Book Review: Patton Versus the Panzers

Patton Versus the Panzers: The Battle of Arracourt, September 1944

Author: Steven Zaloga

Publisher: Stackpole Books, August 2016

Hardcover: 288 pages

This book is a good antidote to the popular media conception of the M4 tank as a “Death Trap” as stated in films such as “Fury” or numerous cable TV documentaries. Zaloga first addressed this theme in his 2008 book on the history of the Sherman tank, “Armored Thunderbolt” as well as in the Osprey Duel books “Sherman vs Panther” and “Sherman Vs Panzer IV.”  In this book he further makes his case by examining in detail the battle of Arracourt, clearly showing that the outcome of the battle was decided far more by the quality and training of the tank crews involved than by the technical advantages or disadvantages of the Sherman and Panther tanks. It also becomes apparent in this book just how desperate the situation was for German Panzer forces in this period and how poorly thought out was the conception of the late war “Panzer Brigades.” At the other end of the spectrum is the US 4th Armored Division, one of the best armored units in the US army at the time, well trained, well equipped and well led.

While popular media fixate on the heavy armor and powerful gun of the Panther tank, in every other regard the German Panzer Brigades came up short against US Armor, lacking artillery, reconnaissance units, air support, recovery and repair capability, logistical support, trained crew, fuel and other basic supplies. And of course, the Panzer Brigades were also handicapped by being assigned unrealistic mission orders from the Fuhrer himself. This all becomes abundantly clear as the German attacks detailed in the book consistently fail to achieve even their initial goals, let alone the audacious goals assigned to them by Hitler.

The book contains a rather sizable appendices, containing some interesting essays. There is a section with short biographies of the various officers involved in the battle, as well as a chapter on Patton’s various command vehicles. An essay from 1946 by 4th Armored Division veteran Albin Irzyk in defense of the Sherman tank makes for interesting reading. Irzyk is featured in several of the TV documentaries on the battle of Arracourt and the Sherman tank, his thoughts on the topic usually limited to short clips. Getting to read his thoughts on the matter in a longer, uninterrupted format gives some valuable context to his TV documentary appearances. Also featured in the appendices is a short essay on the role (or more accurately, the lack of a role) that the infamous Tiger I tank played against the US forces in the ETO. This is included in response to the popular conception that Tiger tanks were regularly encountered by US forces. The reality was that the US Army in Western Europe very seldom encountered the famous Tiger I tank. This is in contrast to the British, who encountered a number of Tiger I tanks during the Normandy campaign.

For those with an interest in WW2 armor and the role it played in the Fall of 1944 in Western Europe, this book will be a welcome addition to your collection.

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