25 September – 15 October 1915: the Battle of Loos. The first genuinely large scale British offensive action but once again only in a supporting role to a larger French attack in the Third Battle of Artois. British appeals that the ground over which they were being called upon to advance was wholly unsuitable were rejected. The battle is historically noteworthy for the first British use of poison gas.
Compared with the small-scale British efforts of spring 1915, this attack of six Divisions was a mighty offensive indeed – so much so that it was referred to at the time as ‘The Big Push’. Taking place on ground not of their choosing and before stocks of ammunition and heavy artillery were sufficient, the opening of the battle was noteworthy for the first use of poison gas by the British Army. Despite heavy casualties, there was considerable success on the first day in breaking into the deep enemy positions near Loos and Hulluch. But the reserves had been held too far from the battle front to be able to exploit the successes and succeeding days bogged down into attritional warfare for minor gains.
The strategic position before Loos
Germany: Having moved more weight of their armies to the East, Germany had stood on the defensive in the West since late 1914 and had strongly resisted the French offensives there in the spring of 1915. They had also broken through strong enemy positions in Galicia in May 1915. They occupied a large area of Northern France and Belgium, and intended to hold on to it until they had won in the East.
France: The French Army fought numerous small offensive actions between the end of the spring offensives and September 1915. They suffered heavy losses and were plainly failing to make any strategic impact on the continued German possession of a large area of France. The reputation of the Commander-in-Chief, Joffre, was beginning to be questioned in political circles. Joffre himself was inspired by the German successes in Galicia, as a demonstration that given enough men and materiel, breakthroughs were achievable. He reaffirmed his commitment to the overall strategic approach that he had decided in early 1915, aimed at breaking the German salient on French soil. It was known that the French Army would be at the summit of their strength in late 1915.
The Allies strategic plan leads to Loos
Whilst in the planning for the spring offensives a shortage of men and munitions had limited the French attack to Artois in the north, the situation was now changed. The French Army was 200,000 men stronger than it had been in October 1914. Joffre was anxious to strike while there was a superiority of numbers against the enemy in the West. This time, the Artois attack would be renewed, along with a large northward attack in the Champagne. The Champagne attack would be the larger of the two, aiming to seize much open country of that area, forcing the enemy back. The Artois attack would aim at the critical rail networks between Douai and Noyon that the Germans relied upon to maintain much of the front. An advance of only 20 miles would surely force a German withdrawal. So Joffre’s strategic plan included three converging offensives designed to break through the German defensive lines, although only two attacks were eventually made:
- An advance from the Artois plateau, east across the plain of Douai to the German communications centres in the Noyon area.
- An attack from Rheims in the Champagne, against the Mezières – Hirson railway.
- An attack from the area Verdun – Nancy, north to the Rhine crossings.
This was very much along the same lines as his failed plan for spring 1915, but bigger and broader.
Relative army strengths on the Western Front, August 1915
|Great Britain and Empire||28 Divisions|
|Total Allies||132 Divisions|
Detailed planning begins
The British were asked on 4 June 1915 to take over another 22 miles of front, this time well away from the position currently held and near the River Somme. This was to release French reserves for the offensive. The BEF was also invited to take part in the renewal of the Artois offensive with the French Tenth Army. Sir John French agreed, confirming that he would attack on the front between Grenay and the La Bassée Canal as suggested by Joffre. This was a few miles to the south of the disastrous May attacks at Aubers and Festubert. He ordered Sir Douglas Haig, commanding First Army, to prepare a detailed plan. The British strength on the Western Front was slowly growing, although precious troops, equipment and munitions were being consumed in the Gallipoli theatre and elsewhere.
So the British would play their part: Joffre urged Sir John French to “take a powerful offensive on the north of the French Tenth Army…. your attack will find particularly favourable ground between Loos and La Bassée“. The BEF was still very much the junior partner in the ground war in France and Sir John had little choice but to comply.
Relations between French and Haig are souring
Not everyone shared Joffre’s confidence in Sir John French:
“In the King’s opinion…there would be no backbiting and unfriendly criticism of superiors if the officer at the head of the Army in the Field … was fit for his position. He criticises French’s dealings with the Press, The Times, Repington, Lord Northcliffe, etc. All most unsoldier-like and he had lost confidence in Field-Marshal French”
Sir Douglas Haig, 14 July 1915. Sir John French’s desperation over the lack of munitions had led him to the press in May 1915.
Haig reports back
Haig quickly reported that the ground south of the La Bassée Canal was quite unsuited to a large attack, despite Joffre’s view that is was “particularly favourable”. He recommended that the main weight should be north of the canal, towards Violaines and La Bassée – and that this could only be of short duration, for munitions stocks were very low. Action south of the canal should be restricted to subsidiary flank attacks. French, under continued pressure from Joffre, was forced to ignore this strong advice.
Joffre’s enthusiasm is not matched by British confidence … but the politics of the Alliance and the inferiority of the British Army do not allow for debate
The prevailing view – confirmed by an Anglo-French Boulogne Conference of 19-20 June 1915 – was that if an offensive was to have a reasonable chance of success it would have to be delivered on a continuous front of no less that 25 miles, by a force of not less than 36 Divisions, supported by at least 1,150 heavy guns and howitzers. As the BEF would not be in this position until Spring 1916 at the earliest, the British Staff opinion – never expressed to the French in the delicate atmosphere of needing to be seen to be a supportive ally – was that they should remain on the active defensive on the Western Front until that time.
A British request on 11 July 1915 to postpone such an offensive until 1916 – when the British Army would have grown substantially and would be in a much better position with regard to equipment and munitions – was rejected by Joffre. However, Joffre postponed the offensive until the end of August 1915.
“After washing his hands, Lord Kitchener came into my writing-room upstairs, saying he was anxious to have a few minutes talk with me. The Russians, he said, had been severely handled and it was doubtful how much longer their Army could withstand the German blows. Up to the present, he had favoured a policy of active defence in France until such time as all our forces were ready to strike. The situation which had arisen in Russia caused him to modify these views. He now felt the Allies must act vigorously in order to take some of the pressure off Russia, if possible.”
Sir Douglas Haig papers, 19 August 1915
“It is necessary for us to take the offensive in the French theatre of operations so as to drive the Germans out of France….Besides, a brilliant victory over the Germans will induce neutral countries to declare themselves for us and will compel the enemy to slacken his operations against the Russians…” “Everything has been done so that this offensive may be carried out with large forces and powerful material… It will be necessary for the attacking troops not only to seize the first enemy trenches, but to push on without respite, day and night, beyond the 2nd and 3rd line positions into the open country… The communication of these instructions to the troops will not fail to raise their morale and make them ready to accept the sacrifices which will be asked of them.”
Note for the General Officers Commanding Army Groups, from Joffre, 14 September 1915
Further requests for a change of plan, especially once knowledge of the German defensive system in the area became clearer, also proved fruitless. Foch – given overall supervision of the Artois offensive – advised against a direct frontal attack against the dense mining towns of Lens and Liévin, but insisted that the attack must be made south of the La Bassée canal.
Thus the British Army on the Western Front – not ready for a major offensive in terms of manpower or munitions – was being committed by their Allies to a battle not of its choosing, in an area utterly unsuited to an attack, without clear objectives.
Rugby schoolboy Louis Stokes, commenting in a letter to his parents, written 13 June 1915, on a recent speech by Hilaire Belloc: (he said that…) “The great card is the Anglo-French offensive. If that succeeds the Germans will be beat and they know it. If it does not quite succeed, it will have been a ghastly waste of money, men and munitions, because the Germans will be able to stay in the west – with the odds slightly against us. And he said if one can give any advice to an audience of boys, then remember if this offensive just fails to be completely successful, then more than ever we must determine to see this thing through. The talk about our being short of ammunition is just ‘Harmsworth talk’!! We are making five-sixths of our maximum possible output. We are immensely superior to the Germans in ammunition…”
Extract from ‘A dear & noble boy’, the life and letters of Louis Stokes 1897-1916,
ed. RA Barlow and HV Bowen, Leo Cooper 1995
The tactical plan
The Loos battlefield lies immediately north of the mining town of Lens, in the heart of the industrial area of north-east France. The ground here is uniformly flat, dominated by slagheaps connected with the coalmining in the district. In 1915, the various mining villages, collieries and other industrial buildings presented a difficult challenge for any would-be attacker. The area is little changed today except that the mining activity has declined; some of the old slagheaps and pit-heads are no longer there, and some are much larger than they were in 1915 (especially so in the case of the Loos Double Crassier which today is immense and visible from several miles in all directions).
Flat as a pancake: the Loos battlefield today. View from Dud Corner north/northeast toward Auchy. In 1915, the slag heap known as Fosse 8 would have dominated the landscape to the right of the picture. There is no a trace of it today. Trees in the centre ground (right of a whitish building in the distance) surround Le Rutoire Farm. The 15th (Scottish) and 1st Divisions attacked nearest the camera, going left to right across this image.
The key features of the battlefield are
* The Canal d’Aire, running west-east (usually referred to as the La Bassée Canal)
* The village of Cuinchy, where there was a bridge (the ‘Pont Fixe’) across the canal
* The Bethune to La Bassée road, running roughly parallel with the canal through the village of Cambrin and just to the north of the miners community of Auchy-les-la-Bassée, now called Auchy-les-Mines
* The Brickstacks; great regular stacks of the stock of a brick factory located to the South of the Canal, East of Cuinchy
* The villages of Vermelles, behind the British lines, and Hulluch behind the German
* The Bethune to Lens road, running South-East, with the mining community of Loos-en-Gohelle (from which the battle gets its name) just to the North of the road as it enters the outskirts of Lens. The village was dominated by the long dump of coal mine slag (the Loos Crassier), and towering pithead buildings.
* The mass of mining and industrial districts of Mazingarbe, Grenay, and Bully-le-Mines behind the British lines. South-East of Loos village, towards Maroc, the heights of the Double Crassier slag heap.
