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Airfix 1/72 Mitsubishi A6M2b Zero (A01005) Build Review

I’m going to build this straight out of the box, though I will be trying to add flaps.

First step is the cockpit, and I’m impressed with the level of detail. I’d be tempted to add even more items such as harnesses if the cockpit could be shown open, but as it can only be closed, I’m keeping it standard.

I paint the interior in Vallejo Olive Green, which seems a reasonable match for N5 Light Olive Green used on some Japanese aircraft. I add a wash of dark grey oil to pick out the shadows and the two instrument panel decals.

Next, I join the fuselage halves and add the upper front panel that includes the cowling machine guns. Fit is pretty good, though a little filler is needed to blend in the upper cowling panel.

Then, I join the upper and lower wings and cut off the wingtips. Fit is again very good. I also cut out the flaps, which I’ll be building out of plastic card and adding in the take-off position.

I do a dry-fit of the wings, and there is a fairly noticeable gap between the wing roots and the fuselage.

It only takes a little filler and some sanding to get a reasonable join between wings and fuselage. I also add the tailplanes and rudder, and these fit very nicely with no filler required.

I add the flaps in the extended position – these are simply fabricated with thin plastic card and some plastic strip for the framing.

Then I hand-paint the cockpit framing. And, to be honest, it isn’t great. But I’m really not confident about masking such tiny panels, and I’ll try to clean it up a little later using a sharp blade. I also use a little filler to blend in the rear part of the cockpit with the fuselage.

Now, it’s time for paint. There seem to be a great many opinions about the actual colour used on aircraft of the IJN. The latest research seems to indicate that these were painted a fairly light grey, though in some lighting conditions this is described as having a green or brown tinge. It certainly isn’t as light as used to be thought – it seems that this paint finish faded lighter as it was exposed to sunlight. Looking at photographs of aircraft from late 1941 (which this kit is supposed to be) also shows the rudder, ailerons and elevators as being slightly lighter. You can see what I mean on this image of the rear fuselage of a Zero shot down during the attack on Pearl Harbor below.

I believe that the whole aircraft was painted in a single colour, so I guess that perhaps the paint reacted differently when applied to the fabric covered control surfaces? Anyway, I have decided to use Vallejo Light Sea Grey as the base colour with lightened rudder, elevators and ailerons.

Here it is after several thinned coats. I painted the cowling black, then overpainted in dark grey, leaving recessed detail and the gun troughs in black.

Then, I add the decals. These go on without any problems, though they are quite thick – even after several applications of Vallejo Decal Softener, they don’t conform to the detail underneath.

I then give it a coat of clear varnish and a wash in dark grey oil to highlight panel lines and recessed areas, and I am surprised at how much difference this makes. It really gives the aircraft a much more 3D look. The interior of the flaps, wheel-wells, interior of the undercarriage doors and ends of the folded wing tips are painted in viridian, a blue-green intended to replicate the Aotake anti-corrosion finish used on some IJN Zeros. I’m not certain this is actually correct for an aircraft that took part in the attack on Pearl Harbor because it was only used on aircraft manufactured by Nakajima, but I like the look of it and it provides a nice contrast to the grey finish.

I then add the wingtips, and propellor. Finally, I complete the undercarriage and this is the only really fiddly part of the build. Location is imprecise and the main legs are very wobbly, so I do the best I can. I’ll probably add a stretched sprue radio antenna later but apart from that, this Zero is finished!

After Action Report

This was a fun build! Fit is generally very good, with the exception of the wobbly undercarriage legs. Detail is nicely done and the recessed panel lines work very well with an oil wash. Overall, if you want an inexpensive and straightforward introduction to aviation modelling, you could do much worse.

OK, I would have been happier if the cockpit could have been shown open and perhaps the decals are a little thick, but those are really the only issues I encountered. If this is representative of the quality of these new Airfix mouldings, I’m impressed. The only thing I would suggest is that if you’re building one of these, it would probably be worth buying a pre-cut mask for the canopy. What joy to discover that Airfix 1/72 aircraft kits can still provide kit-building pleasure. Now, if I can just find an Airfix aircraft kit with an opening cockpit canopy..

