Saving A British Bailey Bridge

Last Vestige of the Battle of Normandy in the Bocage

Les Amis du Pont Bailey are delighted to announce that our huge, 27-tonne Whale section from the 1944 artificial harbour at Arromanches has been successfully transported across the Channel to the Imperial War Museum (Duxford) where it has been completely restored before being put on public exhibition. The official inauguration took place on 9th April 2016. We are grateful to the Beckett family who contributed to the cost of the transport and to all our friends who worked so hard over the past six years to save the Whale from destruction.

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See Bailey Bridge Appeal - Those who have helped us

See full list of members of Les Amis du Pont Bailey

See Bailey Bridge Accounts

Arromanches Mulberry Harbour and the Pont-Farcy Bailey Bridge

See images of the Arromanches Mulberry 'B' harbour and Bailey bridges in Normandy

The APB 'Whale' Project

'Saving A Bailey Bridge': see images from an illustrated talk by Christopher Long in 2015

See Main Index

This Bailey bridge was about to be destroyed... but has been saved for posterity...



n 9 June 2008 a huge crane hoisted a 25 tonne Bailey Bridge from its position straddling the river Vire in Basse-Normandie, France. Within a few minutes the 27 metre long bridge had been dumped onto the river bank awaiting men to cut it up and sell it off as scrap. Since at least 1958 this historic veteran of World War ll had served the tiny commune of Fourneaux, but was now no longer wanted.

Made in England in the 1940s, this bridge served an important role during the Battle of Normandy in 1944. It had crossed the English Channel in the days following D-Day to form a vital part of the Arromanches artificial harbour (Mulberry 'B'). There, from June to November 1944, it bridged an obstacle between the articial harbour causeways and the strategic coastal road. Between 5,000 and 10,000 tons of British military materiel passed through the harbour every day, crossing this and other Bailey bridges like it throughout Normandy. In 1958 our bridge was moved from Arromanches to be reassembled about 60 miles inland where, for 60 years, it bridged the river Vire between Pont-Farcy and Fourneaux, replacing a small metallic lock-keeper's bridge destroyed by the Germans in 1944.


X Sadly, by 2008, no one in the area seemed to remember that they had a neglected historic monument in their midst. As far as the local authorities were concerned, this was just an old iron bridge that needed to be replaced. [The same local community (Pont-Farcy) had already allowed another WWll Bailey bridge at La Grippe to be scrapped unceremoniously in 2002, as well as allowing an equally historic single 'Whale' element of a Mulberry harbour causeway from the artificial harbour at Arromanches (Mulberry 'B') to be lost in 1990! By 2012, however, the 'lost' Whale had been located and had been lent by Les Amis du Pont Bailey to a museum not far from Carentan.]

X Fortunately, the author had studied the Bailey bridge at Fourneaux a couple of years earlier [see images right]. On many sections of this Bailey bridge were the names of its makers, Dorman Long of Cargo Fleet or British Steel and England, etc., along with dates such as 1942 and 1944. Its original grey paintwork (marine camouflage) marks it out as part of the Arromanches Mulberry 'B' Harbour in 1944 where it was indeed located in 1957.

X The day after this wonderful bridge had been dumped unceremoniously on the banks of the river Vire, the author decided to do what he could to save it. On 17 June, with the invaluable help of his good friend Georges de Coupigny, president of the AVPPS, a campaign was mounted, with just days to spare. Suddenly we had generous support from a wide range of people, including local historians, ex-combatants and members of the regional press and local radio.

X On 23 June 2008, at a meeting on the bridge with Jean-Paul Daval of the DDE (responsible for dismantling the old bridge and building its replacement) it was accepted that this was indeed a genuine wartime Bailey bridge. The DDE imposed a moratorium to give us time to find a way of preserving an historic monument.

This moratorium was confirmed on 4 July 2008 by DDE director Jacques Le Berre in a letter to Jean-Yves Cousin, the local Calvados député (member of parliament). In it he said that the construction company Entreprise Torres et Vilault had been ordered not to destroy or remove the bridge until a decision on its future had been made, hopefully by mid September.

X See the WWll Bailey bridge at Fourneaux soon after it had been removed and unceremoniously 'dumped' beside the river Vire in June 2008. This is what we wanted to preserve... It may not look beautiful here but it did when it was first built. It played a key role twice in 1944 (on the British D-Day landing beaches and then in the Battle of Normandy) and contributed to peace in Europe in 1945. We hoped that this rather wonderful piece of British army engineering would regain its elegance, as a lasting memorial to the Royal Engineers who first laid it, and to all Allied forces who then used it to liberate France and Western Europe in 1944-45.

