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The Battle of Loos was one of the major Britishmarker offensives mounted on the Western Front in 1915 during World War I. It marked the first time the British used poison gas during the war, and is also famous for the fact that it witnessed the first large-scale use of new army or "Kitchener's Army" units.

Course of the Battle

The battle was the British component of the combined Anglo-French offensive known as the Third Battle of Artois. General Douglas Haig, then commander of the British First Army, directed the battle; however, his plans were limited by the shortage of artillery shells which meant the preliminary bombardment, essential for success in the emerging trench warfare, was weak. Immediately prior to the troops attacking the German lines, at around 6:30 a.m., the British released 140 tons of chlorine gas with mixed success—in places the gas was blown back onto British trenches. Due to the inefficiency of the gas masks at the time, many British soldiers removed them as they could not see through the fogged-up talc eyepieces, or could barely breathe with them on. This led to some British soldiers being gassed by their own chlorine gas as it blew back across their lines.

The battle opened on September 25 and the British were able to break through the weaker German trenches and capture the town of Loosmarker, mainly due to numerical superiority. However, the inevitable supply and communications problems, combined with the late arrival of reserves, meant that the breakthrough could not be exploited. A further complication for many British soldiers was the failure of their artillery to cut the German wire in many places in advance of the attack. Advancing over open fields in full range of German machine guns and artillery, British losses were devastating. When the battle resumed the following day, the Germans were prepared and repulsed attempts to continue the advance.

The fighting subsided on September 28 with the British having retreated to their starting positions. The British attacks had cost over 20,000 casualties, including three divisional commanders; George Thesiger, Thompson Capper and Frederick Wing. Following the initial attacks by the British, the Germans made steady attempts to recapture the Hohenzollern Redoubtmarker. This was accomplished on October 3. On October 8 the Germans attempted to recapture much of the lost ground by launching a major offensive along the entire line, but abandoned the effort by nightfall due to heavy losses. This marked the official end of the hostilities, although in an attempt to strike before the winter rains set in, the British attempted a final offensive on October 13, which failed due to a lack of hand grenades. General Haig thought it might be possible to launch another attack on November 7 but the combination of heavy rains and accurate German shelling during the second half of October finally persuaded him to abandon the attempt.

Major-General Richard Hilton, at that time a Forward Observation Officer, said of the battle:

A great deal of nonsense has been written about Loos. The real tragedy of that battle was its nearness to complete success. Most of us who reached the crest of Hill 70 and survived were firmly convinced that we had broken through on that Sunday, 25th September 1915. There seemed to be nothing ahead of us but an unoccupied and incomplete trench system. The only two things that prevented our advancing into the suburbs of Lens were, firstly the exhaustion of the 'Jocks' themselves (for they had undergone a bellyfull of marching and fighting that day) and secondly the flanking fire of numerous German machine-guns, which swept that bare hill from some factory buildings in Cite St. Auguste to the south of us. All that we needed was more artillery ammunition to blast those clearly located machine-guns, and some fresh infantry to take over from the weary and depleted 'Jocks.' But, alas, neither ammunition nor reinforcements were immediately available, and the great opportunity passed.

Air actions

The Royal Flying Corps came under the command of Brigadier-General Hugh Trenchard. The participating wings were the Second Wing and the Third Wing under colonels John Salmond and Sefton Brancker respectively.

As the British had a limited amount of heavy ammunition, the Royal Flying Corps flew target identification sorties prior to the battle to ensure that shells were not wasted. During the first few days of the attack, the Flying Corps' target-marking squadrons with their recently improved air-to-ground wireless communications helped ensure that German targets were heavily pounded by the British artillery. Later in the Battle, Flying Corps pilots carried out the first successful tactical bombing operation in the history of war. Aircraft of the Second and Third wings carried out multiple sorties, dropping many 100-pound bombs on German troops, trains, rail lines and marshalling yards. As the land offensive stalled, British pilots and observers flew low over enemy positions, providing targeting information to the artillery.


Among the dead on the British side were Fergus Bowes-Lyon, brother to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Consort, of George VI and "Queen Mother"), author and poet Rudyard Kipling's son, John, and the poet Charles Sorley.

Several survivors wrote of their experiences. Poet Robert Graves, described the battle and succeeding days in his war memoir Goodbye to All That.Author Patrick MacGill, who served as a stretcher-bearer in the London Irish and was wounded at Loos in October 1915, described the battle in his autobiographical novel The Great Push. James Norman Hall, the American author, related his experiences in the British Army in his first book, Kitchener's Mob.

The Loos Memorial commemorates over 20,000 officers and men who fell in the battle and have no known grave.

The battle was referenced in the film Oh What a Lovely War. During the upbeat title song, sung by the chorus of officers, a scoreboard is plainly seen in the background reading "Battle Loos/ British Losses 60,000/ Total Allied Losses 250,000/ Ground Gained 0 Yards".



  1. Loos Memorial, Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  2. "his conspicuous gallantry in action on the 17th November 1914 when with a party of Sappers under the command of a British Officer he was always to the fore and led his men with great determination into the enemy's trenches. Subedar-Major Jagindar Singh, Saini Sikh of Kheri Salabatpur in Rupar, gained the 2nd Class Order of Merit at the battle of Loos in Belgium for striking leadership and conspicuous bravery in action after most of his company and all but one British Officer in his regiment had been killed or wounded. This officer was also awarded the 2nd Class of the Order of British India for distinguished conduct in the field."War speeches (1918), pp 129, Author: O'Dwyer, Michael Francis, (Sir) 1864-, Subject: World War, 1914-1918; World War, 1914-1918 -- Punjab Publisher: Lahore Printed by the Superintendent Government Printing

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