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> Sir John French's Ninth Despatch
ninth Despatch of Field Marshal Sir
John French, Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force.
Printed in the Fourth Supplement to the London Gazette of 1
November 1915. The Despatch dealt with the fighting during
the summer of 1915 and the largest offensive yet undertaken, the Battle
of Loos. French goes into some depth concerning the deployment of
the reserves for this battle - a matter over which he was eventually
From the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, The British Army in
To the Secretary of State-for-War, War Office, London, S.W.
15th October, 1915.
M y Lord,
I have the honour to report the operations of the Forces under
my command since the date of those described in my last despatch
dated 15th June, 1915.
1. Those of the greatest importance took place
during the last days of the period under report. Nevertheless,
the Army under my command was constantly engaged throughout the
whole time in enterprises which, although not securing the same
important results, have yet had considerable influence on the
course of events.
2. On 2nd June the
enemy made a final offensive in the Ypres salient with the object
of gaining our trenches and position at Hooge. The attack was
most determined and was preceded by a severe bombardment. A gallant
defence was made by troops of the 3rd Cavalry Division and 1st
Indian Cavalry Division, and our position was maintained throughout.
During the first weeks of June the front of the Second Army was
extended to the North as far as the village of Boesinghe.
3. After the conclusion of the Battle of Festubert
the troops of the First Army were engaged in several minor operations.
By an attack delivered on the evening of 15th
June after a prolonged bombardment the 1st Canadian Brigade
obtained possession of the German front line trenches north-east
of Givenchy, but were unable to retain them owing to their flanks
being top much exposed.
4. On 16th June
an attack was carried out by the 5th Corps on the Bellewaarde
Ridge, east of Ypres. The enemy's front line was captured, many
of his dead and wounded being found in the trenches. The troops,
pressing forward, gained ground as far East as the Bellewaarde
Lake, but found themselves unable to maintain this advanced position.
They were, however, successful in securing and consolidating the
ground won during the first part of the attack, on a front of
a thousand yards, including the advanced portion of the enemy's
salient north of the Ypres-Menin Road. During this action the
fire of the artillery was most effective, the prisoners testifying
to its destructiveness and accuracy. It also prevented the delivery
of counter attacks, which were paralysed at the outset. Over two
hundred prisoners were taken, besides some machine-guns, trench
material and gas apparatus. Holding attacks by the neighbouring
2nd and 6th Corps were successful in helping the main attack,
whilst the 36th French Corps cooperated very usefully with artillery
fire on Pilkem. Near Hill 60 the 10th Infantry Brigade made four
bombing atacks, gaining and occupying about fifty yards of trench.
On 6th July a small attack was made
by the 11th Infantry Brigade on a German salient between Boesinghe
and Ypres, which resulted in the capture of a frontage of about
500 yards of trench and a number of prisoners. In the course of
this operation it was necessary to move a gun of the 135th Battery,
Royal Field Artillery, into the front line to destroy an enemy
sap-head. To reach its position the gun had to be taken over a
high canal embankment, rafted over the canal under fire, pulled
up a bank with a slope of nearly 45 degrees, and then dragged
over three trenches and a sky line to its position seventy yards
from the German lines. Tbis was carried out without loss. This
incident is of minor importance in itself, but I quote it as an
example of the daily difficulties which officers and men in the
trenches are constantly called upon to overcome, and of the spirit
of initiative and resource which is so marked a feature amongst
From the 10th to the 12th July the
enemy made attempts, after heavy shelling, to recapture the lost
portion of their line; but our artillery, assisted by that of
the French on our left, prevented any serious assault from being
delivered. Minor attacks were constant, but were easily repulsed
by the garrison of our trenches.
On 19th July an enemy's redoubt at
the western end of the Hooge defences was successfully mined and
destroyed, and a small portion of the enemy's trenches was captured.
5. Since my last despatch a new device has been
adopted by the enemy for driving burning liquid into our trenches
with a strong jet. Thus supported, an attack was made on the trenches
of the Second Army at Hooge, on the Menin Road, early on 30th
July. Most of the
infantry occupying these trenches were driven back, but their
retirement was due far more to the surprise and temporary confusion
caused by the burning liquid than to the actual damage inflicted.
Gallant endeavours were made by repeated counter attacks to recapture
the lost section of trenches. These, however, proving unsuccessful
and costly, a new line of trenches was consolidated a short distance
further back. Attacks made by the enemy at the same time west
of Bellewaarde Lake were repulsed.
