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1/35 Tamiya T-55 ”Enigma”

Since the T-54/55s were introduced ill the period after WWII, the basic design was becoming obsolete by the 1980s. Many countries thus developed upgrades in order to modernize the T-55 and Iraq was no exception. Although the official Iraqi designation is not known, their upgraded variant was called T-55 “Enigma” by Coalition forces during the 1991 Gulf War. This Iraqi variant focused on armor upgrades and was likely modeled after the T-55AM, which featured extra armor blocks on the glacis and turret.

The Enigma expanded on this to also include armor blocks on the sides of the hull and the rear of the turret.  These blocks were made up of armor plates welded into boxes to create a sort of spaced armor and they were then attached to the hull and turret.  A smaller armor block was installed on the front section of each mudguard and eight other blocks were mounted along each side of the hull.   Although the armor blocks on the Enigma looked similar, poor construction meant they each differed slightly in size.

T-55 “Enigma” in Combat

The exact number of T-55s which were modified to the Enigma standard is unknown, although there appeared to be enough for them to be assigned as command vehicles for regular T-55 units. It was confirmed that T-55 “Enigma” tanks were encountered by Coalition forces during the Iraqi Army’s sole offensive action during the 1991 Gulf War, the Battle of Khafji. On January 29, 1991, two weeks after the Coalition forces’ aerial campaign began, the Iraqi Army launched an attack into Saudi Arabia from Kuwait.

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The Iraqi 1st Mechanized, 3rd Armored, and 5th Mechanized Divisions attacked Coalition positions along the Kuwaiti-Saudi border and this last unit managed to occupy the town of Khafji. However, the advances of other Iraqi units were halted by the U.S. 1st and 2nd Marine regiments and intense Coalition air attack. The Iraqi 5th Mechanized Division became isolated, suffered heavy losses to Coalition counterattacks, and eventually withdrew from Khafji by noon of the 31st. After the 1991 Gulf War, many T-55 “Enigma” tanks were confiscated by Coalition forces and several examples were sent to the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

 

 

1/35 Tamiya T-55 ”Enigma”

Kit Highlights
  • 1/35 scale plastic assembly kit.
  • The details of the Enigma have been accurately reproduced based on the thorough study of an actual vehicle.
  • Armor blocks on the turret and hull and their attachment frames are faithfully depicted.
  • 1 standing Iraqi army tank crew figure is included.
  • Model depicts a tank painted in overall Sand, without any distinguishing unit markings.

Finally, a new addition to my 1/35 scale armor shelf. I’ve been meaning to add the new Tamiya 1/35 T-55 ‘Enigma’ time for quite some time. The subject is as enigmatic as the name it bears. The kit is the typical Tamiya standard we all used to see and get with the modern Tamiya tooling and retooling. The only option to get an Iraqi  T-55 ”Enigma” in the past, was thru a Resin Set from Legend Productions. That required some modifications to the base kit, a Tamiya T-55 Russian Tank.

Most of the time consumed on this build, was during weathering and the research. The research showed that although the concept on these modifications were the same, they did not have a standard to stick to. It is obvious because for the most part, no 2 Enigma tanks are the same. Features present on one sample might be missing on the next and viceversa. While this can be a little frustrating if one wants to recreate the perfect replica, it also opens the doors to artistic license.

The kit out of the box will build a very nice representation of an Iraqi Enigma tank. However, even an out of the box builder (like myself) will have to work a little extra to bring this model to the next step. I managed to add a few extra details on the kit, but I know for a fact that this kit is a nice canvas for super detailing. So I settled for adding some ”welding” on the outer frame, out of styrene and wire I added some tubing on the fuel tanks.

I have seen ‘weld’ details on smaller and more complicated parts from other model kits from Tamiya and other brands. The base parts from the hull that will conform the counterweight assembly, did not come with any weld details. This wouldn’t look realistic because the real tank has this contraption held by welds and not by bolts. I used ”Masilla Plastica” (Plastic Putty) from Vallejo #401 and took the liberty of being a little reckless; the welds in this area on the real tank, wouldn’t win welding contest ;o).  If you don’t have access to Vallejo’s Putty, Testors Contour Putty can do the trick.

The armor blocks on the sides are well molded, well, too well molded. A little bit of imperfection would have been better (IMHO). My scribing tool along with post shading could have made the blocks look more separated from each other and the welds detail less uniform. Like I previously said, there is no hint of a high standard procedure when these T-55’s were converted to ‘Enigmas’.

The fit in general is outstanding! I’m not too demanding with the tracks and these seems to be very good. They can be glued with regular styrene cement instead of CA and ‘cauterization’ is optional. A great deal of leftover parts will be destined to your spare box but be careful. There are parts that should go on the model regardless as a regular T-55 or Enigma. I’m talking about these 2 parts and they are part of the gun mantlet. The box photo shows 1 commander figure with no mention of a second figure.

The second (full body) figures wears a head gear as the commander, however, there is no middle east likeness to it.  I am left to assume that this figure is from the regular Tamiya T-55 tank.

Tamiya Enigma vs Legend Conversion:

Well, I haven’t touched the Legend Productions Enigma conversion set. But out of my experience now with this kit from Tamiya and judging close-up pictures of the Legend set, I strongly believe that they both can co-exist. For a less experienced modeler, the Tamiya Enigma is pretty much a ”shake and bake’ kit. What I would have to do/correct to my taste with Tamiya’s offering, it is done for the most part on the Legend set i.e. welding detail and blocks separation among others things.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
The 1/35 T-55 Enigma from Tamiya can cost in some places as much as the regular Tamiya T-55 + Legend Set. I know that there is no such thing as  perfect kit out-of-the-box. But considering that Tamiya’s Enigma need some elbow grease, I wouldn’t hesitate to go with the Legend set either.

In my opinion, there a few little yet important details missing from the Tamiya kit. The kit is good, but there was definitely room for almost effortless additions. I am happy with my model don’t get me wrong, but I’m not overly impressed, especially for the MSRP when more than half of the tooling was already available.

Work in progress pictures here.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
My sincere thanks to Ron over at Red Frog Hobbies.com for their outstanding shipping of some goods to finish this kit.

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George Collazo
George Collazo
George has been hosting review sites and blogging about toy collectibles, travel, digital photography and Nikon digital imaging since 1998. His first model kit build was a Testors 1/35 DODGE WC-54 in 1984.
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