|The Hammer of Hell |
Chapter 6 The Remagen Bridgehead: A Decisive Victory for AAA Soldiers
Around 1600 hours on the 7th of March, 1945, Lieutenant Karl H. Timmerman, Commander of Company A, 27th Armored Infantry Battalion, crouched on the west end of the Ludendorff Railroad Bridge, near the town of Remagen, Germany. Timmerman had been ordered to cross the bridge by Brigadier General William M. Hoge, Commander of Combat Command B, 9th Armored Division. Hoge's decision was gutsy. The span at Remagen was the last remaining crossing over the Rhine, but the general knew it must be rigged for demolition. If the Germans blew the bridge with Americans on it, or after a small force had crossed, soldiers would be lost. On the other hand, if Hoge could rush enough men across to hold, his decision would make history.143
Just as Timmerman and his men moved forward, the bridge lifted to the air, rocked by an explosion. Lieutenant Timmerman picked himself up off the ground, and through the fog and smoke, he saw the bridge was still standing, although holes had been torn in the planking in its center. Seeing the footpaths on either side were intact, Timmerman ordered his company to move out.
As a platoon of Pershing tanks provided cover against German machine gun fire coming from towers on the east end of the bridge, the infantrymen rushed forward, zigzagging from girder to girder. Upon reaching the far side, Timmerman had some of his men clear the towers, and another platoon climb up the Erpeler Ley, a large hill just beyond the east end of the bridge, through which ran a large tunnel. Timmerman sent other troops into the tunnel. They captured several Germans, including Captain Karl Friesenhahn, the engineer officer, who had tried but failed to destroy the bridge. Upon learning of Company A's success, Hoge ordered the rest of the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion and Shermans from the 14th Tank Battalion across.
A Questionable Prize
The III Corps command post agreed with General Leonard's decision to hold the bridge and ordered the reserve regiments of the their other two divisions, the 9th Infantry Division and 78th Infantry Division, to Remagen. The First Army Commander, General Courtney Hodges, was elated when informed of the capture and ordered engineers and boats he had dragged across France for just such an occasion to the bridge.145
Hodges then called General Omar Bradley, the XII Army Group commander. Bradley's response was "Hot dog, Courtney. . . Shove everything you can across it."146 The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) G-3, Major General Harold R. Bull, happened to be with Bradley when Hodges called about Remagen. Bull's reaction was far less enthusiastic.
Bradley remembered Bull saying words to the effect that "Remagen was nothing more than an unwelcome intruder in the neatly ordered SHAEF plan."147 SHAEF planned for General Bernard Montgomery and the 21st Army Group to make the major Allied crossing north of the Ruhr. In his typical fashion, Montgomery was taking his time, meticulously planning for the operation, badgering SHAEF for more and more resources. Bull was not sure he had the forces to placate the 21st Army Group requirements and support a diversion. General Bradley argued a second pincer in his sector would divert German units from Montgomery's priority attack. While General Eisenhower had not yet decided to restrict the number of Rhine crossings, he favored Montgomery conducting the main attack. When Bull argued this position, Bradley replied: "What in the hell do you want us to do, pull back and blow it up?148
The next day, General Eisenhower instructed Bradley to reinforce Remagen with no more than four divisions. The 12th Army Group commander told General Hodges he could expand the bridgehead 1,000 meters per day, enough progress to prevent the Germans from digging in or extensively mining their perimeter.149 The Remagen Bridge area would remain congested, and thus vulnerable to air attack, for weeks.