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Airfix 1/72 Mitsubishi A6M2b Zero (A01005) In-Box Review and History

Airfix 1/72 Mitsubishi A6M2b Zero (A01005) In-Box Review and History

Aren’t boot sales wonderful? We have them here in Spain and in amongst all the tat, occasionally you find something worth having. When I spotted an Airfix kit on offer for just €1, how could I ignore it? So here we are, only my second aviation kit for a very long time. The first one (the Italeri AH-64D) was a bit crap, and I’m hoping this one will help me to rediscover the pleasures of building tiny aircraft.

This is the new-tool release dating from 2011, replacing the previous Airfix 1/72 Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero (108) originally released all the way back in 1959. These new-tool Airfix aircraft kits have gained a great reputation for accuracy and ease-of build and, even if you can’t find one at a boot sale, they’re as cheap as chips, generally being available for not much more than €10.

I spent way too much of my childhood building Airfix aircraft kits, and I loved them back then. Are they still as much fun today? Let’s take a look…

History

The design of any aircraft is a compromise. A more powerful engine gives more speed but has less range. Armour provides protection for the pilot but the additional weight limits climb performance and manoeuvrability. When Dr Jiro Horikoshi of Mitsubishi Aircraft was presented with a new specification for a fighter by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) in 1937, his initial reaction was that it was impossible.

A6M2b Model 21s on the carrier Shokaku prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 1941

The IJN wanted a fighter capable of operating from existing carriers, so it had to have a wing-span of less than 12m (39’ 4”). It had to able to take-off in less than 70m (230ft) but also had to be capable of achieving a top speed of at least 500km/h (310mph) while at the same time having a range of over 1,800km (1,100 miles). It had to able to climb to 10,000 feet in no more than 3.5 minutes and above all, it had to be more manoeuvrable than any other fighter in service.

An A6M2b taking off from the carrier Akagi during the attack on Pearl Harbor

The design that emerged was for the  Mitsubishi A6M Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighter, referred to by its pilots as the Reisen (a contraction of “rei” (zero) and “sentoki” (fighter)) but known to just about everyone else as the Mitsubishi Zero. Somehow, Horikoshi seemed to have achieved the impossible. Although its 14 cylinder radial engine wasn’t especially powerful, the fighter was fast, with a speed of over 350mph and it exceeded the range requirements set by the IJN. It could also climb and turn faster than almost any other comparable fighter and it was armed not just with a pair of 7.7mm machine guns in the engine cowling but also two 20mm cannon in the wings.

A6M3 Model 22s

This astounding performance was achieved by the creation of an aircraft that was extremely light. The gross weight of the A6M was 2,796 kg. The comparable Grumman F4F Wildcat had a gross weight of 3,700 kg. Partly this light weight was due to the use of new materials such as Extra Super Duralumin (ESD), a stronger but lighter zinc/aluminium alloy. However, elements such as pilot armour and self-sealing fuel tanks were simply left out in order to save weight.  

A6M5s being prepared for a kamikaze attack in 1945

In total, more than 10,000 of all variants of the A6M were built during World War Two. The A6M2b Model 21 (the version depicted in this kit) was the most produced of all. It differed from the first A6M2a Model 11 only in having larger internal fuel tanks and folding wing tips.

What’s in the Box?

In the box, you’ll find three sprues moulded in light grey plastic and a single transparent sprue for the cockpit canopy.

You’ll notice a few gaps on the sprues – this kit has been started. Happily, only five pieces forming the cockpit interior have been removed from the sprues and all were in the box, so I think I’m good to go.

One thing that really stands out for me is the overall quality of the mouldings and especially the panel lines. I have to put my hand up and admit that I haven’t much experience with modern aircraft kits, but to me, this looks very good indeed for a budget kit.

Separate folded wingtips are provided, but to use these, you’ll first have to cut the wingtips off the wings.

The cockpit interior has reasonable detail, including on the interior of the fuselage halves and decals are provided for the instruments.

Perhaps the only thing that doesn’t look quite so great in terms of detail is the pilot figure, but as I don’t plan using this, I can’t say that I’m too concerned.

A single transparent sprue includes the cockpit canopy. This is admirably clear and the framing seems well-defined, but it would have been nice to have the option to show it open.

The decals provided are for a single aircraft; an A6M2b that took part in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Specifically, these markings are for an aircraft of the 2nd Strike Unit, Carrier Division 1, flown by Lieutenant Saburo Shindo from the carrier Akagi.

