A Tankerâ€™s View of World War II
By C. Windsor Miller
C. Windsor Miller was a platoon leader in Company A of the 14th Tank Battalion, 9th Armored Division during World War II. Deployed to the European Theater, he saw heavy combat during the Battle of the Bulge. On March 7, 1945, as his platoon approached the city of Remagen along the Rhine River in Germany, he saw through the haze a bridge, still standing despite the fact that the retreating German army had already destroyed almost every other crossing over the river. With tank support, the American infantry quickly moved in and seized the bridge. Soon after, Miller would lead his platoon across, the first tanks to reach the other side of the Rhine. For his action, Miller would receive the Distinguished Service Cross.
From Chapter 13: Capture and Crossing of the Bridge at Remagen
We viewed this bridge with mixed emotions. While knowing what a prize it would be, we would also be deprived of our break. The Ludendorff Bridge, named after a World War I German General, was built shortly after that war and was a two way railroad bridge with a tunnel that ran through a high rocky cliff on the east side of the river. Also on the east side was the little town of Erpel that would figure prominently later on as events started to unfold. It might be worthy of note that the Rhine River had not been crossed by an invading army since Napoleonâ€™s conquest of that part of the European continent.
As expected, after a very short period, the order came for the lead elements to proceed into the town. The lead elements consisted of Company â€œAâ€ of the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion and the First Platoon of Company â€œAâ€ of the 14th Tank Battalion and in close support would be the remainder of the tank company. The tanks were told not to fire at the bridge with our big guns so as not to damage it, obviously hoping to capture the bridge intact, which was an extremely unlikely consequence of our action.
The column moved rather cautiously into Remagen and started to receive some artillery and machine gun fire as it slowly made its way in the direction of the bridge. All of a sudden there was a huge explosion ahead of us and our immediate reaction was â€œthere she blows and now we get our break,â€ but that vision was short lived. The bridge was not blown up. Instead, a large crater was blown in the approach to the span but none of the other charges on the structure were detonated. The front of our column had now reached the bridge and my dozer tank was called up to help fill in that deep crater. I lined up my platoon of tanks along the bank of the river to give me a clear shot at any action I saw on the other side. All that I observed at the moment was a motorcycle driving through Erpel. We fired a burst from our .50 caliber machine gun as he disappeared behind some houses.
We had arrived at Remagen at just about 1500, which was the time some of the prisoners had said the bridge was scheduled to be destroyed, but we knew that this one explosion wasnâ€™t intended to blow up the bridge and that the worst was yet to come. The crater was finally filled in and we were wondering what was next when we received word that the infantry would attempt a crossing under covering fire from our tanks. This was a very risky mission because it was felt that the main charges on the bridge would be set off momentarily, dropping the troops on the bridge into the river, and leaving those that might make it across stranded on the other side.
Just as the infantry was preparing to make their dash, another even greater explosion went off right on the bridge. Certainly this would be the end of the structure as huge billows of smoke, dust and debris totally obliterated it from our view and we were sure that now we would get our break. Not so fast, because when the smoke and dust cleared, much to our surprise, there stood that old railroad bridge that simply refused to die. The task force commander soon repeated his order for the infantry to take the bridge and move to the other side under cover of the tanksâ€™ firepower. So in spite of the tremendous odds against a safe crossing, the men of Company â€œA,â€ 27 AIB started their dash along the 1200-foot heavily charged span to a fate only time could tell. Along with the infantry went a unit of engineers tearing out wiring and tossing explosives into the river as they made their way toward the opposite end of the bridge.