The British Campaign in France (may 1917)
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The British Campaign in France. Chapter XIV. The Battle of Loos (Second Day) is the 14th article, published in may 1917, in a series of 21 articles written by Arthur Conan Doyle serialized in The Strand Magazine.
- in The Strand Magazine (may 1917 [UK]) (2 ill.)
- in The British Campaign in France and Flanders (1916-1920, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. [UK])
- in The British Campaign in France and Flanders (1916, George H. Doran Co. [US])
- in The British Campaign in Europe (1914-1918) (november 1928, Geoffrey Bles [UK])
A general view of the British attack on the mining village of Loos.
A fine charge during the victorious British advance at Loos, in the background may be seen the mining structure nicknamed the "Tower Bridge".
The British Campaign in France
Chapter XIV. The Battle of Loos
(The Second Day — September 26th.)
Death of General Capper — The Fifteenth Division on Hill 70 — The Advance of the Twenty-fourth Division — The Story of the Twenty-first Division — The Losses — Reorganization.
Sunday, the 26th, was a day of hard fighting and of heavy losses, the reserves streaming up from the rear upon both sides, each working furiously to improve its position. From early in the day the fighting was peculiarly bitter round Fosse 8 in the section carried and held by the Ninth Division. It has been already mentioned that three battalions held this place all the evening of the 25th and all night, until reduced to less than the strength of a regiment. It has also been stated that a brigade had been detached from the Twenty-fourth Division to their aid. These men, with no preliminary hardening, found themselves suddenly thrust into one of the very hottest corners of a desperate tight. In these circumstances it is all to the credit of these troops that they were able to hold their position all day, though naturally their presence was not of the same value as that of a more veteran brigade.
The detached brigade were put into German trenches to the east of Fosse 8. They were constantly attacked, but were suffering more from cold, hunger, and exhaustion than from the Germans. All day they and the remains of the Scots held the place against intermittent assaults, which occasionally had some partial success, but never quite enabled the enemy to re-establish his position. It was not, however, until the morning of the 27th, as will afterwards be narrated, that their most severe ordeal was to come.
Death of General Capper
Close to Fosse 8, and on the south of it, was the position of the Quarries, from which the brigade of the Seventh Division had been driven by a sudden rush of the Germans during the night. After an abortive but expensive attack by a battalion next morning, there was a more serious effort by a body of mixed troops, including several units of the Second Division. These regiments pushed their way up to the Quarries, and although they were unable to evict the Germans they established themselves firmly close to the south-western edge and there awaited events. To the south of them a brigade of the Seventh Division held firmly to their line. It was on this day that they lost their heroic leader, Sir Thomson Capper, the fine soldier who had so often braced by word and example their ever-thinning lines during the black days of Ypres, with which his name and that of his division will be eternally associated. There was no more valiant or trusted leader in the Army. He was shot through the lungs, was carried to the rear, and died in hospital next day. "We are here to do the impossible," is one of the fiery aphorisms which he has left to the Army.
The Fifteenth Division on Hill 70
On the southern front of the British there was also an inclination to contract the line upon the morning of the 26th. The fact that the French attack upon the right on the day before had not had much success rendered that wing very open to a flank attack. The Fifteenth Scotch Division still held on hard to the slopes of Hill 70, but . early in the day their line had been driven somewhat to the westward. At nine o'clock they had renewed their attack upon Hill 70, supported by some reinforcements. They were not strong enough, nor was their artillery support sufficiently powerful, to enable them to carry the crest of the hill. When their advance was checked the Germans returned upon them with a series of counter-attacks which gradually drove them down the hill. In the desperate series of rallies in which they made head against the Germans it is difficult to distinguish regiments, since the men fought for the most part in a long, scattered fringe of mixed units, each dour infantryman, throwing up his own cover and fighting his own battle. At least one battalion preserved their cohesion, however, and particularly distinguished themselves, their gallant leader falling at their head in the thick of the fight. "I must get up! I must get up!" were his last words before he expired. The final effect of these episodes was to drive us off the greater part of the slope of Hill 70, and down towards the village of Loos.
