Battle for Tripsrath - Dorset Wood

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 Worcesters 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’.

The 'Weasels'

Private Thomas Scully with Bren Gun in 'Dorset Wood'
Note: film damage due to water
(photo Louis Scully private collection)

Enemy shelling was now spasmodic and the Worcesters 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 Dorsets 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 5th D.C.L.I. 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 TCV’s (Troop Carrying Vehicles) 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.