When I was a young kit-builder, I was an Airfix snob. Not an easy thing to imagine now, but back in the late sixties, I really thought that Airfix kits were the absolute best. I was aware of other brands: Frog, for example, covered some interesting subjects and Revell did some different aircraft. I was also dimly aware of another company, Heller, and I would occasionally see their kits in my local shop. They were attractively priced, but they often portrayed aircraft I had never heard of and I never did try one.
Fast-forward fifty years, and I still havn’t tried a Heller kit, though I’m almost over my Airfix obsession now. Then I spotted a Heller Sherman in 1/72 at a local stockist at a very reasonable €9.99. A quick burst of Googling seemed to confirm that this is a well-regarded kit of the iconic Sherman, so I decided that it was time to finally give a Heller kit a try.
French kit manufacturer Heller started out in business around the same time as Airfix, in the late 1950s. Within ten years they had a very reasonable range of kits, mostly portraying French aircraft and vehicles. Also like Airfix, they have gone through some troubled times since, going into administration more than once, being bought over and, in the latest change of ownership, being bought by a German company in 2019 to become Heller Hobby GmbH.
Heller kits are still manufactured in France and they still have a large range of aircraft, mainly French military and civilian types, and their range includes the “Heller Museum” range, re-releases of earlier kits. What they don’t have is many tanks in any scale. But, back in 2014, they released two Shermans in 1/72, an M4 “D-Day” kit and this one, an M4A2 of “Division Leclerc.”
The origin and history of the M4 Sherman tank is pretty well-known and I have already covered it in the review of the Airfix Sherman (you’ll find a link at the end of this review), so I won’t go over it again here.
What we’re dealing with here is the M4A2, a Sherman with a General Motors 6046 diesel engine (actually, two GM 6-71 General Motors truck engines combined into a single unit). Other than having a diesel engine, the M4A2 was pretty much like every other welded-hull Sherman, being armed at various points with both the 75mm and later the 76mm main gun. Around seven thousand were made in total but, for whatever reason, the M4A2 was never used in combat by the US Army, thought it was used by the USMC in the Pacific theatre.
Most M4A2s were provided under the lend-lease deal to Britain (who called it the Sherman III) and to free Polish and Czech armoured units operating out of the UK. The M4A2 was also very popular with Russia, partly because their other main tanks, the T-34 and KV-1, were also powered by diesel engines, which simplified fuel supply for armoured divisions. However, the subject of this kit is a Sherman of Division Leclerc, a free-French unit that took part in operations in Normandy and beyond.
Champaubert, an M4A2 of Division Leclerc
This is one of the vehicles for which decals are provided in this kit.
Philippe de Hauteclocque was a French army officer who took part in the Battle of France in 1940 and escaped to join Free French forces in Britain under the command of General de Gaulle. He led Free French forces in North Africa against Italian and German forces and in 1943, following the defeat of Axis forces in Africa, he was appointed commander of the newly formed 2e Division Blindée (2nd Armoured Division), a Free French unit scheduled to take part in the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944. Like many men fighting with Free French forces, de Hauteclocque adopted a nom de guerre, Philippe Leclerc, to protect his family in occupied France from German reprisals. 2e Division Blindée quickly became known as “Division Leclerc.”
Brive la Gaillarde, another M4A2 of Division Leclerc and another Sherman for which decals are provided here.
The Division was equipped with American tanks, mainly M4A2s, and took part in fighting in Normandy, the liberation of Paris and Strasbourg and the final allied advance into Bavaria. Leclerc was awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour but died in an air crash less than two years after the end of the war.
What’s in the box?
Lots! I don’t think I have come across another 1/72 tank kit with so many parts and so many options. There are a total of over 130 parts provided on four sprues moulded in brown, fairly brittle plastic.
Detail on all parts looks absolutely excellent with crisp detail, no flash and virtually no visible mould release marks.
Accuracy in terms of representing an M4A2 of Division Leclerc looks outstanding. Most of the Shermans operated by this unit had wooden storage boxes added on the rear of the turret and hull – both are included here. Most photographs show the tanks with kitbags and stowage hung on the outside of the vehicle – kitbags, jerrycans and even a couple of American helmets are included. Full marks to Heller for not just modelling accurately an M4A2 but to including extra items to make this into a plausible representation of a tank of Division Leclerc.
