The Battle of Arracourt

Start a discussion about famous WW2 battles and many immediately come to mind: Kursk, Stalingrad, Battle of the Bulge, and the Battle of El Alamein, to name a few. However, there are many battles that remain relatively unknown or often, unheard of. One of these is the Battle of Arracourt. Arguably, there is no such thing as the Battle of Arracourt. There is no such designation in either American records or in German records. It is usually described as part of the overall Lorraine campaign fought by Patton's Third Army in Sep-Oct 44. The most evocative title for the actions fought around Arracourt was the one used by the French, "The Battle of the Tanks".

Indeed, it was the largest tank engagement ever fought by the US Army, until the Battle of the Bulge, but the latter took place over a much larger geographical area and was really a series of battles. What was so special about this tank engagement then? Simply put, a German tank force equipped mostly with Panther tanks was defeated by an American tank force equipped mostly with 75mm Sherman tanks.

Arracourt was a critical battle in Patton's drive to Germany. The carefully orchestrated tank, artillery, infantry, and airpower tied sufficent German forces to allow Montgomery's 21st Army Group to attack in the north. Arracourt denied the Germans a successful counterattack, prevented their regaining any lost ground, and then became a bastion from which Third Army launched its Ardennes winter offensive in November 1944.

Battle of Arracourt MapBattle of Arracourt Map

On 17 September, CCB, 4th Armored Division, had been sent north from the Marne-Rhin Canal to aid the 80th Division. By the end of that day the XII Corps commander had canceled further movement toward the 80th upon receipt of orders from General Patton alerting the corps for an advance northeast toward the Sarre River, to be executed in column of divisions with the 4th Armored Division in the lead. The optimism so prevalent in the Third Army in early September had abated somewhat, at least among the combat elements, and General Wood phoned the corps headquarters to warn that "this job of getting supplies across the river [the Moselle] and on the roads is getting to be a major problem. This will not be a very fast operation-no blitz." But at 0030 on 18 September, Wood gave orders for the resumption of the advance on the following day: CCB to move from Delme on Saarbruecken; CCA to move out from the Arracourt area along the center road in the XII Corps zone (Morhange, Puttelange) and by subsidiary roads on the south flank toward Sarreguemines. News of the German attack at Lunéville only partially deranged these plans for neither Eddy nor Patton was greatly concerned. CCA, after having sent a task force to aid CCR, was ordered to stand to until the situation at Lunéville was clearer and the task force had returned; but CCB continued planning for an attack toward Saarbruecken on the following day.

Additional Reading

  Arracourt - September 1944 by Richard H. Barnes, Maj., FA
This battle study investigates operational and tactical considerations of the battles of Arracourt, which took place in September 1944 as the 4th Armored Division of Patton's Third Army clashed with the Fifth Panzer Army in the French province of Lorraine on the U.S. drive to the German West Wall. By examining detailed German and American unit histories, logs, and summaries, as well as personal papers, this study illuminates differences and similarities in reporting the U.S. penetration from the Nancy Bridgehead to Arracourt, the German offensive at Luneville as a prelude to Arracourt, and the two German offensives at Arracourt, as the Fifth Panzer Army attempted to link up with a German unit cut off at Nancy. Arracourt exemplifies penetration and mobile defense and illustrates the demand for good intelligence and flexible command and control. It shows the inherent risks of piecemeal commitment of reserves, the need for timely orders and good logistical support, as well as the tactical advantages of air superiority.

  The 4th Armored Division in the Encirclement of Nancy by Dr. Christopher R. Gabel

  The 11th Panzers in the Defence, 1944 by A. Harding Ganz

  4th Armored Combat Command A

  CSI Battlebook: Dieulouard Bridgehead Operation

On the night of 18 September the 4th Armored Division was deployed as follows: CCR had beaten off the Lunéville attack, with slight losses to itself, and was being relieved by the combat command from the 6th Armored Division. CCB was massed near Fresnes-en-Saulnois. The main body of CCA, somewhat reduced by the Lunéville mission, was assembled around Arracourt, about twelve miles to the southeast. The extended CCA sector, reaching from Chambrey (south of Château-Salins) nearly to the canal, could be only thinly outposted on the night of 18-19 September since Colonel Clarke had a relatively small force at hand: two companies of medium and one of light tanks, a battalion of armored infantry, a battalion of engineers, a company of tank destroyers and three battalions of artillery. The armored infantry and a company of medium tanks were deployed on the north flank between Chambrey and Arracourt. The combat command headquarters, the field artillery, and a platoon of tank destroyers were grouped in and around the town of Arracourt, while the bulk of the engineers held the south flank, withdrawn somewhat toward the west. One medium tank company, Company C of the 37th Tank Battalion (Capt. Richard Lamison), formed a combat outpost around the crossroads village of Lezey-between four and five miles northeast of Arracourt.

