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Posted on Sep 12, 2011 in Armchair Reading

CDG 47 – Clarke at the Battle of Nancy, 1944

By Andrew H. Hershey

Download pdf for larger image. Map by Petho Cartography.In this Command Decision Game, you assume the role of U.S. colonel Bruce C. Clarke, commander of Combat Command A (CCA), 4th Armored Division, as you prepare to exploit a bridgehead over the Moselle River to encircle the crossroads city of Nancy, France, cutting its German defenders off from supplies and reinforcements so the 80th Infantry Division can capture the town.

After breaking out of the bocage country in late July, Allied forces raced across France until they literally ran out of gas a month later. While the spearheads halted to await sufficient re-supply, the Germans took advantage of the reprieve to regain their balance and reorganize their defenses. Instead of a disordered, disheartened enemy reeling backwards, the Allies now face stubborn defenders determined to keep them from reaching Germany, just 70 miles to the east. Early this morning, September 13, the 80th Infantry Division of Maj. Gen. Manton Eddy’s XII Corps achieved a hard-won bridgehead at Dieulouard, about 12 miles north of Nancy. In fact, they are still fighting furiously to hold the bridgehead against the 3d Panzergrenadier Division’s counterattacks, but combat engineers have managed to erect heavy bridges that will allow your armored command to cross the Moselle.

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The 4th Armored Division, which includes your command, is led by the daring and aggressive Maj. Gen. John S. "P" Wood, the commander who can "out-Patton" George S. Patton. Your CCA often spearheaded the 4th’s lightening drive across France—which isn’t surprising since you are acknowledged to be one of the most combat-experienced and tactically savvy armor commanders in the U.S. Army. For the encirclement of Nancy, Gen. Wood has augmented your armored force with a battalion of truck-mounted infantry and two additional battalions of self-propelled artillery, plus elements of the division’s quartermaster corps to ensure your men get all the "beans, bullets and gasoline" you need for the operation.

With these additional forces, CCA now consists of 53 tanks—three companies of M4A3 Sherman tanks and one company of M5A1 light tanks—led by Lt. Col. Creighton Abrams, himself renowned as a daring and aggressive armored battalion commander. Your three artillery battalions each consist of 18 M7 self-propelled 105 mm howitzers; for this operation you will have a total of 54 guns.

Your inherent infantry battalion travels in M3 halftracks; the additional attached battalion relies on 2.5-ton trucks for transport. When it comes time for them to earn their pay, they both fight dismounted with small arms, machine guns, mortars, and bazooka anti-tank weapons.

Division intelligence says you’ll be facing part or all of three German divisions: based in Nancy is the 553d Volksgrenadier, which has been reinforced with Luftwaffe personnel fighting as infantry; 3rd Panzergrenadier north of the city, the force that is presently contesting your bridgehead; and 15th Panzergrenadier south of Nancy. Each division contains three two-battalion infantry regiments—about 1,800 men in each regiment—plus a 75 mm howitzer company and a panzerschreck anti-tank company. Panzerschrecks are like bazookas but much more powerful.

Your opponents have been reinforced with Sturmgeschuetz IIIG self-propelled guns and PzKwIV panzers, plus 105 mm and 150 mm artillery. Oh, yes—there are also reports of dreaded PzKw5 Panther tanks in the area.

Sounds of fighting east of the bridgehead are clearly heard as you and Lt. Col. Abrams arrive at a hastily arranged "council of war" with generals Eddy and Wood. They want to hear your plans for accomplishing your objective of moving through the Dieulouard bridgehead and attacking to encircle Nancy. You have three possible plans in mind.

Course of Action One:
Right Hook
"The first plan," you begin, "offers the quickest way to get CCA around and behind Nancy. With Abrams’ tank battalion leading the way, CCA will execute an immediate ‘right hook’ out of the bridgehead, moving almost directly south to cut the main road into Nancy about three miles east of the city. Along the way, I will drop off the two infantry battalions on the hills six to eight miles north of town to guard our flanks and maintain contact with the bridgehead. Meanwhile, our three self-propelled artillery battalions will move forward as necessary to provide continuous fire coverage."

Predictably, the irrepressible General Wood speaks first. "Clarke," he begins in his usual animated, forceful manner, "although this is undoubtedly the quickest way to isolate Nancy, the encirclement will not go deep enough—and you and I both know the deeper the encirclement, the greater the impact. This plan may allow us to seize the city’s immediate environs, but it does nothing to prevent a Kraut relief force from getting close and possibly breaking through."

