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New Vanguard 97, M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer 1943-97

by Stephen J Zaloga, illustrated by Jim Laurier

Published by Osprey Publishing Ltd, ISBN 1-84176-687-9, 49 pages


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Here’s a book that many of us have been hoping for, with two M1 kits available and some intriguing variants reported from former Yugoslavia. Steve Zaloga has provided an excellent account of the Hellcat’s genesis and development to meet Tank Destroyer Command requirements – and also shows just why those requirements were misconceived and how combat missions were adapted from the official doctrine to make the best use of the Hellcat.

The story starts with US Army realisation that German panzer tactics necessitated a firm anti-tank defence. Unfortunately machinations within the high command resulted in an over-reliance on towed guns, which were not exactly flexible in the tactical situations that actually faced them and failed to be effective in the August 1940 US Army manoeuvres. So attention turned to self-propelled mounts, using the small-calibre guns that US doctrine had failed to realise could not penetrate increasing German armour. When the truth sank in, efforts were made to develop SPMs with the 3-inch gun and resulted in the M10 series. But doctrine still needed a high-speed SPM, and Buick was tasked with developing one.

The 76mm gun was one answer to the need for better anti-armour performance, and was adapted to the original Buick chassis which had carried a 57mm gun in a round turret. The result was the T70, fast and with an acceptable performance against 1942 German armour, though itself very lightly armoured and too small to be habitable in sustained combat. Nevertheless it was accepted for production as the M18, with combat trials at the Anzio beachhead using five T70s following that acceptance.

This book sets out the whole story in detail, including reports from combat veterans and notes of which units received M18s and where they served. As well as the development-period photographs there’s an excellent selection of active service photos, and although many are quite familiar here they have proper, informative captions with dates, places, and units identified and extra details.

As well as all this some interesting variants are described and shown, including attempts to produce an amphibious tank destroyer as well of course as the M39 armoured utility vehicle based on the M1 chassis. Post-war service is not neglected, with notes on foreign recipients including Yugoslavia – the latter resulting in some strange hybrids and interesting colour schemes in Bosnian service.

The colour plates by Jim Laurier are well up to the standard of the text and photographs, and very helpful to modellers. Yes, they do include some of those post-war hybrids and colour schemes as well as good views of WW2 marking schemes. It’s good to see Osprey getting away from the idea that side views are enough to show tank markings!

Very highly recommended.

John Prigent

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