Altaya ALT00025 US M18 Hellcat Light Tank Destroyer - "Black Cat", 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion, Italy, 1944 (1:43 Scale)
"Seek, strike and destroy."
- Motto of the US Tank Destroyer Forces during World War II
In December 1941, the War Ordnance Department issued a requirement for the design of a fast tank destroyer which used the Christie suspension, the Wright Continental R-975 engine, and a 37mm gun.
After observing events in North Africa, it was decided that the 37mm gun was inadequate and the design changed to accommodate a 57mm gun instead. During a series of prototypes and tests, the design was further upgunned to a 75mm gun, and then to the 76mm gun. The Christie suspension was also dropped and replaced with a torsion bar suspension. The design was eventually standardized in February 1943 and production began in July.
The M18 first saw combat in northwest Europe and Italy during the summer of 1944. It excelled at ambush and hit-and-run tactics. Its low silhouette, high firepower and great speed gave it the capability of destroying all but the heaviest of German armor, although it was too lightly armored to stand and fight. One notable instance was that of the 630th Tank Destroyer Battalion. In July 1944, they reported the destruction of 53 Panthers and Tigers, along with 15 self-propelled guns for a loss of only 17 M18's.
In contrast to the M10 Wolverine, which used the chassis of the M4 Sherman, the M18 Hellcat was designed from the start to be a tank destroyer. As a result it was smaller, half the weight, and significantly faster yet still carried a powerful gun. There was also more internal stowage capacity, able to accommodate a five-man crew as well as 45 rounds of ammunition and a M2 machine gun.
There was only one variant of the M18 which saw any real production, the Armored Utility Vehicle M39. It was a turretless variation of the M18 that was used to transport personnel and cargo or act as a gun tractor.
The M18 continued in production until October 1944, when the war was nearing its end. At that time, some 2,500 vehicles had been produced.
Pictured here is a 1:43 scale replica of a US M18 Hellcat light tank destroyer that was nicknamed "Black Cat", and attached to the 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion, then deployed to Italy during 1944.
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Historical Account: "The Anti-Tank Force" - The 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion was formed from the 105th Antitank Battalion on December 15th, 1941, in line with the reorganization of the anti-tank force. It was shipped to the United Kingdom in August 1942, and then deployed for the North African Campaign in January 1943, equipped with M3 GMC tank destroyers. It was attached briefly to the 34th Infantry Division, then attached to the 1st Armored Division on February 20th, just in time to see action at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass, where it took heavy losses. On March 23rd, equipped with the new M10 tank destroyer, it fought at the Battle of El Guettar
In October 1943, it converted to a towed battalion equipped with 3" anti-tank guns, and was shipped to Italy, arriving in the Naples area on October 25th - the first 3" towed battalion to see combat. It was attached to the 34th Infantry Division in January 1944, and supported the division in fighting on the Bernhardt Line and at Monte Cassino, before being shipped to the Anzio beachhead in mid-March and attached to the 36th Infantry Division. In June, it was attached to the 1st Armored Division.
It re-equipped with M18 Hellcats in the summer of 1944, but continue to be used mainly for indirect-fire missions through the remainder of the war, attached to a variety of different units during the drive north. On April 21st, 1945, they were attached to the 34th Infantry Division when it captured Bologna, and with the 88th Infantry Division when it reached the Brenner Pass in early May.