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M10 Gun Motor Carriage near Metz, 1944

M10 Gun Motor Carriage near Metz, 1944



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M10 Gun Motor Carriage near Metz, 1944

Here we see an M10 Gun Motor Carriage in action at Fort Koenigsmacher, in the Metz sector. This was a German fort that had been built while Alsace and Lorraine were part of Germany, and was one of three forts around Thionville. The French maintained the fort after the First World War and used it to provide extra support to the Maginot Line. In November 1944 the Germans used it during the battle for Metz. In November it was the target for the US 90th Division. The Germans used the fort as an observation post, directing artillery that hit the Americans as they crossed the Moselle.

This picture shows the winter winter camouflage that was used on some M10 Tank Destroyers during the winter of 1944-45. We can also see the sloped sides of the M10 superstructure. One unusual feature is the cover over the back of the turret - this looks to be some sort of tent that has been installed to provide protection from the weather.


M36 Jackson Tank Destroyer in 33 Images

When encountering German heavy armor, the Americans liked to rely on speed, manoeuvrability and most of all firepower. This doctrine enabled them to apply effective safe-distance ambushes and a number of hit-and-run tactics, while strictly prohibiting chasing or charging the enemy tanks.

The Tank Destroyer Force was tasked in fulfilling the mission of countering the German Blitzkrieg tactics, and for this purpose, an array of armored fighting vehicles were designed ― varying in gun caliber, armor, and speed.

M36 Jackson was among the heavier designs that fell into the tank destroyer category, and its combat history tells a tale of a successful blend of firepower and maneuverability which helped bring the dreadful panzer units of the Nazi Armada to defeat. Despite the fact that most of the tank destroyers of the era used guns that were fixed to the hull, the American series all included a turret, which provided more options in battle but also gave a higher silhouette, making them easier to spot.

The M36 was based on an older design designated the M10 Gun Motor Carriage, whose chassis and drivetrain were developed from the legendary Sherman.

Fitted with a 90 mm M3 gun, it was one of the most powerfull American tank destroyers of the war, powerfull enough to serve in several other post-WWII conflicts and stay in active service well into the late 20th century.

Although speed was regarded to be the advantage of American tank destroyers, the M36 was still too heavy to achieve the incredible velocity of its little brother, the M18 Hellcat.

It first saw action in October 1944, in Europe, where it quickly earned the sympathies of its crewmen, as it was one of the few Allied tanks capable of knocking down enemy heavy armor from a great distance.

However, the massive firepower of the 90 mm gun had its disadvantages. Crewmen complained about its massive muzzle blast obscuring their vision and reducing the rate of fire during the first month of combat. Luckily, a double-baffle muzzle brake was installed in November 1944, to all available units.

Two extraordinary kills were documented during its first year of service ― the first was done by Corporal Anthony Pinto, who destroyed a Panther tank from a distance of 4,200 yards and the second was credited to Lt. Alfred Rose, who also scored a kill against a Panther from an incredible distance of 4,600 yards, which was also the maximum range of his telescopic sight.

M36 in Julich, Germany 24 February 1945

M36 of the 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion Werbomont, 20 December 1944

M36 Germany 1945

M36 of the 347th Infantry Regiment in Plauen, 1945

M36 1945

M36 in Metz 19 November 1944

Column of M36 and M4 Belgium October 1944

M36 and M4 of the 102nd ID, 771st Tank Destroyer Battalion, Krefeld March 3, 1945

M36 in the Ardennes, 1945

9th Army soldier under umbrella atop M36 Jackson – Germany 1945

8th Infantry Division halted inside the ruins of Duren during Operation Grenade 23 February 1945

2nd Armored Division M36 in Lipperode, Germany 2 April 1945

A column of M36 tank destroyers

M36 crosses the Rhine on an engineer bridge 24 March 1945

M36 Jackson tank destroyer.

M36 and M4 of the 3rd Armored Division, Houffalize, Belgium, Battle of the Bulge, January 1945

M36 Tank Destroyers in NW Europe during the Second World War.

90 mm Gun Motor Carriage M36 Jackson

M36 destroyer crew with a German swastika flag

Jacksons ready to be shipped out to their units

M36 35th Infantry Division 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion in Oberbrauch Germany 1945

M36 702nd Tank Destroyer Battalion Roer River 1944

M36 and 3rd Division troops move to the front in hailstorm at Augsburg, Germany April 1945

M36 Jackson and Maginot Line Pillbox 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion Hottviller France 1944

M36 Jackson Ardennes Offensive

M36 Jackson in the streets of Metz November 21 1944

M36 Jackson Tank Destroyer 1944

M36 Jackson of the Third Army, January 1945 Luxembourg

M36 Jackson tank destroyer coming off the assembly line at the Grand Blac Michigan tank plant of the Fisher Body Division of General Motors 1944

M36 Slugger Tank Destroyer Tested at Aberdeen 1945

M36B1 tank destroyer 1945


34 Brilliant Images of the VERY Effective M10 Tank Destroyer

While establishing its famous Tank Destroyer doctrine in 1941, the United States Armed Forces needed a standardized armored fighting vehicle which would lead the way to victory against the divisions of German cutting-edge panzers which sowed fear across Europe, deeming themselves invincible in the face of any opponent.

As the U.S.A. entered the war at the end of the year, it became apparent that a large part of armored warfare was to be bestowed on its troops. Thus they developed various ambush tactics and adapted their tank destroyers accordingly.

The answer to the armored menace which swept through Europe came in the form of a modified M4A2 Sherman chassis, on which a powerful 3-inch (76.2 mm) M7 gun was mounted. This was the birth of the Gun Motor Carriage M10.

It soon became the most-produced American tank destroyer in WWII, numbering 6,406 units in all its variants. The M10 pioneered the path for the further development of tank destroyers, soon leading to the production of M18 Hellcat and M36 Jackson.

What constituted the main difference between the U.S. tank destroyers and a number of its counterparts at the time was its movable, yet open-topped turret. By European standards, this would put the M10 more into the tank category, as Soviet, German, and British tank destroyers all had a fixed gun, and no turret, making their silhouette lower and more suitable for defensive actions.

However, the American Tank Destroyer doctrine demanded more maneuverability for its armored fighting vehicles, as they perceived the M10 as a hybrid weapon capable of staging effective ambushes, knocking down panzers from a great distance and ravaging enemy flanks in offensive actions.

Although the U.S. Army was the primary user of the M10 saw active service as part of the British Army, the Free French Forces and the Soviet Union via the Lend-Lease policy.

After the war, a great number of M10 Tank Destroyers became surplus and these were given to countries that needed to re-develop their militaries, such as Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the M10 saw further action, serving as part of the Israeli military, who bought a number of M10s from scrapyards and dumping grounds in Europe. The guns were soon replaced with British 17-pounders and French 75 mm CN 75-50 canons.

