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Cold War Israeli Armor

M-51

Israeli Tanks Israel (1961-2006)
Medium Tank – 180 Converted

The M-51 was a medium tank developed on the M4 Sherman chassis for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to support the M-50s with a more powerful gun.

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It was used in the Arab-Israeli conflicts of the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and later in the Lebanese Civil War between 1975 and 2000. It was also used by Chile, which used it until 2006, making the M-50 and M-51 the second longest-lived Sherman-hulled vehicles in the world.

An M-51 on an M4A1 hull during an ammunition resupply in the Sinai Desert during the Six Days War, 1967. Source: bukvoed.livejournal.com

History of the Project

Although the new 75 mm gun-armed M-50s and other IDF Shermans enjoyed success during the Suez Crisis in 1956, there was a need for more modern (and better armed) combat vehicles. Although no Egyptian IS-3Ms or Centurions had been encountered by IDF forces, the threat of such vehicles, as well as the sale of modern armored vehicles to surrounding countries, including Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, meant that Israel needed a counter to these threats should another war break out.

To this end, initial attempts were made to secure more modern tanks, albeit with limited success. A request for M47s from the United States was rejected by the US for fear of upsetting the military balance of power in the Middle East. The British, after having rejected numerous requests for the Centurion dating all the way back to 1953, finally relented in selling Centurions to Israel in 1959. Although only armed with the still respectable 20 pdr. cannon, they were at least a step in the right direction given that the most modern vehicle then in IDF service was the AMX-13-75 light tank.

However, the IDF recognized that these Centurions would not be acquired in sufficient numbers for some time, and the lack of a more powerful 105 mm armament was still a concern. Thus, in 1959, a more expedient solution was desired to help bolster the IDF’s anti-tank capabilities in the short term. Given their past collaboration with Israel on the M-50, Bourges Arsenal in France was asked to help design the new vehicle based on Israeli requirements. Their past experience meant that the Sherman was once again chosen as the basis for this new vehicle. After a relatively short development, the M-51 would enter IDF service in 1962.

M-51 conversion in a Israeli workshop. Source: bukvoed.livejournal.com

History of the Prototypes

There are two known prototypes of the M-51 project. Both of these known prototypes used standard 76 mm-armed M4A1 Shermans as a basis, featuring the same Continental R-975 C4 petrol engine that the IDF would standardize on for its initial M-51s. While the M-51s in Israeli service were all equipped with the Horizontal Volute Suspension System (HVSS) and wider tracks as standard, the prototypes still used the older Vertical Volute Suspension System (VVSS) units and narrower tracks. The French refer to these modified Shermans as ‘Revalorisé’, meaning improved or upgraded, although it is unknown if this was a proper name, or merely used by the French to differentiate them from unmodified Shermans.

The first M-51 prototype, an M4 Sherman ‘Revalorisé’, with an early prototype of the eventual 105 mm D.1508 cannon. Source: pinterest.com

Where these two prototypes differed from each other was in the armament. What is believed to be the first prototype featured a cannon that remained relatively unchanged from that of the AMX 30‘s 105 mm, albeit featuring a ‘T’-shaped muzzle brake. This proved to be a failure, and it can be inferred based on the changes made to the final version of the cannon that the older Sherman could not handle the stresses of firing such a modern armament. The second known prototype used the eventual version of the cannon, the D.1508. Featuring a shorter L/51 length barrel and a more efficient muzzle brake, this prototype would prove successful at meeting Israel’s needs, and would be standardized in IDF service as M-51.

The second French M-51 prototype. This ‘Revalorisé’ is armed with the finalized D.1508 cannon and T56 padless track links. Of note is the French Army registration on the front of the hull. Source: chars-francais.net

Design

Given the goal of the project was to get a powerful and modern 105 mm cannon into service as quickly as possible, more restrictions were put into place than on the M-50 project. It was decided to standardize on a single hull type, that of the M4A1, as this offered a larger internal volume for ammunition stowage compared to other Sherman models. Likewise, the turret chosen was the 76 mm armed ‘T23′ turret, as this provided the best chance of success for the new cannon to work.

The outdated Continental R-975 radial engine was kept, despite already being replaced in the M-50s. The reasoning was simple however, Israel needed this new vehicle in service as soon as possible, and there were already problems getting enough M-50s converted over to the Cummins VT8-460 diesel engine that Israel could not afford any delays. To make up for this shortcoming, the wider HVSS was chosen for production vehicles, thus mitigating some of the weight gain without an unacceptable loss in mobility.

When talking about M4(76)Ws, the number ’76’ means the gun caliber, 76 mm while the ‘W’ stands for ‘Wet’ meaning that the ammunition were stowed in racks with water decreasing fire risks.

Between 1961 and 1965, a total of about 180 of those M4 Sherman variants were converted in different Israeli workshops over to M-51 standard. These would take part in the 1967 Six Day War (5th June – 10th June) and the 1973 Yom Kippur War (6th October – 25th October), with surviving vehicles either sold to Chile, converted to non-combat roles, or relegated to training and reserve units.

While initial plans called for more vehicles to be converted, by the mid 1960s, vehicles such as the M48 and Centurion were entering more widespread IDF service. In addition, the acquisition of the 105 mm L7 cannon for use on the Centurions and M48s meant that the M-51 was already obsolete. This, combined with deteriorating relations between Israel and France, meant that conversions stopped in 1965.

During their operational life, the M-51s were constantly upgraded with a succession of small changes. In total, four different versions can be discerned. The first one was in service from 1962 to 1970, the second one from 1970 to 1975, the third one from 1975 to about 1981, and the fourth from 1981 to 1990, when the M-51 was finally withdrawn from the IDF reserve.

Turret

The turret was modified (already heavily modified in the ‘Revalorisé’ model) by adding a cast iron counterweight on the back to balance the weight of the new cannon. The mantlet was modified to accommodate the larger 105 mm cannon in the turret.

All these modifications made the standard Sherman ‘T23’ turret, meant to be armed with the 76 mm cannon, almost unrecognizable.

Like on the earlier M-50, other changes to the turret of the M-51 included the addition of four French production smoke launchers (already mounted in the second Revalorisé prototype turret), a large lamp mounted in the mantlet for night operations, the US SCR-538 production radio flanked by another French production radio inside the counterweight, the installation of another antenna on the roof, a ventilator positioned on the counterweight, and the fixing of an M79 support for Browning M2HB .5” calibre heavy machine gun on vehicles without this support.

A modified T23 turret being mounted on the M-51 hull in a Israeli workshop Source: bukvoed.livejournal.com

Hull

The turrets were then mounted on the chassis of M4A1 Shermans, although in rare cases M4A3 Shermans were used. These same tanks had originally been received from France throughout the late 1940s through to the mid 1950s.

The HVSS, with its 21 inch (53.3 cm) wide tracks, was mounted on all vehicles, while additional equipment was fixed to the sides of the hulls in two main configurations. The first one was the same used on the M-50, with six jerry can racks, two spare road wheels on the left, one spade on the right, and one big box and three track links for each side. The second configuration is different from the M-50, featuring six track links on the turret sides in front of the smoke launchers, and the installation of another smaller box on each side.

In addition, on the engine deck were mounted the travel locks that were of two types: one made from tubular steel, the other of welded bars. On the rear plate were mounted another jerry can support and a telephone connected to the crew’s intercom system to keep communicated with the infantry cooperating with the vehicle.

A rare M-51 on M4A3 hull damaged during the Six Days War with soldiers at rest. Source: bukvoed.livejournal.com

Armor

The hull armor of the M-51 was left unchanged. The thickness of the front plate was 63 mm and the slope was 47° to accommodate bigger hatches.

The turret, with a frontal armor thickness of 76 mm, and the gun mantlet with 89 mm of thickness were left unchanged. On the back of the turret, the addition of a heavy cast iron counterweight significantly increased the thickness, although this was probably not made of ballistic steel.

Engine and Suspension

Before 1959, the Israeli Army had decided to re-engine all its Shermans with the Continental radial engine. The first M-51s, produced from 1961 to early 1962, were (as on the M-50 model, called the Mk.1 version) powered by the 420 hp Continental R-975 C4 American engine. In 1959, the IDF tested a new engine produced by the Cummins Engine Company on an M4A3. It was accepted and the first engine batch arrived in Israel in 1960.

The second version, the Mk. 2, was produced up to 1965, powered by the new 460 hp Cummins VT-8-460 Turbodiesel engine. It is not clear when the firsts vehicles were re-engined but, by 1965, all the M-51s were powered by the Cummins engine.

The new 40-tonne M-51 had a maximum speed of 40 km/h and a range of about 400 km thanks to the new suspension and the new diesel engine.

M-51 in the Sinai desert during the Yom Kippur War undergoing engine maintenance under unconventional conditions. Source: bukvoed.livejournal.com

Main Armament

Beginning sometime in the 1950s, France began development of a new, more powerful 105 mm cannon. This cannon, D.1507, and all subsequent derivatives, were L/56 in length (56 times the caliber of 105 mm) and featured muzzle brakes. The final evolution of this cannon would be the D.1512, more commonly known as the 105 mm Modèle F1, which was standardized as the main armament of the AMX-30 main battle tank. The hydraulic aiming system was the SAMM CH 23-1, very similar to the AMX-13 ones.

The sight of the M-51’s main gun aiming at two destroyed T-54 or T-55 tanks, probably in the Golan Heights. Source: google.wixsite.com

During the testing and evaluation of this cannon, a prototype version was fitted to the T23 turret of a 76 mm M1-armed Sherman, resulting in what is believed to be the first M-51 prototype. Featuring a T-shaped muzzle brake reminiscent of the AMX 13’s 75 mm CN-75-50, this did not prove successful. In order to achieve a smaller, albeit still acceptable muzzle velocity and reduce recoil impulse the cannon was shortened to L/51 in length, bringing the muzzle velocity down to just over 900 m/s. A new, more efficient muzzle brake was also fitted, this time resembling that of the 90 mm DEFA D921 from the Panhard AML-90. This new cannon was designated D.1508, and would be trialed in a second prototype that did prove successful.

Manufactured in France and then shipped to Israel for mounting, many of these cannons would have their breeches marked CN_105.L_51_IS, followed by a serial number, and, lastly, the arsenal and year of manufacture. So, in the following example, CN_105.L_51_IS No 125 ABS 1964, is the cannon number 125 and was made at the Bourges Arsenal in 1964.

One of the benefits of this cannon sharing an evolutionary path with that of the AMX-30’s 105 mm was the ability to use the same ammunition. Predominantly firing High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and High Explosive (HE) ammunition, these cannons would be withdrawn from Israeli service before modern Armor Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) projectiles were developed for the AMX-30, and it is unlikely the tank would be able to handle such projectiles given the modifications originally needed for the cannon to work in the first place.

D-1508 imprinted on the cannon of an M-51. Source: Author

Secondary Armament

The secondary armament consisted of two 7.62 mm Browning M1919 machine guns, one coaxial and the other in the hull, plus a 12.7 mm Browning M2HB in an anti-aircraft position on the turret roof.

In the second version, between the Six Days War and the Yom Kippur War, the machine gun in the hull was removed and sometimes mounted in an anti-aircraft mount and used by the loader.

In the third version of the M-51 modified in 1975, the 12.7 mm machine gun was mounted above the cannon, on the same support where the searchlight was previously fixed, while the 7.62 mm Browning was mounted in an anti-aircraft mount near the commander’s cupola. This was sometimes flanked by another Browning M1919 used by the loader, for a total of 4 machine guns transported, considerably increasing the firepower of the tanks. With the fourth version, a 60 mm mortar was fixed on the turret roof like on the Sho’t and Magach tank, in the space between the commander’s cupola and the loader’s hatch.

The mortar was mounted after the experiences in the Yom Kippur War when in the Sinai Desert Israeli vehicles were often isolated from the infantry becoming an easy target for enemy anti-tank teams.

The mortar allowed crews to hit these teams even if they were hiding behind a sand dune or other obstacle, as well as providing support fire for the infantry operating with the vehicle by firing smoke, fragmentation, and illuminating ammunition.

An M-51 on the day they were taken out of service in the Israeli Army. The man seated on the mantlet is the commander of the 77th Armored Battalion Brigadier General Avigdor Kahalani. The man in the commander’s cupola is Brigadier General Yosi Ben-Hanan, Commander of the Armored Corps. Notice the Browning M1919 near the commander’s cupola, the M2HB on the cannon barrel, and the 60 mm mortar. Source: bukvoed.livejournal.com

Ammunition

For the main armament, there were 47 rounds (some sources claim 55). Forty were in two armored racks in the hull and the other seven were positioned in the turret basket.

During the first years, the ammunition was produced in France and only subsequently entered license production in Israel.

Name Type Projectile weight (kg) Total weight (kg) Muzzle Velocity (m/s) Penetration at 1,000 m angled 30°* (mm)
Obus Explosif 105 F1 High-Explosive 11 18,5 700 //
OCC 105 F1 High-Explosive Anti-Tank 17,3 24,8 950 300 mm at 60°
OFUM PH-105 F1 Smoke // // // //
One of the two 20-round racks in the M-51’s hull floor. Source: toadmanstankpictures.com

The secondary armament’s ammunition was composed of 4,750 rounds for the 7.62 mm machine guns and 600 rounds for the 12.7 mm gun. This ammunition was placed in the hull and in the turret basket.

In addition to the personal weapons of the crews, the M-51s were modified to carry five IMI UZI with 900 9 mm Parabellum rounds for close-quarters defense. Three were in the turret and the remaining two were positioned above the transmission instead of the US-made M3 ‘Grease Gun’ used previously by IDF tank crew for example, on the first M-50s. Twelve hand grenades of various models were also carried. Two incendiary and four smoke grenades were usually transported in a box on the left wall of the turret, while the other six fragmentation grenades were transported in another box under the gunner’s seat.

After removing the machine gun in the hull and its machine gunner in the second version, the 7.62 mm ammunition stowage was left unchanged, but an IMI UZI was removed. For the fourth version, on the right side of the turret was mounted a small box for the 60 mm mortar grenades.

The small box contained the 60 mm mortar rounds. Source: pinterest.com

Crew

The crew of the M-51 consisted of 5 men, as in a standard M4 Sherman. These were the driver and machine gunner in the hull, to the left and right of the transmission respectively, the gunner on the right of the turret, in front of the tank commander, and the loader operated on the left side.

Many photos show M-50 and M-51s without the 7.62 mm machine gun in the hull. As mentioned, from the second version onward, after the Six Day War, the IDF decided to remove this position in order to better allocate the limited numbers of soldiers at its disposal. The machine gunners removed from the M-50 and M-51 were reassigned to other tanks to increase the number of crews available to the IDF. As already mentioned, in some cases, the Browning M1919 machine gun was mounted on the turret and used by the tank commander or the loader.

It should be noted that IDF’s MRE (Meal Ready-to-Eat) rations (Manot Krav or ‘Battle Food’) were developed for tank crews and therefore divided into groups of 5 individual rations. Only after the Yom Kippur War were they reduced to 4 individual rations because, apart from the vehicles on Sherman hulls, all the other Israeli tanks had 4 men crew.

An example of the Manot Krav during the Yom Kippur War. Source: reddit.com

IDF Modernization

There were four different versions of the M-51, but this upgrade did not concern only the armament, but also the engine exhaust system and vision system.

The first version known as M-51 Degem Aleph (Eng: M-51 Model A), the standard one, was in service from 1962 to 1970. It had a new engine deck, with the upper part having protection for the air filters and the lower one with a normal armor plate and used only one M4A3-style exhaust pipe.

First version engine deck with a tubular gun lock and M4A3 exhaust pipe on the left side. Source: www.recomonkey.com

The second version, the M-51 Degem Bet (Eng: M-51 Model B), from 1970 to 1975, modified the cooling system on the engine deck with two air intakes on the normal armored plate. The exhaust system was left unchanged.

The third version, M-51 Degem Gimel (Eng: M-51 Model C) was developed after the Yom Kippur War, modified in 1975 and in service until 1978-1981. Again, it concerned the exhaust system that was moved to the lower engine deck roof while the M4A3-style exhaust pipe was removed.

An absence of the M4A3-style exhaust pipe on the third version vehicles. Source: toadmanstankpictures.com

On the fourth and last version, M-51 Degem Daleth (Eng: M-51 Model D) the upper part of the engine deck was modified for better cooling, while the exhaust system remained unchanged on the lower engine deck.

The fourth version, with the two air intakes added from the second version, the exhaust system and the large box. This vehicle had the iron bar travel gun lock. Source: primeportal.net

The turret was then modified, adding a 60 mm mortar and an external box for its rounds. A large box was added to store more equipment, placed on the rear plate, between the left jerry can rack and the infantry telephone. A Browning M2HB was mounted on a support on the cannon barrel and a Browning M1919 on a support near the commander’s cupola. The small spot lamp of US production was moved from the front to the left of the loader’s hatch. Infrared periscopes for the commander and the driver and an IR intensifier were added on the left hull front, near the head lamp.

The 60 mm mortar support and its travel lock on the turret roof and the IR intensifier on the hull. Source: toadmanstankpictures.com

Another noteworthy modification is the one that appeared on an unspecified number of M-51s of the first version, produced between 1961 and 1965. Due to the immediate need of the IDF for a powerful cannon, these entered service in 1962 still equipped with the unmodified M4A1 Sherman engine deck and Continental R-975 C4 Radial engine.

