The longest Bailey bridge ever built

Discussion in 'NW Europe' started by alberk, Aug 16, 2020.

  1. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    „Tyne and Tees Bridges“ at Rees/Germany

    The British Army advancing into Germany in 1945 was on a mission to liberate Europe from Nazism and German oppression. Armies advancing and fighting a foe that fanatically tries to hold his ground invariably bring death and destruction. However, in our case the initial destruction was followed by a process of rebuilding an infrastructure.

    Apart from their more martial roles, soldiers have always been builders - and the feats of the Royal Engineers in Germany in 1945 count among the most impressive. A fine example are the bridges they build across the Rhine during the crossings in March 1945 and in the subsequent months. Today I want to turn your attention to the longest Bailey bridge that was ever built - the "Tyne and Tees" bridge(s) at Rees.
    I am not an engineer - so all old sappers are welcome to correct me on my terminology and with regards to technical detail! Furthermore, it would be of interest when this bridge was dismantled - local sources say in 1947 but we do not have written proof for that.

    8_Steel construction_kl.jpg
    This construction actually consisted of two bridges - one was a class 40 and one a class 70. They were 1517 metres (1660 yards) long. That sets the record for Bailey bridges and – it may be assumed - for military bridges. (picture IWM BU 6400)

    When XXX Corps started its Rhine crossing on 23 March 1945 there was still a long way to go before of those impressive bridges could be built. Immediately after the crossing RE units - under constant, although scattered German fire - first built a Class 9 FBE bridge downstream from Rees. The city itself was defended for another two days. From Rees, German FAOs could inform their batteries further east about the British bridge building activities. That gave the engineers quite a bit of trouble. It should also be remembered that the initial bridgehead was full of infantry battalions preparing their further advance inland. So, the German artillery had plenty of targets in a limited area into which it could fire rather indiscriminately.
    The first bridge at Rees was a flimsy affair - the „Class 9 Folding Boat Equipment“ could take all vehicles up to 9 tons that infantry units were equipped with. This bridge lead to the large „Mahnenburg“ farm on the east bank, visible to the left in the background on the photo. The construction started at 0800 hrs on 25 March and was finished at 0200 hrs on March 26th. This bridge was named „Waterloo Bridge“. The Canadian picture shows very well the type of lightweight pontoon that was used for the FBE 9.

    The next bridge - also downstream from Rees - was a class 12 Bailey bridge. It was also finished on March 26 and named „Lambeth Bridge“.

    While the fighting was still going on in Rees British sappers started buidling a bridge from the bank opposite the town. This was a class 40 Bailey bridge which was finished in the early hours of 27 March - by then the fight for Rees was over. The first class 40 bridge at Rees was named „London Bridge“.

    Brücke Rees_NEU 3 Kopie.jpg
    "London Bridge" at Rees

    In a parallel effort - again downstream from Rees - Canadian engineers built another class 40 Bailey bridge. It was ready for operation at 1800 hrs on 28 March. The Canadian sappers named it „Blackfriars Bridge“.

    "Blackfriars Bridge"

    Soon after, work on a „Class 40 High-Level“ Bailey bridge at Rees started - this one was finished at 1800 hrs on 29 March 1945. The name of this bridge was „Westminster Bridge“ and it was designed to stay operational in case of high water levels which were to be expected in the spring.

    "Westminster Bridge" (IWM BU 2897)

    Brücke Rees_NEU.jpg
    Rees - with "London Bridge" (left) and - just visible - "Westminster Bridge" (right). Heavy traffic on the road to the bridge on the right.

    With all these names one may assume that all Londoners among the troops working there on the Rhine or crossing the river at Rees must have felt quite at home - or maybe, on the contrary, they suffered a bout of homesickness…

    All in all, there were five floating bridges available at Rees at the end of March to support the British advance east of the Rhine (also called the „Berlin bank“) and further into the Northern German plain - a terrain ideally suited for a modern and highly motorized army.

    Of course, such an army needed immense loads of supplies. To ensure to flow of these supplies the engineers of 50th Infantry Division - with the help of the Pioneer Corps - at the beginning of April started the construction of two more bridges across the Rhine at Rees. These were to be a „semi-permanent bridges“ and Bailey equipment was used for these. The British sappers were supported by a Dutch engineer unit - and by a company formed by D.P.s (Displaced Persons), mostly liberated ex-POW or ex-forced labourers who were nationals of the mighty eastern ally - the Soviet Union.

    The semi-permanent bridge to be built at Rees was of the „BPJ“ type. BPJ stood for „Bailey Pile Jetty“ and meant that the piers carrying the bridge were built at 40 feet centres with steel and Bailey parts (as opposed to timber being used to build piers). To build BPJ-type piers the sappers drove two steel pillars - in parallel position - into the river bed. These were then braced with Bailey panels in order to stiffen the pier - and this process was continued into the river from both banks.

    A 10-ton derrick stood on the farthest finished section and placed all prefabricated parts into position, thus progressing across the river. A 100 feet span was incorporated in the middle of the river to provide a navigation channel and a clearance under the span sufficient to allow barge traffic to pass.

    Hard work for the sappers - another pillar has arrived and is to be driven into the river bed (Photo IWM).
    The ruined church at Rees is just visible in the background.

    In heavily destroyed Rees a concrete road was built.

    Two parallel bridges were built at the same time - thus creating a double roadway, one track for vehicles up to 70 tons, the other one for vehicles up to 40 tons. The approach from the bund to the river on the west bank was placed on timber piers - and it was this extension over land together with the bridge across the river which made the „Tyne and Tees Bridges“ the longest Bailey construction ever built.

