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Commonwealth War Graves Commission 1915: The Battle of Loos The war that would be ‘over by Christmas’ was coming to the end of its first year in the summer of 1915, and still there was no prospect of victory for either side. The Germans, fighting a demanding campaign on two fronts, were concentrating their offensive efforts in the east where the Russians were suffering their first worrying reversals. In the west there was stalemate as French and Commonwealth forces battered against well prepared and stubbornly held German defences. Efforts to open a new front on the Gallipoli Peninsula had foundered in the face of fierce Turkish resistance, climate and terrain. The Allied effort was not going well: a decisive action was needed to break the deadlock, crack open the Western Front, and perhaps end the war. This was the aim of the offensive planned for the autumn of 1915. This would be ‘The Big Push’. The offensive proposed by General Joseph Joffre, Commander-in-Chief of the French forces, was for a two-pronged attack, the

major thrust to be undertaken by the French in Champagne, with a second joint French/Commonwealth (here, largely British) attack on a 32 kilometre front north of Arras. Field Marshal Sir John French, Commanderin-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), was not happy with the plan, but was committed to support the French. The 10 kilometre section where the British force would go forward between Loos and La Bassée, a heavily industrialised mining area, was difficult for an offensive. The ground was open and flat, easily swept by machine gun fire, and the German defenders would undoubtedly make good use of the many pit heads and slag heaps for cover and observation. British infantry outnumbered German, but there was a critical shortage of supporting heavy artillery and shells. However, there was a new weapon that might make the difference between success and failure; introduced by the Germans at Ypres earlier that year, the British would use poison gas for the first time at Loos.


Assuming favourable winds (for the gas), the attack was to be undertaken after a four day preliminary bombardment by the British First Army under General Sir Douglas Haig. Six divisions of I Corps (the 7th, 9th(Scottish) and 2nd) and IV Corps (the 47th (London), 15th (Scottish) and 1st) would go forward side by side supported by 70 heavy guns and 140 tons of Chlorine gas discharged from more than 5,000 cylinders. Two cavalry corps (the Indian and 3rd) would be there to exploit any break in the German line. In reserve at Lillers, a full 25 kilometres from the front and under the cautious command of Sir John French, would be XI Corps, made up of the Guards Division and two divisions of Kitchener’s New Army, the 21st and 24th. Newly arrived in France, both were completely untested in action.

above: A ruined house in Loos High Street

below: Quarry Cemetery

Fortunes on the first day of the battle, 25 September 1915, were mixed. Much of the gas, released with smoke into light and fitful winds before the infantry went forward, hung between the lines and in some places blew back into the British trenches. Along the length of the front the advancing masses of infantry emerging from the smoke screen were met with devastating machine gun fire – in some places the German machine gunners scrambled out onto their trench parapets to cut swathes through the easy targets. Losses were appalling, the worst yet suffered by the BEF in a single day. By the end of the day, there would be 8,500 dead. On the extreme left the 2nd Division, attacking on each side of the La Bassée Canal, were driven back with heavy casualties. To their right, the 9th (Scottish) scored a major success with a foothold on the formidable Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8, the main German observation post for the whole battlefield. In the centre, the 7th and 1st battled forward to the Lens-La Bassée road under the most intensive fire, with some units reaching the village of Hulluch. On their right the gas had been more effective and the 47th

(London) on the defensive far right flank quickly reached the pair of slagheaps known as the Double Crassier. On their left, the 15th (Scottish) enjoyed the day’s most spectacular gains, taking Loos and pushing on to the Hill 70 redoubt.

on the 27th. Thereafter the offensive disintegrated. Fosse 8 and the Hohenzollern Redoubt were lost in the following days and a costly attempt to regain them on 13 October by the 46th (North Midland), 12th (Eastern) and 1st Divisions ended in failure and losses

By nightfall there was cause for optimism, but urgently needed reserves to exploit the gains were still being brought forward. By the time the 21st and 24th Divisions saw action the next day in front of the formidable second line defences at Hulluch and Hill 70, the Germans had poured in their own reserves and were beginning to counter-attack. The advantage was slipping away.

of more than 2,000 killed. The battle limped on until 19 October but any realistic chance of success had been lost after the first day.