It is not known how many of these early versions were produced, nor for how long they remained in service with the IDF in this configuration before being upgraded to use the Cummins VT-8-460 and thus having their engine decks modified accordingly.

Another unknown is if the exhaust system remained the one from the M4A1 or if it was replaced by the M4A3-style single exhaust pipe on the left side.

A column of Israeli M-51s circa 1962. The original unmodified M4A1 engine decks denoting the Continental engines are clearly visible. Also note the absence of the two spare wheels on the side. Source: Israeli Sherman

Operational use

In the summer of 1964, 90 M-51s were converted. During the Six Days War, in 1967, the IDF had 177 M-51s in service out of a total of 515 vehicles on a Sherman hull.

Magach marching through the enemy lines during the Six Days War. Source: pinterest.com

The M-51 was presented for the first time in 1962 during a parade in Tel Aviv. Thanks to its cannon, it was considered very effective when fighting against tanks such as the T-34-85, T-54 or T-55. However, in the following years, the British 105 mm L.52 Royal Ordnance L7 guns became available, with which the M48 Patton, the renowned Magach (Eng. battering-ram) and the Centurion, renamed Sho’t (Eng. whip), were armed. The M-51s, together with the M-50s, were then used in the Armored Brigades to support the actions of the more modern tanks or for infantry support.

A Sho’t during the Six Days War. Source: pinterest.com

The Six Day War 1967

The largest use of the M-51 was in the Six-Days War fought between 5th and 10th June 1967. The Six Day War was a conflict between Israel and its neighbors, the United Arab Republic (the short-lived political confederation of Egypt and Syria), Jordan, and Iraq. In the months prior to June 1967, tensions between Israel and Egypt became dangerously heightened. Israel reiterated its post-1956 Suez Crisis position that the closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping would be a casus belli. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced in May that the Straits would be closed to Israeli vessels, and then mobilized Egyptian forces along the border with Israel, ejecting the United Nations Emergency Force. On 5 June, Israel launched a series of airstrikes against Egyptian airfields destroying the majority of the Egyptian air force, initially claiming that it had been attacked by Egypt, but later stating that the airstrikes were preemptive.

The Israeli armored forces relied on a few Megach and Sho’t tanks and large units of M48A2C2, M48A3 Patton, and Centurion Mk 5. The brigades armed with Shermans had mostly support or reserve duties, although there was no lack of operations carried out by units equipped with upgraded Shermans.

About a hundred M-51s were deployed in the war, half in the Sinai Desert offensive against the Egyptians and the other half in the Golan Heights offensive against the Jordanians, while the rest remained in reserve.

Sinai Offensive

During the Sinai offensive, launched at 0800 hours on June 5th, 1967, the M-50s and M-51s played a marginal role in the first but crucial actions against Egyptian tanks in northern Sinai. Israeli Pattons and Centurions advanced hundreds of kilometers into the Sinai Desert, disorganizing Egyptian troops and creating major logistical problems for the Israeli Army.

One of the most important actions was carried out by more than 60 Shermans of the 14th Armored Brigade which, together with about 60 other Mk. 5 Centurions of the 63rd Armored Battalion and the Mechanised Reconnaissance Division Battalion that had an unknown but limited number of AMX-13s. These 150 tanks attacked the Abu-Ageila Stronghold which controlled the road to Ismailia.

First phase of the Sinai Sector. The blue arrows indicate the Israeli attack and advance on the first day of the war. Egyptian positions are marked in red. Source: wikipedia.com

The Egyptian defenses consisted of three lines of trenches 5 km long and almost one km apart. They were defended by 8,000 soldiers and many ‘hull down’ tank positions that were not used. Soviet 130 mm cannons providing support for the fortification were stationed at Um Katef, a nearby hill, and the Egyptian reserves at the rear, which were ready for action, including an armored regiment of 66 T-34-85s and a battalion with 22 SD-100s or SU-100Ms. These were two versions of the SU-100 Soviet destroyer tank. The first was produced under license in Czechoslovakia after World War II, and the second was a version modified by the Egyptians to more efficiently adapt the SD-100 and SU-100 to desert operations.

The Israeli attack, planned long before because the defenses in the region were well known to the Israeli General Staff, was launched on the night between the 5th and 6th June in order to use the cover of darkness. The No. 124 Paratrooper Squadron was taken to the vicinity of Um Katef Hill by helicopters and attacked and destroyed the 130 mm cannons. The Shermans of the 14th Armored Brigade advanced hidden and covered by artillery barrage fire and darkness they struck the Egyptian trenches.

Throughout the night, the infantry, supported by M3 half-tracks, cleared the trenches while the Shermans, after breaking through the trenches, supported the Centurions which had circumvented the Egyptian positions by intercepting the reserves advancing for a counterattack.

An M-51 advance in the Sinai Desert. Source: reddit.com

During the battle between the tanks, fought between 4000 and 7000 hours, the Egyptians lost more than 60 tanks, while the Israelis lost only 19 tanks (8 during the battle, while the other 11 Centurions were damaged in the minefields), resulting in the deaths of 7 tank crewmen and 42 soldiers during the attack. The Egyptians had a claimed total of 2,000 losses.

When the Egyptian Army High Command learned of the defeat of Abu Ageila, Egyptian Field Marshal Mohamed Amer ordered his soldiers to retreat to Gidi and Mitla, two strongholds just 30 km from the Suez Canal.

The Egyptian units that received the order withdrew in a disorganized manner to Suez, often abandoning weapons, artillery or tanks in their defensive positions. On the afternoon of 6th June, Algeria sent military aid to Egypt, including MIG fighters and tanks, so the general retreat order was canceled. This created even more confusion among the troops which, except in rare cases, were demoralized and continued their withdrawal to Suez.

The second phase of the Sinai Sector. The blue arrows indicate the Israeli advance on June 7th, whilst the blue arrows with white lines show the advances on June 8th. The red circles were the positions of disorganized Egyptian resistance. Source: wikipedia.com

Sensing the situation, the Israeli High Command ordered its units to block enemy access to the Suez Canal by trapping most of the Egyptian Army with its equipment in the Sinai. This strategy would allow the capture of hundreds of tanks, artillery pieces, and thousands of weapons, which would economically burden the Egyptian Army.

Due to the rapid advancement of the first three days, many Israeli tanks were left with little fuel and ammunition, which is why most Israeli armored units were forced to wait for supplies as they could not move immediately to the canal.

To give an idea of the problem of the lack of fuel, the IDF of Sinai had a total of 700 tanks. However, the road to Ismailia was blocked by only 12 Centurions of the 31st Armoured Division. The unit had at least another 35 Centurions with empty fuel tanks. Of these twelve tanks, some ran out of fuel during the march and the other crews were forced to tow them to the predetermined place to block the road.

Another example is Lieutenant Colonel Zeev Eitan, commander of the 19th Light Tank Battalion, equipped with AMX-13-75 light tanks. Since his vehicles were the only ones in the area with full tanks and ammunition supply, he was given the task of stopping an enemy attack with his light reconnaissance tanks. Eitan left with 15 AMX-13s and positioned himself on the dunes near Bir Girgafa, waiting for the enemy.

The Egyptians counterattacked with 50 or 60 T-54 and T-55 tanks, forcing the AMX-13s to retreat after suffering many losses (mainly because of the explosion of an M3 half-track carrying ammunition and fuel for the AMX-13 Battalion) without destroying a single Egyptian tank.

The 19th Light Tank Battalion, however, slowed down the Egyptians long enough to allow some M-50s and M-51s of the 14th Armoured Brigade to refuel and intervene in the area. These, by hitting the Egyptian tanks on their sides, managed to destroy many of them, forcing the others to retreat to Ismailia. The Egyptian counterattack then ran into the 12 Centurions of the 31st Armored Division, which totally destroyed them.

On the late afternoon of June 6th, the Israeli 200th Armored Brigade attacked the Egyptian positions in the center of the Sinai Peninsula. Their task was to conquer the Jebel Libni airbase, previously rendered unusable by Israeli Air Force (IAF) bombardments. This base was defended by the Egyptian 141st Armored Brigade and the elite ‘Palace Guards’ of the Egyptian Army, the latter armed with modern T-55s. The Egyptians began firing as soon as they sighted the Israeli tanks, but their crews were not trained in long-range shooting and so the result was only to alarm the Israeli crews. These, being better trained, opened fire and started hitting the Egyptian tanks.

However, the distance at which the two forces faced each other was large and the Israeli shells bounced off the well-inclined armor of the T-55s, forcing the Israelis to get closer to be able to penetrate the armor.

The 200th Armored Brigade, supported by the 7th Armored Brigade and having the advantage of darkness, began the approach and the circumvention of the Egyptian stronghold. During the night the battle continued furiously. In the end, 30 Egyptian tanks remained on fire in their positions while the survivors fled west.

M-51 advance in a street of the Sinai Desert, in the background lies a destroyed T-54. Source: pinterest.com

In Sinai, before the war, the Egyptian Army had about 950 tanks of various models ranging from the modern T-55 to the obsolete T-34. During the fighting, they lost over 700 tanks, 100 of which were captured intact by the Israelis, as well as an unknown number that were repaired and put into service in the IDF in the following months as Tirans.

The Israelis lost 122 tanks, about a third of which were recovered and repaired after the war.

The Jordan Offensive

The 10th Harel Mechanized Brigade, led by Colonel Uri Ben Ari, attacked the hills north of Jerusalem on the afternoon of June 5th, 1967. Composed of five tank companies (instead of the three standard ones), the 10th Brigade had 80 tanks, of which 48 Shermans (most M-50s), 16 Panhard AMLs, and 16 Centurions Mk. 5s armed with the old 20 pdr cannons.

The narrow mountain roads and mines scattered everywhere slowed down the advance of the motorized brigade. The sappers and tanks of the unit were not equipped with mine detectors because they were all supplied to the units fighting in the Sinai. To detect the mines, the Israeli soldiers had to probe the ground for hours with bayonets and individual weapons.

An M-51 in the Jerusalem suburbs. Source: pinterest.com

In a few hours, the Commander’s M3 half-track and 7 Shermans were disabled by mines. None of the vehicles were fully lost because, after the offensive, they were recovered and repaired.

Another huge obstacle was advancing in the dark. During the night, all 16 Centurions got stuck in the rocks or damaged their tracks by hitting the rocks of the mountain roads and could not be repaired or helped because of the Jordanian artillery fire.

The first noteworthy action that night was an assault by Israeli mechanized infantry, that destroyed the Jordanian artillery, allowing repairs to begin in daylight the following morning.

Only six Shermans (sources mention the tanks as ‘Shermans’ only, it is not clear whether M-51s participated as well), some M3 half-tracks and some Panhard AML armored vehicles arrived at their destination the following morning, but were immediately greeted by Jordanian fire. Two Jordanian armored companies had arrived during the night, equipped with M48A1 Pattons. A Sherman was immediately knocked out by 90 mm cannon fire.

The remaining Shermans circumvented the Jordanian Pattons by hitting them in the outer fuel tanks or flanks, knocking out six in minutes. The Jordanian tanks that survived the battle retreated to Jericho, abandoning eleven more M48s along the way due to mechanical failure.

Further north, in the border town of Janin, the Jordanians had prepared a defense with 44 M47 Patton tanks and, further inland, was the 40th Armored Brigade placed in reserve, with M47 and M48 Patton tanks.

The Ugda Brigade, equipped with 48 M-50 and M-51s, was given the primary task of destroying the Jordanian artillery in the sector, which was hitting a nearby military airport from which air raids against Jordan had been carried out and destroyed forces in the town of Janin.

The Israeli unit advanced rapidly during the day, putting the crews of the Jordanian 155 mm howitzer Long Tom guns on the run. The first problems were encountered in the evening. Most of the vehicles ended up on narrow mountain roads and were forced to wait for the light of day to continue the advance.

Jordanian offensive, 5-7 June 1967. The initial advances on June 5th-6th are marked by the blue arrows, while advances on June 7th are represented by the blue arrow with white dots. Syrian and Jordanian units are indicated in red. Source: wikipedia.com

Six or seven M-50 and M-51s climbed Burquim Hill. On the night of June 5th and 6th, while advancing among the olive groves, the platoon commander, Lieutenant Motke saw something move ahead in the darkness of the night. Turning on the spot lamp mounted above his Sherman’s cannon, his platoon were amazed to find themselves face-to-face with an entire Jordanian armored company armed with M47 Pattons, less than 50 meters away. The Israeli tanks opened fire on the Jordanian forces, which were also stunned, destroying more than a dozen tanks to the loss of just one M-50 and no Israeli tank crew losses.

The fighting in the area was very furious for the rest of the campaign. The Jordanians stubbornly resisted the Israeli advance by launching several ill-organized counterattacks which were all repulsed by the IDF tanks. Although the 90 mm cannons of the M47 and M48 Patton were very effective against the armor of the Shermans at any distance, their crews were not well trained, especially in long-distance shooting.

The Israelis, in addition to superior training, could count on almost unlimited air support, which proved to be very effective at both day and night.

Between 9th and 10th June, the commander of the 40th Jordanian Armored Brigade, Rakan Anad, staged a counterattack with the aim of targeting Israeli refueling vehicles that carried fuel and ammunition to the tanks on the front lines.

Initially, the attack launched in two directions in order to confuse the Israelis. This was quite successful, succeeding in destroying some M3 half-tracks and trucks that were going to the front line to supply the Israeli tanks.

The Israelis, however, managed to intercept and stop Anad’s counterattack, starting a clash between the Israeli Shermans and Jordanian Pattons that lasted several hours.

A small force, made up of AMX-13s, twelve Centurion Mk. 5s, and some M-51s of the 37th Israeli Armored Brigade went up a very narrow road (considered unusable by the Jordanians) and attacked the rear of the enemy by surprise. In addition to some Pattons, this force also hit several vehicles that brought supplies to the Jordanian tanks. Commander Anad, along with his forces, was forced to retire due to the lack of ammunition and fuel without being able to attempt further attacks, abandoning another 35 M48 Pattons and an unknown number of M47 Pattons on the battlefield.

The Golan Heights Offensive

Due to political problems, ground attacks against Syria were not immediately authorized by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. However, the 8th Armored Brigade commanded by General Albert Mendler and included 33 Shermans, which should have been deployed in Sinai, was sent to the border ready for battle.

In the following days, a company of Shermans (total 16 tanks) of the 37th Armored Brigade and another of the 45th Armored Brigade arrived in the area. Other Shermans were split into the 1st Golani Infantry Brigade, 2nd Infantry Brigade and the 3rd Infantry Brigade, ready for battle.

An M-51 probably somewhere in Northern Israel. Source: pinterest.com

After pressure from the villagers who lived in the area, tired of the periodic Syrian bombing, after a whole night of reflections, at 6000s hour on Friday, June 9th, 1967, the commander of the Israeli forces at the border with Syria, Brigadier General David ‘Dado’ Elazar, received a telephone call from Dayan authorizing the attack on the Golan Heights.

From 6000 to 1100 hours, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) continually bombed Syrian positions as army sappers cleared the streets. Their operations were facilitated because, in the weeks before, heavy rains had dug up the Syrian mines.

The advance of Israeli armored vehicles, mainly M-50s, M-51s, and M3 half-tracks, began at 1130 hours. Hundreds of armored vehicles made their way behind a civilian bulldozer, under the incessant fire of the automatic weapons of the Syrian infantry.

Strangely, the artillery, which had periodically struck Israeli villages near the border for years, did not fire a single shot to hinder the Israeli advance, preferring to continue bombing the Kibbutzim (Hebrew settlements).

At the top of the road, at a crossroads, the forces of Colonel Arye Biro, commander of the column, split. Divided into two columns, they attacked the stronghold of Qala’, a hill with 360° defenses with bunker and anti-tank guns of Second World War Soviet origin.

Six kilometers north, Za’oura stronghold, another defensive hill, supported Qala’ with its artillery fire, blocking Israeli vehicles and not allowing Biro’s officers to see the battlefield. The situation confused several officers who, without clear information and unfamiliar with the terrain, advanced towards Za’oura convinced they were attacking Qala’.

The battle lasted over 3 hours and the information available is very confusing, as many Israeli officers died or were injured during the battle and were evacuated by medical personnel.

Lieutenant Horowitz, the officer who commanded the assault on Qala’, continued to command while injured and with his M-50’s radio system destroyed by a Syrian shell.

During the approach, he lost most of the Shermans under his command. Only about twenty of them remained effective when he arrived at the base of the hill.

The ascent to the top was hindered by ‘dragon’s teeth’ (concrete anti-tank obstacles) and heavy anti-tank artillery fire which, at that distance, was very precise.

Of the approximately twenty Shermans, most were hit by anti-tank guns and knocked out, although most were recovered and repaired after the war.

At 4000 hours, Za’oura stronghold was occupied, while Qala’ was occupied only at 6000 hours, when it began to get dark. Only three Shermans and a few M3 half-tracks arrived at the top of the hill, including that of Horowitz. These easily overcame the barbed wire and the trenches, forcing Syrian soldiers to flee after throwing hand grenades from the turrets of their tanks into the trenches.

