Scottish Lion On Patrol Ch 14
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THROUGH MUD TO

THE MAAS

Map 10

The 15th Scottish Division's part in the clearing of the Germans from the country between the Deurne Canal and the River Maas was a battle against rear-guards, mines, craters, demolitions and, surpassing all else, mud—November mud which clogged and clung or squelched and oozed, and spread so wide and lay so deep that it soon obliterated the poor tracks which were the division's only eastward roads. These were strewn with bogged vehicles, and units found that a sea of mud could split them almost as effectively as a sea of water, in spite of the Royal Engineers' valiant efforts to keep the way open with Corduroy track. For the regiment this advance was chiefly the story of C Squadron and the Weasals. Just as B Squadron had its glorious hour on the roads to Tilburg, so with C Squadron on the quagmire to Sevenum and beyond. The Weasals, light, unarmoured and broad of track, were the only vehicles which could be guaranteed to cross the mud. The colonel had had the foresight to obtain some through VIII Corps ; it was not long before they were being sought by every unit in the division, and it was only with difficulty that enough were retained to keep C Squadron supplied.

The division, the right flank of VIII Corps, was given two routes east from the Deurne Canal. One, called Skye, ran from Meijel through Beringe to Sevenum, and was 227 Brigade's ; the other, called Ayr, ran from Liesel to Sevenum through Helenaveen

and was 46 Brigade's. In the north the 11th Armoured Division and the 3rd British Division were advancing ; in the south XII Corps. The XII Corps attack across the canal on the right had already caused the enemy to start withdrawing from the Scottish Division's front by November 20th, when the division's advance been. The 51st Highland Division had reached the Meijel-Venlo road at Beringe, Panningen and Helden, and farther north A Squadron patrols had crossed the bogs east of Liesel to the Deurne Canal on November 19th and Lieut Dalton had swum across the cold canal without finding any Germans. That evening C Squadron relieved the Royal Scots Fusiliers in part of the line near Meijel and lost two vehicles, but no men, on mines.

The advance of 227 Brigade towards Sevenum on November loth was reconnoitred by B Squadron, which, having a troop from C Squadron under command, also patrolled ahead of the Lowland Brigade, pushing north to Helenaveen from Beringe. The patrols to the north reached the outskirts of Helenaveen by noon, and met enemy and mines in the woods south of the village. They handed over to the Royal Scots Fusiliers. The patrols to the east soon discovered the dreadful truth : that the division's way to Sevenum was little more than a track across the peat bog. They sent back a route report, kept the infantry supplied with warnings about mines and craters, and had brushes with the enemy on the route and the right flank.

On one of B Squadron's patrols Tpr K. Gaskill, in the leading car of Lieut Gillings's troop, was firing at six Germans when his face was grazed by a shot which pierced the turret, having been fired at point-blank range. It had come from two more Germans, in a slit trench. Gaskill was only five feet four inches tall, and from his seat in the turret he could not point his gun down enough to engage his attackers, so he stood, with blood streaming down his face, and shot them. He had already hit four of the six other Germans

That day B Squadron lost Lieut Martin Leppard, wounded while leading his men on the way to Sevenum. About three or four miles from that town they came upon an enemy outpost and engaged it and took two prisoners, although under machine gun fire from the left flank. Unable to outflank the main German position with his cars because of the peat on either side of the track, Lieut Leppard called up a section of the assault troop and took it forward on foot. Two more outposts were forced to surrender and prisoners were sent back to the cars, but on nearing the main position the section came under accurate machine gun and rifle fire, and Lieut Leppard was hit in the leg while helping another man who had been wounded. Lieut Leppard crawled forward again, but his small force was not strong enough to overcome the opposition, so he with-drew it to a position from which he was able to give covering fire for an infantry attack. He was awarded the Military Cross.

