I've always wondered how some people have issues with certain tanks that seem to be to be expressly simple. But to understand their plight you have to know how they play, what their thought process is and understand how they think. So while it's difficult to do a large portion of that I've decided to describe my own perspective in an attempt to assist players who might be struggling with certain vehicles with a new series called "Playing it Simple".

But of course, before we get into anything I've gotta set up some ground rules:

  • These are opinions that have been formed over years of play throughout the numerous iterations of the game
  • I'll be using the battle rating of realistic in every situation stated below
  • This list will also include premium tank destroyers (even if they're hidden) as well as vehicles that aren't considered Tank Destroyers in game but were historically suited for tank destroying duties. (I don't consider the M8 Scott to be a tank destroyer, it's a support vehicle)
  • I'll be including a brief history that will include historical application along with in game application

M3 Gun Motor Carriage

When the United States decisively entered the second world war on December 7th, 1941 it was woefully underprepared for full-scale global war. With modern tanks being absent from the current supply the United States had to kick over into large scale rearmament that would push every person and factory to its breaking point. But to retreat back to a niche portion of weapons production we find ourselves at the tank destroyer department of the Army. US Army doctrine stated that when friendly forces come into contact with enemy armor forces the tank destroyer detachments would move up and engage while other armor assets would stay in support.

But with no tank destroyers currently in supply what was the United States Army to do? Thankfully the utilization of the M5 half track and M1897A4 75mm gun could create a small and relatively fast platform that could form a stopgap until new dedicated vehicles could replace it. The result, being the M3 GMC, was a simple yet versatile platform that could provide fire support in more ways than one. Serving in the Desert, Italian and Pacific fronts it proved to be a reliable vehicle that was adaptable for many situations.

But how does it perform in-game? Well to put it simply it's a glass cannon with average mobility but a formidable cannon. You will struggle to find enemies that you cannot destroy with its aged but still powerful 75mm gun. It's APCBC will be your best friend against all enemy tanks. Unfortunately, due to being a lightly armored vehicle, it runs the risks of being unfortunately vulnerable to autocannons, high explosive, enemy aircraft machine guns and even artillery strikes. It's best used as either an ambush vehicle or a long-range support vehicle due to its poor armor. This however doesn't mean the vehicle cannot punch well above its weight even in full up tiers and above due to the gun and high performing shells.

3-inch Gun Motor Carriage M10

An M10 in action around St. Lo, France, 1944

Being based on the M3 series medium tank chassis, the M10 has a familiar yet distinct look as it finds itself at a now comfortable battle rating. The M10 filled out the gaps in US Tank Destroyer battalions and allowed it to effectively dispatch any armored asset that the Germans could throw at it. While the war changed the M10 stayed affected as an anti-tank solution, the refurbished 76mm gun proved its mettle in the Desert war against contemporary designs while the rugged chassis formed the basis for later anti-tank gun motor carriages.

In Italy, the M10 found itself dropping in overall effectiveness against some of the heavier German designs such as the Tiger and Panther but due to the strong defensive presence of Italian and German forces the vehicle found a strong secondary role as indirect fire support when applicable, the roof-mounted M2 made it a threat for blissfully unaware aircraft or enemy positions. But even as heavier and more effective vehicles became available the M10 was at the front lines till the bitter end of the German Reich. The M10 even found itself in service after the war in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

A platoon of M10 GMCs being used as indirect fire support during the Battle of the Bulge.

In War Thunder, this vehicle shines prominently as a mainstay of the US tier-II fighting force. It's best used as a long-range sniper with a "front towards the enemy" mentality. The lack of an electrical turret drive will leave you effectively useless against enemy flanking manoeuvres and close-quarter situations, having arguably one of the worst turret rotation speeds in the game it's best to keep your distance. As most tank destroyers you'll find that it's susceptible to artillery and aircraft attack. But ultimately the drawbacks of the vehicle are minute when its rapid-firing 76mm cannon can easily lay waste to even the heaviest of armor it finds at the 2.3-4.3 bracket. Its own armor is nothing special with armor with most enemy shells easily penetrating the hull but oddly enough the turret seems resistant to medium range AP shots (Russian MD-8 Fuse or American M61 APCBC) which would indicate that hull-down positions would be preferable. Good sightlines and steady aim are the keys to success in the rough and rugged M10 GMC.

