Saturday, 6 November 2010

14th to 16th October 1944 - Overloon and Venray

The next day 14th October was something of a respite, for we held firm in our positions while the Lincolns passed through us to attack Wood Y.

Enemy mortaring and shelling troubled all companies and one volley from a Nebelwerfer struck the Headquarters of the Anti-Tank platoon severely wounding the second in command, Lt Rapkins, who subsequently died of wounds, and grazing the commander, Captain Gray.

Under these conditions small parties from forward companies came back to eat their food behind Battalion Headquarters thus avoiding the business of manhandling it. The condition of the tracks had improved during the night. A Bulldozer had worked ceaselessly to clear a way to the Southern end of the wood and its path had been checked for mines and taped.

But it was still not possible to reach D or B Companies with a vehicle and so all the requirements of these companies had still to be manhandled from the track to them.

The Lincolns that afternoon launched a highly successful attack on Wood Y, losing a large number of casualties but acquitting themselves with great gallantry, and by 0530 hrs the whole Battalion was consolidated in Wood Y, the Eastern part of which they had completely cleared of Boche. They had suffered mostly from German defensive fire and at the beginning of their advance many of these shells landed among our own forward companies.

Among the casualties was one of our Dutch Interpreters (Sergeant van der Burgt) who was unfortunately killed when hit by a mortar bomb. In order to protect their rear and also their right, it was decided to send two of our companies to support them.

Under over of darkness A and C Companies crossed the open ground between Wood X and Wood Y. Unluckily just as A Company - the second -was entering Wood Y a vicious series of salvoes from a Nebelwerfer landed among them in a veritable hail of shells. Two men were killed and ten others injured. This was sheer bad luck, as it was not quite dark, and there was no question of observed fire having been brought to bear.

Next morning Battalion Headquarters moved forward of the area that C Company had vacated in Wood X. We were hardly dug into this new location when the Brigadier arrived with orders for renewed advance: 8th Brigade were now to attack Venray from the West debouching from Wood Y which the Lincolns were to hold as a firm base.

Simultaneously 2 RUR were to advance from Wood Y to occupy Kleindorp, a hamlet about 600 yards to the South. Our attack was to be without gunner support because the whole Divisional Artillery was to support 8th Brigades attack, it was therefore extremely important to slip companies forward into Kleindorp at certain moments only, selecting with care those periods when German defensive and harassing fire was not being directed at the 8th Brigades assault.

That night D and B Companies, followed by Battalion Headquarters, moved across from Wood X to Wood Y in preparation for an advance at about 0900 hours the following day. It rained during the night and next day, 16th October, the weather was unsettled, producing heavy showers in the afternoon. None the less D Company left Wood Y at 0930 hrs and advanced towards Kleindorp.

It soon became apparent the Boche had withdrawn behind the line of the River Beek, some half a mile South of the village. Major Bird soon reported himself in position on the cross-roads in Kleindorp and that he was patrolling forward to detect any Boche that might be in the vicinity.

Meanwhile back in Wood Y the support for 8th Brigades attack was building up, tanks, flails, flame-throwers and infantry all waiting to go forward as soon as the Beek had been bridged. Mortaring and shelling grew correspondingly intense and though it apparently did little or no damage, Lt-Colonel Harris decided not to bring B Company out of their positions until 1430 hrs: then he sent them forward into Kleindorp during a lull in the shelling. Captain Gaffikin soon reported his Company in position on Ds right without any casualties.

Soon fresh orders reached the Commanding Officer. 9th Brigade was now squeezed out by the advance of 8th Brigade on the left and the arrival of the II Armoured Division who were driving Eastwards across our front to the South of Kleindorp. So 9th Brigade were now to pull out and relieve a remaining unit of 11 Armoured Division North East of Overloon, with the role of preventing a counter attack towards Overloon, while our own attack was going into Venray.