As yet there was no suspicion of the LVIII Panzer Corps advance from Sarrebourg, and though just before dark artillery observers had counted some thirty tanks east of Lunéville (the second panzer battalion of the 111th Panzer Brigade had now come up) this threat appeared to be checked by the American reinforcements at Lunéville.

Just before midnight the CCA outposts near Lezey heard tracked vehicles moving in the darkness to their front. They called for artillery fire and the clanking of the treads ceased. About 0730 on 19 September a liaison officer, driving down the road near Bezange-la-Petite, ran into the rear of a German tank column but escaped notice in the thick morning fog and radioed to his battalion commander, Colonel Abrams, who was at Lezey. At about the same time a light tank platoon had a brush with some German tanks in the vicinity of Moncourt.

The 113th Panzer Brigade, with forty-two Panther tanks of the Mark V battalion and the 2113th Panzer Grenadier Regiment in the lead, had moved from Bourdonnay in a successful night march, reorganized its advance guard near Ley, and now pushed through the heavy fog toward Bezange. In the meeting engagement which followed, as in the later tank battles, the morning fog common to this area played no favorites: it protected the German armor from air attack, but permitted the American tanks to fight at close quarters where the longer range of the Panther tank gun had no advantage. A section of M-4 tanks were in an outpost position south of Lezey when the first Panther suddenly loomed out of the fog-hardly seventy-five yards from the two American tanks. The Panther and two of its fellows were destroyed in a matter of seconds, whereupon the remaining German tanks turned hurriedly away to the south. Capt. William A. Dwight, the liaison officer who had reported the enemy armor, arrived at Arracourt and was ordered to take a platoon of the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion to aid the tanks at Lezey. Just west of Bezange-la-Petite Dwight's platoon saw a number of German tanks moving through the fog. The tank destroyers quickly deployed in a shallow depression and opened fire at about 150 yards. In the short fight that followed, three of the four American tank destroyers were lost, but not until they had destroyed seven enemy tanks.

The 113th Panzer Brigade attack developed in a series of consecutive jabs, generally made by a company of tanks and a platoon of infantry, as the enemy probed to find an opening in the CCA defenses. Meanwhile the American outposts had been drawn in, the company of medium tanks was hurried down from Chambrey, General Eddy sent the task force at Lunéville back to rejoin the command, and the armored artillery ranged in on the attackers. The superior mobility of the American tanks and self-propelled tank destroyers gave the defenders a decided advantage. When the Panthers turned away, after the abortive attack at Lezey, Captain Lamison took four tanks from C Company and raced the enemy some three thousand yards to a commanding ridge west of Bezange-la-Petite. Arriving on the position about three minutes before eight Panthers appeared, Lamison's tanks got set and knocked out four of the German tanks before they could return the fire; then they withdrew over the crest of the ridge, moved south a short distance, reappeared, and finished off the remaining Panthers. In the late morning the German attack turned west toward Réchicourt-la-Petite, attempting to drive around the town, first to the north, then to the south. Here again the American artillery, tanks, and tank destroyers inflicted severe losses on the enemy armor. A platoon of tank destroyers from the 704th netted eight Panthers and succeeded in driving the rest of an enemy tank company back in flight.

The company of medium tanks which had been sent to Lunéville returned in the afternoon and Colonel Clarke was ready to counterattack. A combined force from Companies A and B, 37th Tank Battalion, led by Maj. William L. Hunter, wheeled south through Réchicourt, caught the Germans in the flank, and knocked out nine Panthers with the loss of only three tanks. As the day ended, the 37th Tank Battalion turned its attention to mopping up the German infantry west of Moncourt, and finally, guided through the night by burning German tanks, assembled in the vicinity of Lezey. The German armored attack appeared to have spent itself. General Patton, who had come to Arracourt from the Third Army headquarters at Etain, talked with General Wood and agreed that CCA should begin the push toward Sarreguemines the next morning, reinforced by CCR, which had arrived from Lunéville during the day. On the whole there appeared to be no reason for worrying further about a German threat in the Arracourt sector, since CCA reported that forty-three enemy tanks, mostly factory-new Panthers, had been destroyed, and that its own losses had been only six killed and thirteen wounded; three American tank destroyers and five M-4 tanks had been knocked out.

