On the 15th November, Captain Jock Bannister (Mortar Platoon Commander) Worcestershires went forward with an “R” Group (Reconnaissance Party) to
Gillrath, a position currently held by the 4th Wiltshires, in order to view the area of the planned attack and work out details for a fire plan. On the way at the small village of
Pannenschopp, held by the 4th Somersets, by chance he met an old school friend Captain Cedric Humphries (an officer of the 1st Worcesters who had just been posted to 4th
Such are the fortunes of war that Captain Humphries was to die only a few days later on the morning of the 18th when by chance a 105 mm enemy shell hit the slit trench he was in, instantly killing him and 2nd Lieut. Ken Oxland (an NSO who had only just been commissioned in the field).
The church tower at Gillrath gave an excellent view over the open ground to the village of
Rischden. Most of the first day’s objectives could also be seen from brickworks at
Gillrath. It became obvious that a frontal attack would not be easy as it was across wet and muddy open ground, as a result of all the recent heavy rain. It was going to be a long advance and very heavy going, with a section of thick wood to be cleared on the way. It was known that the Germans had planted mines in front of their position with trip wires.
On the same day the Sappers (Royal Engineers) were busy at work preparing the tracks across the waste ground near the FUP (Forming Up Point) at
Gillrath. As a result of the continual rain throughout the whole of November most of the tracks were like a sea of mud and water. However, the traffic plan for the battle was worked out in great detail.
On the 16th November just before noon the sky above Gielenkirchen was filled with a large number of heavy bombers. In a joint operation,
R.A.F. Bomber Command and the US 8th Air Force bombed the German ground forces. The same evening at 18.00 hours the machine guns of the 8th Middlesex Battalion opened up on the villages of
Tripsrath, Neiderheide and Bauchem, an operation named “Pepper Pot”, intended to soften up the enemy before the main attack went in.
The Worcestershires’ attack plan was to be split into two phases. ‘B’ Company on the right and ‘C’ Company on the left were to take the village of Rischden and the intermediate strip of wood respectively. When these were secured, ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies were to go on through and take the village of Tripsrath itself. There was to be the usual intense fire plan and they were allotted a Squadron of Sherman Tanks from the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards (8th Armoured Brigade) for the task.
‘D’ Day for “Operation Clipper” (18th November 1944) dawned bright and clear and frosty. The Companies of the Worcestershire Regiment emerged from the protection of their concrete air-raid shelters in Brunssum having prepared themselves for battle in all respects, including a well-attended church service on the previous day. At 10.30 hours the men clambered into their TCV’s (Troop Carrying Vehicles) and on the backs of tanks and moved slowly off towards the assembly area. Through the thick woods, along rough tracks specially cut by the Sappers, and aptly named route signs “Bond Street”, “Regent Street”, “Dover Street”, “Strand”, “Saville Row” and “Wyvern Road”.
The Worcesters debussed east of Neiderbusch, slightly south of Gillrath, and dispersed amongst the trees. The sound of our Artillery, which had started again at 08.00 hours, could still be heard pounding the German
postions. To the pleasant surprise of the men, ‘A’ Echelon was already there waiting for them with the first hot meal of the day, a most welcome sight.
After resting and enjoying their meal, tea and the usual rum ration, they waited for the order to move up to the start line, where the 7th Battalion Somerset
L.I. had been earlier. The FUP (Forming-Up-Point) was in two huge sand quarries near the Gillrath brickworks by the Gillrath-Bauchem Road.
At 12.30 hours ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies of the 7th Somersets L.I. crossed the start line and advanced across open fields towards their objective, the village of
Just after 13.00 hours the order to move came and Worcestershires marched from the wood out on to the Gillrath-Bauchem Road, were the British Press was much in evidence. The attack was treated as a gala occasion by the press who milled up and down the column in their jeeps. Reporters with green labels on their shoulders and cameras in their hands were very much in evidence, and the Battalion, which by this time was quite use to the idea of making history, found a fresh thrill in the thought that it was about to become “News”. The results of their labours were featured in several of the weekly-illustrated papers.
Captain Percy Huxter, 2nd in command ‘A’ Company”, remembers the occasion well; “We all lined up as though we were going to a football match, we walked across a field and we were told to wait on the edge of the field before the attack. There were some reporters there from the Worcester Evening News and Times and they were talking to us about the attack. When the attack started the press stayed behind.”
Cpl. William Gould, Signals Platoon, also remembered the men from the press; “They photographed us from all angles and interviewed the men. Years later I saw a picture of myself in the Picture Post leading a section of my platoon.”
While waiting at the FUP, Lieut.-Colonel Osborne Smith, Worcester Commanding Officer, with a rifle slung over his shoulder and an encouraging look of confidence on his face, strolled around his troops and chatted with various people so as to ease the tension. Indeed, during the whole campaign his quiet courtesy to all ranks never deserted him. This was much appreciated by all the men.
The attack on Rischden and Tripsrath
At 14.00 hours Lieut.-Colonel Osborne Smith gave the order to move out and the Worcesters two leading Companies (B and C) got to their feet and advanced, keeping direction by compass bearings, across open fields towards the woods in front of the village of
There was little opposition as the two Companies approached their first objective, the woods north-west of
Niederheide, only a few rounds of enemy small arms fire could be heard coming from the woods ahead. However, the barrage of our own artillery was deafening. During this initial advance ‘C’ Company had one man mortally wounded by an artillery shell, one of our own rounds falling short.
On the edge of the woods a minefield was encountered but due to the recent wet weather the topsoil had washed away leaving the mines exposed, and so this caused little delay as the troops stepped between them. Nonetheless it was still hazardous, a platoon sergeant had his foot blown off when he stepped on a Schü mine.
There was also the predicted wire, but this showed well-worn tracks through it, which had been made by the enemy, and it presented little difficulty. The section of Sappers attached to ‘C’ Company were soon busy marking and lifting the mines to clear a track for the tanks of the 4th/7th RDG (Royal Dragoon Guards) in order that they might be in position to support the two rear Companies (A and D) when they came through for the second phase of the attack.
In the woods ‘C’ Company came across more Schü mines and as a result suffered some casualties. The enemy who where still in the woods were shaking from the effects of our artillery bombardment quickly surrendered to ‘C’ Company and were sent back down to the start-line and the security of a prisoner-of-war cage near
Gillrath. One German soldier was so pleased to see British troops that he offered his wristwatch and other trinkets to them in demonstration of his gratitude. All the German prisoners taken were from the 183rd Volks Grenadier Division.
On entering the woods ‘B’ Company swung to the right and after a few hundred yards of clearing, broke cover and moved forward to their final objective and the Company took the village of Rischden with little opposition in evidence.
Lieutenant Rex Fellows (12 Platoon, ‘B’ Company) remembers the occasion well “There were Teller mines lying about exposed, just as though they had been chucked on the ground. There did not seem to be any attempt to conceal them. My platoon passed through without any casualties. We carried on towards the village of Rischden using our usual technique of putting a lot of lead forward to keep the other buggers’ heads down. When we got to Rischden it was empty. I don’t believe there was ever anybody there, unless they had scarpered as we came in.”
