All posts by stevemacg

Eduard 1/72 Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, Weekend Edition (7457), In-Box Review and History

Czech company Eduard began producing kits back in 1995, though they’re probably best-known for their photo-etch and detail add-ons for existing kits. They now offer a range of injection moulded 1/72 aircraft kits covering subjects from World War One and Two as well as post-war jets. Many of their kits come in two editions, Profipack and Weekend.

The Profipack Edition kits include lots of PE parts (often coloured) as well as cockpit masks. The Weekend Edition kits (which are notably cheaper) contain the same injection moulded parts but lack the PE and masks and often have more limited decal options. From the late 1990s, the company switched to using a computer controlled high pressure injection moulding approach called LTM which ensures that their kits have surface detail that’s said to be right up there with the best.

This kit was released in 2011 in both Weekend and Profipack editions (though even if you go for the Weekend Edition, you can still buy the PE and cockpit masks separately). As regular readers will know, I do like a bargain and when I saw the Weekend Edition of this kit on sale for just over €8, well, how could I resist?

But it wasn’t just my natural Scottish parsimony that prompted this purchase (well, not entirely…). I don’t really care for tiny PE parts and the F6F canopy looks pretty simple to paint, so I was very happy to go for this edition just to find out whether Eduard mouldings really are as good as people say. I’ll take a look at the kit in a moment, but first, let’s briefly remind ourselves of the history of the pretty wonderful F6F.

History

When the United States found itself at war with the Japanese Empire in December 1941, it’s main navy fighter was the Grumman F4F Wildcat. The F4F was pretty good, but it had a major problem: the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. The A6M proved to be a better aircraft than the Americans (or anyone else) had anticipated, and it was clear that US Navy pilots would need something faster, able to climb more quickly and more manouvrable if they were to be able to fight the Zero on equal terms.

F4F-4 Wildcats on Guadalcanal in 1942.

Chance Vought were already working on just such a fighter, the mighty F4U Corsair. But development of the F4U was taking longer than expected due to a number of issues including limited visibility and awkward spin recovery. Grumman were also already working on a successor to the Wildcat, the F6F Hellcat. This was similar to the Wildcat in general appearance, but replaced that aircraft’s narrow, hand-cranked undercarriage with wider, twin-leg hydraulically operated gear that rotated through 90˚ before retracting to the rear.

A rather battered F6F-3 in an unusual variant of the three-colour scheme on the Solomon Islands in 1943.

In the first prototype, the F6F-1, this aircraft was fitted with the 1,700hp Wright R-2600 Twin Cyclone 14-cylinder radial engine. It wasn’t bad, but then someone had the bright idea of installing the 2,000hp, 18-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engine that was also used in the F4U and the P-47 Thunderbolt. In this form, as the F6F-3, the Hellcat had the performance and the manouvrability to take on the Zero.

A colour wartime image showing a pair of F6F-3s in the three-colour scheme introduced in 1943.

The F6F-3 was formally adopted by the US Navy in 1942, though it was still regarded as an interim solution only to be used until the F4U was available in numbers. It entered service with the USN in early 1943 and over 12,000 were built. In total, F6Fs destroyed over 5,000 enemy aircraft, achieving a 19:1 kill ratio and accounting for 75% of all enemy aircraft destroyed by the USN in World War Two – not bad for an interim design! Late model F6F-3s were adapted to carry rockets and bombs and the only major variant, the F6F-5, differed only in having a slightly more powerful engine, more armour and a strengthened airframe. This was truly the fighter that won the Pacific Air War. 

What’s in the Box?

In the top-opening box, you’ll find three spues moulded in fairly dark grey plastic, one transparent sprue, two decal sheets and a full-colour booklet with instructions and painting guides.

On  examining the main sprues, one thing that stands out is the sheer quality of the surface detail. The outer skin of the F6F fuselage was constructed from lapped panels, and these are very nicely replicated here.

The engraved panel lines and rivets are also beautifully done without being overdone. My only concern is that brush painting may tend to fill this detail in – very thin coats will be required.

Cockpit interior detail also looks very nicely done. The instrument panel is supplied in two versions – one with flat surfaces for use with the supplied decals and one in 3-D if you prefer to paint the panels.

Even the mainwheel tyres come in two versions – one with tread and one without.

The single, circular transparent sprue also looks good.

Two alternate windscreens are provided (though I believe the one on the right is probably appropriate for an F6F-3).

There are also two versions of the separate sliding portion of the canopy, with a thinner alternate that can be shown in the open position.

There are two decal sheets. One includes national markings, other main external markings, harnesses and instrument panel decals. The anti-slip panels used on the wings on two of the colour schemes are also included.

The other decal sheet includes a plethora of tiny stencils.

The instructions seem very clear and include colour images showing four different schemes. All feature variations on the three-colour scheme with Sea Blue on the upper fuselage and the tops of the wings and tail planes and Ensign White (an off-white/very light grey) on the undersides. These are separated by a band of Intermediate Blue. All the colour scheme images are well done, detailed and each includes a short history of the particular aircraft depicted.

Would You Want One?

Yes. If you want to build an F6F in 1/72 scale, I’m really not sure you could do better. This doesn’t cost a great deal (even when it’s not on special offer, you can generally find this Weekend Edition for south of €12), the surface detail is exquisite and the detail in areas like the cockpit, engine and undercarriage looks very good. I’m not aware of any accuracy issues (for example, the distinctive cowl and chin intake of the F6F, a problem in many other kits of this aircraft, is done very nicely here) and the decals and painting guides look very detailed. I’m not sure what else you could ask for from any aircraft kit in this scale. And, IMHO, don’t think that the Weekend Edition is somehow second-best – you still get the same outstanding moulding, I really don’t feel that cockpit masks are essential here and you don’t have to faff about with tiny bits of PE.

Is this the perfect F6F in 1/72? Well, you can’t show the wings folded as you can on some other F6F kits and the engine cowling cooling gills, flaps and all control surfaces are integral parts and can’t be shown deflected, so perhaps not. But what you do get looks very good indeed.    

If for some reason you don’t fancy this F6F kit (and honestly, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t choose this one…) there are, as you’d guess, plenty of 1/72 alternatives. Oldest of them all is the Airfix F6F-3/5, first released all the way back in 1967. It isn’t terrible but, unsurprisingly, it just isn’t up the standard of more recent kits in terms of detail. Matchbox released a 1/72 Hellcat in 1973, but I don’t know much about this kit and, as far as I’m aware, it’s no longer available and hasn’t been re-boxed by any other company. Hasegawa released a 1/72 F6F-3/5 back in 1980, and it’s a pretty decent kit though the cockpit is fairly simple and the Academy F6F-3/5 released in 1992 is either a re-box of or at least very similar to this Hasegawa offering.

Italeri released a 1/72 F6F-3 in 2001, and this has also been re-boxed by both Revell and Tamiya. This isn’t a bad kit, but it is said to have some minor accuracy issues. Cyber Hobby also released a 1/72 F6F-3 in 2011 and it seems to be a very nice and well-detailed kit and probably the closest in terms of detail and accuracy to this Eduard offering (and it has the option to show the wings folded and separate control surfaces). But it does generally cost more than twice as much as this Weekend Edition…

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Eduard 1/72 Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, Weekend Edition (7457), Build Review – coming soon

Italeri 1/72 Autoblinda AB 43 (7052) Build Review

The build here begins with the lower hull, and that turns out to be fairly complicated. The lower hull (excluding the chassis) comprises 14 main and separate parts. There are two internal rods that act as crossmembers to set the spacing between the main hull sides, but unfortunately, the rear rod seems to be the wrong length. So, to get everything together, you’ll be juggling more than ten separate parts that don’t fit or locate particularly well. If you’re anything like me, you’ll also be needing some filler to hide the most obvious gaps.

