Scheller, Johannes Stefan Anton “Hans”

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Scheller, Johannes, born 09-07-1913, in Cologne, married with Lisel Gottschalk and father of one daughter and two sons, was the last commander of the Ludendorff Bridge in Remagen.  The German Army tried to retreat behind the river Rhine and kept the Ludendorff Bridge in Remagen open for the last retreating forces. The German commandant at Remagen, Hauptmann Willi Bratge
P1180693   , wanted to demolish the bridge as early as possible to avoid capture. He had only 36 soldiers at the bridge on the morning of 07-03-1945. To add to confusion on the German side, Bratge was unaware until 1100 hrs of the transfer of authority in the night to Major Hans Scheller, the adjutant of the area between Remagen and Schleiden. Scheller was ordered by his commanding General Otto Hitzfeld  to assume the important task at the bridgehead.
Remagen, beschädigte Brücke P1180676  RineCrossing3 The Major wanted to keep the bridge open as long as possible, so that as many German soldiers as possible and their heavy equipment, tanks and some artillery pieces, were able to cross the bridge.The responsible bridge officer, Captain Friesenhahn, demanded a requisition of 600 kg of demolition explosives, receiving at 11.00 hrs only 300 kg of Donarit, a considerably weaker industrial explosive used in the mining industry. He tried to use them for a quick blast on the right bank side. At 13.40 hrs the main American attack began. The first blast of the Germans, who set fire to a portion of the charges, tore a 10-meter-wide crater in the left bank ramp. At 1540 hrs, the bridge itself was blown up by order of Major Scheller, but remained standing. It lifted a bit and then dropped safely back in place, as an explosive cable had been destroyed. One of the last intact Rhine bridges had been taken by the Allies. Fieldmarshal Walter Otto Model  gave Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein   24 hours to come up with a plan. He gave Bayerlein command of the 11th Panzer Division , a force of 4.000 men, 25 tanks, and 18 artillery pieces led by General Wend von Wietersheim ; the 9th Panzer Division , totaling about 600 men, 15 tanks, and 12 artillery units; the 106th Feldherrenhalle Panzer Brigade  under command of  General der Panzertruppen Ulrich Kleemann   with five tanks; and a regiment of the formerly highly regarded Panzer Lehr Division , under command of Generalmajor Horst Niemack   which was a shadow of its former self, comprising only about 300 men and 15 tanks. But the 11th Panzer was 100 kilometres (62 mi) to the north in Düsseldorf. The lack of fuel made moving forces difficult and the route to Remagen was jammed with traffic and subject to attack by American aircraft. General von Wietersfeld  later surrendered to General Herbert Ludell Earnest   of the US 90th Infantry Division, nickname “Tough Ombres”  represented by the T & O on the shoulder patch,  in May 1945 near Vseruby, Czechoslovakia. Wietersheim survived the war and died age 75 on 19-09-1975 in Bad Honnef. One of the embattled units being decimated by the American onslaught was LXVII Corps, commanded by General der Infanterie, Otto Hitzfeld. In the midst of the confusion of poor communications, trying to find a lost division, and repeated orders to counterattack. He was forty miles from Remagen and knew little about the bridge. At 1:20 a.m., Hitzfeld made his adjutant, Major Hans Scheller, Commandant of Remagen and sent him off with eight men and a radio to take charge of defending the bridge. That order turned out to be Scheller’s death sentence.

Death and burial ground of Scheller, Johannes Stefan Anton “Hans”.

Within five days the energetic and capable Scheller,  as Hitler sensed by the loss of the bridge accused Scheller Scheller would be shot by a firing squad, with 12 other sentenced by a Flying Court in a local restaurant, near Birnbach, 60 miles from the bridge, his wife Lisel was pregnant at the moment. The flying court consisted of three Nazis, none of whom was a lawyer. The condemned officers did not all have a defender. A flying court martial
    chaired by the “fanatical and reliable Nazi” Lieutenant General  Rudolf Hübner, he died age 67, on 28-02-1965, in Lemgo. Hübner then tried Major Scheller and after him Leutnant Karl Heinz Peters. Scheller had only arrived at 11:15 AM, two hours before the Americans attacked the bridge. Peters was a passerby trying to get his experimental anti-aircraft system back across the Rhine. But the outcome of the trial was predetermined. Scheller was convicted of failing to blow the bridge up and Peters of allowing his secret anti-aircraft weapon to fall into American hands. The men were executed the next day with a shot to the back of the neck in Rimbach. Officers guilty of “cowardice” and “dereliction of duty” under sentence of death four of whom, Major Johannes Scheller, Leutnant Karl Heinz Peters
    , Major Herbert Strobel   and Major August Kraft , were executed  on the day of sentencing 14-03-1945,  in the Westerwald, two in Rimbach, two in Oberirsen. Their family pension rights were revoked but reinstated after the war. The fifth officer, Hauptmann Bratge, was convicted and sentenced in absentie, having become an American prisoner of war by this time. Adolf Hitler’s main reaction was to dismiss Generalfeldmarschall der Panzertruppe, Gerd von Rundstedt  as Commander-in-Chief of the western front, replacing him with Generalfeldmarschall der Flieger, Albert Kesselring. Hitler also dismissed Generalmajor Richard von Bothmer, commander of Bonn and Remagen, was prosecuted because he gave Bonn up without a fight. Von Bothmer was demoted to private and sentenced to five years in prison. His wife was dead and his son had been killed in the war. Bothmer grabbed a pistol belonging to a court official and committed suicide in the courtroom on 10 March, age 48. Kesselring rebuked the troops for their costly failure. “We have suffered unnecessary losses and our present military situation has become nearly catastrophic.” Kesselring and Model sent out a special dispatch on 18 March to every unit in the German military describing the executions.
One of the first to cross the Remagen bridge was sergeant, Alexander Drabik
  of the 9th Armored Division . “The bridge fell of its own accord while the 276th Engineer Battalion 276EngineerBnCOA was repairing a truss which had been damaged when the Germans attempted to blow up the bridge.” The bridge fell on March 17th and took eighteen Americans with him. The unexpected availability of the first major crossing of the Rhine, Germany’s last major natural barrier and line of defense, caused Allied high commander Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower  to alter his plans to end the war.  Ironically, it was named after Geneneral Erich Ludendorff German’s master strategist of World War I. And more ironically, the granite twin towers — all that remain of the bridge at Remagen — now are a lovers’ trysting place and museum. After the war the Scheller family , son Gert  ahead succeeded to clear the behavior of their father and husband . Hans Scheller, age 22, is buried with all the other victims on the village cemetery of Birnbach. Soon after this collapse Field Marshal der Panzertruppe, Walter Model    would kill himself in the woods close by. Scheller’s wife Lisel Gottschalk died on 30-07-2003, one day after getting a pacemaker. The son Hans-Jürgen told that she had survived the operation well and had told him many plans for the future. But the next day she fell asleep completely unexpectedly..
   

 

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