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Closeup: U.S. M8 75mm Howitzer Motor Carriage

The pint-size Panther killer

RELATED TOPICS: TANKS100 | ARMOR

In the January 2017 FineScale Modeler, Cookie Sewell used four kits and savvy scratchbuilding to model an M8 75mm Howitzer Motor Carriage and ammunition trailer the way he wanted. His inspiration was the story of a Stuart-based M8 HMC that stood toe-to-toe with a German Panther tank — and won! (You'll find that story at the end of this feature.)

With the help of longtime friend and internationally respected armor expert Steven Zaloga, Cookie gathered photos of M8 HMCs that revealed the details he needed to bring the open-topped fighting compartment of the M8 up to snuff. We didn't have room to publish them all in the magazine — but we do here, along with Cookie’s descriptions of them.

01

On July 24, 1944, the day before the start of Operation Cobra, the U.S.-led offensive that broke German resistance in Normandy, a 3rd Armored Division (bumper codes censored) M8 75mm HMC passes a wrecked M4 Sherman tank near Marigny, France.

02

An M8 75mm HMC leads a column from Reconnaissance Company, 33rd Armored Regiment, through Montreuil-sur-Lozon, France, on July 26, 1944, during Operation Cobra. This vehicle closely resembles the one modeled in the story.

03

A company of M8 75mm HMCs (not a battery) from the 3rd Armored Division takes up firing positions near Marigny, France on July 28, 1944. As there are five of them here, this is from an armored battalion headquarters section.

04

For a moment I thought I had found a “Holy Grail” shot of the winner and loser in the fight at Mons! But this vehicle has a Culin hedgecutter device upfront (which we can see despite the attempt at photo censorship) and is painted in the 1st Army camouflage scheme of black over olive drab. It is more likely from a battalion headquarters, possibly 3-32 Armored, as their vehicles were repainted in that scheme. Also, on close examination the Panther is intact and was hastily camouflaged; the engine access hatch is open, probably indicating an abandoned attempt at repairs.

05

An overview of the gun installation in the turret showing the upper components of the mount. The trunnion cap is visible to the left of the mount, as are clips for the Thompson submachine gun at the upper left.

06

From the manual: looking down into the rear of the turret and fighting compartment. Ammo stowage is visible to the right, on the vehicle's port side; note the labels. You can also see the fixed fire extinguisher and a can of hydraulic fluid for maintaining the recoil and recuperator cylinders.

07

Looking forward under the turret into the drivers’ compartment; the instrument panel, fire extinguisher, and ready rack are prominent.

08

Looking down into the turret and the gunner’s position from the top of the turret bustle.

09

Here’s a view inside the fighting compartment of an M8 HMC formerly displayed at the museum that was at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. You can see the rack for two carbines and a support pillar for the roof.

10

The opposite side of the same vehicle, showing a holder for binoculars, a map rack at the top, and the left support pillar. Stowage racks for various items, such as the ammo cans and the hydraulic fluid, also are apparent.

11

The starboard sponson, with bins for small stuff and stowage clips for various items.

12

The port-side sponson has a rack for nine rounds in tubes, more places for other stowage, and a junction box/panel for electrical connections.

13

The ready rack with six HE-FRAG rounds on hand. Note that this particular vehicle has seat belts! One of the two Thompson machine guns is visible at the lower right.

14

“Owner's manual” — parts for the gun assembly are called out. Much of this detail was absent from the model kit.

15

A low angle shot of the gunner’s position shows the direct sight (with eyeshade and brace) and the periscopic sight to the right of that.

16

Liberté! An M8 75mm HMC is greeted by the citizens of Javron-les-Chapelles, France, as it rolls past a statue of Joan of Arc in the city square — about 80 hard-fought miles inland from the Normandy coast. This vehicle has been sandbagged for extra protection and is headed east.



Epilogue:

Scratch one Panther

By September 1944, German forces were retreating in disarray while Allied forces were trying to block or eliminate them before they could reach the Siegfried Line and Germany.

To that end, the U.S. 3rd Armored Division was deployed around Mons, Belgium, where the 32nd Armored Regiment was guarding key junctions west of town.

On the morning of Sept. 4th, a German heavy tank was heard approaching as it led 150-200 foot soldiers. Vastly outgunned, American armored reconnaissance cars held their fire and were not detected.

An M8 HMC also observed the Panther, yet it too escaped notice. The M8’s stubby 75mm howitzer could provide fire support — but it was no antitank weapon. Still, the American commander decided to attack before being discovered by a tank that could single-handedly decimate his entire company. He ordered an HE-FRAG round, and from about 150 yards the gunner succeeded in blowing off the tank’s right track. At such close range, the report of the gun and the shell were virtually simultaneous and provided no direction.

The German commander stopped and swung his turret from side to side, looking for the unseen assailant. The German troops had gone to the ground and, likewise, saw nothing. After a few tense minutes, the tank commander ordered the loader to get out and check the damage, probably figuring they had struck a mine. The loader opened the rear hatch of the turret to avoid silhouetting himself against the skyline. Incredulous, the American commander ordered his gunner to put an HE-FRAG round through the open hatch.

That he did, and the Panther blew sky-high. The Germans behind the tank panicked and ran back down the road through a gantlet of small-arms fire from American reconnaissance elements.

The U.S. National Archives holds a lot of information on the 3rd Armored, but usually it is for the combat elements — and the heavier the action, the briefer the reports from the combatants. However, this action was typed up for a Distinguished Unit Citation (now Presidential Unit Citation), which troops display as a blue ribbon with gold surround on the right breast. It was awarded to them in July 1945.

Recent information has filled in some of the blanks. The heavy tank was not a Tiger as initially reported (many Americans called all German tanks Tigers), but a PzKpfw V Panther, apparently from Panzer Abteilung 2105, Panzer Brigade 105, 9th Panzer Division. The troops behind it were a mixed bag of paratroopers from the 6th Fallschirmjäger Division, Panzergrenadiers, and regular infantry. They were most likely captured and tallied as the 3rd Armored took 2,432 prisoners, killed or wounded another 227, and destroyed or captured 67 vehicles from various German formations.

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