A Panther of Panzer-Brigade 111 enters Bures-sur-Yvette on 20 September 1944.A Panther of Panzer-Brigade 111 enters Bures-sur-Yvette on 20 September 1944

Elsewhere, the Fifth Panzer Army had been no more successful on 19 September. The 111th Panzer Brigade, supposed to be north of the canal that morning, was misdirected along the way by a patriotic French farmer and did not make contact with the 113th Panzer Brigade at Bures until late in the afternoon. The 111th Panzer Brigade did not reach Krueger in full strength. Some of its tanks had not yet come up from the depots, and low-flying American planes had inflicted much damage on the column during the march north. Over to the west the security line set up along the Mortagne by the 21st Panzer Division, and the remnants of the 112th Panzer Brigade, had been pierced at several points by the forward columns of the XV Corps, and during the night of the 19th this defensive line was withdrawn to the east bank of the Meurthe. The 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, in the north, was trying desperately to set up a blocking position between the Meurthe and the town of Einville, on the canal. With the XLVII Panzer Corps thus heavily engaged General Luettwitz had to tell his superiors that he had no troops to attack north of the canal.

General Blaskowitz was very dissatisfied with the day's showing and ordered Manteuffel to continue the LVIII Panzer Corps attack without regard to the losses already suffered or the crippled condition of the 113th Panzer Brigade. Early the following morning the LVIII Panzer Corps made a gesture toward carrying out the army group commander's orders by sending some tanks from the 111th Panzer Brigade out on patrol; but the rest of the corps remained stationary between Ley and Bures, while General Manteuffel tried hard to persuade Blaskowitz that the attack must be abandoned in its entirety. All he got for his pains was a sharp reprimand for not possessing "the offensive spirit" and further orders insisting that the drive toward Nancy must be continued.

On the morning of 20 September CCA began to move out toward the northeast,25 leaving one company of the 35th Tank Battalion near Arracourt to cover the concentration of the 320th Infantry (-), CCR, and the 602d Tank Destroyer Battalion, which were moving in to take over the area. To the north CCB, which had initiated the scheduled attack on the previous day, was fighting in a thick blanket of fog to clear a road through Château-Salins, after attempts to bypass on miserable side roads had bogged down. At 1130 the head of one column of CCA had reached Hampont and another was closing on Dieuze when General Wood radioed that enemy tanks had returned to the attack near Arracourt and that a task force must be sent back to the scene at once. Actually, only eight German tanks were involved, having made a sortie toward the 191st Field Artillery Battalion just as it was ready to limber up and join the march column. This attack was readily handled by the 155-mm. howitzers, firing high explosive at one thousand yards, and by the appearance of the rear guard tanks and some tank destroyers, which allowed none of the attackers to escape. But Colonel Clarke led his whole combat command to turn back and sweep up the entire area "once and for all."

By midafternoon the sweeping operation was under way. Colonel Abrams assembled a force consisting of three medium tank companies of the 37th and two companies of the 10th Armored Infantry Battalion near Lezey, while the artillery adjusted its supporting fires, and then drove down on Ley. While Abrams had been gathering his people the Germans had moved to parry the coming blow by dispatching a Captain Junghannis and a group of Mark IV tanks and 88-mm. guns from the 111th Panzer Brigade reserve to positions on Hill 260 and Hill 241 west of Ommeray. The main American force went through Ley with hardly a shot fired. But C Company, 37th Tank Battalion, which was covering Colonel Abrams' flank east of Ley, ran head on into the fire of Junghannis' tanks and guns. Between Ley and Ommeray rise two low hills with a narrow valley between: Mannecourt on the west and Hill 241, slightly higher, on the east. Company C, coming over Mannecourt Hill, met a fusillade from the Germans on the forward slope of Hill 241. In a fight lasting about three minutes C Company lost five or six tanks-but inflicted about the same number of tank casualties on the enemy. Then the Americans drew back from the crest and waited for Colonel Abrams to come up with B Company. When Abrams arrived the two companies maneuvered into new positions and engaged in a brief tank duel which brought the losses for both sides to some eleven or twelve tanks apiece. Darkness was coming on and Colonel Abrams finally turned aside to complete the sweeping operation by a night attack southward, taking Moncourt and then bivouacking with his main body back at Lezey. On CCA's south flank Major Kimsey and a small force had been sent during the afternoon to mop up along the canal. West of Bures five Panthers on patrol were destroyed, but when Kimsey tried to move into Bures the German tanks, fighting from cover, outranged the M-4's and the Americans had to give up the attack.

Throughout the day CCA had held the initiative, but the additional armored weight given the LVIII Panzer Corps by the 111th Panzer Brigade prevented any clear-cut decision. General Blaskowitz, however, was far from satisfied by the events of 20 September and the Army Group G War Diary noted critically that "the Fifth Panzer Army shows a marked tendency to limit itself to defensive action." Again General Manteuffel was given a lecture on tactics and enjoined to regain his "operational freedom" by returning to the offensive and initiating counterattacks immediately after every American attack. Manteuffel's plea that the combat value of the two panzer brigades was "very limited" brought no reply from above. When Abrams took Moncourt, later in the evening, Manteuffel seized the opportunity to report that his lines had been broken at Ommeray, some two and a half miles farther east. He asked for permission to withdraw the LVIII Panzer Corps to a new and shorter line between Gélucourt and Lagarde, while redressing his southern flank, across the canal, by a general withdrawal in the XLVII Panzer Corps sector to a position east of the Forêt de Parroy and the Forêt de Mondon. Blaskowitz' only reply was a short homily on tactics and an order to counterattack.

