Guess what? It’s time to look at another early Tamiya offering: the Universal Carrier Mk II. This first appeared all the way back in 1976 as MM189 which included markings and two figures for a vehicle used in North Africa. In 1994 this was reboxed with new figures as 35175, British Universal Carrier Mk II European Campaign and in 2004 it was reboxed once again with different figures as 35249, British Universal Carrier Mk II Forced Reconnaissance.
Both re-boxed versions are still available but the only differences seem to be in the figures, decals and some additional accessories: otherwise, this is still the original 1976 kit. As you’ll know if you have read other reviews here on MKW, I really like these early Tamiya kits. They build well and there aren’t too many tiny parts. They’re also pleasingly cheap: I found this one on Amazon for considerably less than you would pay for most current 1/72 tank kits. So, it’s old and it’s cheap but, is it any good? Let’s have a look.
Let’s start with a quick quiz question: Which is the most-produced AFV of all time?
You might guess at the M4 Sherman, the Russian T-34 or even the German Panzer IV. But you’d be wrong. A paltry 8,000 Panzer IVs (the most numerous German tank of World War Two) were constructed. Almost 50,000 examples of all variants of the M4 Sherman were produced in total. When production finally ended in 1954, more than 84,000 of all models of the T-34 had been produced.
Soldiers of the 2nd Monmouthshire Regiment leaving a Universal Carrier during training in 1941.
But none of these get close to the winner: over 113,000 examples of over 200 variants of the British Universal Carrier were manufactured in five countries between 1934 and 1960 and used by the armies of over 30 nations. How come? What was it about this tiny AFV that made it so popular in a range of roles?
Around 2,000 Universal Carriers were provided to the Soviet Union during World War Two under the Lend/Lease arrangement.
The Universal Carrier story began in 1934 when Vickers-Armstrongs produced a prototype of a light tracked vehicle that could be used to carry a machine gun or to tow a light artillery piece. Sometimes called the “Fighting Tractor,” the D50 used suspension, tracks and running gear from the Vickers Mk VI tankette and an open-topped, lightly armoured hull. A few were adopted for service with the British Army as the Carrier, Machine-Gun No 1 Mark 1 in 1936. Subsequently, several variants were produced including the Medium Machine Gun Carrier (armed with a Vickers water-cooled machine gun), the Scout Carrier and the Bren Gun Carrier. In late 1939, production was consolidated into a single model: the Universal Carrier.
The Vickers-Armstrongs D50
Most versions were powered by a 3.9 V8 petrol engine that gave the 3.75 ton Universal Carrier sprightly performance and a useful top speed of 30mph: good performance on and off-road was one of the prime reasons for this AFV’s enduring popularity. Most carried a crew of three, with the driver and commander sitting side by side in front with a third crew member in the compartment behind (the other rear compartment was generally used for stowage, though a fourth crew member could be carried).
A Universal Carrier of 52nd Reconnaissance Regiment dramatically illustrating its performance during training in Scotland in 1942.
The Mk II version was introduced in 1941 and incorporated only minor changes to the hull and external stowage and the later Mk III changed only in terms of the engine cover and air intake system. Universal Carriers served with virtually every British and Commonwealth unit during and after World War Two and were used in all theatres. In the United States, more than 20,000 examples of the T16 Universal Carrier were built, essentially a licence-built version of the British design.
A Universal Carrier being used by Australian light horse troops in the Western Desert in 1941.
Most Universal Carriers were used to carry a three-man team operating the Bren light machine gun (which is why this vehicle is sometimes known as the Bren Gun Carrier) though examples were also armed with the QF 2-Pdr anti-tank gun, the Boys Anti-Tank Rifle, the 3 inch Mortar and there was even a flamethrower version, the Wasp. What ultimately made this tiny armoured vehicle so useful were its speed and reliability coupled with incredible versatility. While it may not have excelled in any one role, it could be successfully used for almost anything that its users could imagine.
What’s in the Box?
Parts are provided on five sprues moulded in very dark grey plastic. There is virtually no flash and detail looks crisp. No clear plastic or PE parts are included.
Overall, external detail here is adequate, though there don’t seem to be enough rivets and the rivet heads themselves are rather small.
Detail on many internal parts is sharp, especially considering that this kit is over 45 years old.
There is a notable difference in quality between the two figures in desert uniform provided with the original 1976 version and the three figures from 1994. All five are included with this kit, but the later figures are much better: nicely sculpted in relaxed poses and with faces that have expression.
Lots of weapons are provided including three Bren guns (one on an AA mount), two Lee-Enfield rifles, a Sten sub-machine gun and a PIAT anti-tank weapon. All seem to be accurately represented and sharply moulded.
