Tag Archives: Fosse 8 de Bethune.


WHO  –  WHY  &  WHAT?

1WW JoffreEarl Haig.

Sir John French

General Sir Richard Cyril Byrne Haking. 1862 - 1945.
General Sir Richard Haking. 1862 – 1945.
General Plumer.
General Herbert Plumer. 1857-1932.








The Battle of Loos and Hohenzollern Redoubt was an attempt by the Allies to break the stalemate of trench warfare in 1915.  Despite initial success at Loos on 25th September, the ‘Big Push’ failed with enormous loss of life; Sir John French was made to take the blame and was replaced by Sir Douglas Haig. 

Marshall Joseph Joffre, Commander in Chief French Forces, planned a renewal of offensives on 13th October with an attack on a 20 mile front between Arras & La Bassee. The French Army was to attack in Champagne and a joint French British Army was to attack in Artois – along the Line between Bethune and La Basse from Auchy-les Mines to Loos-en-Gohelle.

Rough Map/ modern roads deleted: Artois Region, France : Hohenzollern Redoubt. Approx Front Line in Red. October 13th 1915.
Rough Map/ modern roads deleted: Artois Region, France : Hohenzollern Redoubt. Approx Front Line in Red. October 13th 1915.

The 1/5th South Staffordshire Regt under the command of Field Marshall Herbert Plumer (Officer Commanding 2nd Army) was ordered to leave Ypres Salient, Hill 60 & the Caterpillar and move south to join the 1st Army now commanded by Sir Douglas Haig (they later come under the command of Lt Gen R.C.B. Haking 11th Corps 46th Midland Division.

Marshal Joffre’s plan was for the British to capture Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8, a Bethune Colliery Pithead.  Loos_fosse8_trenchesBritish Generals were not happy with this plan for the Hohenzollern Redoubt, (a fortification built in front of the original German Front Line of 1914) was considered to be the strongest German defensive- work on the whole of the Western Front.  It was a heavily developed industrial mining area with Pitheads (Fosses) Spoil Heaps (Crassiers) and auxillery Shafts (Puits).

'Tower Bridge' Pithead.
‘Tower Bridge’ Pithead.

The face of the Redoubt was 300 yards long with excellent views over the British Lines. Both British & German sides had tunnelled into it to create communication trenches, observation posts and machine-gun nests.  It curved with extensions to join Big Willie at southern end and Little Willie at the northern end (named of course after Kaiser Wilhelm).  The Germans dominated the high ground for in front of Fosse 8 there was a 20ft high Crassier (of mine ‘deads’)  an excellent observation post for German sniping in  all directions.

Soldiers' Graves at Vermelles.
Soldiers’ Graves at Vermelles.

To reach the Hohenzollern Redoubt and the Vermelles Trenches, the 1/5th South Staffords had a long march to pass through small colliery villages, like Cuinchy, Cambrin and Vermelles; to compound the difficulties there was a distance of a mile between the entries to the communication trenches and the assembly trenches for the Charge.  The Vermelles Trenches, too, were badly damaged with no dugouts to shelter in; soldiers had to contend with the distressing remains of dead bodies lying unburied.< www.ww1.battlefields.co.uk>

Edward James Montague-Wortley.
Edward James Montague-Wortley.

Sir Stewart Wortley (C.O. Staffordshire Regt) warned that the area was not suitable for the ‘Big Push’ attack and would cause ‘useless slaughter of infantry’.  Tragically his warnings were ignored, as they were again at Gommecourt, Battle of Somme 1st July 1916.

The Long Long Trail: The British Army of 1914-1918 is a must for family historians who wish to gain an insight into why this plan was put into action and what their relatives were expected to do on those three days in October, a hundred years ago.  InFrance & Flanders & the Western Front : The Battle of Loosthere is a comprehensive account of the background history of the Battle and of relations between the French and British Generals.  Especially interesting is the section Loos Lessons Learned or Not’ giving a list of reasons  why the Battle failed despite initial success. It too makes tragic comparison with what was to happen on 1st July 1916, the Battle of the Somme, when the same mistakes were made.

Another View of Tower Bridge, Loos.
Another View of Tower Bridge, Loos.

Andrew Thornton’s website: Staffordshire Territorials and Assault on Hohenzollern. ‘We had done all that was expected of us, does great service with its comprehensive and vivid description of the Battle of Loos & Hohenzollern Redoubt.  <www.hellfirecorner.co.uk  >.

