I recently built a 1/72 SU-85 kit by Russian kit-maker Zvezda. I thoroughly enjoyed that one, so I thought I’d try another offering by the same company, a Model 1943 version of the iconic T-34. Like the SU-85 this is a “Snap-Fit. No Glue Required” kit. I was originally put off these small Zvezda kits because I felt that a snap-together kit sounded like something aimed at kids (and this was at one time marked on the box as “My first model kit”) but the SU-85 went together well with some sanding and filling and I’m now looking forward to building another small-scale Zvezda kit.
I had assumed (always a dangerous thing to do) that this would be very similar to the SU-85 kit, which is basically a T-34 chassis and running gear with an 85mm main gun in a fixed mount, but I was wrong. This is an older kit, first released in 2011 (the SU-85 was released in 2020) and in terms of, for example, track construction, this is quite different though the quality of moulding looks just as good.
I have already built a T-34 in 1/72, the Revell version of the later T-34/85, and that was very nice indeed. Can this snap-together kit be as good? Let’s take a look…
Much of my working life has been spent in engineering, and I find a comparison of German and Russian approaches to tank design and construction during World War Two fascinating. German designers generally aimed for technical excellence and that involved almost continual change and improvement of initial designs. The T-34 represents a very different approach. The T-34/76 tank that invading German forces met in the Summer of 1941 was good, but it was far from perfect. A major problem was the cramped, two-man turret that provided poor outside vision and required the commander to issue orders to the crew while maintaining situational awareness and identifying targets as well as aiming and firing the main gun.
A Model 1941 T-34 in the Victory Park Museum, Moscow.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
The Russians were well aware of these problems and as early as the Summer of 1941 plans were well advanced for the T-34M (also known as the T-43) which would have included torsion bar suspension and a three-man turret mounting a more powerful main gun. However, the invasion changed all that and a decision was taken to retain the T-34/76 as it was to ensure the highest possible rate of production. The GABTU (Main Auto-Armoured Technical Directorate) permitted no changes to the basic design that might slow the rate at which T-34s rolled out of factories.
One of the principal locations producing the T-34 was Factory 183 in Kharkov. However, in late 1941 the city was evacuated as the Germans approached and the factory was disassembled and shipped east. Factory 183 was merged with the Dzerzhinsky Ural Railroad Car Factory and re-established in the Ural city of Nizhny Tagil to create the Stalin Ural Tank Factory No. 183 which soon became the world’s single largest producer of tanks.
Finishing a cast Gaika T-34 turret in Factory 183.
One of the few changes allowed was the creation in 1942 at Factory 183 of a new, cast Gaika (hex-nut) turret that was a little wider and less cramped than the original, though it was still a two-man turret with two circular hatches in the roof rather than a single, large hatch. The final modification to the T-34/76 before the introduction of the T-34/85 in early 1944 was the addition of a turret cupola for the commander that was introduced in the second half of 1943.
However, also in 1943 a shortage of rubber forced another change. Instead of the road wheels being covered with rubber tyres, a small rubber shock-absorber was placed in the centre of a steel roadwheel which became known as a “locomotive wheel”. This saved rubber, but the sound it produced was so loud that it was difficult for the crew to communicate and Germans were given ample warning of any approaching T-34. A compromise was developed in which only the middle three roadwheels were steel and this was found to reduce noise notably while still saving rubber.
The T-34 production line in Factory 183. If you look closely, you will see that the tank on the right has rubber-tyred roadwheels at front and rear with steel locomotive wheels between.
The Russian focus on maintaining production paid off. More than one thousand, five hundred T-34s were produced in the month of December 1942 alone. Despite suffering massive tank losses in actions throughout 1942, the Red Army had almost twelve thousand more tanks in its inventory in January 1943 compared to one year earlier. The T-34/76 certainly wasn’t perfect, but enough of them were available that they caused major problems for German forces or, as Stalin is reputed to have said, “quantity has a quality of its own.”
What’s in the Box?
This kit represents a T-34 produced in the first half of 1943 at Factory 183 in Nizhny Tagil and features a Gaika cast turret with two “Mickey Mouse ear” hatches but no cupola and steel locomotive roadwheels in the middle three positions. This T-34 is modelled without rear external fuel tanks, spare track links, a horn or tools. The box contains less than eighty parts comprising a single sprue and the lower hull moulded in light grey plastic and the tracks moulded in two separate sprues in black plastic. There are also decals and assembly instructions that include suggested paint schemes.
The single main sprue contains everything but the lower hull.
The upper hull is a single part with the driver’s hatch included. Surface detail looks reasonably good, though perhaps not quite as well-defined and crisp as the detail on the SU-85. There is virtually no flash and I can’t see any visible mould release marks. The main gun is moulded as a single part and is solid so it will need to be drilled out as will the exhausts. Two tow-cables are provided as separate parts but no tools or other items are provided for external stowage.
Roadwheels are nicely detailed and all lightening holes are moulded as open, so no drilling is required. The two types of roadwheel are clearly different and appear to be correctly modelled.
The turret hatches are moulded as separate parts but there is little interior detail, no crew and no simple way to model these open as extended legs on the inside of the hatches help to snap the turret into place.
The tracks themselves are different to the single-piece, semi-flexible tracks provided with, for example, the more recent Zvezda 1/72 SU-85. Each track comprises four separate parts – a top and bottom run and two curved end-pieces to fit over the sprocket and idler. The curved end pieces fit into pegs inside the sprocket and idler. Interior and exterior detail on the tracks looks acceptable and they appear to be to scale.
The instructions look clear with 3D views of all steps.
Decals and colour schemes are provided for two tanks.
One, all in Protective Green 4BO, is for a tank from the 22nd Heavy tank Brigade in the Summer of 1943 and the other, with a tan camouflage pattern over the green base, is for the 8th Heavy Tank Brigade in the same period.
I have not been able to find details of either of these units, but the main action on the Eastern Front in the Summer of 1943 was the massive Battle of Kursk in July/August and it is certainly possible that either unit may have been involved there.
Would You Want One?
This looks like a fairly simple little kit. Overall detail and accuracy look good and I like the fact that this represents a very specific point in the minor modification of the T-34/76. I also like the fact that this is a “bare” T-34 without fuel tanks, tools or spare track links which does make it look a little different. My previous experience with a Zvezda snap-together kit suggests that some sanding and filling may be required to get things like the upper and lower hull and exhausts to join without gaps, but I’m hopeful that this will create a reasonably detailed and accurate early T-34/76 Model 1943.
Kit builders are well-served with a plethora of T-34/76 kits in a range of scales. If you are looking specifically for a Model 1943, DML do one in 1/72, though this is a slightly later version with the commander’s cupola and, though it also features three locomotive wheels on either side, the holes in these are not moulded as open so you had better be prepared for an extended drilling session. The DML kit does include external fuel tanks and stowage items. Italeri also do a very similar kit in 1/72 depicting a T-34/76 Model 1943 with cupola which was first released in 2020.