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tv   The Bridge at Remagen Part 2  CSPAN  March 28, 2015 8:00am-8:31am EDT

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each week, american history tv's "reel america" brings you archival films that tell the story of the 20th century. years ago on march 7, 1945, u.s. army forces captured ludendorff 70 bridge. leading to the first allied bridgehead across the rhine river in germany. the bridge at remagen and is a two-part 1965 u.s. army film telling the story of the battle. the big picture episodes include interviews with president eisenhower, general omar bradley, a german commander, and representative ken heckler, who witnessed the event as an army historian. [gunshots]
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>> i received the news that we had captured the bridge and waste discussed the advantage. i told him to put troops across and secure the bridgehead taking whatever steps were necessary. so we can hold the bridge for future operations. this bridge enabled us to get across the rhine without having to make an assault later on. really, made a decision to cross on a white front, easier for eisenhower to make. ♪ ♪
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♪ ♪ ♪
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[gunshots] >> when we receive the orders that we would have to cross the bridge, the thing that struck me was the length of the bridge and the erpolay started across, the i believe i had the best flooding -- fighting platoon in that army of that time. we would go to heaven for each other. >> from our position on the west bank bank of the rhine, we can see considerable enemy activity across the river in a little town of erpl./ it was pretty but it was set on the side of a mountain or clip predicted not lend itself very well to an attack.
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since we were there to cover the crossing of the infantry, we picked out numerous targets of opportunity, as we call them, and opened fire and fired across the river to assist the infantry and crossing the bridge. [gunshots] as we started across, the only thing those in my mind was to get off that rituals of the -- that bridge. the germans had attempted wants to blow it and had failed, and we felt sure, or i felt sure that the next time the bridge would go, therefore we try to move as fast as we possibly could fall stop however, the elements were being shot at by snipers and people on the other side, and they were moving more cautiously.
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[explosion] somebody yelled who has the right tower. i looked over my shoulder and i did not see anybody move. so i moved over to the right tower. i pushed the door in and there were five germans huddled around a machine gun, apparently the gun had jammed and they were trying to undo them it. i try -- i fired a couple of shots and i yelled hands up in german. that was the only german i knew. they spun around and through their hands in the air. i took the machine gun and i threw it out the aperture of the tower showing the boys that the
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gun had been knocked out and they had nothing to fear from it. in broken german and english in what other of her language i could muster, i tried to make them understand and ask them if there was anyone upstairs. the one kept saying nein. i did not know what it meant at the time but now i know it means no. we started to move up the second floor of the tower. when we got up there, i found a lieutenant and an enlisted man. the lieutenant made a dive to the corner of the tower. i fired two shots in front of him. he stopped. i don't know what he was diving for and i never stopped to check. all i wanted to do was to get off that bridge. i turned around and continued with the attack. right in front of us as you get off the bridge, there is the railroad tunnel. the sergeant and i advanced
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toward it and then we each took a hand grenade and threw it into the tunnel. there was a curve in the tunnel and we got down as far as the curve and we heard a great many voices talking and yelling. we could not make out how many people are who they were or if they were german soldiers or civilians. however, we could not take a chance so we threw a couple of more grenades and tired a couple of more shots. >> i rushed through the tunnel exit and tried to make an escape. the hand grenades came down from the tunnel. in the distance of 120 meters in front of us on a machine gun fired right into the tunnel. suddenly, there are screens. -- there are screens. --screams.
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there are casualties among the civilians. a man and a child. there was a bullet went to the stomach, a gunshot to the leg. the civilians screamed they said to grab them and take away their arms. they came to me. they said our women are being killed. what shall i do? there was in order. this is the most difficult hour of my life. i decided to some of the officers. i cannot carry on. i tell them according to the fuhrer's orders, if an officer is no longer in a position to continue combat, he will have to pass on command. whoever takes over will continue combat.
