History: September 25, 1066: 10 Famous Battles at Bridges

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A Brief History

On September 25, 1066, the Battle of Stamford Bridge signaled the end of the Viking invasions of England.  This significant English victory was soon superseded by the Battle of Hastings only 3 weeks later, in which the Normans under William the Conqueror defeated the British.  Bridges have often been focal points of battles, often pivotal ones of great importance.  Here we list 10 Battles at Bridges that are either famous or significant.  (The order of listing does not signify importance.)  What battles would you add to the list?  (Note:  See tomorrow’s article about the ill fated attack on bridges during World War II calledOperation Market Garden.)

Digging Deeper

10. Stamford Bridge, 1066.

The Norwegian (Viking) army was led by King Harald and Tostig Godwinson,  the brother of the English king, Harold Godwinson.  Both Tostig and Harald were killed in the battle, along with about 6000 of the 9000 Norwegian soldiers.  For some reason historians often mark this battle as the end of the Viking Age, although battles between Britain and Scandinavians continued for years to come.

9.  No Gun Ri, 1950. 

In January of 2001, the Clinton administration admitted to the world that during the invasion of South Korea by the North Koreans that was routing South Korean and American troops led to the slaughter of 300 or more innocent civilians by American forces at the bridge and tunnel at No Gun Ri.  Allied forces were desperate to stop the North Korean onslaught, and massacred the fleeing refugees in the fear that communist forces had infiltrated the mobs.  Another 100 civilians were killed in an American air strike.  In related incidents, retreating Americans blew up bridges while swarms of refugees were crossing them, killing hundreds more.

8.  Majon-ni and Samdong-ni, 1951-1952. 

The basis for the novel  The Bridges at Toko Ri (1953) by James Michener and the movie (1954) starring William Holden, these North Korean railroad bridges proved to be tough targets for American pilots trying to bomb them.  Despite the movie depicting Navy Jet fighter bombers, F2H Banshees, doing the bombing, in real life those jets were escorts and flak suppression for the attack aircraft (A-1 Skyraiders) and USAF planes (B-29’s, B-26’s and F-84’s) that did the real bombing.  Protection against enemy MiG-15 interceptors and fierce ground fire (flak, or anti-aircraft artillery) required considerable attention from US fighter-bombers.  Persistent US attacks destroyed most of the bridges in North Korea, which were often quickly rebuilt and required re-bombing.  Bridge bombing became much more precise during the Viet Nam War when the USAF F-4 Phantom II fighter bombers used laser guided bombs to destroy the Thanh Hoa bridge in 1 mission after dozens of previous missions had failed to do the job.  Follow up by Navy A-7 Corsair II’s using Walleye television guided bombs finished off the bridge for good.

7.  Burma-Siam Railway Bridges, 1943-1945.

The basis for the 1957 major motion picture, The Bridge on the River Kwai, the real story bears but little resemblance to the movie.  Built by Allied prisoners under the direction of Japanese engineers, conditions for the POW’s were horrible (worse than the movie), and as slave laborers about 13,000 POW’s and another 80,000 or more civilians died building the railway and bridges.  Like the movie, one of the bridges (a temporary one) was made of wood, but the main bridge was of modern steel and concrete.  Unlike the movie, the bridge was not destroyed by commandos, but by Allied bombers in 1945, although the steel bridge was later repaired and remains in use.  The real river bridged was the Mae Klong (part of which was renamed the Khwae Tai in the 1960’s).

6.  Calderon Bridge, 1811. 

In this battle, 100,000 Mexican patriots fought 6000 Spanish regular soldiers (Royalists), and this time larger numbers did not decide the battle.  Although the Spanish lost 1200 of their men, the rebels lost 13,000, giving Spain the victory in the first stage of the Mexican War of Independence.  In 1932 Calderon Bridge was declared a national monument by Mexico.

5.  Milvian Bridge, 312. 

The Battle of the Milvian Bridge was fought between 2 competing Roman Emperors, Constantine I and Maxentius.  At stake was control over the Roman Empire (it had multiple emperors at this time), and was won by Constantine I who went on to become sole ruler.  Allegedly putting Constantine on the road to becoming a Christian, it is said that the Christian God promised Constantine’s soldiers victory.

4.  Old North Bridge (Concord), 1775. 

The opening battle (Lexington was actually earlier) of the American Revolution, made famous as “The shot heard round the world,” the Battle of Concord, Massachusetts is remembered today by a replica bridge built in 1956.  A minor skirmish, but significant because it was the first case of American Patriots actually killing British regulars (2).

3.  Burnside’s Bridge (Antietam), 1862.

During the pivotal Battle of Antietam during the American Civil War, a major sub-battle took place at a stone bridge over Antietam Creek.  Burnside led the Union troops into punishing Confederate fire in an attempt to cross the bridge, losing 500 men killed to only about 160 Rebels.  Since the creek was narrow and shallow, merely waist deep for much of its course, a crossing could have been made nearby without such fierce Confederate resistance.  As it was, the ford that was identified by Union engineers was so poorly situated troops could not negotiate the steep banks.

2.  Stirling Bridge, 1297. 

William “Braveheart” Wallace led the Scots to victory against the English in this epic battle during the First War of Scottish Independence.  About 6000 of the 9000 English troops were killed, giving the Scots an enormous victory.  The battle in the movie, Braveheart (starring Mel Gibson, 1995)) does not even include a bridge!

1.  Ludendorff Bridge, 1945. 

In March of 1945 Nazi Germany was desperately trying to hold off the advance of the Soviets in the East and the Western Allies in the West.  Making a fighting withdrawal, the Germans would blow up bridges at the last minute to get as many of their soldiers across as possible before the bridge was blown.  At Remagen, the Ludendorf Bridge over the Rhine had insufficient explosives to do the job properly and the damaged bridge was captured by Americans before it could be destroyed, allowing mass numbers of American troops to cross the great obstacle of the Rhine before the bridge fell, shortening the war.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.