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Raisin' Hell

A look at Buick's tank-busting M18 Hell-Cat
This fully running example of an M18 in the collection of Brent Mullins utilizes T85E1 tracks normally found on the M24 Chaffee.

This fully running example of an M18 in the collection of Brent Mullins utilizes T85E1 tracks normally found on the M24 Chaffee.

The vehicle that came to be known as the M18 was the result of a convoluted development process that began in fall, 1941. At that time U.S. Army doctrine held that a force of dedicated tank destroyers would thwart enemy armored assaults. General Lesly McNair, head of Army Ground Forces, decreed that half of these antitank forces be towed weapons, contrary to the wishes of the head of the Tank Destroyer Center, Colonel A. D. Bruce, who advocated heavily armed, very fast, self-propelled tank destroyers.

Within these restrictions, development progressed through a series of vehicles – the 37mm Gun Motor Carriage T42; the 57mm Gun Motor Carriage T49; the 75mm Gun Motor Carriage T67; and finally in early 1943, the 76mm Gun Motor Carriage T70, which in March 1944 was standardized as the M18. Buick, the builder of the vehicles, dubbed the new tank destroyer the Hell-Cat (notice the hyphen).

At the heart of the T70 was the 76mm gun M1 – a more powerful antitank weapon than the 75mm gun M3 of the 75mm GMC T67, a prototype that was discontinued in favor of the T70. This example, the third T70, which was shown earlier in this item during its 1943 testing, is in the collection of the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum. It has been redone markings not original to the vehicle, to represent an M18 76mm GMC, Fearless Felix, U.S. Army registration number 40145153.

At the heart of the T70 was the 76mm gun M1 – a more powerful antitank weapon than the 75mm gun M3 of the 75mm GMC T67, a prototype that was discontinued in favor of the T70. This example, the third T70, which was shown earlier in this item during its 1943 testing, is in the collection of the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum. It has been redone markings not original to the vehicle, to represent an M18 76mm GMC, Fearless Felix, U.S. Army registration number 40145153.

The T70 featured a rear-mounted Continental R-975C-1 radial engine which was coupled to a front-mounted Torqmatic transmission. Both the engine and transmission were mounted on rails, which allowed them to slide out for rapid repair or replacement.  The vehicle rode on a torsion bar suspension.

The T70 entered production before testing of the six pilot models had been completed. The initial goal was to deliver 1,000 vehicle by the end of 1943.  Despite the first production T70 vehicles not being accepted by the Army until July 1943, the 1,000-vehicle annual production goal was met.

A closer view of the turret shows further details, including of the Browning M2 .50-caliber machine gun and its ammunition box. The right turret box is visible in the right side of the turret, including several ready-rounds of 76mm ammunition on the left side of the rack and boxes for machine gun ammunition on the right side of the rack. To the left of the 76mm gun are the gunner’s controls for traversing the turret and elevating and firing the gun. A binocular case is  on the right side of the turret.

A closer view of the turret shows further details, including of the Browning M2 .50-caliber machine gun and its ammunition box. The right turret box is visible in the right side of the turret, including several ready-rounds of 76mm ammunition on the left side of the rack and boxes for machine gun ammunition on the right side of the rack. To the left of the 76mm gun are the gunner’s controls for traversing the turret and elevating and firing the gun. A binocular case is on the right side of the turret.

The ongoing testing of the pilots revealed deficiencies, which resulted in changes to the vehicle design after production had begun, as well as the decision to return vehicles serial number 684 and below to the factory for modification. The most significant modification made on these early vehicles was a change in transmission gear ratios. Ultimately, however, 650 of those vehicles returned to the factory were converted to M39 and T41E1 Armored Utility Vehicles.

Despite initial plans to produce 8,986 M18s, the changing tide of the war, a shift in Army tank destroyer doctrine, and the growing inadequacy of the 76mm M1 gun against German tank armor resulted in production being limited to 2,507 examples.

