Bailey Bridges

Discussion in 'Weapons, Technology & Equipment' started by Gerry Chester, Jan 22, 2005.

  1. Gerry Chester

    Gerry Chester WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    During my army career we crossed many a Bailey Bridge, most of which had been given names by the sappers who built them.

    The one most remembered carried the sign "Twazzabuggatoo" that was built over a gorge. As the southern approach was on a cliff side road requiring an abrupt right-hand turn, it was obvious that the Engineers had built from the northern side - one can but imagine the effort that it must have been to manhandle the equipment down and up the other side.

    I know that the sappers of 8th Indian Division faced a similar problem when constructing a bridge over a river south of Ortona, Italy. This they named 'The Impossible Bridge."

    Anyone know of more extraordinary difficult to build Bailey Bridges?
     
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  2. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Bailey Bridges. Now there is a subject I can talk about in depth. Being in a Field Company Royal Engineers, (They serve at the Sharp end) I have, with my platoon mates built many Baileys, and other assault crossing bridges… most of them under direct fire. From Pegasus bridge, “Tidal Bailey” to Northern Holland.

    The Bailey is probably the finest invention in military engineering, they have been put in place at bewildering speed. They come in all shapes and sizes from huge Rhine crossing, down to little ones across canals.

    Building assault bridges under direct fire, is an “Education” Always it scared the crap out of me. I can talk at some length about bridging the river Orne, to back up Pegasus bridge. The Sappers were already there, before the Commandos arrived with their Piper!
    My Company built the first Assault bridge over the Escaut canal, on the drive North on Market Garden drive to Arnhem. A fearsome night operation, never to be forgotten. “Dantes Inferno” had nothing on this.
    Sapper.
     
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  3. Kiwiwriter

    Kiwiwriter Very Senior Member

    I will defer to Sapper on Bailey Bridges, but will add that in "The Damned Engineers," by Janice Holt Giles, the history of the 291st US Engineers in the Bulge, she reports that those engineers disliked building them, especially under fire, because they invariably led to a lot of injuries during construction, due to the welding and heavy lifting hazards.

    Believe it or not, they are still in use. There is a company with a web page that offers them for sale. I've driven over a few in New Zealand, and they are still efficient bridges.
     
  4. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    The Americans had their own bridge system, there was no welding involved with the Baily Bridge System, all the panels and componentswere ready to go, decking..the lot, building a Bailey needed no lifting equipment, everything was designed to be built at speed by Sappers.

    These bridges were absolute simplicity. and could be built as required;
    single, double single, fixed, or tidal on pontoons, as at Pegasus. some of the war time bridges I am told, are still in place. the simplicity and the lack of any welding or any other fixing, other than that supplied, made it possible to bridge an area in hours.

    The success of the Bailey speaks for itself, for they can be found around the world.
    We have built a bridge in bours under fire, and seen the armour go charging across immediately. In my opinion one of the greatest inventions in military Engineering. Mind you, damned hard work, but no equipment needed other than man power.
    Sapper
     
  5. angie999

    angie999 Very Senior Member

  6. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Thanks for that Angie. The real success of the Bailey bridge was not just its complete simplicity, but the speed that one could be put in place. I would like to write a history of the Assault bridges I have been involved with, from Pegasus Bridge on the Orne river, right through to the German border, we built a real beauty at Weert in Holland. though I see it has now gone.

    But I do see an enormouse scope for a description of my personal involvement with the Assault Bridging. Baileys and all.
    Sapper :D
     
  7. Gerry Chester

    Gerry Chester WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Hi Sapper,

    Having seen your chaps about their work, I can unequivocally state theirs was consistently the most dangerous job undertaken during the war. I well remember waiting, on a pitch-black night, while a Bailey Bridge was speedily constructed to allow our tanks to move forward. The enemy, knowing something was going on, laid down sporadic mortar fire against which, unlike the tank crews, the sappers had absolutely no protection.

    Often seen are polls on what/who played the most important role during the war - too often lumping ground operations with those in the air and at sea. As to the first mentioned, the Royal Engineers certainly has my vote - remember the other vital tasks they performed!

    Sincerely, Gerry
     
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  8. plant-pilot

    plant-pilot Senior Member

    Although they are not called Bailey Bridges any more, here's a picture of an LSB built over the Hammar Canal in April 2003 in Iraq. Besides the colour of the panels I don't think Sapper would notice too much of a difference between the two.

    In the foreground you can see the 'Amphibious Bridge' we put in while a field troop of 64 Sqn built the LSB. I know which I'd prefer to put in.
    View attachment 435
     
  9. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    PLant-Pilot. Thanks for that and to Gerry for his description of bridging under fire. Now the picture you put up, is about as perfect a picture of a Bailey as you could get. But if you think about it. The Bailey was so good that it would be difficult to improve on the original design.

