The German defensive work known as the Hohenzollern Redoubt was considered by the British to be the strongest such feature on the whole of the front. Regardless, it was destined to be attacked at the start of the Battle of Loos on 25 September 1915.
This formidable strongpoint, south-west of the village of Auchy, jutted well out into a wide stretch of No Man’s Land. It was intended to protect the important, flat-topped slagheap known to the British as “The Dump”. Although only about twenty feet high, the Redoubt afforded the German troops views – and fields of fire – in all directions across the battlefield.
Preparations for the British attack included the digging of Russian saps out into No Man’s Land to close the distance to be covered by the assaulting troops and effective observed heavy shelling. The task of capturing the German position fell to the 26th Brigade of 9th (Scottish) Division. Despite suffering numerous casualties, the initial units of the 26th Brigade successfully passed through the gas and smoke to breach the enemy wire. The front face of the Redoubt was soon in British hands, allowing successive waves to reach Fosse Trench, at the rear of the Redoubt, soon after 07:00 hours. Some units continued their advance, in places covering as much as 1,000 yards of what had been enemy-held territory.
The Germans, all too aware of the importance of the Hohenzollern Redoubt, immediately began to plan its recapture. Over the coming hours and days a number of counter-attacks were made; though much ground was regained, the Redoubt remained in British hands – though often at great cost. One of the many involved in the battle to hold the Redoubt was Captain Fergus-Bowes Lyon, the brother of the future Queen Mother.
As the website of the Western Front Association notes, “fighting continued to rage [in the area of the Redoubt] for the next few days, with both sides making repeated attacks. The Germans gradually gained the upper hand, possibly because of their superior grenades, until, by 3 October, the east face, and then the rest of the Hohenzollern Redoubt, were recaptured. So, after eight days of fierce fighting, all that the British attackers had to show for it was one piece of trench attached to the Redoubt – plus thousands of casualties.”
On 13 October 1915, the 46th (North Midland) Division launched yet another attack after gas had been released. The division suffered heavily, suffering 3,643 casualties, mostly in the first ten minutes. The only gain for these losses had been the seizure of the west face of the Hohenzollern Redoubt. According to The Official History of the War, “the fighting on the 13-14 October had not improved the general situation in any way and had brought nothing but useless slaughter of infantry”.
Private Sidney Richards, serving in the Machine Gun Section of the 1/5th Battalion, the South Staffordshire Regiment, made the following entry in his diary to describe the events of 13 October: “It was absolute hell with the lid off. Dying and wounded all over the place. Shall never forget this day.”