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Webmatters : The Battle of Loos, 9th (Scottish) Division
Rough Map of Area

Loos

9th (Scottish) Division

On the outbreak of war in August 1914, Lord Kitchener, realised that this would not be a war over by Christmas and called for volunteers to form a New Army.

Hundreds of thousands flocked to join the colours and the 9th (Scottish) Division was the first to be formed. In fact, there were so many volunteers that the makings of the 15th (Scottish) Division were to hand.

In May 1915 the Division, duly equipped and trained, were sent to France to acclimatise themselves around Bailleul. They therefore just missed out on the battle of Aubers Ridge that month but were fortunate to profit from the experiences of their new commander Major General George Thesiger who had commanded 2nd Brigade during that battle.

Loos would be their first major engagement.

The advance by 9th (Scottish) Division

26th Brigade

The 26th Brigade had one of the most daunting tasks of the battle plan. The Germans were using a crassier known as The Dump as an observation point. At over five metres high it offered incomparable views over the landscape. Shelters had been dug into its sides as well as machine gun posts.

To further protect it the Germans had built the Hohenzollern Redoubt about 350 metres in front of it on a knoll. It was a self enclosed fort about 300 metres wide and was considered to be the toughest point in the entire defence system. Linking it back to the original German front line (Dump and Fosse Trenches) were two branches known to the British as Big Willie to the south and Little Willie to the north (named for the Kaiser and the Crown Prince).

It was the Brigades task to take the redoubt (in one rush) and then continue on to Fosse 8.

A fosse is a colliery. A puits is a pit. The mining was carried out by various companies and this can lead to confusion when looking at maps as there could well be more than one Fosse/Puits xx in an area. The corons that still feature across this countryside are the miners’ houses, grouped into estates — because each company was responsible for housing its workers. A crassier is a slag heap, though a more correct term and one you will see on signs is terril.

If successful the leading battalions (7th Bn Seaforth Highlanders on the right and 5th Bn Cameron Highlanders on the left) were then to follow the two supporting battalions on towards Haisnes.

These orders seemed so optimistic that several battalion commanders asked if they had correctly understood them, and one officer remarked, “it seems to be forgotten that the infantry do not gallop”.
The Official History

Although limited in ammunition, two 9.2 howitzers shelled the redoubt with great success and the infantry had prepared Russian saps out towards the German front line.

A Russian Sap is a shallow tunnel leading towards the enemy lines. It can be opened up quickly allowing men to move forward unobserved.

Despite the misgivings of some commanders mentioned above, the Seaforths had little difficulty in getting through the cut German wire and into the redoubt. There they encountered little in the way of opposition and bombed their way through and out the far side. Within thirty minutes of Zero they had reached Fosse Trench and continued on towards Fosse 8. A further thirty minutes later (at 0730 hours) they had cleared the way past The Dump and were reorganising themselves in Corons Trench.

On the left the Camerons held back until 0640 hours in the forlorn hope that the wind might turn in their favour and blow the gas across towards Little Willie. It didn’t and they were forced to attack with just the smoke screen that had been put down by the Brigade.

Although they suffered some enfilading fire from Madagascar Point the wire was well cut and they passed through Little Willie reaching Fosse Trench by 0710 hours and were only fifteen minutes behind the Seaforths in reaching Corons Trench.

With it becoming evident that an attack by the 2nd Division against Auchy (on the left) had failed, the Highlanders began turning their position into a fire trench ready to defend against counter attacks.

 

28th Brigade

The 26th Brigade was also using two battalions up front, the 6th Bn King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) on the right and the 10th Bn Highland Light Infantry (HLI) on the left. Their objective was to take three German defensive positions — from south to north : Strong Point; Madagascar Point (Mad Point) and Railway Redoubt.

These three positions had been little touched by the bombardment and dominated the length of the Madagascar Trench — the German front line on the Brigade’s front.

The gas discharge was even less effective here than in other areas and the wind blew it backwards behind the Scots line instead of towards the Germans.

The KOSB went over the top and suffered few casualties until they reached the German wire — which was, as suspected, uncut, having been repaired during the night by wiring parties. As they tried to edge forward with wire cutters the supporting companies moved forward to join them.

Suddenly the machine guns in the concrete bunkers of Strong Point opened fire on them destroying the battalion within minutes. All twenty of the officers that had gone forward and 630 men were killed or injured and that evening only forty-six survivors (under a corporal) were mustered.

The HLI were cut down from Railway Redoubt before they had managed to advance fifty metres.

The two supporting battalions, 11th Bn HLI and the 9th Bn Scottish Rifles were ordered forward at 0930 hours but it became evident that the men they were trying to support were all dead or wounded.

At 1115 hours Lieutenant General Hubert Gough, commanding I Corps, ordered a further bombardment along the Brigade’s front and a second infantry attack at 1215 hours. A suggestion by the 11th HLI that they should try a flanking manoeuvre from the Hohenzollern Redoubt (now held by the 26th Brigade) was caste aside. The frontal assault would go ahead.

At 1330 hours, having seen this second assault brought down, Brigadier General Scrase-Dickens reported to Division that his Brigade had effectively ceased to exist.

 

The advance by 27th Brigade

In the southern sector of the 9th Division the two leading battalions had been reinforced by most of the 8th Bn Black Watch and were, with the failure of the attack on their left, compelled to guard Fosse 8.

This meant that only one company of the Black Watch and the four from the 8th Bn Gordon Highlanders were available to continue the advance to Haisnes. Forming up on the right of the Seaforths just after 0730 hours they moved forward towards the Pekin Trench about a kilometre in front of them.

This trench which formed the German second line had only been partially prepared but was protected by 15 metres of barbed wire and covered from the flanks across open ground. At 0805 hours the Scots reached the wire and began making their way through to the trench — which was empty.

The orders for the 27th Brigade in Divisional reserve were, if Fosse 8 were taken, to reinforce the advance on Haisnes. Brigadier General Bruce assumed that this meant: immediately, and ordered three of his battalions forward.

The 12th Bn Royal Scots crossed no man’s land and formed up on the right of the Gordons, they were later joined by half of the 11th Bn Royal Scots (the other half having veered off to the left and come under fire from Germans covering Auchy).

The 10th Bn Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders realised that Pekin Trench was now sufficiently well held and halted their own advance at Fosse Alley, which they reached at 1200 hours.

Although the Scots had been fortunate in finding Pekin Trench undefended (because the 11th J├Ąger had already been sent forward to cover the line in front of Fosse 8) their luck was never going to hold out forever, and slowly but surely the German artillery ranged in on them whilst the infantry bombed their way along the trench from both ends, the stick grenade proving superior to the British ball grenade in both throwing distance and ease of use.

Section by section the trench was reclaimed by the Germans and by 1700 hours it was necessary to order the remaining defenders to fall back to Fosse Alley which became the new British front line.

What had been needed was a fresh Division of infantry to push on through. But the general reserve was still some way behind the front.