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One of the unsung American heroes of World War 2 was the venerable M8 Greyhound wheeled armored car series. The type was produced in the thousands during the war years and proved highly adept at its battlefield role. She was a reliable and tough thoroughbred despite some inherent limitations in her design. Crews likened the available fighting space, adequate firepower when contending with enemy infantry and light vehicles and cross-country performance on six tired was excellent. Few American war vehicles were as important and oft-forgotten as the M8 Greyhound series - the hero of the war almost always being the M4 Sherman - by the can-do attitude of M8 crews and its go-anywhere, do-anything design were qualities second to none.
As war engulfed the European landscape in the early 1940s, American warplanners were keen to developments in the theater, particularly as to how they related to the advancing ground war. Nazi Germany's army made clever "lightning" use of their mechanized forces in conjunction with air support and paratroopers and would go on to conquer half of Europe in the process. Key to its successes were the light reconnaissance brigades that would often move ahead of the main force, collect intelligence and reconnoiter locales and deliver pertinent mission information back to HQ in preparation for offensives. As such, when drawing up specifications for their own light armored reconnaissance vehicle, the Americans took into account these qualities and related tactics to flesh out a new scout car.
In October of 1941, the US Army laid out formal specifications calling for a new armored vehicle to be built from a wheeled chassis and mount a 37mm main gun armament. Proposals numbering four were then received and two were selected for further development - one from Chrysler (Fargo Division) and the other from competing carmaker Ford. Both designs utilized a 6x6 wheeled chassis and fitted a 37mm main gun. The Chrysler attempt was built upon a 6x6 truck-type chassis to which the US Army designated as the "37mm GMC T23". The Ford concept was designated as the "37mm Gun Motor Carriage T22" and incorporated a hull-mounted machine gun.
Ultimately, the Ford T22 proposal won out though the Army requested several design changes prior to serial production. These included a reworking of the front hull hatches for the driver and passenger in addition to side armor wheel covers. The hull-mounted machine gun was removed altogether. The resulting changes produced the T22E2 pilot vehicle and the formal production designation became "Light Armored Car M8" in May of 1942. Initial production called for 5,000 vehicles and this total was then raised to 6,000 as the battlefield need for such a vehicle grew across Europe and beyond. Within time, procurement totals ballooned to include a further 5,000 examples with the first M8s leaving Ford assembly lines in March of 1943. By November of that year, over 1,000 vehicles had already been supplied to the US Army.
Like other American armored vehicles (and some aircraft) of the war, the M8 was first utilized in the hands of the British Army and, like other armored systems before it, it was they who bestowed the M8 with its well-known nickname of the "Greyhound" due to its form and function. The British - using recent combat experiences - were quick to not the type's thinly protected underbellies and felt their M8s too thinly armored for the role. Regardless, the type was used in number and also passed to Commonwealth allies in Australia and Canada.
Externally, the M8 Greyhound became one of the most recognizable vehicles of the entire war. The major design characteristic was its six-wheels, fitted three to a vehicle side, divided into one forward axle pair and two axle pairs at the rear. The glacis plate was well sloped to provide for basic point defense ballistics protection while the sides of the vehicle were near-vertical facings with the upper portions of the road wheels (optionally) covered over with thin armor. Aft of the glacis plate were two hinged hatches for the driver (seated left and a passenger (seated right). The hull roof was flat to which a rounded, open-air turret system was installed. The turret was fitted amidships in the design and provided a 360-degree arc of fire through manual, hand-powered traversal. Antennas were fitted ahead of the rear-mounted engine compartment and aft of the turret emplacement along the turret roof edges to help facilitate communications. The complete crew complement was four personnel to include the driver, vehicle commander, gunner and loader/machine gunner/radio operator. Armor protection ranged from 0.1 inches to 0.7 inches across the vehicle's various facings. Rear view mirrors, fitted atop thin extension supports at the front corners of the vehicle, aided the driver in rearwards maneuvers. Headlamps ahead of each front hull hatch were shrouded over in steel cages for basic environmental protection.
Primary armament for the M8 series became the 37mm M6 L/56 repeating cannon firing either an armor-piercing (AP) and high-explosive (HE) shell. Loading of the gun was manual and some 80 projectiles of 37mm ammunition were stored aboard. The gun could handle most of the enemy light armored vehicles as well as help to dislodge concentrations of enemy troops. This armament was supplemented by a .30 caliber Browning M1919A4 coaxial machine gun (fitted right of the main gun and operated by the turret gun layer) for anti-infantry defense. Optionally, a .50 caliber Browning M2HB could be fitted along a perimeter rail ring on the turret rear for anti-aircraft defense. Greyhounds housed approximately 1,500 rounds of .30 caliber ammunition and up to 400 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition.
Power for the M8 family was supplied through a Hercules JXD 6-cylinder, water-cooled, gasoline-fueled engine developing 110 horsepower and fitted to the rear of the hull. The powerplant drove power to all three axles which provided the vehicle with a top road speed of 56 miles per hour in ideal conditions, though less so when going cross-country. Operational ranges were within 350 miles and the suspension system consisted of leaf springs. All told, the M8 weighed between 7.8 and 8.5 tons making for a lightweight design, sporting a running length of over 16 feet with a width over 8 feet and a height of nearly 7.5 feet. Her design was such that she offered a low profile to enemy gunners and could be relatively easily concealed in high brush and the like.
In action, the M8 proved its robustness, adaptability and reliability in the field. The engine and transmission system proved well-mated and operational performance was excellent for the role - particularly off road. However, the type was lightly armored and early production forms lacked substantial floor armor protection, making the M8 highly susceptible to landmines, improvised bombs or anti-tank weapons. In response (as with the M4 Sherman Medium Tanks) crews began adding sandbags to the vehicle floor to help absorb these blasts and it was not uncommon for sandbags or similar obstructions to be added to the exterior of the vehicle. The open-air turret also did little to help the M8 initially find favor with crews. This design detail exposed the turret crew to unnecessary enemy fire or artillery spray as well as adverse weather conditions. The turret was also traversed through manual means which made quick reactionary movements when engaging enemy targets near-impossible in the heat of battle.
Beyond the standard and well-known armored scout car production model there existed the "M20" variant. The M20 was nothing more than the M8 with its turret system altogether removed to make for an open-air fighting compartment. Defense would be handled by a single machine gun along a flexible ring. The compartment area could have bench seating installed for extra personnel or left empty to ferry supplies to and fro. The M20 could then be utilized as a command and liaison vehicle with consideration given for its use as a fast personnel carrier. It was originally designated as the M10 in 1943 though, to avoid confusion with the existing M10 Gun Motor Carrier tracked tank destroyer, the designation was reverted back to M20 as the "Armored Utility Car M20". The M20 did prove a viable battlefield concept all its own and production rivaled that of the base M8 scout cars by war's end.
Ford was the primary defense contractor of all production M8 and M20 vehicles, producing some 15,458 examples into 1945. 11,667 were of the M8 models and 3,791 became the M20 making the Greyhound the most numerous of all the available American armored scout cars of the war. Production ceased in April of 1945.
The M8 Greyhound soldiered on in the post-war world, thanks both to its strong showing in the war and its "strength in numbers" owing to the sheer quantity examples produced. Amazingly, some operational M8s were still in service in the latter portion of the century, making the M8 one of the longest-serving military vehicles in history. In addition to combat actions in World War 2, the M8 was used in the Korean War (1950-1953).