Merkava Mk.1 Israeli Main Battle Tank
Merkava Development Background
The history of the development of the Merkava main battle tank began in 1966, when Israel's military establishment began research and development on a domestically produced tank. Initially, Britain and Israel collaborated to adapt the United Kingdom's Chieftain tank that had entered British Army service in 1966. However, in 1969, Britain decided not to sell the tank to Israel for political reasons. Major General (MG) Israel Tal, a former brigade and division commander Israeli Defense Force’s, restarted plans to produce an Israeli-made tank, drawing on lessons from the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which Israeli forces were outnumbered by those of the Middle East's Arab nations.
The tank began development in 1973 and by 1974, initial designs were completed and prototypes were built. The IDF officially adopted the tank in December 1978. The first Merkava Mk. 1 tanks were supplied to the IDF in April 1979, nearly nine years after the decision to produce the Merkava Mk. 1 tank was taken.
The Merkava Mk. I is the original design created as a result of MG Tal's decisions which included fabrication of the tank and its components in Israel. The overall design criteria included rapid repair of battle damage, crew survivability, cost-effectiveness and off-road performance. Following the model of contemporary self-propelled howitzers, the turret assembly is located closer to the rear than in most main battle tanks. With the engine in front, this layout is intended to grant additional protection against a frontal attack, especially for the personnel in the main hull, such as the driver. It also creates more space in the rear of the tank that allows increased storage capacity and a rear entrance to the main crew compartment allowing easy access under enemy fire. This allows the tank to be used as a platform for medical evacuation, a forward command and control station, and an infantry fighting vehicle. The rear entrance's clamshell-style doors provide overhead protection when off- and on-loading cargo and personnel. The Merkava’s general design borrows the suspension and tracks from the British Centurion tank, which had seen extensive use during the Yom Kippur war and performed well in the rocky terrain of the Golan.
The Merkava Mk. I weighed 63 tons and had a 980 horsepower diesel engine, with a power-to-weight ratio of 14 hp/ton. It was armed with the 105 millimeter M68 main gun, two 7.62 mm machine guns for anti-infantry defense, and a 60 mm mortar externally mounted on the side of the Merkava’s turret. The tank commander sighted and loaded the mortar from his hatch. An additional .50 caliber machine gun was installed over the 105mm main gun and remotely fired by the tank's gunner.
Combat experiences in OPERATION PEACE FOR GAILEE/ Invasion of Lebanon.
The Merkava was first used in combat during the 1982 Lebanon War where Israel deployed 180 Merkavas in the 36th Armored Division. The tank outperformed contemporary Syrian tanks and proved largely immune to the anti-tank weapons of the time (the AT-3 Sagger and RPG-7) that were used against it. Israel lost 34 tanks during the conflict, including a number of Merkavas. With the tank’s design, Merkavas were converted into makeshift Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) or armored ambulances by taking out the palleted ammunition racks in storage. Ten soldiers or walking wounded could enter and exit through the rear door.
After the war, many adjustments and additions were noted and designed, the most important being that the 60 mm mortar needed to be installed within the turret and engineered for remote firing- a valuable feature that the Israelis had initially encountered on their Centurion Mk 3s. A shot trap was found beneath the rear of the turret bustle, where a well-placed shot could jam the turret completely. The installation of chain netting to disperse and destroy rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank rockets before impacting the primary armor increased survivability. The ball and chain curtains appeared on some Merkavas in Lebanon, so it is reasonable to conclude that the Merkava fleet was in the midst of being upgraded when the IDF attacked into Lebanon.
The design and operational history of the Merkava 1 was sourced from Wikipedia.
Rundown on the Model
The model is molded in a light gray styrene with separate lower hull tub, upper hull, and upper turret shell, eight sprues, one clear sprue, a small PE fret, a length of copper wire, small sheet of lead sheet, two track forming jigs and a decal sheet with two marking options. The instruction booklet has 29 steps covered in 18 pages and includes a color insert of paint colors and decal locations for the two vehicle options. Molding of the parts is clean with very little flash noted. There are multiple fine parts that the modeler will need to care when removing the parts from the sprues due to the attachment points and their locations. The level of molded detail is superb which can be seen in the various close-up pictures below.
