Webmatters Title
Webmatters : The Battle of Loos, 63rd Brigade, 21st Division
Rough Map of Area

Loos

21st Division

63rd Brigade

63rd Brigade had taken over the new front line around the southern edge of Bois Hugo. They had not however actually gone into the wood contenting themselves with the 8th Bn Lincolnshire Regiment on its eastern edge and the 12th Bn West Yorkshire Regiment on the northern.

The 64th Brigade were in support, behind them just to the north of Loos.

The Bois Hugo is now occupied by the Parc des Cytises — a pleasure garden and children’s zoo. The wood used to include the area now taken up by the car park, where you will find a plaque commemorating the 15th Bn Canadian Infantry’s action of August 1917. Although used for a different purpose the rebuilt buildings of Puits 14bis are still in location. The chalk quarry has been greatly extended and now surrounds the pit — out of all proportion to its 1915 appearance.

Lt General Richard Haking, commanding XI Corps was not perturbed by the failure of the 15th Division to capture Hill 70 and expected his two Divisions to carry out their intended assault across the open countryside towards the second German line at 1100 hours. An indication as to just how flat and devoid of cover this area is can be surmised from the fact that it is now an aerodrome !

The chalk pit, on the left, was greatly enlarged after the war

The chalk pit on the left has been greatly increased in size since 1915
Behind are the landing strips of the Bénifontaine-Lens Aerodrome and the corner of Bois Hugo

In fact, the Germans managed to thwart the plan by counter attacking through Bois Hugo itself. During the night small parties had infiltrated through it and Chalet Wood on its southern side (Known today as Bois Rasé).

As the mist, which had so hindered the artillery supporting the Scots cleared, the Germans opened fire on the Lincolnshire Battalion as well as attacking the exhausted remnants of the 6th Bn Cameron Highlanders holding the line at Chalet Wood. The Camerons, under Lt Colonel Angus Douglas-Hamilton, were forced out of the wood but repeatedly strove to retake it until their numbers were so diminished it became impossible. Douglas-Hamilton was killed having led four such counter-attacks. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross (his body was lost and he is commemorated on the Loos Memorial).

Bois Hugo from Puits 14bis

The left hand edge of Bois Hugo as seen from Puits 14bis

Seeing the situation on his front deteriorating Brigadier General Norman Nickalls ordered half of the 8th Bn Somerset light Infantry (SLI) to line the edge of the Chalk Pit facing Bois Hugo. By misunderstanding its orders the 10th Bn York and Lancaster Regiment not only advanced as far as Chalk Pit Wood to cover the road but went through it and lay down in the open. A message was also sent to 64th Brigade who advanced the 14th Bn Durham Light Infantry (DLI) towards puits 14bis.

63rd Brigade, 21st Division

At 0930 hours the German artillery opened up on the 63rd Brigade’s trenches and thirty minutes later Germans were seen coming across the open ground from a position known as Stützpunkt IV. Artillery support and the rifle fire from the Yorkshiremen brought the German assault to a halt but the attack had distracted the defenders from the realisation that the wood had been heavily infiltrated.

Suddenly the Germans in Bois Hugo turned their attentions on the Yorkshiremen, who, taken by surprise, began falling back to the Lens Road. General Nickalls went forward himself from his command post at the Chalk Pit but was killed almost immediately. The retirement of the Yorkshiremen left the three companies of Lincolns in an exposed position and they were forced to back as well.

Looking north across the eastern edge of Loos

Bois Hugo on the left and Chalet Wood on the right
The Germans counter attacked across the open ground to the left

At about this moment the 14th Bn DLI arrived in support. Advancing towards the retreating men of the 63rd Brigade it would appear that both parties mistook the other for Germans and began attacking one-another. The mistake was soon rectified but it was a shaken battalion that continued forward.

Once again the soldiers lost direction and advanced up the slope of Hill 70 getting caught by severe flanking fire from the Germans in the two woods. The DLI fell back with heavy losses and would soon watch the 15th Bn DLI repeat the same error.

 

The attack

The arrival of the 24th Division on their left served to rally the men of the 21st Division after their action at Bois Hugo. Unfortunately they remained mesmerised by Hill 70 and thinking that it was back in the hands of the Germans (as could have been suggested by the fact that the British artillery was shelling it) they attacked up the slope towards those soldiers they could see — Scots in greatcoats with their smoke hoods on.

It was ironic that the Scots would be saved by the German machine gunners (153 IR and 106 RIR) who poured enfilading fire into the English as they advanced across their front and forced them back.

The directional error was now compounded by the 9th and 10th Bn of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI). These were the final two battalions from the 64th Brigade. In a complete breakdown of command and control the 9th Bn charged across the main road and advanced up the northern slope of Hill 70 against the Scots. Action by the commanders managed to hold back half of the 10th Bn but the remainder joined in this amazing turn of events.

The Germans destroyed the attack and put an end to any possibility of the 21st Division taking further part in the battle.