1:72 Tiran Ti-52 a.k.a. “עקרב/Ak'rav”; vehicle “4” of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) 7th Armored Brigade, 2nd Battlion, 2nd company, 1st platoon; Sinai peninsula/Southern Israel, 1985 (Whif/modified Trumpeter kit)
+++ DISCLAIMER +++
Nothing you see here is real, even though the model, the conversion or the presented background story might be based historical facts. BEWARE!
The T-54 and T-55 tanks were a series of Soviet main battle tanks introduced in the years following the Second World War. The first T-54 prototype was completed at Nizhny Tagil by the end of 1945. Initial production ramp up settled for 1947 at Nizhny Tagil, and 1948 for Kharkiv were halted and curtailed as many problems were uncovered; the T-34-85 still accounted for 88 percent of production through the 1950s.The T-54 eventually became the main tank for armored units of the Soviet Army, armies of the Warsaw Pact countries, and many others. T-54s and T-55s have been involved in many of the world's armed conflicts since the later part of the 20th century.
The T-54/55 series eventually became the most-produced tank in history. Estimated production numbers for the series range from 86,000 to 100,000. They were replaced by the T-62, T-64, T-72, T-80 and T-90 tanks in the Soviet and Russian armies but remain in use by up to 50 other armies worldwide, some having received sophisticated retrofitting.
The T-54/55 tanks were mechanically simple and robust, very simple to operate compared to Western tanks, and did not require a high level of training or education in their crew members. The T-54/55 was a relatively small main battle tank, presenting a smaller target for its opponents to hit. The tanks had good mobility thanks to their relatively light weight (which permitted easy transport by rail or flatbed truck and allowed crossing of lighter bridges), wide tracks (which gave lower ground pressure and hence good mobility on soft ground), a good cold-weather start-up system and a snorkel that allowed river crossings.
By the standards of the 1950s, the T-54 was an excellent tank combining lethal firepower, excellent armor protection and good reliability while remaining a significantly smaller and lighter tank than its NATO contemporaries—the US M48 Patton tank and the British Centurion tank. The 100 mm D-10T tank gun of the T-54 and the T-55 was also more powerful than its Western counterparts at that time (the M48 Patton initially carried a 90 mm tank gun and the Centurion Mk. 3 carried the 20-pounder (84 mm) tank gun). This advantage lasted until the T-54 began to be countered by newer Western developments like the M60 main battle tank and upgraded Centurions and M48 Pattons using the 105 mm rifled Royal Ordnance L7 or M68 gun. Due to the lack of a sub-caliber round for the 100 mm gun, and the tank's simple fire-control system, the T-54/55 was forced to rely on HEAT shaped-charge ammunition to engage tanks at long range well into the 1960s, despite the relative inaccuracy of this ammunition at long ranges. The Soviets considered this acceptable for a potential European conflict, until the development of composite armor began reducing the effectiveness of HEAT warheads and sabot rounds were developed for the D-10T gun.
T-54/55 tanks also had their drawbacks. Small size was achieved at the expense of interior space and ergonomics, which caused practical difficulties, as it constrained the physical movements of the crew and slowed operation of controls and equipment. This was a common trait of most Soviet tanks and hence height limits were set for certain tank crew positions in the Soviet Army.
The low turret profile of the tanks prevented them from depressing their main guns by more than 5° since the breech would strike the ceiling when fired, which limited the ability to cover terrain by fire from a hull-down position on a reverse slope – a tactical flaw that became apparent (and costly) during the Arab-Israeli the Six-Day War. As in most tanks of that generation, the internal ammunition supply was not shielded, increasing the risk that any enemy penetration of the fighting compartment could cause a catastrophic secondary explosion. The original T-54 lacked NBC protection, a revolving turret floor (which complicated the crew's operations), and early models lacked gun stabilization. All of these problems were corrected in the otherwise largely identical T-55 tank.
Together, the T-54/55 tanks have been manufactured in the tens of thousands, and many still remain in reserve, or even in front-line use among lower-technology fighting forces. Abundance and age together make these tanks cheap and easy to purchase. While the T-54/55 is not a match for a modern main battle tank, armor and ammunition upgrades could dramatically improve the old vehicle's performance to the point that it cannot be dismissed on the battlefield.
During the Cold War, Soviet tanks never directly faced their NATO adversaries in combat in Europe, but it became involved in many other local conflicts. For instance, the Israeli army fought against it during the Six-Day War in 1967, and many Egyptian and Syrian T-54/55s were captured. Their numbers were so great that they were repaired, modernized and even put into IDF service or exported - around 200 T-54s, T-55s and PT-76s fell into Israeli hands at that time. T-54s and T-55s were modernized to Tiran 4 or 5 standard prior to the Yom Kippur War, some outfitted with a NATO-compatible Sharir (Royal Ordnance L7) 105 mm gun and other Western equipment and weapons.
