Webmatters Title
Webmatters : The Battle of Loos, the attack by 24th Division
Rough Map of Area

Loos

24th Division

The 24th Division was also part of the third wave of New Army organisations (K3) authorised in September 1914.

Rather like a mirror image to the 21st Division most of the battalions were from the south of England but all suffered the same lack of trained officers.

It took six months to find the men proper uniforms, and rifles were not available before June 1915. In mid-August they were paraded in front of Lord Kitchener and then King George V. Within weeks the men were posted to France assured that they would only be used in a situation where the enemy was already beaten.

 

26th September 1915

As dawn broke over the battlefield the 72nd Brigade was occupying the old German position Alley 4 to the east of the Lone Tree. It was in contact with the 1st Division on its left and would be relying on them in the coming attack.

The 71st Brigade (which had two battalions detached to I Corps) was in support near the Lone Tree whilst the 73rd Brigade was at Fosse 8 with the 9th Division. Instead of twelve battalions the assault would in fact be shared between six.

At 0500 hours the 72nd Brigade had still not received any orders as to what was required of it (The orders would eventually arrive at 1730 hours — after the battle). One of the staff officers went back to HQ and on returning at 0945 hours was able to give a verbal run-down of the plan of attack.

Looking north across the eastern edge of Loos

Bois Hugo on the left and Chalet Wood on the right
The Lens – La Bassée Road runs almost horizontally across the centre of the photo in front of the quarry
The German second line ran from the rear of Bois Hugo towards the wooded area on the left edge

At 1100 hours 72nd Brigade was required to attack the German’s second line position between Stützpunkt IV and Stützpunkt III (At Puits 13bis). The two remaining battalions of the 71st Brigade (11th Bn Essex Regiment and 9th Bn Suffolk Regiment) would remain in reserve whilst 1st Division would attack Hulluch with the 2nd Bn Welch Regiment.

Having been so briefed the battalion commanders had little more than ten minutes in which to fully brief their subordinates. 9th Bn East Surrey Regiment would lead on the right with the 8th Bn Royal West Kent Regiment on their left. They would be followed by the 8th Bn The Buffs and 8th Bn The Queen’s Regiment.

 

The attack

Despite the lack of time, the four battalions managed to get themselves under way at 1100 hours as they approached the Lens – La Bassée Road they had to swing slightly left so as approach it at right angles. The steadiness of their approach rubbed off on the soldiers of the 21st Division who were already having a difficult time containing the German counter attacks.

On their left, the untimely shelling of the headquarters of the 2nd Welch lead to confusion as to what was happening at their Brigade level. Brigade thought the advance had been postponed because of the German counter attack against 21st Division. The Welch thought that everything remained the same and went forward on time at 1100 hours. Without any support on their left the two leading companies were stopped in front of Hulluch whilst the other two teamed up with the 72nd Brigade.

The advance by 24th Division

The supposed mass of twenty-four battalions from 21st and 24th Divisions had been reduced by circumstances to the four of 72nd Brigade, the remnants of two from the 63rd and two companies of 2nd Welch.

Because it was supposed to stay in contact with 21st Division (who kept veering off to the right) the 9th East Surrey did the same passing along the northern edge of Bois Hugo.

The 8th Royal West Kent stuck to its route and headed directly for the German lines accompanied by the two companies of Welshmen. As soon as they crossed the main road they came under enfilading fire and then very heavy fire from their front as well. A gap of about 500 metres had also grown between them and the East Surrey which was plugged by the advance of the 8th Buffs.

With the remaining available battalions of the 24th Division joining the assault, the line pushed on encountering artillery fire at point blank from Hulluch as well as the indignity of being shelled by drop-shorts from their own artillery. By about 1300 hours the ever thinning line were almost at the German wire — which was uncut. Some respite was gained by lying down in the long grass which obscured them from view, but it was obvious to the surviving officers that the 21st Division were falling back and that Hulluch was still in German hands.

About 1330 hours the remnants of the 72nd and 71st Brigades began to retire. Whether this was done in good order or not is left to debate. The Official History says: Yes. The Welch described it as a rout.

The battlefield calmed with the thousands of British dead and wounded lying out on ground that remains today open green fields. The Germans didn’t even bother to pursue but sent medical teams out to deal with the wounded.

Dazed and confused many of the men reached Rutoir Farm where they were turned around and reorganised. General Haking was forced to accept that his two Divisions had been broken. He was now ordered to release his Guards Division to General Haig.