    12_Approach west bank_kl.jpg
    The approach over land on the west bank of the Rhine.

    13_Donald Bailey.jpg
    The construction site at Rees was visited by the inventor of the now famous bridging system - Donald Bailey - on 16 May 1945 (IWM BU 6415).

    14_Eröffnung Jeep.jpg
    About a week later, on 23 May, the bridge was opened to traffic - with a celebration honouring all units involved. (IWM BU 6752)

    15_Gruppe Engineers.jpg
    Sappers of the "Northumbrian" division celebrating (IWM BU 6750).
    A special honour for the Soviet D.P. contingent - Stalin crossing the Rhine! (Photo IWM)

    The Band of the Royal Horse Artillery entertaining the troops in front of the ruins of the Catholic church at Rees, May 23rd, 1945 (IWM BU 6749).

    17_Montgomery und Schild BU 7398.jpg
    In June 1945 Field Marshall Montgomery visited Rees and the bridges (IWM BU 7398).
    (Photo IWM)
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2020
  2. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    Great article, thank you Alex! Some really impressive engineering on display.

    I was flipping through Canadian photos just a day or two ago and saw that photo of Blackfriars Bridge. I wondered and still wonder who "Uncle Stanley" was. :)
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  3. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    In 1955, a major flood took out the two major bridges in our town of Ansonia, Connecticut, splitting the town in half. The Army Corps of Engineers constructed a temporary Bailey Bridge to connect the town. I remember riding in cars across this rickety bridge as a young boy and, worse, walking across it when cars were traveling across the bridge. It did keep the town together after the flood, though. My brother was caught on the other side of town for weeks because of the flood and we had no way of knowing where he was since all communications were down. Flood waters reached the back of our house and my wife's family house on the other side of town was flooded.
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  4. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    Have you got the units right? The Blackfriars bridge is recorded as 558 m (1,814 feet) It seems amazing that this bridge is 3 times or more longer
    The 2,200-foot pontoon bridge thrown over the James River in June 1864 by US army engineers is usually cited as the longest ever military bridge
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  5. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Hi Robert-w,
    I have the length of 1600 yards from an official publication by BAOR from 1945. And yes, it is yards. The 2,200-foot bridge over the James river then could not have been the longest military bridge - unless you meant yards, too. If it was yards, the award goes to the US bridge, of course!
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2020
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  6. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    See the attached
    Pontoon Bridges: The Great Crossings

    Perhaps yards was an error?
  7. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Me too! o_O
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  8. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Hello Robert-w,
    below I have a photo of a semi-permanent Rhine bridge built at the same time - I wanted to introduce this one ("Dempsey Bridge" at Xanten/Bislich) in a later thread. This bridge, some kilometres upstream in the 12th Corps sector, was 4135 feet (1378 yards/1260 metres) and is described as "impressive but shorter" than the bridge at Rees. I made this photo in the archives of the RE Museum at Gillingham. So the dimensions of the bridges were really remarkable. It is not just the river they are spanning but also the flood channels between the dykes and the actual riverbed.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2020
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  9. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    The following map was presented in one of the threads by stolpi before. It shows the location of the various bridges at Rees - and it has a scale in yards. It also shows a village called NDR MORMTER (Niedermoermter) opposite Rees. The semi-permanent "Tyne and Tees Bridges" lead from the dyke at Niedermoermter to the river - that stretch over "dry land" is a 1000 yards already. And then the bridge spans the river to end in the town of Rees, where an approach road had been built.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2020
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  10. KevinC

    KevinC Slightly wierd

    Where did they get all the components? Longest we built was 175m and had to scrounge the whole country for bits.
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  11. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    I think the distances include the approaches as well as the actual spans
  12. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Exactly - I've been saying this all along... but all had to be built with Bailey parts and on piers.
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  13. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Several typos in some sections of my above texts - along with occasional omissions or repetitions of words - are really annoying me! Please accept my apologies for these. At the same time a question to the more experienced members: Is there a means to edit or correct one's texts?
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  14. 8RB

    8RB Well-Known Member

    Use "Edit" below your original post. Great thread by the way!
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  15. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Thank you, 8RB!
    All corrected now - phew!
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  16. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    It was difficult to find but the "Stanley" behind the Uncle Stanley's Bridge is Brigadier Percy Arthur Stanley Todd.

    He was the Commander, Corps Royal Artillery, 2nd Canadian Corps and the Engineers credited the support of his artillery as the primary reason they were able to complete the bridge without excessive enemy interference.

    stanley Todd.jpg
  17. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    That's brilliant! Thank you Canuck.
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  18. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Last edited: Aug 17, 2020
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  19. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    Great work Alberk.

    I am a great fan of the Bailey Bridge and have built several models of them over the years. None as big as the Rhine bridges.

    KevinC asks where the components came from. It had been known for a long time that the Rhine would have to be bridged and huge dumps of Bailey bridging had been moved forward. As well as the Rhine bridges there were bridges on the approaches to the Rhine. Worth a thread of its own?

    Last edited: Aug 17, 2020
  20. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    Thank you, Mike.


    This book was printed by the "Printing and Stationary Service, British Army of the Rhine" - to my knowledge it was published in Moenchengladbach in the summer of 1945. It is the size of a "coffee table book" and has a foreword by Major General I.O. Inglis RE. Above all, it contains lots of photos and is a great source of information on all bridges built by 21 Army Group. I can very much recommend it... I know that the IWM library has a copy.


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