* The mining communities of Cité St Elie, Cité St Auguste and Cité St Laurent, behind the German lines
* The mine works, railways and lifting gear dotted around the battlefield. Note: the mine pits are called Puits, and are numbered in this area by the local mining company; the heaps alongside them are called Fosses. Most important areas included the dump at Fosse 8, in front of Auchy, and the Quarries in front of Hulluch. Both positions were strongly fortified by the enemy, the one at Fosse 8 being called the Hohenzollern Redoubt.
* East of Loos, the ground rises gently to a height of 70 feet: not much but a point of observation advantage in this area. The front lines ran down across the canal at Givenchy/Cuinchy, through the Brickstacks and across the flat plain between Vermelles and Hulluch before snaking westwards around the outer suburbs of Lens, which was in German hands.
GHQ was at St. Omer (although moved just before the battle); First Army HQ would be at Hinges.
Schematic only and only approximately to scale: La Bassee to Cite St Laurent is about 7000 yards
The mining town of Loos (pronounced “Loss”), dominated then by the ironwork of a pit winding gear known to the British as “Tower Bridge”. Behind it, the heights of the long Loos Crassier (slag heap) and the railway running up to the pit head. Loos today bears scant resemblance to this.
The combined Franco-British offensive would attack eastwards against the German Sixth Army. The whole force, supervised by General Foch, would consist of French Tenth Army and British First Army. It would attack on a 20-mile front between Arras and La Bassée. Although artillery would bombard the whole front, no attack would be made on a central 4000-yard strip facing the towns of Liévin and Lens. South of this gap, the French Tenth Army would throw 17 infantry Divisions against the enemy, supported by 420 heavy guns with two cavalry Divisions ready to exploit the expected breakthrough. To the North, British First Army would attack with the six Divisions of I and IV Corps, having 70 heavy guns available, with two cavalry corps (Indian and III) to push the advance forward. The objectives were imprecise but optimistic; the cavalry were to reach the area of Ath and Mons, 50 miles away in Belgium.
Joffre’s plan was brutally simple. The strong enemy positions would be crushed by four days continuous artillery bombardment, with a 4-hour final crescendo before the infantry attacked. The latter would be arrayed in great depth, each Division placing no more than half of two Brigades in the first line. A constant flow of men would follow, as would the reserves behind the assaulting Divisions. All other Armies from the coast to Switzerland would be ready to move forward once the enemy were destroyed in Artois.
Sir John French arranged for Second Army to carry out subsidiary attacks near Ypres, as would First Army north of the La Bassée canal in addition to their main assault role. 75,000 British infantry would make the initial attack.
Experience at Neuve Chapelle and Festubert had shown that troops attacking on a narrow front would suffer from concentrated fire. First Army therefore made their attack front as wide as possible, placing all six Divisions of I and IV Corps in the line, but faced the dilemma that the numbers and weight of heavy artillery they had available was insufficient to support such a breadth of front. It was decided to use intense smoke barrages to conceal the front as far as possible, and also to employ Chlorine gas for the first time as a means of compensating for the relatively lightweight artillery. Final detailed orders were issued by First Army on 19 September. Much secrecy was maintained about the use of gas; the word ‘accessory’ was substituted in all orders.
The new branch of the Royal Engineers formed for chemical warfare was keen to strike back at the enemy: “Lt-Col Fowkes called on me from GHQ regarding the use of asphyxiating gas. I said better wait until we can use it on a large scale, because the element of surprise is always greater on the first occasion”
Sir Douglas Haig, 7 August 1915
More aspects of the plan
The key lesson from the Spring offensive was that it was weight of shell, particularly of high explosive fired by the heaviest artillery, that destroyed enemy defences and gave the attacking infantry gaps through which they could break into the lines. The assaults were to be made across ground that was quite open, but observed from heights. It would be important for the infantry to be hidden by smoke from machine-guns that would in some cases escape even the most violent bombardment. The preliminary bombardment gave away all elements of surprise regards location of the battle, but steps were to be taken to keep some surprise with regard to the timing of the attack.
The divisions of the General Reserve were to be held north and south of Lillers, under orders of the Commander-in-Chief. They were: (Cavalry Corps) 1st, 2nd and 3rd Cavalry Divisions and (XI Corps) the Guards, 21st and 24th Divisions. The latter two formations had very recently arrived in France and had not yet seen the trenches. The infantry units began moving from St. Omer on 20 September, with marches of over 20 miles throughout successive nights.
Sir John French instructed Sir Douglas Haig to prepare the attack plan on the basis that two divisions of the reserve would be placed at his disposal when required. Haig planned to use 21st and 24th Divisions as an immediately-available reserve, which enabled him to use all six of his existing Divisions in the front-line assault. He assured his Corps commanders that ample reserves would be available to reinforce or exploit successes.
But by 18 September Haig had learned of French’s intentions to keep the reserves at Lillers, some 16 miles from the battle front. He protested, citing the experiences of Neuve Chapelle and Festubert, where it was clear that reinforcements were needed within perhaps three hours of start. General Foch advised that 2000 yards would be a more suitable distance. French, since Neuve Chapelle acutely conscious of the threadbare supply of men, munitions and equipment, would not agree. He did, however, give orders that by dawn on the day of assault, the heads of the 21st and 24th Divisions should be at Noeux-les-Mines and Beuvry respectively, with the Guards Division following up.
On 24 September the reserve divisions were warned to carry extra rations as it may be some time before their cookers caught up with them. They also carried greatcoats on the march to the battle area, which began at 7pm that night.
Medical facilities on the First Army front at Loos included 16 Advanced Dressing Stations, 15 Main Dressing Stations and 13 Casualty Clearing Stations (the latter at Lapugnoy, Lozinghem, Chocques, Bethune, Lillers (3), Aire (2), Merville (3) and St. Venant). In all, these units could accommodate just over 11,500 casualties at any time. 17 ambulance trains were also provided, as were barges and road transport to evacuate wounded men towards the coast. In all, arrangements were made to cope with 40,000 casualties.
Squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps would fly missions to bomb German railway and other communications, in addition to their vital artillery reconnaissance missions.
Intelligence as to the enemy
Air observation had revealed that the German defences had been massively strengthened in the area to be attacked. Not only had the front line been deepened, reinforced and equipped with many machine-gun redoubts and wide barbed wire belts, but an equally strong second and third line of defence had also been prepared behind it. In particular, the enemy had taken time to carefully survey the area and had chosen the position of the second line such that it was on a reverse slope (out of the line of sight of the British). The 15-yard deep wire in front of the second line was stronger than that in no man’s land, and was made of a new design of wire that could not be cut by the equipment carried by the British infantry. This wire was also beyond the range of the British field artillery, so unless the first line fell and the artillery could be advanced, it would remain intact. It was obvious that the British would need time to bring their artillery up, and the Germans would probably have time to bring reinforcements into the area. The task of breaking through in accordance with Joffre’s grand plan looked formidable indeed.
Intelligence reports showed that the area to be attacked was occupied by 117th Division ( a 3-Regiment unit, reformed after serious losses at Vimy in the Spring attacks); and 14th Division (old opponents from Neuve Chapelle, with two of their four Regiments south of the canal). The 2nd Guard Division and 8th Division were reserves within 12 miles of the front. British intelligence had correctly identified all enemy units.
No surprise whatever
All England was buzzing with rumours of this ‘Big Push’ some weeks before the attack. There was little by way of strategic deception and preparations near the battle front were all too obvious. Only the date and time of attack were unknown to the enemy and oince the opening bombardment began, it could not be too far away.
The British Order of Battle
British Expeditionary Force (Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Sir John French)
– First Army (General Sir Douglas Haig)
— I Corps (Lieutenant-General H. Gough)
— 2nd Division (Major-General H. Horne)
— 7th Division (Major-General T. Capper)
— 9th (Scottish) Division (Major-General G. Thesiger)
— 28th Division (moved south from Ypres, entering area 27 September) (Major-General E. Bulfin)
— IV Corps (Lieutenant-General Sir H. Rawlinson)
— 3rd Cavalry Division (Major-General C. Briggs)
— 1st Division (Major-General A. Holland)
— 15th (Scottish) Division (Major-General F. McCracken)
— 47th (2nd London) Division TF (Major-General C. Barter)
— XI Corps (Lieutenant-General R. Haking)
— Guards Division (Major-General the Earl of Cavan)
— 21st Division (Major-General G. Forestier-Walker)
— 24th Division (Major-General Sir J. Ramsay)
— Indian Corps (entered engagement 29 September 1915) (Lieutenant-General Sir C. Anderson)
— 19th (Western) Division (Major-General C. Fasken)
— 7th (Meerut) Division (Major-General C. Jacob)
Subsidiary attacks made elsewhere in support of Loos
Indian Corps (at Pietre, 25 September 1915) (Lieutenant-General Sir C. Anderson)
7th (Meerut) Division (Major-General C. Jacob)
III Corps (at Bois Grenier) (Lieutenant-General Sir W. Pulteney)
8th Division (Major-General H. Hudson)
V Corps (Second attack at Bellewaarde, 25 September 1915)(Lieutenant-General Sir E. Allenby)
3rd Division (Major-General J. Haldane)
VI Corps (also Second attack at Bellewaarde, 25 September 1915)(Lieutenant-General Sir J. Keir)
14th (Light) Division (Major-General V. Couper)
The battle: timeline and events
21 September 1915
British bombardment of German positions opens and continues without break until the morning of the assault. Observation of the effect of the shooting was hampered by fine weather and wind throwing up clouds of chalk dust, and on 23rd and 24th by a change to dull weather with mist. Various localised feint attacks were conducted, to persuade the enemy to man the forward trenches during the shelling. These ruses included the use of dummy troops, bayonets showing above the British parapets, bagpipes playing, men shouting hurrahs, etc.
23 September 1915
A violent thunderstorm with torrential rain floods communication trenches and makes artillery observation difficult. Bombardment continues.
24 September 1915
7.00am : weather reports are not greatly favourable, but indicate a chance of a good wind for the release of gas in the morning of 25th. Although enemy artillery has quietened, it is clear that much of the German wire entanglements and first-line defences are still intact.