M10 during IV Corps Maneuvers in Oregon 1943

Knocked out M10 February 1944 Italy

M10 named “Accident” of Company ‘A’, 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion – Saint Jean de Daye 11 July 1944

32nd Division M10 named “Hells Kitchen” on beach at Saidor Dutch New Guinea 1944

Civilians leave for Allied lines as M10 enters Aachen, 1944

GI’s and German POW take cover by M10 28 February 1945

632nd Tank Destroyer Battaliont crew on M10 in Saidor 1944, PTO

M10 of the 5th Army firing at night, 20 February 1945

818th Tank Destroyer Battalion France

629th Tank Destroyer Battalion near Courtil, Belgium 20 January 1945

Tank Destroyers At Ford Plant In Detroit 1943

M10 blasts German machine gun position in Rome 6 June1944

701st Tank Destroyer Battalion in the Monte Terminale area of Italy during the campaign in the North Apennines. 3 March 1945

Tank destroyer M10 firing as artillery against Germans in Italy

30th Infantry Division And 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion M10 Germany 1945

157th Infantry Regiment Supported By M10 Tank Destroyers Of A Company 645th Tank Destroyer Battalion Under Fire In Town Of Niederbronn France

M10 Tank Destroyer And Harley Davidson In Percy France 08 1944

M5 And M10 of 2nd Armored Division In Tesey Sur Vire France 1944

M10 And M4 Tanks On Production Line At Ford Plant 1943

M10, M4, Jeep And 2 1/2 Ton Truck 76th Infantry Division Speicher 1945

Tank Destroyer Heads To Battle Lines At Bir Marbott Pass East Of El Guettar In Tunisia 1943.

77th Infantry Division Leyte Island 1944

684th Tank Destroyer Battalion, Aachen October 1944

Free French 3rd Algerian Division In Omia Italy 1944

Tank Destroyer passes WWI Memorial in Lonlay-l’Abbaye, 1944

St Fromond France 703 Tank Destroyer Battalion 3 Armored Division

2nd French Armored Division M10, Halloville, France 13 November 1944

Tank Destroyer In Italy

Tank Destroyers of 30th Infantry Division Magdeburg Germany 1945

Tank Destroyers Head For Front In Tunisia 1943

M10 Tank Destroyers On Production Line At Ford Plant 1943

M10 with Hedge Cutter 803rd Tank Destroyer Battalion Übach Germany 1944

M10 Fontainebleau France 23 August 1944


Priest

The first SP the Canadians would use in action was the US M7 Priest, so called because of the "pulpit"-like circular anti-aircraft machine gun mount. The Priest carried a 105mm howitzer which used 7 different propellent charges (compared to the four of the Canadian 25-pounder Gun. No firm establishment for these vehicles was laid out, but many of these vehicles (loaned from the US Army before the Normandy Landing) were issued to the three field regiments of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division (as well as two others). On 1 Dec 1943, there were 60 Priests held by the Canadian Army in Europe. Delays in obtaining the vehicles had resulted when some were sent to the Mediterranean. By the end of Feb 1944, however, all five self-propelled regiments were fully equipped. 1 The Priests of the divisional artillery were withdrawn by August 1944 to be replaced with towed 25-pounder guns as per the normal practice for an infantry division. A total of 72 of these Priests were converted into Kangaroo armoured personnel carriers in Aug 1944.

The Priest was also used in Italy, where the 8th Field Regiment, RCA (of the 5th Canadian (Armoured) Division) received 24 vehicles in April 1944 and was still using them at the end of the year.


History of the M10 GMC

In 1940, the German Blitzkrieg that overran Poland and France shocked the world by the effectiveness of the German armour. The standard anti-tank tactics used up to that point was for a line of anti-tank guns to be set up on a front, accompanying each infantry division. The problem was that the anti-tank guns were too thinly spread out to defend against a massed armoured attack on a single location. Ώ] In May 1941, Gen. Marshall, the U.S. Army chief of staff, ordered for a solution to this problem. The concept born from much discussion was to use a mobile anti-tank force that can be held in reserves and be deployed against a German armour attack, overwhelming the charging tanks with massed anti-tank power. The first few vehicles produced on this concept was the 37 mm GMC M6 and the 75 mm GMC M3. While adequate, these were only seen as a stop-gap measure until better tank destroyers could be developed. The type of vehicles to make up this mobile reserve was under much contention between two men, Lt.Col Andrew Bruce and Gen. Lesley McNair. Bruce, the head of staff planning the tank destroyer force, wanted a fast vehicle with a powerful gun. McNair, the senior commander of Army Ground Forces, believed the best anti-tank weapon were the towed anti-tank guns. In November 1941, the new, independent Tank Destroyer Branch was formed at Camp Hood, Texas headed by Bruce. Plans were made to form 53 tank destroyer battalions, and much more were ordered after the breakout of war for America in December 1941. Initially armed with only the half-tracks and wheeled vehicles with the 37 mm and 75 mm cannons, it was decided that a stronger weapon was needed for the new branch. ΐ] Α]

Development

Since the Tank Destroyer concept was made, there was a request for a 3-inch Gun Motor Carriage (GMC) design to become the standard tank destroyer. Up to 200 designs for a 3-inch GMC were sent from Ordnance for examination by the Tank Destroyer Board. Many were deemed unsatisfactory, but the urgency for vehicles had the Tank Destroyer branch prematurely standardize the 3-inch GMC M5 and M9 in January 1941 and May 1942 respectively. In November 1941, a proposal of a turret tank destroyer came in that would use the chassis of the new standard medium tank and armed with the 3-inch gun from the M6 heavy tank. The developed design would be designated the 3-inch GMC T35, an open-topped turret design. The initial design was an open traversable turret put on top of a chassis of the M4A2 Sherman. Combat reports from the Philippines conflict against the Japanese forces came in and criticized vertical armour for being easy to penetrate by anti-tank weapons. The criticism prompted the T35 to be redesigned into the T35E1, which used a sloped side hull armour instead of a vertical design and lowered the overall silhouette. The T35 and T35E1 were then delivered to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in April 1942 for testing and demonstrations. During the tests, the T35 were compared to the M5 and M9. The T35 proved automotively superior and more well made than the other designs, and with their flaws brought into light, the M5 and M9 were soon cancelled. The rejections of the two other vehicles left the T35 and T35E1 as the sole contenders in options for a tank destroyer. By 2 May 1942, the Army decided to standardize the T35E1 variant. Small changes were made to the designs, such as changing from a cast turret to a welded one and thinning of the armour from 1 inch to 3/4 inches. The thinning of armour caused concerns on the vehicle's survivability and another proposal was to add bosses to be added on the hull front and side for application of appliqué armour if needed. The vehicle was standardized as the 3-inch Gun Motor Carriage M10 in June 1942. ΐ]

The Tank Destroyer command did not like the M10. They wanted a highly mobile 3-inch GMC and the usage of the M4 medium chassis meant the M10 did not move any faster than the standard medium tanks. Bruce himself saw the M10 as an obstruction to a true tank destroyer and as another expedient model akin to the 75 mm GMC M3. He continued his support on the the T70 project, which would become the M18 Hellcat in 1943. The Army decided that an adequate vehicle was needed now and it was better than a perfect vehicle at a later date. Thus, the Army continued production of the M10, regardless of Tank Destroyer and Armored Forces’ opinions on it. The M10 was an adequate tank destroyer in that a single M10 costs about $47,900 to make while the M4A2 Sherman costs $60,200. The near 25% difference in price means the M10 could be produced in higher numbers for massed amounts of vehicles to act in the Tank Destroyer role. ΐ]

Production started on the M10s in September 1942 at Fisher Tank Arsenal at Grand Blanc, Michigan. The urgency for the vehicles caused the production priority of the M10 to be class AA1, a rating much higher than even the M4 Sherman. The standard M10 used M4A2 chassis with the twin GM 6046 diesel engines, but there was a concern that there would not be enough of the M4A2 chassis for the conversion, so a second variant was developed using the M4A3 chassis with the Ford GAA gasoline engine. The gasoline variant, designated the M10A1, would enter production in October 1942 at Ford Motor Company. Production of these two vehicles would run until December 1943 (M10) and January 1944 (M10A1) for a total production number of 6,706 vehicle produced, 4,993 M10s and 1,713 M10A1s. ΐ]

