I recently purchased a 1/72 kit by Russian kit-maker Zvezda, the first time I have tried one of this company’s products. I confess that I have been rather put off by “Snap-Fit. No Glue Required” proudly emblazoned across Zvezda tank kit boxes. That sounds, well, a bit toy-like. Surely a snap together kit can’t be much good. Can it?
However, having read various reviews, it seems that this isn’t necessarily so. Zvezda tank kits in both 1/72 and 1/35 seem to be well regarded and the images I have seen of completed kits look rather good. So, I bit the bullet and ordered this kit from a local stockist here in Spain. I was slightly stunned when I did some initial research and discovered that this is a new-tool kit released in 2020. I’m more used to kits that are forty or even fifty year sold but hey, even us oldies can be persuaded to take a trip into the future now and again.
And I even have a tenuous personal connection with the vehicle depicted in this kit. In 2010 during a trip to Moscow I was able to visit the Central Armed Forces Museum on Ulitsa Sovetskoy Armii. It’s a fantastic museum with (as you’d expect) lots of Soviet hardware from World War Two and one of the exhibits I noted was an SU-85 – until then, I had never seen one in real life. Back then in 2010, it looked a little sad, with faded and chipped paintwork, but it has now been refurbished and repainted and, I strongly suspect, used as the basis for this little kit – the decals provided with the kit certainly match the current paint scheme of the SU-85 in the museum.
Zvezda themselves (the word means “Star,” by the way) were established in 1990 and are based in Lobnya, a town twenty miles north-west of Moscow. They produce a range of kits covering civil and military aircraft, ships and figures as well as an extensive range of AFV kits in 1/72 and 1/35 covering subjects from the inter-war period, to World War Two and later.
So, let’s take a look. Can a snap-together kit really provide a satisfactory modelling experience?
The creation of the SU-85 was, like many other wartime developments, a short-term and expedient solution to a particular problem. By the summer of 1943, it was becoming clear that the T-34/76 had some major problems. Most significantly, it’s 76mm main gun was not capable of penetrating the frontal armour of the latest German tanks including the Tiger and Panther. In addition, it was recognised that its two-man turret, with the Commander being required to operate the gun, was partly responsible for inefficiency in combat. The solution was the T-34/85 with a more powerful main gun, upgraded armour and a three-man turret, but the new tank would not be ready until early 1944. What was needed in the meantime was a new vehicle mounting the 85mm main gun that could be produced quickly until the new tank reached frontline units.
By the late summer of 1943, the T-34 was becoming vulnerable to new German tanks and upgunned existing versions.
Image: Bundesarchiv via WikiMedia Commons
In response to this requirement, the SU-85 (SU simply means Samohodnaya ustanovka, self-propelled vehicle) was proposed. The Soviet Army had been considering plans for a medium tank destroyer since 1940, but no prototypes had been built. The Ural’s’kiy Mashinostroitelnyy Zavod (the Ural Heavy Machinery Plant, UZTM) near the city of Sverdlovsk had been producing the SU-122 heavy howitzer based on the T-34 chassis since mid-1942, and so it seemed logical that the same factory could quickly produce a vehicle using the T-34/76 chassis but mounting an 85mm main gun. Nevertheless, development of what became the SU-85 happened in a staggeringly short space of time.
The SU-122 was also produced at the UZTM factory
A decree ordering UZTM to begin development of an SPG based on the T-34 was issued on August 8th 1943. The design used the chassis, lower hull, running gear, suspension, engine and transmission of the existing T-34/76 with a fixed superstructure holding four crew and an 85mm main gun. Production had to start by 25th August with no less than once hundred examples being produced by the end of the same month. Compared to protracted Allied and German AFV development, this is little short of incredible, but somehow UZTM produced the first SU-85s within the deadline and the first examples reached front-line units before the end of September.