It will be remembered that the weary Twenty-fourth Division, with its comrade the Twenty-first upon its right and the Regular First Division upon its left, had received its orders to advance at eleven o'clock. It had been supposed that Hulluch was in British hands, but this was found not to be so. The orders, however, still held good. The Twenty-fourth Division had already been stripped of a brigade, and now it was further denuded by two battalions of another, who were told off to help to retake the Quarries. One battalion, as already stated, made an attack upon a strong position, and lost two hundred men and officers in the attempt. The other, who were in support, lost touch both with their own division and with the one that they were helping, so that they were not strongly engaged during the day.
The hour had now come for the advance. A brigade of the Twenty-fourth Division was leading, with, two battalions of. another behind it, and a pioneer battalion in support. On the left was part of the First Division. On the right was the rest of the Twenty-first Division, less one brigade, as afterwards explained.
The Advance of the Twenty-Fourth Division
We shall follow this advance of the Twenty-fourth Division upon the left. Afterwards we shall return to consider the movements of the Twenty-first Division on their right. As the advance continued the second line joined with the first, and the supporting battalion from behind also pushed its way abreast of the foremost. The line of advance was to the south of Hulluch, and this line was preserved. As matters turned out, the numerous guns in the south of that village were all available for defence against the advance of the Twenty-fourth Division. This caused them very heavy losses, but in spite of them they swept onwards with an unfaltering energy which was a monument to those long months of preparation during which the divisional commander had brought his men to a high state of efficiency. Under every possible disadvantage of hunger, cold, exhaustion, and concentrated fire, they behaved with a steadiness which made them worthy of the honoured names which gleamed upon their shoulder straps. One platoon diverged into "Hulluch in a vain attempt to stop the machine-guns and so shield their comrades. Hardly a man of this body survived. The rest kept their eyes front, took their punishment gamely, and pushed on for their objective. The breadth of the attack was such that it nearly-covered the space between Hulluch on the north and tile Bois Hugo in the south.
About midday the Twenty-fourth Division had reached a point across the Lens-Hulluch road which was ahead of anything attained in this quarter the day before. They were up against unbroken wire with an enfilade rifle and machine-gun fire from both flanks and from Hulluch on their left rear, as well as a heavy fire of asphyxiating shells. A gallant attempt was made to pierce the wires, which were within fifty yards of the German position, but it was more than flesh and blood could do. They were driven back, and in the retirement across the long slope which they had traversed their losses were greatly increased. Their wounded had to be left behind, and many of these fell afterwards into the hands of the Germans. The losses would have been heavier still had it not been that a battalion in support lined up a sunken road three hundred yards south of Hulluch, and kept down the fire of the machine-guns. Some of these raw battalions endured losses which have never been exceeded in this war before they could finally persuade themselves that the task was an impossible one. One battalion lost their colonel (wounded) twenty-four officers, and five hundred and fifty-six men; another their colonel, twenty-four officers and five hundred and thirty-four men; the other regiments were nearly as hard hit. These figures speak for themselves. Mortal men could not have done more. The whole brigade lost seventy-eight officers and two thousand men out of about three thousand six hundred engaged in the attack. When these soldier walked back — and there is testimony that their retirement was in many cases at a walk — they had earned the right to take their stand with any troops in the world. The survivors resumed their place about one-thirty in the German trenches, where for the rest of the day they endured a very heavy shelling.
The Story of the Twenty-First Division
The movements of the Twenty-first Division upon the right were of a very much more complex nature, and there is a conflict of evidence about them which makes the task of the historian a peculiarly difficult one. The great outstanding fact, however, which presents itself in the case of each of the three brigades is that the men in nearly every case behaved with a steady gallantry under extraordinarily difficult circumstances which speaks volumes for their soldierly qualities. Sir Edward Hutton, who raised them, and General Forestier Walker, who led them, had equal cause to be contented with the personnel. "The men were perfectly magnificent, quite cool and collected, and would go anywhere," says one wounded officer. "The only consolation I have is the memory of the magnificent pluck and bravery shown by our good men. Never shall I forget it," cries another. It is necessary to emphasize the fact because rumours got about at the time that all was not as it should be — rumours which came from men who were either ignorant of all the facts or were not aware of the tremendous. strain which was borne by this division during the action. These rumours were cruel libels upon regiments many of which sustained losses in this, their first action, which have seldom been matched during the war. We will follow the fortunes of each brigade in turn, holding the balance as far as possible amid evidence which, as already stated, is complex and conflicting.