Today, the M10 is often referred to as the "Wolverine". However, the origin of this nickname is unknown. Some have contested that it was a British nickname, but it is unlikely as they gave it the designation "Achilles". It also is not an American nickname as well as all official documents referred to the M10's by their designation or "TD". It is widely accepted that "Wolverine" is a post-war nickname similar to the "Hetzer" nickname on the Jagdpanzer 38(t). ΐ]

Combat usage

European theater

The first units to receive the M10s were the 776th and 899th Tank Destroyer Battalions. The Army committed the more numerous diesel-powered M10s to the front while the gasoline M10A1s stayed as training vehicles back in the states. The M10s saw their first action at the Battle of El Guettar on 23 March 1943. The 899th supported the 601st (equipped with the M3 GMC) and fought off the 10th Panzer Division. The battle ended with 30 of the 50 German tanks involved destroyed, with the 601st suffering a loss of 20 of their 28 vehicles and the 899th losing only seven M10s. The Battle of El Guettar was the best example of the Tank Destroyers following their doctrine of moving reserve vehicles up to counter an enemy armoured attack. After El Guettar, there was only sporadic armour engagements and thus the M10s were sent back to the reserves. One officer, Lt.Col. James Barney of the 776th, did not like the idea of the M10s and other tank destroyers being wasted in the rear lines and developed a tactic for these vehicles to be used in an artillery role. This was a role that the M10s would see most of their action in during the fighting in the Italy and even in the Normandy campaign. After the Tunisian campaign concluded, all the TD battalions still using the 75 mm GMC M3 were converted to use the M10s. ΐ]

Despite its rather good performance in Africa, the M10 hit a snag when their usefulness was questioned. Some, like General Lucas, saw the TD branch as a failure others, like General Patton and Bradley, saw their usage as being misplaced. These opinions and the field experience in Africa had McNair order for a change in TD policy in emphasis of the towed anti-tank gun, converting 15 self-propelled battalions to use towed guns. This change in direction for the tank destroyers caused a lowered interests on the M10s, and as such the M10 production would stop by the end of 1943. Regardless, M10s fought on in the combat theaters. The Italian Campaign did little to vindicate the M10s as it was found that the TD battalions were using 15,000 HE shells a month by December 1943 in the artillery fashion devised by Barney. The lack of major German armour presence forced the tank destroyers to take up an artillery role in Italy to be any form of use in the campaign. There were sporadic encounters with the new Ferdinands and Panther tanks against the M10, but these small encounters made little impact to the tank destroyer’s confidence in their firepower, leading to the belief that their guns were still adequate up until the Normandy Campaign. ΐ]

When the Allies invaded France in June 1944, 30 TD battalions were present on the field. 11 were the towed while the rest had M10s or the new M18 Hellcats. The experience in France did show that the self-propelled mounts were much more preferable than the towed variants, the towed guns being too slow and unwieldy while providing little protection to the crew. Of the two gun mounts, the M10 became one of the most preferred tank destroyer in the campaign. ΐ] This is because the M18 Hellcat was criticized for its thin 1/2 inch and that its main advantage, the high speed that Bruce had pushed for, fell short when the Tank Destroyer doctrine is made redundant with the lack of German armour present in Normandy. Α] Overall, the tank destroyers served in an infantry support role in most of the Normandy campaign, a role the M10 was not optimized in for many reasons. The open top exposed the crew to sniper fire and grenades, the thin armour could not withstand most German anti-tank weapons, and the lack of powered traverse in the turret caused the M10 to have a long traverse rate. Nevertheless, the M10s proved to be a very inspiring vehicle on the field and helped American soldiers push deeper into France. The first major tank engagement for the Americans in Normandy was around July 10 when the Panzer Lehr Division, made up of Panthers and other vehicles, attacked near Isigny. The 899th TD battalion stationed in the sector fought off the division. While the 899th destroyed 12 Panthers, the experience shocked the crews when they found the Panther invulnerable to frontal shots from the 3-inch gun. The realization that the M10s were now underpowered against the new German tanks caused a general complaint among the TD battalions for the fielding of a better gun on the field. The response to this would not come for three months, and in that time the TD crews had to make do with what they had. ΐ]

As the Allies moved on into Fall 1944, the M10 tank destroyer units were undergoing a transition into the new 90 mm GMC M36, a M10 chassis with a turret armed with the more powerful 90 mm cannon. Though it was met with enthusiasm by the TD crews, the priority is low due to the low number of German armour encountered. The most important addition to the M10 units was the availability of the T4 HVAP rounds for the 3-inch gun. The new round allowed the M10s to penetrate a Panther’s mantlet from up to 1,000 yards, compared to the 200 yards with normal ammunition. Only 2,000 HVAP rounds came in November 1944, as such there was the issue of only being able to issue one HVAP round per M10. These shortages ensured that the tank destroyers were short-handed during the German offensive in the Battle of the Bulge. The M10, outnumbering the M36 and lacking adequate numbers of HVAP, faced against Panthers and Tiger IIs during the German Ardennes Offensive. The impact of the battle led to renewed interest in improving the tank and tank destroyers, leading to more 76 mm M4 mediums and 90 mm M36 to arrive in Europe. An interesting situation in the Battle of the Bulge is a deception mission by the Germans named Operation Grief, which had ten Panther tanks dressed up to look like M10s externally to fool Americans. Β] All of these mock-ups were destroyed by battle or scrapped after it. After the Battle of the Bulge, the majority of German armoured forces have been dwindled and armour engagements largely declined in the final months of the war in Europe. ΐ] One of the M10’s most notable action in 1945 was done on January 26 in the Colmar Pocket when the most decorated soldier of World War II, Audie Murphy, used a knocked out M10's M2 Browning machine gun to hold off a German counter attack of six tanks plus infantry while calling in artillery. He held for an hour and killed about 50 German soldiers from behind the burning M10 wreck, forcing the tank units to retreat due to loss of infantry support. Audie Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. Γ] Δ]

After the end of World War II, M10s and other tank destroyers in US service became obsolete as well as the tank destroyer doctrine. Ε] Mainly due to increasing prevalence of well-armoured tanks that could do its job more efficiently such as the M26 Pershing, but also the lack of German AFVs at the time of the war and a study on ammo usage indicates that the tank destroyers spent more time supporting infantry with high-explosive shells than killing tanks with armour-piercing, rendering the tank destroyer section an unnecessary component in the modernizing armoured forces. ΐ]

Other usage of the M10s

M10s were also sent to the Pacific Theater against Japanese forces. However, the setting of the theater was unsuitable for mass usage of the tank destroyers as such, only seven TD battalions were allocated. The M10s were first used on Kwajelin with the 7th Division, but their usage were restricted to simply substituting the armoured forces. The M10s only saw usage as an infantry support vehicle due to the low number of Japanese tanks available in the campaign. The most action the M10s saw were at the Palaus Islands (Pelileu), Philippines, and Leyte. General reception of the tank destroyers in the Pacific Theater were unsatisfactory. ΐ]

The M10s were a part of the American Lend-Lease program to the Allies and as such many M10s found their ways into British, Free French, and Soviet hands. In all, 1,855 M10s were sent in the Lend-Lease program, of which 1,648 were to Great Britain. The British designated the M10s as the 3" SPM (Self-Propelled Mount) M10. The most famous of the British usage of the M10 was the conversion of the armament into the 17-pounder gun. These converted M10s were designated M10C or M10 17-pdr under British nomenclature, though they did issue a name Achilles to designate all forms of M10 under British service. ΐ]

After the war, most M10s were scrapped or given away as part of the Military Assistance Program to other allies. Its derivatives, the Achilles and the upgunned M36 GMC would see more usage in post-war service. ΐ]


Busting panzers in Normandy

Tank-destroyers fought in two major engagements in Normandy in addition to numerous smaller skirmishes. On July 11, 1944, three panzer battalions of the Panzer Lehr Division, supported by mechanized infantry, launched a counterattack to relieve Allied pressure on the city of Saint Lo.

