The bridge design that helped win World War II

It’s a simple innovation that helped win a war.

The Bailey bridge was Donald Bailey’s innovative solution to a number of wartime obstacles. The allies needed a way to cross bodies of water quickly, but bombed-out bridges — or an absence of crossings entirely — made that incredibly difficult. That was only compounded by new, heavy tanks that needed incredibly strong support.

Bailey’s innovation — a modular, moveable panel bridge — solved those problems and gave the allies a huge advantage. The 570-pound steel panel could be lifted by just six men, and the supplies could fit inside small service trucks. Using those manageable materials, soldiers could build crossings sufficient for heavy tanks and other vehicles.

As impressive, the Bailey bridge could be rolled across a gap from one side to the other, making it possible to build covertly or with little access to the other side. Together, all the Bailey bridge’s advantages changed bridge construction and may have helped win the war.

Further reading:

John A. Thierry’s contemporaneous history of the Bailey Bridge provides a great overview:

This Army Manual is a great look at how the Bailey Bridge worked:

A number of good papers about the Bailey Bridge are also available, though they sit behind a paywall. You can read Bailey’s account of his bridge:

Denys Begbie and Gwilym Roberts’ paper is a great summary of the Bailey Bridge’s achievements.

The same goes for CJH Joiner’s history:

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