In the late 50’s the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) realized, with their neighboring countries acquiring newer more modern tanks, their own need to improve their tank force. The answer came in the form of the up gunned Sherman M51. For those of you familiar with the name “Isherman”, I would like to note the IDF never referred to the tank by that name. It was a creation of the media.
The M51 was a result of the addition of a French 105mm gun into the T-23 Sherman turret. This in turn required an extension to the rear of the turret, which housed the radio and balanced the weight of the gun. All of the tanks were also rebuilt with the HVSS suspension. The first production batches retained the Continental radial engines, but by the mid ‘60’s they were all upgraded with Cummins diesels. Other modifications included stowage bins and jerrycan holders on the sides and rear of the tank, a searchlight mounted on the gun mantlet, smoke grenade launchers mounted on the sides of the turret, and on some M51’s spare track racks on the side of the turret. Still the most significant mod, and the one most people remember, was the long gun with the very distinctive muzzle brake. The tanks for the most part were based on the cast hull late large hatch M4A1, but there were a few 47 degree welded hull M4A3’s.
The M51 was first introduced to the public in 1962. During it’s time in service with the IDF the M51 saw action in 1967 in the Six-day War and again in 1973 in the Yom Kippur War. In both conflicts the M51 and it’s crews proved themselves a very worthy adversary to the newer more modern Soviet designed T-54’s, T-55’s, and T-62’s being used against them. The M51 was not officially retired until the late ‘80’s – early ‘90’s, and it is believed to have been used in reserve units up to 1995 or there about. It was also exported as early as 1979 with about 120 (possibly more) going to Chili, where it was still in service until early in the 21st century.
I had grown accustomed to the constant flow of WW2 subjects from Dragon, so the announcement of the Premium edition M51 came as a bit of a surprise, but a pleasant one none the less.
Upon opening the box you find:
• 14 of the familiar Dragon light gray styrene sprues
• one sprue for the clear parts
• two small bags with the outer portions of the road and idler wheels
• the lower hull tub
• a set of tan DS tracks (though my kit only included one run)
• two photo etch frets
• a turned aluminum barrel
• 12 small springs, and 6 small brass tubes; These items are included for the new HVSS suspension.
• a clear lens for the searchlight
• a small sheet of decals
Many of the parts are from the old kit, originally produced in 1997, but some are from more recently tooled kits. You can see by a quick comparison with the sprues from the original kit that the older molds have been “tweaked.” This “tweaking” has brought about much crisper detail throughout the kit. It should be noted that Dragon’s original kit represented a tank from one of the later batches of M51’s, and the “new” kit is no different. As such if you are looking to build a model of an M51 that took part in either the Six-day or Yom Kippur Wars, some backdating will be necessary if you want to be totally accurate.
The instructions are what we have now become used to from Dragon. That is, an eight page fold out style, with the parts layout, build steps, and one page of painting and marking diagrams. There are a total of twenty build steps using the familiar “exploded” drawing type diagrams. I haven’t built the kit but looking over the instructions I couldn’t find any glaring errors, though there are a couple of things that I will point out when I reach that part of the kit in the review.
Here at the bottom is where you find most of the changes with the kit, beginning with the suspension. This is the same HVSS suspension that was tooled for the new M4A3E8 and as such has been discussed in depth in reviews here and elsewhere so I will just give the highlights.
Each of the six separate suspension assemblies has 28 separate parts, including a brass tube and two small steel springs which the carpet monster is already eyeing hungrily. The road wheels and idlers have separate tires which should make painting easier. The tires have a faint seam around the center of the outside which is correct for a new tire. For a more worn look this should be sanded off. They also have “US Tire” in raised letters on the sidewall which is a nice detail. The road wheels and idlers have details on both sides which are very well rendered. The idler mounts themselves are adjustable, and I would suggest leaving them loose until you fit the tracks so the tracks will fit snugly. The final drive and sprockets are both new, and for the sprockets you are given the option of either the fancy or plain type. The larger return rollers are made up of two pieces each, and there is nice detail on the inside surfaces of each one.
