bookMerkava - A History of Israel's Main Battle Tank

by Marsh Gelbart

Tankograd Publishing.
Hardback, A4 size, 175 pages

Review by Peter Brown

Merkava's unusual configuration makes it the most easily-recognised main battle tank currently in service. Its layout was designed from the outset to make crew protection its most important feature, with engine and transmission placed at the front to put the greatest amount of armour and distance between an enemy and the fighting compartment while its narrow turret profile presented a difficult a target. However, over its 20-plus years in service the threats ranged against it have changed which has forced it to evolve. Development has been step by step to produce four main Marks, though identification of these is not always straightforward as older tanks are often upgraded and not always to the same standards. Israeli sources are not forthcoming with firm details which makes serious study of the Merkava harder than with other designs.

This makes this book more than welcome. Many years of research have been put together to trace the tank's story from the earliest days. After an attempt to build Chieftain in Israel fell through, it was decided to build a home-produced tank to safeguard against possible embargoes and interruptions of supplies, though some parts were and still are sourced from abroad. Development is covered mark by mark, from initial wooden concepts and test-beds through prototypes and production and on to the latest standard. All stages are described in dual English and German text and fully illustrated by clear photos captioned in both languages. As well as the internal and external changes, specific recognition points are described each mark which will help with identification, though as tanks are upgraded and refitted absolute distinctions is sometimes not straightforward. Both good and bad features of the tank are explored, as are successes and problems in service.

The story is followed from the Mk 1 through Mk 2 with upgraded power pack and extra armour, Mk 3 which was longer, better protected and better armed with a 120mm gun in place of the 105mm, on to the latest generation Mk 4 which, though obviously a Merkava, has a boxier hull and very different turret profile compared to the earlier versions. Step-by-step improvements in suspension, wheels, tracks, armour configuration, different styles of side skirts, sights, laser warning receivers, main gun, machine guns and stowage configurations are given. In short, we have everything covered apart from the vehicle's interior which given the level of secrecy surrounding the tank is a not surprising. There are also shorter sections on variants, the self-propelled 155mm gun, two series of recovery vehicles and the heavy APC which have been developed but not as yet adopted.

Photographic coverage is very good which makes this book a very valuable reference for modellers. Alongside general shots including mostly full or half-page colour images are many close-ups, great emphasis is put on detail changes between marks and the new features of each successive mark. This helps clarify real designations which are often confused and confusing in other accounts. There are also details of local modifications for use in urban warfare, short sections on colours and markings which add to the details given in the captions, a chapter showing crews and uniforms and comparative data tables.

Here is a comprehensive single-volume source on this unusual tank. It may have been a long time coming but that does have the advantage, as with any book on in-service vehicles, of being up-to-date. This increases the appeal of what is a very good book. Add to a high standard of production as we usually get from Tankograd, this comes highly recommended.

As expected from Tankograd, this is a long-overdue book and is highly recommended. Available from Tankograd Militarfahrzeug distributors, for more details contact the publishers Verlag Jochen Vollert on My thanks go to Justin Gainham at Bookworld for the review copy.

Page created 17 May 2005

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