“The three major inventions of the war were radar, the heavy bomber and the Bailey Bridge.”
General Eisenhower (Commander of Allied forces in North Western Europe during the Second World War)
In 1939, the Armoured Corps boasted an impressive variety of light weight tanks which only required a lightweight bridge to span waterways. However as the Second World War progressed, heavier armoured vehicles were required during the conflict.
With the introduction, in 1940, of heavier armoured vehicles, such as the forty ton Churchill tank, a new more robust style of bridge was desperately needed.
Civil engineer, Donald Bailey
, had worked at the Experimental Bridging Establishment
at Christchurch (EBE Christchurch) since 1928. In 1936, his bridge design went unnoticed due to a lack of funding and involvement from the War Office. After a chance meeting with a senior royal engineer a year later, Bailey constructed a full-size example of the bridge.
The bridge had to be simple in design but able to support weight of up to 70 tons. It was also essential that it could be built by hand without any type of heavy equipment such as a crane. The heaviest piece weighed 280 kilos and had to be carried by 6 men. No welding was involved and the structure was assembled using bolts, clamps and steel pins.
On May 1st 1940, a 70 feet section was assembled in just 36 minutes.
During the Second World War, an incredible 500,000 tons of Bailey Bridge were manufactured and Donald Bailey was appointed director of the Experimental Bridging Establishment in 1945. Today, Bailey’s bridges are still in use in countries such as Australia, South Africa and, of course, Normandy. In 1946 he received a knighthood for his services to the war effort and retired in 1966, living in Christchurch until his death in 1985.
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