A number of stowage items are provided including the rolled canvas cover, a large stowage bag on the rear and assorted backpacks, ammo pouches, ration boxes, stowage bins, canteens, helmets and Jerry cans.
One problem that really stands out even in the box is the thickness of the front armour and the plate to the right of the driver’s position and to the left of the gunner’s position. These are over 1mm thick here making them around 40mm thick at 1/35 scale. In reality, this plate should be no more than 10mm thick. The rear armour panels are also too thick but, because these have circular section inserts on top, this isn’t so obvious. If you look at the image below of a Universal Carrier Mk II, you’ll see what I mean.
How many times do I find myself complaining about the tracks provided with AFV kits? I’m afraid I’m going to do it again here: these vinyl tracks are disappointing and, frankly, a bit crap.
The spacing between links is much too wide, there is no internal detail at all other than the guide horns and they are rather thick. More importantly, these look nothing like the tracks fitted to Universal Carriers. The use of widely-spaced links in the tracks also means that the sprockets are wrong: they have just 18 teeth, less than half the number of teeth on the original. That looks odd and means that you can’t use the provided sprockets if you decide to replace these tracks with aftermarket items. Oddly, Tamiya also do a 1/48 scale Universal carrier and the sprockets and tracks in that kit are identical to (and just as wrong as) those provided here.
Original 1976 box art
What makes it even more galling is that the box art for all versions of this kit show the correct tracks! And the box art for the original 1976 version clearly showed not only the right tracks but the correct number of teeth on the sprocket too. How can that be? Come on Tamiya: this just isn’t good enough. Your box artist clearly knows what these tracks should look like. Stop mucking about with new figures and instead, give us an updated version of this otherwise reasonable kit with some decent tracks and sprockets.
OK, my customary track-rant is over for this review. I’m calm now. Really. Let’s look at the other stuff. A short length of nylon cord is provided for use as a tow cable. It looks a bit fluffy to me, but hopefully it will look OK with a coat of paint.
Decals cover five vehicles, three used by the British Army (including one for a vehicle of the 1st Armoured Division in North Africa) and two for Canadian units in the ETO.
The instructions seem clear and include a brief history of the Universal Carrier. The only suggested colour schemes are “dark green” for vehicles in the ETO and “dark yellow” for a vehicle in North Africa.
Would you want one?
There is both good and bad news here, The mouldings for this kit generally look clean and sharp with adequate detail, there are lots of stowage items, weapons and other bits and pieces to make this look suitably “busy” inside and out and the three ETO figures look nicely sculpted. There is a good range of decal options, and if this is anything like other early Tamiya kits, fit should be good and construction straightforward.
However, the two original figures in desert uniform aren’t very good at all, that front armour plate really is much too thick and the tracks are the worst aspect of this kit: they lack detail and don’t look anything like the tracks fitted to Universal Carriers. This isn’t a terrible kit by any means, but it could be easily be vastly improved simply by thinning-out the front plates and including visually satisfactory tracks and sprockets.
I’ll be attempting to thin out the front armour plates during the build and you could certainly buy aftermarket tracks but, one of the attractions of these early Tamiya kits is that they are now relatively cheap. Buying decent replacement tracks will cost you anything from two to three times what you’ll pay for this kit and you’ll also need to find suitable replacement sprockets. You’ll end up paying more than if you just bought a more modern kit! However, If you don’t fancy this one, your choices are very limited in 1/35.
As far as I know, the only other company to cover the Universal Carrier in 1/35 scale is Chinese kit manufacturer Riich Models. Riich offer several variants of the Universal Carrier including both the Mk I and Mk II. These are two or even three times the price of this elderly Tamiya offering but all are fabulously detailed and very accurate (the front armour plates on these kits, for example, look much closer to correct scale thickness). But perhaps these aren’t for those of a nervous disposition: most include well over 400 plastic parts (including superb and accurate link and length tracks), separate metal suspension springs and up to 130 PE parts on two frets. Be prepared to get the tweezers and magnifying glass out if you go for one of these!
Or, if you fancy a bit of small-scale fun, you could always go for the Airfix 1/76 Bren Gun Carrier and 6pdr Anti-Tank Gun. It comes from all the way back in 1964 and it’s currently available as part of the Vintage Classics range for not a lot of cash. The tracks are even worse than on this kit, the armour panels are even thicker despite it being at a smaller scale and the driver only fits because he doesn’t have any legs! But it does come with unlimited free nostalgia: I vividly remember buying one of these in the plastic bag pack with my pocket money. And being more than slightly disappointed to discover that it didn’t even come with a Bren gun…