View Full Version : The Battle of Arracourt

01-13-2006, 06:41 AM
For those familiar with the military history of WW2, there are many battles that come readily to mind. These included the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Kursk, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Battle of El Alamein.

At the same time, there were battles that were not so well known, for one reason or the other. One was the battle in the Hurtgen Forest, when incompetent American generalship was paid for by the heavy casualties amongst the GI. The other was the Battle of Arracourt.

In fact, there is no such thing as the Battle of Arracourt. There is no such designation in either American records or in German records. If it was referred to at all, it would usually be described as "the German counter-attack around Arracourt", or "the tank engagements around Arracourt". 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".

That last title neatly summed up the nature of the engagement. 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 wiht 75mm Sherman tanks. Below is a brief description of the battle:

During the Lorraine campaign in September 1944, the German 5th Panzer Corps massed the largest concentration of German tanks seen since the battles at Caen and Mortain in July 1944. This counterattack force included over 300 tanks, with the majority being new Panther tanks.

Their opponet was the 4th Armoured Division, knwon as "Patton's Best", a well trained, well-led division which had become battle hardened since the fighting for Coutances in July 1944. From 19 to 22 September 1944, the 4th Armored Division broke the back of the German counteroffensive near Arracourt, destroying 107 tanks and 30 assault guns for the loss of only 14 M4 tanks and 7 M5A1 light tanks.

Two of the new panzer brigades were wiped out in the fighting, and by the end of the fighting for Arracourt, the 4th Armored Division had destroyed 285 German tanks and armoured vehicles for the loss of 25 medium tanks and 7 tank destroyers.

At the same time, the veteran French 2e Division Blindee smashed another panzer brigade putting an end to the largest German armor operation in the West until the Battle of the Bulge.

[The M4 Sherman at War: the European Theatre 1942-1945 (Steven J. Zaloga; Concord Publications Company: 1994)]

Note that the victory ratio was 32:285, or almost 1:9 in favour of the Americans.

Of the units in the 4th Armored Division, one unit in particular distinguished itself. This was the 37th Armored Regiment, commanded by Creighton Abrams (Lieutanent-Colonel, then Colonel).

Here is a description of the 37th actions around that time:

The 37th spent those days spreading confusion and terror in the German rear areas. From 19 September through 22 September 1944 the Germans tried to push the 37th back across the Moselle. It was one of the largest tank-to-tank engagements of the war, at Mayenvie, the 37th lost 14 Shermans while knocking out 55 Panthers and Tigers. Needless to say, the German counterattack was unsuccessful.

On 22 September the 37th's M4s swept south again through Coincourt and Bures to the Rhine-Marne Canal. Counterattack followed counterattack as the desperate Wehrmacht tried to dislodge the 3rd Army from its position, but as the toll of Panthers mounted, the attacks dwindled in intensity and finally ceased.

The 37th was relieved on 12 October 1944 by elements of the 26th (Yankee) Infantry Division. For its tenacity in the Moselle Valley, the 37th was awarded its second Croix de Guerre with Palm by a grateful French Government (it's first coming in Normandy). The 37th's tankers were pulled off line for a rest after 87 straight days of combat.


The victory ratio for the 37th was 14:55 or almost 1:4.

By comparison, the battle around Prokhorovka during the Battle of Kursk - supposedly the largest tank battle in history - saw 32 German AFV's lost as opposed to 259 Russian AFV's.


If these figures are accurate, a single American armored regiment at an little known battle had actually destroyed more German vehicles than the Russians at the reputedly largest tank battle of WW2!

Here are some descriptions of actions fought during the battle:

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 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.

For more information, please refer to:

The most amazing thing about this battle was that the Americans had fought it with inferior weapons. They were armed with 75mm Sherman tanks, 3-in M10 Tank Destroyers, and the 76mm M18 Tank Destroyers. Most of the German tanks were Panthers.

Another point is that most of the American vehicles had seen continuous combat since Jul 44, and had been in the dash across France since Operation Cobra. The German panzer brigades, on the other hand, were fresh and armed mostly with factory new tanks.

Further of note as well was that much of the actions around Arracourt was fought in fog, which neutralised the Allied superiority in the air.

It is curious that while the Battle of Kursk, Rommel's dashes across North Africa, and other battles were very well known, this American victory had not received much notice. Perhaps because it was simply treated as part of the larger American victory in France. Perhaps compared to the greater drama of the Battle of the Bulge, this battle seemed so lop-sided.

Whatever it is, the American armored units, and in particular commanders such as COL Creighton Abrams, deserved more recognition for their achievements, using inferior and worn-out tanks to defeat superior and brand-new tanks.

01-13-2006, 12:06 PM
You should give 'panzer commander' a read, its by colonel hans von luck.

That mentions the battles around the Moselle.

01-13-2006, 12:19 PM
Awesome! In the truest sense of the word.
Can anyone give more details about the actions of the French 2nd Armoured Division?

01-13-2006, 01:01 PM
To be fair to the Germans, a lot of "fresh" units in 1944 had limited training and lacked experience as a lot of the older commanders had been killed off. I would also say that they may not have been as fully equipped as they should have been and were certainly lacking the air support. I dont know of the engagement, but I wonder whether the terrain favoured the American defence against the German counter-attack. That is not to say the US had it easy, because it would have still been a very hard fight.

02-20-2013, 02:53 AM
wrong thread pls delete

raoul volfoni
03-03-2013, 06:43 AM
Thanks for the read, I wanted to know more and I read that, apparently, the battle of Lorraine cost the US more dead than D-Day and the whole battle of Normandy.
Can anyone provide a link or some figures ? I can't find out.