Manteuffel's plea for a general withdrawal did not coincide with a new plan of attack which OB WEST had ordered with an eye to closing the gap opening between the First and Fifth Panzer Armies as CCB probed around Château-Salins and CCA pushed toward Morhange and Dieuze. Rundstedt instructed the First Army to gather reserves for an attack southeast from Delme. The Fifth Panzer Army, reinforced by the 11th Panzer Division whose advance elements were just coming up from Sarrebourg, in turn was ordered to strengthen its right wing and attack to the north so as to meet the First Army drive near Moyenvic.

The failure to achieve an early and brilliant victory in the armored counterattack had provided Hitler with an excuse to get rid of Blaskowitz, who, although politically suspect, had not become involved in anti-Nazi intrigues and cabals. On 21 September Hitler relieved General Blaskowitz and gave the command of Army Group G to General der anzertruppen Hermann Balck; Colonel Friedrich von Mellenthin replaced Generalleutnant Heinz von Gyldenfeldt as chief of staff. Balck came from an old military family; his father had written a well-known textbook on tactics which had been translated and used for instruction in the United States. Balck had fought as a young officer through the four years of World War I and subsequently took part in the early mechanization of the Reichswehr. After winning recognition in the Somme campaign of 1940, he spent some months as a staff officer at OKH. Later, in the Russian campaigns, he commanded the famous 11th Panzer Division, led the XLVIII Panzer Corps in the fierce battles around Lemberg, and briefly held the position of commanding general of the Fourth Panzer Army. Both Balck and Mellenthin came to the West with no experience against the Western Allies-a fact which Rundstedt always held against the new appointees. Politically, Balck long had held the reputation of being an ardent Nazi. His personal bravery was well established (he had been wounded six times), he was known to be an optimist, and he had a long record of successful offensive operations. On the other hand Balck already had been ticketed as an officer prone to take too favorable a view of things when the situation failed to warrant optimism. From his earliest days as a junior commander he had built up a reputation for arrogant and ruthless dealings with his subordinates; his first days in command of Army Group G would bring forth a series of orders strengthening the existing regulations on the enactment of the death penalty. He was, in short, the type of commander certain to win Hitler's confidence.

When Balck took over his new command on 21 September he immediately ordered the First Army to start its drive past Château-Salins, still in German hands, toward Moyenvic, and set 0700 the next morning as H Hour for an attack by the right wing of the LVIII Panzer Corps. This attack aimed at the seizure of the high ground southeast of Juvelize, preparatory to an advance on Moyenvic when the 11th Panzer Division joined Manteuffel.

CCA made another sweep on 21 September, this time south to the canal past Bures and Coincourt, preceded by air raids over the sector and intense artillery fire. To their surprise the Americans met little opposition, except some infantry and a few dug-in tanks, for the LVIII Panzer Corps had refused its southern flank in conformity with the withdrawal by the right and center. Unaware of the impending German attack General Wood ordered the 4th Armored Division to take the next day for rest and maintenance, prior to an attack by both combat commands to clean out Château-Salins where the garrison thus far had defeated all attempts to take the town and had damaged seven American tanks the previous day. The 9th Tank Destroyer Group and 42d Cavalry Squadron were brought up to hold the ground between Ley and the canal.

The morning of 22 September was fogbound and murky, giving the German assault force protection from the dreaded Jabo's. But the attack toward Juvelize began nearly three hours late because of the tardy arrival of an infantry battalion which had been sent forward by the 11th Panzer Division to relieve the 111th Panzer Brigade, the latter being intended for use in the subsequent attack against Moyenvic. In the first phase of the assault the blow was taken by the 25th Cavalry Squadron, which was screening CCA's left flank and observing the roads between Dieuze and Moyenvic. During the previous night German patrols had laid white marking tape up to the cavalry lines and now the advance guard of the main enemy force, circling around to the north of Juvelize, sneaked in on the squadron with tanks and infantry. In some instances the German tanks came within seventy five yards of the cavalry pickets before they were observed. The thin-skinned cavalry vehicles were no match for the enemy and seven light tanks were lost in the melee. But C Company of the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion, in hull defilade behind the center of the cavalry line, succeeded in destroying three of the German tanks. This prompted the rest to turn back to the northeast, leaving the German infantry assault force stranded west of Juvelize.

