MakMat 160 mm Self-Propelled Mortar – Another Israeli Creation
There is already a vehicle known as the “toaster tank”, and that is the German Pz. Sfl. IVc. However, we believe the Israeli Makmat is another contender for such a title. Built on the Sherman chassis, a massive 160 mm mortar takes the place of the typical Sherman hull and turret. It is yet another example of Israel’s practice of making extreme modifications to obsolete vehicles to make then useful once again.
The machine was developed in the 1960s to take advantage of Israel’s powerful M-66 mortar, which can fire 40 kg projectiles out to a range of about 9.6 km.
In addition to the 160 mm mortar, the Makmat has a slab-sided, open topped fighting compartment that can be folded down and serve as a platform for the crew to work.
To do this, the base Sherman received major modifications, although this wasn’t an entirely novel process for the Israelis.
As we have covered many times before, Israel’s equipment is absolutely fascinating for any tank enthusiast. They are a distinguishing example of getting every ounce of use out of a vehicle before it is sold off or scrapped. Of course, this has not been out of a choice.
Since the nation’s birth in 1948, military support has been unpredictable and sporadic. In their early years they tried to purchase new tanks from places like the US and UK, but this couldn’t happen due to political and supply issues respectively. As a result, they were forced to make use with what they had.
What did they have? Well, plenty of Shermans.
They began these surplus Shermans in the late 1940s from various countries, still in WWII-spec. In the 1950s it was known that these Shermans were seriously out of date and out-gunned. They enlisted the help of France to up-gun their Shermans to keep them relevant.
The French managed to fit the 75 mm gun from the AMX-13 into the Sherman’s turret, producing what would become known as the M50. Later, they were able to cram in a shortened version of the AMX-30’s 105 mm gun into the Sherman, producing the M51.
However, it wasn’t just tanks that Israel needed, they also built others types, such as med-evac, self-propelled guns and observation platforms all on the Sherman hull, as they were unable to simply purchase these types.
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One such machine was the Makmat, a self-propelled mortar built on the trusty Sherman chassis.
The Israel Defense Force (IDF) had initially employed mortar carriers based on the M3 half-track in the 1950s and 1960s, but more firepower was needed. The IDF proposed a project which would see the mounting of the excellent Soltam Systems M-66 160 mm mortar onto a heavily modified Sherman.
This project was approved by the Israeli Government, and the first vehicles appeared in the IDF inventory shortly after the Six-Day War.
This occurred around the same time as the L-33 Ro’em, a 155 mm self-propelled howitzer also based on the Sherman.
To make room for the M-66 mortar, the Sherman’s turret and upper hull were removed, and a tall welded steel superstructure was fitted in their place. This casemate was naturally open-topped, as is needed for the firing of mortars. Some sources state that M7 self-propelled guns were used for the conversions, but we were unable to confirm this.
The M-66 was produced by the Israeli company Soltam Systems, and was a development of an earlier Finnish weapon. It was well liked for its range, versatility and lethality.
This weapon on an open topped Sherman meant it could keep up with an advance offer its crew some protection while hammering enemy positions with comparable effect to 155 mm tubed artillery.
Accounts vary, but some 150 examples of the MakMat 160 mm self-propelled mortar are believed to have been manufactured up to the 1970s. The complete system was never offered for export, but the M-66 mortar equipped several armies around the world, and may still be found in small numbers today.
The Makmat was derived from the Sherman chassis. The entire upper-portion of the vehicle above the tracks was replaced by a flat, boxy steel structure that provided basic protection for the crew (as a self-propelled mortar, the Makmat wasn’t likely to be exposed to direct heavy fire).
The compartment completely covered the existing chassis of the Sherman, so a clear vision block was fitted at the front of the casemate for the driver. This front plate also folded down flat when the mortar was in use, providing a flat operating area for the gun crew to stack ammunition ready for firing.
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It was approximately 3.3 metres tall, 3.4 metres wide and 6.5 metres long. The removal of the turret and the nature of the welded superstructure saved some weight from the basic Sherman, and the mass of the complete self-propelled mortar was 36 tons.
For power, the Makmat was fitted with the same engine as the M50 and M51 Shermans; the Cummins VT8-460 diesel V8, which produced 460 bhp. This was mated to a five speed automatic transmission, which drove front-mounted sprockets.
