UK Military Bridging – Equipment (Construction Bridging)

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This is relatively short post, construction, or non equipment bridging uses construction materials rather than pre –manufactured equipment like a Bailey or Medium Girder Bridge.

As bridging equipment evolved, the need to use construction bridging techniques has lessened but it is still a subject that is taught to all combat engineers. As weights of vehicles increased the ability of these locally constructed bridges to carry those loads decreased and build times increased although in some operations there has been little alternatives.

The image below shows a very basic bridge over the River Narin in modern day Iraq.

Men of the 7th Battalion, North Staffordshire Regiment, cross a temporary bridge over the River Narin at Narin Kopri, 26 April 1918.
Men of the 7th Battalion, North Staffordshire Regiment, cross a temporary bridge over the River Narin at Narin Kopri, 26 April 1918.

Another example here, complete with cans of petrol should the Germans get close.

A British sentry beside a foot bridge over the Lys Canal at St Floris. Tins of petrol are on hand for burning the bridge should it be reported that the Germans are advancing nearby, 18 May 1918
A British sentry beside a foot bridge over the Lys Canal at St Floris. Tins of petrol are on hand for burning the bridge should it be reported that the Germans are advancing nearby, 18 May 1918

With the usual great video from British Pathe here

World War II operation in Burma for example, made considerable use of local building materials such as timber, bamboo and vines because Bailey or Floating Boat Equipment was in short supply.

Making do was the order of the day.

This image shows a construction bridge in Burma at the site of a large Bailey build but using local materials.

A lorry loaded with pontoons arrives at the site loating bailey bridge over the Chindwin River, 2 December 1944. IWM
A lorry loaded with pontoons arrives at the site loating bailey bridge over the Chindwin River, 2 December 1944. IWM
Men of the 19th Indian Division get their first glimpse of Mandalay Hill as they cross a bridge close by, 9-10 March 1945. IWM
Men of the 19th Indian Division get their first glimpse of Mandalay Hill as they cross a bridge close by, 9-10 March 1945. IWM

Even in later conflicts, non equipment bridging, especially in jungle terrain is the norm rather than the exception.

A patrol of 1st Battalion, 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles) which was part of the 51 Gurkha Brigade, seen here crossing a bridge made of bamboo poles in the jungles of Sarawak.
A patrol of 1st Battalion, 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles) which was part of the 51 Gurkha Brigade, seen here crossing a bridge made of bamboo poles in the jungles of Sarawak.

In 1982 in the Falklands the bridge between Fitzroy and Bluff Cove had been blow by the Argentine forces and was repaired by 9 Squadron Royal Engineers using locally obtained steel girders and timber.

Fitzroy Bridge, Flickr user bonnernicholas
Fitzroy Bridge, Flickr user bonnernicholas

More images here

Even in Afghanistan, non equipment bridging is still in use as this news story from the MoD shows;

Soldiers from 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers (RE) carried out the repairs on the bridge after being alerted to the damage and resulting problems by soldiers from 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (2 PARA), who regularly patrol the area. Following an initial assessment of the damage and the work required to make the crossing capable of carrying tractors once again, the necessary materials for the job were transported to nearby Checkpoint Perkha by the Paras. To do this, they made several journeys by quad bike – the only vehicle capable of getting through the series of narrow tracks running between irrigated fields. A team of six engineers, led by Lieutenant Keith McDougall, then began the task of building the new bridge. Firstly the abutments were shored up with pickets and corrugated iron sheeting, then a deck was constructed, consisting of timber baulks held together with a giant iron staple and resting on sandbags.

The new bridge deck nearly complete --- LOCAL CHILDREN DIG IN TO HELP ROYAL ENGINEERS IN HELMAND Afghans in the southern Nahr-e Saraj area of Helmand can get moving and working once again, after Royal Engineers stepped in to repair a collapsed bridge ? with a little help from some local children Soldiers from 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers stepped in to carry out the repairs after the damage, and resulting problems, were reported by their colleagues from 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, who regularly patrol the area. Following an initial assessment of the damage and the work required to make the crossing capable of carrying tractors once again, the necessary materials for the job were transported to nearby Checkpoint Perkha by the Paras. To do this they made several journeys on a quad bike ? the only vehicle capable of getting through a series of narrow tracks running between irrigated fields. A team of six engineers, led by Lieutenant Keith McDougall, then began the task of building the new bridge. Firstly the abutments were shored up with pickets and corrugated iron sheeting, then a deck was constructed, consisting of timber baulks held together with a giant iron staple and resting on sandbags. Sapper Cameron Hume drew the short straw and entered the freezing water of the irrigation ditch to help position the pickets. His eventual comment of ?I can no longer feel my hands? prompted his removal to warm up a little in the winter morning sunshine before completing the job. Meanwhile a crowd of grateful locals gathered, showing great interest in the engineers? work. A number of children amongst them needed no encouragement to get involved in the hammering of pickets into the ground, whilst others assisted with the filling of sandbags and removal of wooden tree trunks from the old bridge. Lieutenant Keith McDougal, Commander of 2 Troop, 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, said: ?The new bridge took several hours to construct but it wa
Sapper Ryan Wood gets a helping hand from local children
Sapper Ryan Wood gets a helping hand from local children---LOCAL CHILDREN DIG IN TO HELP ROYAL ENGINEERS IN HELMANDAfghans in the southern Nahr-e Saraj area of Helmand can get moving and working once again, after Royal Engineers stepped in to repair a collapsed bridge ? with a little help from some local childrenSoldiers from 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers stepped in to carry out the repairs after the damage, and resulting problems, were reported by their colleagues from 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, who regularly patrol the area.Following an initial assessment of the damage and the work required to make the crossing capable of carrying tractors once again, the necessary materials for the job were transported to nearby Checkpoint Perkha by the Paras. To do this they made several journeys on a quad bike ? the only vehicle capable of getting through a series of narrow tracks running between irrigated fields.A team of six engineers, led by Lieutenant Keith McDougall, then began the task of building the new bridge. Firstly the abutments were shored up with pickets and corrugated iron sheeting, then a deck was constructed, consisting of timber baulks held together with a giant iron staple and resting on sandbags.Sapper Cameron Hume drew the short straw and entered the freezing water of the irrigation ditch to help position the pickets. His eventual comment of ?I can no longer feel my hands? prompted his removal to warm up a little in the winter morning sunshine before completing the job.Meanwhile a crowd of grateful locals gathered, showing great interest in the engineers? work. A number of children amongst them needed no encouragement to get involved in the hammering of pickets into the ground, whilst others assisted with the filling of sandbags and removal of wooden tree trunks from the old bridge.Lieutenant Keith McDougal, Commander of 2 Troop, 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, said:?The new bridge took several hours t
Sapper Ryan Wood gets a helping hand from local children