The inexperienced New Army divisions, already exhausted by their long march from the rear, fought hard and lost heavily but were driven back, the line only stabilising with the arrival of the Guards Division

With more than 20,000 British dead, the Battle of Loos was instrumental in the dismissal of Sir John French as Commander-in-Chief of the BEF. He was succeeded by Haig in December. The battle had been a costly failure but had seen some significant firsts: the first use of British poison gas, the first blooding of Kitchener’s New Army, the first ‘Big Push’. Sadly, there would be many more before the First World War could be brought to an end.


Assuming favourable winds (for the gas), the attack was to be undertaken after a four day preliminary bombardment by the British First Army under General Sir Douglas Haig. Six divisions of I Corps (the 7th, 9th(Scottish) and 2nd) and IV Corps (the 47th (London), 15th (Scottish) and 1st) would go forward side by side supported by 70 heavy guns and 140 tons of Chlorine gas discharged from more than 5,000 cylinders. Two cavalry corps (the Indian and 3rd) would be there to exploit any break in the German line. In reserve at Lillers, a full 25 kilometres from the front and under the cautious command of Sir John French, would be XI Corps, made up of the Guards Division and two divisions of Kitchener’s New Army, the 21st and 24th. Newly arrived in France, both were completely untested in action.

above: A ruined house in Loos High Street

below: Quarry Cemetery

Fortunes on the first day of the battle, 25 September 1915, were mixed. Much of the gas, released with smoke into light and fitful winds before the infantry went forward, hung between the lines and in some places blew back into the British trenches. Along the length of the front the advancing masses of infantry emerging from the smoke screen were met with devastating machine gun fire – in some places the German machine gunners scrambled out onto their trench parapets to cut swathes through the easy targets. Losses were appalling, the worst yet suffered by the BEF in a single day. By the end of the day, there would be 8,500 dead. On the extreme left the 2nd Division, attacking on each side of the La Bassée Canal, were driven back with heavy casualties. To their right, the 9th (Scottish) scored a major success with a foothold on the formidable Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8, the main German observation post for the whole battlefield. In the centre, the 7th and 1st battled forward to the Lens-La Bassée road under the most intensive fire, with some units reaching the village of Hulluch. On their right the gas had been more effective and the 47th

(London) on the defensive far right flank quickly reached the pair of slagheaps known as the Double Crassier. On their left, the 15th (Scottish) enjoyed the day’s most spectacular gains, taking Loos and pushing on to the Hill 70 redoubt.

on the 27th. Thereafter the offensive disintegrated. Fosse 8 and the Hohenzollern Redoubt were lost in the following days and a costly attempt to regain them on 13 October by the 46th (North Midland), 12th (Eastern) and 1st Divisions ended in failure and losses

By nightfall there was cause for optimism, but urgently needed reserves to exploit the gains were still being brought forward. By the time the 21st and 24th Divisions saw action the next day in front of the formidable second line defences at Hulluch and Hill 70, the Germans had poured in their own reserves and were beginning to counter-attack. The advantage was slipping away.

of more than 2,000 killed. The battle limped on until 19 October but any realistic chance of success had been lost after the first day.

The inexperienced New Army divisions, already exhausted by their long march from the rear, fought hard and lost heavily but were driven back, the line only stabilising with the arrival of the Guards Division

With more than 20,000 British dead, the Battle of Loos was instrumental in the dismissal of Sir John French as Commander-in-Chief of the BEF. He was succeeded by Haig in December. The battle had been a costly failure but had seen some significant firsts: the first use of British poison gas, the first blooding of Kitchener’s New Army, the first ‘Big Push’. Sadly, there would be many more before the First World War could be brought to an end.


