London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories
Royal fusiliers in the Great War - THE SUMMER OPERATIONS — LOOS
The Royal fusiliers in the Great War
1914 - 1919
THE SUMMER OPERATIONS — LOOS
As the spring wore on to summer a number of new Royal Fusilier battalions made
their way to France, so that at the opening of the battle of Loos there were
nine Regular and Service battalions on the Western Front. They settled down very
easily, and showed every eagerness to get to grips with the enemy. At first many
things had the charm of novelty. When, on July 29th, the 8th Battalion exploded
a mine in front of Frelinghem and a trench mortar threw twenty 60 lb. bombs into
the German trenches, this formed a wonderful episode. It was the first occasion
on which a trench mortar had been used on the battalion front, and it excited
great interest. The retaliation was even more engrossing, and a little
disturbing, too. On August 9th the Germans exploded a mine and began a very
heavy bombardment. Over 4,000 rounds from five batteries fell on the battalion
front. The artillery were asked to reply, and 147 rounds were fired. The trench
parapet was blown in, and Second Lieutenant Allen and C.S.M. Perkins gallantly
dug out Lieutenant Chell, who had been buried by the mine explosion, though they
were completely in the open and under heavy fire. The rest of the morning
appears to have been occupied by answering indignant expostulations from the
artillery about the reason for causing such a huge expenditure of ammunition !
But Brig. -General Borrowdale later congratulated the battalion on their
soldierly bearing in this episode. It was all very characteristic of the period.
TWELFTH BATTALION'S ORDEAL
On August 18th another typical incident occurred. The 10th Battalion, who had
only been in France some eighteen days, were attached to the 8th for instruction
in the trenches. During the early autumn the 1st Battalion remained in the
neighbourhood of Ypres, and the 4th was involved in the operations about Hooge,
which seemed ever to be bubbling with activity. On September 29th the battalion
exploded a mine under a German trench, and the night was occupied by a great
* * * *
Loos. — But in the meantime the army had launched the battle of Loos, which,
waged with intensity for some days, set up ripples throughout the area for over
a month. The attack was elaborately staged and, in order to conceal its exact
dimensions, smoke clouds were released over an extensive sector of the British
front. This led to an amusing incident. The 8th Battalion, still lying near
Houplines, had been ordered to light smoke fires along their front at 4.30 a.m.
on the morning of the attack. At 4.15 this order was cancelled, and directions
were given to raise the smoke cloud at 5.30. The 40th Division, on the right of
the 8th Battalion, kept to the original order, and about 5.0 a.m. voices from
the German trenches inquired when the 8th Battalion were going to light their
It was, however, the 12th Battalion, the last to arrive in France, who were the
first to be involved in the battle of Loos. They formed part of the 73rd Brigade
of the 24th Division, one of the two reserve units which Sir John French had
kept in hand " to ensure the speedy and effective support of the I. and IV.
Corps in case of their success." They had only arrived in France on September
1st, and they reached Beuvry on the 24th by a succession of tiring marches, with
sick cases reported every day up to the 22nd. They had not yet become
acclimatised to the realities of war. They had had no trench experience. Beuvry
lies about four miles from Vermelles as the crow flies : but when it is
remembered that at times a battalion took five hours to travel a mile, and that
these roads were packed with traffic, this short distance will be appreciated as
a considerable undertaking. The 73rd was the leading brigade, and on the
approach march they were detached and led off by a staff officer to the
neighbourhood of Fosse 8, perhaps the hottest corner of the Loos battle area.
This only skims the surface of the 12th Battalion's difficulties. Colonel C. J.
Stanton was destined for a brigade, and he was summoned on September 25th to
divisional headquarters. He handed over to Major R. D. Garnons-Williams, who was
ordered to the front line to relieve the Black Watch, who had suffered heavily
in the morning attack. There had been no time for preliminary reconnaissance.