The two wings of the attack ran into dispersed M10 platoons of the 799th and 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalions near the village of Le Désert, supported by abundant air power. In a series of sharp engagements in the claustrophobic hedgerow corridors of the Normandy countryside, the Panzer Lehr division lost 30 Panther tanks.

Three weeks later, four panzer divisions attempted to pinch off the Allied breakout from Normandy in the Mortain counteroffensive. The Panzers ran into the towed guns of the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion. In the dense early morning fog of the opening engagement, the 823rd was forced to fire at the muzzle flashes of equally-blind Panther tanks.

Unable to pull back the entrenched weapons, the 823rd lost 11 guns but succeeded in taking out 14 tanks. Self-propelled tank-destroyer battalions rushed into help. U.S. forces held Mortain and the German armies in northern France collapsed into a full retreat.

New tungsten-core, high-velocity, armor-piercing ammunition began to arrive for the 76-millimter guns in September 1944. The new rounds could reliably pierce German armor at range. Each Wolverine received only a few rounds of the rare ammunition, but it at least gave them a fighting chance at penetrating the German heavies.

Eleven tank-destroyer battalions were designated “colored” units. They were manned by African-American enlisted men and, mostly, white officers. The third platoon of the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion, equipped with towed guns, won a Distinguished Unit Citation for beating back a German infantry counterattack after losing three of its four towed guns.

Its commander, Lt. Charles Thomas, stayed to direct the fight even after his M20 scout car was knocked out and his legs were raked with machine-gun fire. He was awarded a Distinguished Cross that was upgraded to a Medal of Honor in 1997. By contrast, the 827th Tank Destroyer Battalion was infamously plagued by poor leadership.

M10s and M18s also saw action in the Pacific, serving notably at Kwajalein Atoll, Peleliu, The Philippines and Okinawa. Facing only limited enemy armor, they specialized in destroying Japanese pillboxes, though some apparently took out tanks in the Battle of Saipan.

More than 1,600 M10s would also serve in Royal Artillery anti-tank regiments of the British Army. Almost two-thirds were eventually given extra armor plates and up-gunned with the superior 17-pound anti-tank gun, and were known as M10C Achilles. The 17-pound — also 76 millimeters in caliber — was a reliable Tiger- and Panther-killer. British doctrine treated the Achilles as a fast-deploying defensive weapon rather than as an active tank-hunter.

The Achilles acquitted themselves well. In a battle near Buron, France, they knocked out 13 Panzer IV and Panther tanks for the loss of four of their number. They often escorted heavily-armored Churchill tanks that lacked adequate anti-tank firepower.

Some 200 Wolverines served in the Free French Army, where they were well-liked. Famously, the French M10 Sirocco fired across the two-kilometer-long Champs-Élysées boulevard of Paris from near the Arc de Triomphe to knock out a Panther tank at the Place de la Concorde.

Even the Soviet Union operated 52 M10s received through Lend Lease. These served in two battalions that saw action in Belarus.


Variants

The M10A1 was the first and primary American variant of the M10 and differed by using an M4A3 Sherman chassis as its base. This also made the vehicle about 907 kilograms lighter than the original and propulsion was now provided by a 500 hp, gasoline-powered, Ford GAA engine. The M10A1 was also fitted with additional armor in its rear and carried an additional 100 liters of fuel for added range. The Achilles self-propelled gun was a British modified M10. They mounted the Ordnance QF 17-pounder as a main gun. They fought alongside American M10s in Europe. ΐ]


Contents

When the Tank Destroyer Force was organized in 1941, their commander, Lieutenant Colonel (later General) Andrew Davis Bruce envisioned the units being equipped with something faster than a tank, with a better gun but less armor to allow for speed a cruiser rather than a battleship. [13] He objected to the 3 inch M10 Gun Motor Carriage because it was too heavy and slow for his needs, [14] and later on to the 90 mm M36 Gun Motor Carriage because it was essentially an M10 with a bigger gun. [15] The United States Ordnance Corps made several failed attempts to provide said vehicle using the weapons (the 37 mm, 57 mm, 3 inch, 75 mm and finally the lightweight 76 mm of 1942–1943) and technology available, including mounting the 3-inch gun on the fast M3 Light Tank chassis. [16] The M18 was the end product of a long line of research vehicles aimed at providing the desired machine.

In December 1941, the Ordnance Department issued a requirement for the design of a fast tank destroyer using a Christie suspension, a Wright-Continental R-975 radial aircraft engine, and a 37 mm gun. Two pilot vehicles were to be built. [17] What became the M18 originated in Harley Earl's design studio, part of the Buick Motor Division of General Motors. Previously, basic designs for other kinds of vehicles had mostly originated from within the Ordnance Department. Buick's engineers used a torsion bar suspension that provided a steady ride. [a] Though it weighed about 20 tons, the Hellcat was capable of traveling 55 mph. Its power came from Wright R-975, a nine-cylinder, 350-to-400-horsepower radial aircraft engine, paired to a 900T Torqmatic automatic transmission.

Changes to the specification meant that the first pilot – the 57 mm Gun Motor Carriage T49 – was built with the British (57 mm) QF 6-pounder gun instead of the 37 mm and a torsion bar suspension instead of the Christie suspension. It was tested in 1942 but the army wanted a heavier gun – the same 75 mm gun M3 as used on the M4 Sherman medium tank. The T49 project was cancelled and the second pilot was built with the 75 mm gun as the 75 mm Gun Motor Carriage T67. This met approval, but in early 1943 the army requested a more powerful gun – the 76 mm gun M1 under development for the Sherman. Six pilot models – as the 76 mm Gun Motor Carriage T70 – were built with this gun. The trials of these models led to a new turret and changes to the hull front, but the design was otherwise accepted for production, which began in July 1943. [17]

Once developed, the Hellcat was tested in the same manner as passenger cars before and after it, at the General Motors Milford Proving Ground. Top speed testing was done on a paved, banked oval and ride quality tests were done over specially developed stretches of bumps. The M18 also required tests of its ability to ford six feet of water, climb small walls, and ram through structures.

The first models of the tank destroyer were tested by the US Army's 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion. The unit had originally been trained on the M3 Gun Motor Carriage (a 75 mm gun installed in the bed of an M3 half-track). Despite its T70 prototypes requiring several improvements, the 704th had a "superlative" testing record, and the unit was later issued production Hellcats after many of their suggestions were integrated into the vehicle. The testing phase of the Hellcat proved that teamwork was an essential element of the new light tank destroyer units [ citation needed ] , and replaced the fixed, rigid structure of other units with a much more flexible command structure that allowed adapting to more complicated tasks. [18]

The M18's new design incorporated several labor saving and innovative maintenance features. It used the same Wright R975 engine as the Sherman tank. The fully unitized drivetrain was much easier to maintain, as it was mounted on rails equipped with steel rollers that allowed maintenance crews to disconnect it easily from the transmission, roll it out onto the lowered engine rear cover, service it, and then reconnect it to the transmission. The transmission could also be removed easily and rolled out onto a front deck plate to facilitate quick inspection and repairs. The 900T Torqmatic transmission had one reverse gear with a maximum speed of 20 mph, and three forward gears (up to 12 mph, up to 25 mph, and up to 60 mph, although the engine speed was governed such that the vehicle normally could not exceed 55 mph). [19]

