April 5, 2016

1945. The American First Army Crosses the Rhine

Crossing the River Rhine
The Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany, captured by the American First Army on March 7, 1945 before it collapsed ten days later (source)
The excerpts below are from the CBS-published From D-Day Through Victory in Europe [PDF] (1945, p. 132-136), a collection of broadcasts made by their war correspondents during the Allied invasion of Western Europe. Bill Downs reported as he accompanied the First Army and spoke of the Allied capture of the bridge at Remagen, Germany:
(The Battle of the West is now in its decisive stage. The air is suddenly cleared. The Allied chase is on again. The tension is out of spoken and written reports.)
March 3, 1945

8 a.m.

BILL DOWNS (from First Army Headquarters):

These are like the good old days of France and Belgium. Things are moving so fast that it's difficult to keep up with the war. General Simpson's 9th Army continues to rout the German 15th Army after reaching the Rhine in two places. The 35th Infantry Division is on the outskirts of the town of Geldern, and at one place is only some five miles away from the Canadians, attacking from the north. The 83rd Infantry Division has virtually cleared the town of Neuse, just across the Rhine from Düsseldorf. Doughboys say the Rhine looks like any other river . . . wide, deep and wet. All in all, advances generally ranged from 4 to 10 miles on the 9th Army front yesterday last night. So many towns and villages were taken that no one has bothered to add them up. Prisoners up to the present count for the past 24 hours total more than three thousand.

The news from the 1st Army front is just as good, although not quite so sensational. Gains up to five miles were made yesterday and last night, and the 8th Infantry Division . . . stands a little over five miles from the Cologne city-defenses. Biggest advances on the 1st Army front were made in the southern flank of the drive where the infantry and armor are swinging around to the upper reaches of the Erft River.

. . . On the plain in front of Cologne, armored units northwest of the city have a bridgehead six miles deep across the river. Heavy Nazi resistance has been encountered there. The 9th Army's advance to the Rhine has created a big sack on this side of the river, threatening to trap the retreating German army. The Rhine-crossings around Cologne now are a matter of life and death to the Nazis. They can be expected to fight bitterly for them and for the road networks leading to these crossings.

Prisoners to whom I've talked the last few days are confused and shocked by the force of this offensive. In one group of prisoners captured, there were members of the Luftwaffe, men from the Panzer Divisions, parachutists, Volks Grenadiers, Volkssturmers, and regular army men; and all of them were fighting as infantry. This makes German confusion west of the Rhine pretty complete.
______________________________________
(One of Columbia's correspondents went across the Rhine today with the troops of our 1st Army. He's back now with a transmitter on the western shore.)
March 9, 1945

6:04:00

DOWNS:

I have just returned from a narrow strip of land east of the historic Rhine River, where one of the most important battles of this 20th Century civilization is just beginning. Yes, I said "east" of the Rhine, east of Germany's Old Man River. The United States 1st Army has a firm and solid bridgehead into the low, rolling, wooded hills across the river south of Cologne. And the bridgehead is being reinforced and is growing every hour. This is a surprise victory, a lucky throw of the dice of war that has sent us across the Rhine. I can't tell you the details right now, but it's a story of courage and daring that has been matched in this war since the invasion of Normandy. The enemy has been caught with his pants down. It was only this afternoon, twenty-four hours after 1st Army troops crossed the Rhine, that there has been any resistance from the Germans. I was on the Rhine when the artillery began to hit our assault troops, but there was only a breathless kind of firing by 75 mm. guns that was doing now harm. Although I can not locate for you the specific part of our bridgehead east of the Rhine, there is no military security involved in telling you that we have made our new attacks in one of the most spectacularly beautiful sections of the Rhine Valley. The crossing was made at a place where, only four hours before, hundreds of German soldiers were fleeing across the river. We had taken at least one village across the Rhine when I left the bridgehead at 3:00 o'clock this afternoon. We got to the high bluffs, looking down on our crossings, last night. The enemy has no direct observation on the spot, for our troops are pouring across in greater and greater numbers.

This crossing of Hitler's last major water-barrier in the west is another example of the daring of General Hodges' 1st Army. The 1st Army has earned one of the greatest reputations in American military history since it invaded the coast of France, nine months ago.