On 9th August these losses were brilliantly
regained; owing to a successful attack carried out by the 6th
Division. This attack was very well executed and resulted in the
recapture, with small casualties, not only of the whole of the
lost trenches, but, in addition, of four hundred yards of German
trench north of the Menin Road. At the end of this engagement
it was estimated that between four and five hundred German dead
were lying on the battlefield. Valuable help was rendered by two
batteries of French artillery lent by General Hely d'Oissel, commanding
36th French Corps.
6. From the conclusion of the above-mentioned
operations until the last week in September there was relative
quiet along the whole of the British line, except at those points
where the normal conditions of existence comprised occasional
shelling or constant mine and bomb warfare. In these trying forms
of encounter all ranks have constantly shown the greatest enterprise
and courage, and have consistently maintained the upper hand.
The close accord and co-operation which has always existed between
the Commander-in-Chief of our Allies and myself has been maintained,
and I have had constant meetings with General Joffre, who has
kept me informed of his views and intentions, and explained the
successive methods by which he hopes to attain his ultimate object.
After full discussion of the military situation a decision was
arrived at for joint action, in which I acquiesced. It was arranged
that we should make a combined attack from certain points of the
Allied line during the last week in September. The reinforcements
I have received enabled me to compply with several requests which
General Joffre has made that I should take over additional portions
of the French line.
7. In fulfilment of the role assigned to it in
these operations the Army under my command attacked the enemy
on the morning of the 25th September.
The main attack was delivered by the; 1st and 4th Corps between
the La Bassee Canal on the north and a point of the enemy's line
opposite the village of Grenay on the south. At the same time
a secondary attack, designed with the object of distracting the
enemy's attention and holding his troops to their ground, was
made by the 5th Corps on Bellewaarde Farm, situated to the east
of Ypres. Subsidiary attacks with similar objects were delivered
by the 3rd and Indian Corps north of the La Bassee Canal and along
the whole front of the Second Army. The object of the secondary
attack by the 5th Corps was most effectively achieved, for not
only was the enemy contaied on that front, but we have reason
to believe that reserves were hurried toward that point of the
line. The attack was made at daybreak by the 3rd and 14th Divisions,
and at first the greater part of the enemy's front line was taken;
but, owing to the powerful artillery fire concentrated against
them, the troops were unable to retain the ground, and had to
return to their original trenches toward nightfall. The 5th Corps
succeeded, however, in capturing two officers and 138 other prisoners.
Similar demonstrations with equally good
results were made along the whole front of the Second Army. With
the same object in view, those units of the First Army occupying
the line north of the Bethune-La Bassee Canal were detailed to
carry out some minor operations. Portions of the 1st Corps assaulted
the enemy's trenches at Givenchy. The Indian Corps atacked the
Moulin du Pietre; while the 3rd Corps was directed against the
Le Bridoux. These attacks started at daybreak and were at first
successful all along the line. Later in the day the enemy brought
up strong reserves, and after hard fighting and variable fortunes
the troops engaged in this part of the line reoccupied their original
trenches at nightfall. They succeeded admirably, however, in fulfilling
the role allotted to them, and in holding large numbers of the
enemy away from the main attack. The 8th Division of the 3rd Corps
and the Meerut Division of the Indian Corps were principally engaged
in this part of the line. On the front of the Third Army subsidiary
operations of a similar nature were successfully carried out.
The Wing of the Royal Flying Corps attached to this Army performed
valuable work by undertaking distant flights behind the enemy's
lines and by successfully blowing up railways, wrecking trains
and damaging stations on his line of communication by means of
bomb attacks. Valuable assistance was rendered by Vice-Admiral
Bacon and a squadron of His Majesty's ships operating off Zeebrugge
8. The general plan of the main attack on the
25th September was as follows: —
In co-operation with an offensive movement by the 10th French
Army on our right, the 1st and 4th Corps were to attack the enemy
from a point opposite the little mining village of Grenay on the
south to the La Bassee Canal on the north. The Vermelles-Hulluch
Road was to be the dividing line between the two Corps, the 4th
Corps delivering the right attack, the 1st Corps the left. In
view of the great length of line along which the British troops
were operating it was necessary to keep a strong reserve in my
own hand. The 11th Corps, consisting of the Guards, the 21st and
the 24th Divisions, were detailed for this purpose. This reserve
was the more necessary owing to the fact that the 10th French
Army had to postpone its attack until one o'clock in the day;
and, further, that the Corps operating on the French left had
to be directed in a more or less south-easterly direction, involving,
in case of our success, a considerable gap in our line. To ensure,
however, the speedy and effective support to the 1st and 4th Corps
in the case of their success, the 21st and 24th Divisions passed
the night of the 24th/25th on the line Beuvry (to the east of
Bethune)-Noeux les Mines. The Guards Division was in the neighbourhood
of Lillers on the same night. I also directed the General Officer
Commanding Second Army to draw the 28th Division back to Bailleul
and to hold it in readiness to meet unexpected eventualities.
