Israel’s relationship with its armoured forces stands out in the annals of military history. This article delves into the captivating journey of Israel’s most renowned Main Battle Tanks: the Merkava, M60 Patton, Centurion, M48 Patton, and the Super Sherman. Each of these tanks embodies a tale of ingenuity, adaptability, and resilience. From the domestically manufactured Merkava to the reliable American workhorses M60 and M48 Patton, the British Centurion, and the upgraded Super Sherman from World War II, these tanks have not only shaped but also been shaped by the strategic realities of the Middle East.
Israel’s Top 5 Battle Tanks
The IDF developed the Merkava, a series of main battle tanks, in Israel. It prioritizes crew protection with reinforced front armour and the engine in the front. The first generation entered service in 1979, and four variants have been deployed, with the latest being the Merkava Mark 4 Barak. The tanks gained experience in the 1982 Lebanon War. Now, for the first time, a significant number of these tanks are expected to be sold to two foreign countries, including one in Europe. The tanks were previously decommissioned but found suitable for active duty due to increased demand for armoured vehicles. Authorization from the US Department of Defence is needed due to American-made components. Approval is expected soon for the deal worth tens of millions of dollars.
The M60 Patton, an American MBT, was introduced in February 1952 as a replacement for several tanks. It served as the main battle tank for the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. Israel’s Defence Force (IDF) was a major operator of the M-60, upgrading many of them into “Magach Model 7” and Model 8 variants. Israel initially sought to purchase M47 tanks from the US but faced refusal. They later signed a deal with West Germany for M48A2 tanks, but due to opposition from Arab nations, only a fraction of the planned tanks were delivered. The US stepped in to supply the remaining tanks. After the Yom Kippur War, the US transferred a significant number of M48, M60, and M60A1 tanks to Israel. In the late 1970s, Israel received M48A5 tanks, followed by M60A3 tanks in the 1980s. These tanks played a crucial role in the IDF’s Armor Corps and were upgraded with reactive armour cells and improved fire control systems. They saw action in The War in Lebanon in 1982.
The Centurion, a main battle tank utilized by the British Army after World War II, was first introduced in 1945. It is widely regarded as one of the most successful tank designs in the post-war era, remaining in production until the 1960s and actively participating in combat until the 1980s. Israel’s military employed Centurions in various conflicts such as the 1967 Six-Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1978 South Lebanon conflict, and the 1982 Lebanon War. Additionally, modified Centurions were utilized as armoured personnel carriers in Gaza, the West Bank, and along the Lebanese border. As part of an agreement, Israel purchased numerous outdated Centurion tanks, while the UK allowed Israel to contribute to the final stages of Chieftain tank development, sold Chieftains to Israel, and assisted in establishing an assembly line for Chieftains within Israel. Israeli tank crews favoured the British Centurion tank due to the M60 hydraulic lines being prone to rupture, which often resulted in crew injuries and the ammunition stored in the turret is susceptible to ignition upon turret hits.
The M48 Patton, an MBT developed in the United States, made its debut in February 1952. Created to replace multiple tank models including the M26 Pershing, M4 Sherman, M46, and M47 Patton, it served as the primary battle tank for the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. Israel’s initial batch of M48 Patton tanks (M48A2 variant) was acquired secretly from West Germany in the early 1960s. Additional deliveries came from the United States (M48A1 and M48A2C vehicles) after 1965, as Germany discontinued further shipments due to the revelation of the arms deal. At the onset of the Six-day War in 1967, only 120 out of 250 M48 tanks were combat-ready, and they actively engaged in the conflict primarily on the Sinai front against the Egyptian army. Israel seized around 100 M48 and M48A1 tanks from Jordan, despite Jordan only possessing 170 M48 tanks. Following the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the United States provided a significant number of M48, M60, and M60A1 tanks to Israel as replacements for the substantial losses suffered in combat. From the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, Israel received 150 M48A5 tanks and another 300 M60A3 tanks from the United States. The M60 tanks became the backbone of the IDF’s Armor Corps, featuring upgrades such as reactive armour cells and improved fire control systems. These tanks played a crucial role in the 1982 War in Lebanon.
The Super Sherman, also known as the Sherman M-50 and Sherman M-51, were modified versions of the American M4 Sherman tank used by the Israel Defence Forces from the 1950s to the 1980s. Israel purchased the AMX-13 tank from France but decided to integrate its 75mm main guns onto the more familiar and better-armoured hull of the Sherman tank. The project began in 1954, and by 1955, a prototype turret was sent to Israel. In March 1956, the Sherman tanks were upgraded with the 75mm tank guns, creating the Sherman M-50. The term Super Sherman refers to around sixty Shermans armed with the 76mm cannon obtained from France in 1956. The IDF made additional enhancements to the Sherman tanks, including replacing the gasoline engine with a more powerful diesel engine and replacing the narrow tracks with wider ones for improved mobility.