In contrast to the M10 and M36, tank destroyers, which used the heavy chassis of the M4 Sherman, the M18 Hellcat was designed from the start to be a fast tank destroyer. As a result, it was smaller, lighter, more comfortable, and significantly faster, but carried the same gun as the Sherman 76 mm models. The M18 carried a five-man crew, consisting of a commander, gunner, loader, driver, and assistant driver. 45 rounds of main gun ammunition were carried, 9 in the turret and 18 in each sponson. An M2 Browning machine gun with 800 rounds of ammunition was provided on a flexible ring mount for use against enemy aircraft and infantry. Each crew member was provided with an M1 carbine with 90 rounds for self-defense, and six Mk 2 grenades, six M50 white phosphorus smoke grenades, and six smoke pots were also carried in the vehicle. [20]

Armor Edit

The armor of the M18 Hellcat was quite light to facilitate its high speed, and provided very little protection from the most commonly used German antitank weapons. At the time, even thickly armored Allied tanks were unable to withstand most German antitank weapons, so reduction of armor had little negative effect on survival compared to most other Allied tanks of the period. The lower hull armor was 12.7 mm (0.50 in) thick all around, vertical on the sides, but sloped at 35 degrees from the vertical at the lower rear. The lower front hull was also 12.7 mm (0.50 in) thick, being angled twice to form a nearly rounded shape 53 degrees from the vertical and then 24 degrees from the vertical. The hull floor was only 4.8 mm (0.19 in) The upper hull armor was also 12.7 mm (0.50 in) thick, being angled at 23 degrees from the vertical on the sides and 13 degrees from the vertical at the rear. The lower front hull's angled construction was also used to form the Hellcat's sloping glacis two plates were angled at 38 and 24 degrees from the vertical, respectively. The hull roof was 7.9 mm (0.31 in) The cast turret of the Hellcat was 25.4 mm (1.00 in) thick on the front (at a 23 degree angle from the vertical) and 12.7 mm (0.50 in) thick on the sides (angled at 23 degrees from the vertical) and rear (angled at 9 degrees from the vertical) The front of the turret was further protected by a rounded cast gun mantlet which was 19 mm (0.75 in) thick.

The main disadvantages of the M18 were its very light armor protection and open-topped turret, and the inconsistent performance of its 76 mm gun against the frontal armor of later German designs such as the Tiger and Panther. The open-topped turret—a characteristic which it shared with all American tank destroyers—left the crew exposed to snipers, grenades, and shell fragments, however it gave the crew excellent visibility which was of importance in the killing of tanks, the intent of tank destroyers being primarily ambush weapons. The doctrinal priority of high speed at the cost of armor protection thus led to a relatively unbalanced design. The problem of the main gun performance was remedied with High Velocity Armor Piercing (HVAP) ammunition late in the war, which allowed the 76 mm gun to achieve greater armor penetration, but this was never available in quantity. [21] The 76 mm gun with standard ammunition could penetrate the frontal turret armor of Panther tanks only at very close ranges, [22] whereas the HVAP ammunition gave it a possibility of effectively engaging some of the heavier German tanks and allowing to penetrate the Panther turret at ranges of about 1,000 m (1,100 yd). [23] [24]

Original plans called for a total of 8,986 M18s to be supplied – 1,600 for Lend-Lease to other countries and 7,386 for the U.S. Army. The production plans of the M18 were curtailed to 2,507 vehicles, including the six pilot models. 10 were later converted into T41/T41E1 command vehicle and prime mover prototypes, and 640 were converted into M39 Armored Utility Vehicles. The reasons behind the reduction (in no particular order) were:

  • The 76mm gun was already inadequate for later German tanks and The Army Ground Forces preferred to get the 90 mm Gun Motor Carriage M36 into service, despite Tank Destroyer Force commander Andrew Bruce's objections to adopting it
  • The number of self-propelled tank destroyer battalions had been approximately halved due to a policy change forced by the AGF, who wanted towed guns to be used and hence far fewer self-propelled units were needed for the Tank Destroyers
  • There was little potential Lend-Lease activity: Britain and the Soviet Union "had little interest". [25] Two, listed as "T70", were transferred to the United Kingdom, and five to the Soviet Union. [26]

Production of M18 Hellcats ran from July 1943 until October 1944, with 2,507 built. Several changes were made during production. The first 684 M18s experienced problems with their transmission gear ratios which meant they could not climb steep slopes, and were returned to the factory for modification. Most of these early vehicles remained at the Buick factory after modification. Ten were later converted to T41/T41E1 command vehicle and prime mover prototypes, and 640 were converted to M39 Armored Utility Vehicles. The rest of the M18s built featured an improved transmission. The 76 mm gun M1 fitted to most Hellcats kicked up large amounts of dust when fired. This was enough to impede the vision of the crew, who had to wait until the muzzle blast cleared to fire accurately again. To solve this problem, the 76 mm gun M1 was replaced with the muzzle brake-equipped 76 mm gun M1A2 as soon as it became available in the interim, the M1A1C gun, threaded for a muzzle brake but not so equipped, was used. Beginning in June 1944, roughly the last 700 Hellcats received the M1A2 gun. Hellcats with serial numbers 1350 and below had the naturally-aspirated R975-C1 engine, which produced 350 horsepower. The ventilation grate for the transmission and oil coolers behind the driver's hatch on these early Hellcats had a bulged shape, protruding above the line of the upper hull. M18s with serial numbers 1351 and above had the internally-modified supercharged R975-C4 engine, which produced 400 horsepower. At roughly the same time as the change in engine type, the shape of the ventilation grate was changed to be flush with the upper hull. [27]

There were three production contracts for the Hellcat: RAD-563 covered the six pilot models. T-6641 was for the first 1,000 vehicles, and T-9167 was for the final 1,507 vehicles. [28] [29]


M36 Gun Motor Carriage (Jackson / Slugger)

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 03/20/2018 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

The United States Army was fielding the capable M10 series as its standard tank destroyer of World War 2. It was produced from 1942 into 1943 to the tune of some 6,700 examples and also saw use with Allied nations. It was developed upon the chassis of the M4A3 Sherman medium tank series which made them large, heavy targets but logistically-friendly. Primary armament was an adequate 76.2mm main gun. While capable of tackling the medium-class German tanks of the war, the situation changed with the arrival of the Panther and Tiger I series of heavy tanks - both featuring much improved frontal armor protection and heavy caliber main guns. The days of the M10, it seemed, were numbered for its base main gun system was proving ever-more inadequate against the new generation of enemy tanks.

As soon as the M10 entered serial production, the US Ordnance Department began looking into up-gunning the M10 series and trialled a 90mm M3 high-velocity anti-tank gun mounting with the M10A1 design (made from the Sherman M4A2 hull). However, the M10 turret, as it stood, was not intended for such a gun so a new turret design was initiated. It its modified form, the vehicle came under the prototype designation of "T71 GMC" (GMC = "Gun Motor Carriage"). In June of 1944, the T71 was officially designated as the "M36 GMC" which began deliveries to the European battlefronts by the end of the year. Another variant based on the Sherman M4A3 hull and mounting the 90mm gun were converted for the tank destroyer role to become 187 examples of the "M36B1". The similar "M36B2" provided the 90mm gun turret atop the M4A2 chassis and M10 hull with power from a diesel engine. 287 of this type were converted as such. Like other armored American vehicles lacking any sort of imaginative name, the British stepped in to nickname the M36 the "Jackson" after famed American Civil War General "Stonewall Jackson" (consistent with the M5 General Stuart, M3 General Lee/Grant and M4 General Sherman). To others, it was simply known as the "Slugger". Approximately 1,772 M36 examples of all types were eventually completed - either as new-build or as conversion models. Of these, 1,298 were made up of the original base M36 models (M10A1 hull / M4A3 chassis).