The Dead Many of the Commonwealth cemeteries around Loos contain graves from the 1915 battle. Here are some of the more significant. Until the last months of the war Cambrin was only 800 metres from the front line trenches. There are two cemeteries in the village that were used for Commonwealth burials during and after the Battle of Loos; In Row D of Cambrin Military Cemetery (820 burials) are the graves of 57 men of the 1st King’s (Liverpool) Regiment killed on 25 September 1915, the first day of the battle. Cambrin Churchyard Extension (1,211 burials) was used for front line burials until February 1917 and is remarkable for the large numbers of graves grouped by battalion. Most striking are the 79 of the 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and 15 of the 1st Cameronians (Row C), the 35 of the 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers and 115 of the 1st Middlesex, all dating from 25 September. Another cemetery with a distinct battalion identity is Ninth Avenue Cemetery, Haisnes, where 41 of the 46 burials belong to the 1st Cameron Highlanders all date from the period 25-29 September. The cemetery is essentially one large grave and the special memorial headstones to the men known to be buried there are arranged around the boundary wall. The irregular arrangement of the 227 graves in nearby Bois-Carre Military Cemetery reflects the difficult conditions under which the burials were carried out. Most of the graves in Row A relate to the 1915 battle. Philosophe British Cemetery, Mazingarbe, (1,996 burials) was started in August 1915 for the burial of some of the dead brought back from the front line. Among the isolated graves brought into it after the war from the Loos battlefield were those of 41 men of the 9th Black Watch.

Dud Corner Cemetery with the Loos Memorial

centre page: Soldiers wounded at the Hohenzollern Redoubt

The Double Crassier slagheaps


The Commonwealth War Graves Commission The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for marking and maintaining the graves of those members of the Commonwealth forces who died during the two world wars, for building and maintaining memorials to the dead whose graves are unknown and for providing records and registers of these 1.7 million burials and commemorations found in most countries throughout the world. Enquiries about the location of individual burials and commemorations in France may be directed to either of the offices below or to the Debt of Honour Register - a search by surname database at the Commission’s web site at www.cwgc.org The chateau at Vermelles was used as a dressing station during the Battle of Loos and more than 250 of the graves in Plot 1 of Vermelles British Cemetery (2,134 burials) date from September and October 1915. A third of the 139 burials in Quarry Cemetery, Vermelles, relate to the October action. The nature of the fighting at Loos meant that most of the dead from the battle could not be recovered from the battlefield until after the war was over - more than three years later. By then, very few could be identified and many of the cemeteries around Loos contain a high percentage of unknowns, most of whom died in the autumn of 1915.

Near Haisnes, St Mary’s Advanced Dressing Station was established during the battle on the site where the cemetery bearing its name now stands. The cemetery was made after the war and only 218 of its 1,800 graves are identified. Most date from September and October 1915. Loos British Cemetery (2,852 burials) was begun by the Canadian Corps in July 1917 and greatly increased after the war with burials brought in from the battlefields and small cemeteries in the area, including many 46th (North Midland) and 12th (Eastern) Division graves from the October fighting at the Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8. More than two thirds of the graves are unidentified. Dud Corner Cemetery, Loos, (1,812 burials) stands almost on the site of a German strong point, the Lens Road Redoubt, captured by the 15th (Scottish) Division on the first day of the battle. The name came from the large number of unexploded shells found when the area was cleared for the cemetery after the war. Most of the burials date from the Battle of Loos but less than 700 are identified. Surrounding the cemetery on three sides is the Loos Memorial, bearing the names of more than 20,000 officers and men who died in this sector of the front during the First World War and who have no known grave. More than 14,000 of those named died during the Battle of Loos. Of the 8,500 who died on the first day of the battle, more than 6,500 have no known grave.

