In 1961 Airfix released the first of their military vehicles in 1/76 with the Churchill, Panther and Sherman (though they were initially sold as “OO Scale”). For the next 13 years, these 1/76 vehicles became a mainstay of the Airfix range. In 1974, they released three new kits: the Type 97 Chi-Ha, SAM-2 Guideline missile and German Reconnaissance Set. Then suddenly, and just when it seemed that there was going to be a never-ending stream of small-scale Airfix tanks, that was it. There were no more 1/76 military vehicle kits from Airfix.
Airfix Panzer IV packaging from 1997. A decent kit, but it was 1/76, not 1/72 as this box suggested.
There were additions to the existing range, with things like the Churchill AVRE bridge layer, Matilda Hedgehog and the Sherman Crab, but these were based on additions to the original kits rather than new moulds. Some kits were released in the 1990s with new packaging that described them as “1/72,” but they were still the same old 1/76 kits inside. In 2008, Airfix released re-boxed versions of a number of 1/76 kits by JB Models, but for more than thirty-five years, there were no truly new Airfix 1/76 military vehicles. Then, in 2011, Airfix released a new 1/76 tank: The Cromwell IV and this was a genuine new moulding rather than a re-release.
I wonder why that was? Why, after such a long break did Airfix seem to suddenly decide that the kit world needed a new 1/76 tank? The release of the Cromwell was followed by one more 1/76 tank, the King Tiger in 2014, and then it all stopped again. The latest Airfix small-scale tank kits (the Tiger I and Sherman Firefly) released in 2020 were both in 1/72, so it looks as though these may have been the last of the Airfix 1/76 tanks.
Airfix tank kits were some of my favourite builds as a young modeller, but many of the earliest kits now look pretty ropy. How does this (relatively) new release stack-up? Is it worth your time or one to avoid? Let’s take a look…
The Cromwell was one of the best British tanks of World War Two. However, given that many British tanks of that period were pretty dreadful, that wasn’t especially difficult. For example, by the time that the Cromwell came into service in early 1944, many German, Russian and American tanks and tank-destroyers were being designed around the use of sloped armour, which gave greatly increased resistance against penetration. However on the Cromwell (as on all other British tanks of World War Two) there was no attempt to use this approach.
The design and development of what became the Cromwell was typically complex and confusing. In 1940, the British Directorate of Tanks and Transport specified several new tanks that were to be developed around the QF 6 Pdr gun. Proposed designs included the A23, a scaled down version of the A22 Churchill, and the A24, designed as a replacement for the existing Crusader and using elements from that tank.
The A24 Cavalier
However, none were completely satisfactory and design work continued on another, similar tank designated the A27. This was originally intended to be fitted with the American 410hp Liberty engine first produced during World War One. However, the new engine didn’t perform as required and another version of the tank was designed using the then-new Rolls-Royce Meteor, a development of the Merlin aero-engine. Initially, the A24, A27L and A27M were all called “Cromwell” and all looked very similar. However, later these were redesignated as, respectively the Cavalier and Centaur with only the Meteor-engined A27M retaining the Cromwell name. The official designation for this tank was Cruiser Tank Mk VIII, Cromwell (A27M) although it was also sometimes known as the Cromwell IV to distinguish it from the earlier tanks that had used the same name.
A Cromwell of the 11th Armoured Division in France, 1944
Main armament on the A27M was the Ordnance QF 75 mm, an adaptation of the British QF 6 Pdr gun able to fire US 75 mm ammunition also used by the Sherman. The Sherman was also used by many British units, and using a common shell greatly simplified ammunition supply. The anti-armour capability of this gun was limited, but it was able to fire a more effective high-explosive round than the 6 Pdr. Some Cromwells were completed as Close Support (CS) tanks provided with a 95 mm howitzer in the turret.
Frontal armour on the Cromwell was around three inches thick and in early tests, the Meteor engine was found to be capable of pushing the tank to a top speed close to 50mph. However, the Christie suspension wasn’t capable of dealing with this speed and the engine was governed to keep top speed down to under 40mph, still notably faster than most other British cruiser and infantry tanks of the time. Even that speed proved too much for the suspension, and on later versions, the engine governor was used to limit the top speed to 32mph. Speed was the Cromwell’s greatest asset. During one encounter with German tanks in Holland in 1944, a troop of three Cromwells were able to escape by vaulting over a 20-foot-wide canal!
A Cromwell of the Welsh Guards in 1944
The Cromwell was used during the invasion of Europe following Operation Overlord. Although its speed was useful, it proved vulnerable to the powerful guns fitted to some German AFVs. Like the Sherman, its main gun also lacked the power to penetrate the frontal armour of many German tanks. Early problems meant that later versions of the Cromwell featured wider tracks for better off-road capability and a few of the last Cromwells featured welded (rather than bolted) hulls and additional turret armour. Almost 2,000 Cromwells were built and they continued to serve with British and Free Polish forces for the remainder of the war. Recognising the deficiencies in the Cromwell’s armament, the turret was redesigned to create the A34 Comet, which was otherwise very similar to the Cromwell but featured the more powerful 17 Pdr HV (High Velocity) gun.
