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M&J bridge course in Split

By Maj. Ladislav Ruzicka
First published in
SFOR Informer #91, July 5, 2000

Split, Croatia - One of the most important tasks for SFOR engineers is to ensure Freedom of Movement for SFOR. Naturally this translates in to Freedom of Movement for the population of the country as a whole. Bosnia and Hercegovina is a country of beautiful rivers and streams but there remain a lot of war-damaged bridges with their spans replaced by SFOR military bridges.

The most commonly used bridges are Bailey panel bridges and Mabey & Johnson bridges. This is why SFOR holds regular one-week courses. In Split on June 19-23 it was the turn for 22 Spanish engineers to become familiar with the M&J bridge.

The M&J Compact System of modular panel bridges was developed to allow a large range of bridge spans, roadway widths and loading to be built from a standard range of components. It can be built in a number of different configurations to give different spans and class loads. The maximum length of one span is 80 meters, the widths are available from 3.15 meters to 7.35 meters and the military load class is 120 tons. Component weight on single lane bridges does not exceed 350 kilograms, and bridges can be partly assembled by hand with skilled labour, but manpower or cranes must be used for much of the work.

The commander of this course, Spanish Capt. Guillermo Berlandino, SFOR Engineer Company commander from MND-SE, was satisfied with technical and tactical capabilities of this bridge. But in spite of that he said, "The main difficulty is if we do not have a crane, but there is no alternative and we must be able to do it only by manpower."

"This type of bridge does not need a lot of maintenance. We inspect it every six weeks and this is just only a visual, check whether bolts have worked loose and that nobody has driven into the bridge and damaged it. The second advantage of this type bridge is that its parts are made from very solid strong material" praised Sgt. Stewart Clark, a British Royal Engineer reconnaissance sergeant and instructor for the course. He qualified for teaching by graduating a special three-day training in UK before coming to BiH.

The second British instructor, Cpl. Carl Atkinson, section commander of the combat engineer troop, is very experienced.
"I have built M&J bridges on different occasions - maybe 10 times over the past five years, in England and also here in Bosnia. We did some for officer demonstrations at our combat engineer school in Gibraltar Barracks," said Atkinson. "We are help the Spanish to learn about the bridge. We must be very strict because the equipment is very heavy and it is easy to lose a finger or to be killed if one of the panels fall on you. At all times you have to be very safety conscious."

But he expressed small doubt about having too short a time for this course.

"I think that this one week is enough for a good introduction to the M&J bridge. For more difficult bridges, more time may be needed."

And what did the trainees say? According to 1Lt. Chose Luis Valerias, Spanish platoon commander, it was a very good experience.

"I have never worked with the British Army. I think I had a problem only with the language. This course was a good work out for all members and the men worked very hard," he said.

His Spanish colleague, 1st Lt. Jose Maria Correas Segurola added, "It is really very heavy material, but we are engineers of the Salamander division and we need to be able to construct any M&J bridge."

"It's good to see from my instructors that the Spanish soldiers have learned fast about the M&J Bridge. I feel confident that they will have no problem building the bridge by themselves," said Atkinson.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: UK, Spain
Engineering - bridge stories