From this website we learn that the troops were given 3 days rations, carried 220 pounds of ammunition, (Bombing Parties carried only 100 pounds of ammunition).  They were to carry great coats on their backs instead of packsThey also carried 3 empty sandbags, and two smoke helmets.


NB. My father was training to throw hand-grenade bombs before he left for Hospital in Rouen).

Andrew Thornton’s selection from diaries and letters, of individual soldiers’ eyewitness accounts and reactions to the Battle, provides moving  insight into their horrific experiences and why the attack failed.

Robert Graves’ ‘Goodbye to All That contains eyewitness descriptions of the mining villages and experiences of individual soldiers. He himself was billeted in Vermelles in June 1915.

These excellent websites and many others help to give the What ? and the Why? to the Battle of Loos Hohenzollern Redoubt and make the 1/5th South Staffordshire War Diary come alive. The more I read of this Battle the more I wonder how my uncle, Corporal Sydney Hibbett and his QMS Walsall pals could possibly have survived  it – many 1/5th Staffords did not.  In the first few minutes, 3,643  were killed or wounded. (See Casualty List in previous Post).

Above all, my reading of those three days in October 1915, makes me wonder about my own existence  – and that of my brother & sisters – for  my father arrived from Hospital in Rouen too late.  Otherwise he would, with the rest of ‘A’ Company, have been in the thick of this hell.

NEXT POST: 15th Oct. 1915.  The Finest March Past I ever saw.



Staffordshire Regt. Brooch.THE HISTORY OF THE SOUTH STAFFORDSHIRE REGIMENT. Held at the Museum of the Regiment, Whitington Barracks, Lichfield, Staffordshire.

Earl Haig.The 46th North Midland Division in the 2nd Army, under the command of General Plumer,  moved south  at the beginning of October 1915, to take part in the Battle of Loos, (pronounced Loss).  

General Sir Richard Cyril Byrne Haking. 1862 - 1945.
Sir Richard Cyril Byrne Haking. 1862 – 1945.

They were now attached to the 1st Army, under the command of General Sir Douglas Haig,  and later the 11th Corps, under the command of General  Sir Richard Haking.

Rough Map/ modern roads deleted: Artois Region, France : Hohenzollern Redoubt. Approx Front Line in Red. October 13th 1915.
ARTOIS REGION FRANCE: Red Line. Approx Front Line. October 13th 1915.Rough Map/ modern roads deleted. efw. 


” The first and most trying test was attacking Hohenzollern Redoubt on Oct 13th 1915, fighting over the same ground where 1/5th had been attacking at Loos The heaviest part of the 2nd phase of the attack, on Oct 13th, was borne by the 46th N. Midland Division, the objective of 1/5th and 1/6th Battalion being the German Trench, Big Willie.

Loos Hohenzollern Redoubt showing Big Willie Little Willie, Fosse Trench Foss 8 and the Dump.
Loos Hohenzollern Redoubt showing Big Willie, Little Willie, Slag Alley, Fosse Trench Fosse 8 and the Dump.

. . .  ” The attack was made at the east end of Big Willie Trench and was intended to work forward to Fosse 8.

Loos Fosse 8
Loos Fosse 8

As soon as South Staffs left the parapets they came under deadly cross-fire from 3 sides.  In the rush they captured the main trench but, owing to heavy machine gun fire, progress was impossible and the attack resolved itself in a struggle of bombing parties.

The S. Staffs fought their way along Big Willie, and far into the night this soldier’s battle continued.  It had become an affair of individual gallantry & endurance rather than battle plan.  For three days they fought and endured like heroes of old until relieved by 2nd Guards Brigade . . .[NB Discrepancy with 1/5th Staffords War Diary ‘relieved by 3rd Guards Brigade‘]

”  The result was a gain of the main trench of the Redoubt and no moreThis was not the fault of the Battalion who led the attack. The artillery preparation was insufficient to clear obstacles and make progress across awful ground.’   


South Staffordshire Badgee


Centre: Sgt S. HIBBETT when training as a Sergeant.