The only suggested colour scheme is overall “Satin Hemp” with a black cowling. The actual colour that early war Japanese naval aircraft were painted is a subject of intense debate amongst modellers. At the time that this kit was released, it was generally thought that these aircraft were painted in a pale amber or ivory colour, which I guess is where “Satin Hemp” comes from. More recent research seems to suggest that these aircraft were actually painted overall grey in something called “J3,” which seems to have been simply a fairly light grey, though probably darker than formerly believed (it seems to have been prone to fading over time). As ever, I have no intention on getting bogged down on trying to replicate precisely a shade of paint that would have been subject to fading anyway, so I think I’ll ignore the Airfix advice here and go for a light grey.

The instructions seem clear and with just 47 parts to work with, I think even I can work out where everything goes (why do I have a feeling I may regret saying that later…).

Would You Want One?

In the box, this looks very good in terms of detail and accuracy. OK, so it doesn’t have the quite level of detail seen on some other AM6 kits (there is no DF loop inside the rear of the cockpit, for example), but the engraved panel lines and general level of detail are acceptable. Given that the various versions of the A6M are said to be the most covered aircraft in 1/72 scale, there is no shortage of options if you don’t fancy this one.

Hasegawa do virtually every variant of the A6M in 1/72 from the initial A6M2 to the last A6M5. Their A6M2 Model 21 (51313) is, like the Airfix kit, a new-tool version first released in 1993, and it’s very nice indeed with good internal and external detail and nicely engraved panel lines. Their original 1/72 Zero released back in 1972 (A003:250) isn’t nearly as good, but you probably won’t find the older version still being offered for sale.

Although they don’t produce tanks in 1/72, Tamiya have a range of 1/72 aircraft kits that are generally very good indeed. This range includes several versions of the Zero. These were first released in 2012 and all are superb. They feature great cockpit detail, canopies that can be completed open or closed and nicely engraved panel lines. These are generally regarded as the best 1/72 Zero kits currently available, though like the Hasegawa Zero, they’re considerably more expensive than the new Airfix version. 

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Airfix 1/72 Mitsubishi A6M2b Zero (A01005) Build Review

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Airfix Matilda Hedgehog (AO2335V) conversion to A12 Matilda II Mk I. Part 2: Hull, Turret and Painting

Hull

I start with the simple changes needed to the upper hull, which I’ll be doing before I glue the upper hull piece to the sides and rear. On the front, the left-hand mounting hole for the headlight needs to be filled and sanded flat.

On the rear, the exhaust stub on the right-hand side needs to be cut off and sanded flat and the right-hand cut-out in the rear hull should be filled.

Neither is particularly difficult and this doesn’t take long. I also add a little filler on the inside of the curved driver’s access hatch because there are some gaps there.

Then, the upper hull is joined to the rear, sides and base.

Now, I can start building the rear skid. This is what I’m aiming for.

By referring to several photographs, I am able to work out the overall dimensions of the skid. By my calculation, at 1/76 scale the skid should be 12mm wide, 9mm deep, should project 10mm beyond the rear of the upper hull and the angle of the top and bottom surfaces of the skid should be at a slightly steeper angel than the rear hull deck. Something like the sketch below – when I’m building something completely new, even something as simple as this tail skid, I find it helpful to start with a drawing of some sort. The overall length of the skid side plates and the angle of their front edges won’t be known until I see how it’s going to fit to the rear hull, so I’ll make them oversize and cut them down as required to fit. As long as the rear edge of the completed skid ends up projecting around 10mm from the rear edge of the upper hull and at a suitable angle, I think it should look OK.

I then build the basic structure out of pieces thin plastic card. The curved section is created by wrapping a strip of plastic card round a circular pen of the correct diameter, then placing this in very hot water. When it’s cool, it retains the curve. Here’s the finished skid, trimmed and ready to fit. You’ll note that, to get the correct angle, the front edges of the skid are actually vertical, not angled as I thought they would be.

I then add a couple of internal stiffening plates which can be seen on the original and mount the skid on the rear hull. I also try the re-routed exhaust in place, and it fits fairly well. I won’t fix it in place yet to make painting easier. The exhaust on the opposite side will emerge from under the hull and enter the opposite side of the skid.

I add the last few bits and pieces to the hull, and it’s complete.

