Academy 1/48 Merkava
Reviewed by Michael Benolkin
The Israeli army is one of the most powerful ground forces in the world. They have fought some major tank battles against impossible odds with little more than modified WW2-era Sherman tanks. However, from the time that Israel became a state, it had acquired all of its armor from abroad, including the Sherman, Centurion, and M60. It also 'recycled' captured armor and fielded some impressive firepower from former T-54, T-55 and T-62 tanks.
However, the lessons learned from fighting the Egyptian army on the southern front of the 1973 war pointed to the vulnerabilities of their tanks on the modern battlefield. It was from these lessons that the Merkava was born.
The Merkava would become the first Israeli-designed, Israeli-built main battle tank, and it would put crew survivability ahead of many other considerations. For instance, the engine and drive train are located in the front of the tank, so even penetrating hit would only disable the tank and not reach the inside of the crew compartment. As a result, the turret is mounted further aft than other tanks.
The designers gave the hull and turret sloping faces to avoid giving an incoming missile or tank round very little direct surface to hit. Another interesting feature of the tank is the unique clamshell doors on the rear of the tank that open into a small compartment that will house a small squad of fully equipped soldiers.
Its main gun was based on the same type of 105mm gun as the M60 and early M1 Abrams tanks. Like the M1 Abrams, later versions of the Merkava were equipped with the 120mm main gun. In action, the Merkava has proven to be a formidable equalizer on the battlefield.
In its first operations against guerilla forces in Lebanon, the Merkava experienced some braking problems - once they got moving to the north, they didn't get stopped until they reached the outskirts of Beirut!
Academy has introduced this kit as the first of a series or remote-control, smaller scaled armor kits in 1/48 scale. Evidently, the small-scale tethered control tanks are popular in several parts of the world and this offering is likely to expand that interest.
This kit represents the earlier versions of the Merkava. Molded in Israeli gray/green-colored styrene, this kit is actually a snap-together model. The kit is flash-free and also free of any visible injector pin marks. Interestingly enough, the transmission is pre-installed in the lower hull.
The tank is powered by two electric motors, one driving each track. Rubber-band-styled track are provided, though the track pattern is accurate for an Abrams, not the Merkava. This really isn't a big deal since you'd probably be building this tank to hunt cats and other household pets, not to win contests.
Assembly of the tank looks to be nothing more than an hour or so of clipping, filing and snapping into place. Painting will probably take a little longer than assembly, and the tank only requires one color (aside from the rubber tires on the road wheels).
The wire leads will have to be attached to the two motors in the hull, and while a simple 'strip and twist' will work, I'd recommend soldering the leads into place. The batteries are housed in the remote controller, and while it will accept C cells for power, the unit has an interesting adapter included to allow the use of AA batteries instead.
This kit is designed for fun, though a serious 1/48 scale modeler can omit the motors and wiring and achieve a decent Merkava (if you also replace the track). I'm going to get this one together while cat season is still open and see if I can bag the limit!
My sincere thanks to MRC for this review sample.