by: Karl N. Hoy [ ]
Originally published on:
I think it is fairly safe to say that Tamiya’s future releases in 1/35 are fairly difficult to predict. It is unlikely many people saw the BT-7 coming, or for that matter the strange BT-42. They play their cards close to their chest so new releases are always a surprise. The fact that they decided to release a kit of a strange Iraqi tank in 1/35 was certainly true to form. In actual fact the kit is not 100% new, relying on some parts from their earlier T-55. However, at least half of the parts in the kit are new moulds and this includes a brand new figure of an Iraqi Tank crewman.
The Iraqi ‘Enigma’ really is something of an enigma (yes…I’m that funny…)! For a start that is not what the Iraqis call it, no source seems to know what they referred to it as- which probably means they never gave it a proper designation. There’s also not a lot known about the development of the tank’s strange armor package, despite the fact that several examples of the Enigma now reside in museums in the West, including Bovington where Tamiya went to take their references for the kit.
Most sources agree the armor package was an Iraqi attempt to replicate the Soviet T-55AM armor package which added a significant amount of armor around the turret and hull sides.
Since the Soviet Union (along with other Warsaw Pact nations) sold widely to Iraq throughout the late 1970s and even more so during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), the question that must be asked is ‘why not just buy the upgrades from the USSR?’
Why indeed? In my opinion it lies somewhere in the pit of debt that was Iraq’s finances at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. For a nation of only 15 Million they had paid very heavily in men, money and machines for their ‘victory’ over Iran. The fact that the so called ‘victory’ didn’t really get them anything (and was more a tool of Saddam Hussein’s propaganda machine than anything tangible) but did burden them with a mountain of debts is an important point to remember, especially when considering Kuwait was a major debtor.
So basically Iraq didn’t have the money to go out and fill the cart up with heaps of Soviet made upgrades for their rather obsolete T-55 stocks. Fighting Iran was certainly an eye opener in regards to the values of American and British versus Soviet metal and the Iraqi High Command were not fools, they knew the lessons to be learned, and they also knew the monetary situation.
Hence a home-grown program to upgrade the T-55 was started. Unlike some tank upgrades the Enigma’s were fairly simple- each shape is a hollow metal box, inside are spaced steel plates. These were added around the front halves of the turret, the rear of the turret (although this was more to counter-act the weight on the front) and on the hull sides. Sophisticated, this upgrade was not- evidenced by the fact some of the boxes are different sizes- speed seemed to be more important than ensuring the size of every piece matched the other.
The blocks of armor were attached to the turret and hull by means of large brackets or frames, bolted onto the original frame of the tank. The workmanship is fairly well thought out with spaces left to access various parts of the tank, including the front right armor block which is hinged to allow it to be lifted upward, giving the driver better access to his hatch and compartment. But despite this some aspects of the work again suggests haste rather than methodical practice- the weld beads around many areas are crude and look very badly done. In this respect I wonder would the poor workmanship have negated the protection the armor was supposed to give the tank?
Supposedly the Iraqis only used the Enigma as a command tank at some level but it remains to be seen how this came about and whether there were plans to upgrade many more T-55s.
It is my belief the Iraqis were rushing this particular upgrade not in preparation for a war in the Gulf against the US, Britain, France and numerous other countries, but in fact prepping for another outbreak of hostilities with Iran- the Ayatollah’s had not taken their defeat well and despite having one of the largest standing armies in the world Iraq was effectively broke and yet massive repairs were needed not just in the military but in society as well. The monetary situation eventually became the deciding factor in Iraq’s relations with its neighbours- Kuwait was the scape-goat for Iraqi strife in the post-war years and in the end it wasn’t Iranian forces the Enigma’s went up against but Western ones.
It is very useful for us modeller’s that several Enigma’s were seen as interesting enough to ship back to the West- because we have plenty of pictures and walk-around’s allowing us to have a very thorough reference selection in relation to this new Tamiya kit.
The box contains seven sand colored plastic sprues, a hull top and bottom, rubber band type tracks and a bag containing mesh for the engine grilles and some poly-caps. As one would expect from a Tamiya kit the parts are moulded pretty much to perfection with only the slightest amount of flash.