LVT-4 ZIS-2

One of the only known photographs of the LVT-4 ZIS-2

A strange amalgamation of American and Russian technology culminates in Chinese ingenuity. The amphibious LVT was a uniquely effective landing vehicle and produced numerous variants that include 37mm anti-tank guns and 75mm close support weaponry. But due to the lack of Japanese tanks and the lack of proper support for mounting heavier anti-tank guns, there was no dedicated anti-tank variant of heavier size in the US arsenal. The nationalist Chinese forces were supplied with LVT-4s by the US and in the struggles of the Chinese Civil War, some of these vehicles fell into enemy hands. The Soviet Union supplied the Zis-2 57mm anti-tank gun and the Communists mounted them on captured LVTs, other than that not much else is known about the vehicle.

In War Thunder, if you're lucky enough to have one of these rare vehicles it's certainly a breath of fresh air compared to it's earlier versions. Being vulnerable to almost every calibre and threat under the sun it's not hard to find yourself in a precarious position. But it's poor armor is to be expected of an amphibious vehicle. The Zis-2 however is by no means a sleeper as it arms some of the Russian tanks as high as 4.7 which means its effectiveness isn't to be questioned at 2.3. Facing opposition that will crumble when hit, the LVT ZIS-2 is the very definition of a glass cannon. High muzzle velocity, strong shells and a jawbreaking post penetration effect will strike fear in the hearts of heavy tank players such as the B1 Ter. But with great power comes great vulnerability with even the lightest of HE shells doing major damage to this extremely large battle bus.

M18 Gun Motor Carriage

An M18 in action on Okinawa during the US Invasion of the Island in the spring of 1945.

Praised by crews and critics alike, the M18 was a lightweight solution to a heavyweight problem. Dubbed the most effective tank destroyer in the US arsenal, the M18 is the proof in the pudding of the effectiveness of the "Shoot N Scoot" tactic. Prototyped as the T70, the M18 matured in the summer of 1944 against the heaviest of German tanks during the blistering race across France. Utilizing innovative technology and brand new methods the M18 took an easy advantage over the poorly armored sides of the Panther tanks. Interestingly enough there are a few sources that claim the M18's ability to provide fast and effective fire support was arguably more important than its ability to dispatch enemy armor.

In-game however the vehicle has seen better days due to Gaijin's dependency to balance vehicles based on player statistics instead of vehicle performance. Sitting at a battle rating of 5.7 the vehicle has to use every advantage it can get. This is what I like to call a high skill vehicle, those who perform well in the M18 usually have an adept understanding of maps, enemy vehicles and of course the M18 itself. Speed, concealment and ambushes are the best way to utilize the M18 due to its nonexistent armor. It's by no means rare for a single M18 to knock down enemy tanks like dominoes after finding a good firing position. The term "Shoot N Scoot" refers to the action of engaging the enemy and after expending a couple of rounds to either disengage or move to a new firing position before re-engaging. This tactic is expressly useful against players who have a tendency to revenge bomb or respawn just to hunt you.

As previously mentioned this vehicle has seen better days in-game and it WILL often fight enemies you cannot reliably frontally penetrate but with an understanding of weak spots and smart manoeuvring, it's not uncommon to see M18s taking down some of the super-heavy tanks of the 7.7 bracket and beyond. Just make sure to keep sharp eyes and your ear to the ground when in enemy territory.