7.00pm : the two reserve Divisions of XI Corps begin their final 7-mile march to the battle area, but are constantly delayed by road traffic and halts at level crossings. A military policeman stops some units moving through Bethune, as they were without passes.
During the day, Sir John French and selected staff of his HQ unexpectedly move to Chateau Philomel, three miles South of Lillers. He can communicate only by the public French telephone system.
9.00pm : weather reports show prospects for Westerly wind are improving; Haig issues instruction that attack orders are confirmed, and Zero hour will be notified during the night.
10.00pm : assault Brigades move up through flooded trenches into front-line positions; all reported in position by 2.30am. In some cases the most advanced troops are in Russian saps, which have been quietly joined up to form a shallow jumping-off trench, only some 200 yards from the enemy. The Guards, 21st and 24th Divisions of XI Corps move up through the night, eventually halting on average 6.5 miles from the front. Unknown to the British, the German troops are so little affected by the bombardment that some units carry out a relief on the night of 24/25th September, without problems.
25 September 1915: morning
3.00am : weather reports now show conditions are likely to be less favourable; the wind is slowing and shifting to the South, although possibly improving after sunrise. Haig issues orders for the release of gas at 5.50am, with the infantry attack timed 40 minutes later.
3.30am : German troops go onto alert in front lines, orders having been given on receipt of information from an Indian deserter.
4.00am : British shellfire increases.
5.15am : although wind is only slightly increasing, Haig orders units to carry on. German troops stand down from alert.
5.50am : heavy British bombardment hits German front line defences and cloud gas is released. The gas forms a 30 to 50 feet high blanket, moving forward slowly in places (although still short of the enemy positions at 6.25am), but is virtually standing still in the British assault positions in other areas.
6.00am : the now tired reserve Divisions complete their assembly at Noeux-les-Mines and Beuvry. A diversionary attack north of the La Bassee canal at Givenchy was launched by elements of 2nd Division. At first, the advancing battalions moved easily past well-cut wire and into the German front trench – which they found evacuated. Approaching the second line they were assailed by machine-gun fire and forced to take cover. Shortly after, they were counter-attacked and were among the first units this day to discover that German grenades were much more effective than British ones when it came to close-quarter fighting. By 9.40am the survivors of the 2/HLI, 1/Queens and 2/Ox & Bucks were back in their original trench, having lost around 950 men in the process of achieving nothing positive.
6.30am : Zero Hour. All assaulting infantry units move out from front lines and move across no man’s land towards the enemy positions, and the artillery lifts to a second line (between the first and second German trenches, on communications). Very early reports suggest good forward movement. Sir Douglas Haig requires the reserves to begin to move forward. Out of direct communication with French, he has to send an officer in a car to Chateau Philomel.
7.05am : British artillery lifts again, following a timetable, onto German communication trenches.
7.05am – noon : a report of the action of each Division
The right-hand 47th (2nd London) Division:
In this sector the gas cloud moved well and with thick smoke from mortar shells, the leading units captured the first German positions before the enemy were aware of what was happening. British machine-gunners located in North Maroc caught enemy troops fleeing. German machine-guns firing from Cite St Pierre caused losses, and some counter-attacks with bombs threatened the newly-taken positions. However, 1/20 Londons eventually captured the Chalk Pit, and the 140th Brigade secured the Double Crassier. The left-most battalion, the 1/19th Londons, suffered heavy casualties early on from a machine-gun firing from the area of the 15th Division, and most of its officers were hit. The companies of the battalion were badly broken up as they advanced into the Southern buildings of Loos, and the flank defence on the Loos Crassier was not extended as planned.
British infantry of the 47th (2nd London) Division advance through the gas cloud on 25 September 1915. A photograph believed to have been taken by a soldier of the 1/5th London Regiment. IWM HU63277B
The centre 15th (Scottish) Division
In this sector the gas cloud hung back, causing delays and some losses to the advancing troops. Although the infantry had only 200 yards to cross from the heads of the Russian saps, the gas and smoke only covered them for the first 40 – and as men emerged into the clear, two German machine-guns swept twice across the advancing line, causing many casualties. The MG’s were soon joined by enemy artillery fire from beyond Loos. However, strong parties continued the advance, cleared the German front lines and began to storm through Loos village itself. By 8.00am the village was entirely in British hands. On the left of the Divisional front, men reached the La Bassee-Lens road by 9.15am. Reserves were ordered up to support this advance. Emerging from the village, men of many units advanced unopposed – but without clear landmarks and with few officers, they headed for the summit of Hill 70 rather than to the left which was the original plan. On the extreme right, the 1/9 Black Watch, finding that the expected flank defences of the 1/19 Londons absent, halted. The mass of infantry now on Hill 70, seeing Germans retreating in some disarray, began to advance down the far-side slope. This advance was caught by German crossfire from the 2nd line, and it was brought to a standstill by 10.30am, with men doing their best to take cover on completely open ground on the downward slope North of Cite St Laurent. Calls for artillery support were answered with a bombardment falling away to the left, on Cite St Auguste, the original objective of the Division. 200 men on the hill, now reinforced by the 7/RSF, dug in a trench behind the crest line. Although by 11.30am the enemy had reinforced his position in front of Cite St Laurent, steps had been taken to evacuate Lens, such was the threat of a further Scots advance.
The left-hand 1st Division began to advance a few minutes late, after casualties were suffered from the British gas which had drifted back into the assault trenches. On the right front of 2nd Brigade, it was discovered that the enemy wire was undamaged, having been out of direct observation over a crest line, and two German machine guns and heavy rifle fire played across the lines of advancing troops as desperate efforts were made to cut the wire. The succeeding lines of infantry could not move forward and took to ground just below the gentle crest line. By 7.30am the gas and smoke had cleared, completely exposing the pinned-down troops in no man’s land. The 1st Brigade did not suffer so badly from gas, and the lead battalions (10/Gloucesters and 8/R. Berkshires, both New Army units that had replaced Guards battalions in the Division in August 1915) advanced through all objectives despite heavy casualties. By 8.00am they were in Gun Trench, an intermediate line running South of the Hulluch quarries. The Regular support battalion, 1/Camerons, pressed the advance on towards Hulluch. They waited for the 2nd Brigade to come up on their right. Further attacks by 2nd Brigade had met with the same devastating fire as the first, and was held up, with a large number of men lying out in the open, close under the German wire. At 9.10am Division gave orders to Green’s Force to advance in support, but all runners were hit and the orders were not received until 10.55am. A direct frontal attack by the 1/14th London Regiment (London Scottish) and 1/9th King’s at Lone Tree met with a hail of close-range bullets, and many men were hit. 2/Royal Munster Fusiliers, coming up in support, found the trenches near Le Rutoire so full of dead and wounded that they advanced above ground, and were virtually annihilated. The attack had effectively halted.
The right-hand 7th Division found that the gas cloud generally moved well in this sector, but local wind variations meant that not all cylinders were turned on here. Many men struggled to breathe in their gas helmets as they advanced into the cloud and removed them, consequently suffering from gas themselves. Heavy losses were incurred by the lead units of 20th Brigade in No Man’s Land from German shelling, which had been opened up to try to dispel the gas and smoke cloud. The 8/Devonshire suffered heavy machine-gun casualties, the wire in front of their sector having been only partially cleared. However, the 2/Gordon Highlanders fared better and soon pushed past the German front line towards Gun Trench and Hulluch. On 22nd Brigade front, as the infantry moved ahead of the gas they were cut down in swathes, with the 1/South Staffordshire and 2/Royal Warwicks losing some 70% of their strength before they reached the German positions. However, men continued to press forward and by 7.30am the German support line had been captured. At 8.05am, two batteries of RFA were ordered up closed behind the original front, near Notre-Dame de la Consolation – a wayside shrine. They were firing by 9.00am. By 8.45am the leading men were crossing the Lens Road, just to the South of the Vermelles-Hulluch road. There they caused much loss and disruption to German reinforcements moving into Cite St Elie. The support battalions of 20th Brigade, the 1/6/Gordon Highlanders and the 2/Border, came up with little loss, and helped launch an attack but this was halted by heavy fire. Parties pushed forward into the northern end of Gun Trench. Further artillery units were ordered to move up. T Battery RHA galloped up the Vermelles road into the former No Man’s Land. By 9.30am, now reinforced by 2/Queens, the men of 22nd Brigade had captured the Hulluch Quarries, with patrols on the edge of Cite St Elie itself. Further advance was found to be impossible without further support, and the positions captured thus far at the Quarries were consolidated. 21st Brigade moved up from reserve in Vermelles, and split into two sets of two battalions each ordered to advance through the positions gained so far. They were also halted in and around Gun Trench and the Quarries, unable to penetrate uncut wire in front of Hulluch under fire from Cite St Elie. Divisional artillery was ordered to shell the latter and its defences until 4.00pm.
The centre 9th (Scottish) Division had to attack the formidable obstacle of the Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8, the high location of the main enemy observation posts looking across the whole battlefield. Preparations had included Russian saps to close the distance to be covered, and effective observed heavy shelling. The lead units of 26th Brigade suffered casualties as they cleared the gas and smoke, but advanced through well-cut wire to quickly take the front face of the Redoubt. The 7/Seaforths reached Fosse Trench – the rear of the redoubt – soon after 7.00am, and pressed on towards Fosse 8.