Just after General Hodges informed General Bradley that the bridge had been taken, Brigadier General Thurman C. Thorson, the First Army G-3, walked into the special staff area. Grouped around a toy replica of a German 88mm gun were the quartermaster officer, the ordnance officer and the antiaircraft artillery officer, Colonel Charles G. Patterson. After watching the gun fire its spit wad on target and the joy of those present, Thorson exploded, "Don't you guys know we've taken a bridge at Remagen?" Then he bawled, "You should be planning your support for that operation." Colonel Patterson replied, "Calm down, Tubby, everything has been in motion since late yesterday."150
The antiaircraft structure available to reinforce the bridgehead was impressive. In III Corps, each division had an automatic weapons battalion attached: the 482d AW (SP) to 9th Armored; the 376th AW to 9th Infantry; and the 552d AW to the 78th Infantry Division. The 16th AAA Group was organic to the corps and had two 90 mm gun battalions and two automatic weapons battalions, the 563d and 634th. In the First Army rear area, the 49th AAA Brigade protected key facilities and the crossings over the Ruhr River with its two AAA Groups: 103d and 11th, each with one gun and two AW battalions. 151 The excellent wire communications between First Army Antiaircraft Artillery units meant the word of the capture reached battery-officer level by the night of the seventh. The three AAA group commanders in First Army immediately swung into action.
The AAA Arrives at Remagen
Thus began the Antiaircraft Artillery rush to Remagen. The bridge remained a visible priority, and the First Army maintained a significant number of antiaircraft units at Remagen for three weeks, long after the air threat dissipated. Although the presence of hundreds of antiaircraft guns and machine guns ultimately ensured the bridge's safety, the antiaircraft buildup associated with Remagen did not occur until the 10th of March.
In the interim, the Luftwaffe launched air strikes that had an excellent chance to destroy the bridge, isolating the American units on the far shore and denying the Allies the huge psychological prize the bridge's retention represented. Instead, the First Army Antiaircraft Artillery quickly established a solid defense and defeated the Luftwaffe. The AAA victory at Remagen was cemented in the first 72 hours. It was a triumph of the mass through mobility doctrine over the area defense; objective-oriented training over going through the motions; and a victory for combat soldiers who at rid themselves, once and for all, of the "Red Comforter Corps" label. The actions of the III Corps' 16th AAA Group and the AAA battalions assigned to it, represented the culmination of a series of doctrinal, organizational and attitudinal changes that had been emerging since North Africa. Because it was the capstone event that marked the culmination of the many efforts which had been ongoing since the end of World War I, the Remagen Bridge ranks as one of the greatest Antiaircraft Artillery battles in American history.
The 482nd AAA Battalion (AW/SP)
Lupinacci supported the Ninth Armored Division in the accepted doctrinal fashion. Batteries A and D supported Combat Commands A and B respectively, providing convoy defenses as the armored columns roared across Belgium toward Germany. B and C Batteries protected the field artillery.155
Lieutenant Colonel Lupinacci was a reservist from Pennsylvania who had worked for the telephone company before the war. He was not a forceful commander, and he rarely visited his batteries in combat. He spent most of his time at the battalion command post or at the Ninth Armored Division headquarters. He was not, however, a bad commander. He selected his battery commanders well, and over the objections of the combat commands, he fought to retain the antiaircraft mission as the priority task for his unit.
In the Battle of the Bulge, the 482d AW Battalion had performed so well the combat commands requested their AAA fire units be positioned to fire primarily in the ground role. Lupinacci convinced General Leonard to disapprove the recommendations, and the 482d was postured to provide antiaircraft protection for the division as it approached Remagen. 156
Colonel James Madison commanded the III Corps' 16th AAA Group. The night the bridge was taken, Lupinacci explained the situation at Remagen and told Madison that Battery A, 482d AW Battalion, would accompany Combat Command A when they reinforced the bridge. Lt. Col. Lupinacci was reluctant to move his B and C Batteries off the division's field artillery, the traditional priority. Additionally, since the division's progress had been halted by taking the bridge, their combat trains would be stationary and, thus, more vulnerable to air attack. Lupinacci might need to protect them. 157
Corps Antiaircraft Artillery Reinforcements
The 16th Group activated in January, 1943 and supervised the training of 90mm battalions at Camp Edwards, Fort Dix, and in England. Madison's Group headquarters was the first ashore on Omaha Beach and this veteran, combat experienced organization would orchestrate the antiaircraft battle at Remagen.