T55E1

Photographs from the testing sessions with the T55E1

As the United States slowly but decisively entered the war the designers were quick to heed the calls for more effective tank destroyers. This vehicle is, by all means, an attempt to continue the concept of wheeled tank destroyers from an earlier era. But due to the shift from wheeled to tracked anti-tank vehicles, the T55E1 remained a singular prototype.

For those familiar to the Sd.Kfz. 234/4 you will already know the drill, but for those less fortunate allow me to spell it out. Like the M18 this is a very high skill vehicle, with all of your crew exposed to machine-gun fire you don't have time to wonder if you can take a hit or two. But as a turretless SPG, you have to point towards your enemy to effectively fight them. Utilizing speed and ambush positions you can easily destroy unaware players but once they're aware of your presence it's time to disappear. As I've done it myself it's not hard to wipe teams or achieve a triple ace with little to no damage sustained. A thinking man's vehicle at the end of the day, it's solely dependent on the user's actions to the outcome of your success.

M36 Gun Motor Carriage

Freshly fitted M36 GMCs moving through fog in Belgium, 1944. (Look at his cute little trailer 🙂 )

When your target gets bigger it's time to arm yourself with a bigger stick, Nicknamed the "Jackson" after Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson the M36 has a common resemblance to the M10 GMC due to using the same chassis but with a more modern turret and a brand new gun. The M3 90mm finished testing and was standardized in 1944 while the first M36s got into the field in the Fall of the same year. Now boasting impressive firepower, the new tank destroyer yielded impressive results even against some of the heavier German cats. Allegedly two gunners from the 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion knocked out two Panthers at 3.8km and 4.2km respectively which is a testament to how powerful the new gun was.

An M36 lumbering by another unfortunate M36 which has fallen into a ditch, Early 1945.

In the virtual world of War Thunder, you have a similar outlook. At the same BR as the M18 you now have a tank destroyer that can effectively neutralize most enemies from the front. Unlike the M10 you have a respectable turret rotation which gives you more opportunities to manoeuvre offensively. However, this doesn't mean you can go without caution as tanks like the IS-2, Tiger II and Centurion can still brave the M3 90mm's APHE given the right angle. But on the flank it's deadly and as a support vehicle, it can easily dispatch most threats with proper shot placement. Still sticking with the doctrine of speed you can find favourable scores and podium finishes with the M36.

Super Hellcat

The prototype M18 with the 90mm gun mounted.

The design philosophy of the M18 came with impressive results, but US engineers were not finished with the design. Since the completion of the M3 90mm gun, the prototypes were coming off the drawing boards like mad to get the new weapon into the field. The M18's turret had to be replaced to accommodate the much heavier gun with stronger recoil. Instead of designing a brand new turret the M36's design was replicated and mounted on the M18 chassis. While results were good the difference in speed and vehicle performance were not much better than the already existing standard M18. The vehicle remained a prototype and never saw combat.

The vehicle finds a rough time in War Thunder, to say the least. Its reduced speed is extremely apparent due to the added weight which in turn reduces the vehicle's overall effectiveness. What's odd is that due to changing battle ratings after each update the Super Hellcat seems to have been left behind. With both the M18 and M36 being 5.7 and the Super Hellcat being at 6.3. You will often run into enemy vehicles that are virtually impervious to your APHE from the front which will force you to manoeuvre into positions that in some cases lead you to the absolute rear of a vehicle. See the IS-3 for example. That isn't to say that enemy heavy tanks like the Tiger II or IS-2 aren't easily neutralized when you properly flank. If you don't already have this vehicle, I would recommend staying away from it due to the nature of its battle rating.

M56 Scorpion

The M56 with it's gun in full recoil during firing practice, sometime in the 1960s.

Fittingly named the scorpion due to its appearance, this prototype was an attempt to provide American divisions with an airmobile and mechanized means of anti-tank heavier than the small portable anti-tank rockets. Armed with a T54 90mm gun and only 5mm of armor to speak of, the M56 proved to be a lightweight anti-tank package capable of delivering much-needed fire support if necessary. Only deployed by the US in Vietnam by a single airborne brigade as mainly a fire support vehicle, the M56's duties were short and relatively limited as it was eventually replaced by the M551 Sheridan light tank.