Looking at the instructions and having read a couple of build reviews, assembly can be tedious, so again study the instructions closely and dry fit everything. I will point out that placement of parts Q13 and Q14 is not very clear in the instructions. For a good build review check out Pat McGrath’s build feature of the M4A3E8 here on Armorama. He also includes a corrected scan of the assembly of parts Q13 and Q14. Here is a link:
The tracks are another all new part of the kit. They are of the same type as the original kit, the T80 all steel. Dragon has used their DS plastic to give us two very nicely detailed runs where the end connectors are well done with good bolt head detail on the ends. Included are separate hollow guide teeth, which must be glued on. This will be tedious work, but it makes for a very nicely detailed set of tracks. (and still not as many parts as those that came with the original kit)
Again, we have a totally new piece here. The lower hull is again taken from the M4A3E8 kit. It is a one piece tub with sponson floors and mounting points for the return rollers molded on. It has details on the bottom also, engine access and escape hatches, and also fluid drain plugs. A separate piece for the final drive cover is included; it depicts the cast “sharp-nose” type, with molded on cast texture and tow shackle mounting points. The texture is a little overdone, but that may not matter to some. The rear plate is a separate piece also and is unique to the M51. It includes the covered over position for the original exhaust pipes.
The upper hull is from the original kit, but as I mentioned earlier the molds have been tweaked. The details are crisper and more defined. This can be seen in the comparison pictures where the new and old hulls are shown side by side, especially when looking at the foundry mark on the front. Again the hull has the cast texture molded in, that again I think when comparing to pictures is a little overdone. There are also now separate armored fuel filler caps with PE chains from the M4A2/A3 kits for added detail. These can be left open if desired to show the fuel caps below. The rear plate for the upper hull is a separate piece, which like a number of other parts, is unique to the M51. It had to be altered to fit the Cummins diesel into the engine bay.
Let me note here that in the other reviews of this kit that are currently out on the web, the reviewers state that to fit the top and bottom hull pieces together the front outer edge of the sponson floors (about a ¼”) will have to be removed to fit the upper hull. This is not mentioned in the instructions, and I’m not convinced you should do this. I’m certainly not basing this on the fact that it’s not called out in the instructions, I know Dragon’s reputation for errors in their instructions. While test fitting the two pieces it occurred to me that the small “shelf” may be there to help support the PE front fenders. Hopefully when I get around to building it, or if someone else does, that will be made clear.
There is one area on the upper hull that was a problem spot in the old kit and it remains so in the new one. This is the area between the drivers and radio operator’s periscopes in the front. This area should not be as flat as it is, but instead there should be a little more of a “valley” there. The difference is subtle but you can see it when looking at pictures. The fix (if you choose to do so) isn’t hard, just take a small round file and remove a little of the plastic between the periscope covers. The plastic is more than thick enough, so there is no worry of filing a hole there.
Upper Hull Details
Starting at the front, you are given a choice of plastic or PE for the headlight and horn guards. The headlights themselves are clear parts. Moving up a little, the periscopes for the radio operator and driver and their hatch periscopes are separate pieces with clear parts that can be shown open or closed. The periscope guards are separate pieces, and you are given the choice of either PE or plastic. The hatch grab handles are also separate but you will need to cut off the small plastic blob that was originally intended to be the handle. The ventilator between the hatches can be shown open or closed. Open with a 3 piece PE part or closed with a plastic part. The fenders are etched brass and you have a choice of etched brass or plastic for the side pieces. There are four total on each side including the front fenders. A brass folding tool will come in very handy here if you decide to go with the PE option. For the side fender braces, again you are given the option of brass or plastic and both look good. The Israeli’s added stowage bins to the sides of the M51 and these are included with nicely rendered details. There are three jerry cans and their racks for each side and once again you have the option of brass or plastic. The spare wheels mounted on the left side are included and have nice details. The exhaust pipe for the auxiliary motor is also located on the left side, and it now comes with a PE heat shield. Moving back up to the top of the hull, there is a separate engine deck which is unique to the M51. It includes plastic and brass parts and once built up should look the part. There is also the gun travel lock, that when compared to pictures looks good. The travel lock was the only part I could find noticeable pin marks on, and they would only be visible if you chose to put it in the upright position. Aside from all the parts specific to the M51 there are also the usual Sherman fittings. The tools have molded on tie-downs, though there is one PE piece for the shovel. To use it, the corresponding molded on detail will need to be removed. The taillights, which are clear pieces, have etched brush guards and covers. The grouser box vents also come with etched screens. It should be noted that there is no rear stowage bin, which was often seen on these tanks.