The sun finally broke through and the XIX TAC flew into the area, strafing and bombing, while Colonel Abrams led the 37th Tank Battalion and the 10th Armored Infantry Battalion in a counterattack to take Juvelize and break up the German advance. Some of his tanks circled to the northwest and seized the hill at les Trois Croix looking down into the valley east of Juvelize along which German reinforcements were moving from the Bois du Sorbier. Fourteen enemy tanks were destroyed here by tank and artillery fire at ranges from 400 to 2,000 yards, and Colonel Heinrich Bronsart von Schellendorf, commander of the 111th Panzer Brigade, was mortally wounded. The P-47's broke up the remaining attackers, with the help of the armored field artillery, and cut them down as they straggled back to the northeast. Manteuffel's urgent pleas for help from the Luftwaffe remained unanswered and he reluctantly sent his last armored reserve, a few tanks from the 113th Panzer Brigade, east of Lezey to hold astride the Moyenvic-Bourdonnay road. The German attempt to reach Moyenvic had ended in disaster. Only seven tanks and eighty men were left in the 111th Panzer Brigade when night fell, and a scheduled continuation of the attack by the 111th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, which was marching up from the 11th Panzer Division, was called off as useless.

The tank battles fought from 19 through 22 September had cost CCA fourteen medium tanks and seven light tanks, totally destroyed, and a casualty list of 25 killed and 88 wounded. The German losses cannot be accurately determined, but two panzer brigades had been wrecked as combat units without bringing the Fifth Panzer Army appreciably closer to the Moselle or the 553d VG Division.

The Continuation of Tank Battles, 24-29 September

The second phase of the Arracourt tank battles took place from 24 to 29 September 1944. After the German attack on 22 September the 4th Armored Division was given a day's respite, while the American cavalry scouted to the east and the XIX TAC continued to interdict the enemy-held roads and strafe isolated targets designated by the armor. However, prisoners reported that a new attack was in the offing and early on 24 September the blow came- this time delivered by the First Army in the CCB sector, west of Château-Salins.

Battle of Arracourt MapBattle of Arracourt Map

Two days before, Hitler had repeated his orders that contact must be established with the 553d VG Division, that all the enemy north of the Marne-Rhin Canal must be destroyed, and-specifically-that the First Army and Fifth Panzer Army must join in the Château-Salins-Moyenvic sector. To effect this junction Field Marshal Rundstedt took the 559th VG Division from the sector north of Metz and assembled it at Morhange, with the 106th Panzer Brigade in support. Division Number 462 was left to cover the gap by extending its front to the north past Thionville. At the same time General Priess and the XIII SS Corps took command east of Nancy.

On the morning of 24 September, CCB was concentrated in the area between Chateau-Salins and Fresnes-en-Saulnois, screening in front of the 35th Division and awaiting orders to continue the offensive to the northeast. At dawn an unusually heavy concentration of artillery fire broke on the command, and enemy tanks and infantry were in on the American positions before the division artillery could be brought to bear. Two regiments of the 559th VG Division attacked on three sides of the CCB perimeter in a mounting melee. Shortly after 0830 the main enemy effort was launched against the American right flank by a tank thrust from Château-Salins. This coordinated attack threatened to have serious results when, about 1000, the skies cleared and the P-47's came into the fight. In fifteen minutes the attack was broken and the Germans were in flight, leaving eleven wrecked tanks behind them and about three hundred dead. Although no further assaults were made, the German artillery, firing from the shelter of the Forêt de Château-Salins, continued a heavy shelling all through the afternoon, destroying an American aid station and spraying the area with fragments from time shells. CCB sustained 120 casualties in this action but at the end of the day still held its ground.

Now the Fifth Panzer Army prepared to return to the attack. On the night of 24 September Rundstedt appealed to OKW to abandon the Fifth Panzer Army counterattack and send the remaining armor north to the Aachen front, where an Allied break-through seemed imminent. But Hitler brusquely ordered Manteuffel to continue the fight. General Manteuffel had asked for two new armored divisions to replace the crippled and decimated panzer brigades. There were no reserves at hand, however, and he had to be content with such elements of the 11th Panzer Division (Wietersheim) as had reached his army. The 11th Panzer Division, popularly known as the "Ghost Division," was one of the most famous armored units in the Wehrmacht. It had captured Belgrade and then had fought continuously on the Eastern Front, where it was cited three times in 1943 for distinguished action. In February 1944 the division was badly mauled during the Korsun encirclement and had to be transferred to southern France for rest and reorganization. In August it was given the difficult task of covering the retreat of the Nineteenth Army-since it was the only armored division south of the Loire. After the retreat from southern France the division took up position in the Belfort Gap, from which it moved on 18 September to reinforce the Fifth Panzer Army. Although the 11th Panzer Division had lost heavily during the Rhone Valley battles it still had most of its artillery and infantry. However, a Kampfgruppe (consisting of a tank company, the assault gun battalion, and some infantry) had to be left behind in the Belfort region, and a few tanks were destroyed by air attacks on the rail journey to Sarrebourge,35 where the division detrained. When the 11th Panzer Division finally was committed on the Fifth Panzer Army front, General Wietersheim, an able and experienced commander, had only the 110th and 111th Panzer Grenadier Regiments, sixteen tanks, and two batteries at his disposal-hardly the force required for an advance to Nancy. All told, however, the Fifth Panzer Army had about fifty tanks when it resumed the attack.

