In 1944, the Army Crushed Hitler's Best Panzer Tanks in a Battle for the Ages

In 1944, the Army Crushed Hitler's Best Panzer Tanks in a Battle for the Ages

Here is the story. 

By late morning, the two U.S. task forces had traveled six miles from their start line. Fearful that more German forces were in the Parroy Forest sector and might attack the division’s rear, Wood returned both task forces to Arracourt to clear that region of the enemy.

 

After returning to his launch point, Abrams sent a team composed of tanks and armored infantry to the north of the Parroy Forest. When C Company, 37th Tank Battalion crested a rise near the town of Ley, it was met by a German ambush containing tanks and 75mm Pak 40 antitank guns. The first German volleys destroyed six Shermans. In return, the Americans knocked out seven German tanks and three enemy antitank guns.

Later in the day, A Company, 10th Armored Infantry Battalion and A Company, 37th Tank Battalion took Moncourt. They did this by initiating the assault with tanks and following up the armored attack with an infantry assault. By day’s end, the Germans had lost 16 tanks, 257 dead, and 80 captured. The 111th and 113th Panzer Brigades had only 54 tanks left from the 180 with which they started the offensive. The U.S. 4th Armored Division lost 18 Shermans.

The 4th Armored Division rested on September 21, and the Germans reinforced their strike force at Arracourt with elements of Generalleutnant Wend von Wietersheim’s 11th Panzer Division from the Alsace area. Unfortunately for the Wehrmacht, the 11th Panzer Division, to which the 111th Panzer Brigade was attached, had a tank strength of just 40 Panthers and Panzer IVs.

In the predawn hours of September 22, the 11th Panzer began its mission to seal off the 4th Armor’s penetration by gaining control as far west as the Bezange Forest-Arracourt Blois de Benamont area. The attack was redirected to seize the village of Juvelize and then push north through Lezey. A supporting thrust was to be made by the 113th Panzer Brigade toward Ley.

The first encounters of the day occurred around 9:15 AM in thick fog between light Stu- art tanks of the screening D Troop, 25th Cavalry Squadron and German panzergrenadiers aided by 12 tanks, which quickly destroyed four American Stuarts. Hellcats from B Company, 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion, responded to the German assault and knocked out three Panthers before withdrawing. In response, B and C Companies of the 37th Tank Battalion deployed between Juvelize and Lezey and beyond the latter town.

By noon, elements of 111th Panzer Brigade had occupied Juvelize, while the 113th reached Lezey. During their advance, American ground attack aircraft struck both panzer brigades. To block the enemy’s move any farther south, Abrams established a defensive line consisting of tanks from two of his companies, supported by infantry, on Hill 257 just northwest of Juvelize.  As German armor continued to advance, American tanks on Hill 257 fired on them at ranges from 400 yards to 2,000 yards, destroying 14 tanks and effectively stopping the enemy’s attempt to reinforce the town. Abrams then ordered his B Company, together with A Company, 10th Armored Infantry Battalion, to take the town. They successfully achieved their objective. The 111th Panzer Brigade subsequently withdrew from the area.

German casualties at Juvelize amounted to 16 tanks, 250 men killed, and 185 captured. The U.S. forces engaged lost seven killed and 13 wounded. As for equipment, the Americans lost seven Stuarts and one Sherman tank.

On September 23, the Germans licked their wounds and waited for the remainder of the 11th Panzer Division. As for the Americans, Patton’s desire to continue his advance toward Germany was frustrated by a lack of supplies, which were being funneled to the Allied forces engaged in Operation Market Garden in Holland. As a result, Eisenhower ordered Patton to switch to the defensive.

On September 24, the 11th Panzer Division advanced on the lightly defended town of Moyen- vic. Over the next few hours the Germans conducted small battalion-sized probes supported by a few tanks against the Americans, but each probe was repulsed. The Germans lost 10 tanks and 300 troops.

The following day, the 11th Panzer Division made a minor attack from Moyenvic. Larger assaults were made at Juvelize, Lezey, and Ley. By this time, the 4th Armored was in the process of shortening its defensive line by pulling back to Rechicourt-Arracourt. That day, CCA and CCB reported destroying 10 enemy tanks and killing 300 enemy soldiers, while suffering 212 casual- ties. The fighting on September 26 was limited due to bad weather. However, the two sides exchanged artillery fire.

The tempo picked up on September 27 when Manteuffel sought to secure Hills 318, 265, and 293 on the southern flank of 4th Armored guarded by CCB. These hills overlooked the German positions in the Parroy Forest and placed any German movement there under the threat of American artillery and tank fire.

The 224 men of A Company, 10th Armored Infantry Battalion, who were deployed between Hills 265 and 318, put up a spirited defense of their position that day. They held their ground in the face of repeated assaults by tanks and infantry from the 11th Panzer Division throughout the long day.

Meanwhile, the 110th Panzergrenadier Regiment supported by tanks from the 11th Panzer Division attacked C Company and a platoon of tank destroyers holding Hill 265. A German battle group took Hill 318 from elements of the U.S. 51st Armored Infantry Battalion in heavy fighting, which sparked continuous fighting over the next 24 hours. The struggle for neighboring Hill 265 was almost as intense with the Americans barely holding the high ground. They were able to hold on primarily because of strong artillery support.

In preparation for a last-ditch effort to capture Hills 265 and 318, Wietersheim sent reinforcements to the German units deployed opposite CCB’s positions on the two strategic hills. On September 29, the 111th and 113th Panzer Brigades, as well as portions of the 110th Panzergrenadier Regiment, made a coordinated assault on the objectives. The early morning attack, in dense fog that limited observation to a few dozen yards, pushed the 51st Armored Infantry back 500 yards. This gave the Germans control of the forward crest of Hill 318 by late morning.

In response, Clarke sent a company of Sherman tanks from the 8th Tank Battalion to retake the hill, and the fighting reached a new level of intensity. The fog lifted just in time for P-47 Thunderbolts of the U.S. 405th Fighter Group to foil the next German attack. The air strikes forced the German tanks into the clear where they were systematically picked off by American artillery and tank fire.

In the afternoon, the Germans were forced to retreat from Hill 318 after a loss of 23 tanks. At Hill 265, the Germans pushed the Americans back to the reverse slope, but the Americans held on. With no reinforcements expected, the Germans abandoned the height.

The fighting on September 29 marked the last major attempt by the Fifth Panzer Army to cut Third Army’s armored spearhead near Arracourt. The failed effort of the previous four days cost the Germans 36 tanks, 700 killed, and 300 wounded.

The end of September 1944 found the fighting in Lorraine at a stalemate. Deprived of supplies, Patton could not switch to the offensive. As for the German Army, its panzer force had been so badly mauled that it was incapable of further offensive action against Patton’s Third Army.

Patton’s next challenge was to capture fortress Metz on Third Army’s left flank. After Metz fell to the Americans on December 13, Third Army advanced toward the Siegfried Line. Before December was over, Patton’s Third Army would be engaged in another great armored clash, known as the Battle of the Bulge.

This article by Arnold Blumberg originally appeared on Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons