Hohenzollern

Hohenzollern

The Hohenzollern Redoubt was a heavily fortified position in the German lines, it was pivotal to the Loos battlefield. Further behind was The Dump and Fosse 8. It was attacked by units of the 9th (Scottish) Division on 25th September 1915, who were all but wiped out here. The 12th (Eastern) Division was also heavily involved in early October. On 13th October 1915 the 46th (North Midland) Division attacked, and again casualties were very heavy. The Redoubt remained firmly in German hands, and the area achieved an infamous reputation as one of the great killing grounds of the Loos battlefield.

The 46th Midland Division...

The situation for the 137th Brigade, on the right of the Division, was that half of the 1/5th Bn South Staffordshire Regiment was holding the British half of Big Willie Trench.

The remaining half together with all of the 1/5th Bn North Staffordshire Regiment were required to advance across the open ground; cross over Big Willie Trench; then Dump Trench; skirt the southern side of the Dump and finally capture Fosse Alley on the far side.

Behind each of these units, half of the respective 6th battalions would follow, moving up to Big Willie Trench. 

The gas discharge proved to be ineffective as it merely hung in the craters out in the open ground of no man’s land. That it had been released signalled to the Germans that an attack was about to be launched.

The Staffords left their trenches at five minutes before Zero and were assailed by a hail of bullets coming from machine gun positions all around them. The North Staffords suffered five hundred casualties and the South Staffs were almost wiped out before reaching the other half of the battalion in the Big Willie Trench. Any that then tried to continue the advance became casualties.

On the left the 138th Brigade’s plan was to cross the Hohenzollern Redoubt and then take up a position in the Corons on the north side of the Dump — the Dump was not being directly assaulted by either Brigade.

The 1/5th Bn Leicestershire Regiment led on the right with the 1/5th Bn Lincolnshire Regiment on the left. They were supported by the 1/4th Bn Lincolnshire Regiment. 1/1st Bn Monmouthshire Regiment; the Divisional Pioneer battalion, would bring forward the supplies necessary to consolidate the new positions.

They attack commenced at Zero plus five (1405 hours) assuming that by then their right flank would be covered by the 137th Brigade.

Dreadful casualties were suffered crossing the redoubt as the Germans on the Dump and at the Mad Point redoubt to their left cut them down. Some managed to get as far as Fosse Trench and even beyond, but their position was quite untenable.

As night began to fall the decision was taken to pull out of the eastern face of the Redoubt and dig a new trench (designated The Chord) just behind it. An attempt by the Germans to reach the western face of the redoubt was beaten off by Sherwood Foresters of 139th Brigade (Who had been in reserve). The Division had lost 3,763 officers and men as casualties in the space of an afternoon and almost all of them had occurred within the first ten minutes of going over the top. Once more the telling lack of a good supply of grenades had cost the British dear. A Division had been as good as destroyed for no gain.

Loos September 1915

Loos, 25th September 1915.. Six divisions, totalling 75,000 men, would advance eastward early in the morning of the 25th September. Smoke would be released to try and provide cover for the infantry on the open terrain and hide them from the German machine guns. Reserve divisions, including the 21st and 24th Divisions which were newly arrived in France, were to be made available to exploit any gains made. Despite the wind strength and direction not being particularly favourable, General Haig ordered the canisters of chlorine gas to be opened as planned at 5.50am. Two mines were detonated just south of the La Bassee canal. At 6.30am the infantry assault began.

To the south the gas and smoke had proved effective and the first line German positions were quickly taken. The 47th (London) Division successfully occupied the southern outskirts of Loos and captured the nearby Chalk Pit and the Double Crassier, which was a double slag heap opposite the village of Grenay. The 15th (Scottish) Division also made great advances. Loos had been occupied by 9am. The Division then pushed on further to the east, capturing Hill 70. German counter attacks forced the British to fall back from the heights of Hill 70.

In the centre of the line the 1st and 7th Divisions encountered strong German resistance and there were heavy casualties. The bombardment had not been particularly effective and in places the barbed wire defences were still intact. Men were cut down in No Man’s Land by machine gun fire and shelling by German artillery. Some of the men were also suffering from the effects of chlorine gas as the gas cloud had been blown back over the British front line. The 1st Division captured the western outskirts of the village of Hulluch and the 7th Division the nearby Quarries.

Further to the north, the wind had blown the cloud of chlorine gas back onto the British lines. The advancing infantry came up against fierce German resistance and machine gun fire inflicted many casualties. The 9th (Scottish) Division attempted to capture the mighty Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8, which was a coal mine with a strongly defended slag heap. The advance by 2nd Division along the banks of the La Bassee canal was a disaster and they were eventually ordered to withdraw after sustaining severe casualties.

Soon after the infantry had begun their advance, General Haig had sent a request to Sir John French to order the reserve divisions of XI Corps to move up to the front line. Communication was slow and the reserves, which Haig felt had been held too far back, arrived too late to exploit the gains which had been made earlier in the day. The 21st and 24th divisions were part of Kitchener’s New Army and had only recently arrived in France. They had already been marching for several days and were exhausted by the time they reached the front line.

The battle continued.....

The Welsh Fusiliers at (Givenchy Les La Bassee) Battle of Loos September 1915

The 9th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers, at the Battle of Loos, September 1915

An account taken verbatim from the War Diary entries compiled by Major Charles Burrard, 2nd-in-Command of the Battalion.

24th September 1915: Brigade H.Q. moved to Advanced Report Centre. Very wet + muddy. Our artillery continued to bombard.

