In the short period from July 1943 to October 1944, 2,500 M18 Hellcats were manufactured.

Possessing all the characteristics of a tank, however, the M18 Hellcat was still classified as a tank destroyer. This was due to the military doctrine of the Americans at that time. Accordingly, if one or a small group of armored vehicles is capable of causing great damage to enemy tanks, it will be considered a tank destroyer. It was also incapable of supporting infantry as its armor was not strong enough to cover soldiers.

Despite some weaknesses, the Hellcat was the most effective U.S. tank destroyer of World War II. It had a higher kill to loss ratio than any other tank or tank destroyer fielded by U.S. forces in World War II. The M18 was an improvement over the preceding M10 series and proved as capable as the M36 “Slugger” family. The Hellcats served through to the end of the war and were even featured in the inventories of several nations in the post-war world.

M18 Hellcat
M18 Hellcat

The Hellcat weighed about 18.7 tons, a length of 5.28 m, a width of 2.87 m, and a height of 2.57 m. It had a crew of 5, including: Commander, gunner, loader, driver, and assistant driver. The Hellcat was originally powered by a 350 hp Continental R975-C1 engine, which was later replaced by a 400 hp Continental R975-C4 engine. The vehicle could reach a top speed of 55 mph, with a range of 100 miles.

In exchange for mobility, the M18’s armor was quite light, and provided very little protection from the most commonly used German antitank weapons. The lower hull armor was 12.7 mm thick all around. The lower front hull was also 12.7 mm thick, being angled twice to form a nearly rounded shape. The hull floor was only 4.8 mm.¬† The upper hull armor was also 12.7 mm thick, being angled at 23 degrees from the vertical on the sides and 13 degrees from the vertical at the rear.

The armor protection was very light with 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 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.

In the field, the M18 proved an excellent vehicle for the intended role. Her top speed of 55 to 60 miles per hour in ideal conditions – faster than any other armored fighting vehicle of the war. This gave the M18 crews the ability to fire at an enemy and then quickly retreat before  a response could be mustered.

Entering service in 1944, the M18 served primarily in Western Europe, but was also present in the Pacific. Losses totaled 216. Kills claimed were 526 in total. The kills-to-losses ratio for Europe was 2.3 to 1 and the overall kill to loss ratio was 2.4 to 1. Its strengths were the mobility, both on and off-road, as well as the speed of rotation of its turret.

Used after World War II in an improved version (M39), it took part in the Korean War. In 1956, about a hundred of these destroyers were delivered to the German Army, the Bundeswehr, for the training of its troops, while the Americans permanently removed them from their ranks the following year.

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