The British Cavalry Corps, less 3rd Cavalry Division, under General
Fanshawe, was posted in the neighbourhood of St. Pol and Bailleul
les Pernes; and the Indian Cavalry Corps, under General Rimington,
at Doullens ; both in readiness to co-operate with the French
Cavalry in exploiting any success which might be attained by the
combined French and British Forces. Plans for effective co-operation
were fully arranged between the Cavalry Commanders of both Armies.
The 3rd Cavalry Division, less one brigade, was assigned to the
General Officer Commanding First Army as a reserve, and moved
into the area of the 4th Corps on the 21st and 22nd September.
9. Opposite the front of the main line of attack
the distance between the enemy's trenches and our own varied from
about 100 to 500 yards. The country over which the advance took
place is open and overgrown with long grass and self-sown crops.
From the canal southward our trenches and those of the enemy ran,
roughly, parallel up an almost imperceptible rise to the south-west.
From the Vermelles-Hulluch Road southward the advantage of height
is on the enemy's side as far as the Bethune-Lens Road. There
the two lines of trenches cross a spur in which the rise culminates,
and thence the command lies on the side of the British trenches.
Due east of the intersection of spur and trenches, and a short
mile away, stands Loos. Less than a mile further south-east is
Hill 70, which is the summit of the gentle rise in the ground.
Other notable tactical points in our front were: —
"Fosse 8" (a thousand yards south of Auchy), which is
a coal mine with a high and strongly defended slag heap.
"The Hohenzollern Redoubt."—A strong work thrust
out nearly five hundred yards in front of the German lines and
close to our own. It is connected with their front line by three
communication trenches abutting into the defences of Fosse 8.
Cite St. Elie.—A strongly defended mining village lying
fifteen hundred yards south of Haisnes.
"The Quarries."—Lying half way to the German trenches
west of Cite St. Elie.
Hulluch.—A village strung out along a small stream, lying
less than half a mile south-east of Cite St. Elie and 3,000 yards
Half a mile north of Hill 70 is " Puits 14bis," another
coal mine, possessing great possibilities for defence when taken
in conjunction with a strong redoubt situated on the northeast
side of Hill 70.
10. The attacks of the 1st and 4th Corps were
delivered at 6.30 a.m. and were successful all along the line,
except just south of the La Bassee Canal. The enemy met the advance
by wild infantry fire of slight intensity, but his artillery fire
was accurate and caused considerable casualties. The 47th Division
on the right of the 4th Corps rapidly swung its left forward and
occupied the southern outskirts of Loos and a big double slag
heap opposite Grenay, known as the Double Grassier. Thence it
pushed on, and, by taking possession of the cemetery, the enclosures
and chalk pits south of Loos, succeeded in forming a strong defensive
flank. This London Territorial Division acquitted itself most
creditably. It was skilfully led and the troops carried out their
task with great energy and determination. They contributed largely
to our success in this part of the field.
On the left of the 47th Division a Scottish Division of the New
Armies (15th Division) assaulted Loos, Hill 70 and Fosse 14 bis.
The attack was admirably delivered, and in a little more than
an hour parts of the division occupied Loos and its northern outskirts,
Puits 14bis and Hill 70, whilst some units had pushed on as far
as Cite St. Auguste, a mile east of Hill 70.
The 15th Division carried out its advance with the greatest vigour,
in spite of its left flank being exposed, owing to the 1st Division
on its left having been checked. About 1 p.m. the enemy brought
up strong reserves, and the advanced portions of the division
at Fosse 14bis and on the far side of Hill 70 were driven in.
We had, however, secured the very substantial gain of Loos and
the western portion of Hill 70.