On November 21st C Squadron took over from B Squadron the task of reconnoitring in front of 227 Brigade on Skye, while in the north, Helenaveen being captured in the morning, A Squadron patrolled Ayr. It was a day of biting wind and driving rain, under which the mud spread and deepened. On both routes the patrols met rearguards, mines and demolitions. At night A Squadron was able to return to Liesel, but, because of the mud on Skye behind it, C Squadron, having reached a demolished bridge at Achterste Steeg, had to spend a cold, damp night in the open, halfway between Sevenum and the regiment's base at Beringe. The first party had just returned from the newly begun short leave in Brussels, and the wonders and luxuries of hotel life there were described that night to a C Squadron group huddled among frogs at the bottom of a dried-up well, into which the rain dripped through an improvised roof. At dawn the squadron, chilled and stiff, was heading for Sevenum again. A scissors bridge was placed across the gap at Achterste Steeg and by ten o'clock Sevenum had been entered by Lieut Royle's troop, explored and reported clear of Germans but not of demolitions and mines. The church tower had tumbled across the street : that same church tower which the British higher command had spared, wishing to do as little damage as possible, in spite of its use by the enemy as an observation post and the consequent requests by the commander of 227 Brigade that it should be attacked by Typhoons. North of Sevenum were mines and craters, and opposition at the railway station, but C Squadron's patrols pushed on, and by four in the afternoon Lieut David Richford had reported that the enemy had gone from Horst, three miles to the north. Two villages were also reported clear. Mean-while the rest of the squadron's vehicles had been pushed and towed and dragged and driven through the mire from the previous night's harbour to Sevenum, where the squadron spent the night with the Gordons, who had struggled through the mud of Skye on foot. In the north A Squadron had patrolled along the Helmond-Venlo railway from Deurne towards the village of Amerika.

The corps commander sent this message to the divisional commander : " Gen Barber from Gen O'Connor. Many congratulations on magnificent work carried out by all your troops and particularly your Recce Regt and Engineers in today's appalling weather. Very well done."

The good-natured face of Cpl Ridge, the colonel's driver and wireless operator, wore a slightly puckered look these days as he contemplated the muddy misadventures which must be endured so that the colonel could visit his forward troops from Beringe—misadventures such as these :


Going to visit C Squadron, we put the jeep into four-wheel drive and low-ratio bottom gear, and starte to plough our way through. We passed many bogged vehicles, but we got through to squadron headquarters in Sevenum. We left again about three o'clock, and on the way back we were stonked by mortars ; as we were the only car on the road at the time it looked as though someone was out to get us before we got back to R.H.Q. However, Colonel Smith decided to push on. After going about two miles we came again to the sea of mud ; by this time the wheeled track and the tank track were pretty much the same—both pretty deadly. We were almost brought to a stop by the mud, so I suggested we should change to the tank track, which seemed at that point to be better than the one we were on. So we tried the tank track. We had gone about twenty yards when the jeep sank up to its axles. Of course, the colonel was very pleased, but, after all, anybody can be wrong. I dug, but the mud came back as fast as I dug it away. A carrier from an infantry battalion came along, and towed us out. Off we went again, with the jeep doing its best and me praying that it would keep going. It sank again. I got out, shovel in hand, spirits low. Then we saw one of C Squadron's. weasals going merrily along about a hundred yards ahead and the same way as we had been. We shouted and I went after it. I was wearing gum boots and they kept sticking in the mud, and I was not making much headway. But the weasal stopped to tow Major Gordon's car, which was well bogged, and after he had been rescued we were pulled out. Next day we gave up the jeep for a weasal. I could not drive it, so Major Gordon drove and I rode in the back with the colonel and the wireless set and batteries. We were doing fine until we hit a terrific bump. The colonel and I were thrown into the air and fell in a heap in the back ; the wireless set came off its mounting, and the batteries were all over the floor. After some comments on Major Gordon's driving by Colonel Smith, we continued to Horst, where C Squadron was. On arrival we found we were minus one complete spring, but as usual we eventually got back to R.H.Q.—after a rather bumpy journey.


