The M8 Light Armored Car was the only armoured car used in combat by the United States during the Second World War, but suffered from poor cross country mobility, making it a poor reconnaissance vehicle. It performed at its best during Patton’s advance across France after Operation Cobra, where its high speed and reasonable firepower allowed it to protect his flanks, but its poor mobility led it down in Italy and during the winter of 1944-45.
Work on a new armoured car began in July 1941. The Army wanted a vehicle that would be armed with the 37mm Gun M6 in a turret but that could be adapted for use as a mortar carrier, cargo carrier or multiple gun motor carriage. The resulting vehicle would also be of potential value to the Tank Destroyer Command, as at the time the 37mm gun was seen as an effective anti tank weapon (although that would change by the time the M8 entered combat).
On 9 October 1941 the Ordnance Committee recommended the construction of two pilot six wheel drive vehicles, the Ford 37mm Gun Motor Carriage T22 and the Fargo 37mm Gun Motor Carriage T23. This was approved on 22 October and work quickly got underway at Ford. On 10 December another pair of vehicles were added to the order, this time with four wheel drive. These were designated as the Ford 37mm Gun Motor Carriage T22E1 and Fargo 37 Gun Motor Carriage T23E1. Soon after this Studebaker entered the competition, offering to build a six wheeled vehicle at their own expense. This became the 37mm Gun Motor Vehicle T43.
On 12 March 1942 all of these designations were altered from Gun Motor Carriage to Light Armored Car. The Ford and Fargo vehicles kept their original numbers, but the T43 became the T21. The Ford six wheeler was thus now the Light Armoured Car T22. This change was made because the 37mm gun was no longer seen as an effective anti-tank gun, so the new vehicle would no longer be used as a tank destroyer. Instead both the tank destroyer battalions and armoured cavalry would use it a light armoured car, with reconnaissance it’s main duty.
The T22 was the first of the pilot models to be completed. It began company tests at Dearborn, Michigan, on 5 March 1942, and was then sent to the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, on 12 March. It was displayed in an Ordnance demonstration at Aberdeen on 16 March, and on 17 March was driven by representatives from the Armoured Force. They were impressed enough to ask for it to be driven to the Armoured Force base at Fort Knox on 19-20 March, where it underwent three days of tests.
As a result of these tests, on 23 April it was decided to terminate the T22E1, T23 and T23E1 projects and focus on the T22. Studebaker’s T21 was delivered for trials on 22 May, and that project was terminated early in 1943. Three days before the T21 had been delivered, the Ordnance Committee recommended standardising the T22 as the Light Armoured Car M8, and this was approved on 25 June 1942.
Although the T22 had won the design contest, the Armored Force weren’t entirely happy with it. They felt it would be more effective with a three man turret, and needed better cross country capability, but it would take too long to make these changes, so the T22 would do. Some changes were requesting, including new driver’s hatches, armoured side sponsons to carry radios, and the removal of the hull machine gun.
The T22 had a fuselage with sloped sides, making it quite narrow at the base. However this was rather hidden by the simple fenders which extended over the wheels, making it look quite wide. On the T22 these were simple metal sheets that extended above the wheels and down sides of the gap between the first and second pairs of wheels. It had an open topped turret mounted just ahead of the centre point. The driver’s position was in front of the turret, with armoured shields that could be hinged down to the front and sides. In front of the drivers a sloped glacis covered most of the nose, with space for a hull mounted machine gun.
Although the T22 had impressed in its trials, a number of changes were made to the design before it entered production. This modified design was designated as the T22E2 and it contained most of the changes that were introduced in the initial production run of the M8. The most obvious change was the fenders, where the simple open sided system of the T22 was replaced by a more extensive wheel covers, with side panels that covered the top quarter of the wheel. These merged smoothly into the top of the fuselage, which was made wider, making the T22E2 look like a rather wider vehicle. The area above the rear wheels were used for storage boxes, known as ‘fender boxes’, which had hinged lids on top.