Golan Height sector June 9th-10th 1967. The blue arrows represent the initial Israeli advance into the Golan Heights on June 9th, followed by the blue arrows with white lines showing the Israeli advances into Syria on June 10th. Jordanian and Syrian units are marked in red. Source: wikipedia.com

An hour after Arye Biro’s attack, the 1st Israeli Golani Infantry Brigade climbed the same road and attacked the Tel Azzaziat and Tel Fakhr emplacements that had hitherto hit the Israeli villages.

Tel Azzaziat was an isolated mound 140 m above the border. There, four Syrian Panzerkampfwagen IV tanks in a fixed position delivered an ongoing fusillade into the Israeli plain below.

The Tank Company of the 8th Armored Brigade, equipped with M-50s and M-51s, and the Mechanized Infantry Company of the 51st Battalion, equipped with M3 half-tracks, attacked this position. They quickly managed to silence the cannons of the Syrian Panzers. In doing so, and 22 years after the end of the Second World War, Shermans and Panzer IVs were fighting each other once again, albeit in a very different context.

The conquest of Tel Fakhr was far harder. Five kilometers from the border, two companies attacked it with 9 M-50s and 19 M3 half-tracks. Due to the intense artillery barrage being endured, they made a mistake on the road and instead of circumventing it, they ended up with all the vehicles in the center of the fortifications, under heavy anti-tank fire. In the middle of the minefields and under fire, all of their vehicles were soon destroyed, forcing the Israelis to attack the fortification with infantry alone.

During the night, Israeli reinforcements arrived, consisting of the rest of the 37th Armored Brigade and the 45th Armored Brigade armed with Sherman tanks and a few Centurion Mk. 5s.

The following morning, the 3rd Infantry Brigade and the 37th Armored Brigade met with the 55th Paratrooper Brigades near the town of Butmiya, over 100 km from the Israeli border.

At the end of the battle for the Golan Heights, the Israelis occupied all their objectives but lost a total of 160 tanks and 127 soldiers. Although many of the tanks were recovered after the war and repaired, returning to service a few months later, these losses are much higher than the 122 tanks lost in the Sinai Offensive and 112 lost in the Jordan Offensive.

On the Golan Heights, the M-51s, with their powerful 105 mm cannons, had no difficulty handling the Syrian T-34-85s and the last Panzer IVs. In the short-medium range battles, they managed to keep up with the more modern Jordanian M47s and M48 Pattons of US production and the Syrian and Egyptian T-54 and T-55.

By June 10th, Israel had completed its final offensive in the Golan Heights, and a ceasefire was signed the day after. Israel had seized the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank of the Jordan River (including East Jerusalem), and the Golan Heights, adding strategic depth and protection from its adversaries.

M-51 on M4A1 hull with the crew armed with IMI UZI at the Syrian border. Source: bukvoed.livejournal.com

The Yom Kippur War (1973)

On October 6th, 1973, at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, the Israelis were caught unprepared from the Syrian and Egyptian attack. They deployed all the reserves available to them, including about 341 M-50 Mk. 2 and M-51 tanks.

The war began when the Arab coalition of Egypt and Syria launched a joint surprise attack on Israeli positions, on Yom Kippur, a widely observed day of rest, fasting, and prayer in Judaism. Egyptian and Syrian forces crossed ceasefire lines to enter the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights, respectively. Egypt’s initial war objective was to use its military to seize a foothold on the east bank of the Suez Canal and use this to negotiate the return of the rest of Sinai, lost during the previous Six Day War. Both the United States and the Soviet Union initiated massive resupply efforts to their respective allies during the war, and these efforts led to a near-confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers.

During the first hours of the war, the Syrians had occupied a part of the Golan Heights. Therefore, the Israeli high command had to mobilize all the reserves and, in just 15 hours, all the vehicles and men available were sent to the front in a desperate race against time to stop the invaders.

Many crews were assigned to armored vehicles on which they had not been trained. Some M-51 crews had to mount the secondary armament during the march or refuel at civilian fuel pumps, as they did not receive enough fuel supply in the military bases. Other Shermans went into battle without having aligned their cannon optics.

The Sinai Sector

In the Sinai Desert, the Egyptians, after disembarking on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal, attacked the Israeli Bar-Lev Defensive Line. About 500 or 1,000 meters behind the defensive line were the positions of the Israeli tanks, which, due to the situation, numbered only about 290 along the whole front, of which only a few dozen were M-50s and M-51s.

The Israeli tanks made a valuable contribution to the first hours of the war, but the Egyptians consolidated their positions and deployed 9M14 Malyutka missiles, known under the NATO name of AT-3 Sagger, which caused heavy Israeli tank losses.

The AT-3 Sagger. Source: military-today.com

Information about the use of the Shermans in the Sinai Campaign is scarce. About 220 M-50s and M-51s were employed in the battles against the Egyptians, with unsatisfactory results. The M-51s had a marginal role. Its front armor was too light and, in the early days of battle, it became too easy a target for the Egyptian anti-tank missiles.

An Israeli tank position behind the Bar-Lev Line, the most northerly in the Sinai peninsula, called ‘Budapest’, held up for the duration of the Egyptian assault. On the afternoon of October 6th, an Egyptian unit consisting of 16 tanks, some Jeeps armed with recoilless rifles and 16 APCs attacked ‘Budapest’ (which, according to sources, also had some M-51s). The Israelis opened long-range fire, putting eight APCs and seven tanks out of action. After being surrounded by the Egyptian Commandos for four days, the Israelis continued to fight until, short of ammunition, on October 10th, an Israeli supply column commanded by General Magen managed to reach it.

Fighting on the Sinai Peninsula between October 15th-17th 1973. In red, the maximum advance of Egyptian forces into the Sinai. The blue arrows are the direction of the different Israeli counterattacks towards the Suez Canal. Source: pinterest.com

The Israeli Shermans then took part in the great Israeli counter-offensive that began on October 14th, 1973, shooting at long range against the Egyptian anti-tank missile positions. Here, the Shermans managed to provide support for the more powerful Sho’t and Magach tanks that were able to attack the Egyptian Armored Brigades, succeeding in destroying or knocking out 250 tanks in just one day for only 12 Israeli tank losses.

In the Yom Kippur War, Israel was again victorious, but their initial losses in the Sinai demonstrated that the outstanding victory in the Six Day War had created a sense of overconfident security. In the end, the effectiveness of the Israeli counterattack turned the tables in the war, putting Damascus and Cairo in danger. After the war, now fearing Egypt’s military, Israel sought a peaceful resolution of the conflict with its neighbors, paving the way to the historic Camp David Accords of 1978.

M-51s in the Sinai Desert during the Yom Kippur War, 1973. Source: flickr.com

The Golan Heights Sector

At the outbreak of the war, the Israelis could count on two Armored Brigades with a total of 177 S’hot Kal tanks with 105 mm L7 cannons in front of the Golan Heights. These faced off against three Syrian armored divisions with a total of over 900 Soviet production tanks, mostly T-54s and T-55s, with a few old T-34-85s, SU-100s, and an unknown but limited number of modern T-62s.

On October 6th, a few hours after the start of the war, the 71st Battalion, made up of students and instructors from the IDF Armored School, a force of about 20 tanks, including some M-50s and M-51s, was sent to the front line.

On October 7th, the Syrians attacked the positions held by the 77th OZ and the 71st Battalion, trying to circumvent Israeli defenses. After several hours of battle, in the afternoon, the Syrians were forced to desist from their intentions, withdrawing and leaving over 20 destroyed tanks on the battlefield.

Around 2200 hours, the Syrian 7th Infantry Division and the 3rd Armored Division, which had night vision equipment, and a part of the 81st Armored Brigade, equipped with the few powerful and modern T-62s armed with 115 mm smoothbore cannons, attacked again.

Fight between Israeli and Syrian forces October 6th-10th1973. The red arrows represent the Syrian attack into the Israeli controlled area of the Golan Heights crossing the ‘Purple Line’ on October 6th. The Israeli counterattack is shown with blue arrows and reached the ‘Purple Line’ on October 10th. Source: pinterest.com

The Israelis, deploying a total of 40 tanks in fortified ‘hull down’ positions without night vision devices, were able to withstand a wave consisting of 500 Syrian Army tanks. During the second attack, at 4000 hours, the Syrian commander, General Omar Abrash, was killed when his T-62 tank from where he commanded his troops was hit by an Israeli shell.

The loss of the general slowed the offensive in that sector, which only resumed on October 9th. Syrian tanks attacked the now exhausted Israeli soldiers of the 71st and 77th Battalions of the 7th Armored Brigade. After several hours of fighting, the Israeli commander, Ben Gal, was left with only 7 tanks that had managed to shoot hundreds of rounds.

Lieutenant Colonel Yossi Ben Hannan, who was in Greece at the outbreak of the war, arrived in Israel and rushed back to the Golan Heights where, in a workshop in the rear of the battlefield, he found 13 tanks that had been damaged during the fighting in the previous days (including at least a couple of Shermans). He quickly assembled as many crews as he could (volunteers, often injured, and even some soldiers who ran away from hospitals to fight), took command of this hastily improvised vehicle company, and moved to the front line to support the 7th Armored Brigade.

When they reached the 7 surviving tanks, they counterattacked, hitting the left flank of the Syrian Army, destroying another 30 Syrian tanks.

A column of M-51 advanced to the Golan Height in 1973. Source: israeli-weapons.com

The Syrian commander, believing that the 20 tanks of Ben Hannan were the first tanks of the Israeli reserve, gave the order to withdraw from the battlefield.

After 50 hours of battle and almost 80 hours without sleep, the survivors of the 71st and 77th Battalions, which claimed to have destroyed 260 tanks and around 500 other vehicles, finally managed to rest. The real Israeli reserves were already on their way to the front and it did not take them long to get there.

During the night between 6th and 7th October, many Israeli tanks arrived on the Heights. They were mostly without orders due to the death of many officers. They began to fight according to the initiatives taken by the tank commanders.

The last actions of the Shermans were to take shots from short and medium distances against the Syrian armored vehicles that attempted a last desperate counterattack.

Post-Yom Kippur

After the war, the surviving M-51s were gradually removed from service and put in reserve. Most were sold to Chile. A scant handful were sent to Lebanon to support the Christian militias. A small number were modified or used for testing while the rest remained in the IDF reserve until the early 1990s when they were completely withdrawn from service and scrapped.

Chilean M-51

In 1979, Chile, which was in good relations with Israel, bought 118 second-hand M-51s to improve its Armored Corps.

M-51s lined up at Peldehue after their arrival in Chile, 1981. Source: Familia Acorazada del Ejército de Chile

Arriving by ship a year later, these were all of the fourth version, armed with the Browning M2HB 12.7 mm over the main gun, Browning M1919 for the commander, and the 60 mm mortars. The Chileans called them the M-51 ‘Burritos’ – ‘little donkeys’ in Spanish They removed the machine guns and the mortars. The Brownings over the cannon barrel were re-installed in the classic anti-aircraft position on the M79 mount near the commander’s cupola.

Another modification was the installation, in the free space previously occupied by the hull machine gunner, of a fridge for the drinking water for the crew. The Chilean M-51s were intended to be used in the Atacama, the driest place on Earth.

M-51s of the Chilean Army in the Atacama Desert during training. Source: Familia Acorazada del Ejército de Chile

In 1983, these M-51s were accompanied by 65 M-50s rearmed with the 60 mm Hyper-Velocity Medium Support (HVMS 60) cannon.

Between late 1994 and February 1998, 100 Chilean M-51s were upgraded, installing a new transmission, the new Detroit 8V-71T Turbodiesel 360 hp engine, and an improved exhaust system mounted on the left engine deck side. The suspension and optical systems were refurbished, removing the old US-built optics.

The first 12 units were ready in February 1995 and are recognizable by the absence of the coaxial machine guns.

These vehicles were considered by the Chilean Army to be inferior to the M-50s armed with the 60 mm cannon. In fact, the 105 mm cannons of the M-51 had anti-tank characteristics inferior to the modern hyper-velocity 60 mm cannon. The Chilean M-51s were therefore relegated to the second line duties or as infantry support vehicles, with their more powerful high explosive rounds, as well as for clearing minefields using KTM-5 anti-mine devices captured by Israel during the Yom Kippur War and later sold to Chile.

All of the M-51s were taken out of service until 2006, being replaced by hundreds of second-hand Leopard 1V tanks. Some were preserved as monuments on various bases or in museums, but most of the surviving vehicles were relegated to target ranges in the Atacama Desert.

M-51 abandoned in the Atacama Desert, ready to be used as a target. Source: pinterest.com

Other users of the M-51

On April 13th, 1975, a civil war broke out in Lebanon because of internal problems between Muslim Lebanese and Christian Lebanese. In the conflict that lasted 15 years, the Christian militias were supported by Israel and the Muslim militias were supported by Syria.

Israel supported the Christian militias to avoid the Islamisation of the country, which had been ruled by Christians until then, while Syria wanted to bring Lebanon under its military and cultural influence.

In support of the Lebanese Christians, Israel supplied 75 M-50 tanks and an unspecified number of 100 mm armed Tirans, M3 half-tracks and M113 APCs.

The militia that benefited most from these supplies was the South Lebanese Army (SLA), which received a total of 35 M-50 tanks that, in some cases, were repainted in different blue shades.

In 2000, nearly ten years after the end of the civil war, the SLA disbanded, and the surviving M-50s were returned to Israel to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.

In 2017, in the second edition of the book ‘Israeli Sherman’, the author, Tom Gannon, reported an interesting discovery. One of the two M-51s exposed in the Armored Corps Memorial Museum at Latrun had, in some places, such as the inside of the telephone box and canvas mantlet covers, been painted in a light shade of blue, similar to that used by SLA. By author Tom Gannon’s estimation based on his own knowledge, at least 6 M-51s were sent to Lebanon during the civil war years in the 1970s and, in 2000, four of them were returned to Israel with the dissolution of the South Lebanese Army. The IDF then repainted them in the usual Israel camo and put them in depots, with at least one of these ending up in the Latrun Museum. Information on these SLA M-51s is almost non-existent and remained something of a secret until 2017.

The M-51’s phone box with Lebanese blue paint in the interior and some Arabs words on the door. Source: primeportal.net
This canvas mantlet cover appears to show an old coat of light blue paint underneath newer coats of Sinai Gray paint. Source: primeportal.net

Post-IDF upgrades

An intelligence document from the Ejército de Tierra (Eng. Spanish Army), dating from November 1982, examines the modifications and modernization of existing armored vehicles then being proposed for the foreign market and export sales. Among the numerous proposals detailed in the document, including for more modern vehicles such as the M48 Patton, M60, and Leopard 1, an interesting proposal by the Israeli NIMDA company is mentioned. The Israeli company, a subsidiary of the Israeli Military Industry (IMI), was planning to upgrade the M-50 and probably also the M-51 with the installation of a new 360 hp Detroit Diesel V8 Model 71T engine connected to a transmission system with mechanical clutch or to an Allison TC-570 torque converter with modified gearbox. After the conversion, the tank would have a top speed of 40 km/h and a range of 320 km with the standard two 303 litre tanks left. The new powerpack also included dust filters and an improved cooling system that could be housed in the existing engine compartment without any structural modifications.

The Detroit 8V-71T with an exhaust system similar to that mounted on Chilean Shermans. Source: pinterest.com

In addition, the company also proposed to upgrade the armament, replacing the D.1508 L.51 cannons with CN-75-50 75 mm cannons, rebored from 75 mm to 90 mm caliber. This new gun would likely have similar anti-tank performance and characteristics to the French-made CN-90-F3 90 mm L.53 cannon, the same mounted on the AMX-13-90. With a potential muzzle velocity of around 900 m/s, it would likely have fired existing French 90 mm ammunition already in Israeli use, such as the rounds for the GIAT D.921 cannon of the Panhard AML armored car, i.e. 90 mm HE and HEAT-SF ammunition that could penetrate about 300 mm of armor.

The CN-90-F3, similar to that proposed by NIMDA, on an AMX-13-90 tank. Source: chars-francais.net

This project was most likely proposed to Chile in 1983, but they opted to mount the IMI 60 mm Hyper-Velocity Medium Support 60 (HVMS 60) cannon which was more effective in anti-tank combat on the M-50 and not to modify the M-51 because the 90 mm HE rounds were less effective in the infantry support roles than the 105 mm D.1508 HE rounds.

Camouflage and markings

In the early 1950s, the IDF tested the ‘Sinai Gray’ on some M-3 Shermans, which was accepted into service shortly before the crisis in Suez, in the early 1960s. All the M-51s were painted in the new Sinai Gray which, however, as can be seen in many color photos of the time, had many shades.

Armored Brigades stationed in the south, on the border with Egypt, had a yellowish shade of Sinai Gray for use in Sinai, while vehicles used on the Golan Heights and on the borders with Jordan, Syria and Lebanon had a darker or brownish color. Obviously, over the years, these vehicles with different shades mixed with the various Israeli armored units or were repainted with another shade.

The markings painted on M-51s were introduced by the IDF in the 1960s and, although they may seem randomly painted, they identified the vehicle within its unit.

On some vehicles, a symbol identifying the armored brigade to which the tank belonged was painted.

The white stripes on the cannon barrel identify which battalion the tank belongs to. If the tank belonged to the 1st Battalion, it only had one stripe on the barrel, if it was the 2nd Battalion, it had two stripes, and so on.

The company the tank belonged to was 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-51 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 backwards, it belonged to the 4th Company.