11. At 9.30 a.m. I placed the 21st and 24th Divisions
at the disposal of the General Officer commanding First Army,
who at once ordered
the General Officer commanding the 11th Corps to move them up
in support of the attacking troops. Between 11 a.m. and 12 noon
the central brigades of these divisions filed past me at Bethune
and Noeux les Mines respectively. At 11.30 a.m. the heads of both
divisions were within three miles of our original trench line.
As the success of the 47th Division on the right of the 4th Corps
caused me less apprehension of a gap in our line near that point,
I ordered the Guards Division up to Noeux les Mines, and the 28th
Division to move in a
southerly direction from Bailleul.
12. The 1st Division, attacking on the left of
the 15th, was unable at first to make any headway with its right
brigade. The brigade on its left (the 1st) was, however, able
to get forward and penetrated into the outskirts of the village
of Hulluch, capturing some gun positions on the way. The determined
advance of this brigade, with its right flank dangerously exposed,
was most praiseworthy, and, combined with the action of divisional
reserves, was instrumental in causing the surrender of a German
detachment some 500 strong which was holding up the advance of
the right brigade in the front system of trenches. The inability
of the right of this division to get forward had, however, caused
sufficient delay to enable the enemy to collect local reserves
behind the strong second line. The arrangements, the planning
and execution of the attack, and the conduct of the troops of
the 4th Corps were most efficient and praiseworthy.
13. In the attack of the 1st Corps the 7th Division
was directed on the Quarries. The 9th Division was to capture
the Hohenzollern Redoubt and then to push on to Fosse 8. The assault
of the 7th Division succeeded at once, and in a very short time
they had reached the western edge; of the Quarries, Cite St. Elie
and even the village of Haisnes, the tendency of the action having
been to draw the troops northward. On the right of the 9th Division
the 26th Brigade secured Fosse 8 after heavy fighting, and the
28th Brigade captured the front line of the German trenches east
of Vermelles railway. At the latter point the fighting was extremely
severe; and this brigade, suffering considerable losses, was driven
back to its own trenches.
At nightfall, after a heavy day's fighting and numerous German
counter attacks, the line was, roughly, as follows: — From
the Double Crassier, south of Loos, by the western part of Hill
70, to the western exit of Hulluch; thence by the Quarries and
western end of Cite St. Elie, east of Fosse 8, back to our original
line. Throughout the length of the line heavy fighting was in
progress, and our hold on Fosse 8, backed as it is by the strong
defences and guns of Auchy, was distinctly precarious. Heavy rain
fell throughout the day, which was very detrimental to efficient
observation of fire and reconnaissance by aircraft.
In the course of the night 25th/26th September
the enemy delivered a series of heavy counter attacks along most
of our new front. The majority of these were repulsed with heavy
loss; but in parts of the line, notably near the Quarries, our
troops were driven back a certain
distance. At 6 p.m. the Guards Division arrived at Noeux les Mines,
and on the morning of the 26th I placed them at the disposal of
General Officer commanding First Army.
14. The situation at the Quarries, described
above, was re-adjusted by an attack of the 7th Division on the
afternoon of September 26th; and
on that evening very heavy attacks delivered1 by the enemy were
repulsed with severe loss. On the 4th Corps front attacks on Hulluch
and on the redoubt on the east side of Hill 70 were put in operation,
but were anticipated by the enemy organising a very strong offensive
from that direction. These attacks drove in the advanced troops
of the 21st and 24th Divisions, which were then moving forward
to attack. Reports regarding this portion of the action are very
conflicting, and it is not possible to form an entirely just appreciation
of what occurred in this part of the field. At nightfall there
was no change up to Hill 70, except for a small gain of ground
south of Loos. From Hill 70 the line bent sharply back to the
north-west as far as Loos:La Bassee Road, which it followed for
a thousand yards, bearing thence north-eastward to near the west
end of Hulluch. Thence northward it was the same as it had been
on the previous night.
The night of September 26th/27th
was as disturbed as the previous night, for many further counter
attacks were made and constant pressure was maintained by the
enemy. A dismounted cavalry brigade was thrown into Loos to form
a garrison. On this day I placed the 28th Division at the disposal
of the General Officer commanding First Army.
I regret to say that Major-General Sir Thompson Capper, R.C.M.G.,
C.B., D.S.O., commanding 7th Division, was severely wounded on
the 26th, and died on the morning of the 27th. He was a most distinguished
and capable leader, and his loss will be severely felt.
