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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Armor of the Arab-Israeli Wars - or - Mike's Visit to Yad La-Shiryon Part 2

In this second part of my article showing vehicles from Yad La-Shiryon, I'm focusing on more recent Israeli armor, starting with variants of the M48 and M60 on through the current indigenous Merkava Main Battle Tank.

In the mid to late 1960's, the Israelis were desperate to upgrade their aging tank fleet, and sought to purchase U.S. M48 tanks.  Initially the IDF received several gasoline powered vehicles from West Germany, though shipments from the United States followed.  M48 tanks in Israeli service use the designations Magach 1-3 and 5 (there is no 4).

Early Magach with the 90mm gun
During the 1967 war, roughly 150 Magach 1 and 2 tanks were deployed and fought well within the limitations of the relatively weak powerplant. After the 1967 War, the IDF began to upgrade all Magach to the M48A3 standard creating the Magach 3 - this included a new diesel engine and the British 105mm gun. Several M48's had been captured from Jordan, and these were upgraded as well. M60 tanks began to be procured as well creating the Magach 6.

105mm armed Magach tanks

The Israelis lost many Magach tanks during the 1973 War, mostly to man-packed AT-3 "Sagger" missiles in the Sinai. These losses were made good with new M48A5 (which became the Magach 5) and M60A1 tanks. In order to provide these tanks protection against anti-tank missiles and various shaped charge munitions, the Israelis increasingly used reactive armor to protect their tanks. Some M60 tanks continued to be upgraded with components from the indigenous Israeli MBT, the Merkava, resulting in the Magach 7 further extending the vehicles' service life.

Magach 7C

With their spectacular victory in the 1967 War, the Israeli's captured hundreds of Soviet-made T54 and T55 main battle tanks. Always short modern vehicles, the Israelis eagerly accepted these vehicles into service and began to modernize them along the same lines as the Magach series of tanks. The Soviet 100mm gun was replaced with the British 105mm gun. After facing initial setbacks in the 1973 War, the Israelis captured additional vehicles, and retained them in service until the late 1980's

Israeli Tiran 5 - based on the T55 tank

Based on their experience in the 1973 War, the Israelis began their own indigenous main battle tank design program, and initial designs were completed by 1974. Initially armed with the same 105mm British gun as had been used on the Sho't, Magach, and Tiran, the new Merkava I also incorporated the tracks and roadwheels of the venerable Centurion as it had served well in Israeli terrain. Initially used in the 1982 war in Lebanon and was a success. Learning from that conflict was applied to the Merkava II which started production in 1983.

Merkava 2

First introduced in 1989, the Merkava III represented a large and fundamental improvement over the Merkava II. Not only was a more powerful engine added (a 1200hp diesel unit), the main armament was fundamentally changed for the first time with the stalwart 105mm British gun which had served the IDF for decades being replaced by a locally developed 120mm smoothbore gun. With a more compact recoil system, the 120mm can fit in mounts originally designed for the British 105mm gun, and it can fire a variety of indigenously designed ammunition as well as French, German, and U.S. NATO ammunition in addition to the LAHAT anti-tank missile.

Merkava 3

While the Merkava 3 remains the most numerous variant of the Israeli MBT in service, in 2004 an upgraded version, the Merkava 4 was added. This version marks another departure with a radically new turret and other upgrades designed to confuse thermal imaging. The 120mm gun of the Merkava 3 is upgraded further to fire additional ammunition types, and a new track system is used to provide increased durability. The Merkava 4 also utilizes active protection systems to protect against rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles.

Merkava 4

As evidenced by the progression above and in the previous article, it is clear that the Israelis take a very pragmatic approach to tank development. Resources available for development and procurement of tanks are always limited, and their forces are typically outnumbered, so an emphasis is placed on standardization, quick reaction to attack, and continuous modernization of older tank designs to keep them viable. When a platform is no longer viable as a battle tank, they are generally re-purposed to fulfill other functions.

In the next installment, I'll go through some of the opposing forces vehicles found at Latrun which were fielded primarily by Egypt and Syria during the 1967 and 1973 wars.

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