Of the seven sprues, two and a half are 2012 moulds, the rest from 2002. I say ‘half’ because the sprue containing the turret appears to have several older parts and several brand new ones; hence it has 2002 and 2012 stamped on it. The upper hull is all new as well, the lower hull being a 2002 moulding, along with the rubber band tracks.
Having said that the older moulds are still very well detailed and don’t appear to have aged that badly at all. The worst part of the older sprues is the figure included with them (more on this later). I would say that the new parts are just that bit crisper in terms of small details but the margin is fairly slim.
Predictably the new parts mostly concentrate on the additional ‘Enigma’ armor- that being the large blocks on the turret and sides. On the real vehicle, as I have explained above, many of the blocks look the same from distance but up close they are uneven sizes- this is not replicated in the kit parts but I suspect this would be a rather easy fix. The weld seams on the armor blocks also appear a bit too refined on the plastic but, again, this is a fairly simple fix should you wish to do it.
The engine deck has also had a re-vamp in comparison to the older T-55 kit but this is where things get a little weird in relation to the Bovington example. The tank there is most likely of Polish origin- the rear grilles match the Polish version of the T-55 but the engine access hatch does not- it is a Czech or Russian design. How did that happen? It’s unlikely we’ll ever find out what actually gave the Bovington its configuration but I would say the engine access hatch deck may have been a spare part, possibly taken from a T-55 that had been knocked out or was being scrapped. The Iraqis could also have fabricated the part themselves but this seems unlikely. In any case Tamiya have the correct configuration for the Bovington example in the kit.
Interestingly the older T-55 kit parts for the engine deck are also included in the box so you could, with a little modification of the left rearmost grille, make an Enigma that was based on a Russian built T-55 if you also changed some aspects of the mantlet (see below).
The rubber-band tracks are correct for the Bovington Enigma which sports early T-55 tracks along with a 13 tooth sprocket. Link and length tracks probably would have been a better choice here but there are aftermarket sets available. You could also probably use the RMSh tracks and 14 tooth sprocket to suggest model of T-55 built later than the Bovington example (the early tracks were phased out in favour of the RMSh tracks on T-55s).
There are two ‘A’ sprues, both identical- containing the running gear, sprockets, rear fuel drums, ammunition boxes, tow hooks and some spare track links. The starfish type wheels come in the standard two halves and contain nicely ribbed detail on the rubber portions. Despite being an older sprue the detail is still very crisp, especially on the sprockets and the ammunition boxes.
Much of the larger turret pieces are included here- the standard two-halve affair with nicely detailed hatches but unfortunately they are devoid of interior detail. The moulding on the turret top is first class with a neatly produced cast texture that should look excellent under a coat of paint. The mantlet and co-axial MG openings are correct for the Bovington example but the correct Russian elliptical co-axial opening is also on the sprue so with some modification to the mantlet top a Russian built version could be depicted.
Another 2002 mould this sprue contains many of the additional turret parts including a two part barrel (sadly), a surprisingly nice unditching log, a sublimely cast DsHK along with its mount as well as searchlights and a few other bits and bobs. The front light guards are on this sprue as well and thankfully are quite sturdy.
Much of the hull detail, mostly dealing with the rear portion, is included here. Again, an older sprue- in fact some of the parts have been replaced by newer ones and are not used. The front hull plate, fuel cells, exhaust, rear engine access doors and the rear hull plate are also present. Again, even though it is and older mould the parts are still nicely detailed.
For some reason the turret armor is my favourite part of the Enigma, I love the shape and look it gives the T-55. This sprue contains the turret blocks. They are moulded in two parts each- a bottom and top essentially. The armor block to the right of the main gun is left separate in the kit, on the real thing this is also true as it is hinged to move upward, allowing easier access to the driving compartment. From what I can tell in the instructions the block is not position able but I doubt it would be too difficult to make it so or to simply position it lifted up. The four blocks on the rear of the turret are also included here with nice detail on the mounting brackets which are easily visible on this particular part. Hatches and much of the attachment brackets for the turret armor round off this sprue.