The pit buildings at Fosse 8: no trace remains today
Half an hour later they were in Corons Trench – which had been flooded by the enemy – where they halted and reorganised. On their left the 5/Camerons suffered from crossfire from Mad Point (just outside Auchy on the road from Vermelles), but pushed on to Little Willie Trench – the front face of the redoubt – and Fosse Trench which they reached by 7.10am. By 7.45am they joined the Seaforths in Corons Trench. The 8/Black Watch came up from reserve to reinforce, but suffered grievous casualties from fire from Mad Point. By now it had become clear that failure on their left meant that the Brigade could not continue, and instead it had to prepare against counterattack, while under continuous enemy shellfire. Meanwhile 8/Gordon Highlanders, moving to the South of the Dump, managed to reach the German second line – Pekin Trench – shortly after 8.05am. This was some 1000 yards further ahead than the units now consolidating the trenches of the Redoubt. 27th Brigade was ordered to support this apparent breakthrough. However its units met with mixed fortunes. 12/Royal Scots advanced with few losses and reached Pekin Trench by 8.45am. 11/Royal Scots lost direction and in correcting it ran into a deep wire entanglement, where they were caught by machine-gun fire and virtually wiped out. 10/Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders heard that Pekin Trench was already strongly held, and halted in Fosse Alley. Four guns of No 7 Mountain Battery RGA were ordered forward at 9.15am from Annequin, to a position near Hohenzollern Redoubt; they came into action at 10.30am. The 28th Brigade, on the left of the Divisional front, ran into serious problems before the assault even began. The gas drifted behind them and hung in the trenches. It gave no cover across no man’s land, and German artillery opened on the front lines that were packed with men. Gas cylinders were destroyed, releasing even more gas into the area. Men of the 6/KOSB, perhaps surprised at how little resistance the enemy showed while they advanced to his uncut wire, were soon cut down in rows as machine-guns opened up from Strong Point (a gun post in front of Little Willie Trench) and Mad Point. Men not killed or wounded were pinned down, and only some 70 men of the rear ranks made it back to cover. To their left, the first rank of the 10/HLI was annihilated by crossfire from Railway Redoubt (across the Cambrin – La Bassee road) before it had gained 20 yards; the men in succeeding ranks suffering similarly. Support units pushed into the area were also hit and pinned down. At 11.15am the Corps commander gave an order to renew the attack at 12.15pm, and a bombardment opened up – but it was clearly too light to be effective in destroying the defences in front of Auchy. The 9/Scottish Rifles and half of the 11/HLI advanced as ordered, and were shot down with considerable loss. Most men did not even reach the German wire. At 1.30pm Brigade halted further attack, and its survivors were reorganised for defence of their original lines.
The leftmost 2nd Division attack along both banks of the La Bassee canal met with no success at all, at a very heavy cost in casualties. Its role was to create a protective flank to enable the 9th Division on the right to move forward unimpeded by fire or counterattack from the canal area. The ground in front was already devastated by craters resulting from intensive mine warfare, and included the Brickstacks and the embankments of the Railway Triangle. On the front of 19th Brigade, South of the canal, two large mines were blown by 173rd Tunnelling Company, RE ten minutes before zero, which had the effect of putting the enemy on full alert. Here too the gas blew back into the trenches, and men fell. As the infantry advanced, they were forced to bunch together to avoid the craters and were mown down by concentrated machine-gun fire as they did so. The enemy were seen to stand on their parapets in order to take advantage of such an easy target.
By 9.00am it was clear that no progress was going to be made, and Brigade gave orders to withdraw to the original front lines. Men of 1/Middlesex could not from no man’s land and took whatever cover the could until dark. Some men of the 2/Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders occupied an empty German trench, but only 11 returned at night, the rest having been killed or captured. On the left of this Brigade and up to the canal bank was 6th Brigade. Here an officer of the RE thought that the wind conditions were so poor for the gas he would not take responsibility for it’s release. Brigade ordered him to continue, but it was 6.00am before the order came through, ten minutes behind timetable. Two mines were exploded by 170th Tunnelling Company RE, adding to the confusion. The cloud was so dense that it incapacitated 130 men of the 2/South Staffordshire before they could begin to advance. The leading waves of the 1/King’s found the wire uncut, and the advance did not progress beyond the far lip of the new craters before being brought to a standstill, except for a party of the South Staffords who edged along the canal towpath to the edge of Embankment Redoubt where they were held off by German grenades. The Divisional artillery renewed the bombardment at 9.00am for half an hour, but the battalion commandes on the spot advised that the German strongpoints were still plainly operating. At 9.45am 19th and 6th Brigades halted all further efforts to move forward. North of the canal, 5th Brigade attacked in two ‘prongs’, one along the canal and one in front of Givenchy. At the canal, while gas drifted across from the South and caused casualties among the attackers, it quickly became clear that 6th Brigade was not suppressing Embankment Redoubt. The planned capture by the 1/9th HLI of Tortoise Redoubt was going to very difficult while this was the case. The leading platoons were annihilated, and the attack called off.
Reserves At 8.45am Haig sends another message to French. By now all the reserve units of I and IV Corps are deployed, and he urges XI Corps to be released to move forward. French finally signals to XI Corps at 9.30am but does not place them under First Army orders until they arrive in the trenches. By noon they are still moving up through shattered communication trenchs that are full of wounded men, stretcher bearers, and signals runners, and on tracks and roads full of traffic and under shellfire. By 10.30am First Army had received optimistic reports, and ordered the reserve 3rd Cavalry Division forward to Corons de Rutoire in readiness to move forward as soon as Cite St Auguste fell.
25 September 1915: situation at noon
Despite heavy casualties and the disappointing effect of the gas, there was room for optimism at noon. It was clear that enemy lines had been pierced in many places, but there was uncertainty about further German defences and reaction. Few RFC reports came in due to poor flying and observation conditions, and there were precious few prisoners. The 47th and 15th Divisions had captured Loos, although they had been halted and were threatened by counterattack on Hill 70. There were clear signs of German withdrawal in this area and panic in Lens. 7th Division was on the outskirts of Hulluch, and 9th Division were working their way forward at the Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8. The attack of the left of the latter Division and that of the 2nd Division had been costly failures and all further ambitions in this area had been halted.
25 September 1915: early afternoon
At 1.20pm the reserve XI Corps can finally inform Haig that it is now under his orders. Embarrassed at how late is their arrival at the battle front and conscious of opportunity slipping away, he is forced to deploy the two Divisions piecemeal to support the units already in action. The plan had been to use them as a whole.
25 September 1915: afternoon and evening
47th (London) Division continued to consolidate the positions it had won at the Double Crassier and Loos Crassier, and was ready as ordered to meet any counter-attack that might be delivered from the South. 15th (Scottish) Division was in some difficulty, despite having succeeded in capturing Loos itself. Men were helplessly pinned down on the forward slope of Hill 70, and the artillery support that had been called for since 10.50am was only just beginning to happen. The enemy made a determined attempt – having reinforced this area – to envelop the troops lying out in the open and to force them towards the second German line. A larger effort was made by the enemy at noon, initially near the Dynamitiere buildings near Loos, but having an energising effect on all German troops of 178 Regiment in the area of Cite St Laurent, who rushed forward and with great gallantry recaptured the height of Hill 70.
Noon: The French Tenth Army opens its bombardment South Of Lens. 12.45am the French infantry attack – six hours after the British – between Angres and Arras. German commanders prepare all available reserves to meet this threat, and further efforts to counterattack against the British are halted. They consolidate the hard-won position on Hill 70. 46th Brigade sends forward its last battalion, the 6/Camerons, to support the left flank of the Division, which was exposed and weak due to the failure of the 1st Division to advance. By 12.30am they have established a line from Chalk Pit Wood to Chalet Wood, with machine-gun posts on the Lens – La Bassee road. 45th Brigade sent two battalions into Loos with a view to recapturing Hill 70, but without artillery support, and under constant German fire this ambition was impractical. They dug in at Loos. Supplies to this area were most difficult, the roads being blocked by a chaos of dead men and horsrs, and destroyed vehicles.
3.00pm: 8/East Yorkshires and 10/Yorkshire of 62nd Brigade, 21st Division, are ordered forward towards Loos, to reinforce the units of 15th Division and if necessary retake Hill 70. After coming under shrapnel fire as they marched in column of fours – which destroyed their transport – these battalions lost direction and ran into intensive machine gun fire from the Southern end of Chalk Pit Copse, sustaining very heavy casualties. Other reserves of 21st Division – expected by Division to have been available at 10.30am – finally arrived at 7.30pm, and were clearly exhausted. They were ordered to reinforce the line between Hill 70 and Puits 14 bis. Around 8.30pm, the remnants of the first waves that had attacked in the morning were finally relieved on the slopes on Hill 70. Nightfall therefore saw both Divisions in this sector in scratch positions between the old German first and second lines, consolidating their position. The enemy was in possession once again of the dominant height of Hill 70. A German attack in the night against the 7/Royal Scots Fusiliers, on the Eastern side of the Loos Crassier, was repulsed.
North of Hulluch: The attack of 1st Division had met with such intensive enemy fire that by 10.55am it was effectively halted. By 1.15pm it had been decided at Divisional HQ to leave only a screen of men holding their existing positions, and to move remaining men of 2nd Brigade (reinforced now by 1/Gloucesters) South to exploit 15th Division’s success and attack the enemy from the flank and rear. 2/Welch, coming up in support at 11.00am, crossed no man’s land unobserved and managed to arrive in Gun Trench with few losses. They expected to find the 2/Royal Munster Fusiliers there, but the latter had suffered heavy casualties. The Welch moved to their right, into the valley behind where the enemy was so stoutly defending against the attacks of 2nd Brigade. At this time, the enemy launched a counter-attack against 1st Brigade, but it was easily repulsed. By 2.30pm the Welch approached the Lone Tree – Hulluch track. The Germans – 400 men of 157th Regiment – now found themselves almost surrounded and surrendered. 2nd Brigade and the units that had been attached were now able to advance, but losses were such that only 1,500 men were able to do so. By 5.20pm they had reached the Lens road near Bois Hugo, in touch with 15th Division, where they dug in. By nightfall, although 2nd Brigade was in touch with 15th Division and 1st Brigade with 7th Division, there was a gap in the line of some 1500 yards between them (although the significance of this does not appear to have concerned 1st Divisional HQ and it was not reported to IV Corps). There were insufficient men of the Division left to fill the gap, following the terrible losses that this formation suffered in the day.