During the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Israel captured additional T-54s and T-55s, and these new vehicles led to the Ti-51 MBT (also known as “Tiran 51”)and some minor variants. This time the modifications were more thorough and included fitting an American Detroit Diesel engine, new semi-automatic hydromechanical transmission equipped with a torque converter and new air cleaners. Blazer explosive reactive armor was added to the hull and turret, a Cadillac-Gage-Textron gun stabilization system was integrated as well as an EL-OP Matador computerized fire control system. Further changes included a new low-profile commander's cupola, IR detectors, Image-intensifier night vision equipment for the commander, gunner and driver, Spectronix fire detection and suppression system, new turret basket, extensive external stowage, modernized driver's station including replacement of tillers by a steering wheel, new final drives, new all-internal fuel system and improved suspension. Basically, the T-54/55 hull was filled with new equipment, creating an almost new and different MBT! Some of these tanks were also outfitted with a detachable dozer blade and designated Ti-51Sh.
A small series of the captured Yom Kippur War tanks was furthermore re-built as so-called Ti-52s during 1974 and 1975. This program was focused on recycling T-54 and T-55 hulls that had damaged turrets or main weapons. The upgrade centered around an American 90 mm M41 cannon with a T-shaped blast deflector as new main armament, a weapon that was available in abundance after the IDF’s gun uprating of its M48 Patton tanks to the bigger L7 gun. For the Ti-52 a new, welded turret was devised, tailored to the M41 gun and its M87 mount. It was longer but narrower than the original T-54/55 turtle shell turret, but kept its low profile, and it featured prominent storage boxes at the sides and at the back that made it look outwardly bigger than it actually was. The turret had a 360° manual and electric-hydraulic traverse, (24°/sec) and the gun could be depressed to -9° and elevated to +19°. 60 rounds were carried (Fifteen in the turret, the rest in the hull). Beyond standard HE and AP ammunition types, a special HVAP round with a muzzle velocity of 3,750 ft/s (1,140 m/s) was available, too, with a maximum penetration of 15 in (380 mm) of vertical armor at 30 ft and still 9½ in (241 mm) at 2.000 yards. This was complemented by a coaxial heavy Browning .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine gun with 500 rounds (plus 500 more in reserve), a weapon that has proven to be useful and effective in asymmetric warfare. An additional .30 AA machine gun on a swivel mount and with 5.000 rounds in store was placed on the turret roof, next to the commander cupola.
The main automotive upgrade was the replacement of the original V12-W-55 engine with 560 hp with the proven American Detroit Diesel 8V-71T developing 609 hp that had already been used for other Tiran conversions. With a slightly better power/weaight ration than the original T-55 (the lighter turret and engine saved around 2 tons), performanca and handling of the Ti-52 were improved.
Other modifications included a laser rangefinder placed over the barrel, thermal/night sights for the gunner and commander, a computerized FCS, new radio equipment, complete NBC protection lining and anti-RPG rubber side skirts that also suppressed dust clouds while on the move as well as German-made smoke dischargers.
These upgraded vehicles entered service in 1975. With the conversion and different systems came a new role: The Ti-52s went from being an MBT to a tank destroyer and scout/reconnaissance vehicle. The Ti-52 was an ‘ambush predator’ and would use its small size, low profile and good maneuverability to outflank the enemy, engage, and then withdraw along pre-arranged lanes of engagement. The Ti-52 was unofficially nicknamed “עקרב/Ak'rav” (Scorpion) and became a successful conversion, but by the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the tank (just like the other Israeli Tiran versions as well as the original T-54/55 family) had become obsolete. Its gun simply did not have the penetrative power to combat modern armored fighting vehicles. Nevertheless, the tank served the Israeli Army well for 15 years, and it was used in combat during the 1982 Lebanon War, where it proved to be highly effective if its tactical strengths of speed and low profile could be exploited. In direct open-field confrontation it turned out to be vulnerable, esp. to dedicated anti-tank weapons of the time (AT-3 Sagger and RPG-7).
All Tirans of various versions were withdrawn from active IDF service at the end of the 1980s. Some were sold and some were converted into Achzarit APCs. However, some Tirans are still in possession of the Israeli Army, possibly in reserve or in storage. The Israeli Army had 488 Tirans in 1990, 300 in 1995, 200 in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and still 261 in 2006 and 2008.