Rex Fellows and 12 platoon now approached their final objective, a pillbox covering the road junction to the north-east of the village. But although the map he had showed a pillbox, as reported by intelligence, it was non-existent. Having reached their objective the men dug-in as quickly as they could. ‘C’ Company were now ordered to close up behind ‘B’ Company and establish a firm base at
Rischden. ‘C’ Company had just cleared their position in the woods when the enemy mortared the area they had just vacated.
Both 10 and 12 Platoons, of ‘B’ Company, now moved forward of their final objective in a northerly direction some fifty to a hundred yards beyond the edge of the village of Rischden to cover the road leading to
Tripsrath. While, 11 Platoon (commanded by Lieut. Peter Wade), remained in the orchards in
Rischden, as did Company H.Q. Company.
All ‘B’ Company platoons now dug in to avoid being caught in the open when the inevitable counter attack by German fire would arrive, and H.Q. was installed in an abandoned German dug-out.
As the Worcestershires prepared for the final assault on Tripsrath by ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies all appeared to be going very well, when the Battalion suffered a major set back.
Between ‘C’ Company's position in the woods and Rischden was a small square copse which the Carrier Platoon had been ordered to seize and hold when the first objective had been taken, and it was at this juncture that they moved up to do so. They drove east along the track and then turned north towards the wood when two enemy
S.P. (Self-Propelled) guns came to the edge of another wood to the north and engaged them. The guns had the range to a yard and the Carrier Platoon had no chance. As the high velocity shells screamed over, ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies lay on their stomachs and dug like fury, but the Carrier Platoon, in pursuit of its objective, was cut to ribbons. In less than twenty minutes it suffered thirty-one casualties, and when the enemy eventually withdrew back into the wood the track was a very sad and sanguinary sight.
This episode highlighted the extreme vulnerability of carriers in such attacks; the outcome might have been different if tanks had been in support.
Sergeant Jim Norton (Signals Platoon), who was with the Worcestershire Battalion H.Q. position at
Rischden, recalls “Some time later, when things became quieter the bodies of the men from Carrier Platoon were recovered and temporarily placed in two garages, belonging to 4 Bungalows located at the entrance to
Rischden. I remember going into these garages to see for myself. To my surprise I heard someone moaning and when I investigated I found that 3 men were still alive, but badly wounded. I quickly called the medical orderlies who took them back to the field dressing station. I often wonder what became of them”.
Corporal Bill Gould (Signals Platoon) recalls this time at Rischden, “Battalion H.Q. was set up in a cellar in Rischden and the signals office was alongside, but our equipment was bogged down half a mile away. The cloying mud prevented the trucks getting forward and during the hours of darkness we had to retrace our footsteps and physically manhandle the complete set of equipment. Sheer guts and determination finally accomplished what the transport had woefully failed to carry out, and each available man of Signals Platoon carried at least a hundredweight of equipment around his person. The night following the attack was one of chaos as we sought in darkness to lay down a line system!! It was carried out at last and eventually we snatched a couple of hours sleep wondering what the dawn would bring”.
Some members of ‘B’ Company will remember the need for tanks when the Germans attacked with tanks and infantry over open ground fronting
Rischden. The normally non-swearing Major Ricketts was heard shouting loudly “Where the bloody hell are the tanks?”
As the Worcestshire HQ Company moved forward through a small area of woods towards their forward HQ position at Rischden they were suddenly caught by intensive and accurate enemy shelling. They broke cover from the woods into the open in a bid to try sidestep the horror of bursting hells in the trees. Unluckily a shell splinter severely wounded Lieut.-Col. Osborne-Smith in the leg and he had to be evacuated.
Captain “Wally” Leadbeater, at the time Adjutant, recalls the event:
“I came across Lieut.-Colonel Osborne-Smith, on a dirt track, he had just been wounded in the leg. He said to me “Get up there Wally and put Major Jerry Clover in charge”. I then went up this muddy track with Lieutenant Roy Humphreys (Intelligence Officer) to try and find Major Clover who was commanding ‘C’ Company. We turned left and passed our carrier platoon, which had just been
knocked out. We then saw Lieut.-Colonel George Taylor of 5th DCLI standing in the field with a megaphone. He saw us and yelled “Get your bloody heads down!” We could not find Major Clover but we did meet up with Major John Ricketts who then went back to take charge of the Battalion after passing on command of ‘B’ Company to the next senior officer”.
Captain Harold Hodge (Commanding Support Company), recalls events at this time:
“Leading the Battalion from the front was Lieut.-Col. Osborne-Smith. My job was to be with him and convey orders. The only order I received was – ‘Bring up the tanks !!’ I had no idea where the tanks were except that they were not ahead, so I retreated. I found two tanks, one of which agreed to come with me. I returned with one tank rumbling along behind me like a dog on a lead! I got back to the C.O. only to find that he had been wounded and was on a stretcher. I well remember the baleful look he gave me – but I cannot remember what I did with the tank!!”
While these events were taking place the Battalion Second-in-Command, Major R. C. Thompson, who had recently joined the Battalion, was still back with ‘A’ Echelon transport in
Corporal Bill Gould (Signals Platoon) remembers an incident at the barn, in
Rischden, which was above the Signal Office cellar overlooking a field looking north towards a wood;
“One of my colleagues saw some movement in the wood and drew my attention to it. We had received information, which had indicated that one of our sister Battalions, The Dorsetshire Regiment, had been given the task of clearing the wood, and I therefore supposed that the movement was the result of an attack proceeding. Suddenly figures emerged and lined up on the edge of the wood and they were all wearing, unmistakably, long grey garments. It was evident that they were going to attack
Rischden. Worcestershires’ ‘B' Company were guarding the left hand side of the Heinsberg Road, of whose presence the Germans seemed totally unaware, and their line of advance was directly in the direction of the barn we were occupying.
The German force was fully fifty men and there were just seven of us signallers apart from the Adjutant who was in the cellar. Things looked pretty grim as the enemy advanced in open formation slowly but inexorably, and all we had to defend ourselves with were our rifles. Being senior I gave the order to take up positions, two of us in the doorway and one man at each window, and we started to fire when the enemy were within one hundred yards of us. They immediately went to ground and took avoiding action, but though we accounted for several of them it was evident that our position was precarious. Captain
Leadbeater, who was acting Adjutant, joined us and all eight of us kept up an incessant fire. The enemy reached a cabbage patch, which was directly adjoining the barn, and I gave orders to fix bayonets for it was clear that there was going to be a hand-to-hand encounter. Quite suddenly we heard the sound of a tank approaching from the rear, and rushing into the street I indicated to the driver where our danger lay. He responded quickly and sprayed the area where the enemy were lying, and so effective was his discharge that the enemy broke off their attack and retreated across the field in great disarray, leaving behind some thirty of their comrades dead and wounded. Their stretcher-bearers who were in close attendance were allowed to carry out their mission of mercy.”
