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Building the IDF Chataf and Fitter Variants

The M113 amoured personnel carrier was developed during the late 1950’s and entered production in 1960. The base variant would be upgraded over the years and developed into numerous specialty variants. Variants included anti-aircraft vehicles such as the m163 Vulcan, m727 HAWK and M48 Chaparral variants. Ground support vehicles such as the m106 107mm mortar, TOW and advanced TOW types. A tactical nuclear missile variant known as the ‘Lance’ was also developed, as well as many others both direct from FMC and homegrown. The m113 would eventually see service with many western and allied countries through out the latter half of the twentieth century. Of these the Israeli army would become the largest user of the vehicle with an estimated 4,000 -5,000 vehicles in service.

The first vehicles to come into Israeli hands were likely captured from Jordan during the Six Day War. During the Late 1960s and early 1970s Israel started buying them direct from the U.S. to replace their aging fleet of m3/5/9 halftracks. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War the vehicles proved their usefulness and the Israelis continued to acquire more of them to fill out their mechanized units and replace their aging fleet of halftracks. Over the years many modifications and variants have been made to the vehicles seen in Israeli service.

Of all the variants used, the Fitter and its cousins The CHATAP series, are possibly the most important to the continued mobility of the mechanized units at the front. The CHA'TAP or "company repair group" units are based on the m113, with different vehicles equipped to handle different jobs within the brigade group. These include vehicles to repair computers, electronics and the usual mechanical repairs of the parent unit. Vehicles would generally be equipped to handle a specific type of vehicle, such as Merkava, Centurion or Patton series of vehicles. Vehicles are then divided into smaller groups called kitot, this designation can is sometimes to be found on the front left fender of the vehicle. Many different layouts on the vehicles have been seen, some with interchangeable plates with attachment points for different storage units as well as the m579 variant with a light crane on the left side of the vehicle. This “fitter” and CHA'TAP are the subject of our article.

The kit

The base kit used for all three versions is the Academy IDF Fitters kit, number 1388. The kit comes packed with many useful extra bits and pieces that allow you to construct a number of vehicle types. These parts include a regular top for the vehicle, acav gun shields and numerous bits specific to the IDF. While the kit is for the most part well molded there are an inordinate number of ejection marks both sunken and raised. A few other problems were encountered during construction and I'll deal with them as I get to them.

Over the last few years I seem to have contracted the photo-etch bug, so along with three Academy kits I also purchased three Eduard photo-etch sets for the m113 fitter. These are set number 35-202 and they are really nice. For the modular chatap variant I bought both the AEF Designs kit number KI-56 and MR Models kit number 35139 of the same vehicle. Of the two kits the AEF designs kit was definitely the better. The MR kit did have a few nice pieces like the tow hooks seen on most Israeli vehicles and support rests for the front worktable seen on most fitters. The casting of the storage boxes however left something to be desired. I already had the Verlinden kit number 506, which I had previously built and now used for parts and reference. The Verlinden kit is nicely cast and comes with a decent photo-etch fret, though it too would benefit from Eduard’s set.

From AEF designs I was given two new photo-etch sets to try out. Both are made by On The Mark Models, with one being designed for AEF and the other to be released by On The Mark in 2002. Both frets are approximately 5 X 7 inches and include the modular plates for sides of m113 as well as two sizes of storage boxes. Along with the plates are many other parts to complete either the m579 fitter with crane, standard ChaTap or a M113 apc circa the 1980’s. To enhance the vehicles I used parts from photo-etch sets from Aber, On The Mark Models, as well as many pieces from the spare parts box.


