Securing the Remagen Ludendorff Bridge

BY SPECIALIST (T/5) CORPORAL FREDERICK (RICK) CARRIER  |  Chelsea Now is proud to welcome Rick Carrier, who will be making regular contributions based on his experiences as a young American soldier during World War II (look for his column every other week).

On March 7, 1945 as a Combat Engineer assigned to General Patton’s Third Army, I was dispatched on a mission to find and report German engineering supplies abandoned by defeated Nazis scattering from General Patton’s ruthless Eighth Army battle tanks, which were blasting all visible Nazis — who were rapidly disappearing fast from der Fuhrer’s order to blow-up all Rhine River Bridges.

I was searching railroad tracks in the Ardennes for heavy wood ties, gravel, steel rails and concrete. We needed lots of engineering stuff to restore severe battle damage so occupying troops could get a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast as soon as possible.

My missions were solitary. Searching dangerous battle zones by myself had its share of exciting and close call moments with lots of quiet thinking time. I was safe with wide views ahead and back — never a spot where a lone Nazi sniper could look and find targets.

Shaking chills in my shoulders and shifting my Jeep into low gear, I drove up the side of the hill. Nosing out of the brush on top I saw a vacant Rhine River viewing bay.

According to my map, the Remagen Ludendorff Bridge below was not destroyed. It was still standing, intact.

Combat engineers crawled all over the bridge defusing explosives, estimating durability to hold armor crossings, welding damage and developing defense set-ups against possible counter attacks.

Radioing HQ my colonel repeated Ike’s Rhine bridge comment: “The standing Remagen bridge capture was worth its weight in gold. This bridge should be held at all costs.”

With elbows on my sleeping bag on the edge of a precipice, I could look down at the bridge site. Boiling water on my field alcohol stove, a complete C Ration hot meal with coffee spiked with whiskey was lunch. I settled down to steady watch on the Rhine.

Suddenly I heard tires and crunching gravel behind me. Ducking down in shrub, clutching my Thompson submachine gun and a 1911 45 pistol, three grenades were in easy reach.

Jumpy and nervous, I took a quick pull of rye whiskey, swished it around till it burned and swallowed. BOOM! I caught my breath. I was calm. Super alert. Ready to blast any peeks into my den.

Softly spreading leaves, I peeked through the foliage. A German Kubel-wagen version of our Jeep had parked a hand’s length away. A loud, drunken Nazi soldier yanked the Kubelwagen’s ratchet break lever back — hard. I noticed the front tires dangerously touching the rocky edge of the cliff.

The driver again yanked the ratchet brake tight. The brake cable triggered my whirling mind into a solution at high speed. The loud Nazi passed schnapps back and forth to his drunken partner. I kept looking at the Kubelwagen’s front tires, right on the edge of the cliff.

Scanning the Kubelwagen’s undercarriage carefully, I saw a tight jerry-rigged brake cable. A workable idea popped.

Slowly pulling wire-crimping pliers from my pistol belt’s holster, I snaked my hand with the pliers’ jaws wide open. I slid my hand under the Kubelwagen, careful not to bang metal as I guided the open jaws around the brake cable and slowly squeezed the jaws tight. There was a very loud twang as the taut cable whipped steel, announcing a disaster.

Lurching forward, Kubelwagen’s two front tires rolled quietly off the stone edge of the cliff. Two drunk Nazis screamed “ACHTUNG. GOTT IM HIMMEL. WAS IST LOS?” Their voices dwindled with the Kubelwagon, spilling two howling drunks into the air.

Waving arms and black-booted legs twisted in front of the Kubelwagen. Two screaming Krauts and the Kubelwagen smashed into a pile of rocks below. The mighty Remagen Bridge still stood. I did not report the Kubelwagen’s crash to Headquarters.

I relayed HQ the condition of the bridge. Colonel Caffee ordered me to continue relaying details until my back-up team with my pal Sergeant Ragsdale arrived at the battle treasure.

Ragsdale arrived and we toured the bridge, busy with engineer bees hell-bent on restoring and installing planks for tanks, artillery, supply trucks and infantry divisions. Bulldozers and grading equipment smoothed bridge approaches on both sides for easy access crossings.

Checking the far side tunnel, Ragsdale briefed me on my new mission in Andernach. I was to set up a station to record river elevations for pontoon bridges over the Rhine.

On my new mission in Andernach I would experience incredible danger, and beautiful romantic moments with a triple Nazi and US OSS undercover spy in Hitler’s inner circle. Code name: Rhine Maiden.

Among the first group of soldiers on Utah Beach, Normandy, U.S. Army Combat Engineer Rick Carrier marched through the European Theater of France, Belgium and Germany. While behind enemy lines in 1945 on a mission to obtain strategic supplies, he became the first allied soldier to discover Buchenwald concentration camp — then helped to liberate it, alongside Patton’s Third Army.

After the war, Carrier studied art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He co-authored 1955’s “Dive, The Complete Book of Skin Diving,” then was hired personally by Howard Hughes to design underwater rigging for one of the tycoon’s Hollywood publicity stunts. This past summer, the 90-year-old (a longtime member of Chelsea Community Church) was back in Normandy for a ceremony marking the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. In October, the President of France awarded Carrier the insignia of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor — France’s highest honor.