By Max Gadney 6/1/2010 •
Gear, World War II Weapons Manual
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This infographic originally appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of World War II magazine.
The tank destroyers did not adopt stealth tactics because of “muddy ground” (so the whole of Europe was muddy for the last 2-3 years of the war?). These tactics have always been the standard way of operating (whether doctrine or not) of tank destroyers – the highly-successful armoured-truck AT gun carriers that the French fielded a few months before their surrender in 1940; the formidable ‘Hetzer’ German tank destroyer (also thinly armoured at the sides, but with thicker frontal armour).
Combined arms tactics have nothing to do with this style of tank hunting – a vehicle takes up a good ambush position in cover, with a good field of view, waiting for targets, and then after firing a few rounds changes to another position to avoid return fire.
What is useful is a very small size vehicle (the ‘Hetzer’ was only about as high as an average adult male), and what is important is a gun that has long range accuracy and armour penetration.
Hellcats instead used their extremely high speed (the fastest tracked vehicle of the war) to outmanever enemy tanks and fire at their thinner side armour.
Despite their uncomfortable ride, cramped crew compartment and bad suspension, the crews invariable loved their vehicles. As well as their speed, a particularly appreciated feature was the fast, powered turret traverse (remember that there were still some tanks by the end of the war that featured turrets that had to be cranked around slowly by hand).
The M18 Hellcat was a very successful tank destroyer, with well-trained crews achieving a 5:1 kill ratio against the German Panther tanks (which were also faster than average tanks, but slower than the the Hellcat).
The things that the M18 Hellcat was not designed for were “slugging it out” at long range with heavily armoured enemy tanks (but only a few very heavy models of the US or British tanks were capable of that either), and supporting Allied infantry against enemy infantry at close quarters (due to their open topped turret).
Note: ‘Hetzer’ is in talking marks because is seems those vehicles were seldom called that by their crews.
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