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Feb 26 2021

Enhanced Forward Presence: Engineers plan, build and blow up a bridge

RUKLA, Lithuania - They clear the way or block it: On a training area in Lithuania, the engineers of enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Lithuania demonstrate how expedient bridges can be built and – if necessary – blown up in a short time. In this demanding exercise, it is not only engineer core capabilities that are being trained, also multinational cooperation within the Battle Group is being deepened.

It is early January when the German and Dutch engineers start their multinational exercise. The mission is building an expedient bridge and then blowing it up afterwards. Winter has come to Lithuania and temperatures are below freezing when the soldiers begin their work. Construction material is being unloaded, cut to size and bolted together. Prior to that, German engineers had projected the bridge and completed its structural engineering calculations. Engineers are experts in building bridges and other structures needed by the field units need for their operations in the shortest possible time. By that, they enable friendly combat vehicles to cross obstacles such as rivers and trenches.

It only took five days for the eight Dutch engineers to erect the 20-ton bridge, using a wheeled loader and a crane. “The only challenge for us were the two piers in the middle, because for those we used a special construction technique,” said a soldier of the Dutch engineer forces. Erecting the bridge, however, was only one part of the training. Because in the end, the question is: What if this bridge does not help our own forces but benefits the opponent? The answer to that is obvious: The bridge must be blown up.

Construction of the expedient bridge. 
The bridge is made exclusively of wood and has a maximum load bearing capacity of 20 tons.
Bundeswehr/PAO EFP
Explosive charges are being deployed.
Explosives, detonating cord and precise calculations: the essentials of a successful demolition.
Bundeswehr/PAO EFP

The handling of explosives is one of the core capabilities of engineers. Nevertheless, blowing up a bridge is a highly complex project. “Bridges always are key infrastructure that can determine the success of a battle. At the same time, important civilian utility lines often run in those bridges. Whoever controls them has a decisive advantage,” explains Lieutenant Colonel Peer Papenbroock, the Commander of enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Lithuania.

Before the bridge can be blown up, the engineers have to “load” it. This means that the soldiers have to attach the explosives in previously determined spots. The duration of this loading process is influenced by a lot of factors: Is the bridge made from wood or reinforced concrete, how big is it and are the explosive charges to be attached openly or embedded covertly? For covertly embedded explosives, holes are drilled in the structure and the explosives then filled in these.

It took the eight engineers six hours to attach 30 kilograms of PETN explosive and 150 metres of detonating cord to the 20-metre wooden bridge. In doing so, they loaded half of the bridge openly and the other half in a covert manner in order to practise both kinds of explosive placement. After all preparations have been completed, the time has come: All explosive charges have been placed and the bridge is ready for demolition.

Demolition of the previously built bridge.
Within seconds, the bridge turns into a pile of rubble.
Bundeswehr/PAO EFP

After discussing all details concerning the upcoming demolition, it is time for kick-off. At a safe distance and from the inside of a Fuchs armoured transport vehicle, the bridge’s explosives are initiated by means of electrical initiation. An ear-shattering bang rings out, large pieces of wood are flying several metres high in the air and the surrounding bushes are bowing from the approaching blast.

Now there is one last moment of suspense. Was all the effort worth it? Was the demolition successful? This calls for a check. The first glance quickly reveals: The bridge has been rendered completely unusable. Not only was the deck destroyed, nothing remains from its six supporting elements as well. This bridge will definitely not be crossed by any vehicle anymore.

The bridge is gone.
The 30 kilograms of explosives were sufficient to wipe the bridge off the face of the earth.
Bundeswehr/PAO EFP

This exercise once again shows that the engineers of enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Lithuania are masters of their craft. Thanks to their close cooperation, not only was it possible to build and blow up the bridge without a hitch, but also to exchange valuable engineer expertise between the two nations involved in its planning, construction and demolition.

Lieutenant Colonel Papenbroock expresses his great satisfaction: “Our engineers possess unique capabilities. Depending on the situation, they ensure the unrestricted manoeuvrability of my Battle Group or hamper and channel movements of our opponent. Today they did a very good job yet again!”

Story by Sascha Klenk and Jürgen Rietveld

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