Now that shops here in Spain are beginning to re-open after COVID lockdown, I recently found myself strolling past a toy and model shop I had never noticed before. And there in the window was a 1/72 tank kit by a manufacturer I had never heard of for a reduced price somewhere south of €5. Well, how could I resist that?
So, here is a slightly unexpected review of a Panzer III Ausf. N kit produced by a company that may, or may not, be called Waltersons. The only information about these kits I can find on-line references “Forces of Valor” as a trade name and emphasizes that these kits are simple, robust and price-friendly (the full price of this Panzer III kit was under €10). The website also notes that all kits are “injected with pigment” in the appropriate final colour so that they don’t need painting. These sound like simplified kits so, I guess we are not dealing with DML levels of accuracy and completeness here.
This kit first appeared in 2011 as a product from Unimax Toys, a Hong-Kong based manufacturer. In its original incarnation, the box identified the manufacturer as Unimax and the kit as depicting a Panzer III of Panzer Brigade “Norwegen” in May 1945. The version I found is branded “Waltersons – Enthusiasm Beyond Compare” and cites Kursk 1943, though the box also mentions Panzer Brigade Norwegen. The box also notes that the kit is moulded in plastic coloured to match RAL 7028, which, according to my sources, is Dunklegelb (dark yellow), which was the base colour used on mid to late war German tanks.
So, this kit presents a different kind of challenge. A quick look inside the box suggests something that in some ways is more toy-like than most of the tank kits covered on this site. Will it be possible to use this as the basis for a reasonable model of the Panzer III?
The Panzer III and Panzer IV were designed in the mid-1930s as Germany’s main tanks. The Panzer IV was intended as an infantry support tank and initially armed with a 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 main gun. The smaller and lighter Panzer III was to be a tank-killer and was armed with a 3.7 cm KwK L/46.5 main gun, a development of the Pak 36 anti-tank gun.
Panzer IIIs with 3.7cm main guns in Yugoslavia in 1941
Image: Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia commons
During the early war, in combat in Poland and during the invasion of France and Belgium, the Panzer III proved just about adequate but, when German forces invaded Russia in 1941 and found themselves facing T-34s and KV-1s, it was clear that a more powerful main gun was required. The Panzer III was upgraded with the 5cm KwK 38 L/42 main gun. However, even that proved less than effective in the tank-killing role and due to the limited size of its turret ring, the Panzer III could not be equipped with a larger main gun.
At that point, the Panzer III and IV underwent a role reversal. The Panzer IV was equipped with a modified version of the Pak 40 75mm anti-tank gun to become an effective tank-killer. The Panzer III Ausf. N was equipped with the same short 75mm main gun originally fitted to the Panzer IV and became used as an infantry support tank. A number of these later Panzer IIIs were also assigned to heavy tank companies to provide close-support for Tiger tanks – the full company compliment was nine Tigers and ten Panzer III Ausf. N. The Ausf. N was the second most numerous version of the Panzer III with more than six hundred produced in 1942 and 1943.
Panzer III with 5cm main gun and schürzen hull and turret armour in Russia.
Image: Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia commons
The subject of this particular kit is a Panzer III Ausf. N of Panzer Brigade “Norwegen”. This unit was formed in July 1944 at the Trandum military training camp near Oslo. Although identified as a brigade, the only units involved were a battalion of Panzer IIIs and Panzergrenadier battalion “Norwegen”. In early 1945, the brigade was transferred to Narvik to face a potential Russian attack on Northern Norway. This attack never materialised and the brigade saw no combat before surrendering to British forces on 10th May 1945. I had never heard of Panzer Brigade “Norwegen” before buying this kit and kudos to Forces of Valor for choosing such a little-known unit as the subject for a kit.
Panzer IIIs of Panzer Brigade “Norwegen” after their surrender. The three tanks in the first row are all Ausf. N. None of the tanks in this photo seem to show any markings at all.
What’s in the box?
This feels like a kit with a bit of an identity crisis and the box contains several surprises, some pleasant, some less so.
