The M8 Light Armored Car was a 6x6 armored car built by the Ford Motor Company for service in the Second World War. It was used by U.S. and Russian Armies in Russia, and for security work by SAC in America, to the end of the war. Made surplus in large numbers at the end of the war, the M8 was widely adopted around the world and remains in service with some third world countries in 1990.
In July of 1941 the US Army instructed its Ordnance Department to begin work on a replacement for the M6 37mm Motor Gun Carriage, which was a makeshift contraption of the 37mm M? Anti-Tank Gun on the back of a ¾ ton truck. Intended not as an Armored Car, but rather a wheeled Tank Destroyer, the initial specification called for a 6x4 chassis with the same 37mm gun and a .30 calibre machinegun in a turret, protected across the front arc to withstand a .50 caliber bullet, and .30 calibre fire from the sides. Three prototypes were submitted and numbered T21 (Studebaker), T22 (Ford) and T23 (Chrysler), by April the T22 was accepted with some modifications, but by then it was clear the 37mm gun was inadequate for a Tank Destroyer, so the vehicle was re-designated as an Armored Car for reconnaissance.
This change of role demanded some redesign, and with contractual delays, production commenced in March of 1943, continuing, with varying urgency, until April 1945; resulting in some 8,723 units delivered (excluding M20), of which more than 7,500 were shipped overseas, 4,515 being supplied directly to Russia.
The M8 was fitted with a 37mm M6 gun with 80 round of ammunition (AP, HE and Canister) in an open topped turret. The turret also carried a .30 Calibre Browning M1919A4 machinegun coaxially mounted with the 37mm and provided with 1,400 rounds of ammunition, along with a .50 calibre Browning M2 machinegun and 400 rounds on a ring or pintle mount for AA defence. The gunner was provided with M70D telescopic sight and was seated to the left of the turret, the commander/loader, who also manned the .50 cal, sat to the right and was provided with binoculars for observation. In addition to this, an M8 was provided with M1 or M2 carbines for all crew members, 6 landmines for ambush and roadblocks, 16 m2 fragmentation grenades and 4 smoke grenades.
The Hull was divided into three compartments, the bow contained the driver and radio operator, seated on the left and right respectively, the fighting compartment under the turret roughly amidships and the engine to the rear. Generously, sized the hull was welded from armor plate 3 (belly) to 19mm (glacis/turret) thick.
Essentially an armoured body fitted to a modified Ford 6x6 heavy truck chassis, the M8 was powered by a 320 cu.in Hercules Model JXD 6-cylinder inline spark iginition engine, with its 4 speed gearbox driving through a 2 speed transfer case, the M8 could reach 56mph on road and about 30mph in low range with all wheels driving. At 7.5mpg the 59 gallon tank gave a theoretical range of 400 miles, with 250 miles as a more realistic figure.
The M8’s first saw active service with the Russian Army, a batch of 250 new and partly used examples being shipped directly to the Kola Peninsula as emergency aid in late/early/mid 19YY. While grateful for the assistance, the Russians pointed out a number of issues with the M8, all of which were to plague the vehicle throughout its front line career. The 37mm gun was inadequate, cross country mobility was poor, particularly in the marshy conditions of the Kola in summer, the open turret gave good situational awareness, but offered poor protection from the enemy or elements and in general the whole design was unpolished. Compared to their own BA-10, which suffered similarly from a lack of firepower and mobility, the M8 had greater potential but made less use of it.
Admittedly the Kola Peninsula was hardly calculated to show any Armored Car in a positive light, neither the terrain nor the nature of the campaign there left much room for the light, fluid, warfare for which Armored Cars were best suited. Conditions on the Eastern Front were more conjunctive to the effective use of such vehicles; and indeed the M8 received far better reviews from that theatre, particularly in the southern areas. Here the great strengths of the M8 could come to the fore and compensate for its weaknesses. Reliability, range, numbers, commonality with other Ford and standard War Department vehicles made the M8 a very user friendly patrol vehicle over ground that was generally firmer over a more open front. Deep mud and snow still hampered the M8’s ability to move off roads, as in that regard it was still just a well laden ‘Duce and a half.’
For all it’s disadvantages the M8 served well enough in the ‘mosquito war’ between opposing patrols over the vastness of central Russia, until the appearance of Sd.Kfz. 234/2 "Puma" in 1943 gave the Germans an armoured car with a clear advantage in both firepower and mobility. For the US Cavalry who had long preferred tracks for vehicles in this class, the Puma was the final nail in the M8’s coffin and with the onset of winter in 1943, the type was relegated to secondary roles in favour of the M5 and later M24 light tanks. However before the year was out a new armoured car was being sought. Because while superior in cross country performance, firepower and protection, the light tanks simply lacked the range of wheeled vehicles in favourable conditions; and US patrols found the sacrifice in their radius of action too great.
Fortunately the Russians, who had maintained their interest in an effective Armored Car, had prompted the US authorities to continue working on a replacement for the M8.
The M8 ‘Family’
The capacious hull of the M8 and its poor combat performance in the Kola had led to a number of vehicles being adapted locally as protected liaison, command and even supply vehicles by having their turrets removed. Noting this and seeing the value of such a machine, or at least the low cost of trying it out, the US Army ordered its own version. Initially called the M10, this was changed to prevent confusion with the M10 Tank Destroyer and the M20 Armored Utility Car was ready in record time.