One brigade was hurried away separately and taken to the south and east of Loos to reinforce the Fifteenth Division, which had sustained such losses on the 25th that they could not hold both the front and the flank.
This brigade pushed on, reached the point of danger as early as the night of the 25th, and part of it occupied a line of slag-heaps to the south-east of Loos, where there was a gap through which the enemy could penetrate from the flank. It was a prolongation of the same general defensive line which had been established and held by the Forty-seventh Division, and it was the more important as the French advance upon our right had not progressed so far as our own, leaving our right flank in the air, exactly as our extreme left flank had been left open by the holding up of the Second Division. The brigade was only just in time in getting hold of the position, for it was strongly attacked at five in the morning of the 26th. .The attack fell mainly upon two battalions, who were driven back from the farther side of the great dump which was the centre of the fight, but held on to the Loos side of it. This line was held all day of the 26th. So stern was the fighting that one battalion lost seventeen officers and four hundred men, while the other at the slag-heaps lost the same heavy proportion of officers and three hundred men. More than once the. fighting was actually hand to hand. It will be noted, then, that one brigade was working independently of the rest of the Twenty-first Division on one flank, as one of the Twenty-fourth Division was upon the other.
The main attack of the division was carried out by the only two brigades which remained under the command of General Forestier Walker. A formidable line of obstacles faced them as they formed up, including the chalk-pit and the Chalk-Pit Wood, and on the other side of the Lens-Hulluch road, upon their right front, Pit 14 and the Bois Hugo, the latter a considerable plantation full of machine-guns and entanglements. The original plan had been that the advance should be simultaneous with that upon the left, but the enemy were very active from an early hour upon this front, and the action seems, therefore, to have been accelerated. Indeed, the most reasonable view of what occurred seems to be that the enemy counter-attack from Hill 70 and the ridge to the north of it developed into a considerable advance, and that the British attack became speedily a defensive action, in which one brigade was shattered by the weight of the enemy attack, but inflicted such loss upon it that it could get no farther, and ceased to endanger the continuity of our line. It is only on this supposition of a double simultaneous attack that one can reconcile the various statements of men, some of whom looked upon the movement as an attack and some as a defence.
The last-mentioned brigade moved forward to a point just east of the Lens-Hulluch road. Two battalions were in open order in front In support, on the immediate west of the road, lining the Chalk-Pit Wood, were the supporting battalions. Their whole Rile was a mile ahead of the Twenty-fourth Division, so that their left was in the air. For several hours this position was maintained under a heavy and deadly fire. "The shells ploughed the men out of their shallow trenches as potatoes are turned from a furrow," says an officer. Two companies, however, seem to have lost direction and wandered off to Hill 70, where they were involved in the fighting of the Fifteenth Division. Two companies of another battalion were also ordered up in that direction, where they made a very heroic advance. A spectator watching them from Hill 70 says: "Their lines came under the machine-guns as soon as they were clear of the wood. They had to lie down. Many, of course, were shot down. After a bit their lines went forward again and had to go down again. They went on, forward a little and then down, and forward a little and then down, until at last five gallant figures rose up and struggled forward till they, too, went down... The repeated efforts to get forward through the fire were very fine."
These four companies having left, there remained only two of each supporting battalion in the wood. Their comrades in advance had in the meantime become involved in a very fierce struggle in the Bois Hugo. Here, after being decimated by the machine-guns, they met and held for a time the full force of the German attack. The men fought desperately against heavy masses of troops, thrown forward with great gallantry and disregard of loss. For once the British rifle fire had a chance, and exacted its usual high toll. "We cut line after line of the enemy down as they advanced." So rapid was the fire that cartridges began to run low, and men were seen crawling up to their dead comrades to ransack their pouches. The enemy was dropping fast, and yet nothing could stop him. The brigadier walked up to the firing line with reckless bravery and gave the order to charge. Bayonets were actually crossed and the enemy thrown back. The gallant brigadier fell, shot in the thigh and stomach, and the position became impossible. The survivors fell back upon the supports.
Fortunately, these were in close attendance. As the remains of the first line, after their most gallant and desperate resistance to the overwhelming German attack, came pouring back with few officers and in a state of some confusion from the Bois Hugo and over the Lens-Hulluch road, the four companies in support covered their retreat and held up for a time the German swarms behind them, the remains of the four battalions fighting in one line.