12th Oct. Tue: In Billets. Proceeded to the trenches in relief of the 3rd GUARDS Brigade.  Line taken over runs from G.5.c.8.7. to G.5.c.8.9. – 6half – 8 – 6.7half -5half.7 thence along “BIG WILLIE” trench  to G.5.c.half.10.   Reference Map BETHUNE combined Sheet.

************     1/5th Bn FIELD STATE Oct 12th 1915: Available for:- TRENCH DUTY 13.10.15:  24  Officers; 721 Other Ranks. TOTALS 745.   DUTY with TRANSPORT and STORES: 2 Officers; 56 Other Ranks. TOTALS 58. DETAILS: 1 Officer; 30 Other Ranks. TOTALS 21.   SICK: 1 Officer; 20 Other Ranks. TOTALS 21. TOTALS: 28 Officers;  827 Other Ranks. TOTALS  855.   ************

13th Oct. Wed: TRENCHES EAST OF VERMELLES. Took part in a Division Attack (See Narrative of events from 12 NOON 13th to 12 MIDNIGHT 14/15th). (below)

1/5th Bn South Staffordshire Regt.

Narrative of Events from 12. noon on 13th October 1915

 At 12 noon on 13th October 1915, the Battalion was disposed as follows:-     Headquarters, ‘A‘ and ‘Dcompanies in the old front line trench between ‘Hulluch Alley’ (1) and ‘Border Alley’ (2) (G.10.b.8.9 half to G.11.a.half.60) to form second line of attack (3).

Battle of Loos Hohenzollern Redoubt. Sgowing Auchy Vermelles and Loos with Hulluch Alley
BATTLE OF LOOS  HOHENZOLLERN. 13th October.  Showing Auchy,  Vermelles and Loos with Hulluch.  Courtesy: The Long Long Trail.

‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies, with Nos 3 and 4 special bombing parties (137th Brigade Operation Orders No.22 para.2.) in the old German trenches (from G.5.c. half.9 half to 7.8.)to form first line of the attack .

During the Bombardment, especially from 12.30 pm to 1.30 pm the communication trench (from G.4. d.8. half -G.5.c.5.7.) between the two lines was shrapnelled by the enemy down its whole length.

The bombardment did not appear to affect the ‘South Face’ (4) or the ‘Dump Trench’ (5) (south of G.5.a.3.5.) as a great deal of sniping from these trenches took place between 12. noon and 2.0 pm, three of our periscopes were hit between 1.40 pm and 2.0 pm.

At 2.10 pm No 7 Platoon, on the right of ‘B’ Company, left the trench to form up on the parapet for the assault, and was followed by No 8. and No. 6.  

Capt Millner, commanding the Company, the Platoon Officers of No. 7 and 8, and most of No. 7 Platoon were almost immediately hit by enfilade machine gun fire from the left, and the rest of the Company was withdrawn into the trench to await the arrival of the 1/5th North Staffordshire Regt.  The Company also suffered from shell fire directed on their trench by the enemy.

‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies (3) in the second line moved over the parapet at 2.5 pm and advanced at 2.10 pm. They came immediately under heavy fire from machine guns and rifles which swept the parapet of our trenches in G.5.c, those of the old front line, and the ground between them.  The fire was very deadly and appeared to come mainly from the left Before the two companies had reached the front line trenches all the officers and most of the men had fallen. 

At 2.20 pm the Germans instituted a bomb attack on the barrier in BIG WILLIE (at G.5.c.half.9 half) which was held by 8696 Sgt J. Beards and a section of ‘C’ CompanyLt H. Hawkes at once took forward No. 4 special bombing party to reinforce the post.  At the same time a number of Germans in the South Face Trench got out of their trench and attempted to cross to Big Willie, but were driven back with loss by rapid fire from No. 10 Platoon.

The German bomb attack came over the second barrier into the space between the two barriers and was there engaged by our bombers, who drove the enemy back again beyond the second barrier. 8698 Sgt J. Beards and 7952 Pte W. Barnes doing good work with the Bayonet.  At this point our men came under bomb fire from three directions, right, front, and half left, and were forced to retire to the first barrier from which they carried on the fight till about 4 pm when our losses in trained bombers made it necessary to retire over the first barrier into our own portion of the trench, the Germans using a longer range grenade than the Mills (6 ).

A sufficient supply of G.S. hand grenades (7) did not reach us until later, brought up by a carrying party under Lt. McKinnis, 6th Sherwood Foresters.