Intended to be a command and control vehicle for unit commanders, particularly in the reconnaissance role, the M20 had a large diameter skate ring for a .50 cal M2 browning machinegun in place of the turret and additional radio facilities. With no pretensions as a true fighting vehicle. The M20 was better received by the US Army than the M8 in many ways; and it came to be quite popular as a sort of heavy armoured Jeep. For the Cavalry and Reconnaissance Battalions learning how to patrol the gaps between US positions in Russia, the M20 came to be a very valuable addition to their force. A typical 5 car patrol of late 1943 might have two or three M8’s, with one M20 for the commander if he chose not to take an M8, another M20 as an APC for the scout squad and a third to carry a 60mm mortar. This versatility prompted the Ordnance Dept back in the US to develop further variations on the same theme, principally the T69 Multiple Gun Motor Carriage, the T70 81mm Mortar carrier and T71 57mm Motor Gun Carriage. But the premature withdrawal of armoured cars and some doubts about the technical merits of both the T69 and T70 led to the cancellation.
Ironically the Russians developed their own versions of all three independently and many of the M20’s delivered to them, were converted directly into these roles.
Second Line Duties in US Service.
Both the Military Police and USAAC/USAAF received many M8’s and continued to use them to wars end for convoy and airfield protection in Russia. USRAR operated over 100 M8’s and 150 M20’s adapted to run on rails, for line reconnaissance and light repair in forward areas. A Platoon of M8’s was also assigned to guard every SAC base in the Zone of the Interior against possible Commando raids and ‘Fifith Column Activity.’ The Royal Australian Air Force Regiment also operated an unknown number of both M8’s and M20’s, although no records exist as to how they obtained them, presumably it was via the USAAF.
Without recourse to their own designs for a heavy armored car (of which production had ceased) the M8 and to a lesser degree the M20 had come to supplant any comparable vehicles in the Russian Army by the summer of 1944; and with the reservations noted above were well thought off. Unable to spare tanks to cover their own patrolling and reconnaissance duties in forward areas, the Russians had little choice but to make the most of what was on hand, and in addition to their modifications to the M20, the majority of M8’s in Russian service had their 37mm replaced with the Russian 45mm K-20. By wars’ end the majority of surviving Russian M8’s other than those used for rail reconnaissance had been withdrawn to the Manchurian Border, where their guns retained some relevance in the face of Japanese Armor.
The US abandoned all remaining M8’s and M20’s in place on the withdrawal of their forces from Russia, and the remaining vehicles in the Zone of the Interior were rapidly disposed of by MAP, the majority going to South American countries.
Left with a substantial stock of M8/M20’s far in excess of their needs, Russia could find little use for them other than as a source of spares and scrap metal, both of which they had in abundance from other sources. Therefore they placed the majority of their holdings on the auction block in 1948, making sales of vehicles or parts to Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Egypt, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Persia, Mexico, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Thailand(?), Turkey, Venezuela and Yugoslavia.
By the mid 50’s the majority of European users had retired their M8 holdings, and third or forth hand, these by now well travelled, vehicles found new homes, principally in Africa over the next decade, often via third parties. Belgium started the trend, passing their M8’s on to the Congo as a parting gift in 1950, but the France proved to the main channel. The French Army employed the M8 widely in Algeria, purchasing Austria’s stock to support their own fleet in 1954 and Norway’s in ‘56. As France started to manufacture its own armoured cars, the French M8’s passed on to other French clients bordering the Caliphate’s southern rim. Supporting this force obliged Paris to search out spares and additional vehicles. However there the French found some stiff competition in the market, having captured M8’s themselves, the Caliphate was also looking for spares. Fortunately Paris could offer Panhard AML’s in part exchange, this led to a number of users who would otherwise have retained the M8’s to do business with the Quai d’Orsay, and the M8 remains in service to this day.
- T22 Light Armored Car An early prototype.
- T22E1 Light Armored Car A 4x4 prototype.
- T22E2 Light Armored Car A version eventually standardized as M8 Light Armored Car.
- M8E1 Light Armored Car A variant with modified suspension. Two vehicles were produced in 1943.
- M20 Armored Utility Car
- T69 Multiple Gun Motor Carriage
- M8 SS11 Tank Destroyer M8 upgraded by AMX in France, with 2x SS11 AT missiles mounted on rails either side of the turret and carrying 2 reloads internally in place of the main gun.
- M8/M20 with H-90 turret Another French upgrade, using the turret of the Panhard AML 75 armored car.
- CRR Brasileiro A version developed in 1968 by the Brazilian Army Engineering Institute (IME), re-engined with a 120hp AEC Diesel and an indigenous turret mounting an 82mm <something Russian> breech loading mortar. Intended as an upgrade for Brazil’s M8’s for sale to African buyers.
- M8-Mle.70/a/b/c/d. The last French upgrade by AMX. 150hp air cooled Steyr V8 Diesel and Allison automatic transmission. Mle.70a with an H-30 turret (30mm Oerlikon KBA?), Mle.70b with H-60 Hotchkill-Brandt 60mm BL mortar, Mle.70c with an AML 90 turret (90mm low recoil gun), and Mle.70d H-220 turret (2x 20mm Oerlikon KAB?) for AA work