The Battle of Arracourt was a World War II clash of U.S. and German armored forces near the town of Arracourt , Lorraine, France, during September 18–29, 1944. The German Fifth Panzer Army had as its objective the recapture of Lunéville and the collapse of the U.S. XII Corps bridgehead over the Moselle River at Dieulouard. Having a local superiority in troops and tanks, the German tankers foresaw a sharp defeat of the defending 4th Armored Division. Against German expectations, the 4th Armored Division thoroughly defeated two Panzer brigades and elements of two Panzer divisions.
The cause of the heavy losses for the Germans was the disjointed nature of the attack, and the poor tactical deployment of the German AFVs (Armored Fighting Vehicles) in the heavy fog and rolling terrain of the battlefield, which allowed the American tanks (mainly 75mm M4 Shermans, and a few M5A1 Stuart light tanks), M18 tank destroyers, and 155mm artillery units to maneuver and stay hidden until the German AFVs (the majority of which were Panther tanks) had closed within range. It was this tactical situation, a combination of defensive ambushes, fire and maneuver tactics, and excellent use of the terrain to establish superior firing positions, which allowed the 4th Armored Division to negate the superior armor and firepower of the German AFVs. Allied air power had also hampered the arrival of the German panzer units and disrupted close coordination between the units in the attack. Some of the panzer units originally slated to be in the counterattack never made it to the battle as they suffered heavy casualties whilst en route in separate encounters with other Allied forces.
Despite an impressive strength on paper, the German 5th Panzer Army order of battle was only 182 tanks (75 Mark IVs and 107 Mark Vs, although they had an additional 80 armored fighting vehicles such as assault guns). Although, at full strength, the 4th Armored Division would have fielded 263 tanks, 77 of these were M5 Stuart light tanks that were no match for German tanks or assault guns of 1944. The 4th Armored Division also had an attached tank destroyer battalion that at full strength would have had 36 M18 tank destroyers. Assuming the 4th Armored Division was at full strength in armored fighting vehicles, the 4th Armored Division strength as compared to the mechanized elements of the 5th Panzer Army were 1.1 to 1 in manpower, 1 to 1 in armored fighting vehicles not counting the ineffective M5 light tanks, perhaps 1 to 1 in artillery tubes and overwhelmingly in the air.
During the first few days of this battle, poor weather had prevented the use of any close air support, but starting on September 21, P-47s of the 405th Fighter Group were able to begin a series of attacks which contributed to the further destruction of the German panzer units.
Through the month of September, Patton's Third Army had continued creeping towards Germany despite orders to the contrary, but on September 22, he was informed that his fuel supplies were being restricted and he would have to shift to a defensive posture.
The final tally for the battle was as follows:
Of the 262 tanks and assault guns deployed by the German units in the week of fighting near Arracourt, 86 were destroyed, 114 were damaged or broken down, and only 62 were operational at the end of the month. The 4th Armored Division, which had borne the brunt of the Arracourt tank fighting, lost 41 M4 medium tanks and 7 M5A1 light tanks during the whole month of September, and casualties had been 225 killed and 648 wounded.
The great irony of the Battle of Arracourt is that the Germans believed, despite their heavy losses, that they had succeeded in their objective of stopping the advance of General George Patton's Third Army, as the Third Army had stopped advancing. Major General Friedrich von Mellenthin, Chief of Staff of the Fifth Panzer Army, summarized the situation:
Quite apart from Hitler's orders, our attacks on the XIIth Corps at Gremecey and Arracourt appeared to have some justification. When Balck took over Army Group G on 21 September it looked as though the Americans were determined to force their way through to the Saar and the Rhine, and General Patton might well have done so if he had been given a free hand. At that time the West Wall was still unmanned, and no effective defense could have been made there. From our point of view there was much to be said for counterattacking the spearheads of the XIIth Corps to discourage the Americans from advancing farther. Although our attacks were very costly it appeared at the time that they had achieved their purpose, and had effectively checked the American Third Army.
In fact, Patton was compelled to halt by Eisenhower's order of 22 September. The Supreme Allied Commander had decided to accept Montgomery's proposal to make the main effort on the northern flank, clear the approaches to Antwerp, and try to capture the Ruhr before winter. Third U.S. Army received categorical orders to stand on the defensive. The rights and wrongs of this strategy do not concern me, but it certainly simplified the problems of Army Group G. We were given a few weeks' grace to rebuild our battered forces and get ready to meet the next onslaught.
The Battle of Arracourt thus occurred during the time that the rapid advance of Patton's Third Army through France was stopped short of entering Germany by General Eisenhower's decision to divert Allied fuel supplies to other Allied forces north of Patton's Third Army, as well as to General Bernard Montgomery's Operation Market Garden, a mostly British attack towards the bridge over the Rhine river at Arnhem, which failed. The delay allowed the German Army to regroup for their defense of the German border at the Siegfried Line.
Hitler, however, was less than pleased with the results of the German offensive and relieved the commander of Army Group G, Johannes Blaskowitz. Since the U.S. victory at Arracourt proved to have no strategic value for the Allies, the tank-to-tank action there had long been ignored by historians or simply lumped together with the rest of Patton's campaign in the Lorraine and was not even generally known as a named battle until recent debates on the relative merits of Allied tanks versus German tanks in World War II resurrected interest in this action. The Battle of Arracourt was the largest tank battle involving U.S. forces in the Western Front until the Battle of the Bulge and has been used as an example of how the tactical situation and quality of the tank crews were far more important factors in determining the outcome of a tank battle than the technical merits of the tanks involved.
Edited by Ajatcho, Apr 22 2013 - 15:15.