Hulluch area: At 12.40pm First Army ordered the reserve 3rd Cavalry Division to advance through the infantry; the Divisional CO, Major-General Briggs had by now ascertained that the actual situation was not as favourable as Army believed, and he informed Haig that he would wait until it was. 2.35pm sees Haig ordering the two reserve infantry Divisions of XI Corps to push forward at once between Hulluch and Cite St Auguste, to secure the passages of the Haute Deule Canal. The Corps and Divisional HQ’s were given no indication that the enemy was anything but defeated and breaking. It was not until 5.00pm that these orders were given to the attacking Brigades. An hour later, not all battalions were in position. At least one experienced such delay that the men went without a meal of any kind before going into battle. By now it was getting dark. First Army ordered the Brigades not to advance beyond the Lens-La Bassee road that night, but these amended orders did not reach the forward units until 2.00am – by which time many of their men were dead. 7th Division had halted in and around Gun Trench and the Quarries after its initial advance, unable to penetrate uncut wire in front of Hulluch under fire from Cite St Elie. Divisional artillery was ordered to shell the latter and its defences until 4.00pm. Unfortunately observers reported that the damage done was not sufficient to justify continuing the attack. At 7.05pm orders to consolidate were received from I Corps.
Auchy area: The attack of 9th (Scottish) Division had by mid-morning succeeded in reaching and occupying the enemy trench network around the Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8, and also Pekin Trench. At 1.00pm, the 73rd Brigade of 24th Division was ordered to reinforce Fosse 8, as it was believed that any loss of position here would seriously endanger the troops ar Pekin Trench. In addition, six field batteries RFA were ordered forward to positions South-West of the Redoubt, where they came into action at 4.30pm. During the afternoon, the garrison of Pekin Trench came under heavy shellfire, and German infantry began a bombing attack, starting at the Haisnes-Auchy road and working Southwards while others worked North from Cite Trench. Despite being reinforced by the 6/Royal Scots Fusiliers, the superiority of German grenades soon told, and the position was gradually retaken. By 5.00pm, half of it had been lost, and the remaining men were ordered to withdraw in the dark. Unfortunately many returned as far as the original German front line, leaving a very confused picture around Fosse Alley, which became the new British front line. The advanced field batteries were ordered back to the positions they had left earlier in the day.
Therefore by nightfall the Division held a more or less continuous line from North of the Hulluch Quarries, where they were in touch with 7th Division, to the Fosse 8 dump, round the Corons to Pekin, and with a left flank thrown back facing Madagascar. I Corps staff were not dissatisfied with their days work: the advance of 7th and 9th Division had in many areas broken through, and a good Division moving up from reserve had every chance of pushing through the second German line and beyond. They had been led to expect such a reinforcement, and believe that it was required as early as 9.00am.
Canal area: By 9.45am 19th and 6th Brigades of 2nd Division had halted all further efforts to move forward, after suffering heavy losses and failing to break into the German positions. The survivors of the 5th Brigade were also back in their original trench at that time. This front settled down to an uneasy period of consolidation.
Reserves: The reserve 21st and 24th Divisions moved by a night march into the Loos valley. Progress was slow and exhausting (and these units had been on the move constantly for several days already). Staff were unfamiliar with the ground, communication trenches were flooded and packed with men. Roads and tracks were jammed with transport going in both directions. There were few bridges across shattered fore trenches, and wire was still stretched across wide areas. Men were carrying extra supplies, equipment, rations and ammunition. At 1.20am, the Brigadiers of 24th Division met to consider their actions for the next morning. The Guards Division suffered similar disruption on moving up, arriving at their billets in Noeux les Mines and Houchin at 8.00pm only to find them already occupied.
25 September 1915: nightfall
The opportunities that had existed from mid-morning to noon has been lost by nightfall. Insufficient men had been available to exploit the areas where the assaulting Brigades had broken into the enemy’s trench systems. Strong German resistance in their second line had brought further advance to a halt, despite their attentions being drawn to the very heavy French attack a few miles to the South. The weather had closed in, and it was now raining very heavily. First Army HQ had an incomplete picture of the front-line situation, especially the losses suffered. It was unaware that the Germans had reinforced the area, and uninformed as to the progress and intentions of the French Tenth Army some way to the South. Believing that the infantry had broken through the area south of Hulluch, plans were made to continue the push forward of the reserves to exploit the situation. (As we have seen, however, the reserves were deeply fatigued and were already being pushed piecemeal into various areas to shore up the already-disjointed British defences). Orders were sent out at 11.30pm for a general renewal of the attack at 11.00am on 26th September.
26 September 1915
First Army had issued orders at 11.30pm for a general renewal of the attack at 11.00am on 26th September. Sir John French commented to Sir Douglas Haig about the futility of pushing reserves through a narrow gap in the enemy’s defences, but he allowed his Army commander to continue to plan his own tactics. There was mist, low cloud and rain in the air.
Loos area: At 1.10am, the Brigadiers of 24th Division met to consider their actions for the next morning. The heavy rain had now stopped. Reports were now confirming that Hulluch was still in enemy hands, contrary to earlier messages. The officers decided to continue the general advance across the Lens – La Bassee road and through the second German line, by moonlight. They had no intelligence concerning German strength or defences.
5.00am: Orders are received by 15th (Scottish) Division. Reinforced by 21st Division, they are to recapture Hill 70 with an attack at 9.00am. It was proving virtually impossible to move artillery forward to support this attack, and ammunition supplies were dwindling – fresh ones being held up in traffic. The attack would be supported by artilley firing from their original positions, and the second German line would barely be touched. A bombardment of two rounds per gun per minute was ordered. In confusion, some units did not receive an order to withdraw from the most advanced positions, and British shells fell on their own infantry in places. Many infantry units did not receive orders to attack until 7.00am, and in at least one case, 8.00am.
5.30am: Another heavy German attack against the 7/Royal Scots Fusiliers, on the Eastern side of the Loos Crassier, was repulsed with the assistance of the 11th Motor Machine-Gun Battery.
8.00am approx.: The units of 21st and 24th Divisions had moved with great difficulty throughout the night, and had reached the advanced positions facing the enemy’s second line, around Bois Hugo, Chalk Pit Wood, Chalet Wood and Hill 70 Redoubt. They were informed that a general attack had been ordered for 11.00am. First Army believed they had halted as ordered on the Lens-La Bassee road, and had been resting for some time.
9.00am: The weakened battalions of 45th Brigade advanced up the slope of Hill 70, just as the mist cleared. They came under immediate fire from the Redoubt at the summit, but parties entered the trenches there and hand to hand fighting took place. After suffering continued losses, and unable to get around the flanks of the Redoubt, the survivors withdrew. 10/Yorkshire and 12/Northumberland Fusiliers of 62nd Brigade, advancing behind them, suffered the same fate. By 10.00am the attack had ended, German counterattacks retaking the entire Redoubt complex.
11.00am: A heavy German bombardment fell on the forward positions. Without leaders, without food and exhausted, many men fell back into Loos village.
12.00 noon: First Army orders 6th Cavalry Brigade to reinforce Loos area. They send 3rd Dragoon Guards and 1st Royal Dragoons forward, dismounted.
3.30pm: A general retirement from the Hill 70 position took place. This unnecessary act was the result of some confused orders, the origins of which remain uncertain to this day. At the same time, various small units were moving into the Hill 70 positions to reinforce units there! The enemy counterattacked against the Loos Crassier, which was by now consolidated and strongly held by 1/20th Londons.
8.00pm: The two cavalry regiments, having rallied men of 45th and 46th Brigades who were found retiring from Loos, enter and clear the village and re-establish the position on the lower slopes of Hill 70.
11.30pm: Remainder of 3rd Cavalry Division moves to Loos, and completes the relief of 15th Division during the night.
Midnight: A heavy German attack against the 1/South Wales Borderers of 3rd Brigade near the Vermelles-Hulluch road was repulsed with very heavy loss to the attackers.
1.00am: A heavy attack by the German 117th Division was launched against the forward units of 7th and 9th Divisions between the Vermelles-Hulluch road and Fosse 8. It achieved complete surprise, catching wiring parties and isolated sections unawares. On the right, 20th Brigade pulled all advanced units back to the protection of Gun Trench. In the centre, the most forward units were in a shallow trench a hundred yards ahead of the Quarries. Their left had no contact with the 27th Brigade of 9th Division, which was somewhere away on their left. A reorganisation of scattered and mixed-up units was underway – under shellfire that included gas shells – when the German attack hit. The enemy entered the Quarries through the undefended gap to the North, and much confused and hand to hand fighting took place. By 1.30am the British troops had lost the Quarries. Further advance was halted by concentrated fire from the 2/Yorkshire and 1/South Staffordshire. 27th Brigade – who lost their CO, Brig-General Bruce, captured in the Quarries – withdrew from Fosse Alley in good order. A hastily arranged counterattack with the intention of retaking the Quarries was delivered at 6.45am by the dog-tired 9/Norfolks of 24th Division, but it was annihilated by consolidated enemy infantry. At Fosse 8, the enemy infantry cheered as they approached the British positions 100 yards away, and fire from 26th Brigade and 73rd Brigade (placed under orders of 9th Division and just arriving after their night marches) destroyed the attack.
7.00am: A composite Brigade (consisting of 1/KRRC, 1/Royal Berkshire and 2/Worcestershire, under command of Lt-Col. B. Carter and now called Carter’s Force) arrives from 2nd Division, with orders to assist a I Corps attack on Cite St Elie. Corps instead sends them to recapture the Quarries. There is much delay in preparing for this attack, during which the Berkshires are detached and sent to assist 9th Division and 73rd Brigade at Fosse 8.
9.00am: A German counterattack at Bois Hugo is brought to a standstill, but only after much confusion and loss to 63rd Brigade. 10.00am British artillery begin a bombardment preliminary to the renewed attack. Many batteries have by now moved up, and are in the open near Le Rutoire and Lone Tree. German artillery opens and maintains fire on the exposed gunners. Few British shells fall on the German second line, which is complete, reinforced and protected in front by masses of untouched wire.
10.05am: XI Corps orders Guards Division to move to original British trenches astride the Vermelles road, ready to explout the anticipated success of the attack.
10.30am: The German counterattack continues and men of 63rd Brigade retire in disarray from Chalk Pit Wood. The enemy captures Chalet Wood. 6/Cameron Highlanders make repeated efforts to recapture it.
