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The Battle of Arracourt was a World War II clash of U.S. and German armored forces near the town of Arracourt ( ), Lorrainemarker, France, during September 18–29, 1944.

The German Fifth Panzer Army had as its objective the recapture of Lunévillemarker and the collapse of the U.S. XII Corps bridgehead over the Moselle Rivermarker at Dieulouard ( ). Having a local superiority in troops and tanks, the German tankers expected to deliver a sharp defeat to the defending 4th Armored Division. Flouting German expectations, the 4th Armored Division proved by far to have superior training and command of armored tactics, thoroughly defeating 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 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 were decimated en route in separate encounters with other Allied forces.

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:

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 ground to a halt at this time. Major General Friedrich von Mellenthin, Chief of Staff of the Fifth Panzer Army, summarized the situation:

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 Dutch port of Antwerp which failed. The delay would allow the German Army to regroup their defense of the German border at the Siegfried Line.

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.

Notes

  1. Zaloga 2008 Armored Thunderbolt p. 184-193
  2. Zaloga 2008 Armored Thunderbolt p. 187-189
  3. Rust 1967 p. 122
  4. Zaloga 2008, p. 192
  5. Zaloga 2008 Armored Thunderbolt p. 193
  6. Zaloga 2008 Panther vs. Sherman p. 67-73


References

  • Cole, Hugh M., The Lorraine Campaign, Washington D.C.: Center of Military History, 1997.
  • Fox, Don M., "Patton's Vanguard - The United States Army Fourth Armored Division", Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. 2003 ISBN 0-7864-1582-7.
  • Zaloga, Steven J., Lorraine 1944, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2000. ISBN 1-84176-0897.


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