 On November 23rd the divisional commander wanted reports on Kastenraij, Tienraij, Brock and the woods south of Brock, all in the sodden country near the Maas, so it was a dawn start for C Squadron's patrols again and another hard day in the driving rain. Soon the wireless at squadron headquarters, manned with unfailing cheerfulness by Sgt Dutch, was telling the same sort of story as it had on the previous two days. " Hello Able one. Road block consisting of ten felled trees with mined verges at road junction . . . ." Hello Able two. Mines at track junction .... Bridge blown at . . ." " Hello Able three. Track impassable at . . . . owing to flooding of dyke. Entrance to track at . . . . cratered and mined." From Lieut Royle came " Hello Able one. Contact at figures . . . . Wait. Out." Then, a few minutes later, " Hello Able one. Jerries took refuge in a hen coop. I fired a few rounds of 37 millie but all I can see is a mass of chickens and feathers." All the tasks were achieved. Kastenraij, which had been an objective of the 3rd British Division, was reported clear soon after noon, and the infantry of that division were able to march in unopposed. They were surprised to find C Squadron already there. Brock and its woods were reported clear about the same time. Sgt Dobson shall tell of the journey towards Tienrai


The road junction outside Horst, where we intended to turn right to Tienraij, was completely blocked by fallen trees. After a circuit of two or three miles over rough tracks and fields, we again reached the main road, and found a track on the other side leading to our objective. Owing to the possibility of mines, the three commanders, Lieut Royle, Sgt Dullaway and myself, took turns to walk in front of the cars. Reaching a junction where there were several scattered farms, and where we hoped to turn back to the main road, I saw that Lieut Royle, who had been walking in front, was surrounded by excited Dutch people. When I got there a voice yelled " Hey bud, come here and let me shake your hand." It was an American airman who had been living among the Germans for three months as a deaf mute. The heroine of the day was a young and beautiful Dutch girl who had rescued him and prevented the Germans from discovering his secret.

The main road was blocked by a blown bridge, so we continued along our track. After we had gone about a mile across open ground a Spandau opened fire from a large wood six hundred yards away on our right. Behind it was Tienraij. The Germans had held their fire until the first car had gone up to Lieut Royle, who had been about four hundred yards ahead, and it seemed that they had been trying to draw us into something heavy. But nothing heavy opened up. We returned the fire, and turned the cars round behind some hay-stacks. After staying there some time we were ordered to withdraw.

Dusk was approaching, and we had about a mile of open ground to cross before we reached the cover of the farm houses. I went about four hundred yards in my light car while the other two gave cover with their fire. Lieut Royle had ordered us to turn all our fire power on to the wood, and, such an order being a rare one, we took full advantage of it. My gunner, Tpr Jones, did wonders with the Bren, even while we were moving. As soon as we stopped the next car moved ; always we had one moving and two firing. As we approached cover I grabbed the spare Bren, anxious to join in. By a miracle I avoided decapitating an inquisitive Dutchman who ran right in front of the gun as I stood on my seat, firing from the hip. My driver, the one and only " Oscar " Thomas, loath to leave the scene without " having a go " himself, was finally persuaded to " snake " round the corner, and we watched the heavies come round in turn, each stopping to send a final shell into the wood.

On the way back we picked up the American and his rescuer. Mr Royle gallantly carried her through the mud to my car amid the cheers of the villagers. After picking up three quite willing prisoners from a nearby farm, we returned to Horst. I had a very interesting conversation with the Dutch girl on the way back, and learned much about the German soldier.


As a result of C Squadron's work in the rain that day much was known about the narrowing strip of flat, hedgeless, brown fields and dark woods left to the Germans on the west bank of the Maas. The squadron's patrols were out again on November 24th, hampered now by flooded and collapsing roads, and 9 Troop, going again towards Tienraij, found that the Germans had advanced their standing patrols by about a thousand yards in the night. Capt Lane, who had become the squadron's rear link officer and was soon to join the instructing staff at Sandhurst, was sent to investigate a large dyke, which he waded conscientiously, through thick mud and almost freezing water, to reach the far bank. There he met his driver, L/Cpl Wiseman, pardonably self-satisfied at having crossed dry by a footbridge discovered just round the corner.

