the Second World War, Operation Clipper was an Allied offensive by British
XXX Corps (which included the U.S. 84th Infantry Division) to reduce
the Geilenkirchen salient in mid-November 1944. Clipper was a part of
a wider Allied operation, named Operation Queen to gain control of the
Roer valley and the Hürtgen Forest.
Geilenkirchen is situated on the Wurm river, some 20 km (12 mi) north
of Aachen. The surrounding area is undulating, alternating between woodland,
farmland and industrial villages. The area was crossed by a network
of passable minor roads, some major roads and a railway line. The Wurm
is the major geographic feature.
The salient was a German position on the Siegfried Line (or Westwall)
at the boundary between the British 2nd Army and the U.S. 9th Army.
It was a restriction to the movement of Allied forces and a potential
cooperation was prompted by the availability of British artillery
and specialised armour (such as flail and flame-throwing tanks).
A two-pronged attack was planned on the salient and the temporary
attachment of the 84th Infantry Division to XXX Corps, avoided
problems of divided command. The operation was planned to take
four phases. First, on 18 November the U.S. 84th Division—commanded
by Major General Alexander R. Bolling—would pass through
the troops manning the frontline, advance north-east 2 mi (3.2
km) and take Prummern and the surrounding high ground, east
of Geilenkirchen. Second, at midday, the British 43rd (Wessex)
Division—commanded by Major-General Ivor Thomas—was
to advance and capture the high ground north and west of the
town (around Bauchem and Tripsrath). Once done, Geilenkirchen
would be virtually encircled, and the 84th Division would occupy
the town and its north-eastern suburbs (third phase) before,
in the fourth phase, both divisions would advance north-east
about 3 mi (4.8 km), clearing both sides of the Wurm. The final
objectives were the villages of Hoven, Müllendorf, Würm
on Gillrath's main road (Source: IWM)
German defenders consisted of the bulk of 176th Division, northwest
of Geilenkirchen and the 183rd Volksgrenadier Division, in the town
and southeast of it. General der Infantrie Günther Blumentritt—commander
of the XII SS Corps—had placed the bulk of his artillery in the
South-east of Geilenkirchen, deep minefields had been laid from Geilenkirchen
to Jülich, via Immendorf and Puffendorf, about 10 km (6.2 mi).
The area was at the point where a new section of the Westwall, built
while Aachen held out, joined the established defences. Westwall used
the compact, stone-built buildings in the villages, which had been fortified,
and purpose-built concrete bunkers.
06:00, before dawn, on 18 November, giant searchlights ("canal
defence lights") of the 357th Searchlight Battery, Royal
Artillery provided hazy indirect light for the mine-clearing
flail tanks supporting the infantry. These tanks moved toward
the German mine field between Geilenkirchen and Immendorf,
but, on the wet ground, mud lessened the flails' effectiveness
and so engineers followed with mine detectors.
After a brief artillery bombardment, the 334th Infantry Regiment
advanced through the cleared strips at 07:00 and easily secured
the high ground east of Geilenkirchen. The right flank gave
some concern to U.S. commanders as a counter-attack was expected
and fresh German troops appeared to be in the area; the advance
to Prummern was delayed until the flank was secured. When
the attack resumed, supported by British Sherman tanks, there
was steady progress and the regiment's objectives were achieved
by late afternoon.
The British attack north and west of the town also achieved
its objectives by nightfall. The Worcestershire Regiment advanced
on Tripsrath, capturing its intermediate objectives of Rischden
and intervening woods with little opposition and few casualties.
The preparatory bombardment had reduced the Germans' will
to resist and rain had exposed much of the minefields. The
rain, however, also made it difficult to bring up-armoured
support, anti-tank guns and supplies. An unsupported British
advance on a copse—using universal carriers—was
engaged by two self-propelled guns and forced back, with heavy
Despite further counter-attacks and "friendly fire"
casualties, the Worcestershires occupied Tripsrath after dark,
aided by artillery, and held most of the village sometimes
with Germans as next-door neighbours.
the first day's success, XXX Corps' commander—Lieutenant General
Brian Horrocks—directed that the last two phases—3 and 4—should
be combined on the 19th. In order to facilitate this, the U.S. 84th
continued its advance toward Süggerath, instead of consolidating
overnight. A reconnaissance patrol toward Beeck, however, reported an
impending German counter-attack on Prummern by two companies of the
9th Panzer Division's 10th Panzergrenadier Regiment, with six tanks.
The night attack was fought off, but the American advance toward Beeck
was delayed until just before dawn on the 19th. Resistance in Prummern
continued until 20 November, when it was finally cleared with the support
of British "Crocodile" flame-throwing tanks: the adjacent
high ground, "Mahogany Hill", which had held out for two days,
was finally captured by an American surprise attack on 22 November.
