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Monday, July 17, 2017

Armor Of The Arab-Israeli Wars - Or - Mike's Visit To Yad La-Shiryon Part 3

In this third installment of my article covering the plethora of armor at the IDF museum and memorial Yad La-Shiryon we will be looking at the armor of the Arab states, generally Egypt and Syria, used in the 1967 and 1973 wars. One thing to remember from all of these photos, most, if not all, of these tanks have been repainted by museum personnel at some point so the paint colors are not necessarily original.

As Soviet client states, Egypt and Syria began to receive large numbers of T-54 and T-55 tanks, and these would form the backbone of both the Egyptian and Syrian armored forces in both the 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The T-54/55 was one of the first true modern main battle tanks, and despite some early teething problems in the late 1940's, it would go on to become the most numerous tank in history (by production numbers) with estimates as high as 100,000 units being produced in total from all sources.

T-54 Tank - this is an earlier version

The T54/55 would go through several modifications over the years, and while the Soviet Union would eventually phase it out in favor of more modern designs, the type remains in use today by over 50 nations - often in highly modernized forms. Unfortunately much of the Soviet armor is parked very close together, so it is hard to get full views of each tank without a wide angle lens, which I didn't have with me for this trip.

T-55 Tank - backbone of the Arab armored forces

As Egypt moved into the Soviet orbit, it received a host of armored vehicles from existing stockpiles, including around 100 modernized IS-3M tanks. These heavy tanks came as a bit of a shock to IDF forces as their thick armor resisted the 90mm guns of even the M48 Patton tanks at typical battle ranges. However, the engine performance as poor, especially in the very hot desert climate of the Sinai, and the rate of fire of the IS-3's 122mm gun was slow. Egypt lost at least 70 of their IS-3 in the 1967 war, but a few examples soldiered on through at least the 1973 war.

The Soviet IS-3M - Initially causing a stir at the 1945 Victory Parade in Berlin,
by 1967 the design was outclassed by more modern designs.

Egypt also fielded a regiment of ISU-152 self propelled guns. The type was known in Soviet service as the "beast killer" because it could tackle some of the heaviest German armor. While the ISU-152 fired a devastating shell, its rate of fire was abysmally slow (3-4 rounds/minute by a well-trained crew). The fixed mount for the main armament was also a handicap in the fast moving desert battles. Many were captured by the Israelis after making little to no impact on the battles in 1967.

ISU-152 - devastating firepower, but slow reload time and poor
maneuverability limited its effectiveness in the desert

Derived from the earlier SU-85 tank destroyer, the SU-100 was used to great effect by the Soviets in the last year of the Second World War. The upgrade in armament was precipitated by the use of the 85mm gun in the T-34 tank itself, and the gun would ultimately be used on the T-54/T-55 tank series. The Egyptians received several examples which were slightly modified for the desert creating the SU-100M. Unlike the ungainly ISU-152, the SU-100 was a far more effective and capable platform being used successfully in the 1956 Suez Crisis as well as the 1967 and 1973 wars. Syria also used this type, though they only received 80 as compared to the Egyptian's 150.

SU-100M - Firepower of a T54/55 on a reliable T-34 chassis

The Egyptians had received several Sherman tanks when they achieved their independence from Britain. Many of these were modernized before the 1967 War to create the M4/FL-10 variant. These took the hull of an M4A4 tank and coupled it with the diesel engine of the M2 series (which was more reliable in the desert). The original turret was discarded entirely and replaced with the auto-loading swiveled FL-10 turret from an AMX-13 tank.

The M4/FL-10 hybrid tank offered increased firepower over
any standard Sherman armament

In the 1960's the Egyptians began to modify some of their T-34 tanks to accept the much larger 100mm BS-3 anti-tank gun. This involved created of a larger turret using armor plates ultimately resulting in a very cobbled together appearance. Known alternately as the T-34/100 or the T100, Egypt apparently made 122mm version of the vehicle as well. As with the other vehicles in the collection this one has been repainted. Earlier pictures show it in a 3-tone camoflage scheme which also may or may not be original.

The Egyptain T100 - a somewhat crude installation of a 100mm gun in a T-34

After the end of World War II, Syria began assembling its own armored force. Among the vehicles it acquired were several ex-Wehrmacht vehicles including Panzerkampfwagen Ausf H and J, Sturmgeschütz III Ausf G, Jagdpanzer IV, and even a few Hummel. The World War II after World War II site has a good write-up on the variety of German armor used by Syria through the 1967 War. This venerable Panzer IV has a seat next to a picnic table at the museum.

Ex-Wehrmacht Panzer IV in Syrian service - next to a picnic table.
I wonder if it's hungry?

The Syrians made a few modifications to their Sturmgeschütz III assault guns, including mounts for the Breda SAFAT heavy machine gun and a cover over the mantelet presumably to limit the amount of sand entering the gun compartment. Based on the return rollers alone this appears to be a MIAG produced variant.

Syrian Sturmgeschütz III - also in a disused picnic area

Israeli air superiority was a huge concern to the Arab forces, so they began to purchase advanced air defense units for their armored forces. The ZSU-57-2 was used by both Egypt and Syria in both the 1967 and 1973 wars. While the twin 57mm anti-aircraft guns mounted to the vehicle are effective, their fire control was purely manual limiting the weapon platform's effectiveness against modern fast jet aircraft.

ZSU-57-2 was built on a lightened version of the T-54 tank chassis

The ZSU-23-4, also known by its NATO reporting name "Shilka," mounts four 23mm cannon rather than the two 57mm cannon of its predecessor. However, it uses a radar guidance system rather than the manual aiming found on the earlier vehicle. In the 1973 war the type proved effective against Israeli jets as it was used in conjunction with a surface to air missile (SAM) array. Pilots seeking to avoid the SAM batteries would instead encounter the Shilkas. The type is also very effective against infantry and other soft targets.

ZSU-23-4 "Shilka" represented a serious threat to airpower in the
1960's and 1970's and remains effective today

The Egyptian and Syrian armed forces both showed a great deal of ingenuity in both sourcing their armored vehicles, and then modernizing them to keep them relevant on the battlefield. However, their military prowess came at a high price, with huge portions (over half and in some cases as high as 80%) of the national budgets of both Egypt and Syria going to the military.

As a miniature and model builder, I find one of the best aspects of hitting up tank museums is you actually get to see your subjects "in the flesh." Sometimes it is hard to envision the scale of some of these vehicles until you're right next to them. Plus you get a chance to physically touch the history you spend so much time recreating through miniature building and wargaming.

In my next installment I'll be focusing on other conversions and oddballs found at the museum!

Michael McSwiney is a long time contributor to Battlefront and Flames of War, miniature painter, model builder, tread head, rivet counter, and general grognard. He maintains his own blog when he isn't building a new house at Miniature Ordnance Review.

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