Our aim...

Our aim was quite simple. We wanted to preserve and conserve this bridge for posterity. It is the last physical evidence in the Bocage Virois of one of the greatest battles of all time during the greatest war of all time.

Very quickly we set up a non-profit-making association in France called Les Amis du Pont Bailey.

First we needed to dismantle it and strip off loose old lead paint. Then, when it had been restored and repainted, we needed to find a location where it could be reassembled to be freely seen and appreciated by everyone. Thanks to the DDE(50) we were given the bridge. Thanks to the Conseil Général we were granted a perfect location with easy access. And thanks to the Royal Engineers and our hundreds of members and volunteer helpers, the work was done without needing to ask for one penny from public funds.

Well-located (slightly raised on level ground) it can now serve the whole community as a stage for village events, memorial services, concerts, firework displays and open-air parties and gatherings of all sorts.

Without this bridge, what would we in Normandy have been able to show our children and grandchildren of the huge sacrifice made in the hedgerows and sunken lanes of the Norman Bocage in the summer of 1944? This bridge symbolises the colossal effort, sacrifice and loss of life suffered by British, American and Canadian troops. It is also a vital memorial to the history of the Liberation of France and of Europe.

Background notes...

X 1. Bailey bridges are composed of simple and standard elements which can be easily and quickly assembled or dismantled for reuse elsewhere. A team of 8 sappers led by an officer and a couple of NCOs were easily capable of launching a fixed-span bridge of nine sections in three or four hours. It was not uncommon for 8-16 men to build three bridges in a day – the parts all being supplied from light lorries. Fixed-span bridges would usually be launched by building a length rather longer than twice the finished span needed, then pushing the entire length across the river or gap with a lorry or tank. The leading section (or nose) would be slightly raised to allow the span to slide over the far side. The excess length would then be dismantled. Floating pontoon bridges, or those designed to rise and fall with the tide, usually incorporated Bailey elements and required more skilled design and construction capabilities.

X 2. Some parts carry the inscription of the makers: 'Dorman-Long', 'British Steel', 'Cargo Fleet', etc. However, the entire structure of our bridge did not appear to have been painted in any other colour than its original camouflage grey (associated with the Mulberry harbours) and older inhabitants of Fourneaux remember the regional councillor of the time "going to Arromanches to find a bridge for Fourneaux in 1957 or 1958".

3. At least two other Bailey bridges have survived in Basse-Normandie:

X X One is the double-double Bailey bridge on the Taute/Vire Canal near Carentan in Manche, which was still in use as a road bridge in 2008.

The bird's eye view of the Carentan bridge (right) is an aerial photograph by Nigel Shaw (©) using a camera lifted by a kite.

It was built in 1944 to allow American tanks to break out from Carentan and to cross the Taute/Vire canal on their way towards St Lô.

X X The other is the 'Jacqueline' Bailey bridge which was built by British Royal Engineers across the river Orne at Pont-d'Ouilly.

Later this triple-single Bailey bridge was moved not far away to cross the Noireau before being bought by Michel Leloup for his 'Musée Août 1944' in Falaise.

4. Note also that the end posts on the newly re-assembled bridge at Pont-Farcy are Mkll elements attached to an original 'Mkl' bridge (though it was never described as Mkl). This was the standard during WWll and almost all such Bailey bridges will be found to have Mkll end-posts.

5. For fascinating images of Bailey bridges throughout the world from the Second World War onwards, see this excellent site by Patrick Claeys.

6. No article concerning Bailey bridges is complete without mention of Sir Donald Bailey, its British inventor. I'm grateful to Wikipedia for the following exerpts:

X "... The Bailey bridge is a portable pre-fabricated truss bridge, designed for use by military engineering units to bridge up to 60 m (200 foot) gaps. It requires no special tools or heavy equipment for construction, the bridge elements are small enough to be carried in trucks, and the bridge is strong enough to carry tanks. It is considered a great example of military engineering..."

"... Each section weighs just under 2 tonnes (more than 2 tonnes when its timber chessess and ribands are included). A typical Bailey bridge in Normandy consisted of nine sections (about 20 tonnes in total)...."

"... Donald Bailey was a civil servant in the British War Office who tinkered with model bridges as a hobby. He presented one such model to his chiefs, who saw some merit in the design and had construction started at a slow rate. The bridge was taken into service by the Corps of Royal Engineers and first used in Italy in 1943.

X X A large quantity of Bailey bridging was available by 1944 for D-Day, when production was ramped up. The US also licensed the design and started rapid construction for their own use. Bailey was later knighted for his invention, which continues to be widely produced and used today..."