In-game it plays as an unarmored vehicle would. Using cover and concealment to move around with stealth while ambushing prime targets using HEAT. It has a painful stock grind of APCR, to begin with but after unlocking HEAT you can easily see the vehicle's power begin to unfold. But to lacking an armored fighting compartment you are vulnerable to everything including ramming attacks. Finding a concealed firing position is key to properly utilizing this go-kart of a tank destroyer.

T95/28

The T95 (middle) seen next to the M22 (bottom) and T92 HMC that's loaded on an M26. (above)

While the Germans went around the Maginot Line, the Americans were planning (and did) to smash right through the German Siegfried line. But to accomplish such an objective it was believed that a heavy SPG capable of taking hits from the heaviest German guns was necessary. Going through a handful of name changes due to not properly filling one of the numerous roles that usually beset heavy tanks or gun motor carriages. Eventually, the name Super Heavy Tank T28 was finalized. But the Siegfried line was overwhelmed and the war in the Pacific ended before the vehicle could reach combat. While the core concept of the vehicles is the same, the main difference is the extra set of tracks and armor that heavily bolster the T95's mobility (in a cross country sense) and protection.

T28 prototype next to the M26 Pershing sometime in 1945.

Slow, cumbersome and heavily armored. Both vehicles feature frontal armor that's impervious to most shells that it fights. ATGMs and HEAT projectiles are still to be feared but due to the massive gun manlet can still be braved. At a blistering speed of 8 mph, you'll have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery as you manoeuvre into a firing position. While the T95's side armor can actively take some hits without penetration, the T28's poor side armor of only 50mm can be easily overmatched by enemies even at a longer range. Ultimately it's a vehicle that's exceptional at sniping and frontal assaults but it lacks heavily in the manoeuvrability department. Due to the T95's double-track set up you can keep moving even after throwing a track.

M50 Ontos

An M50 Ontos on Chu Lai beach, Vietnam, 1965.

Ontos, meaning "thing" in Greek, is an interesting vehicle that stands out like a sore thumb in appearance but fits right in with the other light tank destroyers of the US arsenal. Armed with Six 106mm recoilless rifles and numerous .50 calibre spotting machine guns the M50 can deliver a rapid-fire volley that can easily overwhelm any enemy position or vehicle. Being designed for anti-tank duties but being regulated to infantry support in Vietnam, many M50s found themselves as static positions instead of tank hunters.

In-game it performs its duties excitingly well. The numerous rifles loading HESH or HEAT are a warm welcome to weary players that find it difficult to utilize APHE on the early TDs properly. Fitting in with the other miniature TDs in terms of size it is an extremely effective ambush or flank vehicle that has no issue popping numerous turrets given the player has adequate shot placement. Like many others, it has no armor to speak of and its mobility is nothing special. With its above hull cannon placement, you can easily utilize hills or firing positions that hide the hull but keep in mind that singular hits will destroy your vehicle.

T114

A T114 during testing

While no longer considered a Tank Destroyer in-game, the T114 still plays and acts exactly like one. Developed from the M114 Command and Reconnaissance Carrier which was considered a failure by the US army, the T144 is fast and stealthy while packing an extremely powerful yet compact punch. Featuring an autoloading 106mm recoilless rifle that can eviscerate even the heaviest of armor its drawbacks include lack of range and limited crew. Built almost entirely out of an aluminium alloy that allowed for lighter weight for airdropping it has virtually no protection to mention. However, I'll admit that I have managed to bounce IS-2 and Panther shells in-game. The T114 was built in small numbers due to the failure of the M114 program.

