Longest Bailey Bridge in Europe?

Discussion in 'Italy' started by ropey, Sep 11, 2015.

  1. ropey

    ropey Member


    Can anyone supply a GR for this bridge, a 1200+ ft bridge over the Sangro River? The assumption made by many is that it was either the old railway bridge at the mouth of the river (which you can still walk over) or where the Strada Statale is located now, parallel to said railway bridge. In fact analysis of the photos shows it to be further up the valley near Pagliatta. I'd love to have the engineers' WD for the units that built it or any Corps/RE WDs that might give a GR.

    Can anyone help?

  2. idler

    idler GeneralList

    I tried - just spent the best part of 2 hours looking for the sappers' book on bridging in the Italian campaign. No doubt it will turn up when I'm looking for something else...
  3. ropey

    ropey Member

    Thanks for looking Idler. There are quotes from several books online but they aren't specific and I haven't yet found a map to prove the point either. The photos are fairly conclusive, but I'm looking for that little bit extra.


  4. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    Can't supply the GR but is this the bridge you mean?

    On my Leger tour to Italy last year we had a Veteran on the trip called Jack Robertson, who was one of the Sappers who built the bridge under heavy fire.

    (I bet Owen can help, he found the original photo for Jack-it's somewhere on the forum but I can't find it). Cannot remember which unit Jack was in.

    Edited: the above link is the original photo Owen found :)

    Tricky Dicky likes this.
  5. ropey

    ropey Member

    Hi Lesley

    That's where people are going wrong I'm afraid. The chap in the photo is standing on the old railway bridge. The top photo in your link is one of the photos of the railway bridge. If you study it carefully you can see that it has different piers from the bridge in the next two shots, but the same as the ones you visited. The railway bridge is narrower and suffered more damage. (see also this photo: https://docalexander.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/sangro.jpg) In addition, were it to be 'the longest bridge' the ridgeline would not be correct. You may recall that the new road bridge is just inland from this one and close to the sea. You may also remember the steep climb up to the cemetery from the very narrow coastal plain. This is not evident in the second photo.

    Furthermore there is a photo taken from on the ridge near the cemetery looking up the valley to the bridge: https://docalexander.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/c2a9-iwm-na-8833.jpg In other words the photographic evidence is quite conclusive but I would like the GR (and name of the bridge if it was given one) for the last pieces of evidence. See here for an aerial pre-destruction: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8e/The_Campaign_in_Italy,_September-december_1943-_the_Allied_Advance_To_the_Gustav_Line_C3924.jpg

    This takes nothing away from Jack's efforts - after all these years it is hard to be precise, particularly if he was working at night! He should be proud of his work, but it would be nice if he was standing where he actually did it! (Or maybe there was a Bailey built there, but not the longest one? There were 4 assault bridges after all, though there is no evidence of one in the photos and the reference I found to them said the nearest to the coast was midway between the coast and Pagliatta.)

    The 'longest bridge' has been replaced with a more modern concrete one but the road is less used now that the autostrada crosses the valley. The coastal road appears to have been a post-war one as well, but I am waiting for a wartime map to confirm that.

    Perhaps Leger should consider crossing the replacement bridge for the historic flavour on future tours? It would only add 5-10 minutes to their itinerary.


  6. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron


    Thanks for the information, I've learned something new today :)

  7. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member


    Although this may or may not advance the discussion much further forward, I attach a couple (or so) sketch maps taken from 2 LIR's/1 RIrF's war diaries for November 1943 that might give an idea of the geography of the area as at the end of November 1943.

    The various war diaries of the constituent battalions of 38(Irish) Brigade gives various map refs of (it appears different) bridges over which the three infantry battalions crossed.

    One immediate point would be to query the accuracy of the GRs given in the war diaries.
    a) 2 LIR

    27 November

    1400 Intelligence Officer, Intelligence Section and Company Guides moves off by motor transport to recce river crossing and assembly area for Battalion.

    B Echelon to move to Castelbordino tomorrow.

    1830 Battalion left Castelbordino by RASC transport and debus at Gunners Alley, North of Torino di Sangro/H 4498.

    2200 Battalion proceed by march route and cross river by Royal Engineers Bridge 430030 at 2330 hrs (see attached traced maps Sangrocrossing1/2)

    2200 Barrage goes down on San Maria and Mozzagrogno, supporting 8th Indian Division’s attack.

    B) 1 RIrF.