15. Soon after dawn on the 27th
it became apparent that the brigade holding Fosse 8 was unable
to maintain its position, and eventually
it was slowly forced, back until at length our front at this point
coincided with the eastern portion of the Hohenzollern Redoubt.
I regret to say.that during this operation Major-General G. H.
Thesiger, C.B., C.M.G., A.D.C., commanding the 9th Division, was
killed whilst most gallantly endeavouring to secure the ground
which had been won. In the afternoon of this day the Guards Division,
which had taken over part of the line to the north of the 4th
Corps, almost restored our former line, bringing it up parallel
to and slightly west of the Lens-La Bassee Road. This Division
made a very brilliant and successful attack on Hill 70 in the
afternoon. They drove the Germans off the top of the hill, but
could not take the redoubt, which is on the north-east slopes
below the crest. They also took the Chalk Pit which lies north
of Puits 14, and all the adjacent woods, but were unable to maintain
themselves in the Puits itself, which was most effectively commanded
by well-posted machine-guns. The 47th Division on the right of
the Guards captured a wood further to the south and repulsed a
severe hostile counter attack.
The 28th was passed in consolidating
the ground gained and in making a certain number of internal moves
of divisions, in order to give the troops rest and to enable those
units whose casualties had been heavy to refill their ranks with
reinforcements. The 47th Division made a little more ground to
the south, capturing one field gun and a few machine-guns. On
the evening of this day the situation remained practically unchanged.
16. The line occupied by the troops of the First
Army south of the canal became now very much extended by the salient
with which it indented the enemy's line. The French 10th Army
had been very heavily opposed, and I considered that the advance
they were able to make did not afford sufficient protection to
my right flank. On representing this to General Joffre he was
kind enough to ask the Commander of the northern group of French
Armies to render me assistance. General Foch met these demands
in the same friendly, spirit which he has always displayed throughout
the course of the whole campaign, and expressed his readiness
to give me all the support he could. On the morning of the 28th
we discussed the situation, and the General agreed to send the
9th French Corps to take over the ground occupied by us extending
from the French left up to and including that portion of Hill
70 which we were holding, and also the village of Loos. This relief
was commenced on the 30th September, and completed on the two
17. During the 29th and
30th September and the first days of October fighting was
almost continuous along.the northern part of the new line, particularly,
about the Hohenzollern Redoubt and neighbouring trenches, to which
the enemy evidently attached great value. His attacks, however,
invariably broke down with very heavy loss under the accurate
fire of our infantry and artillery. The Germans succeeded in gaining
someground in and about the Hohenzollern Redoubt but they paid
heavily for it in the losses they suffered. Our troops all along
the front were busily engaged in consolidating and strengthening
the ground won, and the efficient and thorough manner in which
this work was carried out reflects the reatest credit upon all
ranks. Every precaution was made to deal with the counter attack
which was inevitable. During these operations the weather has
been most unfavourable, and the troops have had to fight in rain
and mud and often in darkness. Even these adverse circumstances
have in no way affected the magnificent spirit continually displayed
alike by officers arid men. In the Casualty Clearing and Dressing
Stations; of which I visited a great number during the course
of the action, I found nothing but the most cheery optimism among
the wounded. I have to deplore the loss of a third most valuable
and distinguished General of Division during these operations.
On the afternoon of 2nd October Major-General F. D. V. Wing, C.B.,
commanding the 12th Division, was killed.
18. On the afternoon of 8th
October our expectations in regard to a counter attack
were fulfilled. The enemy directed a violent and intense attack
all along the line from Fosse 8 on the north to the right of the
French 9th Corps on the south. The attack was delivered by some
twenty-eight battalions in first line, with larger forces in support,
and was prepared by a very heavy bombardment from all parts of
the enemy's front. At all parts of the line except two the Germans
were repulsed with tremendous loss, and it is computed on reliable
authority that they left some eight to nine thousand dead lying
on the battlefield in front of the British and French trenches.
On the right the attack succeeded in making a small and unimportant
lodgment on the Double Crassier held by the French; whilst on
the left the trench held by troops of the Guards Division to the
north-east of the Hohenzollern Redoubt was temporarily captured.
The latter was, however, speedily retaken, and at midnight on
the 9th October the line held by the First Army was identically
the same as that held before the enemy's attack started. The main
enemy attacks on the front held by our troops had been against
the 1st Division in the neighbourhood of the Chalk Pit and the
Guards Division in the neighbourhood of the Hohenzollern Redoubt.
