We haven’t posted a war time bridge in a while and this week’s Pic has a mixture of history combined with one of the most gorgeous bridge and sunset photos a person could ask for. When on Instagram, one should check out the Agaton Ari page as she specializes in sunset photos based in Poland, where she comes from.
This bridge caught my attention a few weeks back and at her blessing, it’s being featured here. It’s one of Poland’s most ornamental truss bridges when looking at the portal bracings and its finials of the riveted Howe through truss bridge. The bridge is located in Ploski spanning the Narew River and was placed here in 1953 to replace a previous structure that was built in 1915 but was destroyed in 1945 towards the end of World War II. Already facing the prospects of defeat in the hands of the marching Soviet troops from the east, the Nazi troops blew up every bridge in its path as they fled towards Berlin- a futile attempt as Nazi Germany was already encircled by the Allied Troops from the western flank (USA, Great Britain and France).
The interesting story behind this bridge was that consisted of one of the multiple spans of another bridge that had spanned the Vistula River in the Polish town of Fordon. That bridge in itself has its own history that was in connection with both the war and the bridge design. The bridge features two different bridge spans. The first features a series of Town Lattice truss spans supported by concrete fort-like towers. The trusses were designed by Swiss engineer Rudolf Schinz; the towers and portals were designed by Friedrich August Stüler. The structure was built in 1857 and is considered one of the oldest truss bridges of its kind ever built. A parallel crossing was designed in 1891 by Georg Christoph Mehrtens and Johann Schwedler with the portals built by Johann Eduard Jacobsthal. The bridge was destroyed twice during World War II: the first time in 1939 by the invading Nazi troops when they captured all of Poland and ignited the war, and the second time by the fleeing Nazi troops six years later. Both times they were rebuilt using temporary makeshift bridges though remains of both original bridges are still in use to this day. The bridge received a permanent span by 1956 with a multiple-span subdivided Warren through truss span but not before having dismantled some of the spans and relocating them.
And this is where the span at Ploski comes in. With the shortage of materials and manpower because of the effects of the war, the span is relocated to this site where it still serves traffic today. One will find this structure near a pair of churches located only a few hundred meters nearby. The bridge is listed as a historic monument on the national level with a few comments in a document about the bridge’s ornamental portal bracings:
“They are manifested in the structure of the bridge itself, the materials used to make the spans and the method of their construction. The re-use of the spans also illustrates the destruction of infrastructure affected by World War II. The rhythmic arrangement of trusses, decorative riveting and ornamentation of the balustrades also tell us about the rich artistic value”
The bridge is in a natural setting which warrants a visit and a few photos. The photo taken of the bridge in this feature was taken at sundown and features several colors that make it a unique photo and one that would receive some recognition on the state and international levels. This one is on the international level and all I can say here is “Wow, simply wow!!”
Located along the River Rhine northwest of Duisburg in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the town of Wesel, with a population of 60,200 inhabitants, is one of the towns in Germany that had been scarred by the history of conquest. It had been captured by the Spanish in 1590, then was the focal point of a tug-a-war between the Spaniards and the Dutch until the French captured it in 1672. The Prussians entered the picture in the 17th Century only to fight with the French over the city for the next century. After the Battle of Waterloo and the subsequent fall of Napoleon in 1813, Wesel became part of Prussia, which later became Germany with the unification of several small states and kingdoms and the ratification of the treaty in 1871. The town was a strategic point for weaponry during World War II, which made it an easy target for attack by the Allied Troops. After three different bombing attacks on February and March of 1945, the city was reduced to rubble; the population was reduced from 25,000 inhabitants in 1939 to only 1,900 by the end of World War II in May 1945.
Despite some of the architecture that withstood the test of time, much of Wesel has been reconstructed to its former glory since the end of World War II, with a newly rebuilt market square and cathedral, as well as Berlin Gate. Yet one can find some ruins of the city that had once been fortified but was one of the key industrial ports along the lower portion of the Rhine River.
This includes a pair of bridges that spanned the river. Both spans had been built before 1900, yet their fate landed in the hands of German dictator Adolf Hitler, who ordered every single bridge along the Rhine and its tributaries to be blown up after Wesel was sacked by bombs on February 19th. The railroad bridge that had existed north of Wesel was the last crossing over the Rhine before it was detonated. The bridge remains are still visible to see. The roadway bridge was rebuilt using a prefabricated truss design, and it lasted for over 60 years until it was replaced in 2009. The history of the two bridges and their fates will be summarized here. It includes video of the two bridges to give you an insight on what they had looked like prior to and after1945.
Wesel Railroad Bridge:
On 1 MArch, 1874, the Wesel Railroad Bridge was opened to traffic. It was built by the Cologne Railroad Company and was part of the railroad line that had connected Paris with Hamburg, via Münster and Bremen. It is unknown who designed the bridge, but it was one of a few bridges that were put on display at the World Exhibition in Vienna in 1873 and received accolades for their architectural work. It is known that the railroad bridge was the longest Rhine crossing in Germany and was last crossing standing when it was destroyed in March 1945. The bridge had a total length of almost 2km (1,950 meters) and featured four main spans, each of a curved Whipple through truss, six additional truss spans, plus 97 stone arch approach spans- 65 on the west side of the Rhine and 32 on the east side where Wesel is located. The truss beams had welded connections, which were typical for European truss bridges built during the last three decades of the 19th Century.