One party of mixed troops of the front battalions held out for about seven hours in an advanced trench, which was surrounded by the enemy about eleven, and the survivors. after sustaining very heavy losses — "the trench was like a shambles" — did not surrender until nearly six o'clock, when their ammunition had all been shot away. The isolation of this body was caused by the fact that their trenches lay opposite the south end of the Bois Hugo. The strong German attack came round the north side of the wood, and thus, as it progressed, a considerable number of the men, still holding the line upon the right, were entirely cut off. A colonel, major, two captains, and three lieutenants of one battalion are known to have been killed, while almost all the others were wounded. A number of our wounded were left in the hands of the Germans, and received good treatment from them. There is no doubt that the strength of the German attack and of the resistance offered to it were underrated in England at the time, which led to the circulation of cruel and unjust rumours.
A second brigade was in support some little distance to the right rear of the first, covering the ground between the Lens-Hulluch road and Loos. About noon a message was received by them to the effect that their comrades were being very strongly pressed, and that help was urgently needed. A battalion was moved forward in support, and came at once under heavy fire, losing its colonel, seventeen officers, and about two hundred men. A second was then thrown into the fight, and sustained even heavier losses. The colonel, eighteen officers, and four hundred men were killed or wounded. About one o'clock the two battalions were in the thick of the fight, while the machine-gun officer of the brigade did good work in keeping down the enemy fire. Two battalions were held in reserve. About two-thirty the pressure upon the front of the leading brigade had become too great, and both it and the two battalions were driven back. Their resistance, however, seems to have taken the edge off the dangerous counter-attack, for the Germans did not come on past the line of the road and of the Chalk-Pit Wood. The two supporting battalions then advanced some distance to take the pressure off their comrades, but the artillery support had died away and the ground was so lashed with German fire that they were compelled first to dig in and afterwards to retire.
It will be remembered that when the two advanced brigades of the Fifteenth Division established themselves in hastily-dug trenches upon the western slope of Hill 70, they threw back their left flank obliquely down the hill towards Pit 14 in order to avoid being at the mercy of any force which endeavoured to get behind them on this side. Only a very thin line of men could be spared for this work, under a young Australian subaltern. These soldiers held the post for twenty-four hours, but when the heavy German attack — which drove in the Twenty-first Division — struck up against them, they were all killed or wounded, including their gallant leader, who managed, with several bullets in him, to get back to the British line. This led to the retirement down Hill 70 of the men of the Scotch Division, who dug themselves in once more at the foot of the hill, not far from the village of Loos.
It may be noted that the losses of the two supporting divisions were about eight thousand men. Their numbers in infantry were about equal to the British troops at Waterloo, and their casualties were approximately the same. Mention has already been made of the endurance of one brigade. The figures of their comrades are little inferior. When one remembers that these were raw troops fighting under every discomfort and disadvantage, one feels that they have indeed worthily continued the traditions of the old Army and founded those of the new. There may have been isolated cases of unordered retirement, but in the main the regiments showed the steadiness and courage which one would expect from the good North-country stock from which they came.
The divisional artillery of the Twenty-first Division had come into action in the open behind the advancing infantry, and paid the price for their gallant temerity. One brigade of R.F.A. lost especially heavily, eight of its guns being temporarily put out of action. It is to be feared that the guns did not always realize the position of the infantry, and that many were hit by their own shrapnel. Such painful incidents seem almost inseparable from modern warfare. The artillery kept its place, and afterwards rendered good service by supporting the renewed advance.
Whilst this advance and check had taken place in the centre and right centre of the British position. the London Division, upon the extreme right, was subjected rather to bombardment than to assault. A heavy fall of asphyxiating shells was experienced a little after 9 a.m., and many men were gassed before they were able to put on their helmets. The second German line of captured trenches was held very firmly, and retained as a defensive flank, the whole forming a strong point d'appui for a rally and reorganization. Men of the Twenty-first Division reformed upon this line and the battle . was soon re-established. This re-establishment was materially helped by the action of the two battalions previously mentioned of the Twenty-first Division, who had become a divisional reserve. These two battalions now advanced and gained some ground to the east of Loos on the enemy's left flank. It may be mentioned that one of these battalions was ordered to discard its packs in order to ease the tired soldiers, and that on advancing from their trenches these packs were never regained. Their presence afterwards may have given the idea that equipment had been abandoned, whereas an actual order had been obeyed. The movement covered the reorganization which was going on behind them. A cavalry detachment had also appeared about 4 p.m. as a mobile reserve, and thrown themselves into Loos to strengthen the defence.
