Scottish Lion On Patrol Ch 13
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LIESEL, MEIJEL
AND THE PEAT BOGS

Map 9

There was to be no time for the Scottish Division to linger in Tilburg for any ceremony of liberation after the first spontaneous welcome. The Germans had struck suddenly in the bogs south-east of Helmond. Beginning a counter attack across the Deurne Canal between Meijel and Liesel, ten miles from Helmond, on October 27th, a large force of tanks, infantry and artillery had driven back outnumbered units of the 7th U. S. Armoured Division and had advanced from Meijel north along the road to Liesel and north-west along the road to Asten. There was anxiety in Helmond. To meet the threat the Scottish Division hurried back from Tilburg on October 29th over the roads it had so recently travelled, through Oirschot and Best. By this time it was reported that the Germans advancing north had enveloped a small American force holding out in Liesel and were within a mile of Deurne, and that the enemy was two miles from Asten on the Asten-Meijel road, to which parts of a British artillery regiment had been rushed. For more than twenty-four hours these British guns had been firing with hardly a pause, breaking up German concentrations and engaging oncoming tanks over open sights. There was no news of the situation between Liesel and Asten. The Scottish Division's infantry battalions went into action as they arrived, and by nightfall on October 29th the division had blocked the routes of the German advances, with 227 Brigade across the Asten-Meijel road south of Heusden, the Lowland Brigade across the Liesel-Asten road west of Liesel, and 46 Brigade astride

the Liesel-Deurne road. That night the Americans with-drew through the division's positions. The Germans, in spite of more attacks, could come no farther. Next day the job of pushing them back over the bogs began—a job which was to last more than a fortnight and mean hard fighting in cold, wet, desolate country.

It was country ideal for defence. The peat bogs stretched for miles, flat, lifeless, windswept, rainswept and pockmarked with black pools where shell holes had filled with water. The hulks of destroyed American and German tanks stood out darkly on them. To move across them was to invite the swift attention of the German artillery. The only roads across them were the three forming a triangle between Asten, Liesel and Meijel, and these the Germans mined and shelled. Where the flatness of the bogs was broken, it was by the dense bulk of fir plantations, suited to German infiltration. Somehow goodness only knows how the Dutch people had managed to farm some of this bleak land, and the regiment found that one of the few redeeming features of its part in these operations was the chickens and pigs wandering about the deserted, battered farms. Chicken pluckers and pig shavers, professional and amateur, were kept hard at work. Their activities, however, lacked the seal of official approval, and Capt Liddell had an embarrassing five minutes when the divisional commander unexpectedly visited a C Squadron headquarters adorned with five plucked chickens hanging ready for the pot. Fortunately, General Barber had the Nelson touch. After a muttered " Lot of chickens getting in the road of your carriers," he drove off in his jeep without seeing the other two dozen chickens and two pigs ready for cooking at the rear of the house. From its boggy fastness Lieut Kerridge's troop (A Squadron) sent to R.H.Q. by Dingo a pig prepared for the oven and adorned with Reconnaissance Corps flashes.

It was in the bogs that the regiment really learned the full value of its carriers, quite apart from the excuse

which they provided for dead chickens. On the long runs the " swans " through France and Belgium they had been cursed as a drag and a nuisance ; their tracks were so vulnerable to the cobbled streets. In the bog country, where the cars were confined to unpleasant excursions on the shelled, mined roads, the carriers were able to explore the muddy tracks across the peat, and their crews plotted many mine-fields and pinpointed enemy positions.

After a night in Helmond, where a bomb made a crater twenty feet deep and forty wide in B Squadron lines, but caused only two minor casualties, the regiment was driving south beside the canal before dawn on October 30th. Headquarters were set up in Zomeren. ` A ' Squadron, now commanded by Major Ford, patrolled east from Ommel, two miles north of Asten, and the cars reached the Deurne-Liesel road. Two managed to enter Liesel from the north, but both were knocked out by an anti-tank gun in the town. Their crews got away unharmed. B Squadron patrols went south to find out the dispositions and intentions of the 7th U.S. Armoured Division on the right, and C Squadron was engaged south and east of Heusden. To protect the right flank of the Glasgow Highlanders a troop of carriers, io Troop, commanded by Lieut Michael Morris, kept watch on the edge of a large wood south-west of Liesel. In the afternoon the Germans attacked with infantry and tanks in this area, and tried to outflank the Glasgow Highlanders by infiltrating through the wood. The carrier crews stood firm, although outnumbered and under heavy fire. Cpl A. J. Hartley was killed in a forward post, but Tpr J. Bolton, who was with him, fired his Bren at the advancing German infantry until he had used all his ammunition. Then he used his pistol. When told to withdraw he collected his thirteen empty Bren magazines. He was awarded the Military Medal. So was Tpr William Coburn, who fired a Bren until his magazine was shot away, then, slightly wounded,