The troops were quite new to the area, and in the confusion of marching up the
battalion became split up. Garnons-Williams, with a platoon of No. 1 and the
whole of No. 2 Company, carried out the relief , and so came to a position where
the advance had been most bitterly resisted and the gain was still not admitted
to be final. From their entry into the trenches until they left them on the
morning of the 28th, the battalion was continually under shell fire. In the
mornings and evenings the trenches were attacked. The battalion, while subjected
to this unique ordeal, had no rations, no water, no sleep. They had arrived
without bombs, yet they beat off every enemy attack until the morning of the
28th, when, after a heavy bombardment, the flanking battalions were attacked and
a footing was gained in the trench on the battalion's right and left. Their
position was now hopeless, and, under an attack from both flanks, they were
forced to retire. But they went back fighting. Lieutenant Neynor organised and
led four bayonet charges as they retired, and the enemy was driven back.
HOHENZOLLERN REDOUBT, SEPTEMBER, 1915
Meanwhile the other part of the battalion, under Major H. W. Compton,
endeavouring to regain touch, had halted in the dark. When the moon came out
they were at once seen, and shelled in the open. They took cover in some
trenches, and waited for the dawn. On the morning of the 26th they were placed
by a staff officer in the old British firing line, where they remained until the
28th, when they were relieved. The battalion's losses had been very heavy. Major
Garnons-Williams, Captains Waddell and Phillips, Second Lieutenant Newcombe were
killed. Major Gibson and five other officers were wounded. Two officers fell
into the hands of the Germans. Of other ranks 20 were killed, 27 wounded, 64
wounded and missing, and 142 missing. The test to which they were subjected one
would say was too hard ; but, bearing in mind the manner in which they bore the
ordeal, it is inevitable we should wonder if any test could be over-hard for
The 3rd Battalion entered the battle when the 12th were near the end of their
ordeal. On the evening of September 25th Fosse 8 lay in our hands, and
Hohen-zollern Redoubt lay behind our lines ; but on the morning of the 27th
Fosse 8, which, with its slag heap, commanded Hohenzollern Redoubt, had reverted
to the Germans, and the redoubt itself was mainly held by the enemy. On this day
the 3rd Battalion were ordered to take over some 700 yards of the German line
north of the redoubt, with the Buffs on their right. But as the line was at that
moment again in German hands, verbal orders were given to company commanders at
2 a.m. to attack the redoubt at once. No. 2 Company was upon the right, and No.
3 on the left, with Nos. 1 and 4 supporting, and the machine gunners on the
flanks. The battalion moved off, preceded by General Pereira (85th Brigade), who
was hit during the afternoon, when the command of the brigade devolved upon
Colonel Roberts. The trenches were congested with men wounded and men retiring,
but Colonel Roberts succeeded in leading No. 2 Company and half No. 1 Company
into the redoubt, when, having placed them on the south and south-east sides, he
retired to brigade headquarters. Major Baker took command of the battalion, and
between 6 p.m. and midnight he succeeded in placing the battalion on three sides
of the redoubt, the East Surreys occupying the other. The operation was carried
out with great difficulty. The units were mixed. There were no guides, and in
the dark it was hard to recognise the positions.
During the morning of the 28th the enemy attacked the north face with bombs, but
were repulsed by No. 3 Company. Another bombing attack followed an advance of
the Buffs and Middlesex. On this occasion the Germans penetrated some distance
up the south face, but were eventually driven back by three platoons of No. 2
Company. The following morning the enemy bombed down Little Willie, the trench
leading north from the redoubt, and the north face of the redoubt itself. They
were only forced back after a fierce struggle, in which No. 4 Company had
reinforced the East Surreys. No. 2 Company, after attempting to straighten out
the line by an advance along the southern face, was caught in the most violent
attack of all. The Middlesex, who had been holding Big Willie, the eastern limb
of the redoubt, evacuated it, and No. 2 Company found its flank in the air. The
Germans bombed down the western face, and drove No. 2 Company back almost to the
head of the communication trench. There a counter-attack was delivered by a
company of the Yorks and Lanes, and finally, after heavy loss, Nos. 2 and 4
Companies drove the Germans out of the western face and Big Willie, and blocked
the southern face. As far as the 3rd Battalion goes, this disposition survived
attack. On the morning and afternoon of the 30th bombing attacks along the
southern face were all repulsed. Captain Sutton arranged stores of bombs along
the western face and relief bombers, to be despatched to any point as needed. At
4 a.m. the following morning the battalion was relieved. They marched to Beuvry
much weaker than they set out. Captain R. S. Scholefield, Lieutenant G. Murray
Smith, Second Lieutenants S. W. Bowes, J. E. Bull, G. H. L. Ohlmann and J. V. C.