The company identification markings had different sizes according to the space a tank had 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 were written on the turrets and were divided in two: an arabic number, from 1 to 4 (in most cases) and one of the first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet: א (Aleph), ב (Bet), ג (Gimel) and ד (Dalet). The Arabian number 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 arabic number without the letter. Gimel (ג) with no number is the Company Commander and Dalet (ד) is his second in command.

The M-51 (on M4A3 hull) command tank of the 5th Platoon of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Company. Source: pinterest.com

Gimel with 10 (10ג) was the Battalion Commander and ‘11ג’ was the second in command, while ‘20ג’ was the Brigade Commander and ‘21ג’ was his second in command.

In pictures of the M-50s, these symbols are not always visible, as pictures taken during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 show many M-51s that had already been withdrawn from operational service, repainted and kept in reserve.

Two M-51s of the 4th Platoon of the 2nd Battalion of the 4th Company. The tank in the foreground was the 2nd tank of the platoon while the tank on the background was the first. Source: pinterest.com

On some photos taken before the standardization of this system of markings, three white arrows can be seen on the sides of the vehicles in service in the Sinai, the markings of Israeli Southern Command. Others also had a number painted on the front that identified the weight of the vehicle. This was done to indicate if the tank was able to cross certain bridges or for transportation on trailers. The number was painted in white inside a blue circle surrounded by another red ring.

Crews sometimes painted the brigade insignia on the front and rear fenders, sometimes also indicating the battalion number.

In some cases, not very often, the battalion insignia was painted on the right rear fender and the brigade insignia was moved to the right end of the fender.

As mentioned, some M-51s were delivered to the South Lebanon Army, which repainted them in blue. It is likely that like the M-50s painted in blue by the Lebanese, the M-51s also received the symbol of SLA, a hand holding a sword from which came out cedar branches (symbol of Lebanon) in a blue circle painted on the frontal glacis.

The canvas mantlet cover of an M-51. Clearly visible the Lebanese blue. Source: Tom Gannon
Four M-50s in Lebanon, starting from the left, the first and the third are painted in the standard SLA dark grey/blue, while the second and the fourth are painted a much lighter shade of blue, most likely due to a lack of proper paint. Note the markings of the SLA painted on the glacis. Source: facebook.com

The 85 M-51s Chile received arrived in Sinai Gray camouflage. The Ejército de Chile (Eng. Chilean Army) greatly appreciated the camouflage, because in the Atacama Desert, where Chilean crews were training, it was very useful, and also because of the low-infrared signature. After a short time, however, they decided to switch to other paints because the dust and salt (the Atacama Desert is the driest on earth because of the very high salt content) were affecting the Israeli paint. Not a single camouflage scheme was decided for the entire army, but it was the local commanders who chose the scheme and bought the paints. Many of the camouflage schemes remain a mystery, but there is information about those used by the Grupo Blindado No. 9 ‘Vencedores’ of the Brigada Accorazada No. 1 ‘Coraceros’ used in northern Chile. This unit painted its M-51s and some of its M-50s in a light sand yellow color and others in gray. In the end, in 1991, all the Shermans of the Brigada Acorazada were repainted in light sand yellow.

The Regimiento de Caballería Blindada No. 10 ‘Libertadores’ of the Regimiento de Infantería No. 22 ‘Lautaro’ had some M-51s with two-tone camouflage, sand yellow and dark green, and others in light sand yellow.

Grupo Blindado No. 6 ‘Dragones’ of the Brigada Acorazada No. 4 ‘Chorrillos’ had a more elaborate camouflage, painting its M-51s in 1982 with a camouflage pattern similar to the US MERDEC (Mobility Equipment Research & Design Command) camouflage in light sand yellow, dark green with black lines. It is not clear if all the Shermans of the ‘Dragones’ were painted like this but, in 1983, some of the tanks of the ‘Chorrillos’ were painted in a camouflage scheme with sand yellow, dark green and white with black lines.

Grupo Blindado No. 8 ‘Exploradores’ of the Brigada Acorazada Nº 3 ‘La Concepción’ repainted its tanks in light sand yellow. The only M-51s that remained in Sinai Gray (at least until 1984) were those destined for the Escuela de Blindados (Eng. tank training school) of Peldehue.

Myths to dispel about the M-51

The ‘Sherman’ nickname given by the Second World War crews to their Medium Tank M4s, which has since entered the common language of video games, films or military enthusiasts was never used, officially, by the IDF. The IDF always called their M4 Medium Tanks after the name of its main guns, ‘M-3’ for all the Shermans armed with a 75 mm M3 cannon, ‘M-4’ for all the Shermans armed with a 105 mm M4 howitzer, and so on.

For the M-51 however, a new system of naming major Israeli modifications was introduced that superseded the earlier Sherman naming convention. Since even the M-50 was still named after its armament (and indeed, the first M-50s were entirely French vehicles), the M-51 was named as such to denote it being the next major variant in Israeli service after the M-50. This system would appear again several decades later, following the introduction of the Magach 7, the first major Israeli upgrade/rebuild of foreign-supplied Magach 6 (M60) tanks.

The nickname ‘Super’ was actually only used for Sherman versions armed with 76 mm cannons which remained in service until 1968-69, in honour of being the only version at the time capable of facing the T-34-85. It was the only one to receive this nickname from the IDF.

The other nickname, ‘iSherman’ or ‘ISherman’ (aka Israeli Sherman) was never used by the Israeli Army to indicate any vehicle on the Sherman chassis and is a wrong term used by the media, video games, and model kit manufacturers.

Chilean vehicles armed with the 60 mm cannon were never called, either by the Chilean Army or by the Israeli Army, ‘M-60 Sherman’. They were known in the two armies only as ‘M-50 with HVMS 60’. The same happened with the Chilean M-51. They were never called by the Chilean Army ‘M-51 Super Sherman‘.

M-51 during training somewhere in Israel early ’60s. Source: pinterest.com

Conclusion

The M-51 was born as a vehicle of necessity for the Israeli Army, which needed to take already obsolete Shermans armed with 76 mm guns and up-gun them with powerful French cannons to create a new and capable tank as quickly as possible.

While excellent against existing threats at the time it was created, by the early 1970s, advances in battlefield technology, including the prolific use of man portable anti-tank missiles, meant the M-51’s days in Israeli service were numbered.

Despite no longer being effective in Israel, the M-51 did find a new, albeit brief, lease of life in Chile, where it was given a new engine and used much as it was in Israeli two decades before; to help keep Chile safe until more modern vehicles could be acquired. To this end, it proved to be invaluable, and demonstrated not only the versatility and adaptability of the Sherman chassis, but also of Israeli (and French) ingenuity at keeping a completely outdated vehicle relevant and viable for decades after its original service.

M-51 at the Golan Heights, 1967 Six Days War illustrated by David Bocquelet

M-51 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.15 m x 2.42 m x 2.24 m
Total Weight, Battle Ready 40 tonnes
Crew 5, driver, machine gunner, commander, gunner and loader
Propulsion Cummins VT-8-460 460 hp diesel with 606 liter fuel tank
Speed 40 km/h
Range ~400 km
Armament D.1508 with 47 rounds, 2 Browning M1919 7.62 mm with 4,750 rounds and a Browning M2HB 12.7 mm with 600 rounds
Armor 63 mm frontal hull, 38 mm sides and rear, 19 mm top and bottom.
89 mm mantlet, 73 mm front, sides and rear of the turret
Total Production ~180

Sources

Israeli Sherman – Tom Gannon
Lioness & Lion Of The Line Vol. 1 – Robert Manasherob
Chariots in the Desert – David Eschel
Sherman – Richard Hunnicutt
Inside Israel’s Northern Command – Dani Asher
Blue Steel IV: M-50 Shermans and M-50 APCs in South Lebanon – Moustafa El-Assad
Tanks: Main battle and light tanks – Gelbart Marsh

Categories
Cold War Israeli Armor

Hotchkiss H39 in Israeli Service

Israeli Tanks Israel (1948-Unknown)
Light Tank – 10 Operated

The Hotchkiss H39 was an improvement over the previous H35 model, a light infantry tank created for the French 1933 infantry tank program. However, the H35 was rejected by the infantry and ended up being adopted by the French cavalry. The newer H39 model brought a more powerful engine and, from about the 480th tank produced onward, a newer, more potent 37 mm SA 38 main gun was installed. Used widely by the French army in 1940, and then in a secondary role by the German Wehrmacht, a number of H39s were recaptured by the French upon the liberation of the country in 1944. In comparison to other pre-1940 vehicles, the Hotchkiss light tank would see a more extended post-war service, being used by French occupation forces in Germany, in the earliest phases of the Indochina war and exported to the state of Israel upon its creation in 1948.

Israeli Acquisition

The region of the British Mandate for Palestine was a major area of conflict during the decolonization of the Levant and the Middle East. Populated both by Arab Muslims and a Jewish population that was rising in number following the conclusion of the Second World War, the future of the area was violently disputed between these two sides. The United Nations’ partition plan (Resolution 181) was not being accepted by the Palestinian population nor by the neighboring Arab states.

On 14th May 1948, the State of Israel was declared by David Ben-Gurion, head of the internationally recognized Jewish Agency which defended the interest of Jews in Palestine. The next day, the Arab-Israeli war began as troops from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, and Iraq entered the claimed territory of the new Israeli state. Israel relied, at this point, on the Haganah, a paramilitary organization that had been founded in 1921 and was often criticized for being nearly terrorist in its nature; with the independence of Israel, this Haganah morphed into a form of militia that defended the new state. Israel had to scramble and search for military equipment on an international market that was mostly hostile to arm this mostly poorly equipped Haganah. Some Israeli agents had been sent to search for surplus equipment to purchase in France, and by the end of May 1948, had managed to acquire a variety of equipment; mostly field artillery pieces of various caliber, but also ten Hotchkiss H39 light tanks, which were brought back to the nascent State of Israel in early June. This was in spite of a military embargo that had been placed on 29th May along with a truce declared by the United Nations that had no effect. The tanks had reportedly been acquired for a price of US$41,000 (US$450,000 in 2020 values) each, and all ammunition included with them was High-Explosive (HE). Unloading the H39s outside of the eyes of the UN and British forces still present was difficult; the port of Haifa was still partly run by the British, whereas no dock featuring a crane able to pick up the vehicles existed in Tel-Aviv. The cargo ship carrying the tanks, camouflaged as another ship to conceal the fact that it may be laden with weapons, was finally unloaded by another ship that featured a crane, after its captain had been bribed, and told he was to unload agricultural machinery. He had to be bribed a second time to continue unloading the ship upon discovery that the vehicles were in fact not agricultural, but combat tanks. Some sources describe the tanks as H35s instead of H39s, however, all photos of Hotchkiss tanks in Israel show H39s, which can be easily differentiated by their raised engine deck. At least one appears to have been armed with the 37 mm SA 18 found on the first 480 H39s. The SA 38 found on vehicles produced later appears to be somewhat more common on the Israeli vehicles. Interestingly enough, some vehicles featured a German-style commander cupola similar to that found on the Panzer II, indicating some vehicles had been operated by German forces and at some point refitted to suit their needs, before falling back into French hands and then being sold to Israel. It should be noted a source mentions that the H39 came from Yugoslavia, and not France, though the French hypothesis seems more believable.

Into Service with “Brigade 8” and Difficulties

The Hotchkiss H39 light tanks were, upon delivery, given to the newly created “Brigade 8” unit, a part of the Palmah, the elite component of the Haganah militia. Brigade 8 was supposed to be the first Israeli armored unit; composed of two battalions, the 81st which was supposed to be a mechanized infantry unit, operating a variety of motorized vehicles and some armored cars alongside its infantry, and the 82nd, which was to be the armored battalion. The 82nd had four mechanized companies which operated half-tracks and armored cars, and two armored companies; the first, Company Bet, operated two Cromwells and a single M4A3 tank, and the second, Company Vav, operated the ten Hotchkiss H39s. This division was actually formed more because of language than equipment; Company Bet was composed of English-speaking Western European personnel, while company Vav comprised mostly Russian-speaking Slavic personnel who had immigrated into Palestine following the devastation of the Second World War and Holocaust. Its commander, Felix Beoatus, was a veteran of the Soviet Red Army.

The tanks of Brigade 8 used a three-letter designation number found on their turret, a system similar to the one found on German tanks of the Wehrmacht; this was because this system had been chosen by Felix Beatos, a Polish Jew who only knew German tank markings. This meant that, for example, an H39 with the number 611, such as one which is preserved in Latrun today, was the 1st tank of the 1st Platoon of the 6th company (which was company Vav).

The tanks proved to be in a very poor state and hard to maintain. Those tanks had been produced from 1938 to 1940, and had often been used by both French and German armies before ending up in Israel, making them hard to maintain; not only that but parts, including engines, had to be imported from France to be able to maintain the fleet running. While each tank had been ordered with 2,000 37 mm rounds for the main guns and 15,000 7.5 mm rounds for the machine guns, all the shells delivered were high-explosive, and as the Arab armies did use armor, a solution had to be found to allow the H39 to face those potential enemies. This was done by refitting SA 38 shells with armor-piercing (AP) heads taken from stocks of American 37 mm shells. In total, some 400 rounds were converted before the end of Operation Danny (an Israeli attack to capture territory to the East of Tel Aviv, 9th to 19th July 1948). Outside of armament issue, engines too proved to be a problem as well; parts were lacking, and the cooling was vastly insufficient for the Middle-Eastern climate. This problem was so bad that only five of the original ten tanks could be made to be operational at the beginning of Operation Danny, and six in total during the war.

The Hotchkiss Tanks in the Arab-Israeli War

Hotchkiss H39, Lod airport
A Hotchkiss H39 in front of the control tower of Lod airport during operation Danny, July 1948. Source: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Brigade 8 was engaged in the Arab-Israeli war, taking part in several operations. The first major engagement of the unit was Operation Danny, in which Brigade 8 was involved in the capture of Lod, a city on the road from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem which notably had a considerable airport, where the H39s were photographed. The tanks had only been lightly engaged in this operation, however, all five operational H39s had breakdowns or other malfunctions, with one needing to stay in maintenance for a “long time”.

When they were operational, the performance of the H39’s, in particular, was underwhelming. In a following attack against Egyptian-held positions near the villages of al-Fallujah and Iraq al-Manshiyya, four H39s were damaged by mines or drove into anti-tank ditches, and had to be abandoned in front of Egyptian lines. A source mentions that seven out of twelve tanks available to Brigade 8 by that point were knocked out during this operation. Shortly after the end of this operation, the guns were removed from the H39s and fitted on some armored cars, ending the history of the light tanks as combat vehicles. Ironically, it was about this time that ten replacement engines had finally arrived from France and would have made the vehicles a lot easier to operate.

Hotchkiss H39 of Brigade 8
Hotchkiss H39s of Brigade 8, presumably at Lod airport. The vehicle at the forefront, N°600, features a German commander cupola, indicating that it was used by German troops after being captured in 1940. Source: bukvoed.livejournal
Three H39s
Three H39s alongside an armored car at Lod airport. Source: bukvoed.livejournal
Hotchkiss H39 Crew
Israeli H39 crews receiving orders from who appears to be Yitzhak Sadeh, commander of Brigade 8, on the left. Source: bukvoed.livejournal
Hotchkiss H39 being reviewed
Crew climbing into their H39 parked for a review, presumably at Lod Airport, 1948. Source: bokvoed.livejournal

The SA 38 Gun in Other Vehicles

The SA 38 gun featured in the Hotchkiss light tanks was mounted on some armored cars after they were removed from their original carriers. SA 38 guns have been identified on Marmon-Herrington armored cars of South African origin, as well as armored cars manufactured on the chassis of GMC and White trucks and fitted with an armored body that appears to come from an M3 Scout Car or M3 half-track. Some sources mention five of these White or GMC trucks as having “37 mm guns”, though it is unknown if all of those were SA 38s. These armored cars were quite likely used by the 8th Brigade, as the 81st battalion and the first four companies of the 82nd are known to have made use of these armored cars. The fact that these guns might have remained within the same unit makes sense in the disorganized context of the first Arab-Israeli war. These armored cars, mostly makeshift vehicles, were phased out quite quickly after the end of the Arab-Israeli war.

Armored Car on GMC Chassis
An armored car on a GMC or White chassis, featuring an SA 38 in a fully rotating turret as well as an MG34 in the hull. This photo appears to have been taken during Operation Horev, in December of 1948 or January of 1949. Source: bukvoed.livejournal
Marmon-Herrington armored Car
Marmon-Herrington armored car refitted with the same SA 38 37 mm gun. Unknown source.

Brigade 8 also had a “deception company”, of which the function was to confuse the enemy about the number and position of Israeli tanks. This unit placed H39 mockups on Jeeps to operate; those mock-up had some fairly regular markings, such as a number similar to what the H39s would have had in service, but also a skull and bones on the front of the mockup’s hull. Those were used to feint movement of armored vehicles near Egyptian lines.


Jeeps Disguised as H39sJeeps Disguised as H39s

The “Deception Company’s” jeeps disguised as H39s. Source: https://smolbattle.ru/threads/Деревянные-мaкеты-военной-теxники.55476/

Continued use of the H39s

Despite being disarmed, the H39s were not immediately sent to the scrapyard. By April of 1949, eight were mentioned to be in Brigade 8 workshop, with Company Vav (the Slavic company), having been dissolved. It appears that, at some point, at least some had a sort of dummy gun installed. This device had a long barrel ending with some form of a muzzle brake, and a square-shaped armor plate installed in place of the former mantlet. This has caused some confusion, as rumors of H39s refitted with 2-pounders have also showed up. These, however, are most likely some sort of confusion with Lebanese R35 light tanks, which used the same APX-R turret as the H39 and did receive QF 2-pounder anti-tank guns.