The M36 formally replaced the M10 series in the US Army inventory. As in the M10 before it, the M36 was completed with an open-topped turret to save on weight. This also allowed much needed head room for the gunnery crew in the turret while supplying the tank commander with unobstructed views of the action ahead. However, this also opened the crew to the dangers of warfare as well as the elements . An optional folding armor roof kit was issued to provide some level of point protection for the turret crew.

Primary armament centered around the 90mm M3 series main gun. The American 76.2mm was always considered a step below the British gun of same caliber and even the German 75mm. The British Army even changed the 76.2mm main guns of their arriving Lend-Lease American M10s to British 76.2mm anti-tank types. As such, the 90mm caliber was a necessity for the newer American design in an effort to penetrate the front stout armor of German Panthers and Tiger Is and, upon inception of the M36 into service, the Allies finally had a weapon system capable of engaging these powerful enemy tanks. Of course the usual flanking maneuver was still in order - attacking the sides and rear of these German beasts to help achieve uncontested direct hits to the more vulnerable sides - this even before the slow-reacting turrets of the Panthers and Tiger Is could counter the threat. High velocity armor-piercing ammunition appearing later in the war only served to improve the inherent penetrative powers of the M3 gun. 47 projectiles of 90mm ammunition were stowed within the vehicle, most of these within easy reach. The large structural overhang at the rear of the turret worked to stow some of these projectiles while also doubling as a counterweight of sorts for the 90mm gun.

Self-defense was solved by the installation of a trainable 12.7mm Browning M2HB heavy machine gun. This weapon system fired large caliber, armor-piercing ammunition with a good rate-of-fire and could be suitable against formations of enemy infantry (as suppression or direct attack), light vehicles or low-flying enemy aircraft. 1,000 rounds of 12.7mm ammunition was carried aboard.

The M36 shared a similar external appearance to the M10 before it. The hull was not unlike the Sherman though sporting side superstructure panels that angled inwards towards the hull roof line. "Pioneer" tools could be stowed along the side panels of the vehicle during transport. The glacis plate was well sloped to provide for some basic ballistics protection at the front. The engine was fitted to the rear as was the track idler with the drive sprocket to the front of the vehicle. The track system was decidedly Sherman with its paired road wheel bogies but the turret design was of an all-new approach, more akin to the angled sides of the M10. The turret sported a rounded shape along the sides with a heavy armored gun mantlet at the base of the long-barreled gun system. The gun could also be capped with a double-baffled muzzle brake to counter recoil.

Power for the M36 frame was supplied by a Ford GAA 8-cylidnder gasoline-fueled engine delivering 450 horsepower output (the M36B2 sported a diesel engine). This translated to a top speed of 26 miles per hour with an operational range of 150 miles in ideal conditions. The powerplant was coupled with a synchromesh transmission system allowing five forward and one reverse speed settings. The vehicle was crewed by five personnel made up of the driver, tank commander, gun layer and two ammunition handlers. The turret-mounted 12.7mm defensive machine gun could be manned by any of the turret crew as only the driver sat segregated in a compartment at the front-left of the hull. However, he was the only crew member protected from small arms fire and the elements. The rest of the operating crew resided in the turret.

The vehicle stood at over 10 feet tall which promoted a tempting target to the enemy. She weighed in at nearly 28 tons, making her a heavy and somewhat cumbersome beast for finesse maneuvering through woods or village streets. The chassis was suspended by the typical-Sherman Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS) system as in the M10 series.

In action, the M36 series acquitted itself rather well for being a hastily generated M4 Sherman conversion offspring. It offered up the necessary firepower for the current battlefield requirement and was available in enough numbers to make a difference in many European engagements. Of course the type was outshined by the arrival of the M18 "Hellcat" tank destroyer models which proved to be light, fast, agile, reliable and adequately armed for the role. Towards the end of the war, use of dedicated tank destroyer battalions ended as such vehicles were now being issued to regular mechanized groups, fighting alongside combat tanks and infantry units. In this role, they could also serve as assault guns and self-propelled artillery while benefitting from aerial cover provided by Allied strike aircraft. The tank destroyer in US Army doctrine, therefore, died with the end of the war in 1945.

Beyond combat actions in World War 2, the M36 went on to see extended service in the upcoming Korean War which proved to be a mish-mash of World War 2-era and Cold War-era weapons for all sides. In the conflict, the M36 fared well against the highly-touted Soviet T-34 medium tanks that so soundly repelled the German invasion in World War 2 along the East Front. Additional combat was seen through foreign parties in the 1st Indochina War, the Indo-Pak War of 1965 and - much later - in the Croatian War of Independence and the Bosnian War of the 1990s - an amazing testament to the M36's design and ultimate global reach.


The U.S. Army’s Tank-Destroyers Weren’t the Failure History Has Made Them Out to Be

An M10 tank-destroyer in action near St. Lo in June 1944

Lightly-armored and heavily-armed, tank-destroyers proved effective against panzers

During the 1940s, the U.S. Army developed a special weapon to counter the tanks of the German Wehrmacht. Most of these vehicles had the hull of a Sherman tank and a turret with a long-barrel cannon.

But don’t dare call them tanks. These were tank-destroyers.

After the war, the U.S. Army concluded tank destroyers were a waste of time. Official histories excoriated the failure of the program.

But a look at historical records shows that tank destroyers actually did their job well.

The tank-destroyer force was the Army’s response to the wild successes of German armor in Poland and France in 1939 and 1940. Panzer divisions would concentrate more than a hundred tanks on a narrow front, overwhelming the local anti-tank weapons of defending troops and rolling deep into enemy lines.

In 1941, the Army concluded that it needed mobile anti-tank units to intercept and defeat German armored spearheads. Towed anti-tank guns took too long to deploy on the move and it was difficult to guess where the enemy would concentrate for an attack. Instead, self-propelled anti-tank battalions would wait behind friendly lines.

When the German armor inevitably broke through the infantry, the battalions would deploy en masse to ambush the advancing tank columns.

The Army didn’t intend for its own tanks to specialize in defending against enemy panzers. The new armor branch wanted to focus on the same kind of bold armored attacks the Germans were famous for.

The Army tested the concept out in war games at Louisiana in September 1941. Tank-destroyers performed extremely well against tanks — perhaps because, as the armor branch alleged, the “umpire rules” were unfairly tilted in their favor. Tanks could only take out anti-tank units by overrunning them, rather than with direct fire.

With the support of the Army’s chief of training and doctrine Lt. Gen. Leslie McNair, tank-destroyers became their own branch in the army, just like armor and artillery already were. A tank-destroyer center began training units at Fort Hood, Texas. Fifty-three battalions of 842 men each initially mobilized, with plans to grow the force to 220 battalions.

Each battalion had 36 tank-destroyers divided into three companies, as well as a reconnaissance company of jeeps and armored scout cars to help ferret out the disposition of enemy armor so that the battalions could move into position. The recon company also had an engineer platoon to deal with obstacles and to lay mines.

The first tank-destroyer units made do with hastily improvised vehicles. The M6 was basically an outdated 37-millimeter anti-tank gun mounted on a three-quarter-ton truck.

The M3 Gun Motor Carriage, or GMC, was an overloaded M3 halftrack — a vehicle with wheels in the front and tracks in the rear — toting a French 75-millimeter howitzer on top. Both types were lightly armored and lacked turrets.

Destroyed M3 tank-destroyers at El Guettar

Scooting and shooting in Tunisia

Though some M3 GMCs resisted the Japanese invasion of The Philippines, tank-destroyer battalions first saw action in the deserts of North Africa starting in 1942.