The evening of this day, September 26th, found the British lines contracted as com-pared to what they had been in the morning. The Forty-seventh Division had, if anything. broadened and strengthened their hold upon the southern outskirts of Loos. The western slope of Hill 70 was still held in part Thence the line bent back to the Loos-La Bassée road, followed the line of that road for a thousand yards, thence onwards to near the west end of the village of Hulluch, and then as before. But the exchanges would seem to have been in favour of the Germans, since they had pushed the British back for a stretch of about a mile from the Lens-Hulluch road, thus making a dent in their front. On both sides reserves were still mustering. The Guards' Division had been brought up by Sir John French, and were ready for operations upon the morning of the 27th, while the Twenty-eighth Division was ea its way, The Germans, who had been repeatedly assured that the British Army extension was a bluff, and that the units existed only upon paper, must have found some food for thought as the waves rolled up.
Chapter XV. The Battle of Loos
(From September 27th to the End of the Year.)
Loss of Fosse 8 — The Coming of the Guards — Rearrangements — Arrival of Twenty-eighth Division.
The night of September 26th was a restless and tumultuous one, the troops being much exhausted by their long ordeal, which involved problems of supply unknown in any former wars. The modern soldier must he a great endurer as well as an iron fighter. The Germans during the night were very pushful in all three-thins. Their reserves are said to have been very mixed, and there was evidence of forty-eight battalions being employed against the British line, but their attacks were constant and spirited. The advanced positions were, however, maintained, and the morning of the 27th found the attackers. after two days of incessant battle, still keeping their grip upon their gains.
Loss of Fosse 8
The day began badly for the British, however, as in the early morning they were pushed out of Fosse 8, which was, an extremely important point and the master-key of the whole position, as its high slag-heap commanded Slag alley and a number of the other trenches to the south of it, including most of the Hohenzollern Redoubt. The worn remains of the brigade in possession were still holding the Fosse when morning dawned, and the battalions of a second were in a semicircle to the east and south of it. These battalions, young troops who had never heard the whiz of a bullet before, had now been in close action for thirty-six hours, and had been cut off from all supplies of food and water for two days. Partly on account of their difficult tactical position, and partly because they were ignorant of how communications are kept up in the trenches, they had become entirely isolated. It was on these exhausted troops that the storm now broke. Just at the dawn two red rockets ascended from the German lines, and at the same moment an intense bombardment opened upon Fosse 8, causing great loss among the occupants. It was at this time that General Thesiger, commander of the Ninth Division, together with his staff-major, Burney, was killed by a shell. Colonel Livingstone. Divisional C.O. of Engineers, was also hit. In the obstinate defence of the post a company of R.E. fought as infantry after they had done an that was possible to strengthen the defences.
A strong infantry attack had immediately followed the bombardment. They broke in to the number of about a thousand. By their position they were now able to command Fosse 8, and also to make untenable the position of the brigade, which occupied trenches to the south which could be enfiladed, In "The First Hundred Thousand" will be found a classical account of the straits of these troops and their retirement to a safer position. The general in command telephoned in vain for the support of heavy guns, and even released a carrier pigeon with the same urgent request. Seeing that Fosse 8 was lost, lie determined to hold on hard to the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and lined its trenches with the broken remains of his wearied brigade The enemy at once attacked with swarms ,of well-provided bombers in the van, but were met foot by foot by our bombers, who held them up. The brigade endeavoured to counter-attack, but were unable to get forward against the machine-guns, though their bombers did splendid work. The ground was held until the troops, absolutely at the limit of human endurance, were relieved by the Twenty-eighth Division. as will be described later. The trench held by one battalion was commanded from above and attacked by bombers from below, so that the regiment had a very severe ordeal. A lieutenant defended a group of cabarets at one end of the position until he and every man with him was dead or wounded. Having taken that corner, the Germans bombed down the trench, A captain with thirty men on that flank were all killed or wounded, but the officer leading the bombers was shot by another captain, and the position saved, Nineteen officers and three hundred and sixty men fell in this one battalion. "We gained," said one of them, "two Military Crosses and many wooden ones." It had been an anxious day for all, and most of all for the general in command, who had been left without a staff, both his major and his captain having fallen.
