M20 Armored Utility Vehicle

This light armored vehicle was in broad use with US and allied forces from the middle of 1943 to the end of the War.

Let’s look at a common, and often unrecognized vehicle.

In a nutshell, this is the utility version of a utility vehicle(!). The M20 is a derivative of the M8 Greyhound. It has the turret removed and an open fighting compartment in its place. Removing the turret and 37 mm gun (and its ammunition) reduced the vehicle weight by about 1 ton. This naturally made it quicker and more agile than the M8.
The original idea had been for a cargo hauler, or command vehicle. Imagining M20s embedded with units using M8s, it could carry extra ammunition and equipment. In practice, the cargo role was quickly discarded. An armored shell with limited openings is not ideal for handling cargo! But the M20 could be fitted with better (bigger) radios than the M8, an actual map table, and benches for four passengers (in addition to four crew). This made it popular in the command role. Especially for recon unit commanders. General Patton famously used an M20, with sirens added, for his drive across France and into Germany in late 1944, early 1945.

Its impossible to discuss the M20 without also discussing the M8. Both are mechanically the same vehicle, they even operated in mixed formations together (Indeed, both cars here operated in the same Recon unit of the 2nd Armored Division). The turret is the obvious mechanical difference. On the vehicles shown here, the M8 has a mine holding rack between the front and rear wheels, while the M20 has an armored storage box. I believe the tendency was more mine racks on early built vehicles, switching to more boxes later; but the fitting was easily interchangeable so it could even change over the service life of the vehicle.

The M8/M20 were not popular in British service. They mostly preferred heavier armored cars. But apparently there was no real tradition of armored cars in the US Army. Leading up to the War development focused on tanks. When the M8 was first conceived it was for the Independent Tank Destroyer units. By the time it entered service in 1943 it was obvious to all that a 37 mm main gun was not acceptable for a tank destroyer, but recon units were happy to have such a fast and quiet vehicle. Operationally the type replace M3 White Armored Cars in the recon units, that had actually never been intended for front line service.

In recon use, the commander’s .50 was clearly the main armament even for the M8. The M20 was hardly disadvantaged for their purposes. It did come with a bazooka if anti-armor was needed.

This particular vehicle, “Tex” was a part of the 82nd Armored Recon Battalion, 2 Armored Division, in France, 1944.

This is the Tamiya kit. It builds significantly the same as their M8 kit. Fitting! Only problem is the decals came apart and were difficult to work with.

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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8 Responses to M20 Armored Utility Vehicle

  1. jfwknifton says:

    That’s a beautifully made kit, and an interesting account of the two vehicles.

  2. Scott Hershey says:

    I’m building the Tamiya M8 Greyhound right now. I’m finding it to be very un-Tamiya like…I think they let the summer intern do the directions, and he never built a model in his life. Lol

    • atcDave says:

      Funny! I don’t really recall any problems there; but be warned, if the decals are as bad as the M20 it will be unpleasant!

  3. Ernie Davis says:

    “In recon use, the commander’s .50 was clearly the main armament even for the M8.” I’d be interested in a comparison of what the 37mm could do that the .50 cal couldn’t. Both would obviously be ineffective against actual tanks*, but there weren’t many light armored vehicles (think alf-tracks and armored cars) in the German inventory that a .50 cal couldn’t turn in to Swiss cheese. In addition, the German soldiers hated the ubiquity of the American .50 cal (one of the reasons we put it on everything) as the combination of power and rate of fire made it far more devastating than an obsolete anti-tank weapon. *Though there is a story of an M8 that took out a Tiger from behind with multiple 37mm rounds at point blank, my guess is that the crews were more often grateful for the rapid firing .50 to keep the enemy heads down while they made good their escape.

    • atcDave says:

      I have read that the 37 mm high explosive round was used far more often than the armor piercing. Not sure if it had any indirect fire capability? But I think that means a nominal area effect option.
      No doubt the .50 had much greater overall utility.

      Good to hear from you again!

      • atcDave says:

        Yes I’ve heard the story, but dang! I was picturing something like Kelly’s Heroes, with the (King) Tiger trapped in a narrow alley unable to bring its main gun to bear.
        But they chased it down! How nervy is that? An M8 Greyhound chasing after a King Tiger down an open road! Holy Smokes! That is one of the bravest, stupidest things I’ve ever heard of. And it worked! You know you could never write that in fiction.

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