Then, it’s on to the wheels and chassis. Each of the four main wheels has two square locating points inside, and these are supposed to fit on two corresponding square lugs on the upper and lower halves of the chassis.

However, if you do a dry fit with the tyres in place, you’ll discover that using these locating pegs positions the wheels in the wrong place – the front wheels are too far to the rear and the rear wheels too far to the front. If you assemble using the pegs and holes provided, you’ll end up with the tyres fouling the wheel arches. Instead, you have to cut the pegs carefully until you get the wheels where you want them. I did this with the tyres just push-fitted onto the wheels so that I could remove them for painting separately. However, I managed to get glue on both rear tyres so they are now fixed in position while the fronts and spares have been removed for painting.

I add the last bits and pieces, and that’s hull construction complete other than for the exhaust which I’ll add once painting is done.

Next, the turret. No problems here, everything fits nicely and no filler is required. The gun barrel is a little thin for drilling, so I’m going to leave it solid.

Then it’s on to painting. And I’m going to cheat… I really did consider trying to replicate the German scheme shown in the instructions and on the box, but it looks very challenging indeed. Instead, I found a couple of images of an abandoned AB 43 in German service. These appear show an example finished in one overall colour. It looks lighter than German dunklegelb (dark yellow) and I’m guessing it’s sand or something close. It also seems to have a small stowage bin added to the rear of the turret.

That’s what I have decided to go for here. I fabricate a simple turret stowage bin out of plastic card. It was only later that I realised I didn’t need to do this. There is an unused part on the sprue (part 46) that isn’t mentioned in the instructions or shown on any of the external views but which appears to be a turret stowage bin!

Then I  give the whole thing an overall coat of a fairly light sand colour.

I then add some dry brushed highlights, the tools, exhaust and tyres. It’s worth noting that the exhaust on the original had four distinct lobes but here, due I suspect to moulding limitations, it just has two, so I scribe an extra line on the front face to suggest four lobes. I also add some simple decals from the spares box – if you read my In-Box review for this kit, you’ll know that it came without decals. Italeri did offer to supply decals, but only if I paid for the privilege of receiving what should have been there in the first place…

Finally, it gets a coat of clear varnish and a dark brown oil wash and that’s it done.

After Action Report

Other than for the assembly of the lower hull, which I found a little fiddly, this was a simple and stress-free build. And, as far as I can tell, it builds into a reasonably accurate model of this small and little-known Italian armoured car. I’m still a little irritated that I built a new turret stowage bin when one already seems to be included, but it doesn’t get a mention in the instructions and I didn’t notice it until I was finished.

As you can see, I have left off the width indicators on the mudguards, because these often weren’t fitted and the Jerrycans, which were more often seen on vehicles used in North Africa. Other than that, this is built as provided (though using my own decals, of course…).

If you fancy a bit of fun kit building, you could do a lot worse than this offering from Italeri. And if you’re feeling bold or if you have some time on your hands, you could even try the suggested colour scheme!

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Takom 1/72 Chieftain Mk 5 and FV 432 2/1 (5008) – FV 432 Build Review

Because this kit includes two separate models, I’ll be covering each in its own build review. And I’m going to start with the tiny FV 432 personnel carrier.

I begin by constructing the lower hull, and it very quickly becomes obvious that this isn’t your average 1/72 kit. The lower hull assembly has generally taken just ten minutes or so to assemble in most of the small-scale armour kits I have built. Here, this step involves the assembly of around 50 parts, many of which are very tiny. Just getting to the point shown in the image below took me a couple of hours, some swearing and a fair amount of fighting with the carpet-monster.

Take, for example, the two small stowage boxes on either side of the rear hull door. Each comprises no less than five very small separate parts and getting them assembled and straight takes a bit of time. There is nothing intrinsically wrong here – fit is generally very good and the instructions do a reasonable job of showing where everything goes, but assembly here is notably more complex and fiddly than you’ll find on most small-scale armour kits. Overall, this feels like a scaled-down 1/35 kit rather than something purpose-designed for 1/72. That said, the end result does look nicely detailed!

Then, it’s on to the upper hull and more of the same. There are in excess of 40 parts, many of them very tiny. There are over 20 of those tiny cylinders at each corner and in the centre (I don’t know what they are), and each is a separate part, just 3mm long. I leave off the pintle-mounted machine gun and shovels for the moment, to make painting simpler. 

Next, I add the front hull panel, which includes lots more tiny parts, but at least the fit of the panel to the lower hull is very good.

Then I join the upper and lower hull, and fit is again very good indeed.

Then I work on the tracks. These are cleanly moulded and the top run has appropriate sag included. I fix the single links to the sprocket and idler and join the three bottom runs together. The main issue is the tiny size of the individual links and getting these even reasonably straight is a challenge, especially where the single links fit on the sprocket. I use the jig provided, and end up with a separate upper and lower run for each side.

Finally, I add the PE mudflaps and the PE shopping basket (though I’m sure that’s not what it’s really called…) on the upper hull, though I don’t glue this in place at the moment to make painting simpler.

And that, apart from adding the exhaust, tools and tow cables, is pretty much construction of this tiny FV 432 complete. Phew! If I’m honest, nothing is too horribly difficult and fit is generally very good, but there certainly are lots more tiny pieces here than you get on most 1/72 AFV kits! Generally, construction of an AFV kit is something I get out of the way fairly quickly so I can get started on painting, but here, construction takes a fair amount of time and effort. This isn’t an easy or quick build by any means but there is more crisp detail here than I have come across previously in this scale.

Anyway, now I can finally start painting. I have decided to finish this as a vehicle of the Royal Scots during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, so I begin with a coat of Vallejo Light Sand. It’s a little light (though the colour applied to British AFVs in that operation was fairly light, and it seemed to bleach quickly in the sun), but once it’s weathered with an oil wash, it should come closer to the look of the original.

Then I paint the small details and add dry-brushed highlights and add everything but the mesh basket on the upper hull. The tracks are quite fiddly to get in position and lined-up, but they look OK once they’re done.

Then I add the decals and give it a coat of clear varnish.

Then, it gets a dark brown oil wash to bring out the shadows, tone down the base colour and make the whole thing look grubby and streaked.

The final job is to add and some dust and dirt to the lower hull, tracks and running gears using pastels. And with that, this tiny FV 432 is finally done.

After Action Report

This wasn’t a relaxing or simple build. Fit is generally very good, but there are an awful lot of very tiny parts here. The link and length tracks were a bit of a pain to build, mainly because the single links are so tiny. Getting the roadwheels even close to straight and level is also a problem because of very small, delicate mountings. This is a kit where I’d quite like to build a second example, just because I feel like through doing this first one, I have learned how to do it right the second time!

However, there are no problems in terms of overall accuracy as far as I can see and the final result looks OK. It’s certainly difficult to see how you could have a more detailed 1/72 AFV kit. All the mouldings are sharp and that leads to a finished model where the detail really pops.

This certainly isn’t a kit for a beginner, but if you’re confident of your building skills, it can end up as a really nice finished model. Overall, I’d recommend this if you are interested in modern British armour and if you’re a confident kit-builder. Next, I’ll be working on the other half of this kit – the Chieftain tank. I’m hoping that will be a little easier to build, if only because it is slightly bigger and that should make things like the tracks easier to work with. 

