The M8A1 is the first TD with a turret one can encounter in World of Tanks, appearing at Tier IV and being the start of the American turreted TD line. It is relatively fast and mobile, with a decent gun and good camouflage abilities. It can damage anything it is likely to encounter, but it is both open-topped with minimal armour which means everything can also inflict damage if it hits.
In truth it is quite some time now since I played the M8A1, so this report is written somewhat from memory. I think though the one thing the M8A1 taught me – though I didn’t learn it properly until very late – is not to think that it has a turret.
What do I mean by that – since of course it has a turret. The most notable feature of all the TDs on this line is they have fully operating turrets. Well, yes, but has an example the turret traverse is 18 degrees/second. Compare that with three other US Tier IVs – the M5 Stuart has a turret traverse of 44 degrees/second on the upgraded turret, and the M3 Lee and T40 (both of which have fixed guns) have gun traverse speeds of 42 degrees/second and 44 degrees/second respectively; or two Tier IV mediums from other nations, the Soviet T-28 and the German VK2001D, both of which have 44 degrees/second. This makes moving the gun about noticeably slow. Now you can speed it up by moving the tracks of course – but then you lose your camouflage rating. All in all this means that I realised the turret on the M8A1 is not a turret as one usually understands it when compared to most tanks. Rather I started to think of the M8A1 as having 360 degree turret traverse, and started to enjoy myself a lot more after that.
What, however, is the practical implication of this? Well, first and foremost it means not to play this vehicle as a regular tank. It is a tank destroyer, and that means sitting in a bush somewhere trying to lay down death and destruction without getting spotted and destroyed in turn. This may seem odd, to say one should sit still with a top speed of 58 km/h and a pretty good engine. However, that speed is not best used in attack, but in positioning. It allows one to reach locations one cannot get to in a slower vehicle, such as its cousin the T40. A perfectly valid tactic is getting to an advanced location, spotting some enemies and putting in a shot or two, and then retiring to a more suitable location. Equally valid is using the speed to try and get to a good position to offer flanking fire to the likely enemy positions, getting into the cover of bushes and trees before one can be spotted. That speed though does not have to be used at the start. It may be more appropriate (and particularly in higher tier matches) to initially hang back and offer supporting fire, saving the speed for later in the match to exploit an enemy weakness or to redeploy to shore up a weakening flank. In a more tactical situation it gives you the ability to outmanoeuvre most (but not all) tanks when you are both circling around a rock or building.
In aid of its primary mission of damage-dealing the M8A1 ultimately has a choice of two guns. There is also a howitzer which is your stock gun, which is fun enough but does not have the necessary punch for encountering Tier V and VI tanks. The remaining are a 57mm gun and a 3-inch AT gun. The difference the two is the classic case of more penetration and faster rate of fire (110 and 24 rounds/minute vs 101 and 14.29 rounds/minute) against greater alpha (75 vs 110).
The differences between the two guns offers a very real choice. The dpm of the 57mm is vastly superior, but it means keeping a fragile tank exposed for a much longer period of time. Likewise the drop of penetration of the 3-inch gun only really matters against Tier VI (and some Tier V) heavies – in which cases you might be switching to premium in any case which for both weapons is sufficient for the task (180 and 157 respectively).
I never did settle between the two. Given my understanding of the game has improved quite a bit since I last played this tank I think now I would opt for the 57mm, trading the alpha for the much higher certainty of doing damage. The alpha on the 3-inch just isn’t significantly large enough to guarantee two-shot kills for Tier IV (or even several Tier III) tanks, and therefore I don’t think can compensate for the lower penetration. However, this is purely theorycrafting, and since I do not have the M8A1 anymore I cannot test this idea.
The final item I would like to bring up about this tank is the view range – a base 370m. This is superb for a Tier IV vehicle, which does mean this tank can spot and start shooting at opponents far beyond when it is likely to be spotted – especially if equipped with a set of binoculars.
My own record in the M8A1 is 29 matches and 17 victories, including 36 enemies destroyed. Along the way I managed a Sniper medal, a Top Gun medal, and also the Ace Tanker badge.
Overall I very much enjoyed my time in this tank. If I had the spare garage space I would have kept it, but alas I needed the slot to make room for something else. As and when I can sufficiently expand my garage it is very likely to make a return.