10.50am: The attack orders reach the battalions of 21st Division and 24th Division. They included no specific objectives, just an urging to go forward.
11.00am: The remainder of the attacking units move forward from the Bois Hugo area towards the German second line. They have had little rest, and for many no food or water since yesterday. The various orders to deploy battalions piecemeal, together with the defence against counterattacks, has reduced what was intended to be an attack by 24 battalions to just 6. The four battalions of 72nd Brigade advanced over open ground, starting some 1000 yards West of the La Bassee road, and were in such good order that they had the effect of reinvigorating 63rd Brigade on their right. However, once again men of this Brigade lost direction and moved towards the summit of Hill 70, taking them across direct fire from Chalet Wood and Bois Hugo, both places they should have been approaching frontally. The advance of 72nd Brigade, composed now of 8/Royal West Kents and 9/East Surreys, together with half of 2/Welch, came under severe enfilade and frontal fire which included point-blank artillery. These units also reported British shellfire falling among them. 8/Buffs, 8/Queen’s, 11/Essex and 9/Suffolks were all pushed into this murderous area. (The first three named all lost their Commanding Officers, killed in action here). Only a thin line reached the virtually undamaged German wire by about 1.00pm. All attempts to cut the wire failed with heavy casualties, and the remaining men took cover in long grass. At a shouted order to retire, men withdrew – many being hit by machine-gun fire as they did so. Those who did not retire were killed or captured.
11.00am: Many misunderstandings and miscommunications, together with the heavy losses incurred by the units the day before, lead to a serious problems in the attempted advance of 1st Division. It made no progress.
12.20am: The advance of 63rd and what is left of 64th Brigades has been broken, with survivors falling back down Loos valley. The 9/KOYLI and 10/KOYLI take up the advance (although Brigade was frantically trying to get orders to them to stop them doing so), which has the effect of rallying some of the retiring men. They are also swept by fire from Chalet Wood and Bois Hugo, and the survivors retire.
1.30pm: The retirements of most units of 21st and 24th Divisions mean that there is a mass of men falling back unmolested on the entire front between The Vermelles-Loos and the Vermelles-Hulluch roads. Only isolated groups clung on to the advanced positions in long grass, in the hope of reinforcement. German medical personnel assist in providing first aid to British wounded.
2.00pm: Bombardment of the Quarries begins again.
4.00pm: Carter’s Force finally makes its attack on the Quarries. Progress is slow, despite the regular units using ‘fire and movement’ tactics. They reach a position 200 yards short of the Quarries and halt after heavy casualties. They consolidate their position. Major-General Capper, OC 7th Division, receives a fatal wound while close to the advance.
4.00pm: Staff of XI Corps finally understand from reports that the attack of their Divisions has failed. Gradually the groups of men straggling rearward were brought under control, and placed in the shelter of the old British and German front lines. Coincidentally Sir Douglas Haig is present at Corps HQ. He has already requested Sir John French that the Guards Division be placed under his orders, to restore the situation. Confirmation arrives at 4.02pm. Enemy units move out from Bois Hugo and take up positions along the Lens-La Bassee road. In so doing they surround and capture 500 men of 24th Division who are still lying out in the most forward positions. During the evening and night, the three Brigades of Guards Division moved into the original British trenches between Loos Road redoubt and Le Rutoire. They relieved most of the units of 21st and 24th Divisions.
Auchy area: The men of 73rd Brigade holding the positions east of Fosse 8 are in an exhausted condition, having no food, water or sleep for 48 hours.
12.00 noon: Heavy enemy shelling of Fosse 8 and tracks to the North (Trois Cabarets), begins and continues all afternoon and evening.
26 September 1915: overall situation at nightfall
The shattered units of 15th, 21st and 24th Divisions were in process of relief at Loos and Hulluch, with 3rd Cavalry and Guards Divisions taking their place. This area was relatively safe from attack, although the enemy had moved their advanced positions forward from their second line and they remained in possession of Hill 70 and the Quarries. There was concern about the condition of troops holding Fosse 8, and their ability to withstand further enemy attack. Roads behind the lines remained very congested, with many units struggling to move supplies forward. Parties clearing the houses of Loos village were still finding enemy troops in hiding. First Army issued orders at 11.30pm for consolidation of the line, and the creation of a new general reserve from the 9th and 15th Divisions, now being relieved. XI Corps were ordered to examine ways to recapture the dominant Hill 70 position.
27 September 1915
Loos area: At around 4.00pm, 3rd Guards Brigade is caught by a heavy artillery barrage while moving in column of fours along the Vermelles-Loos road near the original front line trenches. They were on their way to attack Hill 70 through Loos. Many casualties are incurred.
6.00pm: An attack on Hill 70 is made by the Welsh Guards, but it is destroyed by machine-gun fire from the Redoubt at the summit.
6.00pm: Units of 47th Division attack and capture Chalk Pit Copse.
Hulluch area: At 4.40pm, under cover of a thick smoke screen, 2nd Guards Brigade advanced to Chalk Pit Wood and the Chalk Pit. A further advance to the buildings at Puits 14 bis was halted by machine-gun fire from Bois Hugo.
Auchy area: Heavy enemy shelling of Fosse 8, tracks to the North (Trois Cabarets) and communication trenches leading up to the Hohenzollern Redoubt continues throughout the night.
2.30am: An attack against Fosse 8 by the 1/Royal Berkshires, detached from Carter’s Force, is halted 70 yards from their objective, after crossing half a moonlit mile under fire.
Dawn: German infantry attacks 21st Brigade in Stone Alley, adjacent to Vermelles-Hulluch road, but is beaten off by 2/Wiltshires. Shortly afterwards, an enemy attack in battalion strength hits 73rd Brigade in Fosse and Slag Alleys. (The men of this Brigade holding the positions east of Fosse 8 are in an exhausted condition, having had no food, water or sleep for 48 hours.) 7/Northamptonshires are forced back to cottages at Corons de Pekin, North of the Fosse 8 Dump. The enemy places a heavy machine-gun on the slopes of the Dump, and brings the area between the Dump and the Hohenzollern Redoubt under fire.
12.00 noon: Further German troops push against the 12/Royal Fusiliers and Brigade decides to withdraw, to establish a new line along the Eastern face of the Redoubt and a good field of fire against the Dump. At this time Major-General Thesiger, OC 9th Division, is killed while investigating the situation.
2.00pm: The loss of Fosse 8 is now known at First Army HQ. A proposed attack by Guards Division on Hill 70 was abandoned at the last minute.
3.00pm: Major-General Bulfin, OC 28th Division which is on the way to the battle area from Bailleul, arrives to take command of the sector. He receives an order to counter-attack to retake the lost positions, using 26th Brigade. After the heavy fighting of the last days, this Brigade now musters only some 600 men. They suffer further casualties in moving up, but succeed in joining the hard-pressed 73rd Brigade in the Redoubt. At the same time, German grenadiers attack along Fosse Alley, forcing the remnants of the 10/Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and the 9/Scottish Rifles to withdraw. The move to Quarry Trench and Big Willie Trench.
Canal area: 2nd Division plans to make an attack are cancelled after the commencement of a release of gas, which once again hangs in British positions.
27 September 1915: overall situation at nightfall
The forward British positions across the battlefield are by now thinly held. The units that had attacked on the 25th are exhausted and the reserves scattered. The vital positions at Fosse 8, the Quarries and Hill 70 have all been lost. German strength was increasing as the failure of French Tenth Army fails to occupy their reserves. It was time to regroup and rethink. The Big Push had broken into the enemy positions, but not through them.
28 September – 3 October 1915: a lull between storms
Discussions between the British GHQ and French Tenth Army HQ on the morning of 28th September concluded that the French should relieve the 47th (2nd London) Division to enable the British First Army to create a reserve; that First Army would secure Hill 70, following which the French would extend their left to this position; the BEF would then push on to Pont a Vendin, some 3 miles East of Hulluch. Sir John French informed Sir Douglas Haig that he would supply the 12th (Eastern) and 46th (North Midland) Divisions to replace the shattered 21st and 24th. Both Divisions are ordered to move to the Loos area from Ypres. Units of French Tenth Army reach Hill 140, the crest of Vimy Ridge. German reserves are moved from the area facing the British to stem this attack.
28 September 1915
9.30am: 85th Brigade of 28th Division, supported by 83rd Brigade, attacked at the Dump and Fosse 8. Many casualties were suffered by both sides in desperate fighting in the confined trenches around the Hohenzollern Redoubt. At around 4.00pm, 2nd Guards Brigade attacks Puits 14 bis, but after suffering very heavy casualties from machine-guns firing from in front of Bois Hugo they are ordered to halt.
29 September 1915
Desperate fighting continues in the Hohenzollern Redoubt. Units of 22nd Brigade of 7th Division are finally relieved in front of the Quarries. A night attack by the enemy causes a loss of parts of Gun Trench from this Division. Formations in the Loos area consolidate their positions; 21st and 24th Divisions prepare to withdraw. 142nd Brigade of 47th Division relieves 3rd Guards Brigade in Loos and on Hill 70. Germans shell the village with 8-inch gun.
30 September 1915
The French offensive in the Champagne is halted. Detailed instructions are issued for the renewal of the Loos offensive towards the Haute Deule Canal, which would now take place on 4th October. A new jumping-off trench is dug through solid chalk during the night, parallel with the Lens road, near the Chalk Pit. French units finally begin to relieve British ones – two days late due to bad weather and the mass of traffic on roads to the rear.
1-3 October 1915
Close fighting is renewed in the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and all but Big Willie Trench is lost to the enemy. 12th (Eastern) Division relieves 1st and 2nd Guards Brigades in area of the Chalk Pit. They are put to work on completing preparations of new trenches, roads and positions in preparation for the assault. Heavy enemy shelling causes many casualties among the working parties. Major-General Wing, OC 12th Division, is among those killed. The renewal of the offensive is delayed until 6th October, to enable preparatory attacks on Fosse 8 and Hill 70 to take place. Following the days loss of the trenches of Hohenzollern Redoubt, this area takes priority. The 12th and Guards Divisions are ordered to capture the Quarries and the Fosse 8 / Hohenzollern respectively, on 9th October.