The engine deck was also modified. It now sloped down gently towards the back of the vehicle, and had two engine access doors side by side, each with an armoured ventilation hood on top. The doors were hinged on their long sides, so could be lifted up from the sides of the vehicle and propped up on rods.
Initially the front half of the turret was given a roof, which carried rotating periscopes for the gunner and vehicle commander, to give them some visibility without having to stick their heads out of the turret. Mounts for extra machine guns could also be carried on the top of the turret. By the end of 1942 the size of the roof had been reduced and the periscopes removed, as they interfered with the gunner’s telescope, which was used to aim the main gun.
The driver’s armour was also modified. On the T22 the armoured shields could be completely folded away to the front and sides. On the T22E2 the sides and the centre of the armoured hood were fixed. The fronts could swing forwards and down and the top covers could open to the sides, leaving two separate open spaces and allowing one driver to be under armour while the other driver was in the open. Later small supports were added so the top sections didn’t fold over quite so far.
Initially the production M8s were similar to the T22E2, but there were some minor differences, and more changes were introduced during the production run.
Power was provided by a Hercules JXD engine. The driver sat on the left, and the co-driver on the right, although there was only one steering wheel, for the driver.
At the start of production racks were added on the side of the hull between the front and middle wheels to carry three anti-personnel mines. These racks could also be used as steps up for the crew. A canvas cover was provided to fit over the open part of the turret roof. Later in the production run the mine racks were removed, and another storage box mounted in the gap between the front and back fenders. A step then had to be added to these boxes to allow the commander and gunner to get into the vehicle.
In July 1943 work began on detachable glass windscreens, which would slot into the gap left when the folding front of the driver’s armoured cover was down. These used safely glass in a metal frame, and came complete with windscreen wipers. Later in the production run a box to carry these windscreens was welded to the front of the glacis.
Tests were carried out on installed a ring mount around the top of the turret, and the Ordnance Department ordered the installation of a M49C ring mount on all new vehicles from December 1943. However in the spring of 1944 this was replaced by the lighter D675111 folding pintle mount carrying a Browning M2 HB 50in machine gun. Although the pintle mount was officially preferred, in the field many vehicles were given the ring mount instead, as it allowed the entire gun to be moved to a different part of the turret. In contrast if the gunner wished to fire the pintle mounted gun in the same direction as the turret was facing, then he had to get out of the turret and stand on the top of the fuselage.
In an attempt to improve the ride quality of the M8, which had non-independent suspension, in September 1943 two vehicles were given torsion bar suspension for the front wheels, becoming the M8E1. Work was slow, and they didn’t undergo trials until September 1944. However this suspension was less reliable than the original design, so development stopped at the end of the war.
On 23 July 1942 orders were placed with Ford to produce 6,000 M8 armored cars and sixty sets of spare parts, with a target production rate of 1,250 vehicles (more than twice the actual highest production rate). On 27 July a second order was placed, for another 5,070 M8 s and fifty-one sets of spare parts, for a total of 11,070 vehicles and 111 sets of spare parts. On 12 August 1942 the number was reduced to 8,460 vehicles at 1,5000 per month.
On 29 July Ford began to prepare for production of the M8 at their Chicago factories. At first the plan was to also build it at Kansas City, but this plan was abandoned in favour of using Ford’s Twin Cities plant, where a short production run of only 250 Ford T17 Deerhound armoured cars was about to end. As a result the Twin Cities plant was already set up to produce armoured cars, and despite switching to the M8 after work began at Chicago both factories produced their first vehicles in March 1943, when three were produced at Chicago and a dozen at Twin Cities.
Production of the M8 peaked in 1943. Twin Cities achieved their highest figures in September and December 1943, when the plant produced 572 M8s in each month. Chicago’s peak was 200 vehicles in October 1943. By the time production ended in May 1945 the Twin Cities plant had produced 6,397 M8s and Chicago had produced 2,127 (The Chicago plant also produced 3,790 M20 armored utility cars so wasn’t too far behind the Twin Cities on total production). By this point the M8 had been reduced to substitute standard on 1 March 1945 and Limited Standard on 11 October 1945.
