The U.S. Army accepted their first M109 in 1963. The M109 sported the short barrel (23 Caliber) 155mm M126 gun. Since 1963 the M109 has gone through a series of changes and upgrades. Most notable is the change to the longer barreled (39 Caliber) M185 gun on the M109A1 and the removal of the external floatation kit and addition of the external ammunition storage box on the M109A2.
The Israelis received their first 60 M109s in 1967. After years of boycotts, refusals, and subterfuge, the United States agreed to openly sell Israel much needed modern armored fighting vehicles. The only changes the IDF did to the original M109s were to add some hull mounted crew rails on the side and the conversion of some muzzle brakes to the Soltam version (probably for testing purposes).
By the time of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, only one Battalion had been equipped with the M109 Rochev (Rider) as it is called in Hebrew. This Battalions B Battery was almost completely wiped out in the first two days of the war. After the losses suffered from the war, the United States again offered to supply more arms and armor. This time the M109A1 was delivered to Israel.
The Israeli’s currently use three distinct versions of the M109. They are the Rochev Alef (M109A1), Rochev Bet (M109A2), and the Doher (Galloper) which is a M109A1/A2 with numerous internal and external differences. The Doher’s most notable external differences are the remotely controlled gun travel lock, silent running diesel powered generator/APU mounted in the right rear turret corner, and the addition of a storage basket mounted on the right side rear corner.
Looking on the instruction sheet cover I was impressed to see a picture of Mr. Robert Goldman, who is a really good friend of mine, getting a special “thank you” from AFV Club. Along with the twenty page instruction booklet you get a really FULL box. The contents of which are twenty three sprues containing over 680 parts, a small photo-etch fret, two pieces of glue able track, two decal sheets consisting of markings and stencils, a metal barrel, spring, nylon tow cable, one small clear part, and frame able box art.
After looking over the instructions, one of the first things I wanted to tackle was the road wheels. Each road wheel is a two part affair and I was pretty sure they would require more clean up than normal. After clamping 56 road wheels halves together I moved onto the lower hull assembly. AFV Club has you shave off several nuts and drill numerous holes in the hull sides for future assemblies. They also include depressions to be used to assist you in making the holes in every location except two. These they expect you to make with no guidance and assume you will do them properly. They then have you attach the new nuts. Even after laying out a white sheet of packing paper, I managed to lose three of the required seven nuts. Luckily, I do have several different options to use to make replacements. In my opinion, it would make far more sense to mold all the nuts onto the hull sides and have you shave off the unwanted/unneeded ones. This ensures that all the nuts will end up appearing the same. The next step was the assembly of the lower hull. This is composed of seventeen major parts. The lower tub alone is composed of nine parts by itself. It seemed that every time I attempted to ensure proper alignment it moved two different pieces. After all appeared true, I started the idler wheels. These are also composed of four parts and after gluing and sanding, I had to drill the lightening holes to make them more rounded.
There is one thing to note about the lower hull. The Israeli’s added welded square tube to the front hull plate to act as anti-slip protection on the front nose. While the tubes are replicated on part 32, the welds attaching it to the hull are not. Lower hull construction continued with adding all the small little bits and pieces. There are lots and lots of these as well. One item (C52) is an engine access handle and after getting it cleaned and prepped it took a gainer off the workbench and has not been seen since. I had to make this using brass rod and my trusty grab handler tool. Also, the instructions tell you to paint the IR headlight black. This is not true. The IDF does not use IR driving devices and the IR lenses are painted in the base kit color. When you get to step 11 the instructions tell you to add parts B2 and 2 G3s. The G3s are PE and all three items are bump plates. These are basically additional pieces of aluminum that help protect the lower hull from damage in the rocky terrain of Israel. The Rochev only uses B2 (center triangular shaped piece). The G3s were not added until the Doher upgrade. Also, based on the pictures I have, I would advise that you replace the PE with .15 or .20 gauge styrene. The PE is just not thick enough to portray the plates on the real vehicle.
Speaking of PE, I am a firm believer there is a place for it in our hobby. However, I do not believe it is being properly utilized. AFV Club gives you a PE exhaust grill. This is normally the great application where PE reigns supreme. When the manufacturer fails to study the real vehicle, there is no sense in rendering anything in PE. The Exhaust cover on every Rochev and Doher I have seen and have pictures of uses a diamond pattern screen (similar to that of the Sherman grouser box covers). The included screen is of a square pattern design. This design is only seen on the M109A6 Paladin. Also, there are two strips of PE that are supposed to be attached to the final drive housings. As with most PE, these pieces are both too thin and terribly hard to attach. The real devices are a welded half- moon design that are actually bolted to the inside of each of the final drive housings. After four failed attempts and not getting the PE to attach, I gave up, re-sanded the housings and used .15 gauge styrene strips.