Turret

I begin by attaching the Vickers mantlet from the IBG Cruiser Mk. I to the Airfix mantlet. I re-shape the Airfix mantlet to a more rounded shape and the new Vickers gun fits well. I also use the 2-Pdr. barrel from the IBG kit because it’s better detailed than the Airfix version.

I then assemble the turret and add the mantlet. Fit is pretty good with only a dab of filler needed at the bottom corners of the mantlet cover.

I then complete the turret with the minor addition of a spotlight on the commander’s cupola.

And with that, construction of the BEF Matilda II Mk. I is complete apart from the exhaust, some final sanding of filled areas and the addition of a couple of rectangular plates on the rear hull to cover the location points for the long range fuel tank which wasn’t used on BEF tanks. That really wasn’t very difficult at all, was it?

Painting

All the tanks of the BEF were painted in what was then the standard British tank scheme – a base of Khaki Green G3 overlaid with a hard-edged disrupter camouflage pattern of Dark Green No.4. I begin by painting the interior of the tail skid (and on reflection, this would have been better painted before it was fitted!), the inside of the mud-chutes on the hull sides and the rollers and running gear in a darker shade of the base colour. Then, the whole thing gets several thinned coats of Vallejo Russian Uniform, my go-to colour for the green used on early-war British tanks. I then add the disruptive camo pattern using a mix of Vallejo Dark Grey and Olive Green.

I then add drybrushed highlights on to both camo colours and paint the tools and spare track links.

Then it’s time to consider the decals. Obviously, I don’t have appropriate decals for a tank of 7th RTR in 1940, so I’ll have to do what I can with decals in the spares box to make something that’s representative of a 7th RTR tank in 1940 rather than recreating a specific tank. I add the white recognition squares that were painted on all BEF tanks – these are applied on the hull front, sides and rear.

All 7th RTR tanks had names beginning with the letter “G” (because G is the 7th letter of the alphabet) painted on the hull rear and on one or both angled plates on either side of the hull front. I’m going for “Goat” which was one of the 7th RTR tanks in France. I add the War Office Census numbers (the letter “T” followed by four to seven digits) on the angled hull front. I mock these up as best I can, though the WD number is incorrect for this particular tank – I just didn’t have the appropriate tiny white numbers.

All early war British tanks also carried a standard civilian number plate – it’s on the right rear trackguard on the Matilda II. These were black with white lettering, and I just don’t have small enough numbers and letters to add here, so I just place some white numbers as a representation. I may come back to this if I find appropriately small white numbers and letters.

The tracks are the next problem. The tracks fitted to early Matilda IIs were a standard and distinctive Vickers design with each link comprising a single stamped piece with an open area consisting of two linked crosses, as you can see below.

The IBG tracks are the right overall shape, but they completely lack the open areas in the centre. I spend a lot of fruitless time thinking about how to modify the tracks, but in the end I settle for the simplest solution. I paint the tracks a fairly light grey, than I draw the on the open areas using a black market pen. I then overpaint with a thinned coat of dark grey. This is the result.

The darker areas don’t show up particularly well in this photo, but they are there and just about discernible on the model. Then, I finish off the tracks with some drybrushing in light gunmetal and then give them an overall thinned acrylic brown wash. Then, I paint and add the exhausts. The re-routed exhausts fit fairly well.

Then I give everything a coat of clear varnish before the last step – a wash of dark grey oil to bring out the shadows and make everything look a bit grubby. And that’s it done…

After Action Report

It’s been a very long time since I attempted a conversion, and I’m fairly happy with how this turned out. The plastic card suspension bogies and skid look all right (though I think that even thinner plastic card for the skid might have looked better) and the bits and pieces taken from the IBG Cruiser fit fairly well. My attempts to detail the tracks haven’t really worked at all, though these are still closer than the Airfix tracks. I like to have had more accurate markings, but I’m constrained by what I had in the spares box.

This old Airfix kit isn’t too bad in terms of detail and fit. I like the fact that you can build this as an original Matilda II rather than the Hedgehog variant if you choose, though of course doing that means that you will lack suitable decals whatever version you choose to build. And 1/76 decals are relatively hard to find compared to those for 1/72 kits…

Overall, this was a fun conversion and a simple build, and there just aren’t many small-scale kits of original Matilda IIs as used by the BEF, which makes the conversion feel useful.