Their most important engagement pitted the M3s of the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion against the entire 10th Panzer Division in the battle of El Guettar in Tunisia early in the morning on March 23, 1943.

Deployed in defense of the 1st Infantry Division just behind the crest of Keddab ridge, the 601’st 31 gun-laden halftracks moved forward and potted off shots at the panzers as they rolled down Highway 15, then scooted back and found new firing positions. They were bolstered only by divisional artillery and a minefield prepared by their engineers.

Two companies from the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion reinforced them at the last minute, one of them suffering heavy losses while approaching.

The panzers advanced within 100 meters of the 601st’s position before finally withdrawing, leaving 38 wrecked tanks behind. However, the 601st had lost 21 of its M3s and the 899th lost seven of its new M10 vehicles.

The heavy losses did not endear the tank-destroyers to Allied commanders. Gen. George Patton said the tank-destroyers had proved “unsuccessful.”

In fact, the battle of El Guettar marked the only occasion in which U.S. tank-destroyers were used in the manner intended — deployed as an entire battalion to stop a German armored breakthrough concentrated on a narrow front.

The German army remained largely on the defensive in the second half of World War II, and failed to achieve armored breakthroughs like those in Poland, France and Russia. As a result, the U.S. Army scaled back the number of tank-destroyer battalions to 106. Fifty-two deployed to the European theater and 10 to the Pacific.

Another problem was that tank-destroyer doctrine presupposed moving into ambush positions after the German tanks had already overrun defending infantry. In practice, nobody wanted to consign the infantry to such a fate, so tank-destroyers deployed closer to the front line for forward defense.

An M10 Wolverine at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Raymond Veydt photo

The first proper tank-destroyer was the M10 Wolverine, which featured the hull of the M4 Sherman tank and a new pentagonal turret. General Motors and Ford produced 6,400 M10s.

The Wolverine mounted a long-barrel high-velocity 76-millimeter gun thought to have good armor-piercing performance. However, it had less effective high-explosive shells for use against enemy infantry — at least, compared to the 75-millimeter shells fired by Sherman tanks.

Naturally, tank-destroyer units carried more armor-piercing shells than high explosive shells, while the reverse was true in tank units.

Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia all fielded tank-destroyer vehicles, as well. Some were simply anti-tank guns mounted on a lightly-armored chassis, such as the Marder and Su-76, while others were heavily-armored monstrosities with enormous guns, such as the Jagdpanther and the JSU-152.

None had turrets. These were seen as expensive luxuries unnecessary for the defensive anti-tank role. American doctrine envisioned a more active role, thus the turrets. However, the M10’s hand-cranked turret was so slow it took 80 seconds to complete a rotation.

While Sherman tanks had three machine guns, the M10 had just one pintle-mounted .50-caliber machine gun that could only be fired if the commander exposed himself over the turret. Movie star Audie Murphy won the Medal of Honor when he repelled a German assault near Colmar, France using the machine gun of a burning Wolverine.

The M10’s biggest deficit lay in armor protection. The Wolverine had an open-top turret, meaning the crew was exposed to shrapnel and small-arms fire from above. Its armor was also thinner overall than the Sherman’s was.

These shortcomings had their rationales. Even the heavier armor on a Sherman could be reliably penetrated by the long 75-millimeter guns of the standard German Panzer IV tank, let alone the more potent guns on German Panther and Tiger tanks.

Therefore, the Wolverine’s inferior protection made little difference against those vehicles. It did leave the M10 more vulnerable than the Sherman to lighter anti-tank weapons, but these were no longer very common.

Likewise, the M10’s open top gave the crew a better chance of spotting the enemy tanks first — usually the factor determining the winner of armor engagements. It would rarely be a weakness when only fighting tanks. Of course, it would be a problem when engaging enemy infantry and artillery, but that was meant to be the Sherman’s job.

The M10 fully replaced the M3 GMC by 1943, but its superior gun proved less of a panacea than the Army had hoped. The Sherman tank’s short 75-millimeter gun was unable to penetrate the frontal armor of German Tiger and Panther tanks, which accounted for roughly half the Wehrmacht tank force by 1944.

The Wolverine’s 76-millimeter gun supposedly could — but experience in combat showed it failed to penetrate the frontal armor of Germany heavy tanks at ranges greater than 400 meters. A problem known as shatter-gap meant that the tip of the 76-millimeter shell deformed when it hit face-hardened armor plate at long distances, causing it to explode before penetrating.

The tank-destroyer’s inability to take out the best enemy tanks heightened the branch’s generally negative reputation.

In the Italian campaign that began in 1943, German armor was rarely encountered in large numbers, and M10s were often asked to provide fire support for the infantry. They were even used as indirect-fire artillery. Though firing lighter shells, a tank-destroyer battalion had twice as many gun tubes as 105-millimeter artillery battalion did, and longer range.

Instead of holding tank-destroyers in corps reserve, it became standard practice for commanders to attach a tank-destroyer battalion to front-line infantry divisions. Rather than fighting as unified battalions, companies or platoons of tank-destroyers would detach to provide direct support to infantry and combined arms task forces. For every anti-tank round the tank-destroyers fired, they fired 11 high-explosive rounds.

Doctrinaire officers complained that the M10s, vehicles in most respects similar to a tank, were being employed as if they were tanks. Gen. Omar Bradley suggested that the Army should instead use heavy towed anti-tank guns, which could be more effectively concealed in dense terrain.

As a result, half of the battalions converted to towed, 76-millimeter M5 guns similar in effectiveness to the M10’s own gun. These supplemented the companies of lighter 57-millimeter guns integrated in each infantry regiment.

As tank-destroyers were drawn increasingly into infantry support roles that exposed them to artillery and infantry fire, their crews piled sandbags on top of them in order to detonate Panzerfaust anti-tank rockets. Other field-modifications included additional machine guns and even armored panels covering the tank-destroyers’ vulnerable open tops.

The arrival of new Sherman tanks in 1944 sporting their own 76-millimeter guns further blurred the distinction between tank-destroyers and tanks. There were now Sherman tanks just as effective at tank-hunting.

An M5 gun in action

Busting panzers in Normandy

Tank-destroyers fought in two major engagements in Normandy in addition to numerous smaller skirmishes. On July 11, 1944, three panzer battalions of the Panzer Lehr Division, supported by mechanized infantry, launched a counterattack to relieve Allied pressure on the city of Saint Lo.

The two wings of the attack ran into dispersed M10 platoons of the 799th and 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalions near the village of Le Désert, supported by abundant air power. In a series of sharp engagements in the claustrophobic hedgerow corridors of the Normandy countryside, the Panzer Lehr division lost 30 Panther tanks.

Three weeks later, four panzer divisions attempted to pinch off the Allied breakout from Normandy in the Mortain counteroffensive. The Panzers ran into the towed guns of the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion. In the dense early morning fog of the opening engagement, the 823rd was forced to fire at the muzzle flashes of equally-blind Panther tanks.

Unable to pull back the entrenched weapons, the 823rd lost 11 guns but succeeded in taking out 14 tanks. Self-propelled tank-destroyer battalions rushed into help. U.S. forces held Mortain and the German armies in northern France collapsed into a full retreat.

New tungsten-core, high-velocity, armor-piercing ammunition began to arrive for the 76-millimter guns in September 1944. The new rounds could reliably pierce German armor at range. Each Wolverine received only a few rounds of the rare ammunition, but it at least gave them a fighting chance at penetrating the German heavies.