Returning back the beginning, this image shows that non equipment bridging does not have to be simple.

The RE conduct a bridging exercise on the Chatham Lines close to the building which now houses the Royal Engineers Museum in Brompton Barracks. 1914
The RE conduct a bridging exercise on the Chatham Lines close to the building which now houses the Royal Engineers Museum in Brompton Barracks. 1914

There are a small number of equipment’s that have endured in the building of ‘non equipment’ bridges, beyond the normal hand and power tools.

Christchurch Crib

Developed in the inter war period, the Christchurch Crib is deceptively simple yet incredibly useful. It is nothing more than a skeletal steel construction used as a kind of Lego building block to form bridge supports, abutments and other devices.

Although the 3ft Bridging Crib had been used in WWI the evolved Christchurch Crib was not introduced until the mid-thirties. The Crib, properly known as the Bridging Crib 20 ton, was widely used in WWII in place of trestles and piers.

View from Vaucelles of Monty’s Bridge, built in eight days by the 20th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers. Caen, Normandy, 12 August 1944 - showing Christchurch Crib bridging supports
View from Vaucelles of Monty’s Bridge, built in eight days by the 20th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers. Caen, Normandy, 12 August 1944 – showing Christchurch Crib bridging supports

The key to their utility was their uniform dimensions and the ability to be joined together with simple bolts and nuts and used vertically or horizontally.

Christchurch Cribs
Christchurch Cribs

The 20 ton crib was developed further in the fifties to become the bridging Crib 50 Ton, but the design was essentially the same although there were some important differences such as being hot dipped galvanised instead of painted. Although they are interchangeable the position of the welds dictated which was up.

They were also used extensively to build water tank supports, especially for the common S Tank and Braithwaite tanks although cuplock scaffolding is now the norm.

Christchurch Cribs are still in service today, arguably one of the oldest pieces of military equipment still in service in their (more or less) original form.

Improvised bridge, 104 Field Squadron RE(V)
Improvised bridge, 104 Field Squadron RE(V)

An unusual use of the Christchurch Crib was in the construction of the prototype Harrier ski jump.

John Farley doing the first Ski Jump take-off in the Sea Harrier at SBAC Show Farnborough 1978. Image from RAF Jever site
John Farley doing the first Ski Jump take-off in the Sea Harrier at SBAC Show Farnborough 1978. Image from RAF Jever site

Tirfor Jack

Sometimes called the Tirfor Winch, it is a uniquely useful piece of equipment, nothing more than a hand operated winch but its main feature is something it doesn’t do. Instead of drawing the steel wire onto a drum the Tirfor uses an opposed set of jaws to clamp directly onto the specially constructed wire rope.

The Tirfor can be used to pull, lift or apply tension when using appropriate anchors or block and tackle, without needing external power.

It has many uses outside bridging but when using a gin and shears to create a rope bridge it is used to tension the ropeway.

Royal Engineers constructing a cable crossing over a river. IWM
Royal Engineers constructing a cable crossing over a river. IWM

Click here for a brochure.

Tensioning the cables in any bridge construction is vital, especially rope bridges!

Members of 298 Field Ambulance Company, Royal Army Medical Corps, Grasmere, 18 November 1943. IWM
Members of 298 Field Ambulance Company, Royal Army Medical Corps, Grasmere, 18 November 1943. IWM

 

 

 

 

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES

Introduction

Definitions and General Terms

Early Days

WWI

WWII – Far East Theatre

WWII – Africa and Northwest Europe

WWII – Italy

Post War

Iraq and Afghanistan

Equipment – Military Load Classification

Equipment – Floating Bridges

Equipment – Assault Bridging

Equipment – Construction Bridging

Equipment – Pre WWII

Equipment – The Bailey Bridge

Equipment – The Medium Girder Bridge

Equipment – Air Portable Bridges

Equipment – BR90 and REBS

Equipment – Trackway

Look Back and Look Forward

 

 

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