Six Day War Egyptian IS-3M

Egypt is one of the lesser known operators of the venerable IS-3M heavy tank.  The Soviet Union shipped about 100 of these tanks to Egypt between 1957 and 1967 as part of the flood of military aid negotiated between President Nasser and Nikita Krushchev.  Records are spotty, but it appears that tanks were divided among the Egyptian 125th Tank Brigade, 7th Infantry division and 6th Mechanized Brigade.
IS-3M in  a Cairo military parade in the late 1950's.
The IS-3M had a host of problems, especially when compared to the more modern Israeli M48 tanks supplied by Western countries.  Among other issues, the IS-3M had a very slow rate of fire, an engine which performed poorly in desert conditions and a very rudimentary fire control system.  The IS-3M’s 200mm thick frontal armor was very effective against the M48’s 90mm main gun at normal combat ranges however and its powerful 120mm gun could penetrate any armored vehicle in the IDF’s inventory.
IS-3M destroyed at Rafah, 1967.
During the Six Day War M48s of the IDF 7th Armored Brigade squared off against IS-3Ms supporting Egyptian positions at Rafah in several engagements on 5 June 1967.  An entire IDF tank company was savaged by the IS-3s before the Egyptian positions were finally overrun. 
This is one of the IS-3Ms captured by the IDF in 1967 employed in a static artillery position along the Suez Canal.  The engine has been removed to make room for ammunition storage.
The Egyptians eventually lost about 75 of their total force of IS-3Ms during the Six Day War.  About 30 of these were captured by the IDF in operating or repairable condition.   Some of these, with the engines removed, were employed by the Israelis as static artillery or pillbox positions along the Jordan River in the West Bank and in the Bar Lev line facing the Suez Canal.  These saw limited action during the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

The Kit
This kit is the only game in town if you want to build an IS-3M out of the box.  The Tamiya IS-3 kit can be converted into an IS-3M with some aftermarket parts, but after considering the price difference between the kits ($15 vs. $45) and the potential extra work modifying the Tamiya kit I opted for the Trumpeter kit.  Its molding lacks the grace and elegance of the Tamiya kit but it is by no means a lost cause.  It can be built into an excellent model with just a little care and a few aftermarket parts.

