Monday, March 07, 2005

On March 7th in military 1936 and 1945

On this day in military history….in 1936. Hitler sends troops into the Rhineland and breaks the Treaty of Versailles. At the end of World War I, Germany was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles by the winning powers. The Treaty forced Germany to give up parts of its territory and pay war reparations. Another one of the stipulations was that the Rhineland, a name for the land of both sides of the Rhine River in Germany, was to be de-militarized. After Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany, he moved troops into the Rhineland in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles. The occupation of the Rhineland was done with very little military support and could have been stopped by France and Britain if not for the foreign policy of “appeasement to prevent war at any cost” that was reigning in Europe at that time. Yet another example how World War II could have been avoided if someone on the continent would have found a pair.

On this day in military history…in 1945. The Remagen Bridge is captured by elements of the 9th Armored Division. In December 1944, as the Allies approached the Rhine River, Hitler ordered all the bridges across it to be destroyed to prevent an Allied crossing. In March 1945, the 9th Armored Division was moving south along the west bank of the Rhine River. They had been ordered not to cross the Rhine, but to link up with General Patton’s 3rd Army when they stumbled onto a bridge that was still standing just outside the town of Remagen, between Cologne and Koblenz. The bridge was called the Ludendorff Bridge and was left open to allow some German tanks and artillery to escape Allied capture on the west bank.

When the bridge was seen to be still standing, the commander of the unit violated his orders and immediately crossed the bridge in force to secure it from destruction. The Germans were caught with their proverbial “pants down” and although they tried to destroy the bridge with explosive charges, bombs and even V-2 rockets, they were unable to. Eventually, the severely damaged bridge collapsed into the Rhine on the 17th of March, but by that time, the Allies had put enough men and material across the Rhine that it enabled them to encircle 300,000 German troops east of the Rhine and shorten the war.


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