The Bailey Bridge Heritage: helping the military for 75 years
By Martin Andrews – Military Sales Manager, Mabey Bridge Limited
The renowned Bailey Bridge celebrates its 75th birthday this year. Invented by civil servant Donald Bailey, the bridge was credited with helping to win the Second World War, and became one of the most iconic pieces of engineering in British history.
For those of us who have served in the Royal Engineers, it’s easy to get nostalgic about the Bailey. I clearly remember my first encounter with it was as a member of the University Officer Training Corps at Ripon Camp. I was a Junior Under Officer, and we were tasked with building a Bailey Bridge at the bridging hard. I will never forget the moment when the bridge was perfectly balanced across the gap as it touched down on the far bank. It was simple, effective and, in my opinion, a thing of beauty.
However, the Bailey does not only inhabit our past. Modern adaptations of the modular bridge continue to provide a vital role in military campaigns all around the world. It is an essential component of Main Supply Routes, providing critical connections for all military traffic and vital logistic supplies. It is equally effective in responding to civilian emergencies and natural disasters.
An adaptable structure
Over the years, military requirements have led to the search for ever lighter bridges that can be more quickly and easily launched and assembled, with increasing automation, to support highly mobile, tactical forces. But the fundamental requirement for a Logistic Support Bridge has remained largely unchanged. Seventy-five years ago, the available materials and load carrying requirements were very different to what they are today, but the Bailey design has remained the template for innovation and improvement.
One such successor is the Mabey Logistic Support Bridge™ (LSB). Lighter and stronger than the original bridge, the LSB™ combines the core benefits of the Bailey – rapid erection, simple to build, robust modular design and fully interchangeable standard components – with more modern materials, new decking and ramp systems.
Modern, stronger steel means fewer components are needed and the weight of a comparable bridge has been reduced by 40% from 100 to 58 tonnes. The Mabey LSB can carry almost double the weight of the Bailey Bridge, optimised to carry Military Load Class (MLC) 80 (T) which is equivalent to the British Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank – the heaviest in NATO.
Despite these adaptations, the original Bailey design is still evident in the LSB, which has now been deployed extensively all around the world. It has been used by the US Army, US Marine Corps and US Navy Seabees on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and no fewer than fifteen NATO member nations have either purchased the LSB or built it on operations.
Providing help when needed – fast
Because it can be built in so many challenging locations, the Mabey LSB is invaluable in dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters. One thing which will never change is that countries all around the world will be hit by catastrophic floods, landslides and earthquakes. Military forces are frequently called in to respond to these natural disasters, and the versatility of the Mabey LSB means this piece of kit will continue to be in high demand.
There will be times where the operating environment and the precise requirements will be unknown. However, the LSB’s ground beam and grillage system enables the bridge to be built on green-field sites, and the fully adjustable ramp system can be adjusted to suit a wide range of civilian vehicles – including those with low ground clearance, such as low-loaders, civilian buses and cars. Critically, in rapid response incidents, the bridge can be transported and erected at very short notice.
NATO countries that have used the LSB for domestic purposes such as disaster relief, include Spain, Portugal and Slovenia. Beyond NATO the bridge is also used in Brazil, Benin, South Sudan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. Enabling the military to provide rapidly assembled bridges to help these communities in their time of need is one of the lasting legacies of the Bailey heritage, and will continue to shape its future capabilities in years to come.
The iconic Bailey design has stood the test of time, and decades of successive improvements and adaptations, especially in the form of the Mabey LSB, means that it delivers the most accessible, safest, most cost effective, efficient and robust solution on the market.