seized a rifle and continued to engage the enemy. It was not until the Glasgow Highlanders had had time to adjust their positions to meet the threat that Lieut Morris safely withdrew his small force, leaving many German dead. He received the Military Cross.

By the night of October 3oth, which R.H.Q. and B Squadron spent at Zomeren, A at Ommel and C at Heusden, what had been a confused situation was clear thanks partly to the regiment's patrols. Not only was it clear, but under control. The infantry were within a quarter of a mile of Liesel on the north and west, and next day the 7th Seaforth occupied that small, stricken town, and the 6th King's Own Scottish Borderers passed through and cleared Slot.

B Squadron again went to the south of the division's front, protecting the right flank of 227 Brigade and maintaining liaison with the Americans. The dominating position on this flank was a school, from which the boundary between the two divisions could be kept under observation. The B Squadron troop ordered to occupy this position found it strongly held by the enemy. The Americans were not prepared to occupy the school themselves, although it was just inside their area, but they were ready with help for the troop in the shape of two self-propelled guns, which fired at the buildings at a range of 200 yards. The troop mopped up as the Germans fled. Prisoners stated that their party had numbered twenty-two, of whom thirteen were killed and seven captured. They belonged to the 6 Para Lehr Regt Hermann. First B Squadron, then A Squadron, kept the school constantly manned, using it as an observation post and as a base for foot patrols into no man's land—patrols which preceded a successful attack on an important feature by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The school's value as a look-out was proved when watchers saw a Panther tank on the move and called for artillery fire ; after a " stonk " by medium guns the Panther was not seen moving again. Later the same day the school was bombarded by nebelwerfer rocket mortars—and self-propelled guns. The division's artillery would not reply, because the German guns were outside the division's boundary, so off went Major MacDiarmid to seek the help of the Americans. Sure, they were willing to help, delighted to help. How many guns did he want ? They brought a large concentration of heavy guns into action. They were enough.

Meanwhile the advance down the road from Liesel to Meijel continued slowly with hard fighting, in which the infantry were supported by tanks of the 6th Guards Armoured Brigade and patrols from C and B Squadrons. Some of the patrols which the regiment supplied were officer liaison patrols with infantry battalions. These gave the battalion commander an up-to-date summary of the situation on his flanks, as well as affording an extra link with his brigade headquarters and with his forward companies when armoured cars were working with them. One battalion commander issued an urgent set of orders to his companies by this means after his own communications had broken down. The armoured cars advancing down the Liesel-Meijel road were nearly always under fire, partly from 75 mm guns on the east bank of the Deurne canal.

From Heusden C Squadron patrolled down the Asten-Meijel road, which was mined and cratered, and Sgt P. R. Dobson has written of the 9 Troop patrol on which Lieut Royle and an R.E. officer measured a large crater under shell fire


The road to Meijel was suicide. Everybody knew that. It was dead straight for the first mile beyond the infantry positions. Then it bent slightly to the right, and continued straight for another mile, finally disappearing into some trees just outside the village. It ran across open peat bogs and marshes and was banked up several feet above ground level. We could read all that from the map, and when we came into the