Batten had been killed, and 12 other officers wounded. Among other ranks the
casualties totalled 337.
* * *
HULLOCH, SEPTEMBER— OCTOBER, 1915
On September 30th the 8th Battalion relieved the Irish Guards in trenches
captured from the Germans on the 25th in front of Hulloch. The following day
there was very heavy shelling by both sides. The British shelling made it
impossible to carry out the order to dig a jumping-off trench in front of B
Company's trench. For the latter, and the ground in front of it, were constantly
under our own shrapnel, as the battery had had orders to prevent the Germans
from wiring this ground ! The 9th Battalion had occupied neighbouring trenches
on September 30th, and both battalions, after a few days out of the trenches,
moved up again on October 13th. The 9th Battalion, on this occasion, arrived at
the German old line at 10.30 p.m., after having taken nearly five hours to cover
about a mile. The 35th Brigade had attacked that day, and the 8th at night had
two companies carrying bombs for them, the other two being in trenches north of
the Hulloch road in support of the 37th Brigade.
Another small attack was delivered by troops of the same division on October
18th. A German trench west of the Quarries was attacked by the Essex and the 9th
Battalion supported with two squads of bombers under Second Lieutenant W. W.
Smith. The detachment undoubtedly consumed a large supply of bombs, and the'
attack was successful. The trench was captured and consolidated. A and B
Companies were in the fire trenches, and the battalion were responsible for Pt.
54, with the support of the Berks. At night the 9th were pleased to receive a
message from the Guards saying, " Well done, neighbours. Many thanks for
The Essex were not left in undisturbed possession of their gains. On the
following day there was a sharp attack on the captured trench. The bombardment
began at 7 a.m., and the new trench came under a concentrated fire about 3.30.
Shortly afterwards an attack developed on the line of the 9th Battalion, and the
8th sent up 32 bombers under Second Lieutenants Oliver and Barrow. Oliver was
killed and Barrow wounded, but they had assisted in beating off the attack. A
more serious mishap was the wounding of Lieut. -Colonel Anneslcy while he was
directing the 8th to " stand to."
* * * *
But the battle had by this time practically died down, and the battlefield sank
into that uneasy state of rest which covered the whole line. Winter had come,
and the new battalions had time to grow accustomed to the realities of the war.
Many of them amused themselves by erecting notice-boards near the German
trenches when any particularly heartening piece of news was available. Thus, on
December 10th the 10th Battalion placed a large notice-board with a report of a
peace demonstration in Berlin on the German wire. Three months later the enemy
retaliated with a German cartoon showing a Highlander gathering the German
harvest. On the back was written " Come on and let us have drink at Doberitz,
the newest British colony." This was found, neatly wrapped in oilskin near the
battalion's wire ; but, unfortunately, the postmen were shot.
HOHENZOLLERN REDOUBT, MARCH, 1916
The Chord. — By this time, however, local actions had begun, and in two of them
the Royal Fusiliers were engaged. The first was the action on March 2nd, 1916,
at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and was carried out by the 8th and 9th Battalions.
The objective was The Chord, joining Big Willie and Little Willie. At 5.45 p.m.
the 8th Battalion, on the left (or north), exploded three mines and the 9th
four. The largest of the latter ("A") was intended to wreck the bulk of The
Chord, but it only affected about one-third of its length. The trench mortars
and artillery were to have begun simultaneously, but the former began half an
hour and the latter a quarter of an hour earlier. Immediately after the
explosion of the mines 50 men of A Company of the 8th Battalion, under Captain
A. K. K. Mason and Second Lieutenant Wardrop, and 5o'men of B Company of the
9th, under Captain the Hon. R. E. Philipps, rushed across and seized the part of
The Chord allotted to them. Twenty of Philipps' party were buried through the
explosion of the mine blowing in part of the assembly trench, and Philipps was
slightly wounded in the face. But the men went forward rapidly and either cut
through the wire or went over it where it was covered by the earth cast up by
the explosion. Of the party of the 8th Battalion, only Wardrop and one man
reached The Chord, the rest being either killed or wounded. Captain Mason was
killed, but reinforcements were sent out, and A Company, though bombed along The
Chord to within thirty yards of "A," where they found contact with the 9th
Battalion, held to the position. Major Cope * took 24 men up to Wardrop, and the
position was held for the rest of the day. Meanwhile C Company, under Chard, had
seized Crater " C," the northernmost, and A Company had taken "B" Crater, on the
right of "C." Thus all the craters had been occupied according to plan, but
there was still a body of Germans holding out in The Chord.