About 10 days before the bridge was taken, Colonel Patterson held a meeting for the brigade and group commanders at the First Army command post at Stolberg, Belgium. Along with other topics, the antiaircraft artillerymen discussed their actions in the unlikely event a bridge was taken intact. Patterson decided such a prize would be the First Army's antiaircraft priority, and all units would reinforce the crossing as soon as possible, eventually placing two gun and two Automatic Weapons battalions on each side of the Rhine.
After talking to Lupinacci and others, Madison put Patterson's plan in motion. The 482d could provide the initial AW coverage, but Madison had to get a gun battalion forward quickly. He selected an old friend for the mission. 159
The 413th AAA Battalion (90MM) had trained under the 16th Group at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and in England and was attached to Colonel Madison for the D-Day landing. Its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Donald "Sandy" MacGrain, was an athletic, "can-do" commander. A former quarterback for the University of Oklahoma, MacGrain was assigned to one of the groups for logistical support, but it was common knowledge the 413th remained under the operational control of First Army, regardless of the command arrangement.
The 413th was the first gun battalion ashore at Normandy and the first 90mm battalion to fire in an antitank role. The battalion also had served as the antiaircraft artillery participant in a recognition test with the Army Air Force in November, 1943; and it had reinforced the vital defense at Camp Elsenborn during the Battle of the Bulge, where its soldiers had killed six German tanks on 19 December, 1944.
MacGrain earned a Bronze and Silver Star while attempting to reach C Battery, which was reportedly overrun in the Bulge. MacGrain was wounded in this action, but jumped the hospital train transporting him to the rear without authorization, and rejoined the battalion in late December, near Verviers, Belgium.160
The 413th, then, was an excellent unit. Lieutenant Herbert Cline, who was assigned to the battalion as a member of the original cadre in June 1942, attributed the battalions' success to their unit training at Camp Haan. After two months of basic training the battalion marched to Camp Irwin, California, and fired at aerial and ground targets and maneuvered in the desert for almost three months. The battalion trained for the antitank, antiaircraft and field artillery roles. There was intensive physical training and aircraft identification work. In Cline's opinion, the variety of the training at Haan and Irwin kept the soldiers interested and their training productive. Ammunition and equipment were plentiful. The Antiaircraft Artillery Command had come a long way since the days of the wooden 37mm guns, just six months earlier.
In England, the battalion had received their new SCR 584 radars and M9 directors and had ample time to practice with them at Tonfanau, Wales. The intensity did not slacken: the battalion conducted waterproofing and amphibious training and attended the 49th Brigade's mobility course at Blandford. The "killers", as they termed themselves, were ready for Remagen.161
On the second of March, Colonel Patterson attached the 413th AAA Battalion to III Corps, which was spearheading the First Army advance. The battalion had the implied mission to remain forward, so they could react quickly to any contingency. Antiaircraft Artillery soldiers were reading the battlefield and anticipating requirements.
Lieutenant Colonel MacGrain and his men joined the 109th Gun, the 634th and the 563d AW Battalions in the 16th Group. Madison had the three units protecting the corps artillery and defiles and bridges along the Corps main supply route.162
The 413th moved from Verviers at 0930 hours on the third of March, convoyed through Eupen and Aachen and into the III Corps area. Lieutenant Colonel MacGrain and his reconnaissance parties had departed the night of the second of March, and their coordination with Colonel Madison was complete when the guns arrived at the new positions southeast of Duren the next afternoon. They were less than 20 kilometers behind the leading elements of the Ninth Armored Division. The German defenses behind a series of small rivers slowed Allied progress for the first four days of March, but the Ninth Armored columns "busted out" on the fifth and sixth, moving almost 30 kilometers closer to the Rhine.
On the sixth of March, MacGrain followed the Ninth Armored in sector, ready to provide protection as required. The night of the seventh, they were 10 miles from the Ludendorff Bridge. Colonel Madison's choice for a gun battalion for Remagen was obvious. He ordered them up.