The kit includes the correct T-10 style road wheels as well as the revised fenders with sand shields.  It does lack the correct tracks found on late model IS-3Ms as well as some details found on the hull underside however.  This was not an issue for me since I planned on using aftermarket tracks and the bottom hull would be out of sight.
This kit does not have a high part count so assembly was very simple and straight forward.  There were no significant fit issues or parts that needed excessive cleanup.  I spent most of the assembly time finessing the photo etch parts from the Eduard IS-3M upgrade set onto the model.
Like most Soviet tanks during this period, the casting texture on IS-3M turrets was extremely rough.  The molding on the Trumpeter kit turret was good, but not quite good enough.  I accentuated this effect with Mr. Surfacer 1000 and a stiff nylon brush.  When the stippled surface was dry I ran a sanding stick lightly over the surface to bring down the sharp points.  In this manner I could replicate as rough a cast surface as I needed.  I also added weld beads around the lifting hooks on the turret.  I used styrene rod softened with Tamiya Extra Thin cement, then shaped and formed with a hobby blade.
The lifting eyes on the Turret roof, upper hull and engine deck were molded solid and needed to be drilled out.  Several were at awkward angles to drill out.  I tackled these by shaving off small sections of styrene tubing and cutting the resulting rings in half.  This created a nice eyelet which could be glued in place.
The external fuel tanks presented a special challenge since there is very little information available on exactly how the fuel lines on the top of the tanks were arranged.  The only clear reference I could find was on the instruction sheet from the Aber photo etch set for the Tamiya IS-3 kit.  I used lead solder and fuel caps punched from sheet styrene with a sub-micro punch and die set.  I still have some question on the accuracy of the setup but it looks somewhat credible at least.  I also added drain plugs on the bottom of each fuel cell and weld seams on the side using Archer Fine Transfer products.
All of the photos of IS-3Ms in Egyptian service seem to show them without the smoke canisters on the rear deck installed.  I left them off the tank but made good use of the photo etch mounting brackets from the Eduard set.
Another detail missing on the rear engine deck was the quick release cables running from under the turret ring to each fuel cell.  I created these with lead solder.
Some sources indicate post-war IS-3s utilized a reinforced track links with a stiffener across the center and hollow guide teeth.  Period photographs show some IS-3Ms with solid guide teeth and others with them though.  For the tracks on this kit I used the Trumpeter Russian 650mm track link set which contains the correct reinforced type of track but with solid guide teeth.  These required little to no cleanup and went together cleanly.  They are a huge improvement over the vinyl rubber ban type tracks that came with the kit.
The turret hatches provide some nice interior detail and the Eduard set has a fairly extensive collection of interior parts for the turret.  The diorama I had planned for this kit required the hatches to be closed however so I fought off recurring attacks of AMS and posed the hatches shut.
Photographs of Egyptian IS-3Ms show them consistently sporting a single headlight with no brush guard so, I filled the locator hole for the right headlight and left the very nice photo etch brush guards from the Eduard set aside.  The power cables are lead solder.  The headlight is fixed with a clear MV lens.
Photos of IS-3Ms in the field in Egyptian service are surprisingly rare.  The few I did find (all three of them) appear to show vehicles that had seen hard use in a harsh climate.  I decided on this build to try some chipping techniques I haven’t really used much before.  First, I gave the tank a base coat of Tamiya XF-1 Flat Black.  I often do this on armored vehicles since it gives a good opaque coat that makes it easy to simulate shadows in recessed areas.  I followed this with a coat of XF-13 JA Green.  After this coat cured I added chips and scrapes with Hobbico brand ‘Master Mask’ masking fluid.  One of the challenges that comes with this method is remembering where you placed the small bits of fluid.  I made it a point to photograph each side of the vehicle once the fluid was in place before it dried.  I was then able to use these photos as a reference when scraping them off.
The final base coat was made up of a mixture of XF-55 Deck Tan and XF-57 Buff.  I followed this with a post shade of heavily diluted XF-2 Flat White.  Once this coat had set I scraped off the masking fluid exposing the green base coat underneath.  As I took the drops and dabs off I added small scrapes and gouges with the tip of an X-Acto blade to make the larger chips seem more natural.
The result was a pretty stark contrast between the dark green and light beige desert camouflage.  After a light glaze of diluted XF-57 Buff with an airbrush the chips toned down and blended well though.  The thing I like best about this technique is that you get a very pronounced 3D effect with the layers of paint when you pull off the masking fluid.  You can actually see the levels of paint peeling back just like it does on a full sized vehicle.
The markings supplied with this kit represented an IS-3M as seen in a parade in Cairo in the late 1950’s.  While it was tempting to use the large black falcon (it really looks good) that the tanks sported in the parade, I wanted to show an IS-3M as it would have appeared in the field in 1967 during the Six Day War.  Unfortunately, I really found no evidence to convince me that they wore the falcon markings during that time period.  That isn’t to say they absolutely didn’t or couldn’t have, just that I haven’t seen any proof. 
Instead I based my IS-3M’s markings on a photo of a recently captured vehicle taken in 1967.  It has Egyptian Armored Corps flashes on the turret, and I reasoned likely on the hull front and rear as well. 
Initially I used decals from the Star Decals ‘Egyptian Tanks in the 1950’s’ sheet for these markings but they were very thick and didn’t want to nestle down into the rough turret surface detail.
The color didn’t seem quite right either, so I scraped them off, repainted the area and started over.  In the end I masked off the simple shapes and airbrushed them on.  I think the end result was worth the effort.
The only decals I actually used were the Arabic numeral registration plates for the front and rear mud guards.  I affixed these to small pieces of .13mm Evergreen sheet styrene.  These decals alone were worth the price of the whole sheet.  They add a nice touch of contrast to the mostly drab vehicle.  The Arabic numerals on the turret side are conjectural to IS-3Ms but are commonly seen on photographs of other Egyptian AFVs during this time period.  I painted them by hand with Vallejo acrylics.  To be clear, most of the marking placement on this vehicle is conjectural but I made sure to at least keep it in line with period practice.
Once the major chipping was done I accentuated them with scuffs applied with a Prismacolor dark grey artist pencil in high traffic areas on the tank like on the sand shields and around the hatches and DshK heavy machine gun mount.  I followed this immediately with a wash of Windsor Newton black oil paint.  The black wash is where the detail really began to show itself.
After letting the wash dry thoroughly I followed it up with a light dry brushing of ground pastel chalk.  I used buff chalk on the tracks and a very light dusting of brown and black chalk on the desert camouflage upper surfaces.
The final weathering step was a very light touch of silver on the friction areas on the tracks and drive sprocket.

One photo of an Egyptian IS-3M in the field shows the tank with tarpaulin rolls strapped in place on the turret grab handles.  I liked this look so I started to add similar rolls made from facial tissue stiffened and held in place with diluted white glue.  The only problem was that what looked good in the photo just seemed to spoil the distinctive lines of the tank.  In the end I just left them off.  I think I made the right choice.

Overall this build was thoroughly enjoyable.  Keeping the hatches posed shut allowed me to finish it in, what is for me, record time (about two and a half weeks).  I'm becoming a bigger fan of more simple kits that don't overwhelm my calendar and get me bogged down on a build that never seems to end.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice. Thanks for the colour recipe.
    About the bird insignia (not sure if that is a falcon) it is good that you didn´t use, it because what is shown in the decal looks hugely different to what can be seen in the pic. Somehow insectoid, doesn't it?