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Takom 1/72 Chieftain Mk 5 and FV 432 2/1 (5008) In-Box Review and History

Takom 1/72 Chieftain Mk 5 and FV 432 2/1 (5008) In-Box Review and History

Takom are a name I don’t really know much about in terms of kit manufacturing. A quick burst of Googling suggests that they were formed in Hong Kong in 2013 and have now opened a manufacturing plant in Guangdong in China. Their 1/72 range is presently still quite small, consisting of less than 20 kits that includes amongst other subjects, turrets from the battleships Bismarck, Scharnhorst, Yamato and USS Missouri and just two tanks: the German Leopard 2A7 and various marks of the British Chieftain.

Several of their 1/72 kits are presented in “1+1” form, i.e. they include two separate subjects. One of their products offers kits of both the Chieftain Mk 10 and Mk 11 in one box while the subject of this review includes both the Chieftain Mk 5 and the FV 432 armoured personnel carrier used by the British Army.

I was particularly pleased to see this Chieftain available in 1/72 because, up to when this was released in 2020, there weren’t any other 1/72 kits available that covered this iconic British tank (as far as I know). That seems odd – there are plenty of small-scale kits of Russian and American armour from the 1960s – 1990s, but very few featuring British subjects so that does make this Chieftain kit very welcome. On their website, Takom claim that they produce kits that are not just accurate but created “with the modeler in mind by allowing for assembly within a reasonable amount of time.” Is that the case? We’ll take a look in the box in a moment, but first, let’s remind ourselves about the Chieftain tank and the FV 432 “Battle Taxi.”  

History

Although it wasn’t introduced into service with the British Army until 1967, the Chieftain was Britain’s first successful post-war tank design. The Centurion which preceded it was actually designed during World War Two (the first Centurions were delivered to British Army units during that war, though none saw combat). The enormous and unreliable Conqueror was introduced in the mid-1950s in an ill-advised effort to match the Soviet IS-3, but it never saw widespread service and was rapidly withdrawn. 

The Chieftain Gunnery prototype G1, produced in 1962 and now on display at The Tank Museum in Bovington in Dorset.

The Chieftain (FV4201) was designed by Leyland Motors in the mid-1950s and it was essentially a revised and lowered Centurion hull with a new sloped, cast, mantlet-free turret mounting the 120mm L11A5 main gun that had been originally been used in the Conqueror. The front hull was a single casting that was sloped by the expedient of placing the driver in a reclining position. The Chieftain was a unique design and, on paper, one of the most formidable tanks in the world when it was introduced, but it did have one major drawback: its engine.

A Chieftain Mk 2 of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in the BATUS (British Army Training Unit Suffield) scheme.

As demanded by NATO requirements of the period, this was a “Tri-Fuel” engine, capable of running on petrol, diesel or aviation fuel. The Leyland L60 engine was a vertically opposed, six-cylinder two-stroke diesel that was smoky, unreliable and, at 685hp, underpowered in a 50 ton tank. The subject of this kit, the Mk 5, generally regarded as the definitive version of this tank, incorporated an uprated version of this engine producing 720hp, but this still lacked power and was less than 100% reliable.

A Chieftain MK 5 maintained in running order at the Imperial War Museum collection in Duxford in Cambridgeshire.

The Chieftain was an export success, with over 1,300 examples being sold to Oman, Kuwait, Jordan and, most notably, Iran, which purchased more than 700 Mk 3s and Mk 5s in the 1970s. After the revolution, these saw combat in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) where they fared badly in combat with the Russian T-55s, T-62s and T-72s of the Iraqi Army. IN addition to limited crew training, the main issue was the Chieftain engine, which made this tank slow when manoeuvring in the difficult terrain that characterised this war and the additional stress made it even more unreliable. Allegedly, Britain attempted to sell Chieftains to the army of Iraq during this war, but were firmly told: “We don’t want your stupid tanks!”

An Iranian Chieftain Mk 5.

Over 900 Chieftains were delivered to the British Army and this type remained in service until 1995 when it was replaced by an upgraded and improved version, the Challenger I. The FV 432 armoured personnel carrier was first used in service by the British Army in 1962 and, despite the introduction of newer vehicles, many are still in service today, making this the longest-serving AFV in the British Army. It has been used in a number of roles including command vehicle, ambulance and recovery vehicle and versions of this AFV saw combat service with the British Army during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.    

A British Army FV 432.

What’s in the Box?

Quite a lot, as it happens. There are 8 sprues moulded in grey plastic (two identical sprues are provided for the tracks and running gear for the Chieftain and FV 432), the turret as a separate part, three PE frets, decals and a full-colour, 44-page instruction booklet.

Everywhere you look, you’ll see an astounding level of detail for a 1/72 kit and all provided in remarkably sharp, clean mouldings with no flash that I can see and no visible ejector-marks. Things like the tow cables are provided as separate parts and slide-moulding seems to have been used so that, for example, the muzzle of the Chieftain main gun is open.

The link-and-length tracks for both the Chieftain and the FV 432 appear to be accurate and are nicely detailed inside and out.

There is even evidence here that Takom have given some though to how to make this a more pleasant and satisfying modelling experience. For example, the sprue attachment points are smaller and more delicate than I have seen on any other kit (just take a look at the image of the tracks above!). Each sprue letter, which are referenced in the build instructions, are clearly identified by being cut-out of the plastic.

Now, that may not seem terribly impressive, but I know that on other kits I have spent time trying to find out which sprue is which because these letters are generally stamped or engraved on one side only. The approach here means you can quickly see which sprue you’re looking for no-matter which way up it is. I know, this isn’t a big thing and you may wonder why I’m even talking about it? Well, it’s entirely practical, I haven’t seen it on any other small-scale kit and it suggests that someone at Takom has really been thinking about the process of building this kit.

The three PE frets provide various grills and other small parts for the Chieftain and the FV 432 as well as side-skirts for the tank. 

Even the instruction booklet is pretty impressive. It runs to 44 pages (there is a lot of construction to be done here!) and it features clear, 3D views of all steps.

It also includes six colour plates showing colour schemes and decal placement, though it doesn’t provide any historical information on the Chieftain or the FV 432. In terms of suggested colour schemes, for the Chieftain you get a single British Army BATUS scheme used by units training in Canada but, sadly, nothing for a British Army Chieftain in Europe. The other two schemes and decals cover Iranian tanks involved in the Iran-Iraq War.

For the FV 432, you get one scheme for a vehicle used by the Royal Scots during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, one for a British Army unit in European markings and one for a unit in an OpFor (Opposing Force) scheme used during training exercises in Britain and Canada.  

The decal sheet itself, though small, seems to be printed in register and looks pretty good.  

Would You Want One?

Emphatically yes! I have opened quite a few model kit boxes since I got back into this hobby a few years back, but none have impressed me to quite this extent. It’s a combination of things, from the sheer number of parts to the level of detail and the quality and sharpness of the mouldings. Even the 44 page instruction booklet is printed in colour and on decent quality paper. In every way, this looks like a class act and it isn’t even particularly expensive; it sells for around the same price as other premium 1/72 AFV kits, but here you actually get two separate, different and very detailed kits. If you do choose one of these, I think your flabber will be gasted too.

Of course it isn’t perfect, but most of the things I see here are very minor. The sheer number of parts, some tiny, is a little daunting. The hatches are separate parts but there are no figures included, which is a pity. I’d have liked to see decals and a colour scheme for at least one British Army all-green tank and the inclusion of two virtually identical schemes for Iranian tanks seems a little redundant.  A few more external stowage items, especially for the FV 432, might have been nice too. However, despite these things, I can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t be absolutely delighted with this kit.

Which is kind of lucky because, if you want a 1/72 injection-moulded Chieftain kit, there simply aren’t any alternatives. There are die-cast and resin versions in 1/72 and Airfix released a small-scale Chieftain kit back in 1970. It’s a reasonable but fairly basic representation of a Mk 2 Chieftain (the first production model) and at various times the packaging has claimed 00, 1/76 and 1/72 scale. But it’s really 1/76, OK, and I’m not at all sure it’s still available now anyway. Trust me here; just go for this outstanding Takom kit – I really don’t think that you’ll find a better small-scale representation of the Chieftain tank.