For most of 1943 only a small number of M8s were available. As they became available infantry divisions received two, armoured divisions six, cavalry regiments ten and tank destroyer battalions two, mainly for training.
When enough were available to issue them properly most of them were issued to various cavalry reconnaissance squadrons.
Non divisional mechanized cavalry regiments were broken up over the winter of 1943-44 and reformed into various cavalry reconnaissance squadrons (mechanized). Each of these squadrons had three reconnaissance troops, each of which contained one Troop HQ and three reconnaissance platoons, each with three M8s, mortar carrying jeeps, a machine gun carrying jeeps, for a total of 12 M8s per troop or 36 per squadron. Most of these squadrons were formed into mechanized cavalry groups, which had a HQ troop and two squadrons. Thirteen of these cavalry groups fought in the European Theatre of Operations, normally with one allocated to each corps. There were fewer available in Italy, so the Fifth and Eighth Army each had one squadron available.
Most armoured divisions had 52 M8s in their cavalry reconnaissance squadrons. Those armoured divisions which kept the 1942 table of organisation had an armored reconnaissance battalion with 75 M8s.
Tank destroyer battalions equipped with self propelled tank destroyers had six M8s in their reconnaissance platoon, while those equipped with towed anti-tank guns had four.
Infantry divisions had a cavalry reconnaissance troop with thirteen M8s. A total of 42 of these troops entered combat in the ETO.
Combat - Italy
The M8 began to reach American troops in the Mediterranean theatre late in 1943, although in relatively small numbers. As a result it was often used alongside the M2 half track until more M8s were available.
In combat the M8 was a useful vehicle, but it did have some flaws. Trials carried out by the Desert Warfare Board in November 1943 showed that tt was vulnerable to mines, so the North African command issued a work order for the installation of 1/4in of hardened armour plate under the bottom of the driver’s compartment. It had poor off road mobility compared to the tracked and half track vehicles, but at the same time it struggled to manoeuvre in Europe’s more cramped towns and villages.
By November 1943 150 M8s had been issued. They entered combat with the 91st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron in Italy on 17 January 1944, during the approach to the Rapido River near Cassino. More M8s entered combat at Anzio, but after a brief moment of optimism that saw them scouting ahead of the 1st Armored Division, the fighting settled down into a stalemate. A third reconnaissance squadron briefly fought in Italy before heading for the South of France. The eight tank destroyer battalions in Italy slowly received the M8 and M20, but by July 1944 there were only 185 M8s and 50 M20s serving with the Fifth Army. By the end of the war 111 M8s and 72 M20s had been lost in combat in Italy, mostly during the fighting in the north in 1945.
The M8 wasn’t a great success in Italy. The Germans made extensive use of minefields, and the M8 was very vulnerable to mines. Its poor off road capabilities meant that it suffered in the Italian mountains, and a great deal of planning had to go into picking routes for the M8, reducing its effectiveness as a reconnaissance vehicle.
Combat – D-Day and North-Western Europe
By time of the D-Day landings most M8s in Britain had been given the extra belly armour, and some sort of mount for an anti-aircraft gun, after the pintle mounts were slow to appear. On 23 August 1944 the Office of the Chief Ordnance Officer in the European Theatre of Operations approved the use of the M50 ring mount, and this is the arrangement most often seen in combat pictures.
After the D-Day landings the M8s were used against infantry more often than against armour, inevitably given that its 37mm gun was no longer an effective anti-tank weapon. Luckily it could fire a useful 37mm M2 canister round, and the .50in machine gun was also a good anti-infantry weapon.
Before the D-Day landings about 1,500 M8s had been issued to units in Britain.
Between June 1944 and May 1945 a total of 961 were lost, but enough new machines were delivered to mean that there were still 2,529 on strength. The peak had come in March 1945,when 2,884 were available, showing that deliveries had greatly sped up.
