On 25 September 1915, the British Army launched a major attack against the German defences between the La Bassée Canal and the village of Loos. This was the last attempt to drive the German army from France before the onset of winter 1915, but the German defences proved too strong and losses were heavy for little gain. Due to the poor results, the Commander of British forces on the Western Front – General Sir John French - was replaced by General Sir Douglas Haig.

Plans

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 10 kilometre front between Loos and La Bassée. This would be the British Army’s largest effort of the war so far with more than 75,000 men involved on the first day alone. It became known at the time as ‘the Big Push’.

Scottish troops marching to Loos before the battle. C. September 1915

Scottish troops marching to Loos before the battle. C. September 1915. credit Paul Maze, IWM (Q 60739)

The industrialised mining area around Loos was difficult terrain for an offensive. The ground was flat and open, easily swept by machine gun fire, the many pit heads and spoil heaps providing defensive positions which were heavily fortified by the Germans. Many British army 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.

British troops advance into the smoke cloud, Loos, 25 September 1915
British troops advance into the smoke cloud, Loos, 25 September 1915. IWM (HU 63277b)

The Battle

On the morning of 25 September 1915, after a four-day artillery bombardment, six divisions attacked through clouds of smoke and gas. In the north of the battlefield, the gas hindered the attack of the 2nd Division along the La Bassée Canal and it was driven back with heavy casualties. In the centre, the 9th (Scottish) Division managed to seize the formidable Hohenzollern Redoubt and the vital observation point of Fosse 8, while the 7th and 1st Divisions battled forward towards the Lens-la Bassée Road, with some units reaching the village of Hulluch. In the south, the gas had been more successful and the 47th (London) Division reached the distinctive spoil heaps known as the Double Crassier, while the 15th (Scottish) Division swept through the village of Loos and on the stronghold of Hill 70.

By nightfall, reserves were urgently needed to exploit the gains. But by the time the 21st and 24th Divisions saw action the following 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 until the arrival of the Guards Division stabilised the position. Fosse 8 and the Hohenzollern Redoubt were lost during the following days and an attempt to regain them on 13 October by the 46th (North Midland), 12th (Eastern) and 1st Division ended in failure.

Column of wounded British soldiers return from fighting at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, 13 October 1915
Column of wounded British soldiers return from fighting at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, 13 October 1915. IWM (Q 29005)

Aftermath

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. 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.

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 more than 50,000, of whom some 16,000 lost their lives.

related Cemeteries & Memorials

Cambrin Churchyard Extension contains the graves and memorial of more than 1,210 servicemen of the British Empire, of whom eight remain unidentified. More than 400 of those commemorated in the cemetery are known to have died in September and October 1915. Buried alongside them are nearly 100 French, three German and one Belgium servicemen.

Maroc British Cemetery contains the graves and memorial of more than 1,420 servicemen of the British Empire, of whom more than 260 remain unidentified. More than 200 of those commemorated in the cemetery are known to have died in September and October 1915. Buried alongside them are more than 20 French and 20 German servicemen.

Dud Corner Cemetery contains the graves and memorial of more than 1,810 servicemen of the British Empire, of whom nearly 1,130 remain unidentified. The name ‘Dud Corner’ came from the large number of unexploded shell found when the area was cleared to create the cemetery after the end of the First World War. Surrounding the cemetery is the Loos Memorial which lists the names of more than 20,610 servicemen of the British Empire, who died in the Loos Sector and have no known grave.