerful thrust across the lower Rhine. 

On March 22, the Fifth Infantry Division of the XII Corps (and Third Army) closed on the west bank of the Rhine south of Mainz. With it was most of the 1135th Engineer Combat Group, the XII Corps unit previously selected to support the assault crossing. 
 

Reconnaissance and Planning

Reconnaissance for the exact bridging site disclosed that a minimum of approach road construction would be required at- the site of a ferry that connected the towns of Niestein Oppenheim to the east bank of the river. An ideal assembly area was located in a river harbor at Oppenheim. The entrance to the harbor was approximately 100 feet upstream of the proposed near side abutment and extended some 1,500 feet almost parallel to the river, to reach the harbor proper which was about 300 by 500 feet in area. A levee extended along the river side of the inlet and afforded defilade from observation and direct fire into the assembly area. The Rhine at this point was approximately 1,000 feet wide and the current was 5 mph. The river as well as the harbor was riveted with hand placed stone on 1:1 slopes. 

The principal disadvantage of the selected bridge site was that it was on a curved section of the river with the near shore on the outside of the curvature. This forced the main stream of the current to the near side and seriously limited the space between the harbor inlet and the near shore abutment. Also, this raised the problem of anchorage during construction, if conventional near-to-far shore construction using diagonal anchorage was to be employed. With this method, the first anchorage cable installed would block off harbor exit from the end of the bridge under construction. 

In view of this situation, construction by rafts was selected as the only feasible method. Construction from the far to the near shore would eliminate blocking the exit with the first diagonal anchorage line. Also, by keeping the downstream side clear, power boat failure at any stage of the assembly would be unlikely to damage the partly assembled bridge. Supplemental anchorage was to be afforded by 100 pound kedge anchors. 

An unusual but altogether feasible construction method was suggested by the inlet and harbor protection, the length of the inlet channel, and its, position in relation to the bridge site. This plan was to assemble the entire structure in the inlet channel and float it into position, using the current to move it and snubbing and controlling it with cables on dozer winches placed on both banks of the river. Although tempting, this plan was discarded in favor of a more conventional method of construction which would provide greater assurance of success, particularly since the bridge was to be of such great length. 
 

Assembly for the crossing

During the time that reconnaissance and final planning were in progress, float sections were being inflated and assembled in an area 2 miles west of the river in order to minimize concentrations in the vicinity of the river. It was planned to bring up on trucks the completed sections with floats inflated, saddles and saddle beams assembled and ready for unloading and placing by crane at the harbor area. Four pontoon rafts were to be assembled and floated into position in the bridge. Two Navy LCVP's were to be available for handling the rafts. 

At 6:00 p.m. on March 22, instructions were issued calling for the support of the assault crossing by the 204th Engineer Combat Battalion, with a Navy landing craft unit attached. The initial bridging was to be under the 150th Engineer Combat Battalion, with a dump truck company, the 995th and 996th Treadway Bridge Companies and platoon of the 1301st Engineer General Service Regiment attached. This platoon, specially trained in protective boom construction, was assigned for that purpose. The assault crossing was to start at 10 p.m., the bridging upon order several hours later. The first action at the harbor was the unloading of the landing craft which were being hauled by tank transporters accompanied by a Tournacrane for aid in unloading. Of the twelve craft available, ten were to assist in the build-up on the far shore and two to assist in the bridging operation. 

Three composite units, each with a line company of the, 150th Engineers as a nucleus, were formed for the bridging operation. One company with cranes, technicians, and power boats from a bridging company for four assembly sites was to assemble rafts, move them to the bridge, assemble the final structure, and install anchors. One company with appropriate bridging equipment and personnel plus the dump truck company was to inflate and assemble floats, make up truck bridge section loads, and transport them to the harbor area on call. The third line company with the boom construction platoon attached was to install booms and. provide a working reserve. 

The Battalion Command Post was to open up at the harbor area at approximately 1 a.m. Communications with the rear assembly area, a traffic control post for the dispatch of bridging into the harbor area, Group Headquarters, and the boom construction unit were to be established. Other traffic control and smoke generation units and antiaircraft artillery were under direct control of the Group Headquarters. 
 