Both attacks were repulsed, and the enemy lost heavily from machine-gun
and artillery fire. From subsequent information it transpired
that the German attack was made by about twelve battalions against
the line Loos-Chalk Pit, and that a subsidiary attack by six to
eight battalions was made from the direction of the Hohenzollern
Redoubt against the Guards Division. Some eight or ten German
battalions were directed against the French 9th Corps.
19. The position assaulted and carried with so
much brilliancy and dash by the 1st and 4th Corps on 25th September
was an exceptionally strong one. It extended along a distance
of some 6,500 yards, consisted of a double line, which included
works of considerable strength, and was a network of trenches
and bomb-proof shelters. Some of the dug-outs and shelters formed
veritable caves thirty feet below the ground, with almost impenetrable
head cover. The enemy had expended months of labour upon perfecting
these defences. The total number of prisoners captured during
these operations amounted to 57 officers and 3,000 other ranks.
Material which fell into our hands included 26 field-guns, 40
machine-guns and 3 minenwerfer.
I deeply regret the heavy casualties which were incurred in this
battle, but in view of the great strength of the position, the
stubborn defence of the enemy and the powerful artillery by which
he was supported, I do not think they were excessive. I am happy
to be able to add that the proportion of slightly wounded is relatively
very large indeed.
20. Since the date of my last despatch the Army
has received strong reinforcements, and every reinforcement has
had its quota of Field Artillery. In addition, numerous batteries
of heavy guns and howitzers have been added to the strength of
the heavy artillery. The arrival of these reinforcements in the
field has tested the capacity of the Artillery as a whole to expand
to meet the requirements of the Army, and to maintain the high
level of efficiency that has characterised this arm throughout
the campaign. Our enemy may have hoped, not perhaps without reason,
that it would be impossible for us, starting from such small beginnings,
to build up an efficient Artillery to provide for the very large
expansion of the Army. If he entertained such hopes, he has now
good reason to know that they have not been justified by the result.
The efficiency of the Artillery of the New Armies has exceeded
all expectations, and during the period under review excellent
services have been rendered by the Territorial Artillery. The
necessity to denude the old batteries of Regular Horse and Field
Artillery of officers and non-commissioned officers, in order
to provide for the expansion referred to, has not in any way impaired
their efficiency, and they continue to set an example to all by
their high standard and devotion to duty. I must give a special
word of praise to the officers and rank and file of the Royal
Garrison Artillery for the admirable way in which they have accustomed
themselves to the conditions of active service in the field, to
which for the most part they were unaccustomed, and for the manner
in which they have applied their general knowledge of gunnery
to the special problems arising in trench warfare. The excellence
of their training and the accuracy of their shooting have, I feel
sure, made a marked impression on the enemy.
21. The work of the Artillery during the daily
life in the trenches calls for increasing vigilance and the maintenance
of an intricate system of communications in a thorough state of
efficiency, in order that the guns may be ever ready to render
assistance to the Infantry when necessity arises. A high standard
of initiative is also required in order to maintain the moral
ascendancy over the enemy, by impeding his working parties, destroying
his works and keeping his artillery fire under control. To the
many calls upon them the Artillery has responded in a manner that
is altogether admirable. In the severe offensive actions that
have taken place it is not too much to say that the first element
of success has been the artillery preparation of the attack. Only
when this preparation has been thorough have our attacks succeeded.
It is impossible to convey in a despatch an adequate impression
of the amount of care and labour involved in the minute and exact
preparations that are the necessary preliminaries of a bombardment
preparatory to an attack in a modern battle. The immense number
of guns that it is necessary to concentrate, the amount of ammunition
to be supplied to them, and the diversity of the
tasks to be carried out, demand a very high order of skill in
organisation and technical professional knowledge.