H39 with Dummy Gun
An H39 refitted with a dummy gun on static display. Source: bukvoed.livejournal
H39 during a ceremony
An H39 refitted with a dummy gun during a ceremony, 1977. Source: bukvoed.livejournal

The H39s appear to have been retained for ceremonial and perhaps training use for some time, with a photo of one in static display as well as some being present in military reviews, including aside a much more modern Merkava main battle tank. As of today, an H39 remains in the Israeli tank museum of Latrun. It has been refitted with a 37 mm SA 38 gun, returning it to the original state it fought in during the first weeks of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.

Hotchkiss H39 at Latrun
The surviving Hotchkiss H39 at Latrun. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Conclusion

The Hotchkiss H39 light tanks were the first tanks used by the State of Israel in numbers higher than just one or two, as was the case for Cromwells and Shermans in the first weeks of the Arab-Israeli war. These long-obsolete French light tanks, delivered to the nascent state in secrecy and unloaded chaotically, were engaged in some of the first armored battles of Israel during Operation Danny and the battle for Lod and its airport.

The vehicle’s operational service was brief, being retired from combat service after several were knocked out by Egyptian defenses in October 1948. Nonetheless, the guns of some of these H39 light tanks would go on to continue fighting until the end of the war in some armored cars. The tanks themselves were, at least in part, preserved as ceremonial vehicles, and at least one appears to survive to today as part of the tank museum of Latrun.

Illustration of the sole surviving Israeli H39, as it is sitting in the Latrun miltiary museum in Israel. Illustration by David Bocquelet, modified by Pavel ‘Carpaticus’ Alexe.

Sources

Chariots of the Desert: Story of the Israeli Armored Corps, David Eshel, 1989, pp 13-18
The Origin of the Arab-Israeli Arms Race, Amitzur Ilan, 1996, pp 187 & 238
bukvoed.livejournal: https://bukvoed.livejournal.com/209631.html https://bukvoed.livejournal.com/157255.html
Israeli Armour in detail (Red Special Museum Line №6), Daniel Petz, pp 2
First Signs of Armor, Amiad Brezner

Categories
Cold War Israeli Armor

M-50

Israeli Tanks Israel (1956)
Medium Tank – 300 Converted

The M-50 was an Israeli upgrade of the United States’ famous Medium Tank M4 Sherman. It was developed in the mid-50s to keep the venerable World War 2 era tank effective and able to face other contemporary vehicles of the Arab armies of neighboring states even fifteen years after its development.

Three M-50 Degem Alephs painted in Olive Drab on parade after the Suez Crisis. The one on the left is on an M4A4 ‘small hatch’ chassis, the one on the right is on an M4 Composite ‘large hatch’ chassis (with an unusual three-piece transmission cover) and the third one, in the background, is on an M4A3 chassis with ‘large hatch’. Source: pinterest.com

History of the Project

After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) needed to arm itself with modern vehicles and weapons. The new nation had to defend itself against the Arab armies of neighboring states which were rearming or arming themselves by purchasing modern equipment from the Soviet Union.

Immediately, many Israeli delegations set off around the world in search of military equipment and vehicles. In the early 50s, the Israeli Army had a heterogeneous M4 Sherman fleet consisting of practically every version, but the IDF High Command immediately realized that the versions armed with 75 mm were no longer able to face more modern vehicles, even the similarly venerable T-34/85.

At the beginning of 1953, an Israeli delegation was sent to France to evaluate the new AMX-13-75 light tank. This vehicle was judged favorably in terms of armament and mobility, but not in protection.

In 1953, Finland designed for Israel a version of the Sherman armed with a 75 mm cannon of Finnish production, but the project was not accepted by Israeli engineers.

After careful reflection, the IDF purchased some AMX-13-75s but realized that the 75 mm cannon would have been more effective on a medium tank hull. Not being able to find adequate armored vehicles able to replace the AMX hull on the international market, the IDF decided to improve the Sherman’s performance with this powerful cannon. Israel asked France for help in developing a prototype.

History of the Prototype

At the start of 1954, a team of Israeli technicians was sent to France and along with other French engineers took two different vehicles, an M10 tank destroyer and an M4A2 Sherman, modifying the two turrets to accommodate the AMX-13-75’s cannon, which had a bigger breech and a longer recoil. Both vehicles were called M-50, however, the development of the M-50 on the M10 GMC chassis was abandoned. Some M10 GMCs arrived in Israel without the main gun and were then converted with 17-pdr or CN-75-50 cannons and used for crew training until 1966.

One of the M-50s on M10 GMC chassis armed with the CN-75-50. Source: pinterest.com

The design of the new israeli tank continued and in 1955, the first prototype was completed with a modified gun breech, no autoloader and the MX13 telescope of the AMX-13 stretched by 40 cm to adapt it to the new turret.

In summer 1955, the first tests of the new vehicle, called the M-50, began. Firing trials took place at the Bourges tank range in France and were unsuccessful. The vehicle had balance problems and there were still problems due to the recoil of the cannon.

Only after significant work was invested in improving the gun breech and the recoil system and a new counterweight was welded to the back of the turret, in late 1955, the vehicle was accepted by the Israeli Army.

The first French prototype of the M-50 without the counterweight, different mantlet and muzzle brake. Source: the.shadock.free.fr

The turret was sent by ship to Israel, where it was mounted on a M4A4 Sherman hull. It was tested in the Negev Desert and received positive judgment from the Israeli High Command. Assembly lines were prepared to modify the standard Israeli Shermans (75) to the new M-50. The first 25 M-50s were built clandestinely in France and then sent to Israel in mid-1956. They were assigned to one armored company in time to see service in the 1956 Suez Crisis.

The second French prototype, on a M4A4 hull with the turret counterweight and new muzzle brake. The plate shows the French flag and there is no machine gun in the hull. Source: char-francais.net

Design

The M-50 was a medium tank, based on any available Sherman hulls in IDF inventory. After the Suez Crisis, the first Israeli M4 Shermans began to be modified locally. The same workshops where the Sherman tanks acquired from all parts of the world had been refurbished a few years earlier were used for the conversion.

M4A4-based M-50 Degem Aleph with T54E1 tracks equipped with duckbill connectors. Duckbill connectors were not common, but those available were mounted on vehicles to increase the track’s surface to facilitate driving on desert terrain. The hull and original turret had applique armor on the side and the first ‘split’ type commander’s cupola. The smoke launchers are not mounted and the cast transmission cover. Source: rctankwarfare.co.uk

In total, about 300 M-50s were converted for and by the Israeli Army. These tanks took part in the Suez Crisis in 1956, the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. During the last conflict, they proved to be inadequate in fighting against the more modern Soviet vehicles that the Arab countries had at their disposal, such as the IS-3M, the T-54/55 and the T-62. Between 1973 and 1976, almost all the M-50s were removed from service with the Israeli Army. Some vehicles were passed on to Chile and Lebanese militias.

Turret

The M-50 conversions used turrets with M34 and M34A1 mantlets. These had split or round commander’s cupola and a loader’s hatch. The turrets of the standard M4 Shermans (75) were modified with a new turret extension and mantlet, providing more space to accommodate the larger main armament. Starting from the first vehicles, a cast iron counterweight was welded on the back to balance the extra weight of the turret extension and of the new longer cannon.

Almost all vehicles had four 80 mm smoke launchers of French production mounted, two on each side of the turret. These were not present on the prototype. They replaced the 50 mm M3 smoke mortar mounted inside the turret. An M79 pedestal for a 12.7 mm Browning M2HB heavy machine gun was mounted on the few vehicles on which it was missing. A second ventilator was mounted on the turret counterweight and the radio system was improved, keeping the US-made SCR-538 radio, but adding a French-made radio positioned inside the turret counterweight, alongside a second antenna, not always mounted, on top.

Shot of two M-50 Degem aleph tanks based on M4A4 hulls during a parade in Jerusalem, 1961. The tank in the background had the ’round’ type commander’s cupola, welded transmission cover, and two antennas. The second has the ‘split’ type commander’s cupola, three-piece transmission cover and only one antenna mounted. The second ventilator on the counterweight of the turret and the support for the searchlight on the barrel are visible. The crew wears British uniforms and Czechoslovak tank crew helmets. Source: bukvoed.livejournal.com

Engine and suspension

The first vehicles built in France were based on M4, M4 Composite, a few M4A1 and M4A4T Sherman hulls. The M4A4T was a standard M4A4 Sherman re-engined by the French between 1945 and 1952 with a petrol Continental R-975 C4 engine with 420 hp. This engine was common in France after the war thanks to the supply of thousands of these engines by the US during the Second World War. In French nomenclature, it is known as the “Char M4A4T Moteur Continental”, where ‘T’ means ‘Transformé’ or ‘Transformed’.

Following the French example, all the Israeli Shermans were planned to be re-engined with the Continental engine and receive the needed changes to the engine deck. After the 1956 war, the Israeli workshops started to slowly convert their Shermans with the new engine and French cannon.

M-50 Degem Aleph on a rare ‘large’ hatch M4 Composite hull during the Independence Day Parade in 1957. After its use in the Suez Crisis, it was repainted in fresh US olive drab. This vehicle does not have the supports for barbed wire, smoke launchers, and searchlight. The crew wears British uniforms and Czechoslovakian helmets. The captain wears a British hat. Source: Lioness and lion of the line

By 1959, only 50 vehicles were converted but there is no indication this number included the original batch of vehicles sent by France. During the same year, the Israeli understood that the Continental R-975 C4 used on all the converted Shermans was not the best engine for this heavier Sherman version. The engine was no longer able to offer the M-50 sufficient mobility and was breaking after long drives, and making continuous maintenance and repairs by the crew compulsory.

In late 1959, an Israeli M4A3 Sherman was tested with a new engine, the US Cummins VT-8-460 Turbodiesel engine delivering 460 hp. The mounting of the new engine did not require any changes to the engine compartment of the M4A3 and only the engine deck was lightly modified with new air intakes with sand filters and the radiator was also modified to increase engine cooling.

Accepted for production, the first batch of Cummins engines arrived in Israel only in early 1960 and the first vehicles with this conversion were the M-50s produced after 1960, first seen in a parade in early 1961. From mid-1960 to July 1962, all the M-50 built, more than a hundred, were powered by this more powerful engine.

The suspension was also changed. The old VVSS (Vertical Volute Spring Suspension) with 16-inch tracks did not offer acceptable top speed and comfort for the crew. For this reason, they were substituted by the more modern HVSS (Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension) with 23-inch wide tracks to ensure good mobility even on sandy soils. After the engine change, some M-50s still used the old VVSS suspension for a period, before receiving the new model. In 1967, during the Six Days War, all the M-50s had the new Cummins engine and HVSS suspensions.

The two different variants of the M-50 were named the Mark 1 or ‘Continental’ in Israel Better known as Degem Aleph (Eng: Model A) for the Continental-engined version, and the Mark 2 or ‘Cummins’ in Israel Better known as Degem Bet (Eng: Model b) for the Cummins-engined version.

The Degem Aleph version weighed 33.5 tons, could reach a lower maximum speed and had an autonomy of about 250 km due to the petrol engine. The improved Degem Bet version weighed 34 tons, could reach a top speed of 42 km/h and had a range of 300 km. The two standard 303-liter fuel tanks positioned on the sides of the engine compartment were left unchanged, but the exhaust system was modified.

A Cummins V8 B1 Turbodiesel engine near an M-50 hull. This vehicle is currently under restoration by the Eden Camp Museum, UK. Source: Eden Camp

Hull

Like in the case of the turrets, the hulls of the M-50 were of early or mid-type construction with ‘small’ hatches and ‘large’ hatches. The transmission cover was made of three pieces on the early type hull and from one cast piece for the mid and late types. The ‘Continental’ version received a few upgrades such as the replacement of the transmission with a better French one.

All Degem Bet vehicles had holder frames for cans of fuel and water, spare wheels and tracks, and two boxes for materials on the sides of the hull, a good feature given that lots of the combat would take place in the desert. A new cover for the horn on the left side of the frontal armor plate was installed, along with two supports for barbed wire, one between the crew hatches and the second on the transmission cover. On the rear armor plate a new telephone, connected to the intercom system of the crew, was installed in order to keep in contact with the infantry that fought alongside the tank.

A prototype variant of the M-50 was built at the Tel Ha-Shomer workshops in the early or mid-60s, called ‘Degem Yud’ Degem means ‘Model’ and ‘Yud’ (in Hebrew write י) is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The chassis of an M-50 Degem bet on the hull of an M4A3 ‘large hatch’ was lowered by 30 cm in order to reduce the height the tank. After the first tests, the project was abandoned and the prototype was probably scrapped.

The only Degem Yud built in an Israeli military depot. Source: warthunder.com

Armor

The hull armor of the M-50 was left unchanged, but the thickness varied between the different versions of the M4 Sherman used as a basis.

On the ‘small hatch’ M4A1, M4A1 Composite, M4A2, and on the M4A4, the frontal armor was 51 mm thick angled at 56°. For the ‘large’ hatch variants of the M4A1 and M4A3 (the M4A4 was never built in the ‘large’ hatch variant), the thickness was increased to 63 mm but the slope was reduced to 47° to accommodate the new bigger hatches.

Some vehicles had the World War II upgrades with additional 25 mm applique armor plates welded on the sides of the hull, increasing the armor thickness in vulnerable spots and also on the frontal glacis two 25 mm hatch guards.

The turret, with a frontal armor thickness of 76 mm, received a new gun mantlet and turret extension with a thickness of 70 mm. On the back of the turret, the addition of a cast iron counterweight significantly increased the protection, although this was probably not made of ballistic steel. As on the hulls, some M4 Shermans had 25 mm applique armor added on the right side of the turret, covering part of the crew.

M4A3 based M-50 Degem Bet during training in South Israel. Notice the new 23-inch T84 tracks, the new cover for the horn, the two barbed wire supports, and the supports for various cans on the hull sides. On the turret, notice the presence of the smoke launchers, the round type commander’s cupola, and the absence of the second radio antenna. The vehicle is equipped with the support for the large searchlight above the barrel of the cannon, and also the smallest U.S. manufactured, mounted on the turret top, rare on Israeli Shermans. The commander wears an M1 US helmet provided by France and the US Army after 1967. Source: Deviantart.com

Main Armament

The cannon of the M-50 was the same as that of the AMX-13-75, the CN 75-50 (CaNon 75 mm model 1950), also known as the 75-SA 50 (75 mm Semi Automatic model 1950) L/61.5. It could reach a firing rate of 10 rounds per minute. This cannon had a muzzle velocity of 1,000 m/s with armor-piercing rounds. The Israelis did not want to install the AMX-13 autoloader on their Shermans, as they believed it to be unreliable and would otherwise have taken up too much space inside the turret.

The CN 75-50 cannon with a first type muzzle brake never used on the M-50 Sherman. Source: strijdbewijs.htm

Above the cannon, there was a large searchlight for night operations, but due to its size, this light was easily damaged by light weapons fire. Therefore it was often not mounted on vehicles.

Close-up of the turret of an M-50. The smoke launchers are mounted and armed, while the search light is lowered. The commander’s cupola is of the ‘split’ type and there is only one radio antenna. The crew members wear US helmets provided by France and the US Army after 1967. Source: bukvoed.livejournal.com

Secondary Armament

The secondary armament remained unchanged. Two Browning M1919 7.62 mm machine guns were carried, one coaxial to the cannon and one in the hull, to the right of the driver. The anti-aircraft machine gun was the typical 12.7 mm Browning M2HB.

At an undefined time between the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, the hull machine gun and the machine gunner position were eliminated. In some cases, the spare M1919 machine gun was mounted on the turret, used by the tank commander or the loader in an anti-aircraft role.

Detail of the Browning M2HB machine gun placed on the commander’s cupola and the main gun of an M-50 during a military ceremony. Source: Lioness and lion of the line

Ammunition

The total ammunition carried consisted of 62 rounds, of which 50 were stowed in the hull in two 25-round racks, nine ready to use on the left side of the turret basket, and the last three on the floor of the turret basket.

The French cannon could fire a range of shells in 75 x 597R mm with 117 mm rimfire:

Name Type Round Weight Total Weight Muzzle Velocity Penetration at 1000m, angle 90°* Penetration at 1000m, angle 30°*
Obus Explosif (OE) HE 6.2 kg 20.9 kg 750 m/s // //
Perforant Ogive Traceur Modèle 1951 (POT Mle. 51) APC-T 6.4 kg 21 kg 1,000 m/s 170 mm 110 mm
Perforant Coiffé Ogive Traceur Modèle 1951 (PCOT Mle. 51) APCBC-T 6.4 kg 21 kg 1,000 m/s 60 mm 90 mm

*Of Rolled Homogeneous Armor (RHA) plate.

Other shells that could be fired by this gun were High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS). However, it is not certain if they were ever used by the Israeli tanks.

The first ammunition stocks were sent from France by train to Italy, where they were shipped to Israel. By 1959, the ammunition was being produced by Israeli companies.