It was now late in the day and starting to get dark and the battle was taking much longer than had been anticipated. The tanks of ‘B’ squadron, 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, supporting the
Worcesters, were hopelessly bogged down in the heavy mud shortly after leaving the start-line. By this time the Brigade artillery support had been switched to the Cornwalls and Dorsets objectives of Hochheid and
The Worcesters objectives at Tripsrath was still some 1,000 yards away. Major Ricketts, now acting Battalion Commander, decided to proceed with the original plan despite the absence of tank support. However, he did succeed in getting the promise of a concentration of Mediums on the objective in
Tripsrath. By this time ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies had spent a most unpleasant three hours on the Forming-Up-Point, during which time the enemy had continually shelled them.
‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies were now called up, passed through, and formed up in front of
Rischden, which was being held by ‘B’ Company, ready to advance on Tripsrath to finish the job off. With ‘A’ Company on the right and ‘D’ Company on the left, their objectives were the north side and east side of the village respectively.
At this time ‘C’ Company were ordered to follow up the advance and occupy the southern position of the two forward Companies. While ‘B’ Company and Battalion H.Q. Company were to remain in
The artillery was timed for 17.15 hours and the attack was ready to go in immediately it lifted.
At 17.15 hours our 5.5 inch Medium guns commenced their fire and the sky was suddenly alight with orange flashes, the sound was deafening. During this bombardment some of 100 pound shells fell 600 yards short of there objective and landed in the area of ‘D’ Company who suffered a few casualties as a result of this ‘Friendly Fire’.
As the shelling stopped the advance continued and the three Companies went forward over the main Geilenkirchen-Heinsburg road to see the silhouette of Tripsrath Church some 200 yards ahead across open ground.
Major Bryan Elder, Commanding ‘D’ Company recalls:
“I experienced taking my Company across open fields towards the village of Tripsrath when our own artillery shelled us with some casualties and great consternation. During this advance I trod on a German Soldier in his slit trench, fortunately he surrendered and was taken prisoner.
We entered Tripsrath in the dark and marched through the village and took up our allotted position on the North side of the village on the brow of the road going north. A German tank came towards us and one of my Sergeants put a “PIAT” bomb through the turret and stopped it, and the crew disappeared.
We dug in between two houses, sadly my Company Clerk was killed in the slit trench we had dug together, at the time I was doing a “Recce”. We moved back into the house on the lower side, and I went on my own to contact ‘A’ Company and was met by a German soldier aiming at me, I ducked down in the roadside and luckily his bullets went over me and I was able to fire back to silence matters.
The Sergeant who had fired the ‘PIAT’ at the tank was blinded and could not see but we had no means of getting any medical assistance.
We were in a cellar in the farmhouse where we found a petrol tank in the kitchen and proceeded to use a cooking stove to get some grub when the petrol tank fell over and set the kitchen area on fire. We slammed the cellar door, and everyone held his breath. Fortunately the fire abated and we survived.
The enemy were still in the houses adjacent to us so I took a night patrol round the back of the houses and actually trod on a German in his slit trench, but I was quicker than him and then decided to pull back. The direct route was barred by barbed wire so I just took one big jump and got through with the loss of trousers but very relieved to be back on our side.”
As a result of the heavy bombardment by our artillery there was only token resistance by the enemy as the three Companies entered Tripsrath almost simultaneously in the dark and in a certain amount of confusion. However, all Companies were able to consolidate on their objectives quickly as there was only spasmodic fire from a few Germans still in the village. Tripsrath was now secured for the night and the men rested the best they could, knowing the enemy might counter-attack at any time.
The enemy's communications must have suffered severe disruption during the bombardment and it was not until shortly before dawn the following day that they made their presence felt.
The next day (19th November) dawned to grey skies and heavy rain. The battlefield, which had always been bad, now became a quagmire, a sea of liquid brown mud in which no wheeled vehicle could move effectively. Therefore, all replenishment had to be carried out to the forward Companies by Honeys and Weasels. Some Sherman tanks, which had extended end connectors fitted to their tracks, were able to get forward and give support.
Pending the opening of a maintenance route through Geilenkirchen, it was proposed that the Worcestershires should be served by a track from Gillrath to Rischden and on to
Tripsrath. However, because of recent heavy rain this presented considerable difficulties as tanks, carriers and anti-tank guns became bogged down in the deep liquid mud. The forward Companies therefore found themselves without food and without anti-tank guns at first light on the morning of the 19th November.
Four Sherman tanks fitted with extended end connectors to their tracks, however, managed to get through and rumbled into the village at 05.00 hours that morning. All seemed to be going well until ‘B’ Squadron, 4th/7th
RDG, reached the outskirts of Tripsrath. Three tanks were immediately knocked-out by SP guns and a fourth tank was Bazookaed by a very determined German using a
Panzerfaust. A fifth tank survived this attack and remained in action the rest of the day. This action resulted in two tank officers and two troopers being killed with a further two officers and ten other ranks being wounded.
Shortly after this attack the German who had fired the Panzerfaust was shot dead whilst trying to cross the street, by a Sergeant from the Worcesters Anti-Tank Platoon.
The German “Panzerfaust” was a very effective lightweight anti-tank weapon issued to the German infantry. It was capable of penetrating 200 mm of armour plate at 60 metres.
Captain Percy Huxter (‘A’ Company) has vivid memories of this event as he was involved in getting two badly wounded men out of one of the burning Sherman tanks in the narrow street of
Tripsrath. It was some time before stretcher bearers arrived on the scene to take them away.
After these events, Captain Percy Huxter was told by his Company Commander, Captain Keith James, to make contact with the other two forward Companies. ‘A’ Company by then had consolidated their position in the northern part of
Captain Huxter recalls, “I walked back, not seeing any of the enemy, and then I heard a number of Germans talking on the other side of a six feet high wall. They were obviously having a heated discussion and thankfully were unaware of my presence. I quickly removed the pin from a grenade, counted two, and lobbed it over the wall !! I heard a few screams and then it went quiet. I continued on my way.”
Just before dawn on the 19th a counter-attack by some 100 strong German Infantry came in on ‘A’ Company's position. The Worcester men dealt with this attack successfully and by daylight they saw at least forty dead Germans in front of their forward Platoon. They belonged to 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division.
‘D’ Company also found that the enemy, belonging to the 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, had crept back into the school building at the most northern point of the
Tripsrath, too close for comfort!
‘C’ Company set out at about 10.00 hours to clear their sector of buildings, and collected about twenty prisoners who had been sleeping in the cellars and who seemed hardly to know that there had been a battle the day before.
Another counter-attack came in at 11.00 hours from the woods (later to be referred to as Dorset Woods) at the other side of the main Geilenkirchen-Heinsberg road, which was about 500 yards west of
Tripsrath. Out of the woods and down the axis of the road there came a Company of enemy infantry supported by two Tiger tanks and two
S.P. guns. They were advancing towards Rischden but seemed unaware of the presence of ‘C’ Company who were now on the edge of
Tripsrath, for the enemy infantry moved down the line of the road in the ditch on the Tripsrath side and their armour presented inviting broadside targets for any anti-tank weapons. Annoyingly, for reasons already stated, no anti-tank weapons were to hand, and ‘C’ Company could only look on and watch this opportunity go slipping by. But all was not lost.