    Gerry, you talked about bridging under direct enemy fire, One of the worst experiences we had in all the assaults we took part in, was on the Escaut Canal at Petite Brogel, the sprint was on to get to Arnhem, and as soon as the Canvas Assault boats arrived we had to go,,for it was deadly urgent, That was an assault crossing that made Dantes Inferno look like a birthday party.

    1am in the morning of a pitch black night, against a determined SS rearguard armed with damn near everything. To make matters worse, the Canal had steep concrete sides that we had to drag the heavy canavs boats up, before we could get them in the water. met with withering fire from explosive "cannon" shells that rattled the concrete sides. mortars and a Mc gun firing down the canal. A truly terrible night that will remain with me for the rest of my life, left some good friends behind there.
    Sapper
     
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  10. sappernz

    sappernz Member

    As a former Sapper in The Royal New Zealand Engineers I can only agree with everything Sapper has said. ( by the way in NZ whatever your rank, General to Sapper, you still proudly identify as a Sapper.).
    The Bailey Bridge is a masterpiece of design and although I never saw combat I was involved in several exercises building them. There are still places in NZ where a Bailey was erected ( sappers are always proud of their erections ) fifty years ago as a " temporary " bridge and are still serving. I do not believe the design could be improved upon. They have withstood the test of time and allowed many battles to be won by their robust reliability.
    I have found in my many readings that sometimes they are confused with an MGB,( medium girder bridge ) which is a different subject alltogether. Without being biased as a Sapper I would say the Bailey Bridge is one of the unsung heroes of World War Two along with the Engineers who built them.
     
  11. harribobs

    harribobs Member

    there's a bailey bridge still in full use at the top of the Aradena gorge in crete, it looks like it's just been built
     
  12. Gerry Chester

    Gerry Chester WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    But for the skill and courage of the Royal Engineers, our Churchills would have seen little action!
    From his Memoirs, Field-Marshal Alexander's tribute:
    "Here would appear to be an opportunity to pay a tribute to a distinguished British invention. Whatever the valour of the righting troops, without the 'Bailey' to bridge the rivers and ravines of Italy, the campaign would have been abortive from the outset.

    [​IMG]
    THE BRITISH ARMY IN ITALY 1944. © IWM (NA 17848)IWM Non Commercial Licence

    Royal Engineers of the 577 Field Company assemble a Bailey Bridge over the Arno in Florence. By using the piers of the Santa Trinita bridge, blown up by the retreating Germans, the REs restored the bridge for heavy traffic in a few days.
    Photograph courtesy Imperial War Museum.
     
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  13. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Bumping up for those that may not have read it.
    Really good stuff from Sapper and Gerry Chester.
    One of those 'war winning' inventions that seems to get forgotten.

    Went to photograph a big lump of Bailey bridge that sat in a local field since god knows when last week and it had gone.
    Curse these militaria collectors...... and their scammells????
     
  14. plant-pilot

    plant-pilot Senior Member

    Well the 'Bailey' as such is no longer in service. It was replaced by the Medium Girder Bridge, which in turn has been replaced by ABLE. Something very similar to Bailey is used called the LSB, but it's only used for semi-permanent bridging jobs.

    Here's the bridge that PP built:-
    [​IMG]
     
  15. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    [​IMG]
    Is that done with your M3 thingy? My 4 year old sprog brought a book back from the library on 'amazing trucks' (or similar) and the M3 gets a full-page cutaway, it's the best info I've seen on it.
    How much faster than 'Baileying'?
    Would that be the modern solution to the Arnhem crossing then?
    Apologies for multiple questions.
    (there was a programme on Germany's Leopard that showed similar (same?) amphibious vehicles spanning a river at surprising speed.)
     
  16. plant-pilot

    plant-pilot Senior Member

    Well I have to agree, it's certainly an 'amazing truck'. As for how much faster than Bailey it is, very is the short answer. To 'slash in' 8 rigs and build a 100m long bridge you'd expect to be trafficking MBTs in under 30 minutes.

    That is of course if you want to actually build a bridge. In most cases it's much better to 'splash in' build ferries and get the traffic across before getting out and disappearing. From splashing in to ferrying tanks would be no more than 10 minutes. So with 8 rigs you could have 4 tanks on the way across the river in less than 10 minutes. Bailey is good, but it's not that good.