I am really quite excited about this kit – It just looks so good in the box! Of course, I’ll have to see how the build goes, but already I’m hoping that Takom decide to extend their 1/72 range to include some of the World War One and Two AFVs which they already cover in 1/35.  

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Dragon 1/72 Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. L Late production (7645) Armor Neo Pro Build Review

I begin with construction of the lower hull. The plastic parts all go together with no problems, but then I try to fit the large PE grill that goes on the underside of the rear hull, and it just doesn’t seem to fit. I trim it down until it does, but then discover that it fouls the exhausts, so I make an executive decision to leave it off. That leaves an opening under the rear hull but, on the completed model, this would only be visible from underneath, so I’m not too concerned.

Then I assemble the various parts on the track guards. Some are really tiny, but location is clear and fit is good, so that’s OK.

I then add the track guards to the lower hull. Again fit is very good, though it takes some careful positioning to get these straight.

Then I complete the upper hull by adding the PE parts. Happily, both grills fit perfectly, though the instructions are a little vague about where the upper armour plate on the upper hull front goes, so it takes some squinting at images of actual Panzer III Ausf. Ls to figure this out.

The upper and lower hull fit together very nicely indeed with no gaps and no need for filler anywhere.

Construction of the turret is straightforward, though it’s a little tricky to get the rear stowage bin straight and level and you do have to be careful to get the mantlet/armour/gun assembly to line up.

I check the fit of the turret on the hull, and everything looks fine.

Hey, it feels like I’m making good progress here. So far, the build has been OK – a bit fiddly in places, but fit is generally good. Then I start to work on the tracks and running gear and it all goes a bit pear-shaped. The first problem becomes obvious when I join the two halves of the sprockets and idlers and then offer these up to the hull (I want them temporarily in place so that I can check the fit of the upper and lower runs of the tracks). There is a pin on the rear of the hull, but no locating hole on the idler (you can see the lack of a hole in the idler in the image below). Similarly, there is a pin on the sprockets, but no corresponding hole in the hull. It isn’t a disaster – I simply drill 1mm holes in the right places and everything goes together, but the instructions don’t mention a need to do this. That does seem odd to me – is this normal on Dragon tank kits?

Then I offer up the upper and lower track runs, and it gets even odder. As you can see from the image below, both are too long. I mean much too long, with perhaps nine or ten links more than is required, top and bottom. According to the instructions, the upper run should extend from the centre of the sprocket to the centre of the idler and then you should use the individual links to create the curve where the track passes over the sprocket and idler, which is a pretty standard approach for link-and-length tracks. The ends of the lower run will be bent up outside the area of the roadwheels, so it does need to be a little longer, but not this long! I do a quick search online and find a decent image of the link-and-length tracks for the Revell 1/72 Panzer III Ausf. L, and the top run there is 32 links long. Here, it’s 42 links. I don’t get it – these are clearly 1/72 Panzer III tracks which look nicely to scale in terms of link size and spacing, but the upper and lower runs provided don’t fit and I can’t just cut them down or they won’t engage properly with the single links.

After a bit of head-scratching, I decide to adopt the simplest possible solution. Fortunately, the upper and lower track runs are thin and quite flexible, so I start by wrapping the front nine links of the upper run round the sprocket and I glue these in place. That will leave the free end of this track run extending as far as the centre of the idler at the rear.

Then, I also glue the front of the lower run to the sprocket, bend it into position to fit round the roadwheels and then bend it round the idler and glue it in place. Obviously, you do need to be patient here and to frequently check what you’re doing by placing the whole assembly on the hull to ensure that everything lines up. This is what I end up with, and I only needed to use one of the single track links to join the gap on the idler between the upper and lower runs.

Here are the tracks in position on the hull and with the roadwheels temporarily in place (and you’ll see that I have tried to include some sag on the top run). I don’t think it looks too terrible, but it takes time and a fair amount of fiddling to get there and this isn’t how the instructions say the tracks should be constructed. I have looked at a number of reviews of other small scale Dragon kits that use Neo Tracks, and I haven’t seen this issue mentioned. Has anyone else come across this? At least this does leave me with plenty of spare single track links which I can assemble into a short run and place in the front hull stowage area!

With the tracks on both sides finished, that’s construction pretty much done so I can begin painting. I start with the hull sides, running gear and tracks. I’m using Vallejo German Grey for the base colour. This seems to be a good match for Dunklegrau, though it is rather dark and in real life this paint seemed to quickly fade to a much lighter colour, so I will be lightening it and adding  even lighter dry-brushed highlights. And of course, I’ll be painting the tiny roadwheel and return roller tyres, not one of my favourite parts of building any tank kit! The tracks get a dark grey base coat, then gunmetal highlights on the treads.

These tracks were a real chore to build because of the over-long runs, but I think they look all right now they’re finished and painted. Then, it’s on to the hull and turret. Everything gets a base coat of lightened German Grey, then I add some drybrushed highlights on sharp edges and raised areas.

Then I paint the tools on the track-guards and tow cables on the rear hull, And that’s a bit of a pain because they’re so tiny.

Then I add the decals, the spare roadwheels, jack, headlights and spare tracks and give it all a coat of matt varnish. I am using a different varnish here. Previously, I have used AK Interactive Matte Varnish (AK 190) and while it’s OK, it sometimes gives more of a satin finish. This time, I’m using Vallejo Premium Airbrush varnish, and even brush painting, I notice that this gives a totally consistent, truly matt finish. Then, it all gets a wash with a dark grey oil to emphasize shadows and grubby everything up a bit and finally I add some dust with artist’s pastils and that’s it done.

After Action Report

In my In-Box review, I wondered whether Neo Tracks might be the answer to my continuing track problems? On the basis of what I found here, the answer is no! I still have no idea why the upper and lower track runs here were much too long. And that’s a problem because it means you can’t really build the tracks using the technique suggested. The result looks sort of OK, and these tracks are accurate in terms of detail, but the finished result isn’t notably better than you’ll find in other kits with link-and-length tracks.

Otherwise, this kit is pretty good. Fit is great just about everywhere and it does seem to build into a very accurate representation of the Panzer III Ausf. L. OK, it would have been good if the tools and tow cables were separate parts, and perhaps the five vent covers on the rear deck too – in reality, these didn’t sit flush with the deck, but slightly above, and this isn’t shown here. I tried to paint areas of shadow round these vents to suggest that they’re separate items, but still, actually having separate parts would have been good.

And, contrary to what I claimed in the In-Box review, the exhaust, smoke launchers and other bits and bobs are included here that will allow you to finish this as an Ausf. M if you want (though this isn’t mentioned on the box or in the instructions) . You could even use the suggested Dunklegelb finish with that version… Overall, this is a perfectly reasonable little kit. It’s not perfect and it does seem a little expensive for what you get, but it builds into a nice representation of the Panzer III Ausf. L (or M).

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Dragon 1/72 Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. L Late production (7645) Armor Neo Pro In-Box Review and History

Dragon 1/72 Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. L Late production (7645) Armor Neo Pro In-Box Review and History

If you are a regular reader here, you’ll know that there is one thing that I have found more consistently disappointing and frustrating than any other aspect of tank model kits: tracks! I have lost count of the number of tank kits I have built that have been spoiled by over thick, too-tight, poorly detailed tracks made of unglueable vinyl. Even some of the hard plastic tracks I have come across simply look nothing like the original…

Which brings us to the subject of this review, the Dragon 1/72 Panzer Ausf. L in the Armor Neo-Pro series featuring “Neo-tracks.” Dragon have an enviable reputation for producing accurate kits with very high quality mouldings, so when I saw this as a Black Friday special offer, I couldn’t resist. The Dragon Panzer III Ausf. L was first released in 2011 and this Neo-Pro version in 2021. Dragon kits are comparatively expensive – here in Spain they generally retail for around €25 – 30, which seems a lot for a 1/72 tank kit but when I saw this one for under €15, I thought I’d take a punt.