The secondary armament ammunition capacity was 4,750 rounds for the 7.62 mm machine guns and 600 for the 12.7 mm Browning.

There were also 8 reserve smoke bombs for the smoke launchers. The crew also had access to 5 M3A1 Grease Guns with 900 .45 ACP caliber rounds. These were subsequently replaced by locally produced IMI UZI.

Finally, two boxes with a total of 12 hand grenades of different models were carried. Usually, like in the US tanks, these consisted of six fragmentation grenades, two thermite grenades, and four smoke grenades. The smoke grenades and the two incendiary ones were transported in a box on the left wall of the turret, while the other grenades were transported in another box under the gunner’s seat. Over the years, the grenades used were of French or American production models or Soviet captured ones.

The loader of an M-50 with an APC-T round during crew training in the Negev Desert. Source: Lioness and lion of the line

Crew

The crew of the M-50 consisted of 5 men, as in a standard Sherman. These were the driver and machine gunner in the hull, to the left and right of the transmission. The gunner was on the right of the turret, in front of the tank commander and the loader was operating on the left side.

Many photos show M-50 and M-51s without the 7.62 mm machine gun in the hull. At an unclear moment between the years after the Six Day War and before the Yom Kippur War, the IDF decided to remove this position in order to better allocate the limited numbers of soldiers at its disposal. As already mentioned, in some cases the Browning M1919 machine gun was mounted on the turret and used by the tank commander or the loader.

It should be noted that IDF’s MRE (Meal Ready-to-Eat) rations (Manot Krav or ‘Battle Food’) were developed for tank crews and therefore divided into groups of 5 individual rations. Only after the Yom Kippur War were these reduced to 4 individual rations.

Operational use

The first 25 M-50s arrived in Israel in mid-1956 and went to equip a company of the 27th Armored Brigade. This Brigade also had two companies equipped with M-1 ‘Super’ Shermans, one Half-tracked company equipped with M3 Half-Tracks, a Motor Infantry Battalion and a light reconnaissance battalion with AMX-13-75 tanks.

The Suez Crisis

The first use of the M-50 was between 29 October and 7 November 1956 during the Suez Crisis. The 27th Armored Brigade was sent into the Sinai Desert to engage the Egyptian forces.

The Israeli attack took the Egyptian Army by surprise. The Egyptians were counting on the fortifications erected in the Sinai Desert to defend the roads that crossed the peninsula.

The Israeli Shermans and AMX light tanks fought with excellent results against the Egyptians, which had a huge variety of armor, consisting of T-34/85s, Self Propelled 17pdr Archers, Sherman Fireflies, Sherman M4A4s refitted with the GM Twin 6-71 375 hp diesel engine of the M4A2 and M4A4 FL-10s. This last version, produced by France for the Egyptian Army, had the AMX-13-75 turret, equaling the firepower of the M-50 while also keeping the autoloader.

A destroyed and abandoned Egyptian M4A4 FL-10 after the Suez Crisis clashes of 1956. Source: Pinterest.com

The Israelis lost a few armored vehicles and captured many Egyptian depots and military bases. They took possession of about a dozen M4A4 FL-10s and many other M4A4 Shermans that were transferred to Israel, converted and put into service as standard M4A4 Shermans or M-50s.

M-50 Degem Aleph Israeli training school. This vehicle was based on a captured Egyptian M4A4 FL-10 tank. Source: Lioness and lion of the line

Between 1956 and 1967, there were many border skirmishes between Israel and its Arab neighbors. During one of these, on 6th March 1964, Major General Israel “Talik” Tal, was aboard his M-50 along with a Centurion tank. They spotted eight Syrian tractors at about 2,000 m distance, and in 2 minutes, Tal claimed five of the eight tractors destroyed by his Sherman. The other three were knocked out by the Centurion. Some days later, another Sherman destroyed an Egyptian recoilless rifle at a distance of 1,500 m.

The Six Day War

The second and biggest use of the M-50 was between 5 and 10 June 1967, in the Six Day War. At that time, the Israeli armored force was mostly relying on M48A2C2, M48A3 Patton and Centurion Mk 5, a part of which were rearmed with the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 cannons, increasing anti-tank performance.

Jerusalem 5 June 1967, some M-1 ‘Super’ Shermans and an M3 Half-track in the foreground pass by a destroyed M-50, while, in the background, at the intersection, another M-50 , recognizable by the counterweight and spare parts on the sides. Source: grimnir74.livejournal.com

About a hundred of M-50s were sent into the desert to take part in the offensive in Sinai. Another hundred were sent to the north to take part in the offensive on the Golan Heights, while the rest remained in reserve.

In Jerusalem, very few M-50 fought because their offensive power was needed on other fronts of the war. The Israelis preferred to use the old M-1 Sherman armed with the US 76 mm cannons in the clashes against the Jordanians in the city.

At least three M-50s supported infantry assaults on Ammunition Hill and the final attack on Jerusalem’s Old City with no M-1 lost in combat and only one M-50 destroyed.

An M-50 Degem bet based on an M4A1 hull, during the Six Days War. It is opening fire against enemy troops near the Lion’s Gate of the Old City in Jerusalem, supported by some Israeli paratroopers. The lateral cartridge ejection hatch is open and the commander’s cupola is of ‘round’ type. Source: reddit.com

The Sinai Offensive

The Sinai offensive was launched at 8 am on 5 June 1967. The M-50 and the M-51 played a marginal role against the Egyptian tanks.

One of these engagements was during the Battle of Abu-Ageila, a stronghold that controlled the road to Ismailia. Consisting of three lines of trenches 5 km long and almost one km apart, they were defended by T-34/85 and T-54 tanks present in ‘hull down’ positions. Soviet 130 mm cannons were placed in Um Katef, a nearby hill, and the Egyptian reserves included an armored regiment consisting of 66 T-34/85s and a Battalion with 22 SD-100s or SU-100Ms. These were two versions of the SU-100 Soviet tank destroyer; the former was produced after the Second World War by Czechoslovakia, and the latter was a version modified by the Egyptians and Syrians to better adapt the SD and SU-100 to desert operations.

Some M-50s advancing on a road in the Sinai Desert. Source: pinterest.com

About 150 Israeli tanks were employed. The 14th Armored Brigade had over 60 M-50 and M-51 Shermans, the 63rd Armored Battalion had over 60 Centurion Mk. 5 tanks while the Divisional Mechanized Reconnaissance Battalion had an unknown, but limited, number of AMX-13s.

The Israeli attack was launched at night, under the cover of darkness. No. 124 Paratroopers Squadron attacked and destroyed the cannons on Um Katef hill as the 14th Armored Brigade Sherman tanks advanced hidden and covered by the dark and an artillery barrage that was hitting the Egyptian trenches.

The infantry, supported by M3 Half-tracks, cleaned up the trenches while the Shermans, after breaking through, supported the Centurions, which had outflanked the Egyptian positions, by intercepting the reserves that advanced for the counterattack.

During the battle fought between 4 am and 7 am, the Egyptians lost over 60 tanks and 2,000 soldiers, while the Israelis only lost 19 tanks (8 during the battle, while the other 11 were Centurions damaged in the minefields) with a total of 7 crewmen and 40 soldiers dying during the attack.

When Egyptian Field Marshal Mohamed Amer learned of the defeat of Abu Ageila, he ordered his soldiers to withdraw to Gidi and Mitla just 30 km from the Suez Canal.

The order to withdraw was received by almost all Egyptian units, which retreated in a disorganized manner to Suez, often abandoning fully functional weapons, cannons or tanks in their defensive positions.

In the afternoon of the 6th June, with the arrival of materials such as MIG fighters and tanks from Algeria, the withdrawal order was canceled, creating even more confusion in the troops that except in rare cases, continued the retreat to Suez.

Sensing the situation, the Israeli High Command ordered that access to the Suez Canal be blocked by trapping most of the Egyptian Army in Sinai.

Due to the rapid advance of those days, many Israeli tanks were left with little fuel and ammunition, for this reason, not all Israeli forces were able to move immediately towards the canal.

To give an idea of ​​this problem, the road to Ismailia was blocked only by 12 Centurions of the 31st Armored Division which had at least 35 other Centurions with empty fuel tanks.

Another example is that of Lieutenant-Colonel Zeev Eitan, commander of the 19th Light Tank Battalion, equipped with AMX-13-75 light tanks. Since his vehicles had full tanks, he was given the task of stopping an enemy attack with his reconnaissance light tanks.

Eitan left with 15 AMX-13 and positioned himself in the dunes near Bir Girgafa, waiting for the enemy.

The Egyptians counterattacked with 50 or 60 T-54s and T-55s, forcing the AMX-13s to retreat after suffering many losses, without destroying a single Egyptian tank.

The 19th Light Tank Battalion, however, slowed down the Egyptians long enough for some M-50s and M-51s to fill up with fuel and intervene in the area. These, by hitting the heavier vehicles on their sides, managed to destroy many of them, forcing the others to retreat to Ismailia encountering the other 12 Centurions that totally destroyed them.

In Sinai, the Egyptian Army lost 700 tanks of which 100 were captured intact by the Israelis in addition to an unknown number that were repaired and put into service in the IDF in the following months.

The Israelis lost 122 tanks, of which about a third were recovered and repaired after the war.

A column of Israeli military vehicles. On the left are two M-50 Degem Bet tanks based on the M4A4 hull. On the right is an M-50 Degem bet based on an M4A3 Sherman. Source: grimnir74.livejournal.com

The Jordan Offensive

The 10th Harel Mechanized Brigade under Col. Uri Ben Ari attacked the hills north of Jerusalem on the afternoon of June 5th, 1967. Made up of five tank companies (instead of the 3 standard ones), the 10th Brigade had 80 vehicles, 48 of which were M-50s, 16 were Panhard AML armored cars and 16 were Centurion Mk. 5s armed with old 20-pdr cannons.

Their attack was thwarted by the rough terrain and mines scattered everywhere on the narrow streets of that region. The accompanying engineers had no mine detectors and mines had to be found by probing the ground for hours with bayonets and sub-machine gun ramrods.

On that day, 7 Shermans and an M3 Half-track were damaged by mines and were left nonoperational for the rest of the offensive.

During the night, all 16 Centurions got stuck in rocks or damaged their tracks and could not be assisted or helped because of the Jordanian artillery fire.

Later that night, an assault by Israeli mechanized infantry destroyed the Jordanian artillery and, the next morning, repairs began.

Only six M-50s, some M3 Half-tracks and a few Panhard AML armored cars arrived the next morning at their destination but were immediately greeted by Jordanian fire. Two Jordanian Armored Companies arrived during the night, equipped with M48 Pattons, immediately putting a Sherman out of action.

The remaining Shermans, with the assistance of others which arrived shortly after, outflanked the M48 Pattons, which were placed in fixed positions, and hit them in their sides, where their additional fuel tanks were placed.

The additional fuel tanks the Pattons carried had not been dismounted as they should have, and became an easy target to hit. After a few minutes of fighting, six Jordanian M48 Pattons were on fire. The remaining tanks retreated to Jericho, abandoning another eleven M48s along the way because of mechanical failures.

A Jordanian M48A1 Patton with three 200 liters barrels used as additional fuel tanks. Source: pinterest.com

The Ugda Brigade that fought further north was equipped with 48 M-50s and M-51s and had the task of defeating Jordanian positions in the Jordan town of Janin, defended by 44 M47 Patton tanks and the 40th Armored Brigade in reserve with M47 and M48 tanks.

After a very rapid advance throughout the day, during which Ugda forces also destroyed some artillery positions that were hitting Jerusalem and a crucial Israeli military airport, night fell and many Sherman were stuck in the small mountain roads.

Six or seven M-50s and M-51s climbed Burquim Hill. During the night of the 5th of June, among the olive groves, these found themselves face-to-face with an entire Jordanian Armored Company armed with M47 Pattons less than 50 meters away.

Under the cover darkness, the Israeli tanks attacked the Jordanian forces, destroying more than a dozen tanks for only one knocked out M-50 and no Israeli tank crew losses.

The fighting in the area was bloody for several more days. The Jordanians resisted vigorously, counter-attacking Israeli forces with all their available tanks. Although the 90 mm cannons of the M47 and M48 Patton were very effective against the Israeli Shermans, the crews operating them were not very well trained, especially in long-distance shooting.

The Israelis, in addition to superior training, were able to count on almost unlimited air support that turned out to be, both during day and night, very effective.

During the advance, an Israeli armored company had to face many M47s and M48s hidden in fixed positions. The Israelis decided to request air support, but the first wave of fighters did not find any targets because the Jordanian tanks were well camouflaged. A crew of an M-50, rather recklessly, decided to launch at full speed towards enemy positions. The Pattons immediately opened fire without hitting them once. The Sherman got close enough to hit a Patton knocking it out, before turning around and returning to Israeli lines and rejoining its company. The smoke from the burning Patton, in addition to the accurate coordinates sent by an Israeli M3 Half-track observer vehicle, which had spotted all the Jordanian tanks, made it possible to precisely bomb all the Pattons from the air and destroy them.

In the end, in the last two days of the war, the commander of the Jordanian 40th Armored Brigade, Rakan Anad, staged a counterattack by hitting Israeli supply lines.

At first, the attack launched on two different roads was quite successful, managing to destroy some M3 Half-tracks that carried ammunition and fuel for the Israeli tanks. The Israelis, who expected the offensive, however, repelled the first attacks by the Jordanian Pattons.

A small force composed of AMX-13, twelve Centurions and some Shermans of the 37th Israeli Armored Brigade went up a very narrow road (considered unusable by the Jordanians) and attacked the rear of the enemy forces by surprise. Commander Anad, along with his forces, was forced to retreat without being able to attempt any more attacks, abandoning another 35 M48 Pattons and an unknown number of M47 Pattons on the battlefield.

The Golan Heights Offensive

Due to political problems, ground attacks on Syria were not immediately authorized by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, even though General Albert Mendler’s forces were sent to the border ready for battle.

After much pressure from the villagers living in the area, fed up with the periodic Syrian bombing, and senior army officers, after a whole night of reflection, at 6 am on 9 June 1967, Moshe Dayan authorized the attack on the Golan Heights.

From 6 to 11 am, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) bombarded Syrian positions relentlessly while the army engineers sapped the streets from below.

The advance of armored vehicles, mostly M-50s, M-51s and M3 Half-tracks, began at 11.30 am. Hundreds of vehicles lined the road behind a bulldozer.

At the top of the road, at a crossroads, the forces of Colonel Arye Biro, commander of the column, split up. Divided into two columns, they attacked the Qala’ stronghold, a hill with 360° defenses with bunkers and WW2 anti-tank guns of Soviet origin.

Six kilometers north, the Za’oura stronghold, another defensive hill, supported Qala’ with its artillery fire by obstructing Israeli vehicles and not allowing Biro’s officers to see the battlefield.

The situation confused several officers who advanced towards Za’oura convinced they were attacking Qala’.

The battle lasted over 3 hours and the information available is very confusing, as many officers died or were injured during the battle and were evacuated.

Two M-50s on the road to the Golan Heights 10 June 1967. Source: reddit.com

Lieutenant Horowitz, the officer who commanded the assault on Qala’, continued to command while injured and with the radio system of his Sherman destroyed by a Syrian shell.

During the approach, he lost many of the Shermans under his command. About twenty of them remained functional at the base of the hill.

The climb to the top was hampered by ‘dragon teeth’ (concrete anti-tank obstacles) and heavy artillery fire.

In an interview after the war, Lieutenant Horowitz said that one of his M-50s, commanded by a certain Ilan, was hit by a Syrian anti-tank cannon and set in flames during the climb.

Ilan and his crew jumped out of the tank, put out the flames, and after ordering his crew to find cover, Ilan climbed up on the burning Sherman, turned the turret, hit the anti-tank gun that had knocked out his tank, and then jumped out of the tank and sought cover.

Of the approximately twenty functional Shermans, most were hit by anti-tank guns, but the sturdy hull of the vehicle made it possible to recover and repair many after the battle.

At 4 pm, the stronghold of Za’oura was occupied, while Qala’ was occupied only 2 hours later. Only three Shermans arrived at the top of the hill, including that of Horowitz, who easily overcame the barbed wire and the trenches, forcing the Syrian soldiers to escape after throwing hand grenades from the turrets of their tanks into the trenches.

An hour after Arye Biro’s attack, the Israeli 1st Golani Infantry Brigade climbed the same road and attacked the positions of Tel Azzaziat and Tel Fakhr that were hitting the Israeli villages.

Tel Azzaziat was an isolated mound 140 m above the border, where four Syrian Panzer IV tanks in fixed positions constantly hit the Israeli plain below.

The Tank Company of the 8th Armored Brigade, equipped with M-50s, and the Mechanized Infantry Company of the 51st Battalion, equipped with M3 Half-tracks, attacked the positions and quickly managed to silence the cannons of the Syrian Panzers, but this was not the case in Tel Fakhr.

Located 5 km from the border, the two companies that attacked it with 9 M-50 Shermans and 19 M3 Half-tracks, made a wrong turn while under intense artillery fire. Instead of going around the enemy position, they ended up with all the vehicles in the center of the fortifications, under heavy anti-tank fire and in the midst of minefields which soon destroyed or knocked out all the vehicles. This forced the Israelis to attack the fortification with only infantry.

