Battle for Tripsrath - Birgden (December 1944)

On the 2nd December 1944, there was the arrival of a recce party from the 5th D.C.L.I. and the Worcesters learnt that they would relieve 12th K.R.R.C, in the village of Birgden. This relief was commenced at 18.00 hours on the 3rd December, a very dark and stormy night.

Birgden is a long straggling village and lies about 1,000 yards north of the Gangelt-Geilenkirchen road. The way to it from the main road is by little more than a cart track, which runs north from the hamlet of Stahe, and it was at Stahe where Battalion H.Q. established itself in a house on a side road.

Worcesters Company positions between the 3rd to night of the 6th December 1944

The narrow track to Birgden crossed the crest of a hill, which made it an easy target for enemy patrols. There were already rumours of daring enemy patrols in this area, of ration parties disappearing mysteriously, of vehicles being ambushed and of tank crews being spirited away in the night; it was in view of these rumours that the Worcesters ‘B’ Company (which was to remain in reserve at Niederbusch) covered the track whilst the transport column, followed by the marching troops, made their way up the line.

But despite these precautions and under their very noses, a 15-cwt vehicle of 8th Middlesex was shot up and its Corporal-in-charge taken prisoner whilst the relief was taking place. This put the Battalion on its toes and the Commanding Officer Lieut.-Col. A. W. Vickers in a bad temper. For each night afterwards ‘B’ Company maintained a Standing Patrol from dusk until dawn in the area of the spot where this happened.

Private Thomas Scully
(photo Louis Scully)

The Battalion disposed itself with ‘A’ Company in Kreuzrath, ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies in the forward area in Birgden and 'Sp' Company (Support Company) in the rear towards the southern end. All Headquarters, including Platoon H.Q., were set up in the spacious and well-constructed cellars of the houses, while the fighting positions themselves were slit trenches dug in the gardens and tracks. The enemy at the nearest point was less than 100 yards away, and their patrols here were so active that a high degree of alertness was observed during the hours of darkness.

Private Thomas Scully ('A' Company) recalls: "Most of the houses were badly damage and there was still dead Germans scattered around the area. I and Private 'Joe' Bainbridge were given charge of some captured German troops who had given themselves up. I decide to make then useful by getting them digging trenches in the rear garden of the house we were in. They were later taken down to Battalion H.Q. for interrogation by the intelligence officer."

Birgden was a village of the dead, badly damaged from shellfire from both sides. The streets were full of rubble, broken roof tiles and other masonry making any movement noisy and liable to alert the enemy until someone came up with the idea of wearing sandbags or some other form of cloth over one's boots.

There was some spasmodic shelling and mortaring from the enemy mainly targeted at the church in the southern corner of Birgden. Also some spandau fire was evident during the night trying to draw return fire but this was ignored by the Worcesters.

Lieut. Les Crossingham
(photo Louis Scully)

The Worcesters will probably remember Birgden most vividly for the livestock (pigs and geese), which was in plentiful supply and was to prove a welcome diet change for the men. Many of the houses were also well stocked with bottled fruit and vegetables, which were much enjoyed.

At Birgden the telephone system was the most extensive that had been laid to date. By a stroke of good fortune the 5th Wiltshire who’s HQ had been at the small hamlet of Stahe on the 11th November, had found a buried civilian telephone cable carrying several lines which went from Stahe to Birgden. As a result, the Worcestershire not only had a telephone exchange at Battalion H.Q., but a forward exchange was also established with the Companies in Birgden under command of the Signals Sergeant Jim Norton. In addition to this each Company had its own exchange. Five German switchboards and fifty odd telephones were used.

Lieut. Crossingham (‘D’ Company) will remember Birgden chiefly for a patrol, which he led in an endeavour to take prisoners for identification purposes. It was a gallant but unsuccessful effort, which only stirred the enemy into action!