General Eddy, a cautious, methodical infantryman whose experience with fast-moving armored warfare only dates back to his assumpiton of XII Corps command on August 19, disagrees with Wood. "P," he says, "I think Clarke’s ‘right hook’ plan makes good tactical sense. It keeps CCA from moving too far away from the rest of the corps and the bridgehead—which is still far from secure, as evidenced by the sound of continued fighting over there. If the Germans recapture the bridgehead, Clarke will be trapped behind enemy lines."

Course of Action Two:
Deep Attack
"The second option," you continue, "is to make a wider encirclement by launching CCA on a deep attack directly east about 20 miles toward an initial objective of the key crossroads at Chateau-Salins before turning south to complete the encirclement. Cutting the main road to Nancy there will ensure German reinforcements can’t get anywhere near the city. Again, Abrams’ tank battalion will lead the way, followed closely by the infantry battalions and self-propelled artillery battalions interspersed along CCA’s march column."

"That’s more like it, Clarke!" Wood bursts out. "The deeper CCA penetrates behind enemy lines, the greater the impact on the Krauts in Nancy. We want this encirclement to really slash through German lines and cut ‘em up! That’s the right way to use armored forces!"

Unconvinced by Wood’s enthusiastic support of a deep attack, Eddy replies, "Driving east to Chateau-Salins will take Clarke and CCA 20 miles behind German lines, where they will be attacking on a 22-foot-wide front—the narrow width of a single road—the entire way. I’m not comfortable with them going so far away from the corps and the bridgehead. If Clarke runs into trouble or finds Chateau-Salins too heavily defended, CCA will be stuck too far away for the corps to support it."

Course of Action Three:
Two-Pronged Attack
"The final plan I’m considering," you explain, "accomplishes the encirclement through a two-pronged attack, essentially combining the salient features of the other courses of action. With this option, Abrams’ tank battalion and two self-propelled artillery battalions will race east to capture the crossroads at Chateau-Salins while the two infantry battalions and the third self-propelled artillery battalion move south to cut the main road into Nancy three miles east of the city. This plan offers a greater guarantee of isolating Nancy from supplies and reinforcements by targeting the main road into the city at two key points instead of just one."

Eddy suddenly perks up. "Clarke," he says, "I like the sound of this ‘one-two punch’ course of action. By cutting the main road at two locations, we keep the Krauts guessing about our intentions and force them to disperse their available counterattack units along the two separate lines of CCA’s advance. This plan also leaves you the option of rerouting one of your forces to help the other in case it runs into serious trouble. It increases our odds of cutting the main road in at least one location and sealing the defender’s fate."

"No, no, no!" Wood interjects. "You don’t dissipate the hitting power of an armored combat command by breaking it up into smaller elements! Armored units rely on mass, speed and shock action to achieve maximum results. This plan is too reminiscent of slow and deliberate  ‘two up and one back’ infantry tactics. If we’d kept to this kind of thinking back in July and August, we’d still be stuck in Normandy!"

Eddy ignores Wood’s vehement anti-infantry mentality outburst—he knows this likely won’t be the last time Wood complains that infantry officers don’t know how to employ tanks properly—and instead turns to you and says, "Clarke, regardless of which course of action you choose, I’m sure you realize that attacking through our still-unsecured bridgehead and advancing behind enemy lines to encircle Nancy is a dangerous operation. What are your thoughts about undertaking this mission? Given the situation, no one would blame you if you feel the risks are just too great."

Rather than answer the corps commander directly, you address Abrams, who is certain to lead CCA’s spearhead regardless of the final plan, and ask, "Abe, what’s your opinion?"

Pointing across the Moselle toward enemy-held territory beyond the bridgehead, Abrams replies, "That’s the shortest way home."

"Well, Clarke," Eddy says. "Abe’s ready to get going, so don’t keep him—or us—waiting. Tell us which course of action you’ve decided to implement."

Colonel Clarke, which of these plans of action will you follow? Or has yet another option suggested itself as you listened to the comments of generals Wood and Eddy?

Click here to download the pdf of Command Decision Game #47, Clarke at the Battle of Nancy, 1944. Submit your answer and you might win a prize from Armchair General!

This text is an abridged version of Command Decision Game #47, written by Andrew H. Hershey. The full text appears in the November 2011 edition of Armchair General magazine, where you’ll also find additional interactive articles based on the Battle of the Bulge and the Civil War battle of Chickamauga. On newsstands now.

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