The Coming of the Guards
Up to midday of the 27th the tide of battle had set against the British, but after that hour there came into action a fresh-force which can never be employed without leaving its mark upon the conflict. This was the newly-formed division of Guards. consisting of the eight battalions which had already done such splendid service from Mans onwards, together with four new ones.
On September 25th the Guards reached Noeux-les-Mines, and on September 26th were at Sailly-la-Bourse. On the morning of the 27th they moved forward upon the same general line which the previous attack had taken — that is, between Hulluch on the left and Loos on the right — and relieved the two divisions which had suffered so heavily upon the previous day. The general distribution of the Guards was that one brigade were on the left. They had taken over trenches from the First Division, and were now in touch upon their left with the Seventh Division. On the right of this Guards' Brigade was a second. On their right again, in the vicinity of Loos, was a third. These last two brigades, upon which the work fell — for the brigade on the left remained in a holding position — were operating roughly. upon the same ground as the Twenty-first Division had covered the day before, and had in their immediate front the same wood — the Chalk-Pit Wood — from which we had been driven, and the chalk-pit near the Lens-Hulluch road, which we had also lost, while a little more to the right was the strong post of Pit 14 and the long slope of Hill 70, most of which had passed back into the hands of the enemy. These formidable obstacles were the immediate objective of the Guards. During the night of the 26th-27th many stragglers from the Twenty-first and Twenty-fourth Divisions passed through the Guards, informing them that their front was practically clear of British troops, and that they were face to face with the enemy.
At 2.30 p.m. the British renewed their heavy bombardment in the hope of clearing the ground for the advance. There is evidence that upon the 25th the enemy had been so much alarmed by the rapid advance that they had hurriedly removed a good deal of their artillery upon the Lens side. This had now been brought back, as we found to our cost. At four o'clock the heavy guns eased off, and the two brigades of Guards advanced, moving forward in artillery formation — that is, in small clumps of platoons, separated from each other.
The battalion placed in the van of the brigade had orders to make good the wood in front. A second was to support them. Advancing in splendid order, they reached the point without undue loss, and dug themselves in according to orders. As they lay there their comrades passed on their right under very heavy fire in salvos of high-explosive shells, and carried Pit 14 by storm in the most admirable manner, while the battalion holding the wood covered them with their rifle-fire. Part of the right-hand company of this battalion got drawn into this attack and rushed forward with their comrades. Having taken Pit 14, this body of men pushed impetuously forward, met a heavy German counter-attack, and were driven bark. Their two young leaders were seen no more. The German attack same with irresistible strength, supported by a very heavy enfilade fire. The remains of the advanced party were driven with heavy kisses out of Pit 14, and both they and their supports were thrown back as far as the line of the Loos-Hulluch road.
The remains of the shaken battalions were joined by two additional companies and re-formed for another effort. In this attack two companies coming up independently somewhat later than the main advance were terribly shelled, but reached their objective, where they endured renewed losses. The officers were nearly all put out of action, and eventually a handful of survivors were brought back to the Chalk-Pit Wood by a lieutenant, himself severely wounded.
Another party had succeeded also in holding their ground in the Chalk-Pit Wood, though partly surrounded by the German advance, and they now sent back urgently for help. A fresh advance was made, in the course of which the two companies pushed forward on the left of the wood and seized the chalk-pit. It was hard soil and trenching was difficult, but the line of the wood and of the pit was consolidated as far as possible. A dangerous gap had been left between the extreme left of one brigade and the right of the other. It was filled up by one hundred and fifty men, hastily collected, when frustrated an attempt of the enemy to push through. This line was held until dark, though the men had to endure a very heavy and accurate shelling, against which they had little protection. In the early morning a fresh advance was made from the north-west against Pit 14, but could make no headway against the German fire. The line of Chalk-Pit Wood now became the permanent line of the Army.