A stunning package on the virtual side. Its speed, small size and rapid firing HEAT projectiles deliver an exceptional blend of tank destroying prowess. Able to penetrate almost any heavy tank it faces with ease and demolish light tanks with minimal efforts it's best used as a close-range ambush vehicle that takes advantage of unaware enemies. While it has seen better battle ratings it currently sits at 7.3 which is still extremely enjoyable on city maps or close range engagements. Your autoloader consists of 3 rounds with one loaded giving you a total of four to quickly engage, destroy and hide to reload. It's the close support vehicle of a light tank player's dreams.

M901 Improved Tow Vehicle

A drawing of the M901 ITV

The versatility of the M113 APC continues to be seen even today with more and more variants being produced. While it's still past its prime the vehicle will always have a use. Numerous anti-tank variants of the M113 have been created but the M901 stands out with some very clear technological advantages. Equipped with a retractable arm housing two BGM-71 TOW ATGMs the M901 is leagues ahead of the M113 M106 or M113 Dragon. With upwards of 500mm of penetration it was reliable to knock out most enemy vehicles it would face. While it doesn't feature top-down ATGMs the vehicle does have respectable mobility and being able to hide the majority of its self behind a hill while engaging is a fantastic advantage.

In-game it plays like the standard ATGM carrier with two missiles at the ready with an interesting reload cycle. Utilizing hills and long sightlines you can easily dispatch 5-6 tanks with a couple of misses. Its biggest drawbacks include the fact that your missiles are considered ammo racks and upon being hit you will suffer ammo detonation. A subpar maximum ammo load of 10 missiles will leave you wanting more. Utilizing cap points to resupply is necessary for long operations. Enjoyable as a backup or support vehicle it isn't too special unless you can get proper maps for it.

M1128 Mobile Gun System

An M1128 MGS doing a live fire drill during testing

Ring, Ring. The 2000s are calling and they want new and improved weaponry for the new millennia. With the M1128 currently in service but scheduled to be retired within the next year or so it's interesting to look at the development of new weapons to see where armies and generals get their ideas from. Affectionately known as the Stryker, this series of vehicles was designed to fill the glaring gap between the mechanized M2 Bradley and the motorized Humvee. The end result is a multiple purpose platform that bridges that gap effectively. So while the base vehicle utilized a variety of different weapons the M1128 is armed with a stabilized and autoloading M68A1E4 that is capable of firing M900 APFSDS. While not facing much combat it did prove to be an effective vehicle in testing and trials.

The M1128 plays like any other wheeled SPG at the 9.0-10.0 bracket. High speed and "pop up" attacks are necessary to win in offensive engagements. The lack of crew above the hull gives hull-down fighters an extreme advantage of being able to take hits to the weapon system while not losing crew members. While it's cage of slat armor does help against HEAT and ATGMs it does nothing in the face of APFSDS which you'll be fighting more often then not. It has no issues penetrating vehicles of higher battle ratings with M900 APFSDS that penetrates upwards of 500mm with ease. It's just an enjoyable vehicle all around that can take advantage of enemy flanks well and even fight "stand up" against enemy tanks head-on.

Conclusion

The American Tank Destroyers always seemed to follow a much different design philosophy in comparison to the heavier German, Russian, or British designs but due to their irregularity and ingenuity, they had no issues distinguishing themselves as some of the best fighting vehicles designed. From fast and agile vehicles that proved themselves in the hedgerows of Normandy to large and expensive endeavors that allowed enemy vehicles to be destroyed at range with ease. The adaptability of American designers certainly showed the world of tank design that armor isn't necessary to knock out enemy tanks or to be an effective fighting platform.

Whether you're looking for fast vehicles that pack blistering punches or dominating hulks of steel, the US tank destroyer selection certainly has vehicles for everyone.

If you've made it this far thanks so much for reading! This is my second article for ETW and I appreciate any and all feedback. Have questions? comments? Or maybe want an article written about a different topic or selection of vehicles? Feel free to contact me on the EWT discord: https://discord.gg/GXypujtyCD

Shermy
Published November 28, 2021

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