The fate of the railroad bridge coincited with the fate of the rail line that passed through Wesel. Despite its length, the bridge was imploded on March 10th, 1945 under the direction of General Alfred Schlemm. The troops and much of Wesel were under attack during the last month, including the bombings that started February 12th and ended on the 19th, destroying much of the city. As American, Canadian and British troops advanced towards the town under the operation “Varsity”, Schlemm and his troops set the bombs on the main spans and during the morning hours of the 10th, the bridge was detonated. Hours later, the Allied Troops took the town without much resistance with only 80+ casualties. The Wesel Railroad Bridge outlived the Ludendorff in Remagen (southeast of Bonn) by three days.
Plans to rebuild the railroad was abandoned and the Hamburg-Paris rail line was later rerouted through Duisburg and later Düsseldorf. The truss bridge piers were later removed in 1968 to allow for ships along the Rhine to pass. What is left of the old railroad bridge are the approach spans, which you can see in the videos and picture below. The railroad bridge has since been considered a historic landmark because of its design and association with German industrial history.
Wesel Highway Bridge:
Unlike the railroad bridge spanning the Rhine, the highway bridge was rebuilt towards the end of World War II. Since 1945, the bridge has been rebuilt twice. The Wesel Highway Bridge was first built in 1917 and featured a continuous cantilever through truss bridge with Warren truss design. Like the railroad bridge, the highway bridge was detonated by the fleeing Nazi soldiers in an attempt to slow the advencement of Allied troops. Little did they realize, they found a creative way to re-erect a crossing, using the technology that was based on an invention in Great Britain: The Bailey Truss.
As soon as the troops captured Wesel, they constructed a temporary bridge, made of pontoons, to enable the passage of troops and equipment and to speed up the process of ending the war, which was successful with the capitulation of Germany on May 7, 1945. With the war over, came the reconstruction of Germany and that included important crossings like this one. In October 1945, English troops constructed a multiple-span Bailey Truss bridge over the Rhine, featuring two bridges, each carrying one lane of traffic and with a speed limit of 25 km/h (15 mph). The Montgomery Bridge, named after Bernard Law Montgomery, who led troops through North Africa, Italy and the Normandy, was the second longest Bailey crossing behind a crossing at Rees. Nicknamed the Gummibrücke, this bridge was in service until a newer, more stable crossing could be put into place.
As you can see in the video here, the bridge in the foreground was the successor to the Bailey Truss . It was a continuous through truss span using the simple Warren design with riveted connections. It was built in 1953 by a consortium of three companies and served traffic until 2009. Because of its narrowness, it was considered structurally obsolete, resulting in the construction of the new, but present structure, as you can see in the background.
The present structure took four years to build but in the end, the bridge was opened to traffic on 30 November, 2009 and right after that, the truss bridge was dismantled. Some parts can still be seen near the present day structure. The bridge features a bottle-shaped A-frame tower with stayed cables. At 772 meters in length, it’s 200 meters longer than the truss bridge. Thanks to a width of 27.5 meters, the bridge can carry four lanes of traffic along the Highway 58.
The bridges of Wesel once provided a main artery over the Rhine and services for the residents. Because of the war, much of the city was destroyed and relicts from the war can be seen today, especially with the railroad bridge that once was part of Wesel. Yet the destruction of both bridges showed that through the use of technology, combined with the resiliency of locals to have a crossing open, that newer bridges can be built that are sturdier and can carry more than their predecessors. They helped with the rebuilding efforts of Wesel and to this day, made the town a stronger and more intact community than during the war. Still the scars will forever remain on the landscape and they must not be forgotten when talking about war in the classroom and its impact on society. World War II presents an example of a war that must never happen again, and that speaking from experience of those who witnessed it first hand and afterwards…..
In northwest Kyushu, on a peninsula of a peninsula of a peninsula, like a fractal made from prehistoric solidified lava, lies the vibrant city of Nagasaki. Nagasaki City lies on a branch of three interconnected peninsulas. Two volcanoes can be seen, Unzen to the east, and Taradake to the northeast. Nestled amongst rugged volcanic hills, […]
While Nagasaki was one of two cities in Japan that was destroyed by a nuclear bomb in 1945. On August 9th of that year, much of the city was reduced to a pile of rubble within a matter of seconds when a US plane dropped the bomb onto the city which had 260,000 inhabitants. The city has since recovered from the tragedy and the population has even doubled. While much of Nagasaki’s architecture is of post-World War-based modernity, some relicts from the past- the time before the incident- can be found in the city. Among those are historic bridges. In this guest post tour guide, the author takes you on a tour through the city and its unique bridges, past and present. Click on the link above and enjoy! 🙂
Our next mystery bridge takes us into the mountains, but this time to the area between Ustí nad Labem (Aussig) and Liberec in northern Czechia in the region of Bohemia. The Hradčany Airport is a former military airbase located near the town of Ralsko. It’s situated in the area of confluence between the Ralsko and Ploučnice Rivers. Originally, the area was used for military combat training during the times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as well as after the establishment of Czechoslovakia. When Nazi Germany occupied the country in 1938, the area was converted to a military airbase by the Wehrmacht, which included new runways and hangers for their fighter jets. It was one of the most important bases fort he eastern front during World War II.