Our anti-tank guns and some Sherman tanks had managed to get up to
Rischden, where ‘B’ and H.Q. Company were, and from there were able to engage the enemy Panzers whilst ‘C’ Company took heavy toll of the German infantry who never seemed to realize that they were being fired on from the flanks. Three of the enemy armoured vehicles went up in flames and the screams of the trapped crew of the one nearest the road were plainly audible. The remaining infantry and one enemy tank limped back into the cover of the woods.
One of the tanks had been hit by a P.I.A.T. bomb fired by Sergt. Drew of 12 Platoon (‘B’ Company) using the weapon at “high angle” and the extreme range of 300 yards. He used two shots to get the range and luckily managed to hit the tank with his third.
Lieutenant Rex Fellows, commanding 12 Platoon recalls:
“The enemy tanks stopped and one began to traverse its gun turret slowly across the front of 12 Platoon, but appeared not to have seen us. It then dipped its gun on to Lieutenant Jerry Millinson’s leading 10 Platoon and opened fire pounding the area of 10 Platoon with
H.E. until hit by a P.I.A.T. bomb fired with uncanny accuracy and great bravery by 12 Platoon’s Sergeant Drew, aided by some enfilade fire from
Tripsrath. 10 Platoon suffered many casualties in that short bombardment.”
Some alarm had been caused at Battalion H.Q., which was still established in the cellar of a house in
Rischden, when it was suddenly set on fire by one of the enemy's shells. Major Thomson, who had now taken over command from Major Ricketts, continued to command the battle from it until the heat became so unbearable and he was forced to move his H.Q. to a house farther down the road.
Later that day the Royal Artillery anti-tank guns arrived and covered the Worcestershires positions, and the Gunner and Mortar Observation Posts established themselves. During the following night (20th Nov.) the maintenance route through Geilenkirchen was opened up. Geilenkirchen had fallen to the Americans after being successfully outflanking the Germans.
It was after quite a short interval that Worcestershires felt the weight for the first time of the guns of the Siegfried Line. The guns were numerous and of large calibre, and apparently well supplied with ammunition. The enemy had our range and the Battalion felt the full force of their bombardment while sitting in cellars and slit trenches. Brigadier Essame later said
“The 1st Battalion Worcestershire had endured bombardment in the village on a scale comparable to that of the First World War.”
Casualties from shelling are rarely high if one is below ground and so it was in this case, but the nervous strain and the accompanying lowering effect on morale are unavoidable. For five days and four nights the Worcestershires sat and “took it all”, and although the War Diary, which merely says “Heavy enemy mortaring and shelling throughout the day”, seems to pass it off rather lightly, it was one of the most trying ordeals which the men of the Battalion experienced throughout the whole campaign.
Private Jack Roberts (‘A’ Company) recalls “At Tripsrath, on the morning of the 20th November, after a very heavy bout of shelling on our position, a private by the name of Edwards shouted to me, ‘Robbo, look what these German bastards have done to my greatcoat!!’ I gave it a glance and what I saw were a lot of holes made by shrapnel. My reply was, ‘It’s a good job you hadn’t got it on!!’. For some reason he’d left it on the side of the slit trench whilst shelling was going on”.
Private Cecil (Joe) Bainbridge (‘D’ Company), batman and runner for Major Bryan Elder, remembers the occasion well
“We suffered a terrific bombardment by the Germans from the Siegfried Line for five days and nights. It only stopped for one hour each night while the Germans fed. I was lucky to avoid getting blown up twice!”
Literally thousands of shells poured into Worcestershires positions while they curled up in their slit trenches. To appear above ground was to invite disaster so that such movement was kept to a minimum. It was only at night time that the men were withdrawn in small parties to the comparative comfort and safety of cellars in the damaged houses to wash and shave and have some food. Food was issued during the hours of darkness, dinner at 20.00 hours and breakfast at 04.30 hours, at which time sandwiches were issued for midday.
Communications suffered as usual from the heavy shelling and the Signal Platoon, led by the Signals Officer, Capt. P. E. Gray, surpassed itself in its efforts to maintain them.
Major R. C. Thomson (York and Lancaster Regiment) was only attached to the 1st Battalion
Worcestershires, he was never taken-on-strength of the Unit, and, in fact, his entire stay with the Battalion did not exceed ten days, but five of those days were the most hazardous they had experienced.
On the 22nd November news was received that the Worcestershires were to be relieved that next day by 5th
Wiltshires, who had been holding the village of Birgden for the last twelve days. This was welcome news for the Worcester men who suffered continuous shelling in their forward postions in Tripsrath and
The relief was carefully planned by the two Commanding Officers and by 04.10 hours on November 23rd the 5th Wiltshires had taken over all the
The enemy still held a few houses at the extreme North-West corner of
Tripsrath, which were to prove difficult for the 5th Wiltshires to clear in the coming days.
Later that night, once the handover was completed, the men of the Worcesters made their way down the muddy and bomb cratered tracks to Bauchem where TCV’s were waiting to transport them back to the relative safety of
Schinveld, a small village just over the frontier back into Holland.
The Worcesters were eventually received in the small hours of the 24th November by the people of
Schinveld, a small village in Holland very close to the German frontier and about two miles north of
Brunssum. It absorbed the Battalion with a hearty welcome despite their mud-plastered, unwashed and unshaven condition.
The Adjutant, Captain W. L. Leadbeater, had preceded the Battalion by some six hours and had warned the people in the village of the Worcestershires pending arrival. As the troops arrived in the village the Company Colour Sergeants met their Companies and distributed them amongst the various houses in the village.
Private Thomas Scully (‘A’ Company) recalls arriving in Schinveld at 06.30 hours on the morning of 24th November 1944, he and some of his comrades were billeted at the Keulers family home of 31
Eindstraat, which was the first main street as they entered the village, close to the Dutch/German Frontier.
The Keulers had been sleeping in their cellar for fear of bombing; they provided the men with clean sheets and gave us their best beds to sleep in. They also insisted in taking away our muddy clothes and boots, returning them the later that day cleaned and dried.
The Battalion spent 24th, 25th and 26th in Schinveld resting and enjoying the company of the local Dutch folk who went out of their way to make them feel welcome. Regular transport was also arranged to convey the troops to and from the coalmines at Brunssum where they could enjoy the delights of hot baths.
The Worcestershires Battalion Headquarters was in the local school, and it was here that Lieut.-Col. A. W. Vickers (King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) arrived to assume command of the Battalion on 26th November. On the 27th November orders were received to relieve 4th Dorsets in the woods west of Tripsrath (Dorset Woods).
A Battalion Recce Party, which went forward that morning to see the position, on their arrival the woods were being very severely shelled by enemy heavy guns of the Siegfried Line. It seemed that on the previous day, for some obscure and purely local reason, the Dorsets had laid an artillery smoke screen in front of their positions. This had made the enemy extremely nervous thinking that it was to cover some sort of troop movement or concentration and was the prelude to another attack. The guns of the Siegfried, affording Tripsrath a temporary respite, raised their elevation by about another 1000 yards and for eight hours hurled everything they had at the unfortunate
Dorsets. Despite the fact that they were well dug-in, the Dorsets received many more casualties than usual from shells bursting in the trees, and large sections of the trees themselves were stripped of their branches or even cut in half. After this event these woods were referred to as ‘Dorset Woods’ because of the heavy casualties they suffered.
