Two killed in explosion aboard M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer

Sad news out of Oregon.  Private ownership of vintage military vehicles is something of a niche hobby, but more common than you might expect. And some even go to the trouble of legally maintaining a functioning main gun. In this case, that led to disaster.

The two men killed inside a World War II-era tank destroyer outside of Bend were identified Wednesday morning as Oregon City residents Steven Todd Preston, 51, and Austin Tyler Lee, 22.

The men were attempting to fire a round from the armored tank destroyer’s cannon when the round exploded at 3:09 p.m. Tuesday.

The explosion happened inside a 1944 Buick “Hellcat” M18 tank destroyer at the Central Oregon Shooting Sports Association, a shooting range about 25 miles east of Bend off U.S. 20.

Details are sketchy, but it sounds like a hang-fire, where they attempted to fire the main gun. A misfire is when the round doesn’t go off. A hang fire is where the round doesn’t go off immediately. How do you tell them apart? That’s the trick, isn’t it? I don’t happen to have a manual handy to check, but I seem to recall that after a misfire in a tank, a wait of either 15 or 30 minutes is called for. And there’s still no guarantee that the shell won’t go off after you open the breech.

We’ve actually written before about a privately owned M18 Hellcat, though I don’t believe it is this one.

And there’s at least one other M18 out there with a functioning main gun.


I suppose some will call for legislation banning such weapons. But before we do that, how about we ban far more hazardous legal activities, such as rock climbing and hang gliding and skydiving? Or owning a back yard swimming pool?

Rest in peace, gentlemen.

3 thoughts on “Two killed in explosion aboard M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer”

  1. In the 5″/38 manual, Safety Procedures, #68. If a round does not fire, a hangfire is to be assumed. The round is to be left in the chamber for thirty (30) minutes before opening breech. Further attempts to fire the gun may be made, providing that no attempt to open the breech is made.

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