As part of the measure to expel German residents out of their country, Czechoslovakia reclaimed the airbase but only for a short time, as it later became part of Soviet Army when it became a socialist republic. Again, the airbase became an important point of axis for the Soviet Union, especially during the Prague Spring of 1968, when troops entered the city and ended the revolution with military force. For 30 years, the Hradčany Airbase was an important military base for the Soviets to ensure that none of the communist states were influenced by the capitalist West.
After the fall of the communist party from power in 1989, withdrawal of Soviet troops was negotiated in February 1990. The last soldier left the district in May 1991. The district lost its military status in the same year. On January 1, 1992 the village of Ralsko was established by joining of nine villages together. Between 1993 and 2004 the area was extensively cleaned up from chemical contamination and searched for unexploded ammunition. To this day, all that remains are ruins of the airport that are beset by vandals. The area has been also used for drag racing and dance parties, yet there have been plans to convert the former base into a recreational area.
And this takes us to this bridge, the Stary zeleznicni most, a former railroad bridge located north of the former airbase. This was discovered by Czech bridgehunter Lara Vajrychová during a recent trip to the area. The structure is approximately 200 meters long and features a combination Lattice and Bailey truss design. The portal bracings are I-beam with bedstead endposts. The connections are for the most part pinned, based on Bailey truss building techniques, yet the top and bottom chords have riveted connections.
It is unknown when the structure was built but we do know that the railroad line served as an important link to the airbase from the north. It could be that the Germans had built this prior to the start of World War II as soon as Czechoslovakia was taken over in 1938. Should this argument be true, then the bridge survived the bombings unscathed, which enabled Soviet and American troops to use the bridge and the rail line to march into Germany in 1945. By the same token, if the crossing was damaged, it was likely that the Soviets rebuilt the bridge and used it to provide materials and artillery to quash any uprisings, yet that would have happened between the time the country became a communist state in 1948 and the time before the Prague Spring, 20 years later.
And this is where your help is needed here: In your opinion, were the Germans or the Russians responsible for this important crossing that made the now former airbase a key axis point (Stützpunkt) until 1990. What kind of truss design is this and who was behind ist construction?
And for that, the forum is open.
Czechoslovakia was split into Czech Republic and Slovakia through a Velvet Divorce, which happened on January 1, 1993. On January 1, 2021, the Czech Republic was renamed Czechia.
The best discoveries are found in your backyard. This mystery bridge fits the historian stereotype like a glove and can be found in the southeastern part of Glauchau in the area now designated as a natural reserve, behind the Rudolph Virchow Hospital and adjacent Agricola High School. We found this bridge as pure coincidence, while we were hiking and taking pictures on a Sunday afternoon. The structure is a two-span deck arch bridge all made with metal, and the connections are welded. The bridge has a total length of 25 meters and it appeared that it used to span a body of water which has since shrunk in size, leaving the area the bridge crosses to be nothing more but a dry ravine to be forded because much of the decking on the bridge is in critical condition with missing or cracked flooring. The bridge used to carry an abandoned road, which we later found that it led to the hospital grounds and given its width, it was probably used only for cars and pedestrians only.
The bridge has a unique feature that is rare to find for bridges built during its time. One side of the bridge exposes the arch section where only a couple vertical beams support the arches. Both the arches as well as the center piers are tubular and are welded together. On the opposite end, the arches are covered with paneling resembling an appearance of a faux pas arch span: a beam bridge that is decorated with only the outer arches, whose spandrels are covered with paneling, thus making the bridge look like a real arch bridge but it’s merely a beam bridge that functions as the crossing supporting traffic.
It is unknown when the bridge was built, let alone who built it, but the area where the bridge was discovered by accident belongs to a natural area known as the Rümpfwald, an area that is the size of 10 football pitches that extends from the hospital, along the cemetary and past Bismarck Tower going south and east towards Rottenbach Creek and the adjacent forest near Niederlungwitz and St. Egidien, located six kilometers southeast of Glauchau’s Railway station. A map featuring both the forest and the bridge shows you the size of the natural area.
Before the habitat was created, it was once a military complex with a long history, most of which still hangs a dark cloud over Glauchau to this day. In 1914, a military complex was established under the name Friedrich August Kaserne, which covered an area including the hospital, and the western half of Rümpfwald. Originally used for the German army, it was made irrelevant when Germany was forced to reduce its military to a quarter of ist size through the Versailles Treaty of 1919. Nevertheless, when Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, the military base was reactivated and used as a concentration camp for political prisoners. By 1936, it became a base for the Wehrmacht- the Nazi army. By 1945, the Soviet troops took over the eastern half of Germany and with that, the military base in Glauchau, which would later be expanded to include the production of weaponry and tanks as well as a practice area. The Soviets occupied the base until 1993, when the last Russian troops left the base. Afterwards, the entire complex was razed to the ground and the area was converted to a natural area, yet some of the relicts from the past still exist today….
….including this bridge. Given its current, deteriorating state, the bridge will most likely succumb to nature as the arches and the superstructure have corroded to a point where a full rehabilitation would be deemed impossible. Yet given the fact that this bridge is one of the most neglected of all of Glauchau’s bridges, it would be a shame to see it disappear without knowing about its history. While only a small portion of the military base has been preserved as a mini-library, perhaps there is a place for this unique bridge, even if the dark past of the military days in Glauchau have long since disappeared…..
