British attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt, 13th October 1915, by the 46th North Midland Division who captured trenches behind the Vermelles-Hulloch Road and the main trench of the Redoubt. The Photograph shows a cloud of smoke and gas in the centre and on the left; bursting shells in the centre and on the right; British trenches and approaches can be traced by the chalk which has been excavated; Fosse centre; the Redoubt is this side of Fosse 8. Image Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum © IWM (Q 29002).
At mid-day on the 12th October the 6th Sherwood Foresters marched up the Len’s Road in “fighting order” until they reached Noyelles where they were issued tea by a roadside canteen. At the onset of darkness the Battalion continued onto Clark’s Keep on the edge of Vermelles and were issued with shovels, picks and other trench stores.
Moving by Companies the Battalion advanced up the main communication trenches, Gordan and Hullach Alley, to the assembly positions in front of the heavily fortified trench system known locally as Hohenzollern Redoubt.
In orders issued the following day the XI Corps of the 1st Army where to attack and capture both the Quarries and Fosse 8 just in front of Bethune. The 46th Division had been allotted the task of attacking the front between Hohenzollern Redoubt and the Vermelles-Auchy road.
The attack was due to commence at 1pm and would be preceded by a heavy bombardment including smoke and gas shells. In total, the attack by the 1st Army would involve the use of 54 heavy howitzers, 86 field howitzers, 302 field guns and counter batteries and would last for 2 hours. This was the largest concentration of artillery so far witnessed on the Western Front.
Hohenzollern Redoubt © IWM (BOX 60-1437-1915)
Hohenzollern Redoubt was situated at the apex of a triangle formed by two major trenches; Big Willie and Little Willie, whilst Fosse Trench and Dump Trench formed the base of the triangle in front of the village and colliery. The area to be assaulted was exposed to enfilading machine gun fire from ‘Mad Point’ located at the northwest corner of the redoubt.
However, it was believed at the time that the Redoubt itself was not heavily defended, whilst the supporting trenches, Fosse and Dump, were shallow and not strongly held. The 46th Division was expected to capture the whole of this fortified area and the village, thereafter moving to join up with the 12th Division attacking on the right flank and form a line to the east of the village and colliery.
The main attacking Companies of the 46th Division were supplied by the 137th Brigade on the right and the 138th Brigade on the left of the Divisional front, whilst the 139th Brigade was held in Divisional reserve. The attack was originally planned for the 10th October, but to allow sufficient quantities of mills bombs to be made available it was postponed until the Wednesday 13th October.
The 6th Sherwood Foresters were placed immediately to the rear of the 137th Brigade, which it was ordered to support in its attack on the area between the western face of the redoubt and the point where ‘Big Willie’ met the le Rutoire-Bethune Road.
The supporting Battalions were instructed to assign the majority of their bombers to the attacking Brigade on their frontage. A large number of bombers under the command of 2/Lt Gordon F Gardner were duly assigned to the 137th Staffordshire Brigade, whilst the Battalion’s regular bombing Officer, 2/Lt William Alexander Lytle, remained at Battalion Headquarters with the remaining bombers ready to move to the assistance of the attacking Companies should they be needed.
At 2pm on Wednesday the 13th October men of the 137th and 138th Brigades left the assembly trenches and crossed no-mans-land towards their objectives and at the same time men of the Sherwood Foresters moved forward in support.
“A” Company (Robinson) remained in the support trenches whilst “B” (Dick) and “D” (Wheatcroft) Companies pushed forward to the Dump in support of the 5th South Staffordshires, which was the right leading Battalion of the 137th Brigade.
Once in the open the attacking troops of the leading Battalions began to suffer heavy casualties due to machine gun and rifle fire from men positioned in concealed bunkers. However, even under this murderous fire men from the leading two Companies of the 5th South Staffs managed to work their way into ‘Big Willie’, although further progress was checked.
Most of the men in the remaining two Companies of the 5th South Staffs were unable to cross no-mans-land to support their comrades who remained trapped in ‘Big Willie’ and were now fighting in bitter close quarter combat.
At this point in the attack Major Hall was ordered forward by Colonel Goodman to asses the situation and act upon what he found. He struggled up the congested communication trenches and on reaching the front line quickly realised that further advance was impossible due to the extremely heavy machine gun fire still coming from the German strong points. It was at this point that Major Hall made the decisive decision to hold the leading Companies of the 6th Sherwood Foresters in the front line trenches. However, even in the relative safety of the British front line death and destruction was ever present in the badly damaged and cramped communication and assembly trenches. Many times during the afternoon men of the Battalion had to climb over the parapet to allow stretcher bearers to remove the wounded and parties of men bringing up supplies of mills bombs.
During the early afternoon 2/Lt Lytle and the Battalion Grenadiers were ordered to bomb Slag Alley and Dump Trench. However, this provided impossible so in response to repeated messages for assistance William Lytle took his section of grenadiers to the south end of Big Willie and remained there until the night of the 14th.
During this time he led two bombing attacks on Big Willie and in the second attack 1373 Cpl. Ernest Jordan penetrated nearest to the German trench block and was the last man to retire. He was aided in this attack by 2156 Sergt. Thomas Taylor and 3234 A/Cpl. Ernest Munday and all four men were later mentioned in despatches.