The Worcestershire Battalion moved from Schinveld via the Gangelt-Geilenkirchen road to Bauchem in troop carrying vehicles. There they debussed at about 19.30 hours and set off once more up the Heinsberg road towards
Tripsrath. At Rischden they advanced quickly north-west across open country some 300 yards into the cover of woods which the Dorsets were still holding.
Guides from the Dorsets met the Worcesters at appointed rendezvous and each Company was led, mud floundering over their boots, to their respective positions. When the routine of taking over was completed, the Dorsets moved out and the business of carrying up blankets, greatcoats, ammunition and other equipment was undertaken. To everyone's relief this was all accomplished without interference from the enemy; no doubt he considered that he had dealt faithfully with the woods during the past thirty-six hours.
Daylight revealed the full evidence of the hard battle, which had been fought for this feature. The 4th Dorsets had previously attempted to take it on the 19th November but had to withdraw in the face of enemy heavy opposition. It was eventually taken on the following day (20th Nov.) by the 5th
Dorsets, but not easily; knocked-out carriers, little piles of equipment cut from the wounded and the unburied corpses of the enemy testified to this fact.
Most of the Worcestershires positions were in earthworks actually constructed by the Germans, and it was quite exceptionally fortunate that they should serve their purpose despite the fact that they were designed to face the opposite direction. They had been built with the usual German thoroughness with an eye for detail and were, for the most part, comparatively comfortable and shell-proof.
Maintenance and supplies became a major problem. The tracks were knee deep in mud through constant use and heavy rain, and after a short time became impassable even to carriers. The Divisional Transport Pool provided the only answer in the shape of “Weasels”, those versatile amphibians with their light metal bodies and wide tracks, which had been designed for snow warfare in Norway. Men of the Battalion drove them after only the briefest lesson. The muddy tracks through Dorest Wood were nicknamed by the men ‘Weasel Alley’.
Enemy shelling was now spasmodic and the Worcestershires were deliberately held back to avoid stirring up more trouble from the enemy now that the object of ‘Operation Clipper’ had been achieved. Down both sides of the tracks, from Companies to Battalion H.Q., slit trenches were dug at fifteen yards intervals for the protection of visitors, maintenance parties and relieving units in the event of any heavy enemy shellfire. These excavations were known as “Pilgrims' Way” and served their purpose well on more than one occasion.
There was something extremely unpleasant about Dorset Wood. It had an atmosphere of death, a smell of decay and stagnation. It was a thoroughly evil place where one’s nerves where always on edge and tempers became frayed.
On the 30th November the DCLI took over the line in Dorset Woods and the men of the Worcestershire Battalion made their way knee deep down the muddy tracks passing by the village Hatterath and back down the main road at
Gillrath. Then on in TGV’s to the village of Niederbusch and the comparative luxury of the blasted houses which were to rest for the next 3 days. It was here that Captain Wally Leadbeater the Adjutant, had to be evacuated to hospital to receive treatment for a leg wound he received at
Rischden. Captain Keith James took over the Adjutant role.
Niederbusch being a German village had been evacuated of all civilians and had been used by other troops before. The council-house type dwellings told a tale of souvenir hunting which seemed to be a common practice. Regular transport was also arranged so that the men could once again enjoy the hot baths at the Brunssum coalmines.
On the 2nd December the arrival of a recce party from the DCLI 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.
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 Worcestershire ‘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.
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.
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
The Worcestershires 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 Staha on the 11th November, had found a buried civilian telephone cable carrying several lines which went from Staha 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!
On the 6th December the Worcestershires were relieved by 4th Wiltshires and, preceded by the usual recce party (the Second-in-Command, all Company seconds-in-commands, and representatives of all specialist platoons) crept back down the village streets. Unfortunately a 17-pounder anti-tank gun took the wrong turning at the church leaving Birgden and drove towards
Schierwaldenrath, which was still in enemy hands. It ran into a minefield, blew itself and its crew sky-high causing an almighty
stonk. The Worcestershires eventually arrived once more at Brunssum at 23.30 hours and debussed at the air-raid shelters of the coalmine.
Brunssum for the second time
On the following morning (7th December) the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Commanding Officer, Lieut.-Col. Vickers, inspected the troops' quarters and ordered that civilian billets be found forthwith. This was achieved with little trouble or delay, the men once more enjoyed the warm welcome of the Dutch folk.
During this period of inactivity Field-Marshal Montgomery ordered 30 Corps to make plans to clear the enemy from the a three-cornered area bounded by Roermond in the north, Sittard in the south and the River Roer to the east. This area later became know as the Sittard-Roermond Triangle. This operation was given the codename “Shear”. This operation would then allow for the destruction of the enemy west of the Rhine.
As part of this plan the Worcestershires were to open up the route in front of Tripsrath and hold it. The 52nd (Lowland) Division would then push through and take the town of
Heinsberg. The Guards Armoured Division would then breakout at Birgden and push forward.
By the 10th December the American 84th Division had been brought in to the plan. However, poor weather conditions and major traffic problems on the Heinsberg Road caused the planned attack to be postponed to the 14th. The situation continued to get worse and the following day it was put back yet again to the 16th. The weather conditions deteriorated still further when finally the operation “Shear” was abandoned on the 12th December. Field-Marshal Montgomery had in fact decided to give priority to the attack south-east from
Nijmegen, which 30 Corps had planned in October, known as operation “Veritable”.
On the 16th December Worcesters were ordered to send a recce party to
Aalbeek, no one ever knew quite why. The party was recalled almost before it arrived there and was dispatched on the following day (17th December) to Tilburg.
Private Thomas Scully (now moved to ‘D’ Company with Captain Percy
Huxter) remembers being a member of this Recce Party to Tilburg where he arranged billets in the local house of Hobbemastraat and Jozef
Israëlsstraat, for 16, 17 and 18 Platoon of ‘D’ Company. He learnt to use the following Dutch phrase “Wilt U geven biljets voor
soldaten, hoeveel” translated meant “Will you provide billets for soldiers, how many”.
It was not generally known until long afterwards that the object of this move was to allow the Worcestershire Battalion a period of special training prior to committing it as part of the force to make the assault on the Siegfried Line on 9th January 1945. The Recce Party procured billets in Tilburg and the Battalion moved off from Brunssum to occupy them at 09.00 hours on the 18th December.
In Tilburg the location of the billets were in the streets around the “Cavalerie Kazerne” which were the Cavalry Barracks situated in the south west part of the town. The section of the map on the next page was that used by the Battalion at the time and shows the location areas of the individual Company billets, as marked up by Lieutenant Rex Fellows (‘B’ Company).
It was expected that the Battalion would have a month out of the line devoted to training. However, news came in that Von Rundstedt had launched a full scale mechanised offensive through the Ardennes, aimed at splitting the American 9th and 1st Armies, cutting across the southern part of Belgium.
After only a short stay in Tilburg the Worcestershire Battalion was ordered to concentrate hastily in the Belgian town of Bilzen (19th December). Troop Carrying Vehicles arrived outside their billets the men quickly jumped on and were on there way south.