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Airfix Matilda Hedgehog (AO2335V) conversion to A12 Matilda II Mk I. Part 1: Suspension and Tracks

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Airfix Matilda Hedgehog (AO2335V) conversion to A12 Matilda II Mk I. Part 1: Suspension and Tracks

Time for something new here on Model Kit World. This is the first of an occasional series of conversion build reviews where I attempt to convert a kit into something a little different. These will be more detailed than my usual build reviews, showing a step-by-step guide to what I have done in case anyone else fancies doing the same.

In this conversion, I want to try to change an Airfix 1/76 Matilda Hedgehog into a Matilda II Mk I as used by 7th Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) in France in 1939/40. I would rather have purchased a base Airfix Matilda II, but it seems that kit is now discontinued. It seems that the only currently available kit featuring the Airfix Matilda is the Hedgehog variant, a version with a rocket launcher on the rear hull. Happily, this kit contains the complete original kit with an extra sprue for the Hedgehog launcher. The launcher simply fits over the rear hull and there are no new mounting holes or anything else. So, if you want to build a basic Matilda II from the Hedgehog kit, all you have to do is ignore the parts for the launcher (and find some new decals). Even the long-range rear fuel tank and mountings, which you can’t use if you fit the Hedgehog launcher, are still provided.

I want to convert this:

Into this, an A12 Matilda II of the BEF in France in 1940.

Although it isn’t explicitly stated, the Airfix kit probably represents an A12 Matilda II Mk. II or later. The most obvious visual change from the original version was replacing the co-axial Vickers water-cooled machine gun with an air-cooled BESA machine gun. Initially I thought that all that would be required was to create a co-axial Vickers machine gun and a new paint scheme. However a bit of research (and you do need to do a fair amount of research for any conversion) suggests that there are actually several changes needed.

Obviously, the co-axial machine gun mount will have to be changed to the Vickers style, which had its own external mantlet, as shown above.

All the Matilda IIs of 7th RTR in France had their suspension jacked up to increase ground clearance. This pushed the suspension bogies down so that the top of the bogies projected just below the bottom of the side hull plates. This is actually quite a striking change to the way that these Matildas looked and it’s something I will have to address. You can see what I mean on the photo above of a knocked-out BEF Matilda in France. 

All 7th RTR Matildas also had a large tail skid added to the rear of the hull. This was fabricated in the field to improve trench-crossing ability and was made from welded plates of steel. The exhaust silencer was moved inside this skid and the left hand exhaust pipe was re-routed to pass into the left side of this skid while the right hand exhaust was moved to the underside of the hull where it was routed into the right side of the skid. You can see the tail skid and the new exhaust arrangement in the image above of another knocked-out BEF Matilda in France.

The tracks provided with the Airfix Matilda are supposed to be the later tracks fitted to the Mk. II onwards. They aren’t very accurate, but the first models of Matilda II were fitted with a completely different style of track, which you can also see above. The Airfix tracks don’t look anything like those. Finally, all the first batch of Matildas had only a single headlight, mounted on the left side of the front hull. There are other detail differences, but at this scale, these are the only five visual changes that I’ll be trying to make to the Airfix kit.

I’ll be scratch-building most of the new bits, with a couple of exceptions where I’ll be using the Vickers machine gun mantlet and tracks from a previously completed RPM Cruiser Mark I. That’s in 1/72 scale rather than 1/76, but the difference is so small that I don’t think it will be noticeable.

Suspension

The first step is building new suspension bogies which can be placed lower than those on the kit. Here’s the starting point.

As you can see, the bogies are moulded-in parts of the hull sides. They’re also the wrong shape. This detail from a drawing of a BEF Matilda II Mk. I shows what I’m aiming for.

The first step is to remove the existing bogies and sand the inner hull side smooth.

Then, I make twenty bogie plates from thin plastic card. The ten that will go on the outside get bolts (carefully cut off a 1/35 kit) and lightening holes. Some of which are almost in the right place… The inner plates won’t really be visible on the finished model, so I leave them plain.

Then, I attach the rollers from the kit (minus the mounting spindles) on to the bogie plates and add a small mounting strip of plastic card.

Then, these are fixed to the outer hull plate, to which a thin strip of plastic card has already been added. You do have to be careful to replicate the location and spacing of the original bogies. It all looks a bit messy from the inside, but this won’t be seen when it’s complete.

From the outside it looks all right. Here’s one modified and one original outer hull plate.

