Wednesday 8 April 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Hellcat

Until the start of WWII, the United States Army did not have the budget for improving its armoured forces, but the defeat of France in 1940 was a wakeup call for American generals. Debates raged on the topic of whether money should be spent on a medium tank that can fight enemy tanks or if cheaper field guns should be dealing with this problem.

General Leslie McNair, the commander of the American land forces, proposed another idea. He envisioned a maneuverable tank destroyer designed to attack enemy tank formations from the flanks. When his work was done, the army did not even await the end of trials and ordered 1000 new TDs.

The vehicle was adopted under the index M18 in early 1944 (the prototype was called T70). The vehicle immediately received an unofficial nickname, "Hellcat", due to the logo that the Buick company painted on its product: a huge panther with burning eyes gnawing on tank tracks. The motto on the logo was "Seek, Strike, Destroy".

Hellcats in Europe

The Hellcat's debut was during the Battle of Anzio, in the first half of 1944. 5 TDs were transferred to Italy. The vehicles reached their units in early May, and entered battle on May 23rd during the general Allied offensive. Naturally, a few vehicles could not impact the course of the battle, but they impressed their commanders with their speed. Their maneuverability kept them from being easy prey. However, the crews complained: there was little room inside the vehicle to work. There were also problems with ammunition storage.

Nevertheless, the Hellcats showed themselves well. On September 18th, 1944, in Nancy, Lieutenant Edwin Leiper, a platoon commander in the 704th battalion, headed his unit on the march to Montcourt. Suddenly, he spotted a German tank in the mist. He ordered his platoon to take up positions and open fire. The Hellcats only needed five minutes to destroy all five German tanks. In return, the Americans lost one Hellcat. Later, another Hellcat platoon commander, Henty Hartman, knocked out 6 tanks, most of them Panthers.

M18s played an important role in the Ardennes operation, also known as the Battle of the Bulge. One of the most critical points of the operation was the attempted capture of Allied fuel warehouses in Noville, without which the offensive would have stalled. A battalion of Hellcats was sent to counterattack a group of German tanks that was suddenly discovered. During this hurried march, the Hellcats demonstrated their maximum speed: 89 kph. The counterattack was a success: 24 German tanks, including several Tigers, were destroyed. The enemy lost nearly 500 soldiers and officers. This greatly upset the German plans. The Hellcats' "shoot and scoot" tactics showed themselves well.

German Headache

The Hellcat's 76 mm gun could penetrate only 88 mm at long ranges. This was more than enough for PzIV tanks, but not enough for new Tigers and Panthers. The Hellcats could not penetrate the front of these tanks at a range of just under a kilometer, and attempting to get closer was suicidal. On the other hand, the Hellcat could easily penetrate these tanks from the side or rear. Their large dimensions made aiming easy. The odds of destroying a Panther or Tiger completely were high due to the ammunition stored on the sides of the fighting compartment.

The Hellcats' maneuverability showed itself yet again. American designers reasoned that high caliber German guns would be able to penetrate the armour of most Allied tanks anyway but the speedy Hellcat could return fire effectively, and had superior mobility. One American officer wrote: "The Hellcat is the most effective vehicle that I have ever seen in the fight against Germany."

During WWII, M18 Hellcats were also shipped to China, supporting the fight against Japan. After the war, Hellcats were used by Yugoslavia, South Korea, and Venezuela. In some armies, Hellcats served until the end of the 2000s. As the saying goes, cats have nine lives, and the Hellcat definitely confirms that with its good design and characteristics.

Article author: Yuri Bakhurin.

Original article available here.

1 comment:

  1. M39 was used in korea, but I never heard hellcat was used in korea.