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every officer has to take orders from him. down to the lowest rank soldier. gentle man, i have an announcement to make. i had someone who is willing to carry on the battle. icy silence. in that case, i am obliged to pass on the command to the unit. i happened to look toward the tunnel exit. civilians had hoisted the right leg and they are leaving the tunnel together with the soldiers. is it possible to go on fighting? gentle man the right leg has been hoisted. without our consent. we are still subject to the regulations of the geneva convention. we continued to fight. we will give the enemy the right to demolish everything. all these women and children, we
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will be morally responsible for them. i therefore order a cease-fire. destroy the weapons and we will be the last ones to leave the tunnel. meanwhile, the civilians had left the tunnel together with the soldiers. we five officers who were still in the tunnel are now leaving the tunnel as well. the last ones to go are the captain and i. we became prisoners of war of the americans. >> during the afternoon, we spent considerable time in adjusting our guns and making notes where various targets were in the event we had to fire during the night we would have
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those targets zeroed in. however, when nighttime came, i was called into a meeting of the officers by air combat commander to be briefed on what our next action would be. i was told at that time that we were going to attempt across singh of the bridge with our tanks. it was not known if the strength of the bridge was sufficient to hold the tanks. the infantry needed armored support on the other side and we had to make an effort to get our tank over there. we all started to cross one the other. as a matter of fact, i was so close to the tank in front of me that several times before the crossing was over, i had bumped the tank. i had called ahead because it
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was dark asking him to make sure he did not get too far away from me. he says i cannot get far away from you with you bumping me constantly. except for the inability to follow this tape across the bridge, we did get across without any incident. >> the americans got five tanks and about 120 infantrymen across the remagen bridge which was a thin force to hold a strategic point like that. the next morning, all the american troops within miles around converged on the bridgehead and within 24 hours
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8000 american soldiers had crossed the remagen bridge. we established a cp across from the bridge on the east side just north of the bridge, about 200 yards. this cp was what had been the burger meister's house at erpl. the sign was still on the gate post and several shells had passed through the upstairs and we moved into the basement. we found a supply of wine and beef. which we used while we were living in that place. my only souvenir of this attack is a sign which was taken off of
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the gate post of the burger meister's house. this was the first command post of the allied forces on the east bank of the rhine. it was from this command post in the center of the burgomaster's house that would be commanded of the initial bulk at across the bridge. beginning that morning and continuing for number of days later, there was a constant stream of american troops from the west bank to the east bank of the river. as soon as we could, we threw four divisions across the east side of the rhine to form a bridgehead. the germans countered by sending in troops to contain us. fortunately, they had been fighting in the bulge and were very much reduced in strength
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and effectiveness. one of the divisions they threw against us was the second panzer division which had been badly chewed up and suffered terrific casualties and another was a german division which had also suffered terrific atrophies. with even those division thrown against our force, they were not able to drive us back across the river. in fact, we could expand almost at will against them and we gave orders to the first division -- the first army to have those divisions expand and advance about 1000 yards per day so they would not be in and could break out when the time came. >> the capture of the bridge was significant to future operations. our plans had called for the
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complete isolation to deprive germany of that great arsenal of manufacture. by getting across to the south of the river at remagen and then waiting for the big push to the north, we made it possible to surround the whole area much more rapidly and much more securely than had we attacked only in one place. >> hitler was hopping mad when the news of remagen reached berlin. he demanded the heads of those who had been responsible for this treason and set up a court-martial headed by a confirmed nazi general hubner. it left berlin after remaghenm was captured. it included three officers none of whom had any training in military justice. they allowed no defense counsel
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for the accused. three majors and one lieutenant were dragged before the court-martial, harangued and sentenced within one hour. they were taken out the next morning into a small wood about 25 miles from the rhine river shot by a firing squad in the back of their heads. they were buried in 10 inches of soil. this was hitler's quick answer to the capture of remagen bridge. hitler through in everything he had in an effort to destroy the remagen bridge. he fired the deadly v-2's against the bridge. he mobilized a couple of big 17-centimeter railroad guns to fire in their big charges.
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[explosions] most of all, he thought he could destroy the bridge through underwater swimmers. it was a special group of swimmers that had been trained in vienna, all under 29 years of age, in perfect physical condition. they went into the water several miles above the bridge and swam underneath water, armed with charges that they were going to put against the bridge. however, they were picked up by a real powerful american searchlights mounted on tanks that were sweeping the river during the night. these swimmers never did reach their objective, and they were captured by the americans a mile or so below the bridge.
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president eisenhower: the action of the people actually at the scene of the capture was beyond praise. there was only the one bridge to start with. engineers were brought forward immediately and started construction of ferries and then bridges across the river. initially, almost all of the traffic was from west to east. the only time we were a verse to traffic was to take back the wounded. later, when the ferries were in operation and the bridges came into use, the traffic was both ways and the bridge was closed for repairs. >> for about seven days, my unit worked hand-in-hand with the bridge construction outfit that was more or less in charge of erecting these dismembered pieces of iron and steel that
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were on the upper part of the bridge. ours was mainly the job of the shoring of the bridge. this was a railroad bridge. we worked feverishly around the clock, 24 hours a day in different shifts, to build a bailey bridge so that we could give the boys some support or get some equipment to them as they were fighting hard on the other side of the river. during this time, there was constantly periods where enemy aircraft were strafing the bridge and dropping bombs and trying to knock this bridge out. there was artillery fire. we stopped it periodically to get undercover. one time i remember which was rather stupid of me, enemy aircraft came over and as it did, i tried to find something to hide under and it was the bridge we were constructing. after the strafing was overcome i realize this was the worst place i could've been because if it had been hit, i would have been trapped underneath.