According to other sources: Donald Bailey developed his design from 1936-40, final design work starting in December 1940; it was tested in May 1941 and first deployed in North Africa in November 1942.

For an authoritative article on military bridge building, the Royal Engineers, Bailey bridges and their inventor, Sir Donald Bailey, see Military Bridging by the Royal Engineers Museum. See another fascinating article on the work of the Royal Engineers before, during and after D-Day.


Progress and support...

For information concerning APB and its new WHALE project... click here...

27-04-2010 X In autumn 2008 the association had been offered a rare 'Whale' element from the 1944 Mulberry 'B' artificial harbour at Arromanches. Now the deputy-mayor of Vire, Catherine Godbarge, asked us whether we could make it available to the town for the benefit of hikers and cyclists who needed it to cross the river Vire on an important long-distance tow-path walk (see Whale/Baleine). The APB immediately supported this project in principle and undertook to get formal agreement from the membership when the technicalities of the proposal became clearer.

X In the late 1940s this Whale (one of the hundreds of 24 metre sections that had formed the floating roadways of the artificial harbours) had been re-used across the river Vire at the Grippe quarry in Pont-Farcy.

However, in 1990, flood water had damaged its western supporting concrete pier (see picture right) and the Whale, although in excellent condition, was condemned.

X Fortunately a Monsieur Loisel, the contractor charged with its removal, had the good sense to preserve it in pieces in his quarry at Brécey rather than sell it for scrap.

In August 2008, Monsieur Loisel was so impressed by the efforts of Les Amis du Pont Bailey in preserving the Bailey bridge that he offered the Whale to the APB on condition that the association found a suitable location for it.

At present only seven other 'Whales' are known to exist in Normandy (six in museum collections and one in use as a road bridge at St Denis-de Méré). Elsewhere in France a fine example, called the 'Pont d'Arromanches' at Foussemagne (90150) is still in use as a road bridge.

Special thanks go to: Henri Letellier for his photo exhibition; Bill & Jacqueline Twohigg for manning the APB stand; Richard & Lynda Smith for bridge preparations; Alain Briard, Gerard Colet, Joseph Sevaux, Rémy Gesnouin, André Lelouvier, Michel Sanson and Roger Ladroue for their excellent preparation of the salle des fêtes, decoration of the town and parking arrangements.

X X Pictured right: Press cuttings from Ouest-France in February 1990 and February 2001. These pictures show the extraordinary flooding of the Vire valley through Pont-Farcy in 1990 which damaged the footings of the bridge at La Grippe. This 'bridge' was in fact formed from a rare surviving 'Whale' element of the 1944 Mulberry B artificial harbour from Arromanches. Unrecognised by the local council as an historic monument, it was dismantled. However, thanks to the good sense of the contractor involved, it was not destroyed and its whereabouts were known in 2008.

X About 10 years later a genuine WWll Bailey bridge had replaced Mulberry Harbour 'Whale' bridge at La Grippe in order to allow construction of the adjacent motorway. But by 2001 the historic value of this Bailey bridge was again not recognised by the local authority. It was regarded simply as a 'post-war metallic bridge'. Although the then mayor, Claude Hue, did his best to retain it, simply because a bridge of any sort was needed to link Pont-Farcy with Pleines-Œuvres at La Grippe, the town failed to negotiate a successful solution with the Calvados DDE. The bridge was dismantled and its whereabouts are unknown. Today there is no means of crossing the Vire to Pleines-Œuvres at La Grippe.

A Bailey bridge is composed of 'sections' and the steelwork in one section weighs 1,910 kg. With its timber chesses (planking) and two timber 'ribands' (side protectors) a complete section weighs more than 2 tonnes.

Galleries of images taken by various members
of Les Amis du Pont Bailey in October 2008.

Bailey Bridge — 17-06-08 — Dumped

Bailey Bridge — 06-10-08 — Dismantling

Bailey Bridge — 08-10-08 — Terracing

Bailey Bridge — 10-10-08 — Transporting

Bailey Bridge — 11-10-08 — Rebuilding

Bailey Bridge — 14-10-08 — Painting

Bailey Bridge — 15-10-08 — Decking

Bailey Bridge — 16-10-08 — Completed

Bailey Bridge — 17-10-08 — Opening Ceremony

Bailey Bridge — 17-10-08 — Aftermath

Bailey Bridge — 17-10-08 — Unused Parts

Bailey Bridge — 08-08-09 — Inauguration

© (2008) Christopher A. Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.

Christopher Long

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