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M5 Series Light Tanks and the M8 Howitzer Motor Carriage

M5 Series Light Tanks and the M8 Howitzer Motor Carriage Book Review

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review April 2008 Title M5 Series Light Tanks and the M8 Howitzer Motor Carriage
Author Kurt Laughlin Publisher Formations Models
Published 2008 ISBN None
Format 88 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $20.00


Modelers are an extremely literal group of people and moreso than many others prefer to see a photo of an object in order to understand it and then replicate it in miniature. As such, they tend to purchase “picture” books more than any other major source or reference, and it is unfortunately all too rare when one comes with an explanation of what the actual differences between different items are.

Kurt Laughlin is well known among modelers who participate in groups such as the Yahoo G104 Sherman group and Missing Lynx on the Internet, and is a serious student of the hows and wherefores of why American armored vehicles look the way they do and what it means. After some teasing and “put your money where your mouth is” challenges, he has now applied his talents to produce a modeler’s guide to the American M5 series light tanks – the M5, M5A1 and the derivative M8 75mm howitzer motor carriage.

Doing this requires a lot of work, and few others have made such efforts over the years. The best known of those who have been published are Pete Harlem (the Modeler’s Guide to the Sherman), Tom Jentz (Panzertracts) and Sergey Kirsanov (T-34 “Bottom to Top” series in Russian). As it is a major undertaking, Kurt has worked with some of the better-known modelers and historians on this project – Mike Canady, Joe DeMarco, Andre Flener, Mike Foncannon, Mike Haines, and Steve Zaloga as well as other members of the Yahoo G104 group.

The book is presented in spiral-bound format, which is very useful for modeling as it permits the book to be opened to a specific page and cite. While it is self-published using commercial reproduction sources, the photos are clear and details are easy to see as well as any extant markings.

The first 13 pages of the book describe the various sections of the vehicle which changed, how they changed, and the specific reference data for each one. Like other nations, specifically Russia and Germany, the changes are denoted by drawings or blueprint numbers, which are cited in the text for each of the major differences. Also, where different manufacturers were involved, there is a chart at the end of the book which covers the specific initial production features for each manufacturer, which serials numbers were assigned, and what the corresponding registration numbers for the vehicles (the US 3xxxxxx numbers) in US Army service.

The core of the book are the photos and drawings of the three different major vehicle types and the differences in each one as they evolved in production. All of the photos are based on either archival materials or photos of existing vehicles in museums or private collections, and they back up the text.

As mentioned above, this guide is basically focused on the externals of the vehicles, as that is what the majority of modelers are really interested in and what they usually prefer to correct. Most of the coverage focuses on the M5 and M5A1, and only a few items cover the M8. As the M8 has an open turret and requires a lot more coverage of its interior due to its visibility in a model, this is probably a good compromise (as well as leaves the option for a “sequel” on the table!)

The photos show the differences in items, such as how the M5 turret differed from the late model M3/M3A1 turrets, how the M5A1 turret differed from the M3A3 turret, and the various changes which took place to common fittings such as the gun mantlets.

The book then moves on to the hull and its fittings, covering the different types of engine decks and attachments by one of three methods – elliptical head screws, surface hex screws, or countersunk hex screws. Coverage of the glacis and the six noted different styles used is also provided and backed up with drawings. (Note: there are no 1/35 scale plans provided, so some modelers may be disappointed.) Photos are then used to show each of the types and how it looked in service.

Early and late model tool and OVM stowage is covered, as well as the late-model hull stowage bin and the air deflectors added to cut down on dust kicked up by the tank when moving. The early and late towing hook arrangements (mostly used by the M8 HMC for towing an M8 ammunition trailer) are shown as well.

Finally the book shows the details of the suspension and the differences in the various types of wheels and details of the bogies and mounts. Tracks are not covered, but for the most part this is not a major problem, and many details of the three major track types – T16 rubber pad series, T55 rubber chevron and T36 three-bar cleat series can be seen in the photos.

Having gotten into a nasty argument with a supposed “expert” on M5 series light tanks several years ago, I wish that this book had been available then. But now we have a nice new kit (and the promise of more to follow!) so most of the arguments would have been mooted, and this would have been the coup de grace to the disagreements.

Overall, this looks to be a great book for anyone wanting to build the new AFV Club kit or just a lesson in how complex US armor production was during WWII. Thanks to the author for the review copy.