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Book review T-54/55 to IDF Tiran 4/5. The Birth of a Bastard Tank

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T-54/55 to IDF Tiran 4/5. The Birth of a Bastard Tank

Captured Vehicles in IDF Service, Volume 2

A Historical Review, 1967-1973

By Ma’or Levy

Reviewed by Glen Broman

It’s been awhile since I last posted a review on the Last Cavalry website and a small pile of books have built up waiting for my return to the keyboard. Just for giggles, I decided it would be fun to break my ankle. I should point out that the Army has sent me on little jaunts to such garden spots as Kuwait and Iraq; I’ve walked point on border patrols back when the border strip was still mined and I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane while in flight. I got nary a scratch. But I got taken out walking across a parking lot in Michigan. War is hell, but peacetime can get a little sporty too. The second order effect was that I could not walk or do stairs. Guess where my office is? Anyway, I also experienced a significant writer’s block and just recently broke through it. It took a repop of the old Aurora 1/48 M46 to do it, but that’s a story for another day.

Sadly, I received my pre-ordered copy of this book from Last Cavalry the week I broke my ankle, I say sadly because this is a great book and it deserved to go to the head of the line for a review rather than after a four month delay. I also want to be up front and let you all know that excerpts of my review on Ma’jor Levy’s first book were reprinted, by permission, on the back cover of this book. I just want to say there’s no quid pro quo here Sportsfans, this is a great book and a fitting second volume in the series.

In my review of Volume 1, I stated that I was very excited about what future volumes will cover, well, I was not disappointed. The T-54/55’s saw quite a bit of use by the IDF. As we used to say back in the day, waste not, want not. 

So before I wander off into details of the book, let’s talk about the overall product. Like the first volume, this is extremely well researched with very high production values and is logically organized. The selection of photos is also excellent, most of which I have never seen before, which says a lot, as I am a huge tank geek. There are a mix of color, black and white photos, useful charts, maps and drawings to enhance your reading experience. Following the Introduction, there are 8 chapters, “An unplanned treasure at the end of the Six Day War”, “This might be one of our best”, “Potential, deficiencies and modifications”, “Pictures from the conversion line, 1968-1973”, “Mine sweeping, the “bonus”, and Special Operations”, “The 274th Brigade – a Tiran Brigade”, “Water and steel – pictures of Tiran training for amphibious warfare” and “Plans for an odd future”. This should give you an idea of just how much fun you will have reading this. I would like to take a moment to point out that mine sweeping is only fun if you aren’t the one doing it. I do have an interesting story about this which I can laugh about now, but at the time the humor wasn’t apparent.

I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you, so I won’t give away all of the fun, but there is a fascinating part of this story I do want to cover. This is the issue of putting a foreign tank into service. The IDF captured 860 tanks by the end of the Six Day War. Not a bad haul, by any means, but it does bring along some baggage with it. The captured Centurions, Patton’s and Sherman’s do not present much of a problem, they were already in use by the IDF, so integration was relatively simple, a new paint job, markings and Bob’s your Uncle. Training materials, ammo and spare parts are largely available, along with the logistical tail. For T-55’s, not so much. This book, in addition to covering a very cool tank in its own right, presents a fascinating description of the less discussed aspects of tank warfare, the logistical considerations of integrating captured materiel. This is a great primer on how one brings a captured piece of kit into use, along with all of the technical, practical and political decisions required to make it happen. I could really sympathize with the IDF, first as a Tanker, I have spent some time in a T-55, and have driven one. They are so cramped you have to climb outside the turret just for room to change your mind. Driving one is also special; one does not simply drive a T-55, but beats it into submission, directionally speaking. I also learned that double clutching was probably an art form in the former Soviet Union. Secondly, as a professional logistician, I really geeked out on the technical and training problems the IDF had to work through. Your mileage may vary, but this chapter is very readable and clearly articulates the challenges and very creative solutions on the part of the IDF.

On the subject of creativity, I would also like to point out that the IDF came up with some fascinating ways to employ these vehicles. I would postulate that the Egyptians, who were on the receiving end of that creativity, probably did not see it coming and may not have been as appreciative.

One more thought on the pictures, as I mentioned in my review of Volume 1, the potential inspiration for individual builds and dioramas in this volume is also epic, and not just for Tiran’s. There are pictures of Sherman Flail’s, BTR-50’s and PT-76’s in Israeli service. There are also a few more pictures of the displays of captured equipment. What’s not to love? There are also some really great pictures of Israeli landing craft, a subject that does not normally get a lot of love in the modeling press.

Now I come to my only criticism, the ending. The book covers the period 1967-1973, it even states that up front, but I was really enjoying the read, and the start of Yom Kippur War was coming up and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened. And the chapter ends, “On that day, the 6th of October. All hell broke loose. War.” I hate cliffhangers! My point is that I did not want this book to end. It was fascinating, informative, well written and, as a Tanker, it had lots of cool pictures. My sole source of comfort is that even now, as I am writing this, volume 3 will soon be on its way.

I purchased my copy from Last Cavalry at www.lastcavalry.com.