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As the United States army entered World War II, it drew certain conclusions from Germany’s quick victories over Poland and France. One was that a highly mobile tank destroyer force needed to be held in reserve to deal with sudden Panzer breakthroughs as they occurred, rather than keep anti-tank forces at the front. Therefore, anti-tank elements were removed from infantry divisions to form independent battalions, which were initially equipped with a number of improvised mobile tank destroyers, the M3 half-track mounting a 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, and the M6 truck with a 37 mm (1.46 in) gun.
Once Operation Torch provided battlefield experience to the army to evaluate, it became apparent that more powerful tank destroyers would be needed. First of the more powerful weapons was the M10, built on the chassis of an M4 armed with a 76.2 mm (3 in) gun. However, the M10 was still an improvised weapons system, so an order went out for a tank destroyer designed from the ground up to hunt and destroy tanks. This vehicle was the M18 Hellcat, the subject of this article.
In December 1941 the Ordnance Corps issued a requirement for a fast tank destroyer using torsion bar suspension, a Wright/Continental R-975 engine, and a 37 mm (1.46 in) gun. This became the T42 37 mm (1.46 in) Gun Motor Carriage. The army then changed their request to a vehicle mounting a 57 mm (2.24 in) gun, thus the designation changed to the T49 57 mm Gun Motor Carriage. Yet another change, requesting a 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, led to the T67 Gun Motor Carriage, of which one was built from a T49 chassis.
Finally, the T70 76 mm Gun Motor Carriage emerged, and would become the M18 Hellcat designed by Harley Earl at Buick. Tests on an oval track, as well as a specially designed bumpy track, demonstrated that the lightly armored vehicle could achieve high speeds. Production of the M18 started on January 7th 1943, when 1,000 units were ordered.