M18 Hellcat file photo [30850]

M18 Hellcat

CountryUnited States
ManufacturerBuick Motor Division, General Motors, Flint, Michigan, United States
Primary RoleTank Destroyer

Contributor:

ww2dbaseThe M18 was an American light tank destroyer used during World War II and in post-war conflicts including the Korean War.

ww2dbaseUnlike most other tank destroyers of World War II which were generally converted tanks, the M18 was designed for the role from the outset. It origins lay in a US General Staff recommendation of 2 December 1941 that proposed a new tank destroyer design be instigated employing a Christie-type suspension and mounting a 37-millimeter gun. But by April 1942 the Ordnance Department had persuaded the Staff that the 37-millimeter gun was obsolete and that a 57-millimeter should be substituted. A pilot model tested by the Tank Destroyer Board led to a fresh recommendation that nothing smaller than a 75-millimeter gun should be fitted into an open-topped rotating turret.

ww2dbaseIn January 1943 3,000 of these vehicles were ordered "off the drawing board". By this time the Buick Company had perfected a torsion-bar suspension system for tracked vehicles, and it was consequently decided to fit the more powerful 76-millimeter M1A2 L/52 Gun onto a tracked chassis with the Buick suspension. The pilots appeared in July followed immediately by production models and in November 1943 the new vehicle was standardised as the M18 (later nicknamed "Hellcat").

ww2dbasePowered by a nine-cylinder Continental R-975 15,947-cubic centimeter air-cooled radial petrol engine (a license built version of the 1929 Wright R-975 Whirlwind aircraft engine) the Hellcat, because of its weight of around 19 tons with a high power to weight ratio, turned out to be the fastest tracked fighting vehicle of World War II, with speeds of up to 55 miles per hour being achieved.

ww2dbaseThe driver sat at the left front of the hull with his assistant driver on the right. The three other crew members (commander, gunner and loader) occupied the partly open-topped turret. The commander sat at the left side of the turret, where he was able to operate the Pintle mounted 12.7-millimeter (0.5-inch) Browning M2HB air-cooled heavy anti-aircraft machine gun carried on a ring on the turret top.

ww2dbaseBetween July and October 1944, 2,507 M18 tank destroyers were built, and all went to the US Army where they were employed with great success, mainly in the Italian and North-West European theatres of war. The Hellcat's excellent agility and acceleration allowed it to hold its own on the battlefield, although its light protective armour made it more suitable for hit and run tactics rather than to stand and fight - the antithesis of the German Jagdpanzer. However, by the winter of 1944 the 76-millimeter gun was proving to be rather inadequate against the strong frontal armour of newer German heavy tanks and towards the end of the war in Europe the decline of enthusiasm for specialist tank destroyer units in the US Army led to the Hellcats being used more as assault guns and artillery.

ww2dbaseThe M18 chassis was also used for the development of other vehicles, including the M24 Chaffee light tank and M39 Armoured Utility Vehicle (mostly converted from M18s). After the war numbers of M18s were furnished to several countries under the military aid programmes and many of these would remain in service in these nations well into the 1990s.

ww2dbaseSources:
Hugo Wilkinson (senior editor): Machines of War (DK London, 2019)
Ian V. Hogg & John Weeks: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Military Vehicles (Hamlyn Publishing, 1980)
Philip Trewbitt: Armoured Fighting Vehicles (Dempsey-Parr, 1999)
B. T. White: Tanks and other Armoured Fighting Vehicles 1942-45 (Blandford Press, 1975)
Andrew Kershaw (Editor): Tanks at War 1939-1945 (BPC Publishing, 1975)

Last Major Revision: Jan 2021

SPECIFICATIONS

M18
MachineryContinental R-975 9-cyl 15,947cc air-cooled radial petrol engine rated at 400bhp at 2,400rpm
SuspensionBuick Torsion Bar system (with five rubber-tyres medium size road wheels per side)
Armament1x76mm M1A2 L/52 gun (45 rounds); 1x12.7mm (.50-in) pintle-mounted Browning M2HB machine-gun
Armor9-25mm
Crew5
Length5.28 m
Width2.79 m
Height2.56 m
Weight17.0 t
Speed88 km/h
Range240 km

Photographs

M18 Hellcat of US 824th Tank Destroyer Battalion in support of 2nd Battalion of US 397th Infantry Regiment at Wiesloch, Germany, 1 Apr 1945




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M18 Hellcat of US 824th Tank Destroyer Battalion in support of 2nd Battalion of US 397th Infantry Regiment at Wiesloch, Germany, 1 Apr 1945


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