The Watchman’s post and the Historic Gate to the military base at Wolffersdorfstrasse and the north entrance to the hospital were preserved, restored and converted to a library. The smallest library in Germany was completed in 2009 and received the 2011 Pegasus Award, the most important award of the EU devoted to preserving places of historic interest. More information on the project can be found here. Ironically, book booth, a phone booth is located on the opposite end of the street at Virchowstrasse. There, you can donate your books and take one from the booth with. It’s next to a panel of what was part of the Berlin Wall.
Plans are in the making to expand the Virchow Hospital further into the forest and former military compound, which includes rehabilitation areas and a health care sector. When the work starts remains open.
And now, before we announce the winners of the 2020 Bridgehunter Awards, I have a few favorites that I hand-picked that deserve international recognition. 2020 was a year like no other. Apart from head-scratcher stories of bridges being torn down, we had an innummeral number of natural disasters that were impossible to follow, especially when it came to bridge casualties. We had some bonehead stories of people downing bridges with their weight that was 10 times as much as what the limit was and therefore they were given the Timmy for that (click on the link that will lead you to the picture and the reason behind it.) But despite this we also had a wide selection of success stories in connection with historic bridge preservation. This include two rare historic bridges that had long since disappeared but have now reappeared with bright futures ahead of them. It also include the in-kind reconstruction of historic bridges, yet most importantly, they also include historic bridges that were discovered and we had never heard of before- until last year.
And so with that in mind, I have some personal favorites that deserve international recognition- both in the US as well as international- awarded in six categories, beginning with the first one:
Best example of reused bridge:
The Castlewood Thacher Truss Bridge in South Dakota:
One of three hybrid Thacher through truss bridges left in the US, the bridge used to span the Big Sioux River near Castlewood until it disappeared from the radar after 1990. Many pontists, including myself, looked for it for three decades until my cousin, Jennifer Heath, found it at the Threshing Grounds in Twin Brooks. Apparently the product of the King Bridge Company, built in 1894, was relocated to this site in 1998 and restored for car use, in-kind. Still being used but we’re still scratching our heads as to how it managed to disappear from our radar for a very long time…..
Built in 1866, this bridge was unique for its arch design. It was destroyed by floods in 2015 but it took five years of painstaking efforts to put the bridge back together again, finding and matching each stone and reinforcing it with concrete to restore it like it was before the tragedy. Putting it back together again like a puzzle will definitely make for a puzzle game using this unique bridge as an example. Stay tuned.
While it has not been opened yet for the construction of the South Park Gardens is progressing, this four-span arch bridge connecting the Park with the Castle Complex was completely restored after 2.5 years of rebuilding the 17th Century structure which had been abandoned for four decades. Keeping the outer arches, the bridge was rebuilt using a skeletal structure that was later covered with concrete. The stones from the original bridge was used as a façade. When open to the public in the spring, one will see the bridge that looks like the original but has a function where people can cross it. And with the skeleton, it will be around for a very long time.
This one definitely deserves a whole box of tomatoes. Instead of rehabilitating the truss bridge and repurposing it for bike and public transportation use, designers unveiled a new bridge that tries to mimic the old span but is too futuristic. Watch the video and see for yourself. My take: Better to build a futuristic span, scrap the historic icon and get it over with.
Demolishing the Pilchowicki Bridge in Poland for a Motion Picture Film-
Paramount Pictures and Tom Cruz should both be ashamed of themselves. As part of a scene in the film, Mission Impossible, this historic bridge, spanning a lake, was supposed to be blown up, then rebuilt mimicking the original structure. The bridge had served a railroad and spans a lake. The plan was tabled after a huge international cry to save the structure. Nevertheless, the thwarted plan shows that America has long been famous for: Using historic places for their purpose then redo it without thinking about the historic value that was lost in the process.
A one of a kind Thacher pony truss, this bridge went from being a swing bridge crossing connecting East and West Lake Okoboji, to a Little Sioux River crossing that was eventually washed out by flooding in 2011, to the storage bin, and now, to its new home- Parks Marina on East Lake Okoboji. The owner had one big heart to salvage it. Plus it was in pristine condition when it was relocated to its now fourth home. A real winner.
Dömitz Railroad Bridge between Lower Saxony and Mecklenburg-Pommerania in Germany-
World War II had a lasting after-effect on Germany’s infrastructure as hundreds of thousands of historic bridges were destroyed, either through bombs or through Hitler’s policies of destroying every single crossing to slow the advancement of the Allied Troops. Yet the Dömitz Railroad Bridge, spanning the River Elbe, represents a rare example of a bridge that survived not only the effects of WWII, but also the East-West division that followed, as the Mecklenburg side was completely removed to keep people from fleeing to Lower Saxony. All that remains are the structures on the Lower Saxony side- preserved as a monument symbolizing the two wars and the division that was lasting for almost a half century before 1990.
