Ah, 1964. The Beatles starred in an alleged musical comedy A Hard Day’s Night. My big sister liked it, but I thought it was boring. Mary Poppins was genuinely funny, mainly due to Dick Van Dyke’s unforgettable cockney accent, but Doctor Strangelove was just disturbing, though still a bit funny. On television I fell in love with Samantha from Bewitched and Emma Peel from The Avengers and I really, really wanted to be as cool as Illya Kuryakin from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
It was a different time. Theme tunes were catchier, life was simpler and, apparently, kit manufacturers felt that accuracy was optional. Or so it might appear from the 1/76 Airfix Tiger I launched in 1964. I was pleasantly surprised recently when I built an Airfix StuG III from 1963. I bought this one expecting another nostalgia-fuelled build. Instead I was surprised again, but not in a good way this time…
Before starting the review, a quick word about scale because during its long history this kit has gone through some sort of identity crisis, not seeming to be sure what scale it was. When it was first released in 1964 it was labelled as “HO-00”, the same scale used for many items of model railway rolling stock and accessories. That’s how it stayed for around twenty years until 1986 when it was re-boxed and identified as “1/72.” It stayed that way for another twenty years or so until another re-boxing in 2005 saw it identified as “1/76.”
Just in case you’re unsure, it’s 1/76 and the kit itself has never changed, only the scale noted on the box. It’s notably smaller than 1/72 AFV kits and it will look odd if displayed beside one of those. I have no idea why it spent so long claiming to be 1/72, but it isn’t, OK?
Here is the upper hull of the 1/76 Airfix Tiger I (top) next to the upper hull from a Revell 1/72 Tiger I (bottom). The difference in size is noticeable.
Tiger I History
The Tiger tank is probably the best-known tank of World War Two. In fact, it’s probably the best-known tank of all time. My father was a tanker who served in the Guards Armoured Division during World War Two and the only German tank I ever heard him refer to by name was the Tiger. You could make an argument that it’s actual impact as a weapon system was far less than its reputation, but this is about as iconic as tanks get.
The history of the Tiger can be traced back to design work on a thirty-tonne heavy tank by German engineering works Henschel und Sohn. That work didn’t really lead anywhere, simply because early-war German victories seemed to suggest that there was no need for a heavy tank. Then, following the invasion of Russia in June 1941, German armoured units began to encounter Russian T-34 and KV-1 tanks. Suddenly, there was an urgent need for a new tank capable of effectively dealing with these well-armed and armoured Russian tanks.
A Tiger I somewhere in Russia, 1943
Image: Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons
Henschel hastily dusted-off the abandoned designs for their heavy tank, made it heavier still and in April 1942 the first prototype of the new tank was created and it was quickly selected for production over a rival design from Porsche. Two hundred were initially ordered and what had become known as the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger (Sd. Kfz.181) entered production in August 1942.
The new tank was armed with the 8.8cm Kw.K. 36 L/56 gun, a development of the fearsome 8.8cm Flak 18 and Flak 36 guns with similar ballistic performance. The Tiger was heavily armoured and powered by a massive V-12 Maybach petrol engine. It was also extremely heavy at over fifty tons and this weight was distributed by using eight suspension torsion bars (stabfedern) on each side, with each torsion bar supporting three road wheels.
A Tiger I Ausf. H in Tunisia
Image: Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons
The first production version of the Tiger was the Ausf. H. This model saw service on the Eastern Front from September 1942 and in North Africa from February 1943. This was superseded in April 1943 by the improved Ausf. E. There were a number of differences between the two but the most immediately obvious external changes were a different commander’s cupola and a switch from twenty-four, dished, rubber-tyred roadwheels per side to sixteen, flat, reinforced steel roadwheels per side. Production of what retrospectively became known as the “Tiger I” (after the introduction of the Tiger II in 1944) ended in late 1944 and around 1,400 Tiger Is were produced in total.
As ever, if you want to know more about the Tiger I, the Tank Encyclopedia website page about the Tiger I is highly recommended.
What’s in the Box?
The Airfix Tiger I was launched in 1964 and joined the growing collection of 1/76 AFVs including the Panther, Sherman, Churchill and StuG III. The 3rd Edition of the Airfix Catalogue, released in late 1964 proudly noted:
“The German Tiger Tank of World War II first appeared on the Russian front and later in North Africa. This 68-part kit makes a brilliantly detailed model of this mighty monster.”
Now, “brilliantly detailed” is not how most people would currently describe this kit as it certainly has some problems.
The small box contains sixty-six parts moulded in light brown plastic on five small sprues plus two rubberised lengths of track.
The level of detail is reasonable, though simply not as good as current 1/72 kits and there is a fair amount of flash. In at least one place (circled above) the mould seems to be getting quite tired and the definition and detail have vanished.
Detail on the rubber track sections is also reasonable, though unsurprisingly not up to current standards.