Some of the Rochevs that served with the IDF still had the floatation systems on them as late as the 1982 conflicts. These items are not included in this kit so you need to study your photographs before starting a build. You can easily make a later model Rochev as the kit does contain the later model gunner’s periscope housing. This is a neat idea and allows the builder the option of making a different vehicle. You may need to get a copy of the instructions for the AFV Club M109A2. These can be found at 1999.co.jp.
Turret assembly began with the gun barrel. This was a relative straight forward assembly. They give you a beautiful aluminum turned barrel and you have to attach the bore evacuator and muzzle brake. Down side was that some detail was sanded off while removing the mold seam line from the evacuator. The muzzle velocity device is attached to the barrel. This is a powered items and no power cable is made available to the builder. This is quite easily an added lead wire. All was going well until the rear plate attachment. I am not sure if it was me or the kit but I ended up with some large gaps in both rear corners. Fit issues also reared their ugly faces when assembling parts D36 and D37 to the turret front. These are the barrel lock plates. This is supposed to be a one piece item (on the real vehicle) but is designed as two parts in the kit. When I was done, there were two distinct gaps, each being of a different width. This was corrected with some more styrene strips sanded smooth.
All the additional items began being assembled and attached. All of these items are basic assembly and attachment. Some of the items that are attached to the hull were not researched well. All pictures I have seen of Rochevs have the gun cleaning rods attached to the left side of the hull fully assembled with an attached bore cleaning brush stuck inside a HE charge container. They are attached with bailing wire and it rests on top of the tow cable. The tow cable itself is also attached to the left side of the hull with special mounting hooks. The instructions have you attach both of these items to the turret the way the Americans mount them. Even though the instructions say nothing of cutting the tow cable to size, I believe it has to be. I am pretty sure mine is too long but that is what the instructions say. There is also the mounting of the cloth barrel protection device. This item is a rubberized kit part and again, I think it is only mounted on the Dohers. The part is also designed wrong. The real item appears to be designed like a Venetian blind while the represented part is nothing more than a single piece of cloth.
The huge frontal storage baskets are a styrene and PE combo. The PE is extremely well designed and baring a few issues (mostly because I still fail with PE) assembled into a really nice representation of the real items. Included in the kit is the U sprue. This comes from their excellent late model Sho’t Kal series of kits and provides the FN MAG and mount as well as more small arms and some stowage. The right front stowage cage (part C17) on my sample was short shot. I removed the short piece and replaced it with a piece of .20 gauge styrene rod to replace the defective piece. Once this was all dried I attached the PE and finished it up. The antenna was one of the last pieces and is a piece of brass rode cut to 3 inches. I added a white glue eye protector knob and it was on to paint.
I used Humbrol 84 (Mid Stone) as this was the only color call out that was not an acrylic. I wanted to see how much different this looked from my usual Model Master 2138 (Israeli Armor Sand/Gray). After paint was dry, I started painting the blacks, reds and yellows that are common for all Israeli fighting vehicles. The yellows are usually reserved for oil filling points and have the type listed on the tops. The red items are painted to call attention for the crew. The black I have no idea on.
Decal application was straight forward except for two issues. The white markings are very translucent. The other issue was that I applied the 1 and V on the left side turret backwards. The decals applied very well over the license plates and make a nice representation. They all snuggled down and I was impressed how well the Barrel bands lined up perfectly.
After decal application the roadwheel tires were painted black. The water cans and the wooden boxes were all painted black as well. While I was adding a dark pin wash, I noticed that the rubber breech cover had a crack in it. I am not sure if this was caused by barrel movement, paint, or some other reason. When you build yours, this is just something to remember and be cautious about. The wooden boxes are mounted on either the large stowage baskets up front or on the rear hull rails on both sides. The downside of the wooden boxes is that there is only grain detail on the tops of the boxes. You end up with 4 boxes that look like metal boxes with wooden lids. Also, many of these boxes mounted on the Rochevs had white markings on them. The markings in Hebrew state “For Emergency Use” and “For Daily Use”. I am unaware of what this means but the kit does not include these markings. The tracks were painted Model Master Military brown, gloss coated and given washes of sand, tan and black. Then the washes were removed from the track pads. The aiming stakes are very skinny and removing the seam lines on them was time consuming. They were painted flat white and red, then gloss coated and the tips were touched in Aluminum. They add another nice bit of color when they are installed.
Overall this is a really nice kit. There are items that definitely need improving and the builder, if they are concerned with accuracy, will need to correct or fix. I hope that AFV Club will release a Doher version and get the barrel dust deflector properly designed. While AFV Club includes some nice extras for your use, one of the most distinguishing features of Rochev’s is the mounting of the crews sleeping mats on the outside of the left front rails. It would have been nice to include these in the kit. I would like to thank AFV Club for releasing and providing this kit for review and to IPMS/USA for allowing me to review it. I have to rate this as a 10 even though it does need to work to make into a true Rochev.