25/9/1915 Champagne and Loos: the Allies’ autumn offensive on the Western Front

Failures in Gallipoli are turning Allied attentions back to the Western Front. The British and French launch another offensive against the Germans, whose numbers have been reduced by Falkenhayn’s despatch of the reserves to the Eastern Front.

The British are attacking the Germans near Loos in the Artois sector. The attack is being commanded by General Douglas Haig, but General John French, the senior British commander on the Western Front, has retained personal control of the British reserves.
Back in April the Germans first used poison gas in their attacks in Ypres. The Allies were outraged by this barbaric new weapon but by now they have overcome their scruples. The British release their own clouds of chlorine on the Germans at Loos, in the hope of killing enough of them to effect a breakthrough. Unfortunately the wind blows the gas back to the British lines, where it causes much confusion but relatively few casualties.

The British are experimenting with a new tactic, deliberately keeping back some members of attacking units so that in the event of heavy casualties there remains a core of troops around which a shattered unit can be reconstituted. This is just as well as the British suffer ruinous losses attacking Loos from the Germans’ machine guns and field artillery. But they makes some progress nevertheless, overrunning enemy positions and capturing the village of Loos itself.

Haig wants the reserves released so that the successes can be exploited. French eventually agrees to send the reserves forward but they have been stationed so far behind the line that they do not arrive by the end of the day’s fighting.

The French are also attacking in Artois but they are making little progress. The main French effort is further to the south. Indeed, both French and British efforts in Artois are essentially diversions for the French offensive in the Champagne sector (also the scene of fighting earlier this year). Joffre has assembled considerable forces here and hopes to smash through the outnumbered Germans.

The French have some initial successes, overrunning forward German positions and capturing some 14,000 German prisoners, albeit at great cost. However, the Germans manage to hold their reserve trench line, denying Joffre the breakthrough that he craves.

image sources:

British troops advance through clouds of poison gas (Wikipedia)

Battle of Loos map (Wikipedia)

Fanciful 2nd Battle of Champagne image (St. Mihiel Trip Wire)

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