    27th November.
    1700 Battalion marched off to lying-up area west of the R. Sangro. Weather which had been good for 48 hrs broke slightly with some “drizzle”. No enemy shelling of bridge as Battalion crossed at 434018 (see attached rough sketch map P1030626)

    c) 6 Innisks.

    27th November.
    Preparations were begun for Bttn move forward across River Sangro.
    1030 CO returned from Brigade HQ and resumed command of the Bttn.

    1400 CO called O Group conference.

    1430 I section left by MT to recce routes and act as guides to lying up area below the escarpment at C4000. Shaded lamps were set out from 'H' bridge (4199) to the lying up area, but this bridge, which had been weakened by shell fire, collapsed under a tank before the Bttn arrived.

    1800 Bttn embussed at 553922 and travelled by MT to “Gun Alley” (433003), where they debussed at 2115hrs, and then proceeded by march route to 'F' bridge.

    1930 A message was received by the guide party that the Bttn would cross the river by 'F' bridge at 432020 and arrangements were quickly changed to meet the fresh situation. Rain fell at the time, which quickly made the ground bad.

    28th November – RIVER SANGRO.
    0045 Bttn crossed 'F' bridge and continued by route march to lying up area, via the junction 421032, arriving at 0200hrs.

    My father, who crossed with 2 LIR recalled those days of "inaction":

    “The Sangro was still a raging torrent but it was imperative to pass this obstacle as it was giving the Germans time to build up the Winter Line. A precarious bridgehead was won and a bailey bridge built close to the remains of the ruined bridge. On the other side was a river cliff a few hundred yards from the Sangro’s north bank. We crossed the Sangro and sheltered beneath the precipice as the company prepared for the next advance. A hospital was erected in tents with large red crosses everywhere. One morning, aircraft flew along the cliff face. At first, we thought they were ours but they dropped bombs and machine gunned the tents and vehicles. I jumped into the nearest slit trench but found it full. I was first in the next one, safe but uncomfortable as about four others lay on top of me. The next day, a shell clipped the cliff-top and exploded not many yards from me. I was shaving at the time and removed part of my moustache as a result. I took the rest off. Nobody noticed its passing.”



    Attached Files:

  8. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

  9. ropey

    ropey Member

    Thanks Lesley. Those are the Kiwi ones (I've visited their locations several times) but that's exactly what I'm hoping for for the British.

    Thank you Richard. I had seen a reference to the 4 assault bridges your information describes (1, 2, F, and H). Sadly none of those are 'the longest bridge' which would have been built later by, I suspect, corps and/or Army RE units. Your maps have proven one thing though, and that is that the coastal road is post-war as I suspected and that the 'longest bridge' was the main road at the time. I shall go for a Google Streetview drive tomorrow to see if the cliffs that they laid up under are obvious.

    I find it an odd thing that knowledge of such an important, extensively used, and record breaking bridge can drift into the mist of time. After the Battle have told us they can't publish a book on these battles. Jeff and I have the material for one or more articles instead, but these only cover the New Zealand Division. Perhaps we should be thinking wider...

  10. ropey

    ropey Member

    I've added those GRs to the map. It would appear that 430030 should read 440030. The troops took a rather roundabout route to get to the laying up area but Richard's excerpt tells us the closest bridge, 'H', was put out of action by a tank.
    sangrocrossing annotated.jpg
    bexley84 likes this.
  11. idler

    idler GeneralList

    OK, a different tack: Joiner's One More River to Cross has it being built by "the Squadrons of 8 Army Troops Engineers , under command of their CRE, Lt Col L E Gwynn". The accompanying photo (reproduced from that bloody book I still can't find - at least I know it's somewhere safe!) shows the bridge being launched across the refurbished piers of the demolished Highway 16 bridge. Work started 4 Dec and completed on 14 Dec. It was 1,126' long and Class 30. There was also an FBE bridge alongside.

    The Corps history adds that it was built by: 561, 586 and 587 Fd Coys, detachments of 1 Cdn Drilling Coy and 138 Mechanical Equipment Coy and six pioneer sections. 47 Fd Pk Coy S&M of 8 ind Div cleared minefields on the north bank. The bridge was unimaginatively named 'Sangro Bridge'.

    I hope I've redeemed myself...
  12. ropey

    ropey Member

    No redemption necessary Idler. Thank you to all who have a contributed. We have now made the vague precise!

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