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these are the things you remember afterwards. this is a constant turmoil of men racing against time and we needed help for those fellows over there and we were working real hard with equipment flying all over the place. >> in addition to our job is engineers on this bridge, the 276 also took as part of security measures. we had places of observation that the bridge had where we could maybe counter an attack that might be made on the bridge. about 3:30 p.m., my unit, my company, was taking over the security of this bridge from another unit. which was also in our battalion. at 3:30 p.m., i was up on the bridge along with a lieutenant and we were comparing the vantage points for these guards.
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at 3:45 p.m. or so, we walked toward the western bank of the river where i had my men stationed in a truck and we had just about decided these were good places to have the people. the railroad engineers are still working. we also had a deadline of about 5:00 p.m. that evening that the bridge for the first time was going to be opened to the heavy equipment traffic and everybody was working as feverishly as they could to get this job done for that particular time area about 3:45 p.m., the lieutenant and i were down at the bridgehead or the western bank and we were discussing some details and he was pulling some of his men often i was getting ready to send mine up when suddenly, we heard rifle fire. we looked up in the air to look for aircraft but instead, there was dust rising from the bridge.
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it seemed to powder a little. it seemed to sway toward us. the center section of the bridge started to cave in. we had trucks on the bridge where part of it was on the center section and part was on the abutment side. this truck just folded up like an envelope, pieces of equipment and the bridge were tumbling down. i think our first reaction was to take cover that either the bridge had been hit or for some reason, it was going to fall. just as rapidly as you can imagine, that big structure disappeared in front of us. now we are all running to see what we can do about fishing people out of the river. it was almost a doubling -- bubbling, roaring noise that seemed like the river itself had been turned into a boiling pot with debris falling in and men
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screaming. you could see fellows were hurt and grasping for something to hang onto and going down the river were eventually they were picked up. ours was a case of real turmoil. >> lots of reasons contributed to the collapse of the lku dendorf bridge. the german demolition had shattered one side of the bridge and weakened it seriously. when the americans put planking on the bridge to cover it over and cover over the holes which had been blown in the bridge this added about 50 tons of weight to the bridge. there was a great deal of heavy pounding from the tanks and the vehicles that crossed. the german artillery shells tore a lot of additional holes in the bridge and then there were the bombs that the luftwaffe dropped on the bridge itself. one of the real reasons in addition to this that
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contributed to the collapse was the amount of heavy equipment the engineers moved onto the bridge. they had cranes, electric arc welders, air compressors -- these things set up vibrations. the american artillery batteries and particularly antiaircraft that are his set up vibrations to cause all of the ground to shake around the bridge. i don't think you could say any single one of these factors caused the collapse of the bridge but the combination of them caused the structure to weekend and i on the 17th of march. president eisenhower: the action of the people actually at the scene of the capture was beyond praise. every man in the whole command approaching that bridge new that it was mined. they knew that all the other
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bridges that they had seen were blown down into the water at that moment, and actually of course the ludendorff bridge was mined. not a moment's hesitation. the local commanders, the platoon, company, and battalion commanders and i think general hoge, who had the entire, team hesitated not a second. they rushed the bridge, went across, and hence there was an attempt to blow it up while they were on it, but there was a faulty fuel or something else of the kind, and that spoiled that, but the attack had been so sudden, so unexpected on the part of the virginians, that the -- of the germans that the thing was a complete success. we had losses, true, but they were minor compared to the great pride that we won. ♪
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>> so much has been said and written about remagen. it was said that the bridge fell into the hands of the americans with treason and sabotage and cowardice. i guarantee that what i told you is true. neither sabotage nor treason was involved. the bridge was lost to the americans. the officers tried and the german soldiers tried up to the last moment to do their duty. even if it was a battle of unequal weapons and we did not have what we needed at our disposal. we did what we could. you american soldiers who see this film would not consider it an honor to know that the bridge of remagen fell into your hands through treason. your comrades and others fought for the bridge and there was
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bloodshed. remember, the americans conquered the bridge in rage. ♪ ♪ >> at the time, it was just another job. it was an objective that had to be taken and we went ahead and took it to the best of our ability. no one, i don't believe, thought it was of great significance at the time at least at our level maybe the higher ups figured it had importance but to us, it was just a job that had to be done and we got it done. >> captain carl friesenhahn when i interviewed him after the war, asked what awards the first americans had received for crossing the bridge. when i told him they had received distinguished service crosses, he responded " they
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deserve them and then some. they saw a trying to blow up that ridge and by all odds it should have been blocked -- it should of been blown up. in my mind, they were the greatest heroes and the whole war. ♪ ♪ ♪ [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> you are watching american history tv. 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span three. follow us on twitter. for information on our schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. .
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