Then, the sprocket, idler, jockey wheel and internal bogie plates are added and the inner and outer hull side halves are joined.

And this is where I end up – with two completed hull side assemblies with modified suspension bogies.

Tracks

I’ll be using the tracks from the 1/72 RPM Cruiser Tank Mk. I. These are visually much closer to the tracks fitted to the first Matilda IIs, and I think that perhaps they can be enhanced even more at the painting stage. The only problem is, these are hard plastic tracks that are moulded with the sprocket, idler, roadwheels and return rollers modelled integrally. Time to get the files out… Here’s the starting point.

First, I cut off the roadwheels, sprocket, etc.  

Then, I cut sections off the track and bend and file until they fit the Matilda running gear.

Then, I join and blend the sections and this is what I end up with. Certainly not perfect, but I think it’s better than using the inaccurate Airfix tracks.

Of course, this approach means that I’ll have to paint the tracks, rollers, etc. in-situ, but I can live with that if the result is better-looking and more accurate tracks.

And in the next thrilling episode, I’ll be tackling the hull and turret. See you then!

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Airfix 1/76 Cromwell IV Tank (A02338) Build Review

The way in which the tracks are provided in this kit means that I will be painting and assembling the tracks, roadwheels, idlers, sprockets and lower hull before I start painting the upper hull. As usual, I’ll be brush painting everything.

The lower hull comprises seven parts and assembles without any problems and without the need for any filler.

I attach the upper hull and add all the other bits and pieces to that, other than for the rear mudguards and the side-pieces for the track guards, which I’ll leave off until the tracks are complete and in place. Fit is great with one exception: the part on the rear hull arrowed below. This part has two pegs that are supposed to fit into two holes in the upper hull. But the holes are too small (or the pegs are too big) and I had to use a 1mm drill to enlarge the holes before this part would fit properly.

I then added the inner halves of the roadwheels, idlers and sprockets to the lower hull. The tracks fit over these and are retained in place by the outer halves which are fixed in place after the tracks. Some care is needed when fitting the sprockets as these must mesh with the gaps between treads on the tracks, so dry-fitting and adjustment is needed before the inner halves of the sprockets are fixed in place.

With the inner wheels in place, I try a dry fit of the tracks, and they look pretty good. 

Then, it’s on to the turret. The armour plates on the sides and rear are separate parts, but fit is generally very good. The only issue is where the mantlet and front plate join the turret. Here, there’s a distinct gap.

This is odd, mainly because fit everywhere else is very good, but I don’t think I messed up construction, so some filler will be required.

The completed turret sits nicely on the hull once it’s done. The last bit of construction before I start painting is the main gun. And it’s a bit of a faff. The barrel and one half of the muzzle come as a single part with the other (and very tiny) half of the muzzle as a separate part. This means that the muzzle opening is open without the need for slide moulding, but fit and location of the half of the muzzle isn’t great.

Careful sanding is required to get something that looks even approximately right. Once the muzzle half is added, I notice that the opening at the front is too small and clearly not circular, so I end up having to drill it out anyway!

Time to start painting. First, the tracks get a coat of Vallejo dark grey, followed by dry-brushing with gunmetal and a wash of acrylic brown. I also paint the lower hull as well as the inner and outer halves of the sprockets, roadwheels and idlers. I’m using Vallejo Russian Uniform as the base colour. This is initially a little light, but previous experience suggests that once it gets a coat of varnish and a dark grey wash, it should look all right.

Then the tracks are pushed into place and the outer halves of the wheels are glued into place – this also holds the tracks in position.

I did find painting the roadwheel tyres difficult here. Hell, I always find painting 1/76 roadwheel tyres challenging, but these were even more fiendishly difficult than usual. The main problem is that the small outer lip of the wheels is barely defined at all, making it hard to follow with a brush. It takes several attempts before I get something I’m moderately happy with. I also highlight the hubs and bolts with a lighter version of the base colour.

Overall, I like this method of track construction. It’s easy and straightforward and even I find it difficult to get it wrong. OK, so I still feel that the tracks could have had more detail, but in general, this isn’t bad. With the tracks in place, I add the small side-pieces at the front and rear of each track guard. There is no clearance at all between these and the tracks and on one side at the front, I had to sand down the outer edge of the track to get this part to fit properly. Fortunately, this isn’t visible once the side piece is in place.