Mullins’ 76mm GMC M18 gives a sense of the fairly small scale and low profile of this type of vehicle. Visible markings include the U.S. Army registration number 40145397 toward the rear of the hull, markings the 807th Tank Destroyer Battalion of the 7th Army, on the left of the rear of the hull, and markings for the 24th vehicle in Company C on the right of the rear of the hull. Stowed on the rear of the hull are a shovel, a pick-axe head, and a hand crank for manually rotating the engine  and clearing oil from the lower cylinders before starting.

Mullins’ 76mm GMC M18 gives a sense of the fairly small scale and low profile of this type of vehicle. Visible markings include the U.S. Army registration number 40145397 toward the rear of the hull, markings the 807th Tank Destroyer Battalion of the 7th Army, on the left of the rear of the hull, and markings for the 24th vehicle in Company C on the right of the rear of the hull. Stowed on the rear of the hull are a shovel, a pick-axe head, and a hand crank for manually rotating the engine and clearing oil from the lower cylinders before starting.

The 76 mm GMC T70 was standardized as the 76 mm GMC M18 in March 1944. This example, serial number 726, was photographed during evaluations by the Ordnance Operation, Engineering Standards Vehicle Laboratory, Detroit, on April 28, 1944. It is equipped with a partial sand shield; shields to span between the forward and rear skirt sections were not used. The main weapon is the 76 mm Gun M1A1, which lacked provisions for a muzzle brake.

The 76 mm GMC T70 was standardized as the 76 mm GMC M18 in March 1944. This example, serial number 726, was photographed during evaluations by the Ordnance Operation, Engineering Standards Vehicle Laboratory, Detroit, on April 28, 1944. It is equipped with a partial sand shield; shields to span between the forward and rear skirt sections were not used. The main weapon is the 76 mm Gun M1A1, which lacked provisions for a muzzle brake.

Some M18s saw service in the Pacific theater, such as these vehicles assigned to the 637th Tank Destroyer Battalion on Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, on Aug. 4, 1944. The crewmen are performing maintenance on their equipment; one of them at the center of the photo is greasing a tow cable.

Some M18s saw service in the Pacific theater, such as these vehicles assigned to the 637th Tank Destroyer Battalion on Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, on Aug. 4, 1944. The crewmen are performing maintenance on their equipment; one of them at the center of the photo is greasing a tow cable.

The Hell-Cat first saw combat at Anzio, Italy, was the site of the Hell-Cat’s first action, and from there use of the vehicle spread throughout the European campaign. While designed and built to be a tank destroyer, units in the field frequently pressed the vehicles into service as direct-support artillery for infantry.  At their peak, in March 1945, there were 540 M18s in use in Europe.  Those Hell-Cats are credited with the destruction of 526 enemy armored vehicles, at a cost of 216 of their own.

The M18 also saw service in the Pacific, particularly in the Philippines and Okinawa, but always in the hands of Army units. The US Marines received none of the vehicles, and only two were transferred to the United Kingdom and five to Russia under the Lend-Lease Act.

M18-Specs

Although, due to changing doctrine, the US Army did away dedicated Tank Destroyer units immediately after WWII, the M18 remained a potent fighting vehicle, despite the obvious shortcomings of an open-topped fighting compartment and a 76mm gun that was only marginally effective against the latest generation of tanks.  Accordingly, in the early 1950s, when the Military Defense Assistance Program (MDAP) was at its peak, many of the M18s, now surplus to the US Army were exported.  Yugoslavia was the largest recipient of the surplus Hell-Cats, accepting 240 of the vehicles.  NATO allies Italy and Greece received 107 and 127 of the vehicles respectively.  Like those sent to Yugoslavia, these M18s were reconditioned in US depots prior to shipping.  The Republic of China (Taiwan) was the second-largest recipient of M18s, with 214 of the tank destroyers having been shipped to the island nation. 

In the mid-1950s, 55 M18s were shipped to Iran, and 40 to Venezuela.

By the mid-1990s the M18 was no longer in front-line service with these nations, but continued to see service with reserve units. As such, the M18s saw fighting as late as 1991-95 Croatia-Serbia-Yugoslavia conflicts.