It was whilst in Tilburg that the Battalion found itself directly under the flight path of the V1 ‘flying bombs’ directed on Antwerp. They came over the town at night in regular half hour intervals.
Von Rundstedt's last throw in the form of his Ardennes Offensive had caused the best-laid plans of the General Staff to go slightly astray. So it was that the Battalion were to wait in reserve at Bilzen with the rest of 214 Brigade.
It must be confessed that the Allies had now been pushing back the Germans for so long that for a while no one really took the Ardennes Offensive seriously. By the 20th December, however, it had become apparent that it was a major operation and more than mere tactics. For the Germans the whole issue of the war was at stake.
On the 17th December, Captain Freddie Coulcher (commanding Anti-Tank Platoon) was suddenly taken ill with appendicitis and was evacuated to hospital in
Brugge. Sadly, his situation worsened and on the 30th December he died of complications. He is buried in a war grave at Brugge General Cemetry (Plot 63, Row 4, Grave 5).
Bilzen and Christmas festivity
30 Corps was now held in reserve, with the task of denying the enemy the line of the Meuse and chasing him back again if he ever got that far. The Worcestershire Battalion situated in
Bilzen, Belgium just 15 km from Maastricht and the Dutch/German border. The Worcesters were billeted with the local Belgium folk and Battalion H.Q. was established in the local school. The whole Battalion was on one hour’s notice to move in the event of any further enemy advance.
On the morning of the 20th December Field Marshal Montgomery appeared in the market square in Bilzen for a meeting with General Sir Miles Dempsey, the Army Commander. 214 Brigade HQ had been established in the medieval Hotel de Ville.
Private Thomas Scully recalls being billeted at the local monastery in Bilzen with the monks, on Christmas Day and snow on the ground. His officer, Captain Percy Huxter was also there. However, Major Bryan Elder had gone back to England on 14 days leave and Captain Peter Hall took over command of ‘D’ Company as temporary Major.
Although there was an air of tenseness amongst the men not knowing what was ahead, excitement was also in the air with the approach of Christmas. On the 23rd December the men were informed that Christmas Day would be celebrated with a special dinner with all the trimmings. On the 24th the notice to move was lifted to three hours by day and one hour by night, a welcome relief. All things considered, Christmas 1944 would be remembered as a pleasant interlude in the grim period of winter war.
The Lieut. J. E. Benney (Quartermaster) and his staff between them managed to produce an abundance of tinned turkey, pork, vegetables, Christmas pudding and English beer, not to mention such trimmings as mince pies, fruit, nuts, chocolate, cake, cigars (captured stock intended for the
Wehrmacht) and some dubious red wine ‘Chateau Naafi’!!
Cpl. William Gould, Signals Company, recalls; “Nuns who were in charge of the local school had prepared a tremendous cauldron of rich vegetable soup as a special treat for their charges and quite a few of the Worcesters sampled it and declared it to be excellent”.
Everyone was warned against the wood alcohol being purveyed by the local café proprietors under the libellous label of “brandy” but, alas, there were a few who disregarded this and literally fell by the wayside, spending Christmas in the Guard Room as a result.
That night all the officers sat down to dinner together for the first time since Normandy days, and the N.C.O.s and men whose awards had been published at lunchtime were invited to the Officers' Mess for a drink and were congratulated by Brigadier Essame who joined the Battalion for dinner.
A very adequate meal was followed by a roisterous, though in some cases inarticulate, sing-song round the piano, and everyone went to bed at midnight fervently hoping that if any enemy paratroops were dropped it would not be in the Worcestershires Battalion's area.
One light-hearted moment was when ‘Tanky’ Taylor (‘B’ Company), who may have had a drink or two, was on guard duty and as the C.O. approached he challenged him for the password but the C.O. could not remember it and simply said I am your Commanding Officer. ‘Tanky’ still refused to let him pass much to the annoyance of the C.O. and the officer of the guard had to be called out to sort out the situation!!
On Boxing Day the Worcestershires went out to do a little training, more as
a liver-shaking measure than anything else, and to enjoy the frosty country air and the brilliant winter sunshine. Football was played each afternoon, against the 5th DCLI and 7th Somerset
L.I. as well as some of the local villagers.
Bunde (Holland) and New Year 1945
On the 27th December the Worcestershires moved again this time to the small village of
Bunde, about five miles north-east of Maastricht and roughly half-way back again towards
Brunssum. The Battalion still retaining its counter-attack role on the
Meuse. In addition to this they spent the last few days of 1944 and the first ten days of 1945 preparing defensive positions in the Brunssum vicinity against the possibility of an enemy thrust at Geilenkirchen for, although the Ardennes Salient was now under control, the threat remained.
Strangely, the Dutch folk viewed these precautions with some dismay. They did not object to slits being dug in their gardens but they found the thoughts of the Germans returning most alarming. At times it was funny as they stood around and watched as Worcester men hacked away at the frozen, snow-covered ground. At this time representatives of the 6th (Guards) Armoured Brigade arrived and counter-attack measures on various features and localities were planned and rehearsed.
On the 3rd January 1945 the Second-in-Command (Major G. G. Reinhold, M.C.) and the seconds-in-command of Companies with representatives of normal supporting arms (Armour, Field Guns, Anti-Tank Guns and Medium Machine Guns) set out in the early morning and motored to
Eynatten, south-east of Aachen, and laid out a Battalion defensive position which could be manned in the event of a serious break-through from the south, at the time it was rumoured that Von Rundstedt had promised Hitler that he would retake Aachen for a New Year present. The party drove through this city of
Aachen on its way there and back and saw for the first time the appalling destruction. Bulldozers had to be used to make a path through the streets, which were filled with rubble. No building had escaped without some damage. The twin spires of the damaged Cathedral stood out in all the surrounding destruction of war.
From the 4th to the 10th of January, the business of precautionary reconnaissance and defensive digging continued. A Divisional “Layback Line” was sited (as an alternative to the Brunssum one), and the Battalion scratched holes in the ground around the villages of Meerssen and
Nuth. The weather was extremely cold but the days were bright and clear. There had now been no snow since New Year. However, on the 8th January snow began to fall in blizzards.
By this time Von Rundstedt, having stuck out his neck, was now in danger of having it severed as Montgomery in the north and Patton and Bradley in the south advanced towards each other. The tip of the salient had crumbled and the epic stand of the American 10th Airborne Division at Bastogne had paralysed the enemy's communications. The Worcestershires remained at short notice to move and did a little training. By now the atmosphere became less tense and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
It was on the 10th January that a warning order arrived that Worcestershires would relieve the 4th/5th Royal Scots Fusiliers in the area Tripsrath-Hochheid-Hoven Wood on the following morning.
This was not allowed to interfere with the Officers' Dance, which had been laid on for that evening in a café in the small Dutch village of
Meerssen, local Dutch people had been invited to attend. It proved a great success and the rum punch concocted by the Second-in-Command, Major Reinhold, was of unrivalled potency. Lieut.-Colonel Vickers (Commanding Officer) was in great demand amongst the local females, but had to leave with the Intelligence Officer at 21.30 hours to attend a Brigade “O” Group in connection with the relief, and the party, which might easily have continued until dawn, had to finish early at midnight for a Battalion “O” Group at 00.30 hours.
