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.”
Who was that brillant engineer? Sir Donald Coleman Bailey.
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.