MacGrain and his reconnaissance parties were at Remagen at dawn the next morning. The guns were right behind them, just like they had been taught at Blandford. 163
Automatic Weapons Defenses
Higgins had been commissioned in the Coast Artillery in 1939. He tried to become a pilot, but washed out of flight school when his instructors classified him as too dangerous. He volunteered for the paratroopers, but the shortage of Coast Artillery officers in 1942 doomed this request, and he returned to Antiaircraft Artillery. On his last efficiency report just before Remagen, Higgin's commander wrote: "fearless in combat . . . always obtains results." 165 Bill Higgins' aggressive nature would make a difference at Remagen.
The 482d Battalion Headquarters was just west of the bridge, but when Higgins arrived there, neither the battalion commander nor his executive officer were available. The battalion staff told Higgins to do what was necessary. Lieutenant Higgins drove his halftrack back to the Ludendorff Bridge.
By then, it was almost 0300 hours, 8 March. American artillery and infantry units were everywhere. Higgins saw that the tank destroyer had been pushed through the bridge into the river and that vehicles were beginning to cross. His two platoon leaders, Lieutenants Barnes and Coughan, awaited his orders. Higgins made a decision without hesitation. He ordered Coughan across. At 0530 hours, the 2d Platoon of Battery A, 482d AW Battalion, drove onto the Ludendorff Bridge. A few minutes later, they were the first antiaircraft artillery soldiers across the Rhine. Their lead track was the thirteenth vehicle across.166
Higgins' 1st Platoon soon followed and the battery occupied positions to the south of the bridge. Higgins placed his quad .50 caliber machine guns on the waterline and his M15s at the top of the bank. He deployed observers down the river line.
By noon on the 8th of March, Denton moved his 2d Platoon across and to the north of the bridge. The 1st platoon of Battery D had clawed its way up the Combat Command B column and readjusted their position 1,000 yards to the south when Bravo Battery, 482d Antiaircraft Artillery, replaced them at the west end of the bridge late in the afternoon. The defense was balanced, with three platoons lining the east bank and three on the west. Three-fourths of the 482d was around the bridge, but no one had seen or heard from Lieutenant Colonel Lupinacci or his headquarters.
The crossing had not been without trepidation. Higgins remembers the feeling of uncertainty that gripped everyone on the west side when he first reached Remagen. No one seemed to be in charge and units were milling around, waiting for someone to tell them what to do. Around 0900 the Germans began shelling the bridge, heightening the indecision. The threat was real: the 482d would lose 10 fire units during those first days at the bridge.
A little later, two of the officers who were responsible for overcoming this inertia, Captain Higgins and Brigadier General Hoge, met on the west side. Hoge asked Higgins, "Who the hell are you?" After his reply, Hoge said, "Glad to hear you boys are here."167 It was late morning, and the Luftwaffe had yet to appear, but General Hoge knew it would only be a matter of time before they did so, and the more antiaircraft artillery he had, the better.
As the day wore on, the German fire on the bridge increased. A number of soldiers were wounded while crossing and around mid-morning several were pinned down in the center of the bridge. Lieutenant James B. French, the assistant platoon leader of Higgins' 2d Platoon, heard the cries for help. He went to the tunnel and asked for volunteers. When no one stepped forward, French and his driver evacuated the men to an aide station on the west bank. They each won a Silver Star.168
The 413th Sets Up
The swift-flowing Rhine cuts a deep gorge near Remagen, with its banks rising at a 45-degree angle, almost 30 feet from the waterline. On the east side, a series of tree-covered ridge lines erupt from the banks of the river, spewing up and down the river for miles in both directions. On the west side, the terrain levels off and is more open and flat.
The hills adjacent to the river and the presence of the Erpeler Ley, the high hill near the east end of the bridge, prevented the German Air Force from attacking from east to west along the length of the bridge, the best option. Instead the terrain forced them to either dive down on the bridge from high altitude, thus ignoring the hills, or approach it at low altitude from the north or south along the river. A third, and least desirable, alternative would be to cross the river over First Army positions and attack from the west or rear of the bridge.