Neo-tracks are simply length and link tracks which, at 1/72, can be a challenge. But I’m hoping that at least they’ll be accurate when they’re done. Are these the answer to my track woes? We’ll have a look inside the box in a moment, but first, let’s take a brief look at the Panzer III.

History

Design of what would be designated the Panzer III began somewhere around 1934. Although Germany was still formally banned from producing tracked AFVs under the terms of the Versailles treaty, the Nazis were soon to repudiate this and to begin open development and manufacture of tanks. Two tank designs were complete by 1935, for the Panzer I, a machine-fun armed light tank initially intended for training. and the Panzer II, another light tank armed with a 20mm autocannon and primarily intended for the reconnaissance role.

The first Panzer III, the Ausf. A. Only ten examples were produced, all provided with coil-spension and five roadwheels. Subsequent versions switched to first eight and then six smaller road wheels.

However, plans were developed to create Panzer Battalions comprising four Companies. One would be equipped with a tank provided with a large calibre, low-velocity main gun, ideal for firing high explosive shells and acting in the infantry support role (the Panzer IV). The other three companies would be equipped with tanks provided with high velocity main guns, and the primary role for these companies would killing enemy tanks. These were to be equipped with the new Panzer III.

A Panzer III Ausf. D during the German invasion of Poland, 1939. This was the first Panzer III produced in numbers, armed with a 37mm main gun and, as you can see, fitted with exposed leaf-spring suspension and eight small roadwheels. From the Ausf. E on, all models were provided with six roadwheels and more robust and better-protected torsion bar suspension.

Initial discussions on the Panzer III would centre on its main gun, and deficiencies in this choice would affect the Panzer III for most of its service life. It was agreed that this tank would be armed with a 37mm main gun derived from the PaK 35, the principal towed anti-tank weapon then entering service with the Wehrmacht. Arming the Panzer III with a similar gun would, the Heereswaffenamt (HWA – German Army Weapons Agency) pointed out, would greatly simplify ammunition supply. That was true, but many senior German Army commanders disagreed, asking for a 50mm main gun on the Panzer III and pointing out that British Cruiser tanks were already being designed that would be armed with 40mm (2-Pounder) main guns while the existing Russian T-26 had a 45mm main gun.

A Panzer III Ausf. E with torsion bar suspension and six roadwheels but still armed only with a 37mm main gun.

The HWA won the argument, but agreed that the turret ring on the Panzer III would be made large enough for the mounting of a 50mm main gun if that should prove necessary in future. All early models of this tank, essentially, the Ausf. A – E, were armed with a 37mm main gun, and in combat against British and French tanks in 1940 this proved to have serious limitations. The 37mm rounds simply bounced off the thick frontal armour of British Matildas and French Somua S35s and Char B1s. The new Ausf. F model appeared after the campaign in France was over and while the first of these were still armed with the 37mm main gun, most of this version were provided with the more powerful 50mm L42 main gun. All versions of the subsequent Ausf. G were also armed with the 50mm L42 gun.

A Panzer III Ausf. G in North Africa. Finally, it has a 50mm main gun, but it’s just L42, giving it relatively low velocity and while it was effective against British tanks in this theatre, it proved weak when used against Russian tanks on the Eastern Front.

However, when Germany invaded Russia in the Summer of 1941, even this new weapon proved ineffective against Russian T-34s and KV heavy tanks. The Panzer III was up-gunned again, this time with a KwK 39 50mm L60 main gun, a modified version of the towed PaK 38 anti-tank gun. This had higher muzzle velocity and more penetration compared to the L42 gun, but it still struggled to penetrate the frontal armour of the T-34 at most ranges. This new gun was first fitted to the Ausf. J which began to be delivered to front-line units on the Eastern Front in late 1941. However, it was also becoming apparent that the armour on the Panzer III was inadequate when facing the best Russian tanks. That led to the subject of this kit, the Ausf. L, armed with a 50mm L60 main gun and provided with additional armour on the mantlet and hull front.

A Panzer III Ausf. L on the Eastern Front and provided with a 50mm L60 main gun and added armour on the mantlet and hull front.

These began reaching front line units in mid-1942 and around 650 examples of the Ausf. L were manufactured during the second half of 1942. These tanks were used on the Eastern Front and in North Africa. This kit depicts a late production example, recognisable by the lack of pistol ports on the turret and escape hatches on the hull sides above the roadwheels.

What’s in the Box?

Inside the top-opening box you’ll find five sprues moulded in grey plastic, the lower hull, moulded as a single piece, decals and two small PE frets.

Detail looks very good and the mouldings appear to be commendably sharp even on tiny parts. Slide moulding is used, so the main gun bore is open, as are the optional smoke launchers for the turret sides. However, I was a little surprised to find that small details like the tools and tow cable are moulded in place. Painting these will be tricky.

Only the two-piece main turret hatch is moulded as a separate part and it includes some internal detail, though there are no figures included here and no internal detail for the turret itself. Apart from a couple of spare roadwheels, no stowage items are included.

And what about the link-and-length Neo Tracks? These are provided on two identical sprues, one for each side, providing one upper and one lower run and individual links to go round the sprocket and idler. The tracks seem to be nicely detailed inside and out and wholly accurate. Hurrah! However, there are jigs provided, including one that seems to model the sag on the upper run, but no clues in the instructions as to how to use these. 

One of the PE frets contains various grills for the rear hull and two tiny parts that I don’t recognise and that don’t seem to be mentioned in the instructions and the other provides an additional armour plate for the upper hull front.

The instructions are sort of OK, but not entirely helpful. As mentioned, they don’t really give any clues as to how to assemble the Neo Tracks or how to achieve sag on the top run using the provided jig. In some places, they seem to point in the general direction of where a particular part goes rather than showing the precise location. The instructions also show a pair of triple smoke launchers on the front top corners of the turret as optional parts (and all the colour scheme drawings show these as fitted), but I’m not convinced about that. These launchers were certainly added to the next model, the Ausf. M, but that also had a different exhaust system that isn’t modelled here. I haven’t been able to find a single wartime image of an Ausf. L fitted with these smoke launchers, so I feel these should probably be left off. Hull side escape hatches are also provided as optional parts, but again, I don’t think these should be used on an Ausf. L and they aren’t shown on the colour scheme drawings.

In terms of colour schemes, the instructions are confusing and, in some places, just plain wrong. Decals are provided and schemes shown for four tanks, all from Russia in 1942/1943. One scheme (the lower one on the image above) doesn’t give any clues as to the colours to use at all and on the only scheme where a base colour is indicated, this is identified as Dunklegelb (Dark Yellow). However, all Panzer III Ausf. L were manufactured from June – December 1942 and the introduction of Dunklegelb as a base colour on German armour didn’t begin until February 1943. So, all tanks of this model would actually have left the factory finished in overall Dunklegrau which doesn’t even get a mention here. I think that the box-art is correct (it shows a tank of  the 502nd Heavy Panzer Battalion in overall Dunklegrau finish) and the instructions, where they provide any guidance on base colour at all, are wrong. Given that it must take a great deal of time and effort to produce the moulds to make a model kit, you’d think it might be worth expending just a little more time to provide useful information about the colours in which it should be painted!