I am very far from an expert on the Sherman and what worries me slightly here are the options. There are three different glacis plates, two different transmission covers, two sets of completely different roadwheels,idlers and sprockets and even two different sets of tracks! In one way, that’s great – it would be possible to build several different variants of the M4A2 from this kit, but it’s also slightly baffling. Take the glacis plates, for example. The instructions, box art and colour schemes all show the same glacis plate – the one with curved hoods in front of the driver’s and bow gunner’s stations. Is this correct for all three M4A2s for which decals are provided, because some Division Leclerc’s tanks have the squared-off hoods, which are also provided here? Should the same glacis plate be used for all three tanks and are these just common parts from the M4 Heller Sherman kit?
Likewise the transmission covers and tracks. The instructions don’t seem to given any guidance on which to use. I understand that some of the options are here simply because some sprues are common to the Heller M4, but two entirely separate and different tracks are provided, so some guidance on which to use would have been helpful. The instructions do note on which tank the different sprockets and roadwheels should be used, which is something. I guess the answer is to Google the specific tanks covered and try to find which parts are appropriate to each. I’m certainly not complaining about the wealth of options here, but I would have appreciated a little more guidance. Overall, the level of detail and crispness of mouldings looks very good indeed. Look at the image of the turret below – it’s not only accurate, it has a slightly rough surface that nicely represents cast steel.
Some parts are tiny – the lifting rings and brush-guards for the lights, for example, and care will be needed to get these off the sprue in one piece and to keep them out of the clutches of the ever-hungry carpet monster. The hatches are all provided as separate parts and all have internal detail so they can be modelled open, but there is no interior detail and no figures are included. This kit doesn’t use slide moulding so the main gun, for example, is not moulded open. But, in an interesting approach, Heller have provided the tip of the gun, which is moulded open, as a separate part. So, you won’t have to drill the gun out but you will have to conceal the joint where the tip is affixed. The only thing that isn’t included is the tow cable which is depicted on the box art.
The tracks are vinyl, rubber band style but they seem reasonably detailed though there are moulding marks on the inside. Each vinyl sprue provides two different tracks representing, I believe, T51 rubber block and T54E1 steel chevron type tracks. There are even two versions of the spare track links which match the two styles of vinyl track!
Many wartime photos show also that the Shermans of Division Leclerc had both spare roadwheels and track links on the front glacis plates. This isn’t mentioned in the instructions but both spare track links and extra roadwheels are provided, so this should certainly be possible. Thankfully otherwise the full-colour instructions are very good indeed. They’ seem clear and complete, painting instructions appear to be given for every part and the 3D views look easy to follow. Decals are provided for three tanks of Division Leclerc: Champaubert of the 501e RCC (Régiment de Chars de Combat), Brive la Gallarde of the 12e Regiment de Cuirassiers and Valserine of 12e RCA (Régiment de Chasseurs d’Afrique). The only colour scheme is overall US Army green.
The decals are as complicated as the rest of this kit. Tanks of Division Leclerc simply had lots of markings and these are faithfully replicated for three different tanks. However, guess what – there are options in the decals too! Three alternative styles of turret-top white star are included, but there are no clues as to which is appropriate to which particular tank. I do note that some of the decals seem to be badly out of register, which is a little disappointing.
Overall this looks to be a very good representation of the M4A2, though the sheer number of options and alternatives seem to me to edging towards “bewildering.” It’s probably just as well there aren’t any figures provided because these would almost certainly come with several alternative styles of socks and moustaches. If variety really is the spice of life, this is a vindaloo. Whether that fills you with joy or makes you slightly apprehensive is a personal matter, but I don’t think anyone could complain that they aren’t given sufficient options in this particular kit.
Would you want one?
The immediate answer seems to be yes. The detail and options here are superb and the quality of moulding and attention to detail seem very good. Indeed, the level of complexity and optional parts is as good as seen on many 1/35 kits. OK, it has vinyl tracks, but otherwise, I really don’t see how you could have a more complete or accurate French M4A2, especially at a price of under €10. If you can source some alternate decals and with a little modification, there is no reason you can’t also use this as the basis for a British, Russian, Czech or Polish M4A2 too.
If you do want to try an alternative, Italeri do a 1/72 Sherman III (M4A2) as part of their “fast assembly” range. This comes as a pack of two tanks which are somewhat simplified, being intended for wargames. They depict British Shermans from North Africa complete with sandshields.
Dragon do a few versions of the M4A2 including a USMC version, a later 76mm gun version in “Red Army” guise and a rather nice British Sherman III in North African trim. All are reasonably accurate and include DML’s soft plastic tracks. However, none seem materially better than this Heller effort and they just don’t provide the level of alternatives seen here.