22. The successful attacks at Hooge on 9th August
and of the First Army on 25th September show that our Artillery
officers possess the necessary talents and the rank and file the
necessary skill and endurance to ensure success in operations
of this character. Moreover, the repulse of the enemy's attack
on 8th October in the neighbourhood of Loos and Hulluch with such
heavy losses shows the capacity of the Artillery to concentrate
its fire promptly and effectively at a moment's notice for the
defence of the front. I cannot close these remarks on the Artillery
without expressing my admiration for the work of the observing
officers and the men who work with them. Carrying out their duties,
as they do, in close proximity to the front line in observing
stations that are the special mark of the enemy's guns, they are
constantly exposed to fire, and are compelled to carry on their
work, involving the use of delicate instruments and the making
of nice calculations, in circumstances of the greatest difficulty
and danger. That they have never failed in their duties, and that
they have suffered very heavy casualties in performing them, are
to their lasting credit and honour. The work of the Artillery
in co-operation with the Royal Flying Corps continues to make
most satisfactory progress, and has been most highly creditable
to all concerned. The new weapons that have been placed in the
field during the period under review have more than fulfilled
expectations, and the enemy must be well aware of their accuracy
and general efficiency.
23. I have on previous occasions called your
Lordship's attention to the admirable work of the Corps of the
Royal Engineers. This work covers a very wide field, demanding
a high standard of technical knowledge and skill, as well as unflagging
energy; and throughout the supreme test of war these qualities
have never been found wanting, thus reflecting the greatest credit
on the organisation of the Corps as a whole, and on the training
of the officers and men individually. The spirit which is imbued
in all ranks from the base ports to the front trenches and beyond
is the same. No matter where or how the personnel of the Corps
has been employed, devotion to duty and energy have been ever
present. In this despatch I wish particularly to draw attention
to the work of the Field Units and Army Troops Companies, which
must almost invariably be performed under the most trying circumstances
by night as well as by day. Demanding qualities of whole-hearted
courage and self-sacrifice, combined with sound judgment and instant
action, the work of officers, non-commissioned officers and men
has been beyond all praise. The necessity for skilled labour at
the front has been so continuous that Royal Engineer units have
frequently been forced to forego those periods of rest which at
times it has been possible to grant to other troops; but, in spite
of this, they have responded loyally to every call on their services.
Notwithstanding the heavy casualties sustained by all ranks, the
esprit de corps of the Royal Engineers is such that the new material
is at once animated by the same ideals, and the same devotion
to duty is maintained.
24. I desire to call your Lordship's attention
to the splendid work carried out by the Tunnelling Companies.
These companies, officered largely by mining engineers, and manned
by professional miners, have devoted themselves whole-heartedly
to the dangerous work of offensive and defensive mining, a task
ever accompanied by great and unseen dangers. It is impossible
within the limits of a despatch to give any just idea of the work
of these units, but it will be found, when their history comes
to be written, that it will present a story of danger, of heroism,
and of difficulties surmounted worthy of the best traditions of
the Royal Engineers, under whose general direction their work
is carried out.
25. Owing to the repeated use by the enemy of
asphyxiating gases in their attacks on our positions, I have been
compelled to resort to similar methods; and a detachment was organised
for this purpose, which took part in the operations commencing
on the 25th September for the first time. Although the enemy was
known to have been prepared for such reprisals, our gas attack
met with marked success, and produced a demoralising effect in
some of the opposing units, of which ample evidence was forthcoming
in the captured trenches. The men who undertook this work carried
out their unfamiliar duties during a heavy bombardment with conspicuous
gallantry and coolness; and I feel confident in their ability
to more than hold their own should the enemy again resort to this
method of warfare
26. I would again call your Lordship's attention
to the work of the Royal Flying Corps. Throughout the summer,
notwithstanding much unfavourable weather, the work of cooperating
with the Artillery, photographing the positions of the enemy,
bombing their communications and reconnoitring far over hostile
territory has gone on unceasingly. The vohime of work performed
steadily increases; the amount of flying has been more than doubled
during this period. There have been more than 240 combats in the
air, and in nearly every case our pilots have had to seek the
enemy behind his own lines, where he is assisted by the fire of
his movable anti-aircraft guns; and in spite of this they have
succeeded in bringing down four of the German machines behind
our trenches and at least twelve in the enemy's lines, and many
more have been seen to dive to earth in a damaged condition or
to have retired from the fight. On one occasion an officer of
the Royal Flying Corps engaged four enemy machines and drove them
off, proceeding on his reconnaissance. On another occasion two
officers engaged six hostile machines and disabled at least one
of them. Artillery observation and photography are two of the
most trying tasks the Royal Flying Corps is called upon to perform,
as our airmen must remain for long periods within easy range of
the enemy's anti-aircraft guns. The work of observation for the
guns from aeroplanes has now become an important factor in artillery
fire, and the personnel of the two arms work in the closest co-operation.