This relief meant a four mile march along tracks which had been ploughed up by carriers and tanks and then waterlogged by rain. But this mattered little when it was realised that we were at last out of the woods and back in a position where part of the Battalion were able to get under some sort of cover. By 2130 hrs that night the Battalion had reported in position.

Our position here was in reserve behind the KOSB who were in contact with the enemy opposite Smakt along the Boxmeer - Wanssum railway. Then we heard that we might have to resume the attack and clear the large wooded area about half a mile South of the position.

Reconnaissances down to Company Commanders were made, but they were in vain. Once Venray was captured, the offensive on the front was halted in favour of a full scale attack elsewhere.


  1. Among the casualties was one of our Dutch Interpreters who was unfortunately killed when hit by a mortar bomb.

    Do you have any more information than this, e.g. name, place of death, etc.?

    1. Hi Bircherry, unfortunately no direct mention but records show fatalities for this period were:
      13 October
      - Rifleman Melvern Roy Guy 14691055 (Served in D Company and killed by an almost direct hit from a mortar bomb aged 21. Son of Melvern and Rachel Guy of Risca, Monmouthshire. Buried in Overloon War Cemetery, grave IV.D.8)
      - Rifleman John Irvine 14688534 (Taken to the RAP on 13 October and died of his wounds on 15th. Son of David and Agnes Irvine of Paddington. Buried in Overloon War Cemetery, grave IV.D.12)
      - Rifleman Richard Scott (Served in A Company and killed by shrapnel. Born in Belfast in 1922. Buried in Overloon War Cemetery, grave IV.D.9)

      14 October
      - Rifleman Kenneth Erskine 7020024 (Served in Support Company and killed by shrapnel aged 22. Son of Hamilton and Sarah Freeburn Erskine and husband of Agnes Elizabeth of Worth, Kent. Buried in Overloon War Cemetery, grave IV.D.11)
      - Lieutenant Edgar Charles Rapkins 293047 (In command of Anti-Tank Platoon and killed by shrapnel wounds to the right and left leg and right arm aged 30. Son of Charles and Olive Emma Rapkins, husband of Lilian Mary Rapkins of Alton, Hampshire. Buried in Mierlo War Cemetery, grave VII.E.6)

      15 October
      - Lance Corporal William Henry Lewis 5726309 (served in D Company and killed by shrapnel aged 35. Son of Alfred and Louisa Walton Lewis of Bermondsey. Buried in Overloon War Cemetery, grave IV.D.7)
      - Albert Victor Bushell 6215937 (Served in D and later HQ Company, mortally wounded by shrapnel in the back aged 21. Son of Albert and Daisy Bushell of Harlesden, Middlesex. Buried in Overloon War Cemetery, grave IV.D.10).

      If the interpreter was buried with the others then likely to be in same area as above.

      War Diary shows position as being between 751309 at 18.00 on the 13th and 747293 evening of the 15th.

    2. Dear Codge,

      thanks for taking time to answer.
      I like that you added the War Diaries' pictures to the blog. Do you by any chance also have the diary inputs for the 16th of Octobre?
      In the time between my posting in September last year and today I got more information about Sergeant van der Burgt. E.g. the letter from the Commanding Officer of 2RUR to the Effects Section, GHQ 2nd Echelon, 21 Army Group in Liverpool reporting that SGT van der Burgt was KIA at 16 Octobre 1944.

      One other thing. There seem to be two books about 2RUR. I ordered 'The Rifles are there' by Orr & Truesdale. But I can't find a copy of 'The Royal Ulster Rifles' by Charles Graves. Do you know if it is still available (new or second hand) and if so, where?

      With kindest regards,

      Gerard Berkers
      LTC (NLD) Horse Artillery

    3. Hi Gerard
      War Diary for the 16th added. Charles Graves Vol 3 is available online at Amazon etc but fairly pricey, if there is anything specific you need to know then let me know your email address and I'll send what I can find.