The Battle of Arracourt – one of the largest armoured engagements on the Western Front.
The site of the battlefield as it stands now – a little more tranquil than back in 1944
The Battle of Arracourt (18-29 September 1944) was a major clash between U.S. and German armoured forces near the town of Arracourt, in Lorraine, France – and was one of the largest armoured engagements on the Western Front.
With American forces making significant advances across France, the German 5th Panzer Army was tasked with recapturing Lunéville and eliminating the US XII Corps at the bridgehead of Dieulouard on the Moselle River.
Across the surrounding region, the Germans had a distinct superiority of both troops and tanks – so they were confident of a swift victory. However, poor tactics used by the German forces, clever use of the terrain by the American forces, and attacks from the US Tactical Air Forces meant that things didn’t quite go as the Germans had planned.
The German Fifth Panzer Army entered the battle with 182 tanks (75 Panzer IVs and 107 Panthers) supported by 80 self-propelled assault guns – a total of 262 vehicles.
This broke down into two panzer corps headquarters, the 11th Panzer Division, and the 111th and 113th Panzer Brigades.
The 11th Panzer Division, while battle-experienced, was badly in need of tanks, having lost most of them in earlier fighting. Conversely, the two panzer brigades were equipped with the new Panther tanks and fresh crews but had virtually no battle experience, insufficient training, and the fuel shortages which dogged German armour throughout the latter stages of the war had well and truly kicked in.
The battle started amid deteriorating weather and a blanket of heavy fog which impeded both sides – the Americans weren’t able to spot targets and utilise their air superiority – and the poor visibility and a lack of pre-emptive scouting meant that the Germans couldn’t coordinate a focused attack (instead launching a series of smaller, less effective thrusts).
Poor scouting and tactics meant that the German tanks advanced blindly toward the American positions – exposing their side armour to the waiting Shermans – who quickly launched flank attacks, knocking-out the Panzers under the cover of the morning fog.
The American tanks had several key advantages – the support of reinforcements in the form of further armoured, infantry, and cavalry units… having run scouting missions and reconnaissance which enabled them to prepare concealed positions and better understand (and take advantage of) the terrain… the heavy morning fog which negated the longer effective range of the German guns… and the Germans’ seeming insistence upon repeating the same tactical error. All of which combined allowed them to overcome the Germans’ superior equipment and numbers.
The outnumbered and outgunned American forces managed to hold off the Germans long enough for the skies to clear, and the air forces to bring their rockets to bear on the Panzers and Panthers, driving them back…
Of the 262 AFVs deployed by the Germans at Arracourt, only 62 were operational once the dust had settled – while the American 4th Armored Division’s Combat Command A, which had borne the brunt of the attack lost just 25 tanks and 7 tank destroyers…
Some of the tanks from the battle:
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