On November 25th 227 Brigade resumed the advance to the river, and C Squadron, being still the only one on the Sevenum side of Skye's obstructing mud, again led the way. This time white flags hung from the church and other buildings of Tienraij ; the Germans had withdrawn to the outskirts of Swolgen, a mile farther on, where the patrol contained them until the Gordons came up with the tanks of the 6th Guards Armoured Brigade. Lieut David Richford, who had succeeded to Lieut Gray's command when Lieut Gray became captain and joined the R.H.Q. staff, took his cars to the outskirts of Broekhuizervorst on the banks of the river. The enemy was strong here. Sgt Millroy's light car, in the lead, came under fire from house, and a bazooka narrowly missed the rear wheels. Backing, the car went into a ditch. " Bale out " said Lieut Richford on the wireless. " Bale out be ..." said the old cavalryman, " I've got a thousand fags in here and they're not for the bloody Jerries." So he laid smoke, and under its cover another car dashed up and fixed a tow rope to the one in the ditch while Sgt Millroy himself ran up to the house from which the fire was coming and pitched grenades through a window. Another position he attacked with his Bren, and the patrol supported infantry storming the strong-point. Sgt Millroy received an immediate award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

The buoyant Lieut Johnny Bosch took his carriers along the Tienraij-Venlo railway, and his comments on his difficulties in the manner of the raconteur born made it quite clear that had he been in command of a flotilla of motor torpedo boats instead of a troop of carriers far more would have been achieved.

Back to the river the German rearguards were being pressed, fighting their delaying actions with undoubted skill under conditions which favoured them. In the north the infantry of the 11th Armoured Division, floundering across swamp and bog, had found C Squadron already in front of them at Horst. In the south the 49th Division had come to a halt only at the gates of Blerick, the German riverside stronghold opposite Venlo, and, having got thus far, was able to allow the Scottish Division to use the good road through Maasbree to reach Sevenum and Horst from Beringe. So, at last, it was " Goodbye " to the mud of Skye, and no tears of farewell. The rest of the regiment moved up R.H.Q. and A Echelon to a farm at Voorste-Steeg, B Squadron to another at Ulfterhoek, between Sevenum and Horst, and A Squadron into Horst. These Dutch farms were invariably one great building, with house and byre and barn all under the same roof. Their floors were always littered with children. Always the crucifix looked down from their walls. In the field opposite the farmhouse which sheltered R.H.Q. there was much digging, and from out of the earth the farm people brought a long red lorry, which had been buried throughout the German occupation.

There was work for both C and A Squadrons on November 26th, when the division continued to close up to the bank of the Maas. Still leading 227 Brigade, C Squadron troops gained their objectives at Wanssum and Blitterswijk by 10.30 and stayed there until the Highland Light Infantry took over the positions at noon. Another troop, with the Glasgow Highlanders, found that there was still strong opposition in the area of Broekhuizervorst. ` A ' Squadron led 46 Brigade, whose task was to clear eastward from Horst towards Grubbenvorst and Houthuizen. The woods east of the railway were extensively mined, and the tracks difficult. As the river was approached the opposition stiffened at points where the Germans were still using ferries. Lieut N. R. Kenneford was killed. He was in command of carriers which were sent with Lieut Dalton's cars to seize and hold the village of Grubbenvorst. Lieut Dalton has described what happened :


 We decided to enter Grubbenvorst in a pincer movement, the carriers going to the left and the cars to the right. The progress of both troops was slow owing to large craters. Lieut Kenneford said on the wireless that he was on the outskirts of Grubbenvorst and was taking in a foot patrol. Sgt Kirman's car patrol was now with the carriers, but was held up because the railway crossing had been blown up. There were mines on the other side of the crossing. The cars gave covering fire to the foot patrol until it was out of sight.

Lieut Kenneford reported on the wireless that the village was clear, and I told him to take up defensive positions, saying that we were coming in to strengthen him. In the meantime I had met a patrol from another reconnaissance regiment, which stated that it had been in Grubbenvorst and that " trigger-happy " Germans still held the village. However, the carriers were in, so we started to join them, taking the same route—a muddy track which gave the cars no end of trouble

We came within sight of the carriers while we were going along a narrow track with a fence on the left and a drop of three or four feet on the right. Sgt Kirman's car, leading, became bogged, and as the stationary troop presented an ideal target I reversed my car—the last one—to ease the congestion, but we only complicated matters by bogging ourselves with a list of forty-five degrees. Sgt Craig, however, had squeezed his vehicle between the fence and Sgt Kirman's and was moving into the village. Then, suspicious, he halted.

