From 1979 to 2007, the Leopard 1 served as Canada's only Main Battle Tank. Originally configured as the Leopard 1A3 variant, the tank has over the years undergone many changes. One of the more significant was the upgrading of 114 Leopard C1 to the C2 standard. The main difference of this upgrade is the cast turret borrowed from a Leopard 1A5.
As late as 2005, it looked as though Canada was going to get rid of tanks in favour of the Stryker MGS. However in a surprise twist, the decision was made to send a squadron of Leopard C2s to support the Canadian Battle Group in the Afghanistan province of Kandahar. Due to the high threat environment, the C2 were equipped with the MEXAS (Modular Expandable Armour System). MEXAS consists of a series of bolt on ceramic composite armour panels that provides additional protection to the hull and turret.
Real Models has released the third in their series “the Modeler Photo Assistant.” The book focuses on tanks deployed with A Squadron, LdSH(RC) as part of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group in Afghanistan during 2007. The reason the time period is so specific is that’s when the contributing authors were deployed on “Task Force Afghanistan.” Having serving soldiers, who are also accomplished modellers and photographers, gives the reader a privileged insider's view of the tank as it appeared on operations. The minor downside of this is that any modifications which happened before or after the tour are not going to be covered, though these would be quite minor, such as call signs and troop graphics.
This 80-page book is laid-out in landscape format with no dedicated text, though captions are provided for all photos, and tell the reader what to look for in each one. The book is divided into chapters on the following topics:
- C2 MEXAS "Step by Step": a 12-page walk around of the tank, including details of the turret, thermal blanket, stowage bins, gunner's sight, cooling unit, smoke grenade launchers, engine exhaust, commander's hatch, and MEXAS armour.
- Mine plow: a 6-page close up of the mine plow, showing it in raised and lowered positions, and details of the attachment system.
- Mine Rollers; a 10-page spread on the tank mine roller system, including many walk-around pictures of the mounting “bra” both on and off the tank.
- Dozer: 4 pages detailing the dozer blade and attachment, showing the various conduits, headlights, and hydraulics.
- Engine Pull: 4 pages showing a C2 getting its power-pack pulled by a Mobile Repair Team.
- Turret Pull: 6 pages showing the sequence of a C2 having its complete turret lifted by a Leopard 1 Armoured Recovery Vehicle (Taurus ARV in Canadian service).
- Damaged: 4 pages showing the effects of mine and IED blast damage on a C2 lower hull.
- 1st Troop: 6 pages on C2s belonging to 1st Troop detailing Canadian Forces Registration (CFR) numbers, call signs, and the troop mascot graffiti (a spider).
- 2nd Troop: 16 pages on C2s belonging to 2 Troop, detailing CFR, call signs, and the Troop's Viking head stencil. This chapter also has photos of damaged tanks, tanks undergoing various phases of maintenance, tank crewmen, and electronic counter measure (ECM) units.
- 3rd Troop: 4 pages similar in format to the previous two chapters.
- Squadron Headquarters: 7 pages on SHQ tanks; of note is the three different configurations of Commander's GPMG (general purpose machine gun) used in the SHQ tanks.
The book is a snapshot in time of what Canadian Leopard C2's looked like during the authors' tours in Afghanistan. Anthony Sewards and Rick Saucier bring us full-colour photos of every conceivable aspect of the C2. In keeping with this series, all the photos depict deployed vehicles, which I think is what most modellers are after. Photos of these tanks in Canada are fairly common, but to have such a thorough reference of operational tanks is fantastic - more so as Afghanistan is the final deployment of Canadian Leopards. Even now, Leopard 1's are showing up as monuments on CF Bases, while tankers squeeze the last bit of life out of the fleet in southern Afghanistan.
If you are fortunate enough to have a Maple Leaf Models C2 MEXAS kit, all you have to do is "look and do" to give your kit a realistic finish. If you're a scratch builder, there's a lot of references here, but no 5-view drawings, so you'll have to find them elsewhere or eyeball it.
As already mentioned, the book’s landscape format has no dedicated text, just captions for all photos. I am strongly in favour of this style of book; in fact, it is more of a photo album than a book. This aspect may cut down on its mainstream appeal to some readers, but for modellers interested in this tank, the choice of "less talk, more rock!" will be appreciated.
The pictures are strictly the real thing, showing tanks with & without their tan thermal blankets; detailed photos of the mine roller, mine plow, and the mine roller attachment; the dozer blade; a series of photos showing a Taurus ARV pulling a power pack from a C2, and then another series showing a turret pull (amazing diorama potential). Somewhat surprisingly, there are photos of damaged Leopards— I say surprisingly, as these are normally not OK to publish, but I have been told they were all cleared by Army Public Affairs.
The book then goes into detail about the tanks on a troop-by-troop basis, complete with captions identifying call-signs and CFR numbers. Photos from “outside the wire” give us a sense of how the tankers lived on operations and how tanks were stowed while going in to combat.
This likely to be the only comprehensive photo essay on the C2 deployment to Afghanistan, as the C2 fleet is due to be repatriated in Spring 2011, after which they will be withdrawn from service. From a modellers perspective, it's a goldmine of images. By organizing the chapters according to specific troops, the builder can choose a real vehicle and model that exact one.
Highs: Crisp, large photos showing the Leopard in exhaustive detail. Great attention to ancillary eqpt and maintenance activities.Lows: No interior photos. Photos depict tanks as they appeared for a fairly specific time frame.Verdict: For the scope of this book - a photo essay on Leopard C2 in Afghanistan - it is your one-stop reference source.