above: St Mary’s A.D.S. Cemetery left: Vermelles British Cemetery

For further information contact: Commonwealth War Graves Commission 2 Marlow Road Maidenhead Berkshire SL6 7DX United Kingdom Tel: +44 (0) 1628 507200 Fax: +44 (0) 1628 771208 E-mail: casualty.enq@cwgc.org Commonwealth War Graves Commission France Area Rue Angèle Richard 62217 Beaurains France Tel: +33 (0) 3 21 21 77 00 Fax: +33 (0) 3 21 21 77 10 E-mail: faoffice@cwgc.org The Commonwealth cemeteries around Loos are included in Cemeteries and Memorials in Belgium and Northern France, a specially overprinted Michelin road atlas available from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. To order a copy contact either of the above offices. Visitors with a mobility impairment may have difficulty with access to some cemeteries. For more information contact the Commission’s Head Office. Archive photographs courtesy of Musée Alexandre Villedieu, Loos-en-Gohelle The Loos pithead, known as Towerbridge


The Commonwealth War Graves Commission The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for marking and maintaining the graves of those members of the Commonwealth forces who died during the two world wars, for building and maintaining memorials to the dead whose graves are unknown and for providing records and registers of these 1.7 million burials and commemorations found in most countries throughout the world. Enquiries about the location of individual burials and commemorations in France may be directed to either of the offices below or to the Debt of Honour Register - a search by surname database at the Commission’s web site at www.cwgc.org The chateau at Vermelles was used as a dressing station during the Battle of Loos and more than 250 of the graves in Plot 1 of Vermelles British Cemetery (2,134 burials) date from September and October 1915. A third of the 139 burials in Quarry Cemetery, Vermelles, relate to the October action. The nature of the fighting at Loos meant that most of the dead from the battle could not be recovered from the battlefield until after the war was over - more than three years later. By then, very few could be identified and many of the cemeteries around Loos contain a high percentage of unknowns, most of whom died in the autumn of 1915.

Near Haisnes, St Mary’s Advanced Dressing Station was established during the battle on the site where the cemetery bearing its name now stands. The cemetery was made after the war and only 218 of its 1,800 graves are identified. Most date from September and October 1915. Loos British Cemetery (2,852 burials) was begun by the Canadian Corps in July 1917 and greatly increased after the war with burials brought in from the battlefields and small cemeteries in the area, including many 46th (North Midland) and 12th (Eastern) Division graves from the October fighting at the Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8. More than two thirds of the graves are unidentified. Dud Corner Cemetery, Loos, (1,812 burials) stands almost on the site of a German strong point, the Lens Road Redoubt, captured by the 15th (Scottish) Division on the first day of the battle. The name came from the large number of unexploded shells found when the area was cleared for the cemetery after the war. Most of the burials date from the Battle of Loos but less than 700 are identified. Surrounding the cemetery on three sides is the Loos Memorial, bearing the names of more than 20,000 officers and men who died in this sector of the front during the First World War and who have no known grave. More than 14,000 of those named died during the Battle of Loos. Of the 8,500 who died on the first day of the battle, more than 6,500 have no known grave.

above: St Mary’s A.D.S. Cemetery left: Vermelles British Cemetery

For further information contact: Commonwealth War Graves Commission 2 Marlow Road Maidenhead Berkshire SL6 7DX United Kingdom Tel: +44 (0) 1628 507200 Fax: +44 (0) 1628 771208 E-mail: enquiries@cwgc.org Commonwealth War Graves Commission France Area Rue Angèle Richard 62217 Beaurains France Tel: +33 (0) 3 21 21 77 00 Fax: +33 (0) 3 21 21 77 10 E-mail: faoffice@cwgc.org The Commonwealth cemeteries around Loos are included in Cemeteries and Memorials in Belgium and Northern France, a specially overprinted Michelin road atlas available from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. To order a copy contact either of the above offices. Visitors with a mobility impairment may have difficulty with access to some cemeteries. For more information contact the Commission’s Head Office. Archive photographs courtesy of Musée Alexandre Villedieu, Loos-en-Gohelle The Loos pithead, known as Towerbridge

1915: The Battle of Loos  

The Allied effort was not going well: a decisive action was needed to break the deadlock, crack open the Western Front, and perhaps end the...

1915: The Battle of Loos  

The Allied effort was not going well: a decisive action was needed to break the deadlock, crack open the Western Front, and perhaps end the...