MacGrain was there to take away the first option---the high-altitude attack. The potential also existed for his 90mm guns to assist in attacks down the river. The ridges forced the Luftwaffe to climb to altitude to cross the ridge lines on the west side, before dropping down onto the river and building speed for their ingress to the bridge area. The 413th might be able to acquire and fire upon the aircraft when they popped up. MacGrain adopted a linear formation and positioned two of his batteries so they could engage aircraft well up and down the river and the others to cover high altitude dive attacks on the bridge.169
MacGrain and his reconnaissance parties were within 300 meters of the bridge the morning of the 8th. His concern was early engagement, positioning fire units so they could fire at the maximum range to the east. MacGrain placed Battery D less than 1,500 yards south of the bridge behind the railroad track running to Remagen. The battery soldiers could see the bridge clearly. They adjusted their fuses to the shortest setting possible and awaited the Germans. By noon, the battalion had its SCR 584 Radars and directors aligned and they were ready to kill airplanes.170
The brigade had two groups assigned: the 103rd and the 11th, which were in Fays, Belgium and Duren, Germany, defending bridges over the Ruhr River, ammo dumps, and the First Army Command Post at Stolberg. Timberlake understood the message: he alerted the 110th Gun Battalion at Duren and the 639th AW Battalion at Stolberg, to plan for attachment to III Corps. As each hour passed, the prospects of a German aerial attack increased.171
While Madison was trying to coordinate reinforcements, the two AAA Groups in the V and VII Corps were marching to the sound of the guns, in accordance with the concept agreed to at the Stolberg meeting. Because of the excellent wire communications between the First Army AAA units, word of the capture spread quickly. Major Bill Corley, the S-3 of the 109th Group in VII Corps, drove south to Remagen late the afternoon of the seventh to ascertain the situation and offer assistance. By then, the few roads leading to Remagen were so clogged, III Corps military policemen were restricting access to the bridge area. Despite Corley's protests, the MP he encountered stood his ground--only III Corps units were allowed to pass. Major Corley returned to his headquarters, confident that if Madison needed help, he would call the VII Corps AAA Group Commander, Colonel F.B. Waters.172
Colonel Peter Peca, the commander of the 115th Group in V Corps, visited the bridge the afternoon of the seventh, his rank giving him the clout to bypass the MP checkpoints. Peca's command included the 142d gun Battalion and the 460th and 467th AW Battalions. He saw the importance of the bridge and began planning to reinforce its defenses if necessary.173 These antiaircraft artillerymen operated with a different ethic. They were not isolationists; they wanted to know what was going on.
The Luftwaffe Attacks
Major Cothran attributed the antiaircraft fire to Battery D, but some of it came from Battery A. Between the two units, the AAA was four for four.
Thirty minutes later, a string of eight Stukas began their passes, one by one, over the bridge. These isolated attacks would last for 45 minutes. The American antiaircraft artillerymen were amazed to see the old dive bombers. Many of them had been in combat for over nine months against the Germans, but none had seen a Stuka, except in pictures. The JU-87 was the perfect aircraft to attack the bridge at Remagen. It could approach the defenses at high altitude and dive on the bridge. This almost perpendicular dive bombing tactic, or the more shallow approach used to support the infantry, promised the hope of a hit on the bridge.
The eight Stukas approached from the south along the river at 3,000 feet. MacGrain's radars easily acquired them at that altitude, and his 90mm fired away. Despite the AAA fire, the bombers took no evasive action. Some jettisoned their bombs before reaching the bridge, and one bomb did fall on the western approach to the bridge. That would be as close as the Luftwaffe would come to the bridge. Colonel MacGrain's battalion killed all eight aircraft, mostly with machine gun fire. Battery B of the 413th, the unit farthest to the south, was credited with four kills.175
Colonel Madison ordered the 109th Gun and the 634th AW battalions to augment the defense. The 109th was to go on line inside the 413th and augment the fire of MacGrain's batteries. The 634th would cross the bridge, the first complete battalion to do so, and position themselves to the north of Battery D 482d AW, to engage aircraft further up the river. The 49th Brigade reacted to the attacks as well, and attached the 110th Gun and 639th AW to the 16th the next day.176
At 1900 hours on 8 March, Remagen became an Inner Artillery Zone (IAZ). Antiaircraft Artillery units were authorized to fire at unknowns in a radius 15,000 meters from the bridge, up to an altitude of 10,000 feet during the hours of darkness.