Forest Fires along the West Coast- 2020 was the year of disasters in a literal sense of the word. Apart from the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought the world to a near standstill, 2020 was the year where records were smashed for natural disasters, including hurricanes and in particular- forest fires. While 20% of the US battled one hurricane after another, 70% of the western half of the country, ranging from the West Coast all the way to Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and the Dakotas dealt with record-setting forest fires, caused by drought, record-setting heatwaves and high winds. Hardest hit area was in California, Washington and even Oregon. Covered bridges and other historic structures took a massive hit, though some survived the blazes miraculously. And even some that did survive, presented some frightening photo scenes that symbolizes the dire need to act on climate change and global warming before our Earth becomes the next Genesis in Star Trek.
Demolition of the Historic Millbrook Bridge in Illinois-
Inaction has consequences. Indifference has even more painful consequences. Instead of fixing a crumbling pier that could have left the 123-year old, three-span through truss bridge in tact, Kendall County and the Village of Millbrook saw dollar signs in their eyes and went ahead with demolishing the entire structure for $476,000, coming out of- you guessed it- our taxpayer money. Cheapest way but at our expense anyway- duh!
Planned Demolition of the Bridges of Westchester County, New York-
While Kendall County succeeded in senselessly tearing down the last truss bridge in the county, Westchester County is planning on tearing down its remaining through truss bridges, even though the contract has not been let out just yet. The bridges have been abandoned for quite some time but they are all in great shape and would make for pedestrian and bike crossings if money was spent to rehabilitate and repurpose them. Refer to the examples of the Calhoun and Saginaw County historic bridges in Michigan, as well as those restored in Winneshiek, Fayette, Madison, Johnson, Jones and Linn Counties in Iowa. Calling Julie Bowers and Nels Raynor!
Collapse of Westphalia Bridge due to overweight truck-
To the truck driver who drove a load over the bridge whose weight was four times the weight limit, let alone bring down the 128-year old product of the Kansas City Bridge Company: It’s Timmy time! “One, …. two,….. three! DUH!!!!” The incident happened on August 17th 2020 and the beauty of this is, upon suggesting headache bars for protecting the bridge, county engineers claimed they were a liability. LAME excuse!
Located near the Göhren Viaduct in the vicinity of Burgstädt and Mittweida, this open-spandrel stone arch bridge used to span the Zwickau Mulde and was a key accessory to the fourth tallest viaduct in Saxony. Yet it was not valuable enough to be demolished and replaced during the year. The 124-year old bridge was in good shape and had another 30 years of use left. This one has gotten heads scratching.
Collapse of Bridge in Nova Scotia due to overweight truck-
It is unknown which is more embarrassing: Driving a truck across a 60+ year old truss bridge that is scheduled to be torn down or doing the same and being filmed at the same time. In any case, the driver got the biggest embarrassment in addition to getting the Timmy in French: “Un,…. deux,…… toi! DUH!!!” The incident happened on July 8th.
Consisting of vine bridges dating back hundreds of years, this area has become a celebrity since its discovery early last year. People in different fields of work from engineers to natural scientists are working to figure out how these vined bridges were created and how they have maintained themselves without having been altered by mankind. This region is one of the World’s Top Wonders that should be visited, regardless whether you are a pontist or a natural scientist.
This structure deserves special recognition not only because it turned 125 years old in 2020. The bridge is the longest of its kind on the South American continent and it took eight years to build. There’s an interesting story behind this bridge that is worth the read…..
For bridge tours on the international front, I would recommend the bridges of Schwerin. It features seven iron bridges, three unique modern bridges, a wooden truss span, a former swing span and a multiple span arch bridge that is as old as the castle itself, Schwerin’s centerpiece and also home of the state parliament. This was a big steal for the author as the day trip was worth it.
Geoff Hobbs brought the bridge to the attention of the pontist community in July 2020, only to find that the bridge belonged to a mansion that has a unique history. As a bonus, the structure is still standing as with the now derelict mansion.
The Bridges of Jefferson Proving Grounds in Indiana-
The Proving Grounds used to be a military base that covered sections of four counties in Indiana. The place is loaded with history, as not only many buildings have remained largely in tact but also the Grounds’ dozen bridges or so. Satolli Glassmeyer provided us with a tour of the area and you can find it in this film.
Now that the favorites have been announced and awarded, it is now the voter’s turn to select their winners, featured in nine categories of the 2020 Bridgehunter Awards. And for that, we will go right, this way…… =>
One will find this one anywhere. Even on the backroads like this one: a single span truss span spanning Soldier River just south of Iowa Hwy. 141 in Crawford County. The bridge was erected here in 1957 to replace a span destroyed during the great flood of 1945. At 90 feet, one would think a through truss span could have fit here. Yet the span is a pony truss and it was put together in layers and put together with bolts. A set of Tinker Toys that was put together easily with the purpose of ensuring even the heaviest vehicles- in this case, farm equipment like tractors- would be allowed to cross it. One has to assume that it was imported somewhere where it had a purpose.
And it was. This span is an example of a Bailey Truss bridge. And even though one can find them here and there, in the farmlands of Iowa to the steep hills of central Saxony, even to the far east, such as India, Australia and New Zealand. Bailey Trusses were unique because all they require is a few metal beams and bolts, combined with manpower, and the bridge is put together in an instant. Bailey Trusses were the works of a brillant engineer and and without his expertise, it would not have won World War II. As Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery, the British commander, once said. ”It was the best thing in that line we ever had; without the Bailey Bridge we should not have won the war.”