open to the first stretch it was no better than we expected. We were hoping to meet a crater, and eventually we did, but not until we were within a couple of hundred yards of the village. By then we had already pulled three strings of Teller mines off the road, and we had seen many Germans milling about in a wood a thousand yards behind and to the right of us. But if they had been able to get across the marsh they would not have attempted it ; they were far too busy with someone else. In addition to the leading patrol we had Lieut Royle in his heavy car and an R.E. officer in a Morrisette. It was obvious that we could not pass the crater so we turned the cars while the two officers went up and gathered information about it. Then, after we had done all this and sent the information back, a sniper fired from the left. He was a bad sniper, for he completely missed four of us standing in a bunch, but when his big brothers joined in they showed him a thing or two. They evidently had four 88s in the village, and, although firing indirectly, they had the road pinpointed all the way. The Morrisette was at a farmhouse half a mile away, while the second heavy car was at another four hundred yards behind us. As I dived into my car I saw that the R.E. officer had been hit, but he managed to jump on Lofty Dullaway's car, and I held my door open for Lieut Royle, who was in the ditch. I thought he would get on the other car, so we started off, passing the second heavy, and stopped at the farm, where we put the wounded officer on the Morrisette. We had been followed all the way by shell fire, and while turning the Engineer's car—a tricky operation because of the thickly mined verges—Lofty was hit in the leg. Then we discovered that Lieut Royle had not been on either car. L/Cpl Songhurst started to move up to find him, but was immediately pinpointed, and Bill Thomas had to do a very hasty and tricky bit of backing. Finally we got the three cars together at the farmhouse, and were just arranging for a party to go up to the crater on foot

 

when a familiar voice hailed us from the ditch. It was Lieut Royle, safe, sound and soaking ; he had crawled about six hundred yards to us. I never knew why he did not come back on the cars, but I strongly suspect that he stayed to locate the guns that were firing at us. For that action alone he deserved the M.C. which he was awarded soon after.


On November 5th B Squadron took up positions in the bogs facing the Deurne Canal on the division's left flank, becoming part of the flank protection which 46 Brigade was providing for the attack on Meijel that day. The attack, preceded by a tremendous bar-rage by British guns, was not successful. The ground was waterlogged and mined, and one after another the Grenadier Guards' tanks advancing with the infantry were bogged or blown up or hit by shells from the 88 mm guns which commanded the open approaches to the town. The division's gunners laid a thick smoke screen to help the crews of twenty-three bogged tanks to reach safety. The attack was called off.

For the next fortnight the regiment had one squadron watching the left flank in the bogs between Liesel and the Deurne Canal ; one squadron in reserve at Heusden, and at first keeping a patrol in the school on the southern boundary ; and one squadron resting in Helmond, which everybody regarded as home. The squadrons were switched every two days. Two days in the bog were not long enough to be a great strain, and at Heusden there were comfortable billets in the school. C Squadron especially will always remember the kindness of the Head Master's family who lived in the house next to the school. His wife was " Mutter " to everyone.

On November 9th XII Corps, consisting of the 49th, 51st and 53rd Infantry Divisions, the 4th Armoured Brigade and, later, the 7th Armoured Division, relieved the Americans on the right of the Scottish Division in readiness for the winter attack eastward to the banks of the Maas.

On the night of November 11th an infantry patrol reported that there was no sign of the enemy in Meijel, and this news was confirmed by an officer and private of the King's Own Scottish Borderers, who hid in the town all day on November 12th. On November 14th the infantry moved into Meijel, a town of gaping walls and roofs, a town so mined and booby-trapped that it was a danger to the incautious for weeks afterwards.

The regiment's experiences around Liesel and Meijel and Heusden had shown that for reconnaissance in this type of country a geological survey map was required. This type of map had proved invaluable in selecting training areas in the United Kingdom ; peat is impassable to all kinds of vehicles. The only solution appeared to be to find such a map. Colonel Smith despatched an officer patrol with strict instructions not to return without one. The patrol consisted of the intelligence officer, Lieut Isaac, and Jean Wahl, the Free French liaison officer who lived and worked with the regiment for most of the campaign. They found a map in Tilburg. The vital information was extracted and reproduced on 1/25,000 maps ; it proved an invaluable guide in the advance to the Maas.

The regiment's losses in the fighting to drive the Germans back beyond Meijel had included the deaths of Cpl F. C. L. Eaton, L/Cpl F. Behling, Tpr E. W. Taylor, Tpr H. W. Greig and Tpr G. H. Thompson.

Major C. R. T. Dove joined the regiment from the 161st Reconnaissance Regiment (Green Howards), and took command of Headquarter Squadron.


 

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