Establishing an IAZ required SHAEF approval. The Antiaircraft Artillery staff officer at SHAEF on 7 March was Major John Burrows, a Citadel graduate from South Carolina. As a contingency, Burrows had already coordinated making any crossing of the Rhine an IAZ. Remagen was the last crossing still intact, when he received notification of the bridge's capture. He immediately dispatched the message. Although approved the night of the 7th, the Remagen IAZ would not be implemented until the next night. Two German aircraft tested the defense on the eighth, but they were driven off by MacGrain's guns. 177
Jim Madison must have been elated. Keeping the 109th and 634th back had been a gamble, and the aggressiveness and initiative of the officers and men of the 482d and 413th battalions had decimated the initial German Air Force attacks. Reinforcements were on the way, not just from 16th Group but the 49th Brigade as well. The corps supply route would now be undefended, but Remagen was the priority. Madison did not know his defense would be even better than he expected the morning of the ninth.
On the afternoon of 7 March, while Lieutenant Timmerman was storming the bridge, Captain Bill Deems took in the spectacle on the west bank, a kilometer to the south. Deems commanded Battery B, 462d Automatic Weapons Battalion, which was attached to the 2d Infantry Division of V Corps. Since arriving on Omaha Beach on D+2, Deems had defended the 37th Field Artillery Battalion. The field artillerymen were reconnoitering locations from which they could support the 23rd Infantry Regiment if they moved into the VII Corps sector.
The 462d Automatic Weapons Battalion had been identified as a D-Day unit during their unit training at Camp Haan, and they had received commando training at Camp Gordon Johnston, Florida; two weeks of additional firing at Camp Stewart; and amphibious training at Camp Bradford, Virginia. In England, they had fired with their new Stiff Key Sticks and M16Bs at Aberayon, Wales, and had undergone more amphibious training. The battalion, like most divisional units, had not attended the 49th Brigade training at Blandford, but Captain Deems had heard General Timberlake speak several times. By the time he arrived in Europe, Deems envied the mobility of the AAA self-propelled units. Timberlake's message had been received. The members of the 462d had been the first Americans in Paris, and the battalion had fought heroically in the Bulge. Major Claude Turner, the unit executive officer, had commanded Task Force Turner, a collection of cooks, mechanics and antiaircraft artillerymen who formed a final defensive line behind the 23d Infantry at Elsenborn during the Battle of the Bulge. The 462d was a veteran, especially well trained unit.178
When the 23d Infantry Regiment of the 2d Division moved to the bridge late on the 9th, the entire 462d went with them. They occupied the positions in the area Deems had reconnoitered two days earlier, the 7th of March. The 634th AW, which joined the defense about the same time, was positioned on the east bank to the north of the bridge, to give Madison early engagement in that direction; the 462d would provide it to the south.179
By 0600 on 9 March, less than 30 hours after its capture, there were five antiaircraft artillery battalions defending the Remagen Bridge. There were enough fire units, manned by soldiers who had been in combat since June 13, 1944, at the latest. Their leaders were tough, confident and ready. The German pilots who attacked on the ninth found that out.
That day, the enemy shelling increased, and the Germans seemed to time their field artillery fire to coincide with their air attacks. Seventeen aircraft attacked singly, and learning from the day before, took violent evasive action once engaged by AAA fire. There was no pattern. Some aircraft skimmed the river, and on another occasion two Fw 190s and one ME 109 circled the bridge area at 1,200 feet, dove and leveled off around 800 feet, delivered their ordnance, and climbed sharply into the clouds. The AAA fire bursting all around them and the necessity to take evasive action to survive, caused the German pilots to deliver their ordnance wide of the target.180
The Germans used many different airplanes on the ninth, including the usual FW190s, ME109s, ME210s and HE 110 bombers. Delta Battery, 413th Gun Battalion, killed an ME 210 with a 90mm round cut to a fuse setting of four seconds. The Antiaircraft Command applauded this accuracy in an Antiaircraft Artillery bulletin; Lieutenant Cline thought it was dumb luck.
