YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Sir Donald Bailey, WW II Engineer, Dies

May 07, 1985|From Times Wire Services

BOURNEMOUTH, England — Sir Donald Bailey, inventor of a World War II bridge that played a significant role in the Allied victory, died Sunday at a hospital in this coastal city 100 miles southwest of London, his family reported. He was 83.

The cause of death was not given.

Made of lightweight, interlocking sections that could be carried by a few men, the bridges were quickly erected in both the European and Asian theaters of war. The girders were made of prefabricated steel panels and parts were interchangeable, facilitating repair.

Named for their designer, Bailey Bridges were used in the D-Day invasion of France in 1944 and carried Allied troops, tanks and guns over rivers and gorges as they advanced on Nazi Germany.

Praised by Montgomery

Britain's late Field Marshal Viscount Bernard Montgomery once said, "Without the Bailey Bridge we should not have won the war. . . . It was the best thing in that line we ever had."

A Bailey pontoon bridge measuring 4,000 feet was built to span a flooded river in Holland, and some even longer were built across the Rhine as the Germans retreated, blowing up their own bridges, in the closing days of the war.

Bailey, a civil engineer who spent much of his boyhood making model bridges from pieces of wood and string, was modest about his achievement, saying it was just part of his job.

When he was knighted by the late King George VI in 1946, the year after the war ended, and a toast was proposed to him, he said, "I think the toast should be to the men who put the Bailey Bridges up."

Sketched on Envelope

He sketched the original design for the Bailey Bridge on the back of an envelope as he was being driven to a meeting of Royal Engineers to debate the failure of existing portable bridges.

Born in the county of Yorkshire in northern England, he majored in engineering at Sheffield University, joined the Civil Service in 1928 and was posted to the army's experimental bridging staff at Christchurch in Hampshire in southern England.

The British War Office gave the go-ahead to the Bailey Bridge plan in 1940 after the near-disastrous evacuation at Dunkirk.

Bailey eventually was paid $48,000 for his invention.

In 1947, The Netherlands honored Bailey by making him a Commander of the Order of Orange-Nassau in recognition of the part the Bailey Bridge played in the reconstruction of that country.

After the war, Bailey became director of the army's military engineering experimental unit and was dean of the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham in southern England from 1962 to 1966.

His first wife, Phyllis, died in 1971. They had one son. In 1979, Bailey married Mildred Stacey, who survives him.

Los Angeles Times Articles