Bailey was born on 15 September, 1901 in Rotherham in Yorkshire. He obtained a degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Sheffield in 1923 and was a civil servant in the War Department when the war broke out in 1939. The concept of the Bailey Truss was developed in 1936, when Bailey scribbled the design on the back of an envelope. His idea was that prefabricated sections that were interchangable could be deployed to the war front and, with steel pins, soldiers could construct the span, which would be anchored on one side and connected on the other side by the use of force. No heavy equipment would be needed to construct a temporary span, and the parts could be transported with the basic equipment or with man power from one place to another because of their lightweight. Constructing them would be easy for it could be achieved within hours, instead of months. For the war effort, the concept of makeshift bridge construction in the shortest time span possible was of utmost importance in order to win the war.
Firstly ignored, Bailey’s truss design was accepted in 1941 when the Ministry of Supply requested that Bailey construct a full scale span completed by May 1st. The design was successfully tested at the Experimental Bridging Establishment (EBE), in Christchurch, Hampshire, with several parts being provided by Braithwaite & Co. The first prototype was tested in 1941. For early tests, the bridge was laid across a field, about 2 feet (0.61 m) above the ground, and several Mark V tanks were filled with pig iron and stacked upon each other. Another prototype was constructed in 1943 at Stanpit Marsh also in Dorset and was proven successful. That span still exists to this day. After a series of successful trials, the Corps of Royal Engineers introduced the Bailey Truss as a means of construction in 1942 and companies began constructing parts for the Bailey Truss to be transported to the war front.
Use in World War II:
The first Bailey Truss was constructed over Medjerda River near Medjez el Bab in Tunisia on the night of 26 November 1942 by the by 237 Field Company R.E. After learning about the bridge‘s success, both the Canadians and Americans embraced the truss and started their own production to complement that of Britain. Detroit Steel Products Company, the American Elevator Company and the Commercial Shearing and Stamping Company were three of dozens of companies that constructed the Bailey Trusses in the US, which was known as the Portable Panel Bridge. In total, over 600 firms were involved in the making of over 200 miles of bridges using the Bailey design, composing of 500,000 tons, or 700,000 panels of bridging during the war- at the height of the war, the number was at 20,000 panels that were produced and transported. Bailey Trusses were used successfully for transporting military equipment and supplies during the war, including the Normandy and Italy. American troops built over 3200 Bailey Trusses in Italy as they advanced through the Alps into Germany from the south. The longest bridge there was located over the Sangro and had a span of 1200 feet.
Bailey Trusses were also implemented in Germany, when hundreds of key structures were imploded by the Nazis as a way to slowing or stopping the advancement of Allied Troops. This included the bridges along the Rivers Rhine and Main. Canadians were credited for building the longest Bailey Bridge during the war. The Blackfriars Bridge, a 1814 foot long (558 meters) over the River Rhine at Rees, in North Rhine-Westphalia, was the longest span in the world when it opened to traffic on 28 March, 1945.
Even when the war ended on May 7th, 1945, Bailey trusses were in use as temporary crossings while the bridges were either repaired or rebuilt throughout Germany. It had a dual purpose: To help displaced residence get around and to allow for the transportation of necessary goods needed while the country was being rebuilt. Some of them were made permanent, while others, including the major crossings along the Rhine, Main and Elbe were temporary, allowing time for the original structures to be either repaired or rebuilt fully.
After World War II:
When the war was over, there was a surplus of Bailey spans that were available for reuse. This allowed for Americans, British and Canadians alike to reuse them for various projects. Many of them made their way to Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, where counties in the western half of the state needed at least temporary crossings to replace the spans that were destroyed during the floods of 1945 and again in 1952. Some examples still remain in use today. Bailey trusses were used as temporary crossings as bridges were being replaced. In the case of a viaduct in Maryland, the Bailey spans were built prior to the original trestle being replaced with steel trestles.
Large numbers of Bailey truss spans were built in mountainous areas in California where constructing bridges to accomodate travelers was difficult because of the steep, rocky terrain. Some of the spans were part of the ACROW bridge- temporarily built as moveable bridges. The Fore River Bridge and the Lynn Baschule Bridge both in Massachusetts are classic examples of such Bailey Trusses used. Bailey trusses were also used as extra support for the truss bridge, as is the case with the Haiti Island Bridge in New York, which happened in 2007. The span and the truss bridge itself were replaced three years later.
Ontario had the largest number of Bailey truss spans for the years after the war, with the spans being built in and around Toronto in response to damages caused by Hurricane Hazel. The Finch Avenue Bridge is the last of its kind and is now a historic landmark. The Ontario Hydro-Electric Power Commission used some for their office and as walkways. And lastly, Australia built several Bailey bridges, including the world record holder, a 2585-foot (788 meter), two-lane structure over the Derwent River at Hobart, which was constructed in 1975. It served as a temporary structure before the Tasman Bridge was opened to traffic on October 8, 1977. Later, Bailey Truss Bridges were constructed in the far east, including northern Africa, Suriname, and India. Many of them, like the trestle at Wadi el Kuf in Lybia were built by the British during the time of its Empire.
The Legacy of Bailey:
Many scholars and even those who served in the military during WWII believed that the Bailey Truss was the key to mobilizing Allied Troops and securing a victory over Germany and Italy in World War II. As a result, Mr. Bailey received several international accolades for his work. In Britain alone, he was given the Knighthood on 1 January, 1946 and the Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau exactly two years later. By that time, Bailey was living in Southbourne in Bournemouth and was unaware that he had been knighted until one of the girls at the bank had informed him about it. Bailey would live out his days in Bournemouth, where he died in 1985.
