Battle of Loos

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Department 1

Interdisciplinary Studies

Department 2

Civil War Era Studies


In September 1915, the British and French armies began a combined major offensive on the western front. The French offensive was aimed at the Champagne and Artois regions, while the British Expeditionary Force’s objective was near Lens, in the industrial region between La Bassee and Loos. The battle was instigated by the French high command, who believed that a simultaneous attack upon the German army would yield results within a theater of war that had become stalemated. Despite reservations about the offensive’s intended results and the ground chosen for the attack, the commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force, Field Marshal Sir John French, agreed to the offensive. Along with his subordinate, First Army’s commander Sir Douglas Haig, French planned an offensive that was the largest operation of the BEF on the western front to date. The battle itself began with a four-day preliminary bombardment of German trenches on 21 September. The bombardment did little damage and notably did little to German barbed wire, which proved to be a serious impediment for advancing infantry. On 25 September, the battle began in earnest with six divisions attacking using a new weapon, chlorine gas. This was the first time gas was used by the BEF, and it proved to be as much as a hinderance as an advantage in attack. Still, the first day saw some advances notably those of the 9th Scottish Division at the Hohenzollern Redoubt and the 47th and 15th divisions to the south. To capitalize on gains made during the first day, Sir John French called up the 21st and 24th Reserve Divisions, untested men who had been exhausted by days of marching. These New Army divisions were committed to battle immediately on the 26th in hastily prepared attacks without adequate artillery support against an entrenched enemy. They lost half their number. After the opening phase of the battle, the advantage then shifted to the defender, and the German army fought a series of counterattacks, the battle devolving into a stalemate. By the second week of October, it became clear that any gains by the BEF had been negligible, especially considering the high cost in lives. In the end, the “big push” of 1915 ended in failure, with more than 50,000 British casualties. As a result of what was seen as a significant failure on the part of staff work and generalship at Loos, Field Marshal Sir John French was replaced by his subordinate, Sir Douglas Haig.



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