The fate of the 111th Panzer Brigade on 22 September had prompted General Manteuffel to seek for surprise on 25 September by moving the axis of his attack farther to the north. On the night of 24 September scouting parties reported that Moyenvic was unoccupied and that Marsal was only weakly held. The main attack by the 11th Panzer Division jumped off the next morning at 0900-two hours later than scheduled-because of a steady downpour that slowed up tanks and guns as they moved into position. The thin cavalry screen on the American north flank was easily brushed aside and the Germans seized Marsal, where, under a smoke screen, they reorganized to fan out in attacks toward the south. One prong of the German drive continued through Moyenvic and by noon had come to a halt at Vic-sur-Seille-finally effecting the junction with the First Army which Berlin had decreed.

This quick success on the north flank dictated a widening of the attack and about 1000 General Manteuffel ordered a general advance along the whole LVIII Panzer Corps front, its object to be the seizure of a line reaching from Moncel-sur-Seille (some seven miles west of Moyenvic), diagonally through Bezange-la-Grande and Bathelémont, back to the canal at Hénaménil where the XLVII Panzer Corps still held. Manteuffel called on Luettwitz to support the attack from south of the canal with counterbattery fire on the American artillery massed behind the hills northeast of Bathelémont; but such an artillery duel could profit the Germans very little for it is doubtful whether Luettwitz had a score of guns available in his entire corps. The German attack corps had a fair number of artillery pieces (about two battalions), but, just as in the case of the relative armored strength, the American superiority was pronounced; at least six field artillery battalions were brought into play during the course of the battle.

At noon the enemy began to shoulder his way against CCA's north flank in an attempt to widen the corridor of assault. Ten tanks rolled down from the north and hit the 37th Tank Battalion, northeast of Juvelize, but were handily beaten off by the American M-4's-which outnumbered them and held positions on the slopes above the German line of approach. Next, infantry in about battalion strength, reinforced by a few tanks, tried to drive in the outpost lines manned by the 10th Armored Infantry Battalion (southeast of the 37th Tank Battalion), the 25th Cavalry, and the 53d Armored Infantry Battalion, the latter two holding on the north flank along a line running west. These attacks continued sporadically throughout the afternoon and evening in a steady rain which curtained off the battleground and left the decision to men, tanks, and guns. The enemy occupied Moncourt, but elsewhere the Americans held their ground and blunted the spearhead of the German drive by successful counterattacks.

During the night General Wood moved CCB down to take over the line of the 320th Infantry (-) between Réchicourt and the canal, on the right flank of CCA, while the 35th Infantry Division occupied the former CCB sector west of Château-Salins. On 26 September the 4th Armored Division reorganized its front with a slight withdrawal to the west, as part of the shift to the defensive which had been ordered for the Third Army. General Manteuffel seized the opportunity offered by the American withdrawal to report the uncontested occupation of Juvelize and Coincourt as "victories," and then prepared to resume the attack toward the west.

Manteuffel switched the direction of the LVIII Panzer Corps attack on 27 September so as to bring his main force to bear against the American south flank. An armored task force of about twenty-five tanks was scraped together from the 11th Panzer Division, 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, and the two panzer brigades. These tanks, reinforced by the Reconnaissance Battalion of the 11th Panzer Division, which had just come up from the Nineteenth Army front, were given the mission of making an envelopment by a march along the narrow road between the canal and the Etang de Parroy- following this by an attack to take the camel back, at Hills 318 and 293, and Arracourt. Both Manteuffel and Balck were gravely concerned with the American possession of this camel-back plateau, east of the Arracourt-Bathelémont road, since its two hills rose to command long reaches of the ground held by the Fifth Panzer Army. The attack on 27 September, then, would be a fight to deny the Americans the observation which, coupled with their superiority in artillery, effectively barred the road to Nancy. General Wietersheim, the 11th Panzer Division commander, opposed this new plan, for his experience with American planes and artillery during the retreat from southern France dictated the dispersal rather than the concentration of tanks in attack. Manteuffel, still thinking in terms of his experience with massed armor on the Eastern Front, was adamant-in addition he had been promised that fifty planes would fly cover over his tanks during the attack.