Merkava Mk 1 Sprues
Lower Hull Tub
Front of the hull. Per assembly step 12, the the eight vertical protrusions should be removed and four holes are drilled for spare track storage
Rear of the hull
Various molded details on the front of the hull
Rear of the upper hull
Left side of the turret
Right side view of the turret shell. The curved detail is the elevation rail for the externally mounted 60mm mortar
Turret top view
Sprue A: Suspension Parts (x 2)
Close up of the road wheel details
A close-up of the bolt details on the sprockets
The idler wheels. A drilling jig is provided on Sprue C to drill the lightening holes in the idler wheel's rim
A close up of the Merkava suspension units. The suspension units were patterned after the Horstmann units found on the Centurion tank, which allowed good travel over the rough Golan terrain as well as provided additional hull protection from enemy rounds & missiles
Sprue B: Hull Parts
A close up of the bolt detail on the final drive units
Sprue C: Upper Turret Parts
Detail on the .50 Caliber Machine gun. The detail looks nice for being only in two parts.
The above mentioned idler drilling jig. this will allow the modeler to evenly drill the 1mm diameter lightening holes that are found on the Merkava's idler wheels
Sprue D: Turret parts
Close-up details of the Merkava's ball and chain curtain to protect the rear of the turret from enemy fire. The ball and chair armor installation to all Merkavas was partially completed when the Merkava Mk 1 was used in Lebanon in May 1982, as photographic evidence shows Merkavas with as well as without the curtain
Sprue F: Turret Details
Details on the Israeli water cans
Sprue G: Hull and Turret Details
Sprue H2: Clear Parts
Sprue N: Link & Length Track
Close ups of the inner and outer faces of the Merkava track. The raised ejector marks should be easily removed with sandpaper
PE Fret, Copper WIre, Sheet Lead
Merkava Mk 1 Instructions
Paint and Markings
As a modern armor kind of guy, I was surprised and happy to see this kit and the Merkava Mk1 Hybrid on Takom's new release list. So let me address the bottom line up front: The Takom kit is a significant upgrade for the 1980’s era Tamiya Merkava and the Academy’s copy clone for those who want to build a first generation Merkava.
The level of detail of the parts is exceptional and the sprues are clearly marked with the sprue tabs and large part numbers on the injection gates. However, I did have some damage of details on several parts, primarily part G16 (commander’s sight guard legs) and the searchlight hatch retaining lever on Part C24. I am not sure if they were damaged in shipment or due to my ham-handed approach with the two and a half sets of pictures for the review but they both should be easily repaired or replaced. Sprue A has removable casting numbers molded into it which can be added to the turret or to increase the detail on the vehicle registration plate found on the lower hull front and rear. The instructions in the booklet are clear and easy to follow with the color painting instructions (and a nifty print of the Merkava Mk1 Hybrid box art on the back of the painting instructions). The mesh bottom of the bustle rack and the flexible seal for the upper clam shell door are the only two parts found on the PE fret. The main gun comes in two parts with upper and lower halves and a separate muzzle – I have heard that there is a replacement barrel and mantlet cover in the works from an aftermarket company. I am a bit skeptical with the length and link tracks as I always seem to get the spacing between the links wrong and end up with a large gap when I try to join the ends. Since the Merkava has skirts, any gaps can be hidden with a little prior planning vice resorting to metal or resin individual link tracks.
All in all, this should be another good selling kit for Takom. I will be building this kit up and reporting back with a full build review in the future.
Highly Recommended for modern armor builders. The kit should be appropriate for beginners as well as advanced modelers.
Thanks goes out to Takom for this review kit.
Reviewed by John Charvat, Sooner AMPS
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