That same day, the Luftwaffe used its ME262 and AR134 jet aircraft for the first time. Because the jet engines were quiet, and the jets flew at speeds over 400 miles per hour, AAA gunners had difficulty acquiring and tracking them. In June 1944, the Antiaircraft Command wrote: ". . . the likelihood of hostile attacks using jet propelled aircraft is so remote that no changes in tactics nor material are warranted."181 The report continued that, if jet aircraft were encountered, early warning of the attack was vital, and the defense commander should consider adding guns to the defense.
The First Army antiaircraft artillerymen at Remagen agreed. In the three weeks of the defense, they killed few jets, but the antiaircraft defenses did force the Germans to fly at high speeds, which reduced their target acquisition and their bombing accuracy. Despite this, jet aircraft represented a new technological challenge. The decision to institute barrage fire on the 15th of March would be prompted by concerns about the defense's effectiveness against jets and the common perception it would better counter night attacks.
AAA Kills Climb
The attacks on the ninth solidified the conviction within First Army Antiaircraft Artillery circles that the bridge was their first priority. Lieutenant Colonel Tredennick, the S-3 of the 49th Brigade, remembered his guidance about this time was to "hold the bridge at all costs." 183 Apprehensive about what the German Air Force might do next, Colonel Madison reinforced the defense by detaching the 552 AAA (AW) Battalion from the 78th Infantry Division and sending them to Remagen. The other AW battalion in the 16th Group, the 563 AAA (AW) Battalion, also moved into the area on the 10th of March.
The positioning of these two battalions was evidence of the sufficiency of the defense. B and C Batteries, 552 AW, crossed the river and occupied positions near the town of Unkel, four kilometers to the north of the bridge. A and D Batteries, 552d AW, turned right on the far side of the bridge and set up at Linz, five kilometers down the Rhine. The 552d AW locations, in both instances, were outside those of the 634th AW Battalion, which already provided three kilometers of early engagement in both directions from the bridge.
The 563d AW Battalion moved into the Remagen area, but their mission was to protect the Corps Artillery. C Battery crossed the Ahr and positioned themselves 1,500 meters from the river, south of Sinzig; A Battery moved in next to D Battery, 413th AAA, 1,500 meters due south of the bridge; and B and D Batteries were well to the rear with the artillery, giving bonus protection to key facilities such as the mushrooming logistical complex in Bad Neuenahr. The battalion's presence marginally enhanced the defenses of the bridge.184
Fog and low clouds limited visibility the morning of the 10th, but when it lifted around noon, the Luftwaffe poured in, as expected. The German Air Force attacked the bridge for six and one-half hours, using Stukas, ME109s and FW190s. Some aircraft pressed home their attacks, others repeated the evasive maneuvers of the previous day when confronted with AAA fire. The Stukas, admitting their vulnerability, stayed at high altitudes and flew into the clouds when engaged. The ME109s and FW190s attacked from varying altitudes and directions, desperate to find a flaw in the defense. The III Corps antiaircraft artillerymen probably killed 28 of the 47 attacking aircraft. The 634th AW was credited with 14 of the kills; the 462d AW with three; and the 413th with two--70 percent of the defense totals.185
The next day, the 110th Gun Battalion of the 49th Brigade and the 115th Group's Gun Battalion, the 134th, joined the defenses. The 376th AW Battalion was detached from the 9th Infantry Division and sent to Remagen. Three more AW Battalions joined the defenses on the 12th and by the 14th, the defense reached its peak: 16 gun batteries and 33 AW batteries, a total of 672 antiaircraft fire units. Six of these AW batteries had the mission of defending the corps main supply route, but their positions were all within the IAZ. Major Jacks and Colonel Peca frequently visited the bridge during this time period. They both agreed there was too much antiaircraft. Everywhere one turned, there was an AAA weapon. The volume of fire was so great, Jacks estimates there were over 200 friendly casualties from the AAA .50-caliber rounds returning to the ground. They had accomplished their mission; the German Air Force never touched the bridge.186
The pontoon bridges made the loss of this symbolic prize of little tactical importance, but the bridge had been the magnet which presented the opportunity for two decades of antiaircraft artillery doctrinal and training improvements to coalesce.