The remaining brigade of Guards had advanced meanwhile, their attack being on the immediate right on the line of Pit 14 and Hill 70. It may indeed be said that the object of the previous attack upon Pit 14 was very largely to silence or engage the machine-guns there and so make it easier for the remaining brigade to make headway at Hill 70. The Guardsmen advanced with great steadiness up the long slope of the hill, and actually gained the crest, but a powerful German redoubt which swept the open ground with its fire made the summit untenable, and they were compelled to drop back over the crest line, where they dug themselves in and remained until this section of the line was taken over by the Twelfth Division.
The Guards had lost very heavily during these operations. One battalion had lost eight officers and three hundred and twenty-four men, while two others had suffered about as heavily. The brigade last described had been even more severely hit, and the total of the division could have been little short of three thousand. They continued to hold the front line until September 30th, when brigades of the Twelfth Division relieved them for a short rest. The Fifteenth Division had also been withdrawn, after having sustained losses which have probably never been excelled up to this date by any single division in one action during the campaign. It is computed that no fewer than six thousand of these gallant Scots had fallen, the greater part upon the blood-stained slope and crest of Hill 70. Of one battalion little more than a hundred emerged safely, but an observer has recorded that their fierce and martial bearing was still that of victors.
The curve of the British position presented a perimeter which was about double the length of the arc which marked the original trenches. Thus a considerably larger force was needed to hold it, which was the more difficult to provide as so many divisions had already suffered heavy losses.
By an arrangement between Sir John French and General Foch, the defence of Loos was taken over from the morning of the 28th by our old comrades of Ypres, the French Ninth Corps. During this day there was a general rearrangement of units, which was facilitated by the contraction of the line brought about by the presence of our Allies. The battle-worn divisions of the first line were withdrawn; while Bulfin's Twenty-eighth Division came up to take their place.
Arrival of Twenty-Eighth Division
This Twenty-eighth Division, of Ypres renown. had reached Vermelles in the early morning of Monday, the 27th — the day of the Guards' advance. The general plan seems to have been that it should restore the fight upon the left half of the battlefield, while the Guards' Division did the same upon the right. General Bulfin, the able and experienced commander of the Twenty-eighth, found himself suddenly placed in command of the Ninth also, through the death of General Thesiger. The situation which faced him was a most difficult one, and it took cool judgment in so confused a scene to make sure where his force should be applied. Urgent messages had come in to the effect that the defenders of Fosse 8 had been driven out, that as a consequence the whole of the Hohenzollern Redoubt was on the point of recapture, and that the Quarries had been wrested from the Seventh. Division by the enemy. A very strong German attack .was surging in from the north, and if it should advance much farther our advance line would be taken in the rear. It was clear that the Twenty-eighth Division had only just arrived in time.
A brigade was hurried forward, and found things in a perilous state in the Hohenzollern Redoubt, where the remains of two brigades, driven from Fosse 8 and raked by guns from the great dump, were barely holding. on to the edge of the stronghold. A battalion dashed forward with all the energy of fresh troops, swept the enemy out of the redoubt, pushed them up the trench leading northwards, which is called Little Willie (Big Willie leads eastward), and barricaded the southern exit. Matters were hung up for a time by the wounding both of the brigadier and of his brigade-major, but the colonel of a second fresh battalion carried on.
An attack was organized upon the powerful position at Fosse 8, but it had to be postponed until the morning of September 28th, At 9 a.m. the battalion which had cleared the redoubt the day before delivered a very strong assault. A second battalion were to have supported them, but came under so heavy a fire in their trenches that they were unable to get forward. The leading battalion, in the face of desperate opposition, scrambled up the difficult sides of the great dump — a perfect hill erected as a monument of generations of labour. They reached the summit, but found it swept by gusts of fire which made all life impossible. The colonel and fifteen of his officers were killed or wounded in the gallant venture. Finally, the remains of the regiment took cover from the fire in Dump Trench at the bottom of the hill. It was in this trench that the supporting battalion had been held. Their colonel had also been killed. From this time onwards Fosse 8 was left in the hands of the Germans, and the action of the Twenty-eighth Division became more of a defensive one to prevent any further whittling away of the ground already gained.
As the pressure was still great from the direction of Fosse 8, two battalions were sent up to reinforce the line. On the 29th they helped to repel two attacks all along the front of the redoubt, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, when the Germans came on to the surface only to be shot back into their burrows again. On the same day two fresh brigades relieved the weary Seventh Division in the Quarries.