Operations

The assault crossing started on schedule and met with only sporadic resistance. At 1:00 a.m. the Group commander ordered the first elements of the bridging unit into action. The landing craft had arrived by this time but the Tournacrane had been lost en route. Despite apprehension as to possible hull damage, an expedient method of launching was devised. After, dozing a run down through the harbor bank revetment, the craft we're skidded off the transporters and pushed down the run into the water by dozers. By 4:00 a.m. all the landing craft were afloat without mishap; and contributing to the. far shore build-up. 

By dawn of March 23 several rafts had been assembled and the far shore abutment section was floated across. While it was being installed, artillery fire shifted to the site and the harbor assembly area which had not yet been masked by smoke cover. During one of the disruptions caused by the enemy artillery fire, an American lieutenant, while taking cover, beard guttural voices; upon investigation he found and captured a dugout containing seventeen German soldiers who were directing the enemy fire. Soon after the smoke cover masked the operation and enemy artillery fire during the remainder of the operation was ineffective. Later, opposition was encountered from some German jet aircraft just then becoming operational. 

With no further complications, the 972-foot bridge was opened for traffic at 6 a.m. on March 23. During the same day construction of another bridge of the 25-ton heavy pontoon type was started by the 87th and 88th Heavy Pontoon Battalions. Aside from one direct hit, fortunately a dud, no trouble was encountered and this bridge was opened in the early morning of March 24. 

A third bridge, built by the 150th Engineers approximately 1/4 mile upstream of the first bridge, was complete by noon on March 25. 

Immediately upstream of this third bridge were several barges which had been sunk by the Germans, when the Allies forces approached. The barges had been anchored to prevent drifting, but during one night the river rose and one of the barges' drifted into the upstream bridge, fouling the anchors and causing a disconcerting bow in the bridge. There were some very anxious minutes until the landing craft towed the barge away and the bridge was repaired. 
 

Protective booms

Particular attention was given to the protection of the bridges from floating objects. Determined efforts had been made by the Germans to destroy the Remagen bridges by this means. Planned construction provided for protection from swimmers, floating mines and barges adrift. 

The anti-personnel measures comprised a boom extending across the river at a 45-degree angle, 1/4 mile above the upstream bridge. The Boom was a 3/4 inch steel wire cable supporting 8 feet of British Admirixlty netting topped by concertina wire, with 55-gallon drums furnishing floatation. Anchorages were installed at 100-foot intervals. Well upstream of the boom, 10-pound charges of explosives were dropped at 10-minute intervals from a roving power boat to bar swimmers. 

Next upstream were two anti-mine booms made of logs connected end to end and floated across at a 45 degree angle. They were about 1,500 feet apart and had anchors at 200 foot intervals. 

The fourth protective boom was designed to prevent damage from barges and other large floating objects. It consisted of four 1-inch steel wire cables spaced apart and floated by 55-gallon drums. 

In addition, rifles, tank guns, and antiaircraft pieces were sited along both sides of the river to destroy floating objects that passed the booms. 

Construction on the booms was started at dawn March 23. Since the work was outside the bridgehead, the troops were subjected to small arms harassing fire from the far bank. By about midday, the bank was cleared and work proceeded without interruption. The two anti-mine booms were in by dark on March 23 and the other two by late on March 24. 

Shortly after dawn of the 24th, two German swimmers were apprehended leaving the water at the anti-personnel boom. Fortunately, half of the netting had been placed and these two had floated into it. They wore black skin-tight rubber suits. Each had a magnetic mine strapped to his back and carried a knife to cut the mine loose. The men reported that they had been military offenders against the Wehrmacht Code and were given this assignment as a means of redeeming their honor. 
 

Accomplishment

A major portion of the credit for the success of this river crossing operation is due the Third Army staff and supply agencies. Three weeks before these operations, XII Corps had broken through the Siegfried lane in the vicinity of the Saar-Moselle triangle and had approached the Rhine in the vicinity of Coblenz. It had then driven southeast, generally along the west bank of the Rhine, bypassing opposition in the Palatinate. To bring up much of the bridging equipment, a circuitous 300-mile round-trip was required over a very poor road network which was made even worse by the spring thaws and constant pounding of traffic. 

The build-up and bridging phase of a crossing operation by an engineer group again proved effective. At one time the 1135th Group had 7,000 troops assigned or attached, and its staff performance and control was particularly noteworthy in this crossing of the last major German terrain obstacle. 

Bruce W. Reagan 
Lt. Colonel, USA (Ret.)

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