A Sherman climbs the steep roads of the Golan Heights during the Israeli offensive. Source: strijdbewijs.htm

At the end of the battle for the Golan Heights, the Israelis occupied all their targets but lost a total of 160 tanks and 127 soldiers. Although many of the tanks were recovered after the war and repaired, returning to service a few months later, these losses were much higher than the 122 tanks lost in the Sinai Offensive and the 112 in the Jordan Offensive.

On the Golan Heights, the M-50s had no difficulty dealing with the Syrian T-34/85s and against the last Panzer IVs in use. However, their limitations were seen against the Jordanian M47 and M48 Pattons and the Syrian and Egyptian T-54s and T-55s. It was shown that the CN 75-50 cannon was no longer able to deal with the most modern tanks.

After the war, the M-50s began to be taken out of active service, as it seemed that they would no longer be effective. Some may have been converted into 155 mm Self-Propelled Guns (SPGs).

The Yom Kippur War

On October 6th, 1973, at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, the Israelis were caught unprepared by the Arab attack. They deployed all the available reserves, including 341 M-51s and M-50 Degem Bets still available. The M-50 Degem alephs had all been brought to Degem Bet standard or removed from the reserve and scrapped by January 1st, 1972.

The Golan Heights Sector

At the outbreak of the war, on the Golan Heights front, the Israelis could count on two Armored Brigades with a total of 177 Sho’t Kal tanks with 105 mm L7 cannons, against three Syrian Armored Divisions with a total of over 900 Soviet-made tanks, mostly T-54s and T-55s with a few T-34/85s, SU-100s and more modern T-62s.

On October 6th, a few hours after the beginning of the war, the 71st Battalion, composed of students and instructors of the IDF Armor School, a force of about 20 tanks including some M-50s, was sent to the front line.

On October 7th, the Syrians attacked the position held by the 77th OZ and 71st Battalion, trying to bypass the Israeli defenses. After several hours, in the afternoon, the Syrians were forced to give up their attack by withdrawing and leaving over 20 destroyed tanks on the battlefield.

Around 10 pm, the Syrian 7th Infantry Division and the 3rd Armored Division, which had night vision equipment, and also the 81st Armored Brigade equipped with the powerful T-62, attacked again.

The Israelis, deploying a total of 40 tanks, were able to withstand two different waves of the 500 tanks of the Syrian Army.
During the second attack, at 4 am, the Syrian commander, General Omar Abrash, was killed when his command tank was hit by an Israeli shell.

The loss of the general slowed down the offensive in that sector, which resumed only on October 9th. The Syrian tanks attacked the now exhausted Israeli soldiers of the 71st and 77th Battalions of the 7th Armor Brigade. After several hours of combat, the Israeli Commander, Ben Gal, had only 7 tanks left that had managed to fire hundreds of shells thanks to the crews that, hidden among the rocks, were going out to retrieve ammunition from the damaged or destroyed Israeli tanks.

A column of reinforcements directed to the Golan Heights. Pictured, the reconnaissance company equipped with a M38 Jeep and an M-50. October 6 or 7, 1973. Source: The Yom Kippur War 1973: The Golan Heights

Lieutenant Colonel Yossi Ben Hannan, who at the outbreak of the war was in Greece, arrived in Israel and rushed to the rear of the Golan Heights front where, in a workshop, he found 13 tanks that had been damaged during the fighting of the previous days (among them at least a couple of Shermans). He quickly grouped together as many crews as he could (often wounded soldiers, volunteers and even some who escaped from hospitals to fight), took command of this heterogeneous company and moved in support of the 7th Armor Brigade.

When they reached the 7 surviving tanks, a counterattack began and hit the left flank of the Syrian Army, destroying another 30 Syrian tanks.

The Syrian commander, believing that Ben Hannan’s 20 tanks were the first of the Israeli fresh reserves, gave the order to retreat from the battlefield.

After 50 hours of battle and almost 80 hours without sleep, the survivors of the 71st and 77th Battalions, who had destroyed 260 tanks and about 500 other vehicles, were finally able to rest.

The real Israeli reserves were already on their way and did not take long to arrive. Of the hundreds of tanks that the Israeli Defence Force had, some were M-50s, which were still effective at short ranges or from the sides against most of the Syrian and Jordanian tanks that they would face in the following days.

The Sinai Sector

In the Sinai Desert, the Egyptians, after crossing to the eastern bank of the Suez Canal, attacked the Israeli Bar-Lev Defensive Line. About 500 or 1,000 meters behind the defensive line were the positions of Israeli tanks, which numbered only about 290 along the whole front, of which only a few dozen were M-50 and M-51s.

The Israeli tanks made a valuable contribution during the first hours of the war, but the Egyptians consolidated their positions and deployed 9M14 Malyutka missiles, known under the NATO name of AT-3 Sagger, which decimated the Israeli tanks.

Some M-50s loaded on trucks in direction to Sinai October 7th 1973. Source: bukvoed.livejournal

Information about the use of the Shermans in the Sinai Campaign is scarce. About 220 M-50 and M-51s were employed in the battles against the Egyptians, with unsatisfactory results. The M-50s had a marginal role, as they could only effectively deal with the odd T-34/85 still used in some Egyptian armored brigades and PT-76 amphibious tanks which attempted an amphibian assault on Lake Amari. The M-50 could only damage the T-54 and T-55 on the sides, where the armor was thinner and straight. Also in this campaign, they proved to be ineffective against the T-62s and IS-3Ms and too vulnerable to infantry anti-tank weapons, such as AT-3s and RPG-7s.

Second Life

A small batch of M-50 Degem Alephs which had not been converted to HVSS suspensions were employed in fixed positions in the fortification lines built after 1967 by the IDF in the West Bank area. They were meant to defend the ‘Kibbutzim’, or settlements, founded by Israel after 1948.

The tanks went to reinforce the militia bunkers already in the area and armed with obsolete or second-line weapons, such as T-34/85 or M48 Patton MG cupolas.

In some cases, the suspensions were left and used to drag the tank to its position while the engines were removed, as was all the interior except for the turret basket. The radio system was also removed. The ammunition racks were left and the amount of ammunition stored was increased. For some vehicles, an entrance was created in the rear of the vehicle. For others, the entrance was created in the front by removing the transmission cover and part of the floor.

A M-50 used as a bunker in a fortification of the Kibbutz Hanita near the Mediterranean Sea and near the southern border with Lebanon. Once, the hull of the vehicle was entirely covered with earth and surrounded by other fortifications that have since been removed to make space for a parking lot because the nearby beach is now a tourist attraction. From this angle, the cement side walls to the entrance of the tank and the replaced engine deck are visible. Source: Israeli Sherman

After these modifications, the vehicles were put into holes in the ground and covered with earth and rocks. Only the turrets and in some cases a few inches of the hull were visible. They were accessible through trenches dug in their vicinity, which connected them to the rest of the fortifications.

The hatches were not sealed so that they could be used as emergency exits in case of danger. Some of these rusty hulls are visible in some places in Israel even to the present day. The most famous is that of the Kibbutz Hanita, on the border with Lebanon, near the Mediterranean Sea. Another is located in the city of Metula, also on the border with Lebanon, which has been painted in bright colors by some local artists and is still visible in its original position. Many others have been removed from their positions and scrapped.

Another M-50 turned into a bunker in the Israeli city of Metula. Although not visible, in this case, the transmission cover was removed and replaced with the entrance to the bunker. The tank is set up with its back towards the Lebanese border. Source: toocatsoriginals.tumblr.com

Withdrawal from Service in the Israeli Army

One of the Israeli-supplied M-50 of the Christian militias, seen in 1979 during a patrol. Source: Lebanese Civil War

Between 1974 and 1976, the remaining M-50s were fully removed from active service in Israel. The surviving M-50s had different destinations. In 1975, a total of 75 were supplied to various Lebanese Christian militias during the Lebanese Civil War which began in 1975. 35 were supplied to the South Lebanon Army (SLA), 19 were provided to the Kataeb Regulatory Forces, 40 to the Lebanese Forces, one to the Guardians of the Cedars and 20 to the Tiger Militia.

Southern Lebanon 1977, one of the thirty-five M-50 supplied to the South Lebanon Army near two old AMX-13-75s. This was an M4A4 hull based with a welded transmission cover and two antennas. The blue-grey camouflage with black stripes was applied very hastily, in fact, the spare tracks on the side of the hull were not even removed, receiving the camouflage too. The additional fuel tanks are not carried as the range required for these vehicles in the Sinai Desert was no longer necessary. Source: strijdbewijs.htm

The M-50s supplied to the Lebanese Christian Militias fought fiercely against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)

Many M-50s supplied to the Lebanese Militias were old and in bad condition and the inexperience of their Lebanese crews meant that they soon ran out of spare parts and were mostly used in fixed positions by digging the hull into the ground.

Before 1982, the PLO took possession of several vehicles that were dismantled. The PLO nevertheless managed to put two of them back into service and used them to fight in Beirut, until the Palestinians also ran out of spare parts. During the Israeli invasion in 1982, one of the two M-50s was destroyed by the Israelis near the Camille Chamoun Sports City Stadium while the other was found sometime later by French troops (employed in the NATO mission in Lebanon) hidden inside the ruins of the same stadium.

PLO M-50 Degem Bet destroyed near the Camille Chamoun Sports City Stadium, Lebanon, 1983. Source: wikipedia.com

At least three of the seventy-five M-50 supplied to Lebanese militias, two based on the M4A3 Sherman and one on a M4A1, which had been probably damaged, had their turrets removed and had angled armor plates added on every side of the turret ring along with three machine gun mounts. The armament, according to photographic evidence, consisted of a Browning M2HB and two Browning M1919 machine guns on the sides. It is not known to which Christian militia these belonged to and it is not even known how they were employed. The most accepted hypothesis claims that they would have been employed as command tanks or Armored Personnel Carriers (APC).

M-50 based on the M4A4 hull converted into an Armored Personnel Carrier or command tank in a street in the suburbs of Beirut. Source: armorama.com

When the South Lebanon Army disbanded in 2000, the M-50s which had survived (the SLA still had spare parts) were returned to Israel to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.

However, it is not known how many returned to Israel or the operational deployment of the other 40 Shermans sent to Lebanon.

The remaining vehicles not sent to Lebanon or Chile remained in the Israeli reserve until the mid-1980s and then nine were sold to museums, three to private collectors, four turned into monuments, while the others were scrapped.

Palestinians inspecting an M-50 captured from the South Lebanon Army on 3 March 1978. Source: Libanese Civil War

Post-IDF Upgrades

A document of the Ejército de Tierra (Spanish Army) dating from November 1982, proposed to the country’s High Command the modernization of some of the vehicles in service and examined some modernizations being carried out in other nations. Among the many proposals to upgrade Leopard 1s and M48 Pattons, an interesting proposal of the Israeli NIMDA company is mentioned. The Israeli company was planning to upgrade the M-50 and perhaps also the M-51 with the installation of a new power pack consisting of the Detroit Diesel V8 Model 71T engine connected to a transmission system with mechanical clutch or to an Allison TC-570 torque converter with a modified gearbox. After conversion, the tank would have a top speed of 40 km/h and a range increase of 320 km. The new drive system would also include dust filters and an improved cooling system that could be housed in the existing engine compartment without any structural changes.

The Detroit 8V-71T with an exhaust system similar to that mounted on Chilean Shermans. Source: pinterest.com

In addition, the company proposed the adaptation of the old CN-75-50 75 mm cannon, reboring it from 75 mm to 90 mm caliber, making it similar to the French-made CN-90-F3 90 mm L/53 cannon, the same one mounted on the AMX-13-90. The gun could fire rounds at a muzzle velocity of 900 m/s and could fire the same rounds as the GIAT D921 cannon of the Panhard AML armored car: HE and HEAT-SF. It could also fire an APFSDS round designed for another French 90 mm cannon.

This project was most likely proposed to Chile in 1983, but they opted for the IMI 60 mm Hyper-Velocity Medium Support 60 (HVMS 60) cannon, which was more effective in anti-tank combat.

The CN-90-F3, proposed by NIMDA on a AMX-13-90 tank. Source: chars-francais.net
Chilean M-50 with HVMS 60 during training, Command tank of the Grupo Blindado Nº 9 “Vencedores”, Pampa Chaca, Arica, 1991. Source: pinterest.com

In the early ’80s, Chile asked the Israeli Military Industry (IMI) for an upgrade package for the M-50.

A prototype armed with the new HVMS 60 was built on an M-50 hull and, after positive evaluations during training in 1983, it was presented to the Chilean High Command, which accepted to upgrade their sixty-five M-50. From early 1983, this vehicle was used by Chile, which only replaced them in 2006.

Camouflage and Markings

At the birth of the first armored corps in 1948, the IDF used the Olive Drab paint on its first Shermans, left by the British in military warehouses or purchased together with the first vehicles in Europe. Until the first half of the ’50s, Olive Drab was sometimes used in more brownish shades on all Israeli Shermans, including the very first M-50 Degem Alephs.

Already in the early ’50s, however, the “Sinai Gray” was tested on some M-3 Shermans, accepted in service shortly before the Suez Crisis. At least until 1959, the M-50s coming out of the conversion workshops were painted in Olive Drab.

An M-50 Cummins based on M4A3 hull in Tiberias nel 1967 during the march to the Golan Height. In the picture you can see the searchlight covered by a tarpaulin and the two antennas (one upright and the other folded). The Sinai Gray camouflage is very yellowish, on which you can notice, above the side box, the identification plate on a black background. Unfortunately, it is impossible to identify the platoon and company of the tank, but this Sherman is the third tank of the 4th Battalion. Source: pinterest.com

By the early ’60s, all the M-50s were painted in the new Sinai Gray which, however, as can be seen in many color photos of the time, had many shades, painted even to the discernment of local commanders. The Armored Brigades stationed in the Golan Heights and on the borders with Jordan, Syria and Lebanon had a darker or brownish color, while the vehicles used in the south, on the border with Egypt, had a more yellowish shade for use in the Sinai. Obviously, over the years, these vehicles were mixed in with the various Israeli armored units or were repainted with other shades.

An M-50 Degem Bets on the hull M4A3 advances on the Golan Heights in 1967. This tank is the 2nd Platoon’s command tank belonging to the 2nd Battalion. Markings of the company not present. Source: pinterest.com

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.

An M-50 tows a damaged M-51 (the knocked out right track is visible) along a road with a destroyed T-55 in the foreground. The M-50 belonged to the 1st Company of the 1st Battalion, while the M-51 belonged to the 3rd Company of the 3rd Battalion. Unfortunately, the platoon markings are not visible in this photo. Source reddit.com

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.

In pictures of the M-50s, these symbols are not always visible, as pictures taken during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 show many M-50s that had already been withdrawn from operational service, repainted and kept in reserve.

On some photos taken before the standardization of this system of markings, three white arrows can be seen on the sides of the vehicles in service in the Sinai, the markings of Israeli Southern Command. Others also had a number painted on the front that identified the weight of the vehicle. This was done to indicate if the tank was able to cross certain bridges or for transportation on trailers. The number was painted white inside a blue circle surrounded by another red ring.

Three Israeli M-50 Degem Aleph tanks (the first was based on M4A4 hull) on the Golan Heights. This tank was the command tank of the 1st Platoon of the 2nd Company (on the turret the symbol is ‘1א’) 4th Battalion. Above the box on the hull side you can see the plate used by the IDF to record losses in battle. Strangely, it is not on a black background). Source: pinterest.com

All seventy-five vehicles that were given to Lebanese militias were repainted in white before delivery.

A small number of the 35 Shermans delivered to the South Lebanese Army (SLA) were repainted with a blue-gray camouflage with black stripes. Some received a light blue camouflage, while others kept the white color with which they arrived from Israel in 1975. The M-50 of the SLA had the symbol of the South Lebanon Army, a hand holding a sword from which cedar tree branches (the symbol of Lebanon) came out in a blue circle, painted on the frontal glacis.

Four M-50s in Lebanon, the one on the right is on a M4A4 hull, while the other two are on M4A3 hulls. Starting from the left, the first and the third are painted in light blue, while the second and the fourth are left painted in white, as they arrived from Israel. Note the markings of the Phalangist Army of the SLA painted on the glacis. Source: facebook.com

The M-50 Degem Bets delivered to Chile in 1983 had another type of camouflage. The 85 M-51s Chile first received in 1979 arrived with Sinai Gray camouflage. The Ejército de Chile (Chilean Army) greatly appreciated the camouflage because, in the Atacama Desert, where Chilean crews were training, it was very useful. After a short time, however, they decided to switch to other paints because the dust and salt were affecting the Israeli paint (the Atacama Desert is the driest on earth because of the very high salt content). No single camouflage scheme was decided for the whole army, and it was the local commanders who chose the scheme and bought the paints.

The M-50s which arrived in Chile in 1983 were also in the classic Sinai Gray camouflage but were repainted immediately after being assigned to their units. Many of the camouflage patterns remain a mystery, but a lot of information is available about the ones used by the Regimiento de Caballería Blindada Nº 9 “Vencedores” (Eng: 9th Armored Cavalry Regiment) of the Regimiento de Caballería Blindada Nº 4 “Coraceros” (Eng: 4th Armored Cavalry Regiment) used in the north of Chile. This unit repainted some of its M-50s in a light sand yellow color and others in green-grey, similar to the Olive Drab. In the end, in 1991, all the Shermans of the Armored Group were re-painted in light sand yellow because the grey-green was covered by desert sand.

