The life of the M18 Hellcat began when Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Davis Bruce was looking for a new armored fighting vehicle suitable to form the backbone of his Tank Destroyer Force, as at the time he wasn’t exactly satisfied with the M10 Tank Destroyer.
It was too heavy, too slow, too big. Bruce didn’t want a lumbering large vehicle, he wanted a light, fast tank with powerful weaponry.
He was shown a new prototype tank destroyer, the M18 Hellcat – one of the fastest American tanks ever made.
The M18 was capable of achieving speeds of over 55 mph. This was a result of carrying the bare minimum of armor, which at its thickest was only 25 mm. It used the same Wright R975 radial engine as the Sherman tank, but weighed around 12 tonnes less. It was equipped with the 76 mm M1 gun, the same used on later variants of the Sherman, a gun capable of semi-consistently harming heavier German tanks.
The Hellcat was lighter, smaller, faster and more comfortable than the Sherman, but carried the same gun (usually better). Bruce was pleased, for this met his requirements.
Production began in 1943 where it served mostly in Europe. However it did also see action in the Pacific in the Philippines and Okinawa.
Its first combat was in Anzio. From here successfully fought through the Italian campaign.
It is most remembered for its action in the Battle of the Bulge. Here Hellcats engaged in hit an run tactics against enemy armor, taking advantage the Hellcats speed, and the German tanks slow turret traverse and manoeuvrability. Its versatility meant it could flank and penetrate the German tank’s side armor from up to 3,000 ft away.
The M18 Hellcat was however a very vulnerable tank. Its very thin armor was no match for any anti tank weaponry. Also, the turret was open topped, offering great visibility, but left the crew dangerously exposed to small arms fire, shrapnel and grenades.
Regardless of these shortcomings, the Hellcat became the most effective US tank of World War Two, by having a higher kill-to-loss ratio than any other US tank or tank destroyer.
The vehicle continued to see combat after WWII in Korea, although it was relegated to more utility roles. The M39 Armored Utility Vehicle was an armored personnel and cargo vehicle.