The 9th Battalion had, in the meantime, seized their objectives. They found many
Germans in their sector of The Chord who, though dazed, did not surrender and
consequently had to be killed. There followed a number of fierce grenade fights,
the Germans rushing down from the north end of The Chord and along the trenches
leading from the east into it. C Company, under Major N. B. Elliott-Cooper,
rushed Craters Nos. 1, 2 and " A" ; and then seized the crater in the Triangle.
The grenade attack on the right lost direction, and Sergeant Cronyn rushed down
the south-east face of the Triangle into Big Willie, throwing grenades into the
crowded dug-outs, until held up by a party of Germans. A fierce grenade
encounter followed until the Triangle was consolidated. The 8th had to call on
the supporting battalion before the day was over, but the craters were held
against enemy bombing attacks during the night.
* Major Cope and Colonel Annesley were both granted the D.S.O.
Though both battalions lost heavily, the operation on the whole had been most
successful. On the part of the 9th Battalion it had been particularly so, and
Lieut. -Colonel Gubbins was awarded the D.S.O., Major Elliott-Cooper, Captain
the Hon. R. E. Philipps and Lieutenant E. W. T. Beck the M.C. ; Sergeant Cronyn,
Lance-Corporal A. Lowrey and Private Mcintosh received the D.C.M. The battalion
also received warm congratulations from General Gough, G.O.C. I. Corps ; General
Scott, G.O.C. 12th Division ; and from Brigadier-General Boyd Moss, G.O.C. 36th
Brigade. Both battalions were mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig's despatch of May
St. Eloi. — A more imposing operation was that carried out by the 4th Battalion
with the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers on March 27th. This attack was described
in the despatch of May 12th, and in the published edition of the despatches it
is illustrated by a plan. The object was to straighten " out the line at St.
Eloi," and cut " away the small German salient which encroached on the
semi-circle of our line in the Ypres salient to a depth of about 100 yards over
a front of some 600 yards. The operation was begun by the firing of six very
large mines ; the charge was so heavy that the explosion was felt in towns
several miles behind the lines, and large numbers of the enemy were killed. Half
a minute after the explosion our infantry attack was launched, aiming at the
German second line." * The right attack by the Northumberland Fusiliers met with
little opposition ; but the 4th Royal Fusiliers fared very differently.
ST. ELOI, MARCH, 1916
The attackf was launched at 4.15 a.m., with W and X Companies on the left and Y
and Z on the right. The men ran forward on the explosion of the mines, but they
were met by intense rifle, machine gun and artillery fire. The Germans appear to
have been fully on the alert, and the battalion at once lost heavily. They
stormed the German wire, unbroken as it was, and took the first German trench.
But they had been so weakened and the opposition was so heavy that they could
get no further, and the ground was consolidated. The rest of the day was
occupied by an artillery duel. The German fire was intense, and until midnight
it was impossible to relieve the battalion. Small parties of the 2nd Royal Scots
then began to get through, but the relief was not complete until 6 a.m. on March
28th. The casualties for the day were 10 officers and 255 other ranks. Captain
Moxon, Second Lieutenants Tothill, Howard, Boddy and Perrier, were killed, and
Lieutenant Hardman died of wounds on the 30th. It was on the 29th that the
chaplain, the Rev. N. Mellish, went out repeatedly with a volunteer party to get
in the wounded, and he was awarded the Victoria Cross, being the first chaplain
to receive it during the war.
f There is little use in amplifying this account. The episode seems, on calm
reflection, to have been the most tragic of any in which the Royal Fusiliers
figured. There can be no possible doubt of the splendid gallantry of officers
and men. There is as little doubt as to the skill of the command. No troops
could have done better ; but a certain glamour surrounded the action of the
Northumberland Fusiliers because of their greater success. It is one of the many
instances in which the caprice of fate involved a grave injustice.
The action of March 27th was but the beginning of a long series of local attacks
and counter-attacks in this area until May 19th, when the status quo ante was
perforce accepted as the best compromise.