UK Military Bridging – Look Back Look Forward

This has been a tremendously rewarding series to write, the depth of expertise, team work, diligence and hard won experience translated into operational advantage has been incredible to read about, quite humbling and certainly a privilege.

At every stage the UK has been at the forefront of military bridging operations and design.

BR90 Automotive Bridge Laying Equipment (ABLE) General Support Bridging vehiclesBR90 Automotive Bridge Laying Equipment (ABLE) General Support Bridging vehicles

Looking forward…

In the short term, the Royal Engineers will likely be reorganised along the Multi Role Brigade lines as defined by the SDSR and it is likely that the equipment in service will not fundamentally change. Maybe REBS will be bought into service post Afghanistan and some form of mid-life refurbishment for the BR90 components might see the light of day, perhaps even a transfer of the equipment to the surplus MAN Support Vehicles that will be likely post SDSR draw downs in overall force size.

WFEL, Faun and Mabey continue to sell their equipment worldwide; the legacy of the MEXE alumni continues to earn money for the UK, certainly the best outcome from the wanton vandalism committed by successive governments on the Research Establishments.

Bridging is somewhat unusual because the ‘problem’ does not change. Rivers, canals and other gaps have not changed significantly since the first use of military bridging. The need for speed continues as there is never enough time to cross the river but future designs are likely to focus on cost and reducing the number of personnel used to deploy and recover bridges. Personnel are where the costs lie and it is here that future designs will be driven.

New materials will also continue to play a large part in future designs

Am going to keep adding to this series as new images or videos come to light so if anyone wants to add any new information or media just let me know.

I would also like to thank the various people that have given me permission to use some of their images, each image should have an appropriate credit and of course, I must not forget to mention the One More River to Cross book from Col John Joiner RE that provided the inspiration and much of the background for the series. I would urge anyone with even a passing interest to pop over to the RE Museum, Corps Enterprise Website or even (if you must) Amazon and buy a copy of this book and I hope that the medium of a web page can provide a little extra insight into the subject because it is so easy to add video and colour images.





Definitions and General Terms

Early Days


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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February 6, 2012 6:34 am


It’s indeed been a great series. And if I can manage any time in the coming week I’ll try to comment more intelligently on a couple of the individual posts (esp. those on the more rapidly-deployable bridging gear and configurations.) For now I’ll offer a sentimental remark, that it’s a particular pleasure to read outside my usual subject areas since my old granddad spent his war (the active service bits) alternately blowing up (to deny German access for counterattack) and rebuilding bridges along the southern edge of 21st Army Group. The roots of many an historian (active or lapsed :) lie in family, and it’s a pleasure to read the more contemplative series like this and think on that.

Also, has somebody who’s been an editor as well as an historian (trained, anyway) and analyst (always could edit everyone for length but myself ;-) “the wanton vandalism committed by successive governments on the Research Establishments” is a happy turn of phrase.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
February 6, 2012 12:43 pm

A tremendous series of posts TD, incredibly entertaining and fascinating.

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
February 7, 2012 12:13 pm

I’d like to second Jackstaff’s last paragraph. With the various research extablishments, it is difficult to see where the indigenous developments for the UK armed Forces are going to come from, except as pay-through-the-nose products by private industry.

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
February 7, 2012 12:14 pm

Oh bugger, must read comment before sending. Second sentance should read “Without the various research establishments . . .”

February 8, 2012 8:04 am


Thanks — and I just had that same problem in the UOR vehicles thread. Me a former editor and all — well it’s like shrinks and their psychoses, editors are terrible at their own stuff. I hadn’t even noticed the error. And “pay-through-the-nose products by private industry” is on the money too.

paul g
February 10, 2012 9:56 am

bridges? we don’t need no stinking bridges senór.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
July 11, 2013 10:09 pm

I am only publishing this comment to try to break the stranglehold the CVF lovers have on TD, at this moment.