Pandemonium began. Germans appeared, firing in all directions. Sgt Craig's vehicle caught fire, and as he was withdrawing to extinguish the flames his gunner, Cpl Dawson, was helping Sgt Kirman to hold off a bayonet charge by about a dozen fanatical Germans who had taken us by surprise from the rear. At the same time the carrier sections were engaging snipers in the village. Next we got a packet of " whining Winnies ", and the situation had become so chaotic that I ordered everybody to withdraw as best he could. When the last car, Sgt Kirman's, was about to with-draw he saw Tpr Prendergast running beside a hedge. Prendergast told him that two carriers were still in the village, their crews pinned by sniper fire. Sgt Kirman blazed away at the snipers while the carriers got out. I jumped on one of them, my bogged vehicle having to be abandoned.

We withdrew behind a wood, where a roll call showed that three were missing—Lieut Kenneford, Sgt Daurnhime and Cpl Trimnell. Soon afterwards Cpl Trimnell appeared with the news that Lieut Kenneford had been killed by a sniper while taping off mines. He knew nothing of the whereabouts of Sgt Daurnhime

Later in the day I went into Grubbenvorst with a company of infantry, and found Sgt Daurnhime, wounded but in good care at a convent. Lieut Kenneford's death robbed us all of a friend. company of infantry, and found Sgt Daurnhime, wounded but in good care at a convent. Lieut Kenneford's death robbed us all of a friend.


 Wounded in the arm, and with his eardrum perforated by the explosion of a mine, Sgt Donald Daurnhime had fought on in the village, and his courage and devotion to duty were rewarded with the Military Medal.

By nightfall on November 26th a few ferry sites were all that remained to the Germans west of the Maas on the division's front. They were left to the infantry.

A little to the south the German paratroopers, penned in Blerick with their backs to the river, looked out on the 49th Division from behind minefields, a thick belt of barbed wire and a formidable anti-tank ditch. On November 29th the Scottish Division, relieving the 49th, was given the task of capturing Blerick. The attack it was called Operation Guildford was made on December 3rd by the Lowland Brigade and directed by its new commander, Brigadier H. C. H. T. Cumming-Bruce, D.S.O. On the night of December 2nd the Glasgow Highlanders made a great todo north of the town, in the riverside strip of woods and fields where B Squadron had taken up positions on November 29th to protect the left flank. Gramophone records of tanks forming up were played ; the defenders of Blerick were deceived. They expected attack from the north. Instead, after four hundred guns had fired into the town for two hours next morning, the mine-clearing flails, the portable bridges, the flame throwers and the mortar projectors of a Churchill tank breaching force swept across the open country from the west. Behind them the magnificent Lowland infantry rode into the assault on Kangaroos (Ram tanks without turrets). By four o'clock in the afternoon Blerick had fallen. C Squadron, manning six lanes, controlled the traffic going into the assault as the same squadron had done in training on the Yorkshire Wolds

The flow of vehicles over the muddy approaches was smooth, and General Barber congratulated the squadron. To the regret of everybody in the regiment, its genial medical officer, Capt Watson, broke his massive jaw when his car went over a mine in this attack. He was succeeded by Capt J. Orr, R.A.M.C., who was to win a similarly high place in the regiment's esteem.

It was at the end of November that Sir Richard O'Connor relinquished command of VIII Corps, and the regiment felt that it was parting from an old friend. But his successor, Lieut-General Evelyn Barker, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., who left the 49th Division, was also an old friend. B and C Squadrons had known him as their divisional commander in the old days of the 54th Division, and his camp commandant, Major " Pippin " Cox, was even better known as the former quarter-master of the old 54th Reconnaissance Battalion.


 

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