The crane variant

I started construction by building the interiors of all three kits at the same time. The academy kit comes with a partial interior for the crane variant which is fairly basic when it come to some of the hydraulic lines. This was modified with some wire and scratch built parts (see drawings). I added the controls for the crane next, which are located just to the left and rear of the driver. To build them I used photos on the Perth modeling clubs web site as reference. I took some plastic card and strip, drilled out four holes for craft pins and installed it at an approximately 30-degree angle. Next I deleted the kit bench in favor of a longer scratch built one, as the photos I've seen of the interior show a central bench that reaches all the way to the vehicle commander’s position. This is based on the photos which come with the Verlinden conversion set. Recently a photo has surfaced on the web with a different layout. Both are shown in the photos. You will not need to use the kit parts, numbers C47, 46, 44, 30, 31, 32, and 33 for the commander's stanchion. This by the way is seen on many Israeli variants post the early 1980s.


Continuing with the interior I added a support to the front side of the fuel tank. On the right side of the vehicle I installed an AEF Designs interior for the m579 vehicle. One problem common to all m113 kits is the manner of installing the driver’s seat. On a real vehicle the post/column, which holds the seat, is raised off the floor by two brackets attached to sidetrack wall (see drawings). I corrected this by filling in the hole in the kit floor and making the missing mounting bracket out of plastic strip. You will also need to fill all the mounting holes in the floor plate intended for US style benches. Added to the left side opposite the gas pedal is a footrest made of plastic rod. A rod was also placed from the driver’s levers to the engine wall on the right. On the interior of the front armour plate I added the turning levers made out of plastic rod and strip. At the left rear of the vehicle I built is an angled pulley for lowering the rear ramp. To finish of in the interior I added the appropriate parts from the Eduard photo–etch set, which while quite nice, are so small as to be invisible once the top of the vehicle is put on.

It is here working on the interior that I started dealing with the multitude if ejector marks on many of the parts I intended to show. If you intend to keep the vehicle as a closed hatch variant you will have much less of a problem with this kit. The interior side of the rear ramp and door has over 15 holes to fill, some in awkward positions. When putting in part C50 the fit is so bad you are going to have to do a bit of filling and sanding regardless of whether you leave it open or closed, as this part is seen from both the inside and out on the vehicle. For putty I use Squadron Green Putty, Model Master Red Putty and Testors contour putty as well as Tamiya putties. Each has its own pros and cons as well as varying shrink rates. I use different ones and combinations depending on the size and depth that I need to fill. After painting and weathering the interior (which I'll cover all together later) I closed up the vehicle and moved on to the outside detail.

The Academy kit itself includes most of the exterior detail you’ll need to complete the crane variant. During my search for references I came across two photos of the vehicle in an old Tank Magazine issue. If I didn’t know better I’d say this is where Academy found the markings for its kit (see photo 3 above). The vehicle depicted, however, was equipped slightly different than the kit. So, reference in hand, I proceeded to modify the vehicle. On the left side of the vehicle I omitted parts B9 and B10. Instead, I lowered and moved slightly to the right the kit’s storage basket (kit assembly ‘c’ on page 7) to make room for an extra double jerry can rack to the right and small shelf above. I also deleted one of the single return rollers for the m60 and replaced it with a double made up of rollers from my spare parts collection. I then drilled out all the boltholes on them as well as the holes in the spare bogies carried on the other side of the vehicle. Below this I built what is a mount for carrying a spare M113 sprocket gear housing. I continued with outside detail by sanding off the hinges and latches on the two outside boxes, replacing them with parts from the Eduard set. Just in front of the box is a single jerry can holder, which comes from the Academy ‘tank accessories’, set 2.


To the right rear of the vehicle I added an empty double jerry can rack from the new AEF photo-etch set. The two light guards from Eduard were used instead of parts D32. While studying my references I noticed that there should be a small lip at the rear where the ramp frame meets the hull. I fixed this using a small piece of plastic strip. Moving along to right side of the vehicle I installed the parts as per kit instructions. I did however replace the welding tank rack, hinges and latches and toolbox rack with parts from the Eduard set. Eduard parts also replaced the vision block guards; spare track rack, light guards, crane rest, hatch lock mechanisms, vehicle width guides as well as the grilles above the engine. A note here on the method for mounting most equipment on IDF vehicles. All fixtures seem to be spaced slightly away from the hull using a series welded on treaded tube. Equipment is then bolted on in a prearranged manor, allowing for quick replacement in the filed or to accommodate different setups. This was accomplished using thin pieces of plastic strip. Last I placed a bent rod frame on top of the storage box on the right side of the vehicle for storing the welding hoses.

