Battle for Tripsrath - Start of the Worcestershire Attack
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 Rischden.
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 R.D.G. (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.
Movement of Worcesters ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies towards their objectives
Lieutenant Rex Fellows (12 Platoon, ‘B’ Company) remembers the occasion well “There were Teller mines lying exposed everywhere, it looked as if they had been just chucked on the ground. There did not seem to be any attempt to conceal them. My platoon passed through them 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.”
The original map used by Lieut. Rex Fellows
(Louis Scully private collection)
Lieutenant Rex Fellows leading 12 platoon now approached their final objective, a pillbox covering the road junction to the north-east of the village of Rishden. 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.
Route of Worcester Carrier Platoon and enemy shelling
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 Brunssum.
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 to 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 Dorset 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. Worcesters’ ‘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.”
Sergeant Jim Norton
Corporal Bill Gould
Capt. "Wally" Leadbeater
Capt. Harold Hodge
(photos Louis Scully private collection)
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.
Attack by the Worcesters on Tripsrath (18th November 1944)
By this time the Brigade artillery support had been switched to the Cornwalls and Dorsets objectives of Hochheid and Bauchem.
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 Rischden.
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.
View of the village of Tripsrath from the Geilenkirchen-Heinsburg road near Rischden
Photo taken in 1944 when the village was still occupied by the Germans
(photo Louis Scully private collection)
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.
Major Bryan Elder
(photo Louis Scully private collection)
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.