He was considered a quiet man but one where he left a footprint with his truss bridge design, which is still widely used in bridge construction, big and small. And while the successes of World War II fell to the common person who fought for freedom and democracy, Bailey was considered one that played a key role, not only in helping bring an end to the war, but to help rebuild the areas ravaged by war with the Bailey Truss. And when you see a bridge like this one below, one will see how the use of simple parts and tools, combined with the use of manpower could make a work of simple art, something we still see today on our roads.
There are not many memorials dedicated to Bailey, even in Britain, for most of the places where he lived have been razed and replaced with newer housing. Yet the prototype Bailey span at Stanpit Marsh still exists today and his birthplace at 24 Albany Street in Rotherham still stands albeit privately owned. Yet there are some companies that specialize in Bailey trusses, including one in Alabama that bears its name. Bailey trusses were rarely used in films, except one based on the battle of Arnhem, A Bridge Too Far, released in 1977. There, the Bailey Truss Bridge was used in the film.
It is really hoped that a statue and/or additional honors, even a museum would be created honoring Bailey for his life and works. 75 years after the end of the great war, nothing of that sort has been considered. This should be considered, especially as talk of the significance of World War II is disappearing together with the War Generation and the children of the Baby Boom that followed. For historians, bridge enthusiasts, teachers and the public in general, it would produce some great talks about the common man who did great things and became Sir Donald Bailey in the end.
Army bases, or at least the remains of army bases, have become a ground for research for historic artefacts and to determine its history- both during ist time of operation as well as the time prior to their establishments. Both in Europe as well as in the United States, military bases were built at the expense of places of residence and/or natural or historic interest because they served as key logistical points for either testing new weapons or transporting military equipment to defend the territories. This was especially the case during the Cold War, as the US established dozens of military bases in the western half of Germany, including the existing bases at Rammstein, Grafenwöhr and near Kaiserslautern. In addition, military bases existed in the US, where they were used for experimenting with new weapons and producing new defense mechanisms to fend off the enemy. In this case, it was the Communist Bloc with the Soviet Union leading the way.
The Jefferson Proving Ground was one of the military bases that played a key role in US history. In 1940, 56,000 acres of land was purchased by the army to establish a military base. Work began to establish the base but at the cost of residential housing and historic places that had existed. Opened in 1941, the Jefferson Proving Grounds covered much of southern Indiana in parts of Jefferson, Jennings and Ripley Counties. It was on the list of closures in 1989 as part of the plan to realign the military but was actually closed down in 1995. Since then, the place has been considered vacant except in some areas that are still run by the military. Some of the places on the former base have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Jefferson Proving Ground provides some interesting facts and some discoveries that make researching the former military base and its history attractive. In a documentary by Satolli Glassmeyer of History in Your Own Backyard, you will have an opportunity to see the historic places that have a key role in the history oft he military base. Some of the relicts and historic buildings survived the transformation of going from a small residential area, to a military base to now a „ghost town“.
Surprising about the Jefferson Proving Grounds are the numerous historic bridges that still exist on the former military base, as he will show you in this documentary below. Most of the structures are arch bridges made of stone, but there are quite of few truss bridges, including two overhead truss spans. To learn more about them, check on the links at the end of the article. For now, enjoy the film.
Many cities have places where miracles happen and people remember them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Minneapolis Miracle of 2018 in professional football, visiting the Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, or even the parting of the Red Sea- the last two points dealing with Christianity. Then there’s the liberation of Europe in 1945 and the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent German Reunification of 1989-90 from the historical standpoint.
In the sense of infrastructure- in particular, bridges, if there’s a place where miracles did happen, one needs to travel to Dresden and to this bridge. There are several nicknames to describe the Loschwitz Cantilever Truss Bridge, which spans the River Elbe and connects the two suburbs of Blasewitz and Loschwitz. The most common is the Blue Miracle (Blaue Wunder in German). It has nothing to do with the bridge’s color nor does it have to do with its perfect photo with a blue backdrop. It has to do with the fact that the bridge, built by Claus Köpcke in 1893 has survived death three times- two of which came towards the end of World War II.
While Dresden was bombed a total of six times from 1944 to 1945, the city was hit the hardest during the infamous raid on February 13-16, 1945. British and American air troopers dropped thousands of tons of bombs onto the city, effectively destroying the entire city center and its prized architectural jewels, such as the Semper Opera House, the Castle of Dresden, and the Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), all of them dated back to the Baroque Period of the 17th Century. 80% of the entire city was in flames with as many as 30-40,000 people perishing. Temperatures from flames rose to 10,000° Celsius- hot enough to melt metal and vaporize people nearby. The Dresden Bombings are comparable with the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because of the intensity and the impact on the structural landscape of the city.
The bridge itself sustained damage to the trusses and decking during the air raids but they were minor enough that repairs were made to the structure and the crossing was back in service again. While the other crossings were damaged to a point where they were impassable, the Loschwitz Bridge survived its first miracle.