The small decal sheet covers four tanks and seems to be accurately printed, though the tiny unit insignia for the Wiking Division tank are each split in into two halves, presumably because they incorporate swastikas. More of a problem is that the decals don’t match the colour scheme drawings! The turret numbers for two of the tanks shown on those drawings aren’t actually included here and you get one spare set of white turret numbers, 101, but no clue what the colour scheme for that tank might be or what unit it belonged to. Though it isn’t mentioned in the instructions at all, decals are also provided for a tank of the 502nd Heavy Panzer Battalion which, although primarily equipped with Tiger tanks, initially also had a number of Panzer IIIs. This is the tank shown on the box art and though it isn’t particularly obvious, the larger of the two elephant decals (this was the insignia of the 502nd) goes on the rear of the turret bin and the smaller one on the front left track-guard. On their web site, Dragon claim that they produce “model kits that leave modelers with a jaw-dropping sense of awe!” That may be so, but they seem to produce instructions that leave this modeller with a baffled sense of “Eh?”

Would You Want One?

Detail here looks good in the box; all mouldings are sharp and there is very little flash and no obvious ejector marks. There are some tiny parts that appear to be the size of a gnat’s eyeball, but for those of you with less challenged eyesight that may not be an issue. The confusion between the decals provided and the markings shown on the colour scheme drawings is just stupid – decals are provided for just two of the four tanks shown and you have some spare decals, but no information about where they go or what unit they apply to. However, provided that you can work out how to assemble the Neo Tracks and that you ignore the colours suggested in the instructions, I can’t see any reason this won’t build into a respectable model of the Panzer III Ausf. L. However, there are a few (cheaper) alternatives if you do want to model this tank in 1/72.

The Revell 1/72 Ausf. L (02351) was released in 2003 and it’s a nice little kit that is generally accurate and includes link-and-length tracks. Revell also offer (or offered – I don’t know if it’s still around) a 1/76 Ausf. L and this is a re-release of the original Matchbox kit from 1974. It’s OK, though it does have rather thick vinyl tracks.

Ukrainian producer UM Models offer a 1/72 kit of the Ausf. L first released in 2016. This seems to be very nicely done with PE parts and link-and-length tracks. Plastic Soldier Company offer the Panzer III in 1/72 in a pack that provides three tanks that can be completed as the Ausf. J, L, M, or N though these are simplified, easy-assembly kits that are aimed more at wargamers than modellers.

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SMER (Heller) 1/72 Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (0833) Build Review

I begin the build with the cockpit area, and what’s provided in the kit is pretty sparse – a floor, two seats, an instrument panel and a stick. However, All I’m going add are some harness straps to the seats. You could add more, but I’m not sure how much would actually be visible on the finished model.

I then fit the cockpit floor in place, and that isn’t as easy as you might think. It takes a bit of fiddling to get it all straight. And this isn’t the only time I’ll be saying that during this build…

Then, I do the only other bit of additional detail I’m going to add here, the inverted cylinders for the Argus engine. On the original, the front bank of two cylinders are clearly visible through the cooling vent on the front of the cowling. On this kit, all you get is the opening. So I make up something that looks a little like the cylinders and pushrod tubes out of bits of sprue and stretched sprue. It all looks a bit rough here…

But with everything temporarily joined, I think it will look OK from the front when it’s all painted.

Then, I paint the engine, the engine compartment and the interior of the cockpit. I add some harness straps to the seats – these are just drafted out in a graphics program and printed on a laser printer. They wouldn’t stand close inspection, but I hope they’ll add some visual interest to what is otherwise a rather empty cockpit.

I also attempt to dry-brush some detail on to the instrument panel. Not easy because what little detail is there is barely raised at all.

Then I join the fuselage halves and add the cowling nose. Fit is, well, just about OK but less than perfect. A little sanding and some filler will be needed to fill the worst of the gaps. 

With the fuselage and nose joins sanded and filled I add the tailplanes and struts, and that isn’t simple either. Location consists of a single, small, short round peg on the tailplanes and a corresponding hole in the tail. This doesn’t give a clear or strong fit and you’re going to need to carefully position and prop the tailplanes while the glue sets. I guess that’s just how things were back in the 1970s when this kit was first released!

The wing halves are then joined and there aren’t any problems here, though location isn’t well defined and you do have to be careful to get congruence between the upper and lower halves.

Next, I add the leading-edge slats to the wings and again, that’s tricky due to vague location. Several plastic pegs are moulded into the leading edges of the wings, but there are no corresponding locating holes in the slats into which these fit. You have to glue the slats roughly into place, then prop them while the glue dries, keeping your fingers crossed that you’ll end up with something that looks plausible and matches on both sides.

In terms of overall construction, I’m going for the Luftwaffe version, and the camo scheme on the top of the fuselage, wings and tailplanes will need masking. All the struts that support the wings and undercarriage will get in the way, so I’m going to paint the wings and fuselage first and separately, then I’ll add the canopy and finally the wings and undercarriage. Next, I work on painting the canopy framing. I begin by taking the canopy parts off the sprue and doing some basic masking. And wow, there are a great many tiny sections of masking required! I’m not complaining – one of the reasons I chose the Storch as a subject was so that I could work on my (in)ability to mask and paint canopy frames. You have to take your time, use a series of fresh blades in your craft-knife/scalpel and aim for a state of tranquil focus. Or something like that… It took over an hour to get to the stage below, where I’m ready to start slopping some paint on the canopy.

And this is the result. It’s, well, not as bad as some of other attempts at framing. Though that isn’t a high bar to exceed! Of course, I still have to join the five pieces of the canopy together, and I have a feeling that’s going to be tricky.

But for the moment, I put the canopy aside and begin painting the fuselage and wings. I start by painting the lower surfaces light blue, then masking and painting the base, lighter green on top.

Then, guess what? It’s time for even more masking to delineate the splinter camo scheme on the upper surfaces.  And when I peel off the tape, just to add to my usual masking woes, the base green paint lifts off in places. This only happens on the fuselage and tail, but quite large sections of paint are removed (as you can see below). I don’t really understand why – I’m using my usual masking tape, I didn’t burnish it down particularly hard and the Vallejo acrylic paint I’m using is the same I always use. Oh, well, some careful touching up is required.

But at least I end up with pretty much what I was aiming for.

Next I add the decals. These are pretty good – dense, but not too thick and printed nicely in-register. I do notice that in a couple of places, most obviously on the fuselage identification letters (though it isn’t noticeable in photographs), there is some silvering, though I used both Decal Fix and Decal Softener.

Next I assemble the five parts of the canopy. It’s not easy to get everything aligned and the canopy has to be both accurately and robustly assembled because the wings attach directly to tabs on the top. And I’m not going to say that this is impossible, because clearly it isn’t, but it is very, very tricky. You’ll be juggling five separate and oddly shaped parts that just don’t fit particularly well while trying to get everything to line up. I’m happy and relieved to end up with something that looks even approximately correct.

Next, I touch up the areas of green that have become chipped, give everything a coat of clear varnish and then I attempt to attach the wings and struts. And again, that’s fiddly. The fit of the wings on to the stubs on the canopy top isn’t great – there is a fair amount of play. So, the underwing struts are needed to avoid droopy wings and keep everything in place, but these don’t fit especially well either. The small struts that fit into the wings inboard of the main struts also don’t quite seem to fit – they seem too short to connect with the main struts when they’re in place. In the end, I prop everything straight and level and hope that it will be close to right when the glue sets.

