UK Military Bridging – Post War
The final part of the history part of the series will look at Iraq from 2003 onwards and Afghanistan but in this penultimate post, post war and recent UK bridging operations will covered.
The Royal Engineers were in just as much demand post war as during, the landscape of Germany, France, Holland, Italy and Belgium was devastated and in order to restore lines of communications many of the destroyed bridges and viaducts were replaced with Bailey equipment. The vast majority of the bridges erected during the campaign were built for speed. On the long spans across the wide rivers of Europe pontoon equipment was generally used with no consideration for maintaining navigability by the numerous barges and ships that formed an integral part of the transport infrastructure of the region. These bridges were also often built away from existing population centres or lines of communication.
There were four semi-permanent bridges across the Rhine that were started before the end of the war; Dempsey Bridge at Xanten, a 4000ft Class 40 timber piled Bailey, Tyne Bridge at Rees, a 4,980 feet Class 70 Bailey bridge, Tees bridge at Rees, a 4,980feet Class 40 piled Bailey bridge and the Spyck railway bridge Emmerich. The Tyne and Tees bridges were the longest military bridges ever constructed and in addition to these monsters, an additional 500 temporary road and rail bridges were constructed.
Despite these, in the UK/Canadian area of occupation it was decided to create three crossings across the Rhine at Dusseldorf, Wesel and Cologne that would be a semi-permanent replacement for major civilian bridges in population centres. These were to be called Freeman, Montgomery and Patton respectively and were truly impressive feats of engineering.
Freeman Bridge, Dusseldorf
The Oberkasseler Bridge in Dusseldorf was destroyed by retreating German forces in 1945.
The replacement Bailey bridge was designed by Major Ralph Freeman, Chief Engineer to 21 Army Group who had been involved with the early trials of the Bailey bridge. It was opened in early October 1945 and was a 2,391ft long Class 24 that used floating pontoons constructed from US Naval Lighterage pontoons and a large navigation span.
It is often reported that the bridge was named after Lt General Freeman because it was not believed that such a major construction effort would be named after a Major, yet alone one whose rank was temporary. In 1948 the Freeman Bridge was replaced with a newer structure that itself was replaced in 1973.
The Oberkasseler Bridge today, click here
The Montgomery Bridge was built over the Rhine at Wesel at the site of the first crossing over the Rhine, carried out by US engineers using their M2 Treadway inflatable pontoon equipment. A conventional timber piled bridge had also been constructed by US engineers but a central navigation span was cut into the bridge to allow river traffic to move. Using the US bridge German civilians drove a number of steel piles into the riverbed, which were then filled with concrete, a method chosen for its resistance to heavy ice.
The bridge was then completed by various Royal Engineer units and involved a number of construction innovations, 2,030 feet in length it was double carriageway with a cycle track in the middle.
Some good pictures of the various bridges at Wesel, including the Montgomery, can be found here and a detailed description of the construction phase at a German bridge website, English version click here.
Patton Bridge, Rhine
The final of the three semi-permanent bridges over the Rhine was called the Patton Bridge at Cologne, it’s design was similar to the Montgomery Bridge but the navigation span used surplus Wermacht railway bridging equipment.
Click here to see the opening ceremony at British Pathe. 500 Sappers and 900 German civilians used 2,400 tonnes of steel and 28,000 cubic feet of timber to build the bridge.
Patton Bridge was not replaced until the 1960’s and Dr Ludwig Erhart, Chancellor of the Bundesrepublik was quoted as saying;
Without these bridges the economic miracle of Germany’s recovery would have been long delayed
In interesting semi-permanent bridge construction took place in 1954 in Holland, a joint Dutch/British force of engineers built a long Bailey bridge to improve lines of communication. After some negotiations on the subjects of workshare and funding work started in February 1954, with the approach roads designed in such a way that they would be used for a later permanent bridge.
The site was at Well, half way between Nijmegen and Venlo at a location that was actually used for a Bailey pontoon during the war;
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.
The bridge was called Queens Bridge after Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Juliana and when completed was 1,385 feet long and Class 80 (Quad/Triple) to allow a Centurion tank and tank transporter to cross.
If you understand Dutch, the video below has the full story
Incredibly, this semi-permanent bridge was not replaced until 1980 which is surely a testament to the British and Dutch engineers that built it, plus of course those tasked with maintaining a non galvanised steel structure for so many years!
British Pathe have a good (but silent) clip of the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) constructing a Double Double Bailey, click here
The Murrel River on East Falkland was to play an important part in the Battle of Mount Longdon and whilst traversing the existing bridge a Sampson CVR(T) recovery vehicle loaded with ammunition damaged collapsed it.
Because much of the task forces engineering supplies had been lost on the RFA Sir Tristram a conventional bridging operation was not possible. 9 Squadron RE did have some parts of an Air Portable Bridge (APB) but without a launching nose and so the bridge was assembled, carried to site using a Chinook and successfully emplaced. The Chinook also lifted the Sampson out of the gap at the same time.
The Gulf War – Operation Granby
About a third of the strength of the Royal Engineers was deployed to the Gulf and had a considerable impact upon operations although mostly route development rather than bridging. Although not strictly bridging related it was the last swan song for the petrol engine Centurion AVRE.
Starting with Op Grapple I the Royal Engineers were to be deployed to the Balkans for 5 years during which time many bridging operations took place using Extra Wide Bailey Bridges, Heavy Girder Bridges, Mabey Compact and the medium Girder Bridge.
At Mostar over the River Neretva the original Tito Bridge was demolished and in 1993 a replacement Extra Widened Bailey Bridge (EWBB) was constructed by local engineers. This was eventually damaged by Croation tank fire making it impassable to vehicular traffic.
A joint UK/Spanish team built the 270 feet EWBB by the end of September 1993.
The permanent replacement was called the Bridge Musala after a nearby square.
At Kulen Vakuf an 11 bay double story MGB was built by 26 Armoured Engineer Squadron in 1196, click here to see its permanent replacement.
Bailey Bridges and their derivatives, the EWBB and HGB have were used extensively in the post war period, this clip is of a Heavy Girder Bridge being used to ‘overbridge’ a damaged bridge over the Thames between Windsor and Datchet being removed, with this clip of it being removed.
In the UK, the recent floods in Cumbria have bought military bridging to public attention. The Barker Crossing was erected by 3 Armoured Engineer Squadron, 22 Engineer Regiment, to reunite the two halves of Workington after the original bridge was destroyed. Named after PC Bill Barker, the policeman who lost his life during the collapse of the Northside Bridge, the footbridge actually used the Compact 200 from Mabey. There is very good video here, here and here, including shots of the new Terex cranes for you plant spotters.
Preparations and Foundations
Units involved with the project were;
- 64 Works Group Royal Engineers, based in Nottingham
- 3 Armoured Engineer Squadron, part of 22 Engineer Regiment, based in Tidworth
- 32 Signal Regiment, based in Glasgow
- 27 Transport Regiment RLC, based in Aldershot
- 9 Supply Regiment RLC, based in Hullavington
- Royal Military Police
- 63 Medical Squadron, based in Preston
- Headquarters 42 (North West) Brigade, based in Preston
- 4th Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, North West England’s TA infantry battalion
Those involved with the strip out were;
- 64 Works Group Royal Engineers
- 53 Field Squadron Royal Engineers
- 4th Battalion Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment
- 156 Transport Regiment Royal Logistic Corps
That’s a job well done I think.
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