We had been in the trenches since Aug 30th + our total casualties up to the evening of the 24th had been 2 men killed and 11 wounded. On the evening of the 24th Lt Col MADOCKS (sic) [1] and his battalion Hd Quarters moved up to A company mess in the firing-line. He asked me (Major C. BURRARD) to meet him there at 4.15 a.m. [2] the next morning. I retired for the night to a disused dug-out I found in one of the old support trenches. It was then drizzling.

25th September 1915: I met the C.O. in A company mess at 4.15 a.m. + had some coffee. I then went back to my dug-out. It was drizzling + what breeze there was seemed to be unfavourable for the use of gas; I began to think the attack would be postponed.

5.50 a.m. Our artillery started a furious bombardment.

I hurried down to the firing line and found the smoke candles at work. On my way there, I observed a mile to the south, a thin cloud floating slowly toward the German lines; this I took as asphyxiating gas. The breeze was still very slight but seemed to have turned temporarily in our favour. It was not to be depended on however + too weak + I am of the opinion that the pall of smoke in front of our lines did more harm than good as it brought on inactivity on the part of our Artillery. The smoke was intended to supplement the gas + mislead the Hun into believing that there was an immense amount of that commodity coming towards them. None of our men were injured by our own gas, though I believe a few of the 6th Wilts [3] suffered.

6.30 a.m. About this time I was informed that a sheaf of rockets had been sent up by the Brigade, intimating the commencement of the attack. I personally did not see it. From subsequent inquiry I learnt the following which bore out to some extent the message sent by the Artillery Observation Officer at 6.25 that the Royal Welch were already attacking. Col. Madocks remained at A company mess till the sheaf of rockets went up, he then told Captain HOYLE, commanding A company to commence the attack (A company was to be directing). Captain HOYLE proceeded to No 10 sap but he had already at 6.15 a.m. had men out in the sap & I think it is probable that his leading platoon was already extended, lying down, in line with the head of the sap, ready to advance.

The order had been issued to be ready to commence the attack at 6.30 a.m. This order might be differently interpreted. It should have been made clear whether troops were to enter the sap or remain behind the parapet till 6.30 a.m. The leading platoon of A company being extended in front of the sap it is possible an advance was made before Capt HOYLE returned from HdQrs. At any rate an officer of B company on the left whose company was keeping in touch with A looked at his watch when the advance commenced and it was 6.20 a.m.

The pall of smoke was very thick; Capt HOYLE had orders for his directing flank to march on a certain willow tree but this was now hidden from view + it is believed he diverged to the right in front of the 9th Welsh [sic, 4].

The Artillery observation officer who had wired down that the attack had commenced, about this time surpassed himself by ‘phoning that the 9th R.W. Fus. Had taken the first line of trenches. This must have been an effort of the imagination on his part as owing to the smoke, nothing could be seen.

Messages like this led to wild rumours after the action of spies having tapped the wires.

At about 6.50 I met Lt Col. Madocks & his Adjutant in one of the centre bays. He seemed very optimistic and asked me if D company was out yet; if so, we would follow.

The arrangements for attack were as under:-

B Coy (with 50 yards distance between platoons)

A Coy (with 50 yards distance between platoons)

D Coy (with 50 yards distance between platoons)

I reported that D company was not yet out.

A quarter of an hour later Captain HOGG the Adjutant again went to inquire + in the meantime Col. MADOCKS who was observing over the parapet was struck by a shot in the temple + fell dead at my feet. It was evident by this time that things were not going well; not much could be seen on account of the smoke but there were rumours of the saps being encumbered with wounded which accounted for the delay with D company. – I had seen Capt ACTON, comdg D company a few minutes before just outside our wire entanglement + I suggested to Capt HOGG to get into communication with him + obtain his opinion; Capt HOGG had been gone about 10 minutes when I received information that both he and Capt ACTON had been shot.

The 6th Wilts were now beginning to arrive; to avoid a useless sacrifice of life I gave orders for a retirement. Col. JEFFRIES, comdg 6th Wilts. who arrived shortly afterwards concurred with me.

Our action north of the LA BASSEE canal was intended as a demonstration, the principle attack being carried out south of the canal; our energetic action was the means of withdrawing several battalions of reserve to our front, which the Germans could have utilised further south. But could not this advantage have been gained without such loss of life? Undoubtedly both the G.O.C. 58th Brigade + Col. MADOCKS had been misled as to the damage our Artillery had effected on the enemy’s wire after several day’s bombardment also the effect it had had on the enemy’s morale; the effect on the wire was, as a matter of fact, negligible + the onus of not reporting this, of not making a more thorough reconnaissance rests on the companies who were in the front line; it was unduly optimistic to suppose that the enemy’s morale had gone, as during a bombardment the Germans are adept at burrowing themselves into specially deep dug-outs or keeping out of the way.

It was confidently believed that we should have no difficulty in rushing across the intervening space + capturing the German front + support trenches.- When the time came to carry this out we found ourselves up against a row of impenetrable wire and the intervening ground swept by half-a-dozen a machine guns.

C company under Capt K.NICHOLL had been detailed to act as a flanking party + moved up FIFE ROAD. They suffered severely from the enemy’s artillery which was most accurate.

The remainder of the morning was taken up in moving the remnants of the battalion to the Reserve Line. During the hours of darkness many of the wounded were brought in.

© 2020 fronts lines and trenches 

Email: frontslinesandtrenches@gmail.com

  • Facebook Social Icon