Shortly before the end of the War, the bridge had its second miracle. And there were five people to thank for this- two of whom were honored for their work. Before Hitler committed suicide in Berlin on May 1, he had ordered every bridge to be imploded to impede the march of Allied Troops that were encroaching Berlin on all sides. Already destroyed were all the crossings along the Rivers Oder and Neisse in present-day Brandenburg, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Pommerania, it was hoped that the crossings along the Elbe would follow suit and be met with dynamite. And this despite thousands of refugees evacuating areas already bombed out because of the raids.
Places like Dresden, where tens of thousands were homeless and looking for ways to escape the war, even if it meant surrendering to the approaching enemy unconditionally. With crossings, like the Carola and Augustus Bridges severely damaged or destroyed, it was hoped that the Blue Miracle would go down with them. However, on 7 May, two men- Paul Zickler and Erich Stöckel- made sure it didn’t happen. The two men defused the bombs by splicing the cables disabling the bombs and later removing the dynamite that would have brought the bridge down. However, three other men- Max Mühle, Carl Bouché and bridge commander Wirth also contributed to the cause. The bridge was saved and had its second miracle. Ironically, Germany capitulated to the Allies in Berlin that same day, thus bringing the European theater to a close. A monument commemorating this courageous event and honoring the two men can be found at the bridge along the pedestrian path on the Blasewitz side of the structure. Why the plan to blow up the bridge was foiled remains unknown to this day. However variables such as protests by the locals as well as the acceptance that the war was no longer winnable must not be left out.
The third close call was the plan to tear down the bridge and replace it on a new alignment, presented by the Socialist Party (SED) in 1967, but it was met with opposition and after almost two decades, the project was scrapped by 1985.
Fast forwarding to the present, the Blue Miracle is still standing, tall and strong. It has earned its nickname after 125 years of literal wear and tear. It has survived all the extremities that most historic bridges built of steel would have succumbed to. It survived a blazing inferno through war, while the rest of Dresden burned to the ground. It survived the worst of winters, such as that of 1978/79 that crippled both East and West Germany. It survived several windstorms, including Kyrill in 2007, which leveled forests and buildings and caused widespread power outages. It survived severe flooding- most notably those in 2002 and 2013 which put much of Dresden under water. And lastly, it survived the gravitational pull caused by the weight of vehicles and street cars traveling across it. All of this has not affected the bridge’s beauty as it is one of the most beloved and photographed not only in Dresden but also along the River Elbe. While some pushed for its demise, others made sure their plans never bore fruit, hence allowing for the bridge to stand for generations to come.
The Blue Miracle at present. The bridge has become an attraction both during the daytime, but also at night, thanks to the addition of LED lighting in 2011. The bridge is still used by commuters entering Dresden from the south, even though another bridge- the Waldschlösschenbrücke, built down stream- has taken the stress off the bridge since its opening in 2013. The bridge will be getting a much-needed facelift beginning in 2025 but when it is done, the crossing will continue to carry traffic and its historic flare as one of Dresden’s greatest places of interest will remain for locals and tourists to see. Already a book has been written about the bridge but from a photographer’s perspective. There will be more written and talked about with this bridge- the Blue Miracle: the structure that not only connects the south of Dresden, but one that has been in use through the best and worst of times. And that is thanks to five people who made it happen before the end of a war that was long lost and that people yearned for a new start.
The German term “Blaue Wunder erleben” originated from the name of the bridge in Dresden and implies that the person got an unexpected and sometimes unwanted surprise because of something done that was considered illegal.
Our next mystery bridge takes us to the Lausitz (Lusatia) region of eastern Saxony and the remains of this bridge. The bridge is located in the village of Zentendorf, located along the River Neisse at the German-Polish border. It approximately a kilometer north of the easternmost point in Germany and another kilometer south of the railroad bridge that connects Niesky and Weglieniec. It’s 20 kilometers south of the nearest city of Rothenburg (Lausitz/Lusatia), which is home of the Saxony Police University.
The bridge remains is on the Saxony side of the River Neisse, yet its mystery remains completely open for research and interpretation. It features a single span closed spandrel concrete arch span, yet the rest of the bridge has long since disappeared. Furthermore, there’s absolutely no information on the bridge’s history anywhere to be found- not even on a bridge website, like brueckenweb.de or structurae.net. Therefore we have no idea what the bridge looked like, let alone when it was built and who was responsible for it.
We do have speculation that this bridge was one of many along the Neisse to have been imploded towards the end of World War II, as Nazi troops were ordered to detonate every bridge to slow the advances of Soviet troops, an act that was considered futile as Allied troops were already inside Germany in March, liberating every village and region in its path enroute to Berlin, where Hitler was holed up and eventually committed suicide on May 1st. Germany surrendered six days later. Ironically, the railroad bridge, a Warren deck truss span, survived the war and remained in service until 2015, when it was replaced. Like the bridge in Fürstenberg (near Eisenhüttenstadt), the structure was never replaced but that was mainly due to another crossing at Deschka, only a few kilometers to the south, that is still open. Because of its dwindling population of close to 300 people plus financial constraints, the villagers of Zentendorf find it unnnecessary to replace the structure in their village.
Still, to close the book on the bridge’s history, we should solve it first. Therefore, any information on the bridge’s history is more than welcomed. You can find more pics of the bridge in another website; the link is found at the end of this article.
Good luck in the research and happy bridgehunting until we meet again. 🙂