The Bailey bridge was called after her designer, Donald Bailey. He worked as a civil servant at the British War Office. In his spare time he built models of bridges and showed one of these to his superiors. His design was looked over and after a positive thumbs-up a bridge of real proportions was constructed.

Donald Coleman Bailey met een model van zijn brug

In 1941 the Bailey bridge became the official Standard Military Bridge. It was entered in the service of the Corps of Royal Engineers and it was first used during the campaign in Sicily, 1943. The American also used the bridge and built the components through license. A total of 40 kilometers of bridges was built during the war by the British and American. They used 490.000 tons of steel for the construction.

Bridge with ramp and anchor (on show in Marckolsheim, France)

The New Zealander A.M. Hamilton, the designer of the Hamilton-Callender bridge thought that he could claim one of the patents, and placed his claim with Royal Commission for Awards to Inventors. It was honoured, but it was not enough to claim the whole bridge. And Baileys bridge had much more to offer than Hamilton his bridge. The Bailey bridge is still a bridge that is used today by armies. Bailey was rightly knighted for his design. They were placed throughout the whole of Europe, and you can still find Bailey bridges in use today.

Details of a Bailey bridge (still in use at Titele, Italië)

A Bailey bridge gets it's strength through its simple assemblage. It is built up in sections and the modules are constructed as one by human strength only, no cranes are necessary. The three meter long side panels are constructed from steel U-beams. To give these strength, some support is placed inside the panels. These completed panels are placed as a double pair on steel beams. On these beams a wooden road is placed.

De Bailey bridge at Saint-Hilaire-Petitville has on one side a pedestrian walkway

On a side of the bridge it was possible to constructed a small walkway for pedestrians. When the bridge becomes too long or it must carry heavy loads, extra panels are placed atop the first row (as above is shown on the bridge at Saint-Hilaire-Petitville).

A Bailey bridge across the river Rudavoi in the Italien Dolomites

The First Bailey bridge that was built in France, was constructed near Bénouville across the Caen canal. It was laid down a couple of hundred meters south of the, now, famous Pegasus bridge. The bridge was constructed on June 8, 1944 to bring supplies between both side, and to have to rely on Pegasus bridge alone. This was not the first Bailey built as a tactical tool, the first was constructed in Sicily, and later a plenty in Italy itself. A total of more than 3000 alone would be built in Italy.

Detail from a side panel (at the former ‘Musée Août 44’ in Falaise, France)

ALG with SMT, PHS and PSP

After a bridgehead was formed in Normandy after the landings on June 6th, 1944, it was of the most importance to construct airfields for fighters and fighterbombers that could protect and give support to the ground forces. With the first waves of Allied forces on the Normandy beaches, the engineers came to shore. Their first task was to clear the beaches and land from obstacles and to construct bridges. Another task was the construction of the airfields. Often under German fire, the engineers started their work on these ALG's (Advanced Landing Grounds).

The Square Mesh Track (SMT) is deployed

First the soil was cleared and flattened, and then covered with Square Mesh Track (SMT). This SMT was developed by the British and consisted of a heavy wire maze (in squares of 8 x 8 cm) on big rolls.

SMT can still be found as fences in Normandy, like this near Quinéville

The first airfields in Normandy were constructed in this way. Later ALG's were constructed with Prefabricated Hessian (Burlap) Surfacing (PHS or PBS). This consisted of asphalt impregnated jute of approximately 100 meters in length and 1 meter wide.

Prefabricated Hessian (Burlap) Surfacing (PHS of PBS) is roled out

Because of the closed deck of the PHS, the dust clouds that were created by the propblast of the planes was prevented. It was not uncommon to use PHS and SMT on top of each other, 'the best of both worlds'.

PSP; Pierced Steel Planking (or 'Perforated Steel Plating')

Just as America became involved in the second Word War, they developed PSP, 'Pierced Steel Planking' (also known as; 'Perforated Steel Plating'). Another name that was used for PSP was 'Marsden Matting', from Marston, an airfield in Georgia, US, were it was used the first time. A section of steel PSP was about 3 meters in length and 40 cm wide. It had three rows of round holes (29 in the straight length, 64mm diameter). It was because of this construction that it held its strength, but was light enough to work with. On the side of each PSP were hooks and holes to connect them together.

With 2000 tons of PSP (60.000 pieces) a 100 men could make a runway of 1.5 km length and 50 meters wide in 175 hours. In July 1944 the first PSP was shipped to Normandy. But soon it was clear that the fast moving army outrun the ALG's that were being built. Most of the PSP was used for dispersal places for planes and to accommodate temporary encampments for the Allied troops. After several German airfields were overrun, the damaged runways were mostly rebuilt by filling the holes, then to create new runways. But the PSP was a popular solution for other things than construction of airfields. It was used to construct small bridges, cages, fences and even chairs were 'folded' out of PSP.

PSP a extra armour for Australian Matilda tanks in Balikpapan, Borneo

By September, 15, 1944, the Americans had 80 airfields and the British 76. The PHS was soon vanished from the theatre of war. But pieces of SMT could be found decades after the war, but is now almost gone. On the other hand, PSP can be found in lots of places all over Normandy. It is used mainly by farmers as fences and as cages to hold their livestock. In the city of Bayeux is a complete wall of a house still covered with PSP. The PSP is a remarkable piece of recent history, and have a nice rusty brown colour against the green background of Normandy.

PSP is still in use by farmers in France, to keep the cows in,...