BRIDEGE THAT GAP
By Shaun Connors
Military bridging equipment may not be the most glamorous equipment in an Army’s inventory, but without it, that Army could find itself on the road to, literally, nowhere.
Armies have had a need to cross both wet and dry gaps for as long as war has been waged, however, the real need for combat-supporting bridges in the true sense of the term, and in any quantity, did not become a reality until the latter stages of the First World War, and the mechanisation this conflict was introducing arrived en-masse. It could even be argued that it was the Second World War, Blitzkrieg and the allies post D-Day advance across a bridge-devoid Europe that truly brought to the fore a need for a true combat supporting bridging capability.
Whatever your personal take on when a genuine requirement for combat support bridging became a reality, it is a certainty that as the Cold War developed so did the bridging stocks of both NATO and Warsaw Pact forces, each side having sizeable inventories of all manner of combat supporting bridge types at their disposal.
As we all now know, the envisioned all-out fight to the death between the forces of capitalism and communism across the plains of central Europe never occurred, and following the collapse of the Berlin Wall the armies of the world, under instructions from their relevant political leadership, set about shedding some of their then perceived considerable excess weight.
As these armies began the change from main battle tank heavy war-fighting behemoths to leaner and lighter expeditionary peacekeeping/enforcing style forces, quite understandably their bridging requirements and needs evolved accordingly. And they would evolve again, making a bit of a u-turn in fact, when what Iraq and Afghanistan evolved into effectively scuttled the concept that leaner and lighter expeditionary peacekeeping/enforcing forces lacking in heavy battle winning armour were the future per se.
The numbers of bridges, of all types, in service with the armies of the world may have reduced post Cold War, and while some armed forces opted to mothball (or even cast) their combat bridging capability, experiences of primarily British and US troops on recent/current operations have clearly demonstrated an effective combat bridging capability remains as integral to operations today as it did during the closing stages of the Second World War, all major wars since, and would have in the ‘big war’ that never was.
Tools of the trade
While there may be numerous sub-categories, sub-types and derivatives of bridges and bridging systems, there are essentially three main categorised types of military bridges: assault-type bridges; tactical bridges (which can be floating or non-floating); line of communication bridges.
This article will concentrate on tactical bridging, an area of bridging that has seen both decline and resurgence in recent years. However, for a degree of completeness, it will also give a cursory overview to assault-type bridging and lines of communication bridges, both of which have some crossover into the tactical bridging category; grey areas…
Assault-type bridges, sometimes referred to as mechanised bridges, while quite capable of being left emplaced, are more of a temporary mission-securing combat expedient and can best be categorised as bridges transported by, and mechanically laid directly from and recovered to, a dedicated vehicle.
This vehicle would normally be armoured, and usually a turretless main battle tank (MBT) chassis. An example here would be the British Army’s Challenger 2 MBT-based Titan AVLB (Armoured Vehicle Launched Bridge) which can carry/launch the BR90 26 m No 10 scissors bridge or two BR90 13.5 m No 12 bridges. At the lighter end of the scale an infantry fighting vehicle/armoured personnel carrier-type platform is often used for shorter span lower capacity bridging, an example here being the British Army’s proposed FRES (Future Ra