What’s in the Box?
The box contains just two sprues moulded in light grey plastic, decals and instructions.
Surface detail on most parts seems good with nicely engraved panel-lines.
The commander’s hatch can be open or closed, but there is no interior detail and no figure is included.
Airfix haven’t used slide moulding here, and to get round this, they have provided one half of the muzzle of the main gun as a separate part. In theory, this means you won’t have to drill it out, but past expereince suggest that you’ll need to be very careful when sandind these parts to conceal the join so that you don’t end up with an oddly shaped muzzle. The sprues include optional parts for a deep-wading trunk for the rear hull, a splash-guard round the commander’s hatch and a Cullen hedge-cutter for the front hull.
There are some thoughtful touches here, like the way that the sprockets are attached to the sprue. On most tank kits, you have to be very careful not to damage the sprocket teeth when removing these parts from the sprue. Here the sprues attach beneath the teeth, which should make it easier to remove the sprockets without damage.
Probably the most interesting aspect of this kit is the way in which the tracks are modelled. These are provided as a single moulding for the complete run of tracks on each side, but separate from the idlers, sprockets and roadwheels. If you’re regular reader, you’ll know that I spend a lot of time being disappointed, or frustrated, or sometimes both, by the tracks provided with many small-scale tank kits. This is, as far as I know, a unique approach and it certainly looks like a simple and effective way to model tracks in this scale.
The instructions look commendably clear. At one point they do show both wading trunking and hedge-cutters fitted, which is obviously rather unlikely (one or the other, but not both).
The decals are printed nicely in-register and cover two tanks, one from the 7th Armoured Division and generic markings for a Cromwell from the 11th Armoured Division. A bit of research suggests that the tank from the 7th Armoured is actually a Royal Artillery OP Tank that was attached to 4th County of London Yeomanry. This tank was one of several destroyed when the British encountered Tiger I tanks of the 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion at Villers-Bocage on 13th June 1944.
T187796 is one of the tanks for which Airfix provide decals with this kit. Here, it is pictured after being knocked-out and abandoned at Villers- Bocage. But in this photograph, it doesn’t seem to have the white star on the turret top and covering the ventilator.
However, although the instructions show both tanks having the turret-top white star, I’m not sure that’s correct. Wartime photos show that several tanks of 4CLY didn’t have these stars, and a photograph of the tank to which the decals apply seems to show it without. Only one colour scheme is suggested for both tanks, with the tank finished in overall “Khaki Drab.”
Would you want one?
In many ways, this looks like a great kit. It’s sharply moulded, it has good detail and it seems to be an accurate representation of the Cromwell. I like the option of including the deep wading gear and the hedge cutter. However, very few British tanks were fitted with the hedge-cutters – I have been able to find only a single wartime photograph of a Centaur fitted with this device, and that was a prototype used only for testing. It’s certainly possible that some Cromwells were modified in the field to have these devices, but they seem to have been very uncommon.
I love the idea of tracks moulded in a single part in hard plastic but separate from the roadwheels, idlers and sprocket. But, I’d like to have seen more detail, especially on the outside of the tracks. If you compare these to, for example, the hard plastic tracks provided with some Zvezda 1/72 kits, those are just much better detailed. The tracks below are from the Zvezda Jagdpanther.
It seems like this approach should give the possibility of very accurate tracks indeed, but these tracks aren’t really any more detailed than most vinyl tracks. In fact, they aren’t particularly detailed at all. The main gun also looks a little thin and the light-guards seem rather thick. So, some good elements here, but perhaps also some missed opportunities?
If you would prefer something different, I’m afraid that, like many World War Two British tanks, there just aren’t as many kits of the Cromwell as there are of its German, Russian and American counterparts. If you prefer 1/76, this is your only option, though Revell have re-released the 1973 Matchbox 1/76 kit of the very similar A34 Comet. Even in 1/72, there are only a couple of possibilities. Revell released a 1/72 Cromwell IV back in 2001, and fortunately it’s a pretty decent kit featuring link-and-length tracks. Like the Airfix kit, it includes the Cullen Hedge-Cutter, but not the deep wading gear.
The Plastic Soldier Company also offer a pack of three 1/72 Cromwells. Each can be constructed as the base Cromwell or as the Close Support version fitted with a 95mm howitzer in the turret and each includes a commander figure and a Cullen hedge-cutter. Like most of this company’s products, these are really intended for wargaming and are a little simplified in terms of detail – for example, the tracks and running gear are moulded as a single part on each side. But they do build into a reasonable representation of the Cromwell.