When the glue on the wings and main struts is dry, I move on to the final part of construction, the fragile undercarriage. For a change, this isn’t tricky, it’s fiendishly difficult – this is turning out to be a much more challenging build than I had anticipated! On each side, there is a single vertical leg that includes the shock-absorber and wheel and these are held in place by a pair of V shaped struts that glue into the fuselage underside (though no locating holes are provided) and side and to the undercarriage leg. Or at least, that’s the theory… On the pointed end of the end of the main, lower strut, there is a small pin, but there is nothing at all to fix this into on the undercarriage leg, and the instructions don’t really give any clues of how these are meant to join. In the end, I file off the pin (which seems to serve no purpose anyway) and attach the point of the strut with a butt joint to the top of a small box on the inside of the undercarriage legs. That isn’t really very satisfactory, but I just can’t see any other way of joining the undercarriage legs and supporting strut. With that done, trying to then get the undercarriage leg to attach to the underside of the wing while simultaneously getting the struts fixed to the fuselage underside is an exercise in swear-inducing frustration.

Then, when you have finally managed to get one leg sort of attached, you still have another to go! I think that trying to get both undercarriage legs attached and reasonably congruent on this Storch  is one of the most frustrating things I have attempted since I restarted modelling, mainly because there are no clear attachment points with which to join these parts. I recently wrote in another article how kit-building can induce Zen-like feelings of relaxation. Well, trust me on this, not if you’re building this Storch! I finally get both legs approximately attached, and leave everything to set.

The last thing to do is to fit the two smaller, upper V shaped struts that also support the undercarriage legs. And while there are sockets on the fuselage sides for these, if you place the open end of the strut in the sockets, the other end doesn’t line up with the undercarriage leg. I do the best that I can and I fudge the location of these struts so that they look just about right.

The biggest surprise comes when the glue is set and I turn the model right way up to discover that, despite all the problems with assembly, everything sits pretty much straight and level. That I didn’t expect! With the last construction completed, I add an oil wash to highlight recessed detail on the wings and tail and that’s this tiny Storch finally finished!

After Action Report

The first half of construction here was fine. Fit was OK, though perhaps location is a little vague. Then came adding the leading-edge slats, building the canopy, adding the wings and struts and finally the undercarriage and associated struts. And none of that was any fun at all. Fit is horrible or non-existent, parts just don’t seem to fit in locating holes (except where those aren’t provided at all) and getting the undercarriage attached and straight was just a series of frustrations. Perhaps none of those things are really a surprise given that this is really a 1970s kit, but these problems make it very difficult to recommend this one and it certainly isn’t suitable for a newcomer to this hobby.

Which is kind of a shame, because somehow, despite all the problems and the fact that things like the struts are clearly oversize, the finished model does nicely capture the flimsy and inelegant look of the Storch. As a finished kit, this kit is sort of OK but it surely was a struggle to get there!

I have read a few other build reviews of various iterations of this kit, and while some do mention construction challenges, none prepared me for just how awkward this would be to build. This is difficult. Really difficult. And not in a good way. It’s hard to see precisely where some parts fit, the instructions provide nothing more than broad hints and a few bits seem to be the wrong length or size. If you really want a 1/72 Storch, you may be prepared to put up with all this but honestly, I’d suggest you consider spending your cash elsewhere if you want to retain your sanity.

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Zen and the Art of Model Kit Building

Zen and the Art of Building Model Kits

Since I rediscovered the joys of building model kits a few years ago, I have wondered on more than one occasion why I find this hobby so absorbing? I don’t enter competitions, I certainly don’t try to sell the finished kits and I don’t even tend to show them to anyone other than my long-suffering wife who, I suspect, has come to dread hearing the words “Hey, look at this…” 

So, why do I do it? This ramble represents my thoughts about this hobby and what I like about it. You may agree. You may not. Either way, please do feel free to add your comments.

So, why do we do this?

On the face of it, the process of kit building is more than a little absurd. A manufacturer carefully produces a scale representation of a particular aircraft, vehicle or ship. Then, they spend a great deal of time, effort and money breaking this down into component pieces so that we can buy it and build it back up into something (hopefully) resembling what they started out with.

This is a perfectly reasonable 1/76 Churchill by Oxford Diecast. If you buy one of these, you won’t get glue on your fingers or paint on the carpet. But, IMHO, you won’t have nearly as much fun either.

Now, wouldn’t it cut out a great deal of mucking about if the manufacturer simply gave us a complete model instead of a box of parts? And if they’d paint it too, then I could avoid getting the marks on the carpet that cause my wife so much distress. But there’s the thing: the mucking about is what this hobby is really about. I don’t know about you, but I generally lose interest in a kit as soon as its finished. This is clearly about the process, not the product. But what is it about building and painting a kit that gives so much satisfaction. I suspect there are several parts to the answer.

Learning about what you’re building

I love learning new stuff, particularly on topics I’m already interested in. I suspect most people are the same. And if you’re building a kit of, for example, a Panzer III Ausf. L, well, you’re going to want to know what a Panzer III is and how an Ausf. L version is different. And how and where it was used and consequently, how it was painted and used.

That’s the Fleeting Cloud camouflage pattern. Not a lot of people know that.

That applies to any kit you’re building. One of the kits I have most enjoyed building in the last 12 months was the Tamiya Chi-Ha. Partly, that’s because it’s a decent kit but it’s also because, when I started out, I knew very little about Japanese tanks. Learning about this tank led me to discover, amongst many other things, something called the “Fleeting Cloud” camouflage pattern. I shared that particular interesting fact with my wife, though she seemed surprisingly ungrateful.

You’re an artist!

However much we might want to deny it, if you go past basic construction and painting, creating tiny versions of large aircraft, vehicles and ships is an art form. Unless you’re building in 1/1 scale, you can’t simply paint a kit in precisely the same way as the original and expect it to look right. Colours look different at small scale as do things like the effects of light and shadow.

Particularly if you’re working in a small scale, you have to consider these things. That’s why techniques like dry-brushed highlights and washes that emphasise shadows can make such a difference to how a finished kit looks. They aren’t there on the original, but once you have tried them, you won’t go back to flat painted kits.

Dry-brushed highlights and an oil wash to bring out the shadows. Does that make this Italeri Marder III a work of art? I’m not certain, but it’s about as close as I will come.

And while there are lots of guides available, the amount of this type of work (plus things like paint chipping and weathering) are entirely up to you. You’ll be working with acrylic and/or enamel paints as well as oils and pastels to achieve an effect that looks right to you. Face it, you’re an artist! And that’s hugely satisfying.

Making them better

Few kits are perfect out of the box, particularly if, like me, you have an interest in older kits. These often lack detail or sometimes they’re just plain wrong. I actually enjoy the process of researching how accurate and complete a particular kit is and in trying to improve it if I can. I’m not aiming for 100% accuracy, because I’m not even sure that’s attainable.

The Airfix 1/76 Tiger from 1964 is pretty crap by modern standards. Even with a few improvements, it’s only marginally less crap. But for reasons I can’t really explain, I enjoyed the process of trying to make it better.

But I do think there is a great deal of satisfaction to be had in attempting to improve a kit. And perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’m less enthusiastic about some recent kits. They’re just so damn good that there is really very little you can do to make them better. I think that’s why I often find myself drawn to cheap-and-cheerful older kits that give me some scope for adding my own improvements and extra details.  

Be in the moment

Finally, we come to the Zen part of this article and what is, for me at least, one of the least recognised joys of model building. One of the concepts explored in Zen is mindfulness, sometimes called “being in the moment”. There have been whole books written about this topic, but the basic idea is simple: you give 100% of your attention to what you’re doing right now, without being distracted by thoughts of the past or future. And there’s actually good evidence that this is good for your brain, helping you to reduce stress, reducing the effects of depression and helping you to sleep.

