The M8 Greyhound

America's armored car

An M8 Greyhound in action
(Photo: U.S. Army)

Armored cars tend to be overlooked by World War II history buffs. Nimble fighter planes, deadly bombers, hulking tanks and stealthy submarines are "sexier" than a car that can't fight like a tank, can't race a plane, and can't use terrain to its advantage like infantry. Nevertheless, armored cars were a vital part of World War II armies, serving in a scout role where they were faster than infantry and stealthier than tanks. This article is about the M8 light armored car, also called Greyhound in British service, the definitive armored car of the U.S. Army.

The M8 did not actually start out as a reconnaissance vehicle. Before World War II, America's primary anti-tank weapon was the 37 mm gun. Being a towed gun, it was slow to move around and set up, and the emerging anti-armor doctrine (Read our earlier article) required a self-propelled vehicle that could mount it.

A 37 mm anti-tank gun, a gun in search of a vehicle
(Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

Shortly before America's entry to World War II, the best such vehicle the Army had was the M6 Gun Motor Carriage, which was essentially a completely unarmored light track carrying a backward-firing 37 mm gun on its bed. The Army wanted something essentially similar, but better: something that protected the crew and the gun from .50 caliber machine guns from the front and .30 caliber guns from the sides, had better off-road capability thanks to a 6×6 arrangement (six wheels, all powered), and could fight off enemy infantry with its two machine guns, one in the turret, and one in the front of the chassis. A call for prototypes was put out in July 1941.

The M8’s predecessor, the M6 gun motor carriage (with an additional machine gun in the front)
(Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

Studebaker, Ford and Chrysler submitted very similar-looking prototypes designed to those specifications, and Ford's design was chosen in the spring of 1942. It wasn't a perfect design, but America was already fighting in the war, and fast anti-tank vehicles were needed fast and in great numbers. The Army had what it wanted; unfortunately, it was no longer what the Army needed.

The T22 prototype submitted by Ford to the U.S. Army
(Photo: U.S. Army)

Reports from the fall of France quickly revealed that the 37 mm gun just wasn't any good against the newer German tank designs. The new tank destroyer could not mount a larger and heavier cannon, and it was clear that it wasn't going to work in its originally intended role. The Army adapted, and decided to use the new car as a scout. It was fast enough to be at the head of an Allied advance and find the enemy, and it was sufficiently armed and armored to extricate itself from combat and let actual tanks and infantry do the fighting. Its engine was remarkably quiet, which made it harder for nearby enemies to notice it. It's been claimed that the M8-s of Patton's Third Army were called "Patton's Ghosts" by the Germans for their quietness.

An M8 passing the Arc de Triomphe after the liberation of Paris
(Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

Like many other American-built vehicles, the new M8 light reconnaissance car first saw combat with British troops, who reported back their experience with it. It quickly turned out that the car's unarmored floor was very vulnerable to mines, and troops started to line the floor with sandbags for added protection. (In early 1944, an add-on armor kit was introduced to patch up the car's soft underbelly with a quarter inch of armor.) It should be noted that while the criticism of thin armor was certainly true, it was probably also partially colored by the differences in British and American scout car doctrine. The British liked to build their own armored cars larger, sitting higher on the ground, with thicker armor, often with the same gun as the one used on their contemporary cruiser tanks, and generally tall to give the crew a better view of their surroundings. This, of course, also made these cars easier to notice by the enemy, but that’s why they had bigger guns. Compared to their own designs, the British did see the Greyhound (as the M8 was named in British use) as small and vulnerable.

An M8 destroyed by a mine in France
(Photo: U.S. Army)

As a scout car, the M8 had both advantages and disadvantages over light tanks. It was cheaper to build and maintain, quieter, had better mobility both in terms of speed and range. It was also considered to be a better fighting vehicle than an M3 Scout Car or a half-track (Read our earlier article). On the downside, its six wheels were less capable on rough terrain than tracks, and, of course, it had neither the armor nor the armament to take on something bigger than itself.

Its road speed of 55 mph (89 km/h) made it quite capable as a scout vehicle as long as it kept to the asphalt. However, it was never designed to be an all-terrain vehicle, and struggled in thickly forested terrain, broken ground, mud, deep snow or off-camber turns (where the ground slopes away from the direction you want to turn). Its six wheels lacked the traction of tracks, and also concentrated the car's weight onto a smaller contact surface with the ground, which made it vulnerable to sinking. When scouting on such difficult terrain, the Willys Jeep (Read our earlier article) was the preferred vehicle. Another weakness of the M8 came from improper use: many commanders used recon vehicles as fire support in combat, and the car just simply wasn't armed or armored for that.