Crew: Four (commander, gunner, loader, driver)
Weight: 34 tonnes (37.5 ST)
Length: 8,42 m (27 ft 7 in) with gun forward
6,37 m (20ft 10 1/2 in) hull only
Width: 3.53 m (11 ft 6 3/4 in) with side skirts
3.37 m (11 ft 1 in) hull only
Height: 2.73 m (9 ft)
Ground clearance: 0.425 m (16.73 in)
Suspension: Torsion bar
Fuel capacity: 580 l internal, plus 320 l external and 400 l in two jettisonable rear drums
16 – 120 mm (0.63 – 4.72 in)
Maximum road speed: 54 km/h (33.5 mph)
Off-road speed: 38 km/h (24 mph)
Operational range: 500 km on road
Up to 715 km with two 200-liter auxiliary fuel tanks
Power/weight: 17.9 hp (12.9 kW)/tonne
1× American Detroit Diesel 8V-71T with 609 hp (438 kW)
Mechanical [synchromesh], 5 forward, 1 reverse gears
1× 90mm M41/T139 gun with 60 rounds
1x coaxial .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine gun with a total of 1.000 rounds
1x .30 AA machine gun on a swivel mount with a total of 5.000 rounds
2x4 smoke grenade launchers
The kit and its assembly:
This is actually the second submissiion to the "Captured!" group build at whatifmodellers.com in November 2020, but since my first project stalled (waiting for parts that I ordered while building) I started this second tank and it made very quick progress.
Thsi what-if model has a concrete background: Israel captured during the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur conflict a lot of various Arabian tanks, including T-54/55s, PT-76s and T-62. Their numbers were so huge that many were converted on a serial basis and adopted into Israeli service or exported. So, this one became one of those modified T-55s with a new turret/gun, ERA and anti-RPG rubber side skirts. Inspiration was a little the Austrian "Kürassier" tank hunter, and the idea that many surplus 90 mm guns from upgraded M48 Patton tanks must have been available. So, why not combine everything into a dedicated IDF tank hunter?
The basis is a Trumpeter kit which went together well, just some PSR was necessary around the rear. I omitted the extra fuel drums (Israel is a rather small country...) and added some ERA plates to the front glacis plate. The biggest change is a different turret and mudguards, which come from an upgraded, late Danish M41 Walker Bulldog conversion set from S&S Models. It consists of a resin turret and many white metal parts, including the gun and the mantlet, the side skirts and some other stuff. The set is actually intended for a diecast M41 (Amercom/Altaya, Hobbymaster or Warmaster) as basis, but the parts were easy to integrate into the T-55 hull. The turret ring is a little smaller, so that a few spacers hold the new turret in place. The turret itself was taken OOB (including the smoke grenade dischargers), I just added the light machine gun and the swivel mount on the roof. IIRC, they are leftover pieces from an Italeri Merkava (very suitable!). The white metal mantlet and the resin turret were "bridged" with a woven dust cover, made from tissue paper dipped in white glue.
Themudguards are white metal pieces and needed some tailoring to fit at the front. They are actually a little too short for the T-55 hull, but taken "as is" they offered a nice opening for the drive sprocket wheels at the rear, and I settled for this simple solution.
Painting and markings:
Painting was done with paints from the rattle can - I chose a "Sinai Grey" livery for operations in the Southern regions (in the North, IDF tanks tend to be painted olive drab). After the base coat in two very similar shades of dark sand /RAL 7008 and 8000) the model received a black ink washing and dry-brushing with khaki drill (Humbrol 72) and later some light grey (Revell 75); the camouflage nets in the storage baskets were painted in olive drab (Humbrol 155) for some contrast.
The markings/decals come from a generic IDF markings set from Peddinghaus Decals. The Israeli marking system entered service after 1960 and it is still used today by the IDF, even if the meanings of some symbols are still unknown or unclear.
The white stripes on the cannon barrel identify which battalion the tank belongs to. If the tank belongs to the 1st Battalion, it only has one stripe on the barrel, if it is the 2nd Battalion, it has two stripes, and so on.
The company the tank belongs to is determined by a white Chevron, a white ‘V’ shaped symbol painted on the sides of the vehicle sometimes with a black outline. If the M-50 belonged to the 1st Company, the Chevron was pointing downwards, if the tank belonged to the 2nd Company, the ‘V’ was pointing forward. If the Chevron was pointed upwards, the vehicle belonged to the 3rd Company, and, if it pointed backward it belonged to the 4th Company.
The company identification markings have different sizes according to the space a tank has on its sides. The M48 Patton had these symbols painted on the turret and were quite big, while the Centurion had them painted on the side skirts. The Shermans had little space on the sides, and therefore, the company identification markings were painted on the side boxes, or in some cases, on the sides of the gun mantlet.
The platoon identification markings are written on the turrets and are divided in two: a number from 1 to 4 and one of the first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet: א (Aleph), ב (bet), ג (gimel) and ד (dalet ). The Arabic number, from 1 to 4, indicates the platoon to which a tank belongs to and the letter, the tank number inside each platoon. Tank number 1 of the 1st Platoon would have painted on the turret the symbol ‘1א’, tank number 2 of 3rd Platoon would have painted on the turret the symbol ‘3ב’, and so on. The platoon’s command tank only has the number without the letter, or in rare cases, the platoon commander has א, i.e. the first tank of the platoon.
Once painting and decals were done, the kit received an overall coat with matt acrylic varnish and final assembly started - namely the attempt to mount the wheels and tracks inside/thorugh the mudguards. Fiddly affair, but it worked better than expected, and as a final step I dusted the model with sand-grey mineral artist pigments.