At 0800 the LVIII Panzer Corps (minus the armored task force) began a series of bitter diversionary attacks along the left and center of the 4th Armored Division perimeter. A battalion of grenadiers and a few tanks struck with particular fury against the 10th Armored Infantry Battalion (Lt. Col. Arthur West), which had been withdrawn to the new main line of resistance and had taken over the sector between Bezange-la-Petite and Réchicourt. Colonel West's battalion occupied a front of some 3,500 yards. Its left flank extended tenuously beyond the edge of Hill 265, west of Bezange; between its right flank and the 51st Armored Infantry Battalion a gap existed which neither of the battalions had the rifle strength to fill. The German assault bent the thin American line but could not break through. At Hill 265 the enemy succeeded in gaining a foothold, but at this point 1st Lt. James H. Fields inspired his men to stand fast, though he had been rendered speechless by wounds in the head and throat. When two German machine guns caught the Americans in a withering cross fire, Fields took up a light machine gun from its dead crew and knocked out both of the German weapons. For gallantry in this action Lieutenant Fields received the Congressional Medal of Honor. On the north flank the 110th Panzer Grenadier Regiment advanced as far as Xanrey. But while the Germans were reorganizing for a continuation of the attack some American tanks entered the town, under cover of smoke and artillery fire, and killed about 135 of the grenadiers-abruptly terminating this phase of the enemy maneuver.

About 1000, Manteuffel's armored task force began the main attack, but its advance guard had gone only as far as Fourasse Farm, some 1,800 yards west of Bures, when the American artillery brought the tanks to a halt. During the night General Wietersheim switched the 110th Panzer Grenadier Regiment around from the north flank and put it in on his south flank to reinforce the tank group. One of its combat patrols filtered through to the north of the farm and captured Hill 318 after a sharp fight. Hill 318, and the plateau from which it projected, now became the focal point for the whole German effort. At daybreak on 28 September the 51st Armored Infantry Battalion retook the hill, but the fight continued through the morning, surging back and forth on the crest. About noon, the 51st got a firm hold. One last enemy counterattack was broken up by shellfire from American batteries to the northeast, raking the flank of the German assault column. In the center of the 4th Armored Division line German infantry and assault guns drove in close to the CCB positions under cover of a smoke screen. But by midafternoon the superiority of the American artillery began to tell, and the appearance of the Jabo's broke off the action.

Sherman Tank at ArracourtSherman Tank at Arracourt

When darkness came the Germans again sent a shock force, this time supported by a few tanks, up the forward slope of Hill 318. This assault drove the Americans back over the crest and onto the reverse slope, where they were caught by a well-executed barrage laid down by German guns. Just before midnight the 51st Armored Infantry Battalion regained the crest, after a preparatory shelling by four battalions of artillery had broken the German hold. The enemy retaliated promptly. CCB was hit by heavy-caliber artillery fire which continued for nearly one hour-causing thirty-five casualties in one company alone. Under cover of this fire the 11th Panzer Division extended its hold on the camel back, took Hill 293, and drove on to seize the high ground at the eastern edge of the Bois du Bénamont. However, the infantry from the 51st, crouched in foxholes close to the crest of Hill 318, refused to give ground.

The German attack had made important gains during the night of 28-29 September, but the 4th Armored Division had added to its estimable record as an assault force and had proved to be equally tough and stubborn on the defensive. Here, as in previous engagements, the XIX TAC had given yeoman support to the American troops fighting on the ground. General Weyland sent 107 fighter-bombers to aid the XII Corps during 28 September. One squadron, the 23d, made a strike at Bures which nearly leveled the village and cut up the German reserves assembling there, thus weakening still further the ability of the enemy to exploit an attack that had been initiated successfully.

The morning of 29 September broke with a thick fog obscuring the battlefield. The exhausted German infantry tried to push on toward Arracourt but made no headway. Meanwhile, a platoon of medium tanks from the 8th Tank Battalion moved up Hill 318 in the fog, and when the haze finally lifted the tank commander directed the American planes onto the German tanks which had assembled under the screening fog in the valley below. After several mishaps-which included the dropping of propaganda leaflets instead of bombs -the air-ground team began to close on the enemy. By the middle of the afternoon the Germans were streaming back through Fourasse Farm, and the rout was checked only when a few tanks were brought up to form a straggler line east of Parroy. Remnants of the 2d Battalion of the 110th Panzer Grenadier Regiment (Captain Schneider) and a few tanks from the Reconnaissance Battalion, 11th Panzer Division, held bravely to their positions in the Bois du Bénamont, all the while under heavy fire from American tank destroyers and cavalry assault guns. When night came the survivors filtered south through the American lines.