As evidence of the dangers our flying officers are called upon
to face I may state that on one occasion a machine was hit in
no fewer than 300 places soon after crossing the enemy's lines,
and yet the officer successfully carried out his mission. The
Royal Flying Corps has on several occasions carried out a continuous
bombing of the enemy's communications, descending to 500 feet
and under in order to hit moving trains on the railway. This has
in some cases been kept up day after day; and, during the operations
at the end of September, in the space of five days nearly six
tons of explosives ware dropped on moving trains, and are known
to have practically wrecked five, some containing troops, and
to have damaged the main railway, line in many different places.
For the valuable work carried out by the Royal Flying Corps I
am greatly indebted to their commander, Brigadier-General H, M.
Trenchard, C.B., D.S.O., A.D.C.
27. Throughout the campaign the financial requirements
of the Army have been successfully met by the Army Pay Department.
The troops have been paid, and all claims against the Army discharged,
with unbroken regularity, and the difficulties inseparable from
a foreign banking system and a strange currency have been overcome.
The work of the department has been greatly assisted by the Bank
of France, the administration of which has spared no effort to
28. While the circumstances of this campaign
have brought no exceptional strain on horses, great credit is
due to all concerned for the excellent arrangements in the Remount
Depots and Veterinary Hospitals
29. I am pleased to be able once more to report
very favourably on the divisions of the New Armies which have
arrived in this country since the date of my last report. It is
evident that great trouble and much hard work have been expended
on these units during their training at home, and it is found
that they have received such sound teaching that a short period
of instruction in trench life under fire soon enables them to
take their places with credit beside their acclimatised comrades
of the older formations.
30. The Territorial Force units have continued
to merit the favourable remarks I have made on them in previous
despatches, and have taken a prominent part in many of the active
operations in which the Army has been engaged.
31. A new Division has been sent from Canada
and has joined the Army in the field. The material of which it
is composed is excellent; and this Division will, I am convinced,
acquit itself as well in face of the enemy as the 1st Canadian
Division has always done.
32. During the period under report I have been
very glad once more to receive the Prime Minister at my Headquarters,
as well as the Secretary of State for War. The Prime Minister
of Canada and the Minister of Militia and Defence of Canada also
came to France for a few days and visited the troops of the Canadian
Contingent. The Chief Rabbi paid a short visit to the front and
interested himself in the members of the large Jewish community
now serving with the Army in the Field.
33. I cannot conclude the account of these operations
without expressing the deep admiration felt, by all ranks of the
Army under my command for the splendid part taken by our French
Allies in the battle which opened on 25th September. Fortified
positions of immense strength, upon which months of skill and
labour had been expended, and which extended for many miles, were
stormed and daptured by our French comrades with a bravery and
determination which went far to instil hope and spirit into the
Allied Forces. The large captures of men and material which fell
into their hands testified to the completeness of their victory.
The close co-operation between the two Armies of the Allied Powers,
which has been so marked a feature throughout the whole campaign,
has been as prominent as ever in the
work of the last three weeks. I have already referred to the cordial
and willing help rendered by General Foch in the support of the
9th French Corps, and I have also once again to express my deep
indebtedness to General d'Urbal, commanding the 10th French Army,
operating on my right; and to General Hely d'Oissel, commanding
the French Forces in the North.
34. The part taken by the troops of His Majesty
the King of the Belgians was very effective in holding the enemy
in front of them to his positions.
35. I have many names to bring to your Lordship's
notice for valuable, gallant and distinguished service during
the period under review, and these will form the subject of a
separate report at an early date.
I have the honour to be,
Your Lordship's most obedient Servant,
J. D. P. FRENCH,
The British Army in the Field.
accurate or truthful was this Despatch?
11 . The despatch on Loos has put the fat in the fire, and we are
in for a first-class squabble with GHQ. It is worse even than the
Neuve Chapelle despatch. This one makes definite mis-statements.
DH [Haig] has demanded officially that it should be corrected as
regards the use or misuse of the reserves. It is amazingly stupid
of GHQ for all the facts are on record, with timings of the messages.
Major John Charteris, First Army Intelligence, At GHQ, London: Cassell
& Company, London, 1931, page 121.
of Despatches | Sir
John French's Eighth Despatch | Sir John French's next Despatch
original printed version of this Despatch can be found at Gazettes