    As for their use in an Arnhem type senario, the M3s would have to approach from the south with 30 Corps as they are too big to be moved by air. However, it would have meant that there was no need to push so far into the town in order to actually take a bridge. They could have headed south, took the high ground of Westbowing and defended that (a much better prospect). This would have meant they might have been able to have caught the Driel ferry in working order and held that part of the Rhine on both sides in order to put in the M3s. Still a risky operation, but possible.
     
  17. plant-pilot

    plant-pilot Senior Member

    (there was a programme on Germany's Leopard that showed similar (same?) amphibious vehicles spanning a river at surprising speed.)

    Oh yes, I forgot to mention. The film of Leopards driving over the bridge at full speed is indeed of the M3. The M3 is actually a German design and was built by a German engineering firm Called EWK.

    The film shows the M3 being tested to see how much damage was done by large vehicles driving across the bridge at speed. The answer was 'lots'. You can do it, but to ensure that the equipment has a realistic life span, it's supposed to be re-usable after all, speeds are kept to a more realistic pace. Impressive as it ws to see them crossing at speed.

    Anyone notice I like M3s as much as Jimbo likes his Jugs? The thing is, I have practical experience of the M3 :cool:
     
  18. spidge

    spidge RAAF RESEARCHER Patron

    Here is two Bailey Bridges of 22 constructed (No photo's - sorry) after the D-Day landings.

    Also names the Sappers et al killed and wounded.

    11. Gennap (Holland)
    4008ft Bailey Pontoon Bridge Class 40 over the River Maas, consisting of:
    a) Bridge of six 61ft landing bays on class 40 landing piers, five 42ft rafts, two 41ft 6ins end floating bays, one 32ft raft and one 44-46ft sliding bay.
    b) 962ft viaduct of S/S Bailey supported on steel bridging cribs.
    c) 2133ft viaduct of 42ft floating bays, pontoons afterwards replaced by steel bridging cribs and Bailey Cribs.
    Constructed by 7 Army Troop Engineers comprising of H.Q. 7 Army Troop Engineers, 71/72/73 and 503 Field Companies R.E., 277 Corp Field Park Company R.E. and 149 Pioneer Company P.C.
    71 Field Company R.E. constructed — two 61ft landing bays, one 41ft 6ins end floating bay, three 42ft rafts, and also 962ft of viaduct on steel bridging cribs and replaced the pontoons in 1923ft of the second viaduct by cribs.
    12. Well (Holland
    750ft Bailey Pontoon Class 40 Bridge over River Maas. Consisting of:
    Two 10ft ramps, one 80ft D/S approach span, one 110ft T/S landing bay onto type “D” pier, one 70ft D/S sloping bay, two 41ft 6ins end floating bays, one 44-46ft sliding bay, one 70ft landing bay, one 50ft landing bay, and one 50ft approach span.
    Constructed by 7 Army Troop Engineers. Consisting of H.Q. 7 Troop Engineers, 7/72/73 and 503 Field Companies R.E. and 277 Corps Field Park Company R.E.
    71 Field Company R.E. constructed one 70ft landing bay, one 50ft landing bay and one 50ft approach span. They also cleared mines on both approaches and obstacles on the far bank.
     
  19. spidge

    spidge RAAF RESEARCHER Patron

    [​IMG] A BAILEY BRIDGE ON HIGHWAY 6, near Mignano, is under construc-
    tion by engineers of Company A, 235th Engineer Battalion. Possible bypasses
    through the olive trees on either side of the highway had to be cleared of
    mines (top).
     
  20. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Well I have to agree, it's certainly an 'amazing truck'. As for how much faster than Bailey it is, very is the short answer. To 'slash in' 8 rigs and build a 100m long bridge you'd expect to be trafficking MBTs in under 30 minutes.

    That is of course if you want to actually build a bridge. In most cases it's much better to 'splash in' build ferries and get the traffic across before getting out and disappearing. From splashing in to ferrying tanks would be no more than 10 minutes. So with 8 rigs you could have 4 tanks on the way across the river in less than 10 minutes. Bailey is good, but it's not that good.

    As for their use in an Arnhem type senario, the M3s would have to approach from the south with 30 Corps as they are too big to be moved by air. However, it would have meant that there was no need to push so far into the town in order to actually take a bridge. They could have headed south, took the high ground of Westbowing and defended that (a much better prospect). This would have meant they might have been able to have caught the Driel ferry in working order and held that part of the Rhine on both sides in order to put in the M3s. Still a risky operation, but possible.
    Good stuff PP!
    Setting off quality 'What If' thoughts about modern kit being available at Arnhem....
    Anyone notice I like M3s
    errrr. Yes. I did detect just a teeny hint of enthusiasm there, certainly enough to make me laugh:D.

    And good stuff Spidge. But far from funny.
     

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