In today’s hectic world, actually spending time wholly thinking about what you’re doing now is rare: we often do something while thinking about what we’re going to do tomorrow or worrying about what we should have done yesterday. Mindfulness is about escaping this. Of course, you can find mindfulness in lots of ways. I used to race and ride motorcycles, and those activities pretty much demand 100% concentration at all times. Because if you don’t you’ll end up bouncing down the road or track. A good ride on a fast bike can leave you feeling clear headed-and relaxed. But a failure to achieve that can lead to additions to my already extensive scar collection, so now, I get my mindfulness fix through model building.

This person is preparing to paint the roadwheel tyres on a 1/72 Panzer IV. Probably…

Whether you are painting the frame on a canopy of a small scale aircraft, or the roadwheel tyres on a small scale tank, or just about any other aspect of building a model, you are giving all your attention to what you’re doing. That’s why a good session of kit-bashing can leave you feeling relaxed, more positive and less stressed. And that’s why I believe that kit-building is a Zen activity.

What do you think?

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SMER (Heller) 1/72 Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (0833) In-Box Review and History

I’m still trying to build up my rusty aviation kit building skills. And there’s one thing I really struggle with: painting canopy frames. Recently, I purchased a vauuform canopy to replace one I broke during a build. It cost pennies, but there was a fixed postage charge, so it seemed logical to order a kit at the same time. Then, I spotted this 1/72 SMER Storch for less than €8. Well, it would have been rude not to buy it at that price, and the Storch has an awful lot of canopy framing to paint, so it’s a great chance to practice.

SMĚR is a Cech company that market a range of aircraft, ship and car kits in various scales. However, this particular kit isn’t really by SMĚR: it’s a re-box with new decals of the Heller Fieseler Storch that was first produced back in 1976. This is a fairly old kit, but given that the 1/72 kit market isn’t exactly awash with models of the Storch, there isn’t a great deal of choice. So, it’s cheap and it’s old. But, is it any good? Let’s have a look…

History

In 1935, the Luftwaffe issued a specification calling for designs for a new army co-operation aircraft with short take-off and landing (STOL) capability. The winning design was submitted by Fieseler Flugzeugbau Kassel, the company started in 1930 by WW1 flying ace and aerobatic champion Gerhard Fieseler.

An early Storch lands on Unter den Linden in Berlin in 1939

There was nothing particularly radical about the design. The fuselage was constructed of metal tubing covered in fabric. The wings were made of wood and also covered in fabric. Fixed slats were attached to the leading edge of the wings with large slotted flaps and ailerons that drooped when the flaps extended beyond 20˚ at the trailing edge. Power was provided by an Argus As 10C air-cooled, inverted V8 engine producing less than 250hp.

A restored Storch shows its wing-folding ability

However, the combination of a large wing area and relatively light weight gave what was designated the Fi 156 truly astonishing STOL capability. Landing speed with flaps was just 50km/h (that’s just over 30mph folks!) and in a headwind, it could come to a stop in under 10 metres, little over its own length. In a headwind, it could take-off after a run of around 3 seconds/50m.

A Storch fitted with an auxiliary fuel tank

In addition, it’s large glazed cockpit projected over the side of the fuselage, giving great visibility even below. The wings could be folded for easy transport and storage and the long legs of the undercarriage contained oil-and-spring shock absorbers that allowed the aircraft to land and take-off safely on rough ground. These legs drooped when the aircraft was in flight, leading to the name by which it became universally known: Storch (stork).

A Storch on the Eastern Front in 1941.

This was a truly versatile aircraft that was used in a variety of roles including artillery spotting, observation, casualty evacuation, aerial photography, cable-laying and even bombing and anti-submarine missions (a few Fi 156 were adapted to carry a single depth charge). The Storch served on every theatre in which Germany was involved during World War Two and around 2,000 were produced by Fieseler in total, mainly the Fi 156-C version modelled in this kit.

An MS.500 with a radial engine

Amongst other locations, the Storch was manufactured during WW2 in Puteaux in occupied France and after the liberation of that country in 1944, the French Armee de l’Air requested that production continue, initially using parts provided from Germany and later, with new aircraft manufactured by Moraine-Saulnier (as the MS.500 Criquet) using a variety of engines including air-cooled radials. Almost 1,000 examples of various models of the MS.500 were produced and these were used in operations in Indo-China and Algeria.

What’s in the Box?

Inside the sturdy, end-opening box you’ll find three sprues moulded in light grey plastic and a single transparent sprue.

Alternate parts are provided so that you can build this as a Fi 156 or as a MS.500. You get two alternate canopy tops and different tailplanes. However, you don’t get alternate wings – the decals provided are for an aircraft used in French Indo-China (present-day Vietnam), and it was found that the humidity there rotted the wooden wings on the MS.500 which were quickly replaced with metal versions that would obviously have lacked the rib detail shown here.

The canopy parts seem cleanly moulded and the framing is well-defined, something that will help with painting. The cockpit access door on the right side is provided as a separate part, so you could show this open.

Surface detail is OK, with an attempt at replicating the fabric finish on the wings and fuselage. However, the few panel lines are raised rather than recessed and there is a fair amount of flash here.  

Detail is about what you’d expect for a 1970s kit, i.e., not wonderful. Here, for example you can see the control stick (top) and the the MG 15 machine gun for the rear cockpit mount (middle). It’s also notable that there is no engine, though in the original it can be clearly seen throught the cooling vent in the nose and the exhausts are too small and the wrong shape.

The decals cover two aircraft, a German Fi 156 used in Yugoslavia in 1943 and a French MS.500 used in Vietnam in 1952. I was surprised to see that the nasty swastikas for the tail are provided (though they aren’t shown on the box-art or colour scheme), but each is split in two, presumably so that you won’t be offended by the presence of this fascist symbol if you decide not to use them. Given that the Storch was also used by Italy, Spain, Sweden, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, amongst others, there are lots of options if you want to source alternate decals.

Two colour schemes are provided.

The instructions look fairly simple, and include a brief history of the Fi 156.    

Would You Want One?

What is provided here looks OK, but it’s pretty sparse compared to more modern kits. The cockpit (which will be visible through the greenhouse canopy) is particularly spartan, no crew figure(s) are provided and the Argus engine, clearly visible through the large vent on the front of the nose on the original, is completely missing. Some of the fine detail looks a little overscale and the machine gun, for example, doesn’t really look much like the original at all. However, in terms of overall shape and proportions, this does look pretty close. In many ways, this is a typical kit of the 1970s, providing a decent starting point for a detailed finished model rather than including the exhaustive detail we’re used to in more modern kits.

If you don’t fancy this Storch there are, as far as I’m aware, just two alternatives in 1/72. Airfix released a 1/72 Storch all the way back in 1967. Given its age, It isn’t terrible apart from the undercarriage legs. Two versions are provided in compressed (landed) or extended (in flight) form. Unfortunately, both are too long and look rather odd. If you care, the Airfix kit also shows the cockpit access door on the left, for some reason, while it was actually on the right. Academy released a 1/72 Storch in 1998, and it really isn’t bad. It’s available in several forms with different markings and it can be built as either a Fi-156 or an MS 500 (though it provides only a single set of wooden wings), and it even includes a radial engine if you want to model the MS 500 fitted with the (uncowled) Salmson 9AB nine cylinder radial engine. Some versions of the Academy kit also include a Kubelwagen if you want to put your Storch in a diorama.

Neither the Airfix nor the Academy kits model the Argus engine at all and in both (as in this kit) the cockpit interiors are pretty rudimentary. You might think that there are other 1/72 kits of this aircraft, but those offered by AZ Model, MisterCraft, Aurora, Pantera and others are, like this kit, just re-boxed versions of the original Heller kit.     

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