This small sprue contains the new engine deck parts, the frontal hull armor (split into several parts- not just one big chunk) and the side armor- two part affairs like the turret blocks. The mounting areas for these parts are not as well defined as that on the turret rear armor- the brackets to mount the side armor is identical to these parts yet the bolt heads are actually moulded on the upper hull piece and are rather flat compared to the bits on the rear turret block. The side mounting areas are definitely not as easy to see on the finished model so I suppose it is not that much of an issue. This sprue also contains the new figure (more on this later).
Sadly these are the standard rubber band affair- as was said earlier the tracks are correct for the Bovington example and should look decent when properly placed and painted as they have a decent level of detail.
A standard two part hull- the bottom half is the 2002 moulding and it still has excellent detail around the running gear attachment areas and on the bottom- it also dry fits to perfection with the upper hull. This upper hull is a new moulding and it has the correct engine deck configuration for the Bovington Enigma. Also present is the mounting frame/brackets for the side mounted armor blocks.
Mesh really is something I wish kit companies would stop making- just put some etch in the box! If you do wish to use the kit supplied fibre mesh then watch out for fraying at the edges when you are cutting it to size and shape.
These are the usual Tamiya fare- clean, concise, detailed and un-cluttered. 22 steps in all. There is no real painting or decaling guide other than a small section on the back page that says Enigma’s were sand colored, which is correct. They also were not marked; hence there are no decals in the box.
As a nice touch a small ‘Background Information’ booklet is included in the kit with just over half a page in English (German, French and Japanese text is also included in the booklet) - a small picture of the Bovington Enigma is included along with a black and white line drawing showing the main parts and with a side profile on the front of the booklet. There is also a small T-55 specifications chart.
Plural…plural? Yes, despite what the box says there are two figures in this box. The new figure is on Sprue F, the older on Sprue D. Once you compare the older figure to the new you can see why they didn’t advertise it on the box! It is of a crew figure sitting on the edge of a hatch. The detail is not the worst I’ve seen from a Tamiya figure but the proportions, to me anyway, are the worst part. I know the figure isn’t standing but even so he appears much too small to be effective alongside other figures in 1/35. Check out the pictures of the older figure beside the new one and then beside a 1/35 figure that was on my desk- judge for yourself.
Anyway, the figure that is actually advertised on the box is brand new and is one of the best Tamiya figures I have ever seen, in fact it would be up there with some of the best plastic figures. Detail is superbly defined around the face and clothes- check out the belt, shirt openings, pistol holster and tanker’s cap. There are five parts to the figure- torso and legs, arms, head and a pair of binoculars and all go together with no gaps.
The pose is quite good and the binoculars can be left separate better access to the torso for painting- they should just slot into position between the hands once they are glued in place.
The pistol holster is for that of the Iraqi Tariq (license made M1951 Beretta 9mm) - the painting guide calls for this (and the belt) to be painted ‘Flat Black’ but the holster would usually be seen in a leather brown color. The belt could be painted black but brown leather and khaki belts in a webbing material were also common.
The uniform is a standard Iraqi affair consisting of a light shirt and trousers/pants- the color guide suggests ‘Buff’ and a light sand color was a common color of uniform but an OD green shade of shirt and trousers/pants was also common.
Missing from the figure is the common radio connection coming from the left earpiece of the tanker’s cap- this is actually moulded on the older figure but not the new one!
This new figure really is very nicely produced and it would be great to see Tamiya producing new figure sets to this standard.
As is usual with Tamiya you get a very nice model in the box, one that will likely fall together with consummate ease and be enjoyable to build and complete. I think there will be some people out there wondering whether to stick with the standard T-55 and buy aftermarket sets for the Enigma- it goes without saying that this all-plastic kit would certainly be easier to build and of course cheaper.
Tamiya have done a great job producing the new parts to make their older T-55 kit into the Enigma but they haven’t exactly pushed the envelope with any aspect of the kit, excepting perhaps the new figure. The MSRP is also fairly high, at $55/£35/€42 but most retailers are selling it for around $44/£28/€34.
With that in mind it is still nice to see this particular T-55 variant in plastic and, it being a Tamiya kit, will be a fun and fuss-free project.
It would not have been possible to do this review without the help of Mauro De Nittis (‘Spiderfrommars’) who patiently answered my questions and explained at length a great many aspects of this tank and its variants.
Also thanks to Gordon L. Rottman for pointing me in the right direction for info on Iraqi uniforms and equipment of this period.