Genealogy Trails

In World War II, it was recognised by the Western Allies that the Rhine would present a formidable natural obstacle to the invasion of Germany. The Rhine bridge at Arnhem, immortalized in the book and movie, "A Bridge Too Far", was a central focus of the battle for Arnhem, during the failed Operation Market Garden of September 1944. The bridges at Nijmegen, over the Waal distributary of the Rhine, were also an objective of Operation Market Garden. In a separate operation, the Ludendorff Bridge, crossing the Rhine at Remagen, became famous when U.S. forces were able to capture it intact – much to their own surprise – after the Germans failed to demolish it.

Presented here is an article describing
"The Allies Drive For The Rhine"
Author: Unknown
Source: "Life Magazine, Vol. 18, No. 11", Page 25 - 29, 12 March 1945
Submitted by Cheryl Blevins
Transcribed by Charlie Vines

(Photographer: George Silk)

Since December, the U.S. First and Ninth Armies had been building up strength behind the swollen little Roer River.  On Feb. 23 they let it go with a stunning night barrage.  The Germans at the river were quickly overpowered.  Beyond the river the rigid framework of their Rhineland defense began to break down.  A week after the first gun had been fired at the Roer, the Ninth had arrived at the Rhine opposite Dusseldorf.  The men of the Ninth exchanged shots with the Germans on the other side.

Lieut. General William H Simpson, commander of the Ninth, had been waiting for this drive to the Rhine.  If the river was to be crossed by his army, the smooth crossing of the Roer was a battle rehearsal.  For weeks the muddy little stream had been an obsession the the men of the Ninth.  They prepared and planned to cross it early in February, in coordination with drives by the Canadians and Geneal Patton's Third Army.  But on the eve of the crossing the Germans opened the gates in the big earth dams of the upper Roer, partly flooding the cabbage land of the lower valley.  General Simpson was forced to postpone the crossing while his engineers calculated when it would be possible

The engineers, watching the flood diminish, told the geneal the crossing could be made on Feb. 23. The Ninth began to get ready again.  The men and tanks and portable sections of pontoon bridges moved up to the river.  At 2:45 a. m. the barrage began and a smokescreen drifted over river to cover the crossing. 

The U. S. Breakthrough Begins With the Crossing of the Roer

The Ninth Army's crossing of the Roer was a short, violent struggle against the Germans and the river.  Forty-five minutes after the night barrage had begun, assault boats and amphibious tractors started across in a great wave.  In some of the boats were combat engineers, ferrying cables to moor their pintoon bridges in midstream.  It was an excruciating few hours for the engineers.  The flood had lessened but the current was still swift and strong.  Runaway boats and pontoons careened downstream, crashing into bridges as they were being built.  As the work went on the Germans kept up a blind, but deadly, machine-gun and martar barrage through the smokescreen.  But in spite of difficulties there were two footbridges across the Roer in the morning.  Later the engineers put in bigger bridges for trucks and tanks.

The hardest crossing on the Ninth army front was made by the veteran 29th Division at Julich, which appears on the far side of the river on the opposite page [photo above].  The wreckage along the Roer at Julich was reminiscent of Normandy.  All of Julich except the ancient moated citadel was taken by afternoon, freeing the 29th to join the power drive across the Cologne plain.  But even after the entry into Julich, the crossings of the Roer were places of danger.  The Germans still had the river under observation and shelled it heavily. 

(Photographer: George Silk)

The little bridge above and the dead soldier on it were principals in a grisly little drama which is unfolded on the following pages

(Photographer of all photos was George Silk)

On the east bank of the Roer, engineers edge toward a little pocket of Germans left behind by the main advance. The Germans were sniping at the engineers on the bridge.

Some of the Germans walk out holding their handkershiefs as white flags. The others, still undecided about surrendering, were killed when they fired a few halfhearted shots at the engineers.

Two engineers herd the prisoners back to the bridge. Just after LIFE's George Silk made this picture, one of the prisoners pulled a live grenade out of his pocket and tossed it to the ground.

Dazed men stagger before explosion. The German who threw grenade lies dead (center). Two men at the left, one on the ground, are badly wounded. Silk was hit in leg.

Walking across the bridge under guard, one of the prisoners hesitates as he picks his way over the body of the dead American shown in the picture on the preceding page. [Second picture above]

Stretcher-bearers bringing back one of the men wounded in the grenade explosion step carefully over the body. While they were crossing mortar shells began to fall in the water around them.

Cut by a mortar shell, the bridge swings downstream. Stretcher-bearers with another wounded man stand helplessly over the body on the bridge. Man in middle stands stunned by accident.

A splash of foam by the bridge marks where one of the men has dived in to help the stretch- bearers, who are trying to keep the wounded man from falling into the river.

A pontoon capsizes when the fourth man climbs on to help the stretcher-bearers and the wounded man. On the west bank in the background other men look on transfixed.

As the bridge rights itself, one of the stretcher-bearers pulls wounded man out of the water. The other floats downstream on a pontoon broken loose. The dead man still lay on the bridge.



Motoboat comes up and the man who had been floating away on pontoon climbs in at right. Man who had dived in and had been hanging on to bridge, now climbs out of water in center.

Everyone is taken aboard motorboat except the dead man. Bigger bridges had been built upstream, so little bridge was left swinging with dead man for the rest of the day.


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