Not surprisingly, the Worcestershire Battalion “O” Group was a light-hearted affair due in part due to alcohol drunk that evening!!
At 06.30 hours (11th January) an “R” Group moved out on the frozen roads towards
Niederheide, followed four hours later by the remainder of the Battalion.
Tripsrath for the second time
Tripsrath area had changed considerably since the Worcestershires left it in the previous November. There were now two Companies in the village, two Companies in Hoven Wood, and Battalion H.Q. and “Sp” Company in
Hochheid. A thick blanket of deep snow now covered the countryside and the roads and tracks were packed hard forming a treacherous icy surface.
In the village the fighting positions were roughly the same, but each Headquarters (Company and Platoon) had moved to better accommodation, as the practice was to withdraw the maximum number of men by day so that they might wash, eat and rest in comparative comfort and prepare themselves for the nightly vigil back in the village.
In Hoven Wood, however, the conditions were still poor with only shallow slit trenches invariably submerged in water or coated with ice according to the temperature, provided the only possible accommodation. Maintenance was again by night, ‘A’ Echelon serving the needs of the Battalion from Grotenrath about five miles back. Luckily, the Divisional Transport Pool again provided two Weasels to assist in transporting supplies through the waterlogged tracks, which were impassable even to jeeps.
The 7th Somerset L.I. were on our right in the area of Brugerhof and the 5th DCLI on the left in the area of Dorset Wood with its Headquarters back at
Rischden. The Brigade HQ was on the extreme right of the line and was neighboured to the south by 17th United States Cavalry Regiment.
The immediate enemy positions seemed to be Spandau Wood, the aptly named northern end of Hoven Wood, directly facing the right-hand forward Company, the 80 ring contour (see map on previous page) to the north-east of Tripsrath called “Kidney Feature”, and the hamlet of Konigshof on the main Heinsberg Road, north of
On re-introduction to this sector one felt that the enemy had the initiative and that he had been allowed to get away with too much by our predecessors. He seemed to toss his shells and mortar bombs about with too much carefree abandon and with insufficient retaliation from our side. The enemy was also in the habit of firing leaflets into the British lines. These consisted of various invitations, to our troops to give themselves up by the simple walking 300 yards forward towards their positions. They caused much laughter and were in great demand either as souvenirs or for some other unmentionable purpose.
This state of affairs, however, was not allowed to continue for long, and the enemy must very soon have realized that there was a different formation facing them. The Worcesters Commanding Officer, Lieut.-Col. A. W. Vickers, was both energetic and belligerent, so that for every shell or bomb the Germans fired ten times that number were returned which had the required result.
From time to time the Germans bombared Tripsrath with 8-cm. mortar bombs in batches of about thirty at a time.
The weather, already very cold, became colder. Anything from 26 degrees to 32 degrees of frost was normal and the danger of frostbite became very real. The men were ordered to remove boots and socks and massage their feet twice daily in order to stave off frostbite.
Automatic weapons froze up and had to be treated with low-test oil in order to prevent jamming. Water cans solidified and melted snow had to be used as a substitute for ablution purposes. With snow on the ground, white suits were issued for patrolling both by day and night. Everyone became extremely filthy and bathing parties were organized daily at the coalmine at
Brunssum. Rum rations flowed in liberal quantity, especially in the Command Post.
There were several features, which served to alleviate the monotony of such an existence.
There was the unbounded energy of Lieut.-Colonel Vickers’ in pursuit of his offensive policy of hitting the German positions as often and as hard as he could. Aided by American Gunner
F.O.O.s, who were attached to the Worcestershire Battalion, with seemingly unlimited call on fire-power.
There was Operation “Blackcock”, the clearing of the Sittard-Roermond Triangle, for which Operation “Shears” had previously been designed but cancelled at the last minute. 214 Brigade sector was now the extreme right of the line and, so to speak, the bottom right-hand angle of the triangle, so it watched with interest whilst 7th Armoured Division, 52nd (Lowland) Division and other elements of 43rd (Wessex) Division rolled up the line on its left.
Captain Peter Gray, Signals Officer, devolved an ingenious system of broadcasting News Bulletins direct to the Companies by connecting the telephone system to a wireless set, and excitement rose to fever pitch as the picture took on a rosy hue.
It was expected that the final phase of operation “Blackcock” would include the assault on
Hoven, Kraudorf and Nirm. In order to allow the passage of tanks the Worcestershires were ordered to lift the extensive minefields laid forward of Tripsrath earlier by 52nd (Lowland) Division. Something like 1,200 grenades (75 type) with their pressure plates removed were frozen in the earth under about six inches of snow. The Pioneer Platoon, led by the Pioneer Officer Lieut. J. (Johnny)
Allum, spent nights reconnoitring, sweeping, lifting and reconnoitring again and by some mischance, when the task was almost completed and over 1,100 mines had been removed, Lieut. Allum prodded a particularly sensitive one and blew himself up.
Sergt. R. F. Edwards completed the job, for which he was awarded the Military Medal. It was probably one of the biggest mine lifting tasks ever carried out by an Infantry Pioneer Platoon.
The Signal Platoon spent an unpleasant night burying all the cable leading to Tripsrath as a precautionary measure against destruction by tank tracks.
There was much amusement one night when the following story was told:
A huge crater was revealed on one of the many air photographs, which was issued before the attack; and the Sappers constructed a very large Bailey Bridge on sledges and named it ‘Sydney’ after the famous bridge in Australia. The unfortunate sapper in charge was ordered to lay it across a bomb crater on the Heinsberg Road. He drove this unwieldy contraption up and down the road all night, at the risk of being blown up by mines. To his astonishment, he could not find the crater and eventually decided to return back to base. After investigation it afterwards turned out that the crater was actually a speck of dust on the camera lens !
It was here for the first time the chatter of the “Pepper Pot” was heard. This was something new and additional in supporting artillery and consisted of a harassing barrage from smaller calibre guns. A squadron of tanks would fire, indirect, 100 rounds of 75 mm. or 17-pounder each at the rapid rate. Bofors in a ground ro1e pumped clip after clip of 20 mm. into the enemy defences, and even the anti-tank guns raised their muzzles, made approximate calculations, and hurled their
H.E. 6,000 yards.
From the roof of the house in which Worcestershire Battalion Headquarters was established, some members of the Battalion watched the effect of this “Pepper Pot” on the village of
Uetterath, some 2,000 yards north of Tripsrath, prior to its assault in the closing stages of “Blackcock”.
As the villages in the Sittard-Roermond triangle fought and fell, and the Germans crept silently away to prepare more positions to the east of the Roer River, the Brigade front became quiet.
Captain Percy Huxter (now in ‘D’ Company as second-in-command), remembers driving back to Battalion H.Q. at
Hochheid, in a jeep, to report the situation of ‘D’ Companies position in Hoven Wood.
On his way back he was caught up in a battle between the Germans and the 52nd Lowland Division!! He realised he was way off route and immediately stopped and went into the nearest house to get information. As he opened the door, to his surprise he saw about 10 Germans all sitting on the floor. Before they had chance to move Captain Huxter was out of the house and back into his jeep, racing off up the road and finally found his way back to ‘D’ Company.
