Battle of Loos

1915 Europe - reserve

August 1915 - Joffre planned fall offensive in Arras and in Loos. On Sept. 25, the French launched the Second Champagne Offensive and the British led the Second battle of Artois that included the French attack on Vimy Ridge near Arras and the British attack on Loos. Gen. Douglas Haig commanded the 6 British Divisions of the 1st Army that attacked Loos. Gen. Rawlinson commanded the 4 Corps made up of Kitcheners New Army divisions, the 15th Scottish and the 47th London. As did Haig, Rawlinson objected to John French's plan to attack the land between La Bassee and Loos that was " as flat as the palm of my hand. Hardly any cover anywhere. Easy enough to hold defensively but very difficult to attack." Hill 70 was east of Loos, and Lone Tree Ridge was northwest. From Loos to Hulluch behind German lines the German trenches were on higher ground than the British lines. Germans also held Hohenzollern Redoubt, linked to the Dump and the Fosse redoubts by Big Willie and Little Willie trenches. The chalk ground made trenches easily visible in aerial photos. The Germans used Tower Bridge coal mining platform as observation post. They also used mine dumps, or crassiers, as defensive positions, such as Double Crassier and Loos Crassier. The British used a hill of mine waste 135 ft high called Fosse 9 dump as observation post, and the Fosse 5 dump near Grenay.

Sept. 25 - British used chlorine gas in the attack starting at 5:50 am, but wind on the left turned gas back on the British. The main attack began at 6:30 am. The British troops were weighed down by heavy packs, tired quickly, and the field was soon filled with discarded gear. Reserves were not committed until Sept. 26 at 11 am, too late to save the battle.

In the south, the 47th London Div was an experienced Territorial unit, including the London Irish Rifles that kicked a rugby football ahead of them as they went over the top, (as would the East Surreys at the Somme in 1916). The Division took the Loos Crassier and the Double Crassier, covered by smoke from Stokes mortars. This was the first "smoke screen" in the war. Next to the 47th was the 15th Scottish, a new regiment that was to take Loos and Hill 70, but met German machine guns hidden in the basements of miners' cottages from the artillery barrage. They advanced to the pipes of Piper Laidlaw of the 7th KSOB (King's Own Scottish Borderers) playing "Scotland the Brave" was awarded the VC. (The 7th KSOB would play the pipes at the parachute landing in Arnhem in 1944). The 15th took Loos by 8 am and the KOSB reached Lens road by 9:15 am. But many officers killed, and junior officers not sure who should be in command. The British put senior officers in the front line to provide command decisions during battle. Three divisional commanders were killed in the battle.

The 1st Division in the center attacked the Lone Tree Ridge, but barbed wire stopped the attack. The Germans used a heavier gauge wire than the lighter British concertina wire, and used heavy wooden cross supports rather than single corkscrew stakes. A small group from the 1st Cameron Highlanders found a gap in the wire and advance to the village of Hulluch, found it empty because the Germans retreated to a rear defense line, but could not hold without reserves, and had to retreat.

2nd Division in the north was gassed at the start of the attack, its cricket ball bombs refused to ignite, and new grenades not yet available. British did not yet have steel helmets.

North of La Bassee, the Indian corps attacked north of the canal and against the Aubers Ridge.

At end of 1st day, enormous casualties cost the British 1/6 of their forces. More British died on Sept. 25 than in the entire 3 years of the Boer War. The lack of artillery was a weakness. Gen. John French had decided not to commit his XI Corps held in reserve, commanded by Gen. Haking. But the British had made gains.

Sept. 26 - on the 2nd Day, the 21st and 24th Divisions from the reserve XI Corps put into the battle for the center area from Hulluch to Hill 70 that dominated the new British lines around Loos, but Hill 70 was heavily defended and turned back repeated assaults.

The 21st Division of reserves attacked Hulluch, marching over the bodies of the dead from the 1st and 15th Divisions killed the day before. A German diary recorded: "Ten columns of extended line in perfect alignment could clearly be distinguished, each one estimated at more than one thousand men, and offering such a target as had never been seen before, or even thought possible. Nover had the machine-gunners such straightforward work to do nor done it so effectively. They traversed to and fro along the enemy's ranks unceasingly. The men stood on the fire-steps, some even on the parapets, and fired in glee into the mass of men advancing across open ground. As the entire field of fire was covered with the enemy's infantry the effect was devastating and they could be seen falling literally in hundreds." (p. 45)

The British attack pressed on to the southern front of Hulluch. "Here they came under enfilade fire from out troops lining this position and also from the fire of a battery of the artillery concealed in the village. Their losses now mounted up rapidly and under this terrible punishment their lines began to get more and more confused. But they still came on doggendly right up to our wire entanglements." (p. 46)

As on the first day, the heavy German barbed wire stopped the British attack on Hulluch. To the south, the Germans had placed machine guns and artillery on the Bois Hugo hill , and "our artillery and machine guns riddled their ranks as they came on. As they crossed the northern front of Bois Hugo, the machine guns positioned there caught them in the flank and whole battalions must have been utterly destroyed. The English made five consecutive attempts to press on past the wood and reach our second line defence position, but finally, weakened by their terrible losses, they were forced to give in." (p. 48)

The Germans gave this area the name "the corpse-field of Loos" and did not fire on the injured that rose from the ground to retreat

Of the 12 new army battalions of 10,000 men sent into battle on the 2nd day from the 21st and 24th divisions, there were 8,200 casualties in 3.5 hours, and the Germans reported no casulaties.

Sept. 27 - on the 3rd days, the assaults on Hill 70 again failed.

Sept. 28 - Gen. John French had used all his reserves but unable to break the German lines, and the French took over the Loos sector.

Oct. 3 - The Germans retook the Hohezollern Redoubt

Oct. 8 - A German attack on the entire lines at Loos failed, and the battle came to an end by Oct. 13. The British 1st Army had suffered 60,392 casualties, the Germans lost 20,000.

"Failure at Loos" and "the unwanted battle" was one of gthe great tragedies of the British army, but was a near success, was a proving ground for Kitchener's New Army, showed the need for more artillery and grenades and helmets and standard rifle ammunition.




revised 10/16/06 by Schoenherr | WWI Timeline | Links | Topics | Maps | Reserve