Racing to the Ramp – Israeli Shot Kal Alef (Modified Centurion) at the Golan Heights 1973
The struggle between Israel and Syria for the Golan Heights in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 was one of the epic battles pitting large numbers of tanks and APC’s. A small brigade of Israeli tanks comprised of about 100 modified Centurions delayed and defeated a Syrian infantry division five times their size between October 6th through the 9th 1973. The Israelis held the high ground on Golan Heights overlooking the valley below at Quneitra. Today the site is called the Valley of Tears due to the large number of destroyed Syrian tanks and other vehicles strewn across the valley.
On the 9th of October, Lt. Colonel Avigdor Kahalani was commanding a scratch battalion of tanks scrapped together from several surviving tank units on the northern edge of the Golan Heights. They were positioned some few hundred yards from the ramp, a ridge overlooking the valley. The Israelis had prepared firing positions on the ramp but two days of intense fighting had forced the 7th Brigade to rear defensive positions. Kahalani led several tanks to regain the ramp, racing there just in time to see the spread of oncoming Syrian tanks in the valley below trying to make a final push to break into the high ground. The timely re-occupation of the firing positions saved the day for the Israelis and resulted in carnage for the attacking Syrians below. This vignette captures the moment Kahalani’s lead tank regained the firing position.
The Shot Kal Alef was the first in a series of Israeli modifications to the basic British Centurion Mk 3 and Mk 5 tanks. The engine was replaced with a more powerful Continental diesel engine similar to the US M48s/M60’s. The main gun was changed to the 105mm L7 gun, and upgrades were made to the turret to improve ammo stowage and turning mechanism. In the Yom Kippur War, the Shot Kal outclassed the Soviet T-55 and T-62 in range and accuracy.
Ace Models of Ukraine makes this gem of a model in 1/72 scale. There are as many parts in this kit as one would find in a 1/35 scale model and the detail level is superb. There is also a photo-etch fret and the tracks and cables are made of soft plastic. There are many shared parts used in other Centurion kits from Ace Models, so all kinds of conversions are possible from the extra parts. The decals also turned out to be very good (no silvering, settles down perfectly with Micro Sol). My main complaint was the vague and sometimes erroneous instructions. Part fit is so-so with some gaps in the turret assembly that needed filling. For the experience modeller, this kit is a nice challenge but it could overwhelm someone just starting with 1/72 tanks. Two sets of markings are provided, both Israeli armor from the Yom Kippur War. I chose the more interesting one used by Lt. Col. Kahalani at thje Golan Heights.
Unlike newer kits with a single piece hull, these have to be built into a box with inside reinforcements. The hull top fit was less than stellar so some gentle persuasion was needed using rubber bands.
The turret too is a complex assymetric shape made up of several walls forming an approximate hexagon of sorts. Note the gaps on the turret.
The stowage basket in the turret’s rear and details on the cupola are very good but painstaking to say the least.
More stowage boxes are added to the main hull, and later on, the main carriages for the road wheels.
In preparation for painting, the major open seams around the turret had to be sealed using gap sealing technique (Tutorial 3).
I under toned the model with Tamiya NATO Black XF-69 followed with highlights in Sky Grey XF-19. The base color for the tank is a mixture of 75% Israeli San Grey and 25% Medium Green FS34102. This helps give a greener look similar to Israeli tanks in 1973, as compared to the more grey look today.
Tracks are first painted in Tamiya NATO Black XF-69, and then highlighted with 2B pencils and Prismacolor silver.
Tracks are joined together using superglue and Loctite 770 Primer.
Tarpaulin parts of turret are painted in Tamiya Khaki XF-49.
Decals for Lt. Colonel Kahalani were applied on the main hull as well as some unique markings probably field-applied by Kahalani’s crew on the wheel compartment shields. Then after sealing with a satin varnish, an oil color wash of 50% Lamp Black + 50% Burnt Umber.
I must confess that one of my un-favorite things to do with a tank model is building overly busy and fragile rolling stock and pinions. So many wheels to paint, and not too exciting. However, road wheels are a big part of any tank so I pushed myself to finish this section.
Trickiest part as always are the tank tracks. Lot’s of patience and care in installing the tracks so as not to (1) break the joints of the treads and (2) break the front roller sprocket where the elastic force of the tracks may break them.
Now comes the fun part of adding all these tiny hand tools on the hull of the Shot Kal. The wood finish is a base of Deck Tan XF-68 with the same dark brown oil wash used on the hull. Metal parts are painted with NATO Black FS-69 followed by Prismacolor silver highlights.
Now comes this troublesome part. The kit soft plastic towing cables were too short for the positions shown in the actual tank and kit instructions. I replaced these with scratch-built cables twisted from lamp wiring. They look much more realistic than the ropey ones that do not look like steel cables at all.
To make the Lt. Colonel himself, I started with a plastic figure from Redbox Ukraine’s USA WW2 Tank Crew Summer. I used Tamiya Two Part Epoxy mix to make the Yom Kippur War era spherical radio helmet around the figure’s head, and also had to make the replacement hands for the figure that were poorly molded. Then I painted the figure’s uniform with Vallejo US Dark Green 70.893, and the helmet is the same mix as the tank’s main hull color tinted with a little bit more green.
Looking at historical photographs, one important detail of the Yom Kippur War tank battles against Syria was the use of these bright yellow identification sheets. This was critical in helping Israeli pilots identiofy friendly units on the ground, since there were so many AFV’s on the ground. I made this one out of facial tissue soaked in white glue solution, then spread while wet onto the hull. Once it dried, i painted it in-situ with Tamiya Yellow XF-3.
The final touch was a dusting of desert dust with XF-57 Buff on the shields, tracks and undersides. I tend to believe that subtle and less is more so as not to overdo it.
The display base itself was a ramp with wooden blocks on one side to create the gradient. I built the raised stonework to protect the tanks in their hull down positions that can still be seen along the Golan Heights and painted the whole base with Buff XF-57.