The crane is another place where the kit has problems. First, if you place the crane in its intended hole you won’t be able to show the drivers hatch in the open position. I corrected this by moving the crane 1/16 inch to the rear. The second problem with the crane is the location of the smaller hydraulic piston. When folded it protrudes and keeps the crane from seating properly on the travel rest. The easiest way of fixing this is to shorten parts S38/37. I didn’t catch it until late in the game and decided to just leave it. Before painting you will need to verify the location of the cranes hydraulic lines. For instance, I found some minute differences between Australian and Israeli vehicles as well Israeli vehicles from different time periods. So I chose one photo and followed it. Spare tracks for the m113 come from a Testors M113 kit. Antenna mounts on the crane variant are mounted forward on the vehicle, probably to allow clear movement of the crane in the rear. As per my references I armed the vehicle with one Mag machine gun from the Academy ‘Zelda’ kit. Last I drilled out holes for the hydraulic lines on both the crane and roof of the vehicle and used wire to simulate them. I had used Verlinden rubberized hosing on my earlier model and it tended to crack over time when it dried out.


The 1982 variant

The interior of the vehicle was built in the same manner as the crane variant. The only difference being the use of different interior storage boxes from AEF Designs. On this vehicle I used the kit benches instead of scratch building new ones. With the completion of the interior I moved on to outside detail. I started by installing the AEF split plates on both sides of the vehicle. These plates need to be spaced off the hull with small pieces of plastic strip. On the left front of the vehicle are two sets of toolbox racks. The front one being cut down by one box in height. Make sure you invert the rack before cutting off one level. Both racks were assembled using parts from the Eduard sets. Next I installed one of the double jerry can racks from the new AEF set at the same height as the tool racks. To the rear of this an open storage bin was placed even with the top of the vehicle. At the very rear is an Eduard welding rack. Rounding out the left side is a closed storage box under the open rack towards the rear and the poles part R4 from one of the crane kits. This part will have to be shortened to fit between the closed box and toolbox racks.

Moving on to the rear of the vehicle a spare road wheel mount was built and installed to left of the ramp and an empty mount for a double jerry can rack to the right. You could put on the rack if you choose, as I only left it off based on the particular vehicle in another Tank Magazine photo. All three vehicles were given a little step just under the door on the rear ramp. These were made using small size diamond tread plate from Plastruct. On the right side of the vehicle I installed four single jerry can holders. Between the two sets of jerry can holders are mounting screws for a spare road wheel, in this case from an m60 tank. I made the screw mounts out of brass rod drilled into the side plate. Forward of the jerry can holders is a small rod mounted level with the top of the side plate. Again a spare track mount and spare M113 road wheel are mounted on the front of the vehicle. This vehicle was armed with two .30 cal machine guns as seen in my photos.

The Modular Chatap

This version was built as a closed hatch variant. The accessories from AEF were installed according to the kits instructions. I recommend building both sides from the front to the rear of the vehicle in order to alleviate any spacing problems. The only major change to the kit parts was that I decided to make the welding rack with the top open. I placed spare track links according to the reference photos that came with the AEF kit and built on top of each link washers with nuts. The washers are punched from plastic card and the nuts are from the Aber Nuts and bolts photo-etch set. Added as well were two spotlights from the academy kit and an empty fire extinguisher from the AEF photo-etch set. Foursquare pins were placed on the front left of the vehicle, their purpose is the same as on the crane variant and is for a spare transfer housing for a M113 vehicle. Incidentally it is always seen painted the light green interior color and sometimes still in plastic protective wrap. On the front of the vehicle next to the tow hooks I scratch built two rests for the legs on the folding worktable which is mounted in same location as the trim vane on US M113s.