I once built a bridge under the direct and personal supervision of a now (sadly) dead Lt Gen of the Royal Engineers. Gen Sir Bill Jackson MC plus lots of CBE, KCBs, etc was a man who joined the RE in 1940 and served as a young officer throughout most of the second World War. He won the MC – quite famously – putting up a Bailey Bridge somewhere in Italy in 1944 (I think) – Terence Cuneo painted a picture of him leading his RE troop in doing do, in the teeth of enemy fire. He finished his career as Britain’s Governor General in Gibraltar, and retired with his wife to buy a cottage on my parents’ estate, from which he then engaged in a battle of wills with the old man who was a mere upstart Brigadier at the time, so he tried to pull rank furiously.

The pair of them agreed that a small bridge was necessary to connect two pieces of land separated by a stream, so the estate tractorette could get across to mow the grass. Both unanimously dicked me to be the navvy, and I was summoned from Catterick to Wiltshire over a weekend to do the work. Gen Bill designed the bridge, of 12 railway sleepers, with to my mind gross overkill of digging in solid foundations (given that I was doing the digging, I felt qualified to comment on what was overkill and what was sensible engineering, but I was over-ruled by him as a know-nothing young cavalry officer). He set me to work, and then at hourly intervals appeared on his motorised little mobility scooter to check on progress, gin and tonic in a little flask. No bloody bottle of water for me.

The bridge was built, and I now know it as “Bloody Bill’s Bridge”. It is unreasonably sturdy and solid: I’d take a 8 tonne Scimitar across it. Given that the tractorette weighs about 500 kilos, I still think it is grossly over-engineered.

Does that break the CVF monotony? It’s not very exciting as a little tale, but also not about the ruddy floaty little boats.

July 11, 2013 10:20 pm

Shades of Zulu meets Monarch of the Glen………. :)

July 11, 2013 10:25 pm

…to say nothing of the Bridge on the River Kwai. That was designed by a mad sapper and built by slaves too.

July 11, 2013 10:38 pm

…..meets Restless Natives with a hint of Trainspotting and a dash of that film with that Australian fella who hates the British with his face covered in wode……

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
July 11, 2013 10:45 pm


haven’t got a clue what you are going on about, but I’m encouraging it. I’m not going to bed until “Small Carrier or No Carriers” disappears off the “Top Ten”.

….that is not an excuse for you to keep teasing me with a last minute comment on that topic…. ;)

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
July 11, 2013 11:52 pm

@ RT – Sorry – I did comment on that thread, but it was a feeble joke in an effort to cheer you up…is the MacBreeks Family Distillery on the Estate, or is that a different branch of the Clan? I take it you are in exile in Wisbcwz for some horrible offence against public decency involving Stripping the (wrong) Willow(y Blonde) or some such?

Had you considered the possible market for Red Trousers Turnip Vodka in those parts?

A sympathetic Gloomy.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
July 12, 2013 9:41 am


that’s him. I’ve got a couple of his dates wrong (ie joined in ’37, not ’40), and I suppose that he must have been an RE Squadron Leader in ’44, not a Troop Commander. But I do recall that Cuneo painting – I’ll see if I can find it on the net. Quite dramatic, but putting up a Bailey bridge in the teeth of enemy fire probably always is.

What your Wiki doesn’t say is that for 15 years he was the Torygraph military obituaries editor: he knew all of the characters, and wrote them up in advance. I do remember my old man and he collaborating on Gen Sir Harry Tuzo’s obituary: Gen Bill knew Gen Harry as a friend, and my old man had worked as Gen Harry’s chief of plans in HQ NI in the 70s. I managed to get in a little sentence about my memory of Lady Tuzo looking after me for a day when I was about 6, her sitting in her sewing room at the top of Clunie House and throwing my Action Man out of the window under his parachute, and me tearing up and down the stairs to retrieve the toy. On about the 1,000th throw, Action Man hit Gen Harry on his head as he came home from work.

July 12, 2013 9:54 am

“he was the Torygraph military obituaries editor: he knew all of the characters, and wrote them up in advance.”

That sounded so wrong. :P

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
July 12, 2013 10:07 am

This one:

@ Observer: I think there’s a little cottage industry of retired senior types from all walks of life that pre-write obituaries. Apparently, they only get paid when someone actually dies and the Obit is published. Gen Bill told me he got £1500 a time, and he was “fortunate” in that in the early 90s many of his old muckers from the Second War were dying off of natural causes.

July 12, 2013 11:21 am

@ RT re “retired senior types”

Or they go on to run the local RFCA.