An M8 and several Jeeps in Gaeta, Italy
(Photo: unknown photographer)

Though the Army initially wanted two machine guns on their "tank destroyer," the M8 originally came with a single .30 caliber Browning machine gun (Read our earlier article) accompanying the 37 mm gun in the open-top turret, which made it vulnerable to enemy aircraft. The car was later retrofitted with a ring mount above the turret holding a .50 caliber machine gun (Read our earlier article) to address the problem. The car had a crew of four: a driver and a radio operator sitting in the front, and the gunner and the commander (who doubled as loader) in the turret.

An M8 and its crew serving in the 1st Brazilian Division, Northern Italy
(Photo: Sconosciuto / Wikipedia)

While the 37 mm gun was generally inefficient against enemy tanks, one particular M8 became a legend for punching far above its weight. One of the key locations of the Battle of the Bulge was the crossroads town of St. Vith in the northern part of the German salient. According to an often-repeated story, an M8 and some infantry were hiding in a concealed position along a road, when a German Tiger I (or maybe Tiger II) tank appeared and rumbled down the road, unaware of the American troops. None of the Americans had any weapons with a reasonable chance of penetrating the tank's armor, so they kept their heads down and hoped they wouldn't be noticed. However, once the monster passed them, the M8 started up, rolled onto the road and started to give chase. The German crew quickly noticed their suicidal adversary, and a quick but deadly race began: the Tiger was ponderously turning its massive turret towards the back to take out the insolent scout car, while the M8 tried to catch up with the tank. Once it got within roughly 25 yards, the driver slammed on the brakes, and the puny 37 mm gun discharged three rounds from point-blank range into the Tiger's weakest spot, its rear, setting it on fire and knocking it out in a true David-and-Goliath duel.

Two M8-s during the Battle of the Bulge
(Photo: U.S. Army)

It's a stirring story, but we don't really know if it's true. Official reports made at the time do not record the event, and there is a lot of uncertainty about which unit the M8 belonged to, and what German unit the Tiger might have come from. Experts agree that the 37 mm gun was extremely unlikely to penetrate a Tiger's rear armor even once, let alone three times in a row. It's quite possible that the plucky scout car took out a Panzer IV (Read our earlier article) or maybe a StuG III assault gun – American troops on the edge very frequently misreported various German vehicles as Tigers. But even if they only destroyed a Panzer IV, the crew of the M8 deserves to be remembered for their courage.

An M8 captured by the Germans near St. Vith in Belgium (not the one featured in the story)

The most noteworthy variant of the M8 was the M20 armored utility car. Originally designated the M10, the number was later changed to avoid confusion with the M10 tank destroyer. The M20 had the turret and the gun removed, and was armed with a single .50 caliber machine gun on a ring mount; a bazooka was also added to the normal complement of crew weapons, which consisted of carbines, grenades and a few mines. This version was roomier than the regular M8, and could be used to transport a small number of troops or some cargo. It also served as a command vehicle for M8 units.

General George S. Patton in his M20
(Photo: U.S. Army)

The M8 returned to its roots as a tank destroyer in the Pacific, where Japanese tanks had significantly thinner armor than German ones, and were vulnerable to the 37 mm gun. Nevertheless, production of the car ceased at the end of World War II, with some 12,000 vehicles built, about one-third of them M20s.

Though it was no longer built, the M8 went on to serve for decades around the world, as many surviving vehicles were sold or donated to other countries. They remained a common sight with the United States Constabulary, the military police gendarmerie force in occupied Germany and Austria. Others were used by the Military Police to guard installations and escort prisoners during the Korean War. Yet others were equipped with flamethrowers and used as assault vehicles in the same war. They were also used by the French in the Algerian War and the First Indochina War, and later by South Vietnam in the Vietnam War. M8s also served in the Belgian Congo, under Belgian forces, separatists and U.N. Peacekeepers alike.

An M8 captured from Katangese separatists and used by Swedish U.N. troops during the Congo Crisis
(Photo: Military Archives of Sweden)

Yet other specimens showed up in other countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and South America. Today, you can find some of them on display in museums or during D-Day anniversary celebrations in Normandy, for instance. Brazil's first own armored car, the EE-9 Cascavel, was introduced in 1974 and still serves today, and is based on the old M8.

EE-9 Cascavel, the Brazilian descendant of the M8
(Photo: Palácio do Planalto)

Save 10% with our V-E Day promotion

A priest shows students a newspaper announcing Germany's surrender at a Catholic school in Chicago (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)
On May 8, we will celebrate the 79th anniversary of V-E Day, standing for Victory in Europe Day, marking the date of the formal unconditional surrender of the German armed forces in World War II. On this occasion, we are offering all our tours with a 10% discount if you book and pay in full until May 8, 2024. Note that this offer applies only in case of new bookings, and it can be combined with selected special offers. If you have any questions related to this or other tours, please contact our travel consultants at or by calling our toll-free number: +1 855-473-1999.
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