I armed this vehicle with two MAG machine guns, giving each of them a mount for a spotlight. The top of the vehicle was detailed as described above with the addition of a spare ammo box rack from AEF and spotlights from the base kit. The box to the right is a resin part from Armand P. Bayardi with straps from On The Mark Models.


Detailing and painting

I added miscellaneous bits and pieces to all three vehicles. Some came from the spare parts box while others are from various manufacturers. All the boxes are resin castings from Armandi P. Bayardi. I met him at last year at the AMPS convention and bought a whole lot of his resin accessories. He makes everything from ammo cans in 1/35 scale to beautiful trees, tree stumps and bases for 120mm figures. Straps and other photo-etch parts come from Aber, Eduard, On the Mark Models or AEF Designs. The antennas are made from plastic rod with wire simulating power lines for the spotlights.

Painting Israeli vehicles of any era could land you in the loony bin. The same vehicle shot at the same time from different angles could range from darker to a lighter to such a degree you would think your looking at different vehicles. Different vehicles from different units painted at different bases just add to the problem. My solution is to choose a photo and match the color. For the lighter color I use Model Master’s ‘Israeli armour sand gray’. For the darker color I use Polly S ‘ Gungy Brown’. The latter is a bit hard to come by since Testors bought the line of paintand I now use mostly Tamiya Khaki I its stead. After the base coat had dried I sprayed darker and lighter shades to bring out the effect of light on the vehicle. When this had dried, I gave the vehicle a wash of Winsor Newton artist oil paint where needed. Again when dry the whole vehicle is once again very lightly sprayed with the base color to tie it all together. This is followed by dry brushing with lighter colors to bring out the small detail and finish the effect of light on the vehicle. I then usually dirty up the vehicles using a combination of ‘Earth Tone ‘ oils and chalk pastels. A word here about finishes, almost all finishing techniques will enhance a model. Over or under utilizing any technique can ruin a beautiful model. So go slow and add as needed to your eye. Unless you plan to compete you only need to please yourself.

The markings on the Modular Chatap were hand painted, as was the chevron on the rear of the 1982 variant. The Academy kit’s decals are fine for the numbers, decals numbers one and four are just gibberish and were hand painted instead. With the markings finished I dirtied up the kits with various earth tone shades as well as lightly spraying the lower areas with ‘desert yellow ‘ from Tamiya. Certain fittings on Israeli vehicles have been seen painted either red or black, sometimes with both colors being used on the same vehicle. Again I went back to my references and painted the vehicles accordingly.
The kits were enjoyable to build and took about four months to complete. The photo-etch and resin sets all added to the look and feel of the kits. I had planned to use the individual track links that came with the kits, but chose to use the rubber band tracks instead due to there being a sinkhole in every one of the links. This was truly the most unsatisfying part of the Academy kit. One would think a company the size of Academy would be able to cast parts much better. Their printing of decals was just as bad when it came to the previously mentioned decal numbers. Although Hebrew characters are easily found at any good library and easily researched someone decided to cut corners. Over all the base kit from Academy is well worth the money, especially considering the plethora of extra gear in the kit.

Having bought just about all the available after market kits for this project completing them was made easier. If you intend to purchase a crane variant, your best off going with the Academy kit, problems and all. I would recommend getting the Verlinden instructions for the listed kits. They can be very informative and contain numerous photos. Of the Modular Chatap kits AEF Designs kit is far superior to the MR models kit. With the availability of parts from AEF and other manufacturers producing Israeli specific parts, building a fleet of m113s is a breeze.


Tank Magazine issues 88/2 and IDF Armour Units and the War in Lebanon

Verlinden War Machines Number 2

Verlinden Productions Modeling Magazine Vol. 2 Number 1

Verlinden instruction sheets for kits 312 and 506

Knei Midah Article By Michael Mass on the Israeli ChaTap

AEF Designs instruction Sheets for kits Ki-61/62/63

Perth modeling Web site – Australian Crane fitter walk around

Click on photos for larger version
Very few clear shots of the interior of the fitter exist these three are the best