Miniature Ordnance Review looks at the world of historical and fantasy miniatures wargaming and model building. From 15mm Flames of War, to Warhammer 40K, to 1/35th scale tanks, with some potential surprises on the horizon - you'll find them here!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Armor of the Arab-Israeli Wars - or - Mike's Visit to Yad La-Shiryon Part 1

While the Flames of War rules for the Six Day War are a couple of years old at this point (and honestly I still have a bunch of Israelis to paint), I recently traveled to Israel on business and thanks to a generous co-worker, got a chance to visit Yad La-Shiryon (you'll likely need to get Google to translate the link), or The Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum at Latrun (as it is more officially known). The museum houses a fairly amazing collection of armored vehicles - including many you wouldn't expect to see in Israel. As someone deeply interested in the history of the multiple conflicts since the founding of the modern Israeli state, the museum was a treasure trove of unusual vehicles and really gave me a sense of perspective around the conflicts and the vehicles used. In this first part of the article, we'll look at some of the early vehicles used by the IDF from the 1940's through the 1970's.

The museum is built around a Mandate-era fortress
The first thing one realizes when visiting Israel is that it is not a large country in terms of land mass. Driving from Tel Aviv (on the Mediterranean coast) to Jerusalem (on Israel's eastern border) takes you about an hour (it's ~70km/44mi from the shore to the Old City). From North to South Israel is about the same size as Oregon (see image courtesy of MapFight below), though at least the southern third of Israel is comprised of a sparsely populated desert, the Negev.

Comparative map of the U.S. State of Oregon and Israel

Another point to note is that at least in January, Israel is fairly lush (though some of this is agriculture). Palm trees are fairly abundant, but other trees are in evidence as well.

Looking out over the parking lot to the hills to the south of Latrun
Once you enter the museum itself, the armor around the central courtyard area is mostly dedicated to Israeli armor - or at least armor the Israelis have used in various conflicts since 1948. Given the relatively arid climate, the vehicles are generally in very good condition given they're all exposed to the elements. As with most museums, the vehicles generally show evidence of re-painting, and the markings must be taken with a grain of salt (or in some cases a full salt lick).

Money shot of some of the armor used in the 1967 and 1973 wars - photobomed by a Merkava and a few others
Most vehicles have a plaque in front of them with details. These include technical details about the tank including crew size, horsepower, weight, and armament. There is also generally a history section with details about how the vehicle was used (either by the Israelis or others).

Example of one of the data cards with Hebrew and English text

The pre-World War II H-39 was used during the 1948 War by Israeli forces 

Israel's armored forces, even through the 1970's, relied greatly on foreign produced vehicles - many of which dated back to World War II or in some cases earlier. The Hotchkiss and Cromwell tanks, in addition to Shermans were used in the 1948 war alongside many different types of armored cars (improvised and purpose built).

Early Shermans at Latrun

One of many armored cars on display
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) would go on to modernize many designs - especially the Sherman tank - to ensure that their armored forces were competitive with those of their generally Soviet equipped neighbors (with Jordan being the notable exception). The Sherman tank was up-gunned with the French high-velocity 75mm gun from the AMX-13 tank (which was also purchased and used by the Israelis).

M50 Sherman with French 75mm high-velocity gun

French produced AMX-13 light tank
Israeli Shermans generally also received new diesel engines, and many were further upgraded to the M51 standard by adding a French made 105mm gun. This powerful gun allowed the M51 to successfully engage far more modern Soviet designs like the T54, T55, and T62 using HEAT ammunition during both the Six Day War in 1967 and later during the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

M51 Sherman showing the size of the 105mm gun and muzzle brake
I really owe a great deal of thanks to my work colleague for taking me to the museum. It was an amazing experience! In the next part of this series, I'll include photos of some of the more advanced designs in the IDF inventory followed by Soviet bloc equipment, historic armor, and finally "the real oddballs!"

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