After the first advance had been stopped by the German fire, the Battalion occupied our original line in the old German trenches, where it was joined by two officers and 20 men of the 6th South Staffordshire Regt., and about 3. pm by Captain Robinson and 60 men of the 6th Bn Sherwood Foresters.

The defence was then reorganised as follows:

Capt. Wistance ()
CAPTAIN WISTANCE  1/5th South Staffs Regt.

in order from right to left6th Bn Sherwood Foresters, ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies, 5th Bn South Staffordshire Regt., 6th Bn South Staffordshire Regt.,  – the trench sections being commanded by Capt. Robinson (6th Bn Sherwood Foresters); Captain Wilson, Capt.Thursfield (6th Bn South Staffordshire Regt) and Captain Wistance*

As a German attack appeared imminent, and a thick mist settled over both lines, half the men were kept on watch while the other half took what rest they could.  Towards evening the Germans opened a persistent shrapnel (whiz-bang) fire on our trenches.

Aerial Photograph. Hohenzollern Redoubt. 1915. German Front Line top.  British Front Line bottom.

During the night parties from the 6th Bn South Staffordshire Regt rendered much assistance in collecting our wounded who were lying in the open between trenches.

At 6.15 am on the 14th October a Company of the 5th Sherwood Foresters, under Captain Kerr, arrived in our trenches and was posted to the left of our line to support a new bomb attack on the German sector of Big Willie.  This attack, which was intended to cooperate with a similar attack by the138th Brigade from the West Face, and was supported by rifle grenade fire, was unsuccessful against a very determined and vigorous defence.

The detachment of the 6th Bn South Staffordshire  Regt was withdrawn about 12 noon and the trench garrison reorganised as follows:-

from right to left6th Sherwood Foresters;  A, B, C, D Companies, 5th Bn South Staffordshire Regt;  6th  Bn Sherwood Foresters.

Our heavy batteries shelled the South Face severely, from about 11.30 am onwards during the day and at 1.15 pm another bomb attack was made on Big Willie by the Company, 5th Bn Sherwood Foresters, but could make no progress, though maintained for nearly 6 (?) hours.  The cooperation of the 138th Brigade from the West Face appeared to be very short lived.  During practically the whole day the enemy directed H.E. shrapnel (whiz-bang) fire on our parapets and caused several casualties.

At midnight 14th -15th October, the Battalion (with the Sherwood Foresters attached) was relieved by the 3rd Guards Brigade and returned to billets at Sailly-la-Bourse, arriving there at 8. am on 15th October. (8)

Signed:  R. RICHMOND RAYMER, Lt Col Comdg. 1/5 South Staffs Regt. 

46th Division Memorial. Hohenzollern Redoubt.
46th Division Memorial. Hohenzollern Redoubt.

CASUALTIES: OFFICERS Killed 5; Wounded 6; Died of Wounds 2.   OTHER RANKS  Killed 41 ; Wounded 213;  Wounded and Missing 53 ; Died of Wounds 3 . TOTAL CASUALTIESOFFICERS 13;  OTHER RANKS: 309.

Loos CWG Cemetery & Memorial to the Missing.
Loos CWG Cemetery & Memorial to the Missing.



(1) Hulluch Alley (see plan above) where Germans released poison chlorine gas on British troops, April 1916. (2) Border Alley: named after Scottish Bn?

(3) Corporal Sydney Hibbett in 1/5th ‘A’ Company at first but transferred to ‘D’ Company by this date.  Pte Bertie Hibbett ‘A’Coy (one of the 20 Sick listed in 1/5th Staffs Field State for 13th Oct.) would have been in the thick of this murderousfray‘ if the Army had got him back up the line in time.  He did not arrive in Bethune until 15th Oct.  – or I and my brother & sisters might not have been born. 

(4) South Face: 300 yards long, with views in all directions. (5) The Dump: a 20ft Crassier/ Spoil Heap (Mine ‘deads’) from the Fosse 8 / Pithead; with excellent views in all directions over the British Line.

(6) Mills: hand-thrown grenade with stick attached, see photo: 12th July 1915, Hibbett Letter.  (7) G.S. Hand Grenade: Gas Smoke Grenade, used for signalling/ camouflage/poison?

NEXT POST: 14th Oct. 1915.  Battle of Loos Hohenzollern Redoubt: The What & The Why.