Inside, you’ll find several sprues and individual parts, all separately sealed in plastic bags. These parts are moulded in a pale brown plastic that does, sort of, look like Dunklegelb. There is also a black vinyl sprue containing both the tracks and the commander figure, a set of decals and instructions.
Let’s start with the plastic parts. There are three sprues plus the turret and upper and lower hull.
The biggest surprise for me was the high quality of many of the mouldings here. These are sharp and almost entirely without flash or any visible mould release marks. Detail is actually very good, with things like the roadwheels being provided with open lightening holes and even the mesh on the upper side of the track-guards being included.
Judging by the fact that the bore of the main gun is moulded open, I’d guess that these are produced using some form of slide-moulding technology. You can see in the picture below that there is even some attempt to show weld detail on the mantlet.
The down side is that some mouldings are clearly intended to make building the kit simple. For example, all the roadwheels are conjoined to form four blocks (two inner and two outer) of six wheels.
The tools and lower halves of the spare roadwheels are moulded in place on the hull and the gun mount looks simplified. The box art shows Nebelwurfgerät, turret mounted launchers for smoke grenades, but these aren’t included with the kit. However the turret hatches and exhaust, for example, are nicely moulded as separate parts.
However, my biggest disappointment is the schürzen side armour. This is not only much too thick, it’s provided in a strange overlapping design that looks really odd.
The soft vinyl tracks have reasonable detail on the inside and outside and the commander figure is made from the same material – good luck fixing his arm in place securely!
The decal sheet provides just three decals – a single cross and two unit markings that portray a double-headed eagle with a red panel and yellow cross in the centre. I believe this is the coat of arms of 2nd Panzer Division and I have seen schemes that show this marking on vehicles used during Operation Citadel, the Battle of Kursk, though most of these also show a three-digit tactical number on the rear of the turret armour and other smaller markings that aren’t provided here.
The instructions are straightforward exploded views.
The suggested colour scheme is a perfectly sensible Dunklegelb base with brown and green camouflage.
The instructions provide just a single short paragraph on the history of the Panzer III, written in something that only approximates English. You certainly aren’t going to learn anything new here.
Would you want one?
That’s tricky. If you find one of these for very little cash, then possibly, yes. However, the schürzen plates and mountings are way too thick, the tools are moulded in place and the roadwheels come as single blocks. All of these things can be fixed, of course, and the basic kit seems fairly accurate, cleanly moulded and it looks like a fair representation of the Panzer III. However, it does seem like a simplified kit aimed at an inexperienced kit-builder who wants to create a finished model as quickly as possible.
I’m kind of intrigued by this one. If I’m honest, the contents of the box are better than I had expected in terms of moulding quality and accuracy, but then I build lots of Airfix kits from the 1960s, so perhaps I’m not the best person to judge? I’m sure if you compared it to many modern 1/72 armour kits, this would look very toy-like. But, I think it will still nevertheless be possible to create a reasonable model of a Panzer III. And there is a sort of perverse satisfaction to be found in the process of making a kit better…
If you don’t fancy one of these, there are plenty of other Panzer III kits in 1/72 to choose from. Dragon do two versions of the Ausf. N, one from the DAK and another, with schürzen, of 2nd Panzer Division at the Battle of Kursk.
Italeri do a 1/72 Panzer III that can be completed as either Ausf. M or N and Revell do a rather nice Ausf. L kit which includes their link-and-length tracks.
Given all this choice of very decent small-scale kits, why would you choose the flawed Forces of Valor Panzer III? For me, the answer was simply that I stumbled across it at a price too good to pass up and I’m keen to use it to experiment with new techniques for painting German camouflage that may (or may not) work out. I would guess that this kit is really aimed at younger modellers who don’t want to spend lots of time on construction and may not be interested in painting the finished kit. However, that also presents a more mature (ahem!) kit-builder with an interesting challenge. Stand by for a build review…
Forces of Valor 1/72 Panzer III Ausf. N (87011) Build Review – coming soon
Confessions of a born-again kit builder – why I’m a little daunted by the sheer quality of some current kits