The turret is taken from the original kit, again with crisper molding. It has the casting texture molded in, and here even more so than on the hull, it is overdone. This is where you really might want to brush on some Mr. Surfacer or something similar to smooth out the surface a little. The turret comes in two pieces. The seam between the upper and lower parts will need to be smoothed out then re-textured, but the fit is good so this shouldn’t be a problem. It comes with a separate pistol port which will need to be fared in with some putty. Other than these two areas the turret looks good. The extended rear bustle looks to have the correct shape when compared to pictures, and the rail around the bustle is a separate part. The weld detail is there and also some foundry numbers on the roof of the turret.
To help update it, Dragon has taken some parts from their other new Sherman kits. You get a new commander’s cupola and hatch, with clear parts for the periscopes, and a new gunner’s hatch with molded on hatch springs that are well done. There are PE grab handles for the hatches, or plastic ones which would probably look better than the flat brass. The turret mounted .50 caliber machine gun is new and has a slide molded hollowed out barrel. For the .50 gun crutch you have the option of plastic or PE, and the same option is given for the roof sighting vane. You will also find the usual turret lifting rings and fittings.
There are a pair of smoke grenade launchers for each side of the turret that come in two pieces so they will need a little cleaning up to get rid of the seams. Included for each one are PE end caps with retaining chains. Also in the box you will find a spare track rack for the side of the turret, but it is shown as not used in the instructions. If you want to mount it, I would suggest finding a good picture and use it for reference. Missing once again is the small storage box found on the right side near the commander’s cupola and the base plate for the mortar.
Moving on to the main gun and mantlet, the mantlet is nicely done and has the beefed up appearance that was seen on the M51. There is a two piece “canvas” dust cover that fits around the mantlet. Because of this you can’t raise or lower the main gun. (which I don’t see as a problem) The searchlight that is mounted on the mantlet comes with a separate clear lens. The lens is not on the sprue with the other clear parts, but in the small bag with the decals. I missed it at first. For the main gun you are given a very nice turned barrel to depict the long French 105.
With respect to the muzzle brake, this is the part in the kit that most discussions have focused on. In my original review I stated, based on info I had at the time that the new muzzle brake was too small. Since then new info has come to light. Thanks to Chris “Toadman” Hughs, who was able to measure the M51 muzzle brake in the Littlefield collection we now know the new tool brake is very close to being correct. The new muzzle brake is OK in length and width but is approximately 1mm too short in height. So the new MB matches Chris's measurements pretty well. Also, not only does it measure out closer to the actual item, the new muzzle brake captures the shape of the M51’s distinctive brake beautifully when compared to photos!
Decals & Painting
The decals printed by Cartograph are clear and in register, and I can see no problems with them, except for the fact that they are for an M51 that took part in the Six-day war. As I noted above some backdating will be required if you are concerned with total accuracy. Marking instructions are only included for one specific tank;
M51, Zippori Brigade, IDF, Sinai 1967.
In addition you are given generic white numbers and two black “plate” decals if you want to create your own registration numbers. The color called out to use is a sandy brown which would be correct for 1967, but for a later M51 the color would be a little darker.
When this kit was first announced I was excited that Dragon was giving the M51 the “premium” treatment, as it is my favorite Sherman variant. That long 105mm main gun with the big distinctive muzzle brake gives the “common” Sherman a very muscular look. While my excitement has been tempered somewhat, by the admittedly small problems, still, Dragon has done a very nice job bringing this kit up to today’s standards. I would recommend this kit for Sherman, IDF fans, or if you are looking to build a model of the ultimate Sherman. This kit will still look good even OOTB. The new suspension, even though some may find the workable units gimmicky, is a big improvement and should look very good once assembled. I could find no fit problems on the few pieces I played with. There are no pin marks in prominent places except for the gun travel lock mentioned. If you wanted to go the extra mile and put just a little extra work into it the kit could be a real show stopper.
IDF M51 Online refs
IDF Modelling # 1
IDF Modelling # 2
Israeli Sherman: Tracing the history of the Sherman tank in Israeli service. By Thomas Gannon
Published by Darlington Publications ISBN 1 892848 06 6
From what I have been able to find out this is the IDF Sherman reference book. Unfortunately it is apparently OOP and if found can be expensive (I found one used copy on Amazon.com for $89.00).
Hunnicutt’s Sherman book also has a section on Israeli Shermans, which while short, is informative.
Since the original write up I have now also found out we can soon expect to see new books from Tom Gannon on the Sherman in IDF service. This will be a two volume set, quoting Tom, “it’s much more comprehensive than the old one”.
As well there will also be more reference books on Israeli Shermans coming very soon from SabingaMartin publishers.