8 October 1915: German counter-attack
Noon: German artillery opened a bombardment on the whole front between the La Bassee Canal and Lens, increasing in intensity at 3.00pm. At around 4.00pm, their infantry attacked between the Double Crassier and the Chalk Pit. On the Allied right, the shelling failed to sufficiently damage French wire, and the German attack was halted with heavy loss. At the same hour, enemy bombers attacked from the Quarries and Fosse 8 against the forward British positions in Quarry Trench and Big Willie. On the left of the Loos attack, the attack fell against the 2/Royal Munster Fusiliers, 1/Gloucesters and 1/9th King’s of 1st Division, between the Loos-Puits 14 bis track, and North of the Chalk Pit. Despite heavy shellfire casualties among the defenders, British machine-guns destroyed the attack within 40 yards of the front line. On the Hohenzollern Redoubt front, the 2/Coldstream Guards repelled all attacks, as they were by now armed with many Mills bombs. The 3/Grenadier Guards were pushed back some way, but eventually formed a block and then counterattacked (supported by two companies of the 1/Scots Guards and the bombers of the Irish Guards) recovered the lost trenches and caused heavy loss to the enemy.
6.15pm: 37th Brigade of 12th Division, led by 6/Royal West Kents, attacked against Gun Trench near Hulluch, but after gaining a footing in the trench had to retire due to lack of grenades.
9-13 October 1915: preparing to renew the offensive
3,170 new gas cylinders were installed in the forward positions facing the Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8 on each night of this period (although only 1,100 of them would actually be discharged on 13th October, as it turned out). On the night of 10th October, the 2/Grenadier Guards captured an enemy position called The Loop (a portion of communication trench near Big Willie from which they had been able to shoot down the Guards trenches), after heavy hand-to-hand fighting. An enemy counterattack the next day was beaten off, as was another on 12th October. Shell and mortar fire from the Germans continued so heavy that the relief of the battalion by the 7/Suffolks of 12th Division and 1/5th South Staffords of 46th Division was delayed until 6.45pm.
French Tenth Army attacked at Vimy Ridge on 11th October, together with a local action to recover some trenches at the Double Crassier that had been lost on 8th October. The main attack failed with heavy losses (2,200 casualties) while the Loos attack was cut down before it reached the German wire. Tenth Army made no further attack in the area, due to dwindling ammunition supplies: Joffre formally closed down the Artois offensive on 15th October.
On 12th October, Sir John French wrote to Haig that the French Tenth Army was going to stand fast, unable to get beyond Vimy Ridge. First Army would not, in the circumstances, be required to achieve the distant objectives given on 18th September. The Army would however continue its efforts to secure such localities as would enable it to maintain its position and be ready to renew the offensive when ordered.
13 October 1915: the renewal of the offensive
A bright, sunny day with an ideal wind for moving gas towards the enemy. XI Corps orders were to recover the Quarries and Fosse 8; IV Corps were to consolidate the line of the Lens-La Bassée road between Chalk Pit Wood and the Vermelles-Hulluch road. 46th Division only completed its relief of the Guards Division in Big Willie at 6.00am due to congestion of the trenches and the confusion resulting from the enemy’s counter-attack. This Division, freshly arrived from Ypres, had no prior knowledge of the ground to be attacked. On first examination CO Major-General Stuart-Wortley wished to attack using bombers, gradually taking the position trench by trench. He was overruled by XI Corps HQ, and told to attack in the same way that 9th Division had on 25th September (which had largely succeeded but at a cost of more than 6,000 men).
Noon: Heavy British bombardment opens up. 54 heavy and 86 field howitzers, with 286 field guns, fire for two hours on enemy trenches in or approaching the Hohenzollern Redoubt, Fosse 8, the Quarries, Gun Trench and the positions south to Chalk Pit Wood. It was to prove too light to do sufficient damage to the enemy positions.
Noon: French shell German positions on Hill 70 and in Bois Hugo.
1.00pm: Gas and smoke is discharged on three fronts: South-West of Hulluch by 1st Division; between the Hohenzollern Redoubt and the Vermelles-Auchy road by 46th Division, and between the road and the canal by 2nd Division. The discharge continued until 2.00pm, although the gas was to be stopped at 1.50pm, giving the enemy ample evidence of an imminent infantry attack. A heavy German bombardment opens on the area occupied by 46th Division.
2.00pm: the infantry attacked (although some units started a few minutes earlier). Led by 1st Brigade, the attack of 1st Division against 1400 yards of enemy positions along the Lens-La Bassée road between Loos and Hulluch was hit by fire of increasing intensity as they approached the German wire 300 yards away. They found that only four passages through the wire had been cleared by the bombardment and despite efforts to cut through, the attack was halted. The survivors withdrew after dark; the Divisions suffered 1,200 casualties in this fruitless assault. 37th and 35th Brigades of 12th (Eastern) Division attacked between Gun Trench and the Quarries. Although 7/East Surreys of 37th Brigade reached Gun Trench without too much trouble, on their left the 6/Buffs were shattered by fire from a previously unseen (and therefore not shelled) trench. This battalion lost over 400 men in a few minutes, barely advancing 100 yards before halting. 35th Brigade, led by 7/Norfolk and 7/Suffolk, found the smoke screen very thin, which allowed the enemy to fire across their advance from the direction of the Slag Alley as well as frontally. Although they gained a foothold in the Quarries, they could not press on but did consolidate the position.
46th (North Midland) Division sent 137th Brigade to attack on their right, to cross Big Willie and Dump Trench, to take Slag Alley and occupy Fosse Alley. To their left, 138th Brigade was to clear the Hohenzollern Redoubt and gain the Fosse 8 Corons. Thus the Dump itself was to be avoided and outflanked. On this front the gas barely moved, instead settling into shell holes and not reaching the enemy. On leaving their positions, the advancing troops of 137th Brigade were immediately hit by heavy fire from machine guns concealed around the foot of the Dump and in the Corons. The attacking battalions were annihilated without achieving anything. Of the two companies of the 1/5 South Staffords who were already holding a section of Big Willie, every single officer and man was hit as they tried to advance. 138th Brigade attacked at 2.05pm. They were to some extent sheltered from the machine-gunners at the Dump by the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and reached their first objectives in that area with fewer losses. On carrying on towards Fosse Trench, heavy fire from both the Dump and Mad Point cut across them causing very high casualties. The attack came to a standstill within ten minutes. Isolated parties and men gradually returned to the shelter of the Redoubt. Trench fighting continued, but once again the shortage of bombs (which were of course outclassed by German ones) proved decisive. The Division had lost 180 officers and 3,583 men within ten minutes, and achieved nothing.
2nd Division sent the bombers and parties of 1/Queen’s of 5th Brigade to attack towards Little Willie, but they were hit by heavy fire. Only 1 officer and 1 man reached the objective, both returning safely by dark.
8.00pm approx.: XI Corps decided to evacuate the Eastern face of the Hohenzollern Redoubt and to dig a new trench (later called The Chord) behind it. This was completely successfully during the night, mostly by the 1/Monmouths, and it was reinforced by 139th Brigade. At 4.00am on 14 October, an enemy bombing attack was repulsed by the 7th and 8th Sherwood Foresters.
Although minor fighting continued for some weeks and discussion went on between French and Haig about the advisability of continuing operations, the Loos offensive was effectively at an end.
Casualties of the Battle of Loos
More than 61,000 British casualties were sustained in this battle. 50,000 of them were in the main fighting area between Loos and Givenchy and the remainder in the subsidiary attacks. Of these, 7,766 men died. Casualties were particularly high among Scots units. Many New Army units, rushed into a battle area for the first time only a matter of days after landing in France, were devastated. A significant proportion of the remaining pre-war regular troops were lost, and more than 2,000 officers were killed or wounded. This irreplaceable asset in experienced men and leaders was a most serious loss to the army. The New Army units that had taken part in a major action for the first time had suffered heavily – but had shown without doubt that they were worthy soldiers.