For additional reading, see “M18 Hell-Cat Legends of Warfare and M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer Walk Around”, both available from www.DavidDoyleBooks.com.

The 76 mm GMC M18 first saw combat at Anzio, Italy, in May 1944. This example was assigned to the Reconnaissance Company, 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion, and is marked with a large recognition star with a circular border on the bow.

The 76 mm GMC M18 first saw combat at Anzio, Italy, in May 1944. This example was assigned to the Reconnaissance Company, 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion, and is marked with a large recognition star with a circular border on the bow.

M18 registration number 40145192, with Company A, 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion, is parked alongside some bombed-out buildings during the Battle of Brest in 1944. Mounted on the bow is a hedgerow cutter, to assist in plowing through the hedgerows that were prevalent in northern France. A pinup girl is painted on the forward part of the sponson, and on the center of the sponson is the nickname “I DON’T WANT A.”

M18 registration number 40145192, with Company A, 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion, is parked alongside some bombed-out buildings during the Battle of Brest in 1944. Mounted on the bow is a hedgerow cutter, to assist in plowing through the hedgerows that were prevalent in northern France. A pinup girl is painted on the forward part of the sponson, and on the center of the sponson is the nickname “I DON’T WANT A.”

A member of the crew of an M18 from the 603rd Tank Destroyer Battalion has set up the .50-caliber machine gun on the tripod next to the vehicle to cover a side street, while the 76 mm gun is also trained on that street, in Luneville, France, on Sept. 22, 1944. The crewman crouched on the turret is armed with an M1 carbine, while the one leaning against the right side of the vehicle is holding a M3 “Grease Gun”  submachine gun.

A member of the crew of an M18 from the 603rd Tank Destroyer Battalion has set up the .50-caliber machine gun on the tripod next to the vehicle to cover a side street, while the 76 mm gun is also trained on that street, in Luneville, France, on Sept. 22, 1944. The crewman crouched on the turret is armed with an M1 carbine, while the one leaning against the right side of the vehicle is holding a M3 “Grease Gun” submachine gun.

The T70 had the Continental R-975-C1 radial engines mounted in the rear of the hull and the 900T Torqmatic transmission and the final drives in the front of the hull. T70 pilot number 3 was photographed on June 11, 1943 at Aberdeen Proving Ground where it was undergoing testing. Early examples of the T70 used the 76 mm Gun M1A1, which lacked threads on the muzzle for installing a muzzle brake.

The T70 had the Continental R-975-C1 radial engines mounted in the rear of the hull and the 900T Torqmatic transmission and the final drives in the front of the hull. T70 pilot number 3 was photographed on June 11, 1943 at Aberdeen Proving Ground where it was undergoing testing. Early examples of the T70 used the 76 mm Gun M1A1, which lacked threads on the muzzle for installing a muzzle brake.

On Aug. 23, 1943, 76mm GMC T70, serial number 35, was photographed at Aberdeen Proving Ground. This vehicle differs little from pilot number 3, shown earlier, except the bulge on the left side of the turret has been eliminated. Mounting the cannon at a slight angle and moving it several inches to the right freed up more space on the right side of the turret, eliminating the need for  the bulge.

On Aug. 23, 1943, 76mm GMC T70, serial number 35, was photographed at Aberdeen Proving Ground. This vehicle differs little from pilot number 3, shown earlier, except the bulge on the left side of the turret has been eliminated. Mounting the cannon at a slight angle and moving it several inches to the right freed up more space on the right side of the turret, eliminating the need for the bulge.

In addition to eliminating the need for the bulges in the turret sides, the new arrangement of the 76mm gun simplified production and provided better protection for the crew. However, the displacement of the gun from the centerline of the turret made manually traversing the turret more challenging.

In addition to eliminating the need for the bulges in the turret sides, the new arrangement of the 76mm gun simplified production and provided better protection for the crew. However, the displacement of the gun from the centerline of the turret made manually traversing the turret more challenging.

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