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Webmatters : The Battle of Loos, 7th Division
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Loos

7th Division

Made up of regular units brought back from overseas duty the 7th Division was first used in Belgium in October 1914 when it was sent to Antwerp in the forlorn attempt to try and defend the city. Ultimately the city had to be abandoned and the Division soon found itself fighting at Ieper.

Brought down to France they fought at Neuve Chapelle in March 1915 and then at Festubert on 16th May (under Hubert Gough — who would command I Corps at Loos). Casualties were enormous with about 1,300 killed and almost three thousand injured.

By the Battle of Loos, Major General Thompson Capper (who had injured himself in April) had returned to duty and prepared his men for the coming offensive.

The advance by 7th Division

20th Brigade

At 0630 hours on the dot the 2nd Bn Gordon Highlanders on the right and 8th Bn Devonshire Regiment on the left, went over the top enveloped by the cloud of gas and smoke.

The German artillery, attempting to break up the cloud by shelling it, caused numerous casualties, in particular amongst the 8th Devons who discovered the German wire only partially cut and bunched up behind the few gaps they found.

Both battalions had their commanding officers wounded but, once in Breslau Trench, encountered little further resistance and were able to regroup and continue their assault as far as the Lens road.

Lt Colonel John Stansfeld of the Gordons died the following day of his wounds and is buried at Choques Military Cemetery (Grave: I B 3).

The two reserve battalions now dashed across no man’s land with the 6th Bn Gordon Highlanders forming up on the right and behind their sister battalion. Having been reinforced the 2nd Gordons sent a scouting party of about fifty strong into Hulluch. This found a heavily wired position in front of them and they came under heavy fire from a position known as Stützpunkt II.

Behind them the 2nd Bn Border Regiment and 9th Bn Devonshire Regiment took up position in Gun Trench and Stone Alley.

Artillery support was in part provided by the stirring sight of T Battery Royal Horse Artillery galloping across the battlefield to a dip in no man’s land. A deployment ordered by Lt Colonel Henry Tudor the Division’s RHA commander.

Henry Tudor would rise to the rank of Major General and command the 9th (Scottish) Division with whom he would serve as artillery commander at the Battle of Arras in 1917. An innovative thinker he was constantly at the front — the incident above is typical in that he had found the position himself. He is credited with inventing the smokescreen and box barrage.

 

22nd Brigade

To the north the 22nd Brigade also had problems with the gas cloud refusing to move forward and although they were screened for most of the crossing of no man’s land the final thirty metres was carried out in full view of the Germans.

The 1st Bn South Staffordshire Regiment on the right and 2nd Bn Royal Warwickshire Regiment on the left both found that the wire was uncut, but, despite their casualties, crawled on. Private Arthur Vickers of the Warwicks was awarded the Victoria Cross for his work in cutting through the wire under heavy fire — which he carried out, whilst standing up in full view of the enemy.

Now supported by the 1st Bn Royal Welch Fusiliers and with the aid of the 2nd Bn Border Regiment (from 20th Brigade on the right) the German trenches were entered and Slit Redoubt taken.

The 2nd Bn Queen’s Regiment in Brigade reserve now came through and carried the attack forward into a series of quarries to be found in front of the Cité St Élie. These and the trenches were taken at about 0930 hours. Although parties were sent forward into the village itself it was not possible to keep them there and the Brigade assured its defences around the quarries.

 

21st Brigade

The Divisional reserve was moved forward at the beginning of the battle and was ultimately split into two halves each moving forward to support one of the front line Brigades. In each case it was soon realised that the defensive lines in front of both Hulluch and Cité St Élie were still strongly held. The wire was uncut and the artillery was having little success in trying to destroy the houses.

A continuation of the attack could only be made following a lengthy artillery preparation of the German defences.