The instructions are simple and consist of just seven steps, though they do show the wrong orientation for the driver’s and bow-gunners hatches; these should be rotated around 90˚ from where the instructions show and they are correctly shown on the plan views for both colour schemes.
Paint scheme for a Tunisian Tiger from the back of the box
The decals and suggested paint schemes cover Tigers from Tunisia and Normandy. However, this isn’t a Tunisian Tiger – it’s a later Ausf. E which didn’t appear until April 1943 and never saw operational use in North Africa. The main issue is the road wheels – these are clearly the steel road-wheels of the Ausf. E, not the quite different, dished, rubber-tyred road wheels of the earlier Ausf. H. So, forget the North African decals and paint scheme (which are both wrong anyway) and focus on the Normandy Tiger. But then even this falls short.
It’s not what’s here that’s the problem so much as what isn’t. Specifically, the turret stowage bin and front and rear mudguards are missing. Both are part of the distinctive look of the Tiger and, without them, it just looks rather odd. I suppose it’s not impossible that a battle-weary Tiger might have lacked all these things, but their omission from the kit is surprising, especially when all versions of the box art show mudguards and the earliest versions of the bag header art showed a turret stowage bin too. Perhaps there were once plans for another sprue containing the stowage bin and mudguards? If you are going to build this kit, you certainly may want to consider adding these missing items.
Overall, this has the feel of a kit that perhaps was produced in haste. In some ways it doesn’t seem finished and even recent additions have errors. For example, the instructions provided with the Vintage Classics version include nice colour detail drawings of a paint scheme for a Normandy Tiger. The paint scheme is fine, but it shows rubber tyres painted on the road wheels, which is wrong for an Ausf. E with steel wheels. Even the arrangement of roadwheels is wrong on the side view drawings for this and the Tunisian colour scheme.
Detail from suggested colour scheme for Normandy Tiger
On the Ausf. H, there were three road wheels per torsion bar for a total of twenty four wheels on each side with the four outermost roadwheels on torsion bars (counting from the front) 1, 3, 5 and 7. On the Ausf. E, this was changed to two roadwheels per torsion bar for a total of sixteen wheels on each side. Essentially the outer roadwheels were removed on each side to leave the outermost wheels on torsion bars 2, 4, 6 and 8. The side views provided by Airfix show Ausf. E steel wheels, but painted with Ausf. H rubber tyres and in an Ausf. H arrangement with twenty-four wheels per side. Not the end of the world but perhaps further evidence of haste or lack of research? Fortunately the instructions are correct and show the correct roadwheel arrangement for a later model Tiger.
Would You Want One?
Honestly, given that it will take some work to turn this into a reasonable representation of a late model Tiger, probably not. I bought this for a bit of nostalgia, but to produce something that looks like a Tiger will mean awakening my long-dormant scratch building skills to produce at least a turret stowage bin and mudguards. As this will be an Ausf. E, I can only make it as a Normandy Tiger – I’d have preferred to model a Tunisian Tiger, but this model didn’t come into production until the fighting in North Africa was over. I can’t say that I’m consumed by excitement at the prospect of starting this build. Overall, it’s not a terrible kit, but by today’s exacting standards, it isn’t great either. It’s cheap at less than half the price of 1/72 Tiger I kits, but then that price reflects the quality of what you get.
If you really want an Airfix Tiger, the company are due to release a new-tooled kit in the summer of 2020. I’m sure that will be better; recent Airfix small scale AFV offerings such as the Cromwell tank have been pretty good and that one doesn’t have those nasty rubber tracks – Yay! So perhaps it might be better to wait to see what the new Airfix Tiger I looks like?
The new Airfix Tiger I due out later this year should be a notable improvement. This is the Airfix.com pre-order page describing the new release. I do note it’s described as 1/72 – I wonder if that’s correct? Other recent Airfix AFV releases including the Cromwell and Tiger II have both been 1/76 – I wonder if Airfix really are changing scale or if this will also turn out also to be 1/76?
Revell offer a very nice Tiger I Ausf. H in 1/72. You can find both an in-box and build review on this site and here’s a link to the Revell page for this kit.
Airfix 1/76 Tiger Build Review
Revell 1/72 Tiger I Ausf. H, In-Box review
Airfix 1/72 StuG III In-Box Review
The website Tiger1.info provides more information that you could ever want about the Tiger I tank. This link is to a page on that site that is a review of various model kits by someone who really, really knows the Tiger. It’s a great resource for modellers, though it mainly covers 1/35 kits.
The Tank Encyclopedia page on the Tiger I provides lots of good information, photographs and colour schemes.
One thought on “Airfix 1/76 Tiger I (A01308V) In-Box Review and History”
Yes I agree – I made one many years ago and I still have nightmares over how to get it to fit together and the turret was a complete pain. Now I realise that I painted it in an early model desert camouflage! Thanks for pointing out my mistake – not knowing my Ausfs! Also Ausf H before Ausf E…. what were they thinking! Really enjoying the Cromwell kit – lovely fit and detail.