Lieutenant Rex Fellows (‘B’ Company) recalls taking a two-man patrol across the no-man’ s land between Tripsrath and the small cluster of farm buildings known as
Konigshof. It took place during a bitterly cold night, when 30 degrees of frost was normal, and quiet movement in the hard crusted snow was impossible. The risk of being seen by the Germans was reduced somewhat by the wearing of white hooded suits, and the careful wrapping of weapons in white tape, but nothing could be done to deaden the noise of movement, and the daylight effect of brilliant moonlight could only be overcome by restricting movement to coincide with the occasional cloud passing across the moon (The only other protection was the power of prayer !! But Johnnie
Ockmanoff, one of the trio, was an avowed atheist!!. The religion of Joe
Banas, the third member, a Pole, was not known but whatever it was, it encompassed a deep seated hatred of the Boches !! The trio carried out many patrols together and Lieutenant Fellows feels he owes his life to the skill, dedication and experience of his companions).
Lieutenant Rex Fellows tells his story :-
“The patrol, in triangular formation - some ten paces between men - to avoid the concentrated noise of footsteps crushing the frozen snow - moved slowly out from the end of Tripsrath village, passing some of the forty odd snow covered body mounds of the Germans.
They had been killed when they attacked ‘A’ Company, in the initial, November battle, and were still lying there in the no-man’s land, which had resulted from the unchanged position of the front line in the interim period. The Company, commanded at that time by Captain K.R.H James, had consolidated beyond the objective by moving two platoons forward of the village. This not only reduced the effects of the inevitable counter-attack by fire, but also later, proved to favour them with the element of surprise. Their position, in open country would appear to have been unknown to the enemy, who, as they advanced, were taken completely by surprise.
After a 1500 yards of slow and careful movement, with every sense strained to the limit, I heard a slight noise from somewhere behind and turned round to see both men, for some reason much further back than arranged. Private Banas was in the act of throwing another snowball (to attract my attention), but seeing me look back, started pointing to the ground, again and again!
The dreadful truth dawned very quickly, I was in a minefield!!
As I stood, frozen to the spot, looking back towards the others, a German soldier suddenly appeared, as if from nowhere. He loomed surprisingly large in the bright moonlight, but must have been some twenty paces away as he came up from the ground - presumably from a trench - to my left and to the rest of the patrol’s right.
The shock of his sudden appearance was eased by the realisation that he was slowly shuffling away, and not towards us.
He obviously hadn’t seen or heard anything of our movements and was totally unaware of our presence.
The others saw the German at the same time, and I was alarmed to see Banas raise his gun to shoot. I was greatly relieved that they saw my frantic hand signals telling them to hold fire. I was still numb from the realisation that I was trapped in a minefield - frightened to move my feet let alone dive for cover, or crawl away from the enemy fire which any such action would surely have attracted. I decided to re-trace my steps, reasoning that I had not detonated a mine because the pressure plates were frozen up, or that, in fact, there were no mines along the route I‘d taken. (The only other way, was to chance running, as fast as possible, over the top of the frozen surface - an optimistic alternative, thinking that speed would prevent me from going through the crust. I knew that the cold had robbed me of the speed and agility to do this).
The others waited whilst I slowly and very carefully extricated myself from the minefield, retracing every step with great precision. It was not difficult - the footprints were clearly marked in the snow, and the moonlight became friend instead of foe. I was frightened, and it was a relief to rejoin the others, after a carefully trodden walk which probably took less than ten minutes but felt like a lifetime!
When I got back to my companions, they pointed out the ‘Achtung Minen’ signs, which had warned them of my predicament. Had we been ‘bunched’ together, as we advanced, instead of adopting a well-spaced triangular formation, the signs could have remained unseen by all three-patrol members, and the outcome might have been very different.
It was not the most successful of patrols - the original plan to recce’ the Konigshof buildings being abandoned, but the information gained by the chance location of the minefield, and defensive positions, was useful information for later patrols, and for the eventual capture of Konigshof by ‘A’ Company, who took seven prisoners in the operation.
One of these prisoners would never know how close he came to our patrol. Nor would he know how close he cane to death!
Banas, acting on his own initiative, would undoubtedly have shot him!
Every member of the patrol however, knew that the weather conditions gave the enemy a distinct advantage and the wisdom of mounting the operation on that particular night became the subject of long discussions.”
On the 24th January, Worcestershires ‘A’ Company (commanded by Major T. F. Hughes) moved to the north-east corner of Dorset Wood to relieve a Company of the 5th DCLI which was expecting to put in the final attack of the operation within the following two days and, as the result of favourable recce patrols, ‘B’ Company moved out to occupy “Kidney Feature”, whilst “A'' Company dispatched a Platoon and successfully seized Konigshof without casualties and took seven prisoners.
On the 25th January, the village of Hoven was reported to be unoccupied, so the Worcestershires Commanding Officer directed ‘C’ Company to occupy the northern end of Hoven Wood and then passed ‘D’ Company through them into the village. During this operation one
N.C.O. was wounded by a Schü mine.
Corporal F. H. Bozward (‘D’ Company, 17 Platoon) recalls, “Somewhere near Tripsrath
(Hoven Wood), we were dug in on the edge of a wood. The weather was very bad, snowing and cold. Nothing was going on except a few patrols down to the village about half a mile away. The weather got better and the Company was ordered to move in on the village. We went through the wood into the village, and there didn’t seem to be any enemy there. Suddenly, walking down the road, bold as brass, came one of our lads. ‘They’ve all gone’, he said, ‘I’ve had a bloody good look all round’. His name was Taylor and because all Taylors are called ‘Tanky’, we always called it ‘Tanky Taylor’s Village’ ”.
Lieutenant Peter Wade, with ‘B’ Company of the Worcestershires, remembers how after being relieved by another Regiment, he sat on the steps of Tripsrath church with Major Jerry Clover, the much loved commander of ‘C’ Company, awaiting transport to take them back to the rest area. They spent an hour enjoying the occasional swig of “medicinal” rum, and chatting about the misfortunes of war. After a few swigs, Jerry Clover – many years older than Peter Wade said to him “Seriously, Peter, I’m really getting too old for this lark!” At 38 years of age Jerry Clover was considered to be the old man by young subalterns in the Battalion but he had about him an aura of inspirational leadership and was awarded the
M.C. (Military Cross) for personally guiding stretcher-bearers to wounded men, under fire, during the Tripsrath attack in November 1944.
The Tripsrath area had now ceased to be a battlefield. On the 26th January the men of the 1st Battalion Worcestershires concentrated in Tripsrath and Rischden and, proceeded by a Recce Party, moved the next day to the area of Hulsberg in Holland. Once again the men enjoyed the baths at Brunssum and took time out to watch various cinema shows.
The battle of the Sittard-Roermond Triangle was now over and the final attack, which had been planned and prepared for, was now found to be unnecessary. So ended this adventure of the war.
On the 31st January 1945, the Worcesters eventually took the road again and journeyed back into Belgium and headed north to Beersse (near
Turnhout) and awaited orders for the final phase of the war.
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