Eleven tank-destroyer battalions were designated “colored” units. They were manned by African-American enlisted men and, mostly, white officers. The third platoon of the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion, equipped with towed guns, won a Distinguished Unit Citation for beating back a German infantry counterattack after losing three of its four towed guns.

Charles Thomas, then a captain, being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1945

Its commander, Lt. Charles Thomas, stayed to direct the fight even after his M20 scout car was knocked out and his legs were raked with machine-gun fire. He was awarded a Distinguished Cross that was upgraded to a Medal of Honor in 1997. By contrast, the 827th Tank Destroyer Battalion was infamously plagued by poor leadership.

M10s and M18s also saw action in the Pacific, serving notably at Kwajalein Atoll, Peleliu, The Philippines and Okinawa. Facing only limited enemy armor, they specialized in destroying Japanese pillboxes, though some apparently took out tanks in the Battle of Saipan.

More than 1,600 M10s would also serve in Royal Artillery anti-tank regiments of the British Army. Almost two-thirds were eventually given extra armor plates and up-gunned with the superior 17-pound anti-tank gun, and were known as M10C Achilles. The 17-pound — also 76 millimeters in caliber — was a reliable Tiger- and Panther-killer. British doctrine treated the Achilles as a fast-deploying defensive weapon rather than as an active tank-hunter.

The Achilles acquitted themselves well. In a battle near Buron, France, they knocked out 13 Panzer IV and Panther tanks for the loss of four of their number. They often escorted heavily-armored Churchill tanks that lacked adequate anti-tank firepower.

Some 200 Wolverines served in the Free French Army, where they were well-liked. Famously, the French M10 Sirocco fired across the two-kilometer-long Champs-Élysées boulevard of Paris from near the Arc de Triomphe to knock out a Panther tank at the Place de la Concorde.

Even the Soviet Union operated 52 M10s received through Lend Lease. These served in two battalions that saw action in Belarus.

French civilians inspect a Panther knocked out by a French M10 at the Place de la Concorde in Paris 1944

The new blood

In 1944, two additional tank-destroyer types entered service. Buick designed the M18 Hellcat for pure speed. Lightweight and powered by a radial aircraft engine, it could zoom along at 50 miles per hour in an era that tanks rarely exceeded 35 miles per hour.

However, it had only an inch of armor and was armed with a 76-millimeter M1 gun that was little more effective than that on the M10. Several units in Italy refused the upgrade to the M18 — armor was more important than speed in the cramped mountainous terrain. But the M18 was popular in Patton’s hard-charging 3rd Army.

While speed is useful for getting armored vehicles where they’re needed, accounts differ as to whether it provided the M18 much benefit at the tactical level. An Army study concluded it was unimportant in tactical combat. Other sources maintain the Hellcat’s speed enabled it in using hit-and-run tactics.

An M18 Hellcat of 824th Tank Destroyer Battalion in Wiesloch, Germany on April 1945. U.S. Army photo

The M36 Jackson — or Slugger — on the other hand, had the hull of the M10 with additional armor and finally upgraded the armament to a heavy 90-millimeter gun. Not only were the heavy shells effective Tiger- and Panther-killers at long ranges — one once knocked out a Panther nearly four kilometers away — but they were significantly more effective against infantry.

2,324 were converted by the end of the war from various M10 and M4A3 vehicle hulls.

The new tank-destroyers acquitted themselves well in combat. In the Battle of Arracourt, two platoons of Hellcats — eight in total — from the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion moved swiftly into ambush positions behind a low ridge on a foggy day, only their turrets poking over the rise.

When a battalion of Panther tanks from the 113th Panzer Brigade entered their sights, they knocked out 19 for the loss of three of their own number. At the Siegfried Line, M36s excelled at knocking out fortifications and helped beat back Tiger tanks that had decimated Shermans of the 9th Armored Division.

M36s countering German armor in Werbomont, Belgium on Dec 20, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. U.S. Army photo

The Battle of the Bulge, a massive German counteroffensive in the frozen Ardennes forest, was the swan song of U.S. tank-destroyers. The Hellcats of the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion helped the 101st Airborne repel German armored assaults at Bastogne.

A detached platoon of M18s escorting Team Desobry helped take out 30 German tanks in Noville. M36 Jacksons of the 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion took 50-percent casualties in a delaying action at Saint Vith, knocking out 30 Panther tanks in the process.

The towed tank-destroyer battalions didn’t fare so well. Several battalions had to abandon their guns in the face of the German advance. Others got stuck in the mud and snow. While M10s of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion destroyed 17 tanks in two days in the ill-fated defense of Elsenborn ridge, the towed guns of the 801st fighting in the same battle lost 17 guns.

Of the 119 tank destroyers lost in the Battle of the Bulge, 86 were towed guns. Meanwhile, the tank-destroyers claimed 306 enemy tanks. In January 1945, it was decided to re-convert the towed units to self-propelled battalions.

By the end of the war, the writing was on the wall for the tank-destroyer — particularly when the first of the early M-26 Pershing tanks armed with the same 90-millimeter guns as on the M36 began to see action in early 1945.

Tank-destroyers were pretty much just tanks with inferior armor and better guns. Contrary to doctrine, commanders in the field asked them to perform most of the same tasks as regular tanks. Why invest in a whole separate branch of the army and different class of vehicles when you could simply give tanks the same gun?

Just three months after the end of World War II the Army disbanded the tank-destroyer branch. While the U.S. military did develop a few more specialized anti-tank vehicles, such as the M56 ONTOS, Army doctrine would go on to assert “the best means of taking out a tank is another tank.”

World War II was not quite the end of the line for U.S. tank destroyers. The M36 Jackson and its 90-millimeter gun were hastily called back for use in the Korean War five years later to counter North Korean T-34/85 tanks.

Surviving tank destroyers were resold all over the world. M10s and M18s saw action with the Nationalist army in the Chinese civil war. Wolverines cropped up in the Arab-Israeli conflict and Pakistani M36s battled Indian tanks in 1965. Croatia and Serbia used M36s and M18s in the Yugoslav civil war of the early to mid-1990s. Yugoslavia even deployed M36s as decoys against NATO airstrikes during the Kosovo War. Upgraded M18s remain in Venezuelan service today.

The shortcomings of U.S. tank destroyers are clear. They were intended to fight in a specific context that largely failed to materialize. They had inferior armor protection. With the exception of the M36, they weren’t reliably capable of taking out the scariest enemy tanks.

Post-war Army historians roundly lashed them for these shortcomings. Yet here’s the funny thing. Operational records show that the tank-destroyers actually rocked.

Active, self-propelled tank-destroyer battalions were judged to have killed 34 tanks each on average, and about half as many guns and pillboxes. Some units, such as the 601st, reported more than 100 enemy tanks destroyed. This led to an average kill ratio of two or three enemy tanks destroyed for every tank-destroyer lost.

The ultra-lightly-armored M18, with its unexceptional gun, had the best ratio of kills to losses for any vehicle type in the Army!

Why? Ultimately, it may come down to how tank-destroyers were employed, even though it was not the manner intended by Army strategists. While Sherman tank units sometimes embarked on risky assaults and unsupported rapid advances, tank-destroyers usually deployed in support of combined arms task forces with infantry.

This cooperation with friendly forces meant they showed just where they needed to be, spotted the enemy first and got off the first shot. And being the first to shoot usually determined the outcome of armored engagements in World War II, regardless of the quality of the vehicles involved.

Tank-destroyers also taught the Army not to over-specialize. There was no need for multiple classes of tanks that were strong in one respect and weak in another. The post-war concept of the main battle tank embraced this idea to the fullest.


Watch the video: Το χρονικό ενός Shifter #62 (August 2022).