On the 19th, the Worcestershires had been denied supply and support
by the lack of a usable supply route, but they fought off a counter-attack
by the 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment of the 15th Panzergrenadier Division.
Five Shermans of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards—equipped for
traversing mud—arrived, but four were almost immediately knocked
out by artillery and a Panzerfaust. A second German attack, on Rischden,
this time supported by two Tigers and two self-propelled guns, was engaged
by PIATs, anti-tank guns and tanks that had arrived and by flanking
fire from Tripsrath and it was beaten off with severe losses [for whom?].
Events in the Prummern area had made American commanders cautious, particularly
as there was now a gap in the American line between the 84th Division
and the 2nd U.S. Armored Division 1.5 mi (2.4 km) distant at Apweiler.
This was plugged by the temporary attachment of the 405th Infantry Regiment.
itself was subdued relatively easily by the 333rd Infantry Regiment
on 19 November, but the Allied advance suffered from the lack
of artillery support which had been held back by the fear of
friendly fire incidents, as had occurred earlier in the British
sector. Two troops of tanks from the British Sherwood Rangers
Yeomanry provided close support, although they could not make
up entirely for lack of artillery. From Geilenkirchen, the advance
continued northeast along the Wurm toward Süggerath. Flame-throwing
Crocodiles subdued the increasing German resistance, especially
two pillboxes guarding the road into Süggerath. "A
few squirts from the flame-throwers, and the Germans poured
out ... The bastards are afraid of those flame-throwers and
won’t be caught inside a pillbox ...", said one U.S.
The capture of Geilenkirchen opened a supply route to Tripsrath.
German artillery heavily bombarded Tripsrath for the next four
days, but, sheltering in basements, the British infantry suffered
troops moving up to the start line of the attack.
the other hand, German defenders of the neighbouring hamlet of Bauchem
were subdued by a ferociously effective and uniquely concentrated four
hour artillery bombardment on the 20th, and advancing infantry occupied
it with no effective resistance. The lead battalion of the 333rd passed
through Süggerath, by-passing determined German strongholds. Augmented
by a second, fresh battalion, Süggerath was cleared during the
night of 19/20 November. The 333rd Infantry was still over a mile short
of its final objective of Würm, but there was the possibility of
establishing a coherent frontline with XXX Corps on its left and 334th
Infantry Regiment on its right. The weather, however, intervened.
showers were followed by a downpour on 21 November, turning the fields
into mudbaths that rendered the tanks ineffective and vulnerable. The
direct road to Würm was mined and an alternative side road was
blocked by debris and could not be cleared until a bulldozer was used.
The U.S. infantry attempted to advance but, without tanks, they were
beaten back. When the British Crocodiles were able to advance and assault
the defences, there was rapid progress, with defenders surrendering.
The mud intervened again, however, bogging down the Crocodiles' armoured
trailers. Without their support, infantry attacks on Müllendorf
failed, particularly as the German defences had been strengthened by
the 15th Panzergrenadier Division.
A flanking attack by the U.S. 405th Infantry Regiment toward Beeck on
22 November similarly bogged down against prepared defences. On the
other side of the Wurm, British assaults were also beaten off by strengthened
the frustrations of 21-22 November, and the failure to capture the final
objectives, the purpose of the operation had, in fact, now been achieved.
The Geilenkirchen salient had been substantially removed and the U.S.
XIII Corps now had room to manoevre. The 84th Infantry Division reverted
to U.S. command and further attacks were abandoned on the 23rd.
On 23 November, the Worcestershires were relieved by 5th Wiltshires,
who had been holding the village of Birgden for the last 12 days. This
was welcome for the Worcester men who had suffered continuous shelling
in their forward positions in Tripsrath and Rischden.
British 214 Infantry Brigade (assigned to the 43rd Infantry Division)
7th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry (attacking Niederheid)
1st Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment (attacking Tripsrath and
5th Battalion, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry (attacking Hochheid)
5th Battalion, Dorset Regiment (detached from 130 Brigade) (attacking
4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards
U.S. 84th Infantry Division
333rd Infantry Regiment (attacking Geilenkirchen and Sueggerath)
Sherwood Rangers (British)
334th Infantry Regiment (attacking Prummern and Beeck)
Drewforce, two troops of flail and flame-throwing tanks (British)
one troop of 357th Searchlight Battery, Royal Artillery (British)
405th Infantry Regiment (detached from 102nd Infantry Division)
176th Infantry Division
1218th Grenadier Regiment
1219th Grenadier Regiment
1220th Grenadier Regiment
183rd Volksgrenadier Division
330th Volksgrenadier Regiment
343rd Volksgrenadier Regiment
351st Volksgrenadier Regiment
104th Panzergrenadier Regiment (part of the 15th PG Division)
10th Panzergrenadier Regiment (part of the 9th Panzer Division)
of World War II
- 22 November 1944