The 4th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanised) was the first M8 unit to land in France, landing on Utah Beach on D-Day, and taking part in the attempts to link up with the 82nd Airborne Division, which had landed inland behind the beaches and was rather badly scattered. At this stage the battle was against infantry and anti-tank guns, as the German Panzers had yet to be committed (and would largely fight on the British front). However the heavy machine guns on the turret roof made the M8 a dangerous anti-infantry weapon.
The M8 was meant to be used for ‘sneak and peep’ infiltration missions, only fighting when absolutely needed. However it was largely restricted to the roads, so almost always ran into strong German positions and had to fight. A bigger problem was that the reconnaissance squadrons were rarely used for that role. Instead they were used for more traditional cavalry roles, including acting as a mobile reserve. However they weren’t equipped for heavy combat, so often operated alojgside tank destroyers or self propelled artillery.
The M8 units were at their most effective during Patton’s breakout across France. While his tanks led the breakout, the M8 squadrons were used to scout their exposed flanks and patrol the areas that had been bypassed during the initial advance. Their combination of speed and firepower meant they were well suited for this job, but again only as long as they avoided any engages with heavy German units. However they also suffered heavy losses with 264 lost between the start of Operation Cobra and 20 September 1944, six times the casualty rate compared to the first six weeks of fighting.
The M8 didn’t perform well during the battle of the Bulge. The 14th Cavalry Group was hit by one of the main German attacks at the start of the battle and easily brushed aside. The snow and mud restricted the M8s mobility even further so the reconnaissance troops often had to fight dismounted, where they lacked firepower.
Combat - Pacific
The M8 was also used in the Pacific, although in smaller numbers. Some were used during the fighting on the Philippines and others on Okinawa.
The M8 remained in American service after the end of the war, mainly because the M38 armored car never entered production. It was used by the US Army in Europe during the occupation of Europe, remaining in use until December 1942.
The M8 was also used by the occupation forces in the Pacific, and at the outbreak of the Korean War a force of 37 M8s was the only armoured force available to the South Korean army. A number of M8s and M20s also served with American units that fought in Korea although in small numbers. The M8 was retired after the Korean War.
On 20 June 1942, five days before the M8 was accepted as standard, the British Tank Mission told the US Tank Committee that they had no requirement for the vehicle. However they soon changed their minds and ended up taking 496 (all but 42 in 1944). The British called it the Greyhound. The British mainly used the M8 in Italy, where by the end of the war the 6th Armoured Division had 99 and the 7th Armoured Brigade 79.
The Free French received 689 M8s. Many of them were using in the fighting in France after the D-Day invasions. The Free French army was organised along American lines, and many of their M8s were used during the liberation of France.
Brazil was the last country to get the M8 under lend lease, getting twenty of them. These were used by the reconnaissance troop of the Brazilian 1st Infantry Expeditionary Division, which fought in Italy in 1944-45.
Other users Post War
The M8 remained in use for many decades after the end of the Second World War, mainly because many of them were given to America’s allies after the war and through the Military Assistance Program. Belgium, Norway, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Austria and Yugoslavia all received M8s and M20s, but most had been withdraw from front line service by the end of the 1950s.
The M8 had a longer life in some of its world wide users, which included Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Tunisia. These countries often found the M8 cheaper and easier to operate than tracked vehicles and kept them in use for longer.
In total just under 500 M8s and M20s were provided to overseas countries after the war. The French also provided a number of M8s and M20s to their former colonies in Africa
The French used the M8 in Vietnam from 1946 until 1953. The first arrived with the French 2nd Armoured Division, one of the units that restored French control late in 1945. More M8s were provided by the Americans, but the type wasn’t well suited to use in Vietnam, once again suffering from its poor cross county performance.
The lifespan of the M8 was extended by various modification kits, which gave it more modern engines and weapons
Hull Length: 197in
Hull Width: 100in
Engine: 110hp Herculies JXD 6 cylinder engine
Max Speed: 56mph
Max Range: 250 miles
Armament: 37mm gun, coaxial .30in machine gun, .50in anti-aircraft gun