|British casualties in the main Loos front between 25 September and 16 October 1915|
|Formations that lost more than 5,000 men|
|15th (Scottish) Division: 6,896 of which 228 officers|
|9th (Scottish) Division: 6,058 of which 190 officers|
|1st Division: 6,030 of which 246 officers|
|7th Division: 5,224 of which 220 officers|
|Major infantry casualties, by battalion|
|Infantry battalions that lost more than 300 men
N ote: the typical attacking strength of a battalion at this time was 650-750 troops
|7th Cameron Highlanders||687, of which 19 officers||Second wave of 44th Brigade, in Loos|
|9th Black Watch||680, of which 20 officers||First wave of 44th Brigade, in Loos|
|6th King’s Own Scottish Borderers||650, of which 20 officers||First wave of 28th Brigade, in front of Auchy|
|10th Highland Light Infantry||648, of which 20 officers||First wave of 28th Brigade, in front of Auchy|
|7th King’s Own Scottish Borderers||631, of which 20 officers||First wave of 46th Brigade, in Loos and on Hill 70|
|8th Devons||619, of which 19 officers||First wave of 20th Brigade, near Hulluch|
|8th Royal West Kents||580, of which 24 officers||72nd Brigade, attacking German second line near Chalk Pit|
|8th Buffs||558, of which 24 officers||72nd Brigade, attacking German second line near Chalk Pit|
|12th Highland Light Infantry||553, of which 23 officers||First wave of 46th Brigade, in Loos and on Hill 70|
|8th Black Watch||511, of which 19 officers||Reserve reinforcements of 26th Brigade, near Auchy|
|5th North Staffordshire||505, of which 20 officers||137th Brigade, at Hohenzollern redoubt, 13 October|
|8th Seaforth Highlanders||502, of which 23 officers||First wave of 44th Brigade, in Loos|
|8th Royal Berkshire||493||First wave of 1st Brigade, near Hulluch|
|1st Loyal North Lancashire||489||First wave of 2nd Brigade, near Hulluch|
|10th Scottish Rifles||485, of which 21 officers||First wave of 46th Brigade, in Loos and on Hill 70|
|5th Lincolns||483, of which 22 officers||138th Brigade, at Hohenzollern redoubt, 13 October|
|12th Northumberland Fusiliers||481, of which 22 officers||62nd Brigade, between Loos and Hulluch|
|2nd Royal Sussex||481||First wave of 2nd Brigade, near Hulluch|
|9th East Surrey||477, of which 22 officers||72nd Brigade, attacking German second line near Chalk Pit|
|1st Scots Guards||474, of which 14 officers||2nd Guards Brigade, at Puits 14 bis and Hill 70|
|4th Leicesters||473, of which 20 officers||138th Brigade, at Hohenzollern redoubt, 13 October|
|8th Lincolns||466, of which 12 officers||63rd Brigade, between Loos and Hulluch|
|15th Durham LI||462, of which 22 officers||64th Brigade, between Loos and Hulluch|
|2nd King’s Royal Rifle Corps||460||First wave of 2nd Brigade, near Hulluch|
|10th Gloucesters||459||First wave of 1st Brigade, near Hulluch|
|1st Middlesex||455, of which 16 officers||First wave of 19th Brigade, on Cambrin road|
|1st South Staffordshire||448, of which 18 officers||First wave of 22nd Brigade, on Cite St Elie and Quarries|
|1st Royal Welch Fusiliers||442, of which 16 officers||Second wave of 22nd Brigade, on Cite St Elie and Quarries|
|8th Queens||439, of which 12 officers||72nd Brigade, attacking German second line near Chalk Pit|
|9th Norfolks||422, of which 12 officers||Reserve battalion, rushed into hasty counterattack at Hulluch Quarries|
|6th Buffs||409, of which 18 officers||37th Brigade, at Gun Trench, 13 October|
|6th South Staffordshire||407, of which 18 officers||137th Brigade, at Hohenzollern redoubt, 13 October|
|4th Lincolns||397, of which 10 officers||138th Brigade, at Hohenzollern redoubt, 13 October|
|13th Northumberland Fusiliers||396, of which 17 officers||62nd Brigade, between Loos and Hulluch|
|8th King’s Own Scottish Borderers||383, of which 14 officers||Second wave of 46th Brigade, in Loos and on Hill 70|
|10th Gordon Highlanders||381, of which 7 officers||Second wave of 44th Brigade, in Loos|
|1/19th London||386, of which 14 officers||First wave of 141st Brigade, near Loos|
|1st Cameron Highlanders||387||Second wave of 1st Brigade, near Hulluch|
|9th Royal Sussex||379, of which 18 officers||73rd Brigade, in Fosse 8|
|7th Northamptonshire||377, of which 11 officers||73rd Brigade, in Fosse 8|
|11th Essex||371, of which 18 officers||71st Brigade, attacking German second line near Chalk Pit|
|2nd Highland Light Infantry||358, of which 8 officers||First wave of 5th Brigade, near Givenchy|
|2nd Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders||330, of which 15 officers||First wave of 19th Brigade, on Cambrin road|
|8th East Yorks||320, of which 21 officers||62nd Brigade, between Loos and Hulluch|
|10th Yorks and Lancs||319, of which 16 officers||63rd Brigade, between Loos and Hulluch|
|5th South Staffords||319, of which 13 officers||137th Brigade, at Hohenzollern redoubt, 13 October|
|1st Queens||317, of which 9 officers||First wave of 5th Brigade, near Givenchy|
|6th North Staffordshire||315, of which 17 officers||137th Brigade, at Hohenzollern redoubt, 13 October|
|12th West Yorkshire||314, of which 16 officers||63rd Brigade, between Loos and Hulluch|
|2nd Welsh||311||3rd Brigade, in support near Hulluch|
|In addition, a further 23 battalions lost more than 200 men each.|
|Senior officer casualties on or soon after 25 September 1915|
|All men listed have no known grave and are commemorated at the Loos Memorial, unless shown|
|Major-Generals (commanding a Division of 20,000 men)|
|Sir T Capper
KCMG, CB, DSO
|Lillers Communal Cemetery|
|G H Thesiger
CB, CMG, ADC
9th (Scottish) Division
|F D V Wing
12th (Eastern) Division
|Noeux-les-Mines Communal Cemetery|
|Brigadier-Generals (commanding a Brigade of 5,000 men)|
|Hon. J. Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis||Officer Commanding
20th Infantry Brigade
|Guards Cemetery, Windy Corner, Cuinchy|
|N. Nickalls||Officer Commanding
63rd Infantry Brigade
|F. Wormald||Officer Commanding
5th Cavalry Brigade
|Nedonchel Churchyard Cemetery|
|Lieutenant-Colonels (commanding a Battalion of 1,000 men)|
|H. Collison-Morley||1/19/Londons||Loos (Dud Corner) Cemetery|
|A. Douglas-Hamilton||6/Cameron Highlanders|
|R. Dundas||11/Royal Scots||Cabaret Rouge Cemetery|
|A. Egerton||1/Coldstream Guards||Vermelles Military Cemetery; killed by a shell in the Chalk Pit on 28 September|
|G. Fowler||8/Notts & Derbys||Fouquieres Churchyard Cemetery Extension after dying of wounds received at Hohenzollern Redoubt 15 October|
|W. Gaisford||7/Seaforth Highlanders|
|R. Garnons-Williams||12/Royal Fusiliers|
|A. Hadow||10/Yorkshire||Buried at St Patrick’s Cemetery|
|A. Hamilton||14/Durham LI||Hendon Park Cemetery (Middlesex). Died of wounds on 13 October 1915, received near Bois Hugo on 26 September 1915|
|J. Knight||1/5/North Staffordshire|
|B. Leatham||2/Wiltshire||Vermelles Military Cemetery|
|B. Lefroy||2/Royal Warwicks||Fouquieres Churchyard Cemetery Extension|
|E. Logan||15/Durham LI|
|M. Henderson||9/Black Watch||Dud Corner Cemetery|
|J. MacQueen||6/Gordon Highlanders|
|H. Madocks||9/Royal Welsh Fusiliers||Browns Road Cemetery, Festubert|
|G. Neale||3/Middlesex||Killed in attack on Fosse 8 28 September|
|R. Richardson||2/South Staffordshire|
|J. Stansfield||2/Gordon Highlanders||Chocques Cemetery|
|H. Walker||1/4/Black Watch||Point-du-Hem Cemetery|
|H. Walter||8/Lincolns||Douai Communal Cemetery; died in enemy hands|
|C. Worthington||2/Buffs||Killed in attack on Fosse 8 28 September|
The Loos Memorial surrounds the graves of Dud Corner cemetery. It stands on the site of the old Lens Road Redoubt, captured in the initial advance by 15th (Scottish) Division on 25 September 1915. Author’s collection
Loos lessons learned – or not
There were many points of learning at the tactical level:
- Intelligence about the newly-strengthened Geman positions was not available or given insufficient attention
- No surprise was achieved; the blowing of mines well before the attack placed the enemy on the alert
- Smoke screens were effective; cloud gas was not. Its behaviour proved unpredictable
- The duration and weight of the British bombardment was insufficient to break the German wire and breastwork defences, or to destroy or suppress the front-line machine-guns German artillery and free movement of reserves were insufficiently suppressed
- Trench layouts, traffic flows and organisation behind the British front line did not allow for easy movement of reinforcements and casualties
- British grenades were of poor design and manufacture and were easily outranged by the enemy ones
- It soon became impossible to tell precisely where British troops were; accurate close-support artillery fire was impossible; RFC observation was very limited due to poor weather
- The New Army Divisions fought bravely but were clearly not yet trained to a sufficiently high fighting standard as a formation; they would need a period of familiarity with war conditions and could not be reliably deployed ‘straight off the boat’
- The withdrawal of cookers to Divisional control was a disaster, with many men going hungry to battle.
From a strategic viewpoint, Loos showed that even with those tactical weaknesses, it was possible to break intothe most strongly defended German positions (although casualties were inevitably high). Commander of First Army, Sir Douglas Haig, was adamant that a fleeting opportunity to break through the enemy lines had been lost because of mishandling of the reserves. They had arrived too late to provide the punch that was necessary.
“Wednesday, 29th September 1915.
My dear Lord Kitchener,
You will doubtless recollect how earnestly I pressed you to ensure an
adequate Reserve being close in rear of my attacking Divisions, and under my orders.
It may interest you to know what has happened. No Reserve was placed under me. My attack, as has been reported, was a complete success. The enemy had no troops in his second line, which some of my plucky fellows reached and entered without opposition. Prisoners state the enemy was so hard put to it for troops to stem our advance that the officer’s servants, fatigue-men, etc., in Lens were pushed forward to hold their second line east of Loos and Hill 70. The two Reserve Divisions (under C-in-C’s orders) were directed to join me as soon as he success of First Army was known at GHQ. They …crossed our old trench line…at 6pm.
We had captured Loos 12 hours previously. We were in a position to make this the turning point in the war… but naturally I feel very annoyed at the lost opportunity”
The private papers of Sir Douglas Haig
A result of Loos: Haig replaces Sir John French as C-in-C
Haig was in regular and close dialogue with Kitchener, Lord Haldane and King George V on this subject throughout October. In these personal, off the record and intimate discussions, he was asked his views about Sir John French. Sir John’s official despatch was published in “The Times” on 2nd November 1915 (see link below). It is full of mis-statements of fact concerning the timing of the transfer of the Reserves to First Army command. A supporting article by Charles Repington suggested things may have gone better had French been in command of the fighting army, rather than Haig. The latter writes to GHQ, asking for the Despatch to be publicly corrected. French refuses.
3rd December 1915. Kitchener indicated to Haig that he will approach the Prime Minister with a view to appointing him to succeed French.
10th December 1915. Haig receives a telegram informing him that Sir John French has resigned, and he is appointed Commander-in-Chief, BEF subject to the formailty of the King’s assent. Sir William Robertson is to be appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff in London.
During this time, little operational analysis is carried out. Many of the lessons of Loos are not learned, and many of the mistakes are repeated with uncanny similarity on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916.