The back of the Fifth Panzer Army attack was broken on 29 September; nor was there any further possibility of creating a new force for a continued effort to reach the Moselle River. During the afternoon, while the remnants of Manteuffel's armored task force were being hunted down around Bures by the fighter-bombers, General Balck made a personal visit to Rundstedt's headquarters at Bad Kreuznach. He told the C-in-C West that he still intended to wipe out the Pont-à-Mousson bridgehead and recover the Moselle defense line, but that he would need a "minimum" of three additional divisions, forty or fifty tanks, twenty or thirty assault guns, fifty antitank guns with prime movers, four battalions of heavy artillery, and four battalions of engineers. Rundstedt had no troops to give Army Group G, for Hitler and Jodl had decided to throw the few reserves still available on the Western Front into an attack against the Second British Army, at this time driving forward to surround the Fifteenth Army between the Rhine and the Maas. Balck, therefore, had no choice but to order the Fifth Panzer Army to go over to the defensive.

Both Balck and Manteuffel must have felt uneasy about giving up a project cherished by Hitler, for both hastened to go on record in their respective War Diaries. Balck wrote that Army Group G always had attempted to build up sufficient tactical reserves to make counterattacks possible, but that local commanders constantly had whittled away such reserves by committing them wherever a thin portion of the line was menaced by the enemy. He added, furthermore, that withdrawals had been made without permission of the Army Group headquarters, and that losses of towns and territory had occurred which were never reported to the higher headquarters. Manteuffel contented himself with repeating the report made by General Krueger on the battles fought in the previous days by the LVIII Panzer Corps. Said Krueger, the enemy had superiority in the air and in the artillery arm. There was no cover in this area for tanks and infantry; whenever the weather cleared the American planes descended on the corps-while all requests for the Luftwaffe were answered by reports that the German airfields were weathered in. American artillery was ceaseless, firing day and night - "a regular drum fire."

Finally, the Americans held the high ground, looking deep into the corps area, and so long as Hill 318 was in American hands no success was possible. The Lorraine tank battles had ended, except for a last American tank sweep on 30 September, and this sector relapsed into quiet. The 4th Armored Division took up stabilized positions north and east of Arracourt, while the German infantry dug in a few hundred yards away. On 12 October Wood's division was relieved by the 26th Division and went into corps reserve.

On the whole the September weather had been favorable to the superior speed and maneuverability of the American armor, with only a few days of mud to fasten the tanks to the highroads and with the sun burning through the morning haze in time for intervention by the XIX TAC. Through the earlier battles in Normandy and Brittany the division had developed a high degree of co-ordination among the various arms-as now shown in the losses which tank destroyers, artillery, and planes had inflicted on the enemy, and in the tenacity and skill with which the armored infantry and the tanks had repelled the desperate German attacks in the last days of September. Equally important, the division had learned much of the capabilities and limitations of the M-4 tank and its short-barreled 75-mm. gun, with which most of the medium tank companies were equipped. Maneuver had been the major tactic in Lorraine, with various types of the "mouse trap play" and surprise attacks from hull defilade, or under cover of the fogs rising from the Moselle and Seille bottoms, against German tanks whose high-velocity guns generally outranged the American tank weapon but whose turrets-traversed by hand-turned so slowly that four or five rounds could be fired into a Panther before its own gun could be brought to bear. The American tank losses usually had been sustained in frontal attacks against enemy armor fighting from cover, or over level spaces where the superior range of the long-barreled 75-mm. gun on the Mark V could make the kill.


The operations of the 4th Armored Division had been highly successful - even if the division had never been free to make the dash to the Rhine which its personnel, officers and men alike, had wished. Since crossing the Moselle it had destroyed or damaged an estimated 285 German tanks or other armored vehicles, at relatively small cost to the division. As a result the 4th Armored would take the field in November as a veteran and successful division, with only a small mixture of untried replacements.

In summary, the battles of Arracourt demonstrated the U.S. ability to maintain an aggressive mobile defense while retaining critical terrain to deny the Germans a chance to link up with the 553d Volkagrenadier Division in Nancy and to anchor their position on the east bank of the Moselle for the winter. The combined arms forces of the 4th Armored Division, coupled with air attacks, were orchestrated to maintain the Arracourt salient. All attempts to dislodge the 4th Armored Division from the hills around Arracourt eventually failed. Arracourt demonstrated the U.S. capability of maintaining a 360 degree mobile defense while deep within enemy lines, in spite of adverse weather conditions. It exemplified the determination of the American fighting man to resist wave after wave of assault at all times of the day or night even in the face of combat fatigue. Arracourt poignantly showed how the Wehrmacht, already pondering complete defeat, nevertheless maintained its aggressive jabs until it was at last allowed to go on the defensive. Arracourt thus became a critical turning point in Patton's drive to Germany, and served to tie up enough forces to allow the main attack in the north to proeed. The German counterattack was repulsed and the Germans never regained the initiative. Arracourt became the base from which the Third Army winter offensive was launched In November. Arracourt, the greatest tank battle of the Western offensive to that point, became a model for defensive tactics and combined operations in the future.