In September 1915 the French and British armies launched a major
offensive on the Western Front, intending to break through enemy
lines and strike a decisive blow against the German army.
While French forces attacked in Champagne and Artois, the
British First Army would attack along a ten-kilometre front between
Loos and La Bassée. This would be the British army's largest effort
of the war so far, with 75,000 men involved on the first day
It became known at the time as 'the Big Push.'
The terrain in this mining area was difficult for an offensive. It
was open and flat and easily swept by machine gun fire. German
defenders could make use of the many pit heads and spoil heaps for
cover and observation. Many British battalions were formed of
inexperienced wartime volunteers, and their supporting artillery
was short of heavy guns and shells. To compensate the British would
use poison gas for the first time.
On the morning of 25 September, after a four-day artillery
bombardment, gas was released with smoke and the infantry assault
began. In some places, the gas hung between the lines or blew back
into British positions. In the north of the battlefield, advancing
infantry emerging from the cloud were met with devastating machine
gun fire and losses were high.
Elsewhere, many British units achieved their first objectives and
there was cause for optimism, but the reserves urgently needed to
exploit these initial successes were a long way from the
front-line. By the time they saw action the next day, they were
already exhausted by a long march, and German reinforcements were
counter-attacking. Despite hard fighting, the British reserves
suffered heavy casualties and were driven back.
The Battle of Loos was part of the final attempt by Franco-British
forces to push the German army out of France before the onset of
winter in 1915. It failed and the war would go on.
Sir John French, the Commander-in-Chief of the British
Expeditionary Force, was recalled shortly after the battle, to be
replaced by Sir Douglas Haig.
The casualties on 25 September were the worst yet suffered in a
single day by the British army, including some 8,500 dead. In
total, the battle resulted in casualties of over 50,000, of whom
some 16,000 lost their lives. Their graves and memorials are cared
for by the CWGC throughout this region of France.