Myths to dispel

The nickname ‘Sherman’ given to the Second World War crews to their Medium Tank, M4 and now entered in the common language of video games, films or simply enthusiasts was never used, officially, by the IDF that has always called their M4 Medium Tanks as the name of its main guns, M-3 for all the Shermans armed of 75 mm M3 cannon, M-4 for all the Shermans armed with a 105 mm M4 howitzer and so on.
Consequently, the Shermans modified with the French CN 75-50 cannon took the name of M-50 Sherman.

The nickname ‘Super’ was actually used only for Sherman versions armed with 76 mm cannons. These, which also had a dozer blade, remained in very limited use through the Yom Kippur War, before being removed from service entirely. These vehicles were the only ones to receive this nickname from the IDF. These vehicles were supplied in the 1950s by the French.

The ISherman (aka Israeli Sherman) nickname is also often encountered, but it was never used by the Israeli Army to indicate any vehicle on the Sherman chassis. It probably originated from model kit producers or ill informed writers/journalists.

Chilean vehicles armed with the 60 mm cannon were never called, neither by the Chilean Army nor by the Israeli Army, M-60 Shermans. The only known name for this variant is M-50 with HVMS 60.

M-50 Degem Aleph on an M4A4 hull in 1973 without the hull machine gun and with the ‘round’ type commander’s cupola. Source: bukvoed.livejournal.com

Conclusions

The M-50 appeared as a vehicle of necessity for the Israeli Army. It was meant to make the standard M4 Shermans armed with the obsolete Second World War 75 mm M3 cannon effective enough to still be viable on the battlefield by upgunning them with more modern cannons and changing the engines.

In this period, the Arab armies were heavily rearming after the 1948 defeat and the IDF needed to have tanks capable of dealing with these more modern threats.

The M-50s proved themselves when fighting against similar vehicles of WW2 vintage, taking part in some of the crucial events that led to the continued existence of the Israeli nation. While they managed to also deal with later vehicles, such as the T-54 in some situations, by the late 60s and 1973, the M-50 was clearly obsolete.

Three M-50s of the 2nd Battalion, in the foreground the 2nd Platoon’s command tank, the last tank is the 2nd Platoon’s second. Source: pinterest.com

Degem Bet during the war of 1967, Golan heights, Syria.
M-50 of the South Lebanon Army with two tone camouflage scheme. Illustrations done by David Bocquelet.

M-50 Degem Bet specification

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.15 x 2.42 x 2.24 m
(20’1″ x 7’9″ x 7’3″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready 35 tonnes
Crew 5 (driver, machine gunner, commander, gunner and loader)
Propulsion Cummins VT-8-460 460 hp diesel with 606 liters tank
Top Speed 42 km/h
Range (road)/Fuel consumption ~300 km
Armament (see notes) CN 75-50 L.61,5 with 62 rounds
2 x Browning M1919 7.62 mm with 4750 rounds
Browning M2HB 12.7 mm with 600 rounds
Armor 63 mm frontal hull, 38 mm sides and rear, 19 mm top and bottom
70 mm mantlet, 76 mm front, sides and rear of the turret
Conversions 50 of the Degem Aleph version and 250 of the Degem Bet version

Sources

Chariots Of The Desert – David Eshel
Israeli Sherman – Thomas Gannon
Sherman – Richard Hunnicutt
Inside Israel’s Northern Command – Dani Asher
Lioness and lion of the line III Volume – Robert Manasherob
The Six Day War 1967: Jordan and Syria – Simon Dunstan
The Six Day War 1967: Sinai – Simon Dunstan
The Yom Kippur War 1973: The Golan Heights – Simon Dunstan
The Yom Kippur War 1973: The Sinai – Simon Dunstan

Special thanks to Mr. Joseph Bauder who shared a lot of information and anecdotes about the M-50 and Israeli vehicles in general improving this article in many ways.

Categories
Cold War Chilean Armor Cold War Israeli Armor

M-60 Sherman (M-50 with 60mm HVMS Gun)

Israeli Tanks Israel/Republic of Chile (1983)
Medium Tank – 65 Purchased & Modified

Simply put, the Chilean M-60 Sherman is a ‘modification of a modification’ of one of the most versatile tanks ever built, the American M4 Sherman. These Shermans had already been owned, upgraded and operated by the Israelis, who then sold them to Chile in the early 1980s. Chile bought 65 of these tanks, who in turn, requested that they be modified once more. This modification included the replacement of the main gun with a 60 mm (2.3 in) High-Velocity main gun, and a new Detroit Diesel engine.

By 1983, the M4 Sherman had been in active service with one country or another for 41 years. The Chilean Army (Spanish: Ejército de Chile) was about to extend this life further, only retiring their M-60 Shermans between 1999 and 2003. The 16 years of service the M-60 saw in Chile made it one of the last operational weaponized Sherman tanks to actively serve in any of the World’s militaries. The M-60s served alongside the far more modern French AMX-30, of which 21 were purchased in the early-1980s. The Shermans were replaced by the German Leopard 1V, in 1999.

Chile is a long, thin country located on the west coast of South America, with the Andes mountain range forming its eastern border. The country has seen a number of internal conflicts throughout its history. The last major conflict Chile fought was against Peru and Bolivia in what is known as the War of the Pacific (1879-1883). This resulted in a Chilean victory, but tensions between the three countries survive to this day. Chile has not taken part in any major international war in the 20th or 21st Centuries. In World War 2, Chile’s hesitation at declaring war on the Axis did not please the United States, who were pressuring the Latin American Countries to do just that. In 1943, Chile only broke diplomatic connections with Germany. It was not until 1945 that Chile would declare war on Japan as part of an agreement between the US and Chilean Governments. Diplomatic repercussions caused by the fact that Chile did not declare war on Germany resulted in reduced support from the US in the post-war years. Chile has maintained a very tense relationship with its neighbors, especially Argentina. However, it has taken – and does still take – part in a number of United Nations Peacekeeping missions across the globe. These included the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP, 1964-2013) and United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL, 1978-13). Throughout its history, the Chilean Army has been supplied by various countries, such as Israel, the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, and Spain.

An M4A4-based M-60 on maneuvers. Photo: Public Domain

Previous Experience

The M-60 variant was not the first type of Sherman to be employed by the Chilean Army. In 1947, following the signing of the Rio Treaty (Officially the ‘Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance) the United States supplied Chile with 30 M4A1 Shermans. This treaty, still in effect to this day, was signed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by multiple countries in the Americas. In a similar line to NATO, the principal article of the organization is that an attack against one is to be considered an attack against them all.

Two Chilean M4A1E9s on maneuvers in Antofagasta (north Chile) in 1975. The E9 was still in service with the Chilean Army in the mid-1970s. Photo: Familia Acorazada Del Ejército De Chile

Chile then acquired a further 46 from commercial sources. In 1948, this Sherman force was bolstered further by the arrival of 48 M4A1E9 Shermans, again supplied by the USA. The E9 was a modified M4A1 which saw an addition of a spacer set between the hull and bogies of the Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS). There was another spacer on the drive sprocket. The spacers allowed the addition extended end connectors to be fitted on both sides of the track, giving it a wider track. The E9 was supplied to many friendly countries of the USA after the Second World War.

Other upgrades included the addition of the newer vision cupola for the commander and a new hatch for the loader. The tank retained the standard 75mm M3 gun. They remained in service with the Chilean Army into the mid-1970s.

Third Hand Shermans

By the time the Chilean Army got hold of their M-60 Shermans, the tanks had already changed hands at least two times during their existence, making the South American buyers the third owners of these specific tanks. Originally, of course, the Sherman was an American tank which entered service with the Allies in 1941. During the Second World War, the M4 was used by the British, Soviet, French, Chinese and many other Allied nations. They also continued to serve with numerous countries after the war had ended. In the late 1940s, Israel found itself in need of tanks but was unable to purchase any directly, so instead, started scouring the scrapyards of Europe and acquired demilitarised Shermans which they brought back into service, ironically some of which had German guns. Over the next 20 or so years, this hodgepodge of all varieties of Sherman – from M4 to M4A4 – went through several upgrade programs.

In the early 1950s, with help from the French Military, a program began with the intent to upgrade their M4s. This included the addition of the 75mm SA 50 gun, as used on the AMX-13 light tank, which led to them being renamed the M-50 Sherman. In the 1960s, the tanks were upgraded once more to fit the 105 mm Modèle F1 gun. These upgrades received the M-51 designation and are often incorrectly called the ‘Super Sherman’ or ‘Isherman’. Along with this gun, all tanks were given a mobility improvement with the addition of the Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS) system and the Cummins V-8 460 horsepower diesel engine.

Chilean M-51s of Combat team ‘Niklitschek’, Aguada Dolores, 1991. Photo: Familia Acorazada Del Ejército De Chile

By the early 1970s, the 75 mm armed M-50s were being phased out. The 105mm armed M-51 would stay in service until the early 1980s. Once retired, Israel chose to sell them. The Republic of Chile would purchase a mix of around 100 M-50 and M-51 Shermans from 1983 onwards. A few of the purchased M-50s had previously had their 75 mm guns removed when they were retired, however, Israel offered to install a 60 mm Gun developed by OTO-Melara of Italy and Israeli Military Industries (IMI) instead. Twenty-seven of these tanks were dispatched to Chile in 1988. The 27 tanks arrived and were disembarked at Iquique, a port city in Northern Chile. The first of these newly armed tanks were placed in service with the 9th Armored Cavalry Regiment ‘Vencedores’ (Triumphant). More of these modified Shermans would arrive in Chile throughout the following years. It is thought that as many as 65 Shermans were upgraded to this standard.

Close up photo looking at the engine deck, 60mm gun and turret face of one of the modified Shermans. Note the new gun travel lock and, on the right of the photo, the cowling for the modified exhaust. Photo: Public Domain

These 60 mm-armed Shermans were known by a few different names. The most popular of these is the ‘M-60’. The Chilean Army christened it ‘M-60’ after the 60 mm gun. However, it is also known as the ‘M-50/60mm’ or ‘M-50 (HVMS)’.

It is reasonable to suggest that one of the reasons the Chilean Army decided to purchase the Israeli Shermans was the fact that they had already gained experience in operating and maintaining Sherman tanks. This is the author’s own opinion, however. Also, in 1976, the United States had placed an arms embargo on Chile, which barred the sale and import of weapons which lasted until 1989. Furthermore, the French government had vetoed the sale of more weapons to Chile in 1981. This meant that the market for a new tank was restricted and Chile had to do with an obsolete tank.

This photo was taken moments after the gun had fired during a live-fire exercise, noted by the red flag flying from the turret. Photo: Familia Acorazada Del Ejército De Chile

Chilean Changes

The two identifying features of the Chilean M-60 Sherman are the 60mm gun and the modified engine deck. It is these modifications that will be focussed on in this section. There were other, smaller additions though, such as an Israeli-style stowage bin on the engine deck overhanging the rear of the vehicle or an air deflector which was also added below the overhang to deflect heat away from the stowage bin. A new folding travel lock compatible with the 60mm barrel was also added to the rear of the engine deck.

The 60 mm Gun

Officially, the weapon is known as the 60 mm High-Velocity Medium Support (HVMS) Gun. It was a joint development started in the late 1970s between Israeli Military Industries (IMI) and OTO-Melara of Italy. The 60 mm (2.3 in) gun was designed for infantry support, the idea being to give infantry units increased anti-armor firepower by giving them a powerful, but light gun that could be mounted on light vehicles. A joint project to develop a lightweight turret housing the gun, which could be mounted directly onto light vehicles, such as the M113 APC, was planned, but this did not come to fruition. The two companies split during the project, developing their own versions. Despite being a success, the weapons did not enter service with either the Italians or the Israelis.

The 60 mm High-Velocity Medium Support (HVMS) Gun in testing on an ex-British 6-Pounder gun carriage. Photo: Unknown Source

The gun had a barrel length of 70 Calibers (4.2 meters), with a fume-extractor placed halfway down its length. The barrel was constructed using the autofrettage method of metal fabrication. In short, this allowed the barrel wall to be thin, but extremely tough. The gun utilized a hydrospring recoil system, meaning the spring surrounds the breach-end of the barrel, protected by a shroud. It is further protected from the elements by a truncated rubber – or possibly canvas – sleeve. The hydrospring system allows quick barrel changes as the gun and recoil system can be removed/installed as one unit.

The gun has the feature of being both manually and automatically loaded. Manually consists of the traditional method of sliding the shells into the vertically-sliding breach by hand, though, in this case, there is hydraulic assistance. The automatic method consists of a vertical magazine with a three-round capacity loaded in a similar way to Bofors’ automatic guns. This system is recoil-operated with a shell-to-shell reload of three seconds. These could be fired one-by-one, although there was also the option of firing a three-round burst. Chile decided to modify their guns to be manually loaded, with a new rate of fire of 12 rounds per minute.

A Spanish-language promotional poster produced by the Italian Company OTO-Melara, featuring the statistics of the APFSDS-T round and the High-Explosive shell. Photo: Foro Militar General

The weapon was equipped with both High-Explosive (HE) and Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding-Sabot, Tracer (APFSDS-T) rounds. Both rounds were produced by OTO-Melara. In Israeli tests, the gun proved to be precise at over 2,500 m. The APFSDS projectile flew at an initial speed of 1,600 meters-per-second and was able to penetrate the side armor (15 – 79 mm thick) of two T-62’s, side-by-side, at 2,000 m. At maximum, the dart could penetrate 120 mm of armor, angled at 60 Degrees, at a distance of 2,000 m.

The 60 mm guns were delivered separately from the tanks. Chilean Military Industries were given the task of installing the guns in the tanks, which involved modifying the existing mantlets to accept the new guns. The installation process and modifications were developed by the Israeli based NIMDA Co. Ltd. Apart from the installation of the appropriate gunnery and sighting systems, and new ammunition racks for the 60 mm rounds, very little modifications to the turret were needed. The Sherman was not the only tank upgraded with this weapon. The Chilean Army also had a number of their older M24 Chaffee tanks adapted to carry the gun.

New Engine

The other major upgrade to the M-50s came in the form of a new engine. The old Cummins V-8 460 hp diesel engines were worn out, and a replacement was required. The chosen replacement was the more powerful 535 hp V-8 Detroit Diesel 8V-71T engine.

Two M-60s on maneuvers. Note the exhaust emerging from the engine deck onto the sponson of the tank. Photo: Unknown Source

The introduction of this engine required some modification to the engine deck. On M4 tanks, the exhaust vents out of the rear of the tank, between the idler wheels. On the M-60 version, the exhaust vented out of the top of the deck. A hole had to be cut in the top of the engine deck, on the right side of the hull, near the air intakes. The exhaust pipe extended from the hole, down on to the upper portion of the sponsons. Additionally, a protective cowling was welded over it. The Israeli-added armor over the air intake was kept in place to protect the exhaust where it emerged from the deck.

Service

The tensions between Chile and Peru never subsided after the Pacific War of 1879-83. In the late 20th Century, when the M-60s entered service, tensions were at their highest between Chile and their northern neighbor. There was a fear that the two countries would once more fall into conflict. The Chilean Army had great faith that their M-60s, and indeed their M-51s of which they retained over 100, would be able to combat the Peruvian, Soviet-origin T-55s. Although both sides prepared for it, a war never materialized.

The M-60s would continue to serve past this point, complemented by the M-51s, 60mm-upgraded M24 Chaffees, and even a few French AMX-30s which were purchased in the early 1980s. In the late 1990s, Chile began to receive German Leopard 1Vs, supplied by the Netherlands between 1999 and 2000 and a few more AMX-30s. With this, the M-60s and M-51s became redundant. They were finally removed from service between 1999 and 2003. This made them some of the last operational weaponized Shermans in any military in the world, bringing the total service life of the M4 Sherman to approximately 60 years.

Although the tanks were retired, it appears that the guns continued to serve. Despite the fact there does not seem to be any currently available photos, some of the guns were reportedly mounted on Chilean license-built MOWAG Piranha I 8x8s. While most of the Shermans ended up as range targets, at least one survives as a museum piece. This tank can be found in the Museo de Tanques del Arma Caballeria Blindada in Iquique.

M-60 Sherman at the Tanques del Arma Caballeria Blindada in Iquique, 2012. Photo: Surviving Israeli Shermans


Illustration of an M-60 (HVMS), produced by Tanks Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.15m x 2.42m x 2.24m
(20’1″ x 7’9″ x 7’3″ ft.in)
Total weight, battle ready: 35 Tons (32 tonnes)
Crew : 5 (Commander, gunner, loader, driver, bow-gunner)
Propulsion: V-8 Detroit Diesel 8V-71T 535 hp V-8
Suspensions: Horizontal Volute Springs Suspensions (HVSS)
Top Speed Aprx. 40-45 kph (25-27 mph) M51/M50
Armament (see notes) Main: OTO-Melara 60mm (2.3 in) High-Velocity Medium Support (HVMS) Gun
Sec: Coaxial .30 Cal (7.62mm) machine gun
Armour Hull nose and turret 70, sides 40, bottom 15, rooftop 15 mm
Total Converions 65

Sources

Familia Acorazada Del Ejército De Chile
Thomas Gannon, Israeli Sherman, Darlington Productions
Thomas Gannon, The Sherman in the Chilean Army, Trackpad Publishing
www.theshermantank.com
www.army-guide.com
www.mapleleafup.nl
The Sherman Minutia


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