The Story of the Bailey Bridge

Terence Cuneo's painting, 'Bridging the Rapido at Monte Cassino'

Terence Cuneo’s painting, ‘Bridging the Rapido at Monte Cassino’ depicts the British Royal Engineers’ launch of an 80′ Class 30 Bailey bridge, built under constant fire on the night of 12-13 May 1944

Whilst working in the British War Office during World War II (WWII), civil servant Donald Bailey had an idea for a radical new bridge. His design for a modular, light but strong and very versatile steel bridge system proved to be one of the greatest inventions of WWII and was destined to play a significant part in the allied victory.

Having presented the idea to his superiors, the innovative design was successfully developed and tested by the British Government. The subsequently named Bailey Bridge was adopted as the standard Military Bridge in 1941 and was used extensively throughout the European campaign. By 1947, some 2,000 Bailey Bridges had been built with more than 1,500 bridges being constructed in North West Europe alone.

The Bailey Bridge was further credited with hastening the end of the war. As Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery wrote in 1947:

Sir Donald Bailey, KT, OBE (1901 – 1985) designer of the Bailey bridge

Sir Donald Bailey, KT, OBE (1901 – 1985) designer of the Bailey bridge

“Bailey Bridging made an immense contribution towards ending World War II. As far as my own operations were concerned, with the eighth Army in Italy and with the 21 Army Group in North West Europe, I could never have maintained the speed and tempo of forward movement without large supplies of Bailey Bridging.”

The contribution of the Bailey Bridge was such that Donald Bailey was awarded an OBE in 1943 and knighted in 1946 in recognition of his outstanding contribution.

After the war Bailey Bridges were used extensively throughout Europe to rebuild its infrastructure and many examples can still be found around the World today.

Mabey Super Bailey Bridge, London

Mabey Super Bailey Bridge, London

Development of Mabey Panel Bridges
Mabey Bridge recognised that the original Bailey design was capable of further development to broaden its application potential further. The result of this work was the Mabey Super Bailey Bridge system which eliminated some of the original design’s limitations. Following the success of the Mabey Super Bailey Bridge, the company continued to invest in an extensive programme of Research and Development including full scale testing that has already lasted more than 4 decades.

Today, Mabey Bridge continues to invest significantly in R&D and its comprehensive range of panel and other modular bridge systems allows the company to offer a broad selection of bridging solutions to worldwide markets.

The Bailey bridge had the following characteristics:

  • Fully interchangeable, standardised parts
  • Heaviest component capable of a six man lift (600lbs)
  • Transportable in standard, 3t military trucks
  • Capable of various constructions to suit differing loading and span requirements
  • Easily assembled in the field (manually, with basic tools)
  • Capable of being launched from one side of a gap
  • Able to carry 40t Churchill tanks
  • Capable of being strengthened in situ

Sir Donald Bailey in front of the Ice Proof Bailey bridge across the Rhine in 1946

Sir Donald Bailey in front of the Ice Proof Bailey bridge across the Rhine in 1946

An Otter light reconnaissance car crossing a Bailey bridge over the Volturno River at Grazzanise, October 1943

An Otter light reconnaissance car crossing a Bailey bridge over the Volturno River at Grazzanise, October 1943

Around 700,000 Bailey panels were produced during WW2, equating to approximately 350 miles of bridging. In North West Europe alone some 1,500 bridges (equating to more than 31 miles of decking) were constructed.