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The "other" Mostar bridge

By Sgt. Maj. Patrick van de Poele.
First published in
SFOR Informer #71, 29 Sept, 1999.

Mostar - During the summer of 1994, Spanish engineers set up a Bailey bridge to replace the famous "Tito" bridge that had been destroyed during the war. This modern two lane bridge had linked the two banks of the Neretva river in the centre of Mostar. The Bailey bridge was offered by the United Kingdom to the people of Mostar. At 81 metres long it was one of the longest temporary bridges set up by Peacekeepers in Bosnia and Hercegovina. Although supported by a central pillar, the uncontrolled use by motor vehicles and deterioration due to the climate caused the bridge to be closed to all traffic other than pedestrian some time ago.

On July 27, 1999, the municipal authorities of Mostar requested the removal of the Bailey bridge to allow construction a new bridge on the location. SFOR engineers made a technical study then entrusted the task to the Engineer Company of the Southern Brigade, Multinational Division South-East (MND-SE).

Southern Brigade MND-SE is composed of Spanish troops, the Brigade's Engineer staff under Maj. Jose Antonio Moreno Royo planned the details of the operation.

The company commanded by Capt. Luis Sanz Munoz belongs to Spain's Airborne Brigade and arrived in theatre in early August for a four month tour. They are not specialised in bridging operations but rose to the challenge. Help was supplied by the United Kingdom in the form of hydraulic jacks and parts needed for delaunching a Bailey bridge, especially one of this size. A Bailey bridge is made up of metallic prefabricated elements that create a superstructure on which a wooden bed is laid. It is a modular system which allows several widths and is very flexible in its use. It is an aging system that was on the inventory of a good many countries.

A base camp was set up next to the bridge where a tactical HQ was situated and work began on the September 14 and was due to be finished by the 27 when the site would be handed over to the civilian contractors.

Capt. Sanz Munoz had 68 engineers with him, his entire company less one demining monitoring team. The company is normally based at the Spanish camp next to Mostar airport. They continued to live there, coming down to the worksite every morning at 06.30hrs until around 20.00hrs, taking a break from 14.00 to 16.00hrs for lunch and to escape the worst of the heat. At night a Spanish Infantry Platoon came in to guard the camp and the worksite.

Work began by removing the wooden bridge bed and the metallic structures that support it. A support structure was added to the far end, "the nose", it's purpose being to support the bridge until it's centre of gravity was pulled up onto the river bank where it was to be dismantled. The next step required the dismantling of part of the top half of the metallic structure. This cut down considerably on the 120 ton weight of the complete bridge, allowing the next stage of the work to begin.

The bridge was lifted up by jacks to enable rollers to be placed beneath it. Once that was done the whole structure was hauled ashore onto the south bank where it was dismantled.

"The bridge had suffered greatly over the last five years and we were not certain of its state so we had to take every possible precaution, but we were finished on time as planned," said Lt Terencis Gonzalez Martinez, Capt. Munoz's assistant on this site.

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