By 3pm the whole of the 6th Sherwood Foresters had struggled forward to the front and support trenches with “A” Company placed on the right in close contact with the 5th Sherwood Foresters, which had been pushed up to support the right flank, and “B” Company on the left. Captain Robinson’s Company was ordered to reinforce the 5th South Staffs and was placed by Lt Col Raymer (O.C. 5th South Staffs) in charge of a portion of the forward fire trench on the right of Dump trench, which was still held by the Germans.
Captain Victor Owen Robinson was awarded the Military Cross on 18th November 1915 for showing great coolness and judgement in difficult situations.
At this time one of the Battalion’s two Vickers machine guns under the command of Lt John Lakeman Percival had also reached the front line trench. This was immediately prepared for action but before it could be fired a German shell exploded close by killing the corporal in charge and sending Lt Percival and several other men of the detachment sprawling along the trench. The casualty returns for the day show only one corporal as killed and that was Alfred Afford from North Wingfield. He had been promoted to Corporal on 5th May and his diary entry 5 days later describes how he was required to take charge of a machine gun team in the front line trenches.
During the night of the 13th-14th October the 6th Sherwood Foresters remained in the front line trenches and could hear the cries of the wounded in no-mans-land. Sometime during the night Sergeant Unwin was able to rescue a wounded man of the Staffordshire Brigade and for this act of heroism he was….
The fight for Hohenzollern Redoubt lasted for three days until the 46th North Midland Division were relieved by the 2nd Guards Brigade. During this time the only gains that were consolidated was the main trench of the redoubt.
Orders were received on the night of the 14th-15th informing Colonel Goodman that he was to proceed with his Battalion and relieve the 8th Sherwood Foresters currently holding the Hohenzollern Redoubt. Their place in the British front line was be to be filled by Companies of the Guards Brigade, however, this relief did not fully develop and it was shortly before dawn when three platoons of “C” Company under the command of Capt Edgar Heathcote arrived in the redoubt. At this time Colonel Fowler of the 8th Sherwood Foresters was killed and Colonel Goodman was ordered to return to the British Front line leaving Capt Heathcote in command of the Hohenzollern garrison. During the following night the relief was completed and the 6th Sherwood Foresters moved back Fouquereuil and thereafter to billets in Verquin.
During the fighting of the previous few days the 46th Division had suffered 180 Officers and 3583 men killed, wounded or missing. The 6th Sherwood Foresters had 13 men killed, one man missing believed killed and 2/Lt Percival and Gardiner and 48 men wounded. The bodies of all of the men who were killed were not recovered or their graves identified after the War and are commemorated on the Loos Memorial.
The fact that so many bodies were not recovered is a testimony to the severity of the fighting and only Bernard White from Grassmoor, who died in a casualty clearing station in the Chateau at Vermelles, has a known grave.
Amongst the men killed were Benjamin Savage from Tideswall who had played in the summer cricket match and 21 year old John Steggles (“C” Company) from Chesterfield who’d had a number of letters published in the Derbyshire Times over the previous six months.
The following men of the 1/6th Battalion are now commemorated on the Loos Memorial to the missing and their own town of village memorial.
2040 Pte. Joseph Adkin a miner from Brimington he enlisted into the 6th Battalion in September 1913 aged 19.
3443 Pte. Walter Jones from Staveley. Commemorated with Honour on the Staveley War Memorial.
1938 Pte. William Mellors was a fettler who lived at 5 Angel Yard in Chesterfield and enlisted in the 6th Battalion on the 24th May aged 17 and served with Left “A” Company.Army Service Record for William Mellors showing his arrival in France on the 25th February 1915. He was admitted to the 10th Casualty Clearing Station and 23rd General Hospital (Rouen) in September 1915 suffering with rheumatism. After spending two weeks in the North Midland Base Depot he returned to the 6th Battalion on the 7th October 1915. He was killed in action seven days later.
His distraught mother, Mrs Annie Mellors wrote to the War Office in March 1916 asking if there was anymore of her sons personal property
1365 Pte Benjamin Savage aged 22 and the son of Thomas H. and Diana Savage, of 48, Whitefield Rd. Stockton Heath, Warrington. A resident of Tideswall. Commemorated with Honour on the Stockton Heath War Memorial.
1510 Pte George Tagg aged 22 and the son of Mrs Hannah Tagg of 47 Spital Lane in Chesterfield, Derbyshire.
3066 Pte Bernard White aged 20 and the son of Albert and Elizabeth White of 4 Chapel Rd., in Grassmoor near Chesterfield. Buried by the CC at Vermelles I.K.34. Commemorated with Honour on the Grassmoor War Memorial.
Hohenzollern Redoubt and the surrounding area have largely returned to agricultural use, however, an archeological excavation in 2005 by “No Man’s Land” identified the remains of at least five bodies lying close to the north face of the Redoubt. One of these bodies was believed to be that of a British soldier and the presence of a Long Lee Enfield rifle and unfired .303 ammunition dated 1915 suggests that this might be one of the missing North Midland Territorials.