Also like the M50 and M51s, the Makmat had the more “modern” HVSS suspension system, which improved off-road handling in exchange for added weight. All this produced a top road speed of 26 mph (43 kph).
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The M-66 160 mm mortar is the main armament of the MakMat, and fires high-explosive, smoke and illumination rounds, with a maximum rate of fire of five rounds per minute. The weapon can fire a 40 kilogram high explosive round out to a distance of 9,600 metres (10,500 yards) – this choice of munition is said to provide more firepower than the equivalent in 155 mm artillery rounds.
When mounted on the MakMat, the mortar barrel is not supported by a bipod, but fitted into a column which is raised and lowered hydraulically for loading and firing.
Like all heavy breech-loading heavy mortars, the M-66 is lowered to the horizontal position for loading, then the barrel is raised for firing using a spring-loaded striker to fire the propelling charge. The baseplate has only a limited traverse, so the whole vehicle must be swivelled to bring targets under fire.
Either a M2 HB .50 calibre or M1919 .30 calibre machine gun is present anti-air/anti-infantry use by the crew.
The crew of a MakMat self-propelled mortar consist of 8 personnel; commander, driver and the rest forming the gun crew to service the M-66 mortar. The MakMat was not provided with a Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) protection system, smoke grenade launchers or a fire extinguishing system.
During the Six-Day War in 1967 the M-66 mortar was used in a towed configuration, as it was too heavy to be transported without mechanical assistance. The M-66 gave distinguished service to the Israeli Army during this conflict, providing much-needed heavy fire power support to Israeli troops, but the weapon was particularly effective when used for battlefield illumination.
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In those days – before the introduction of night vision devices – parachute flares were often used to illuminate the fighting area, and the M-66 was particularly adept at this task. Used in this mode the M-66 was said to be a conflict-winning weapon, allowing the Israeli Army to consistently defeat Arab forces during night-fighting.
The IDF saw the good sense in mounting the M-66 mortar in an armoured vehicle body, and the Makmat was first deployed in 1968, just missing active service during the Six-Day War. Along with its fellow Sherman-based L-33 self-propelled howitzer, the Makmat was issued to artillery battalions and stationed in various strategic hot-spots within the frontier of Israel.
Despite clear evidence of Arab military preparations from the late 1960s onwards, the Israeli General Staff disregarded the imminent threat of war, as they believed their Arab opponents were incapable of mounting any type of determined and successful military offensive. This misplaced complacency instantly evaporated as the Egyptian and Syrian armies stormed into Israeli territory on the first day of the Yom Kippur War.
Desperately flung into the savage fighting on the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula in October 1973, the Makmat gave sterling service to Israeli Army formations in the field by providing high levels of fire support. Batteries of M-66 equipped vehicles could lay down a blistering amount of fire, and could actually provide more weight of fire compared to the same number of artillery pieces, but at a lesser range compared to tubed gun systems.
The Makmat was appreciated by its crews for the mobility and protection provided by the vehicle, but like all open-topped chassis using a mortar the gun crew were susceptible to fragments from artillery rounds detonating overhead in an air-burst.
The Makmat self-propelled mortar served on after the conclusion of the Yom Kippur War, and also saw active service during the Lebanon War of 1982. After this conflict the IDF began to convert large numbers of M113 Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) into a variety of armoured combat support vehicles, and a new model self-propelled mortar was based on this platform.
As such, the Makmat was removed from front-line service, and apart from a few examples now found in museums the entire fleet was scrapped from the middle of the 1980s.
The Makmat 160 mm self-propelled mortar was a very effective weapons system, and the platform provided outstanding service during two wars when Israel was confronted by determined and formidable opponents.
It is part of the large stable of clever Israeli adaptations of the Sherman, and like its stablemates was proof of the notion that you could breathe new life into outmoded models of armoured vehicles with a little ingenuity.
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With sufficient mobility for its purpose, good protection for her crew, and excellent firepower from her M-66 mortar, the Makmat self-propelled mortar served Israel well in combat use during a desperate time in her history, and as such will go down in history as a well-remembered weapon system of the Israeli Defence Force.