When I recently bought the Tamiya Panzer II, I was amazed to discover that it dates from all the way back to 1971. The Panzer II is number nine in the Military Miniatures series and this kit, the M41 Walker Bulldog, is number fifty-five. Seeing that, I assumed that this was from the mid-1970s, but a bit of research reveals that this kit actually first appeared in 1964! It was re-boxed as part of the MM series in 1975, but this kit is heading for sixty-years old.
This must be one of the earliest Tamiya 1/35 tanks – their very first, a Panther, was introduced in 1962. This was originally produced as a motorised kit and this shows in several places – there are several openings in the lower hull intended for switches and connections, the roadwheels, idlers and sprockets are attached using polycap retainers so they can revolve and the rubber bands style tracks are designed as much for operation as for looks.
I really enjoy building early kits – I don’t really care for a box full of tiny parts or lots of PE and older kits tend to be simpler in terms of construction and much lower in cost. I am still very much at the stage of re-learning my kit-building and painting skills so older kits are ideal. However, on some, detail can be missing or simplified and kits produced on fifty-plus year-old moulds can be less than perfect. Is this kit still worth your attention?
In 1947 work began in the US on the design of a light tank to replace the M24 Chaffee which had seen limited use in the later stages of World War Two. The main problem with the Chaffee was its 75mm main gun. Light tanks were traditionally not expected to fight other tanks, being more concerned with reconnaissance and infantry support, but experience with the M24 and the earlier M5 Stuart suggested that it was sensible for any light tank to be able to defend itself against enemy armour.
The intention was to create a tank that was sufficiently light to be air-transportable, faster than the M24, reasonably well-armoured and capable of mounting the powerful M32 76mm main gun. The sheer size of the breech block on the M32 meant that that the new tank was much larger and heavier than the M24. Although the M41 had similar armour thickness to the M24, the finished tank was five tons heavier, which made air-transport generally impracticable.
Suspension was provided by torsion bars with five road wheels on each side, the sprocket at the rear and idler at the front. The Continental AOS 895-3 6-cylinder gasoline engine gave good top speed at 45mph but range was limited to one hundred miles and the interior of the tank was cramped and noisy. The main gun was supplemented by a co-axial .30 cal Browning Machine-gun and a .50 cal Browning machine-gun mounted on a pintle close to the commander’s cupola.
Production of the M41 began in 1952 at Cadillac’s Cleveland Tank Plant. This tank was initially identified as the Little Bulldog, but it was re-named the Walker Bulldog following the death of US General Walton Walker in a jeep accident in Korea on 1950. The M41 arrived too late to see combat in the Korean War, though some were shipped to US forces in Korea for evaluation. The original M41A1 was upgraded to become the A2 and then A3, but these changes were mainly to the engine and fuel injection systems and externally, all three variants are identical.
An M41 of the AVRN in Saigon, 1968
The M41 first saw combat in 1961 during the Bay of Pigs invasion. The CIA obtained five M41s and supplied these to Cuban exiles opposed to the regime of Fidel Castro. The M41s destroyed a number of Cuban T-34/85s before all were captured. The M41 was also used by US forces in Vietnam, but none saw combat against North-Vietnamese tanks. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (AVRN) was supplied with large numbers of M41s by the US and this became the main tank used by that army. In Operation Lam Son 719 in 1971, M41s of the AVRN saw combat against North-Vietnamese T-54 and PT-76 tanks. Seven T-54s and sixteen PT-76s were destroyed by M41s during this action.
M41s of the Bundeswehr’s 3rd Panzer Division, 1957
The M41 was also used by several NATO countries and over one hundred M41s were supplied to the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF), the new Japanese Army created in 1954. The M41 saw combat with the JGSDF, but only against Godzilla; spoiler alert – the powerful 76mm main gun proved surprisingly ineffective in the anti-giant stompy monster role.
Production of the M41 ended in the 1950s and in early 1969 the M41 began to be replaced by the M551 Sheridan in US Army service.
What’s in the Box?
This box contains four sprues and the upper and lower hull sections, all moulded in dark green plastic. Items such as the roadwheels are nicely moulded but with prominent seams on the tyres. There are also two black, rubber-band style tracks, soft plastic polycap retainers for the roadwheels, idlers and sprockets, a set of decals and instructions.
There are a total of 125 parts here, but one whole sprue contains only parts and accessories for the three figures provided. The commander figure is just about useable, but the two infantrymen are not – both are wearing World War Two style uniforms and are therefore not appropriate for use with the post-war M41.
The upper hull is reasonably detailed and the moulding is very crisp indeed considering how old this kit is.
The torsion rod arms and other parts are all moulded integral with the lower hull, not something you would expect to see on a current 1/35 kit. There are also several holes in the lower hull that are there to accommodate switches and other items on the motorised version.
The polycap collars are used to mount the roadwheels, idlers and sprockets. The tracks have good detail on the outer surface but no detail at all on the inner surface other than the track horns. This is presumably a legacy from this kit’s motorised origins.
There are two things that are notably missing here; there is no tow cable, and these were fitted to all US tanks of this period, and the canvas blast-shroud over the mantlet is not included. The instructions go into a fair amount of detail on how to make a blast-shroud out of one of the plastic bags in which the kit parts are packed, but I suspect that there are better ways of doing this.
The instructions are generally clear with good, three-dimensional views of all steps of construction. The text is somewhat clumsy in terms of English usage, but there is nothing here that should cause any major problems. The instructions also provide a fairly detailed history of the M41 and here there is a strong clue to this kit’s age; the M41 is described as a current US tank and it is noted that it may be replaced by the M551 Sheridan at some point in the future – that actually happened in 1969.
Three sets of decals are provided, one for a US Army tank of an unidentified unit and two for tanks of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF).
Would You Want One?
Look, this is a kit that’s heading for sixty years old, so don’t expect current levels of detail or accuracy! That said, this is available very cheap, it certainly doesn’t look terrible in the box and it is a good way to practise those painting and weathering skills.
Be aware that you are going to have to fabricate at least the canvas blast shield on the mantlet – this is characteristic of virtually all M41s and the finished kit is going to look very odd without it. Some detail is also simplified or missing entirely – the bracing struts on the outside of the hull storage bins, for example, are missing and the radio antenna are too short and too fat. The good news is that the missing detail is fairly simple to add and the overall size and proportions of the main parts look right. The M41 was used by armies around the world, so with alternative decals and paint this kit could be built to represent a tank in another service.
There are relatively few other 1/35 scale M41s out there; the only one that I am aware of is the AFV Club M41A3 released in 2002. This is a very nicely detailed kit that includes a turned aluminium barrel, though you will still have to fabricate your own canvas blast screen. However, the AFV Club M41 is quite hard to find and it is three or more times the price of the Tamiya version. Is it three times as good? For me, the answer is; probably not.
What you get here is a kit that was state-of-the-art in the 1960s. It may not be in that league now, but it is still actually a pretty decent kit for not much money. I like kits that are simple to build and I’m willing to sacrifice a little detail for that, but you may feel differently. For me, I’m looking forward to building this one more than, for example, the more complex HobbyBoss T-37A I built recently. Old school can still be cool.