Given this rush to produce, unsurprisingly the SU-85 design was refined and improved throughout its production history, though this was mostly done on an ad-hoc basis with no clearly defined sub-types. For example, the first SU-85s had a gun shield attached with four bolts. This was found to be insufficient and was soon increased to six. Changes were also made to armour, hatches, visors, pistol ports and other elements throughout production. There are a great many detail differences between vehicles simply designated as SU-85. Only two changes were sufficiently important to warrant formal recognition. SU-85s were produced in two factories at UZTM, #8 and #9. The SU-85 was designed for the D-5S85 gun, a development of an existing 85mm towed anti-tank weapon. However, Factory #8 also produced 85mm anti-aircraft guns, and on SU-85s produced at that factory, the barrel and breech from these were used. This gun was identified as the D-5S85A and SU-85s fitted with this gun are generally referred to as SU-85As, though they are externally identical to other models.
The SU-85A at the Central Armed Forces Museum, Moscow
Image: Yuri Pasholok athttps://www.facebook.com/yuripasholok
The need for the SU-85 declined sharply when the T-34/85 entered service in the first quarter of 1944. It was decided that a new SPG, the SU-100 would be produced using a more powerful 100 mm D-10S main gun and equipped with a full commander’s cupola. However, shortages of the new gun led to interim production of the SU-85M, essentially an SU-100 fitted with the D-5S85A gun.
In total, around two thousand SU-85s were produced from August 1943 to November 1944. The SU-85 remained in service with the Red Army throughout World War Two and after and was also used by armies around the world including Vietnam, North Korea, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. This kit appears to be based on an SU-85A manufactured in June 1944 and currently on display at the Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow.
What’s in the Box?
The box contains a total of just eighty-one parts comprising a single sprue, the lower hull moulded in light grey plastic and the tracks moulded in a black, semi-soft plastic. There are also decals, instructions and suggested paint schemes.
The single sprue contains everything but the lower hull.
Surface detail looks very good indeed, with sharp panel lines, weld beads and even tyre treads on the tiny roadwheels. I do note that there are two completely different tread patterns on the tyres of the roadwheels. However, an examination of photographs of the SU-85 in the museum in Moscow confirms that it too has this assortment of tyres. I have no idea if this reflects wartime practice or just the use of an assortment of tyres by the museum. The main gun is moulded as a single part and is solid so it will need to be drilled out.
The tracks themselves are quite interesting, being moulded in a black plastic that isn’t as flexible as vinyl but seems notably softer and less brittle than the plastic from which other parts are formed. Assembling the tracks looks a little different too, due to the method of construction. First the inner roadwheels and the inner halves of the idler and sprocket are attached to the hull. Then, the tracks are assembled and added, being anchored in cut-outs in the centre roadwheel. Then the outer half of all the roadwheels , idler and sprocket are added. It certainly sounds different but at least the tracks are nicely detailed.
A look at the instructions also reveals that “no glue required” is not entirely true. While most main parts do seem to be designed to snap together, some tiny parts like the handrails on the sides of the hull must be glued in place. The instructions note that “you can fix some additional parts with the help of glue.”
Decals are provided for two vehicles, one from the 1047th Kalinkovichi SPG regiment with a suitably warlike slogan, Смерть немецкого оккупанта (Death to the German occupier) and the other from the 251st Guards SPG regiment which includes the text советский разведчик (Soviet prospector) for the hull side. The second option is the vehicle displayed in the Armed Forces Museum though it’s notable that the SU-85 in the museum only has the slogan “Cоветский разведчик” on the right side, not on both sides as the colour scheme and decals suggest. The overall colour for both schemes is Protective Green 4BO (though the instructions simply refer to it as “protective, which is a little confusing) , the standard green used on virtually all Russian AFVs during World War Two.
Would You Want One?
This looks like an interesting little kit. The overall detail and accuracy look very good indeed in the box but I’ll have to reserve judgement on the whole snap-together thing until I actually build this, something I’m really looking forward to. It’s always good to see things like the tools and tow cables being provided as separate parts as this does simplify painting. All the hatches are moulded as integral parts of the hull and can’t be constructed open, but that’s not unusual at this scale.
The SU-85 isn’t a particularly popular subject in 1/72 – up to 2000, there wasn’t a single example available. AER were the first to release a 1/72 SU-85 back in 2000 and Unimodel followed soon after with their version. DML also do both an SU-85 and an SU-85M in 1/72, both nicely detailed kits first released in 2011. Armourfast also do a snap-together SU-85 in 1/72. All of these are perfectly acceptable kits with no huge problems.