One author claims "German air attacks were more annoying than destructive."188The attacks on the bridge were ineffective because, during the first three days, from March 8 to 10, First Army antiaircraft gunners killed 68 percent of the aircraft that approached the bridge.189 In the confusion always present with the start of a battle, and compressed into a small area, the III Corps was vulnerable to losses on the ground from air attacks. Their resolve to expand the crossing would have been challenged if the symbolic bridge had fallen during those first few days.
The Luftwaffe's attempts to destroy the bridge were skillful. They used the correct aircraft, even resurrecting the once decisive Stuka. Given the weakened state of the bridge, a 500-pound bomb delivered against a girder or support could have caused the entire structure to collapse. The effects of such a success could have replicated the Luftwaffe contributions in the blitzkriegs in France and Poland. In that small situation, the Luftwaffe might have been decisive. The destruction of the bridge would have, at least temporarily, altered the First Army concept.
The remarkable story of Remagen was the establishment of the timely defenses around the bridge in the first 72 hours, not the huge buildup that followed. The battalions added to the defense after the 10th of March were a statement of Allied resolve, rather than a combat necessity.
The greatest accomplishment at Remagen was the change in the thinking demonstrated by the First Army Antiaircraft Artillery soldiers. Gone was the suggestion of an area defense, replaced by a doctrine of mobility that produced incredible mass through numbers, not by some mathematical postulation. The doctrine called for flexibility, ingenuity and aggressiveness from the battalion officers and anticipation---the ability to determine requirements days in advance---from more senior commanders.
Despite improvements in fire control, antiaircraft tactics remained conservative, an admission that improvements in enemy aviation, terrain, and a tendency to overestimate weapon capabilities degraded the actual effectiveness of forward area defenses.
The establishment of the timely antiaircraft defenses at Remagen was the product of the arrival of AAA units at the bridge and sufficient AAA leaders to determine, and then monitor, the tactical situation. At Remagen, antiaircraft artillerymen liaisoned one unit up. Captain Bill Deems talked to a field artillery battalion commander. His liaison responsibilities thus manageable, Deems had time to command his unit. The 462d had one of the best training programs in theater. When they were not killing airplanes at Remagen, their battery officers insured that they were training or maintaining their equipment.
The key antiaircraft participants were Colonels Patterson and Madison. Patterson planned for the capture of a bridge and briefed his subordinates on his concept for its defense. He positioned his "Imperial Guard"---the 413th Gun Battalion---in III Corps, where MacGrain's initiative and combative spirit could make a timely contribution. Madison then molded the defense with a broad, corps-level perspective, and successfully juggled the requirements to defend the corps rear and the bridge. He and Timberlake alerted, stood down and then moved AAA battalions like chess pieces on a board.
Most impressive was the mindset of the junior officers. Taught how to move and motivated to be aggressive, the young antiaircraft artillerymen were warriors who made the right decisions, bolstered by their knowledge of their capabilities and an understanding of the combat units they supported. Their thinking and operational procedures would have been "Greek" to General Sunderland, and they were only generally appreciated by General Green. There was nothing defensive or passive about the way they defended the bridge. They were not just there, they provided the leverage which denied the Germans a psychological victory. After being the anvil upon which so much speculation and ridicule had been placed for years, the antiaircraft artillery won a decisive victory.
The Coast Artillery had waited for such an opportunity since 1907, and an even longer wait faced future air defenders. Air defense would served heroically in Korea and Vietnam, but they would be almost exclusively deployed in the ground-support role. It would be another 45 years before history and the Gulf War would offer Patriot battalions a similar chance to dramatically validate Air Defense Artillery's membership in the combined arms team,this time by countering Scud missiles.
The Remagen Bridge collapsed on 17 March 1945,
but it was never touched by German bombs.