Then, the upper hull is painted with several thinned coats of the base colour and some dry-brushed highlights are added using a lightened version of this colour.

Finally, the decals are added (but not the white stars – as noted in in-box review, I don’t think these were used on the tank from 7th Armoured Division for which decals are provided) and I add some chipping in Vallejo German Grey on exposed edges and around hatches. I also paint the tools on the rear hull and the hull and turret machine-guns and then give everything a coat of clear varnish.

Finally, it gets a wash with dark grey oil paint to bring out shadows and make everything look a bit grubby and well-used. And that’s it done.

After Action Report

This was a straightforward build with no major problems. Fit is generally good, the instructions are clear and I do like this method of representing tracks. Detail is generally very good and this ends up looking like a Cromwell, which is about all you can ask for at this scale.

Getting rid of the join where the tip of the muzzle is attached to the gun is fiddly and filler was needed at the front of the turret roof, but otherwise this was a relaxing and enjoyable build. If you want to build a 1/76 Cromwell, this is the only choice, so it’s lucky that it’s a decent kit.

I would have liked to see some more detail on the tracks and perhaps a few items of stowage for the rear hull and a commander figure might have been nice, especially as the turret hatch can be shown open. But overall, these are pretty minor niggles. It’s nice to see an Airfix tank kit that’s up there in most respects with modern kits compared to the older 1/76 offerings from this company which are looking rather tired now. I just wish other small-scale armour kit manufacturers would adopt this method of producing tracks and add more detail…

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Airfix 1/76 Cromwell IV Tank (A02338) In-Box Review and History

Airfix 1/76 Cromwell IV Tank (A02338) In-Box Review and History

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…

History

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.

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Airfix 1/76 Tiger I (A01308V) Build Review

As with the Airfix Sherman I finished recently, I’m going for a fairly quick build here, but there are a couple of things I want to address. These are the lack of mudguards and a turret stowage bin and I intend to fabricate both out of plastic card.

I start by drilling out the main gun. It has been said that the gun on this Airfix Tiger is too thin, and that may be so, but it doesn’t look as silly as the gun on the Sherman, so I’ll use it as is.

Then I assemble the hull – this is in seven parts and it takes some care to get everything approximately lined up. There are still some minor gaps when I finished and these are filled with Tamiya putty. Hatches are added, being careful to get the orientation correct – this is shown accurately on the colour scheme views, but it’s wrong in the instructions.

Next, the turret, and again, fit isn’t great. Again, I use putty to cover the gaps, though I’m able to ignore the large valley at the rear because this will be covered by the stowage bin. I also add the cupola and hatches at this stage.

Then I make the front mudguards – these are very simple, with each comprising just two flat plates that follow the line of the front of the hull and extend almost to the edge of the skirts.

Then, rear mudguards and the stowage bin. These are a little more tricky, but not especially challenging even for my rusty-plastic card building skills.

The it’s the turn of the roadwheels, idlers and sprockets. The idlers and sprockets fit without a problem, but some care is needed with the roadwheels. Part of the problem is that the roadwheels themselves are a loose fit on the spindles on which they are located. Care is needed to ensure that they are straight and aligned. You also need to get the layout right – this is shown correctly in the instructions but wrongly on the side views in the colour schemes.

Spacing also needs some care. On each side there is an inner row of four single wheels, then a row of four doubles then another outer row of four singles. The outer wheels have a collar that faces inwards and that seems to suggest that these wheels should be fitted hard against the row of double wheels, but this is wrong. The outer row of single wheels should be as far from the double wheels as they are from the inner row of single wheels. Getting satisfactory alignment takes a bit of fiddling around to avoid wonky wheels.

Then it’s time to start painting. Everything gets a base coat of dunklegelb (dark yellow) with some highlights added in a few places.

Then a camouflage scheme of irregular stripes of olivegrün is added as per the Airfix instructions. Decals are added when this is finished.

The tracks are painted with an overall dark gunmetal with lighter gunmetal highlights for the treads. Then, they get a wash of brown to indicate rust and dirt. The same wash is used to dirty-up the roadwheels, sprockets and idlers.

Then, everything gets a coat of matt varnish and it’s time to add an oil wash using Abteilung Shadow Brown. I also add the tracks, and these are a little loose. That’s probably better than being too tight, but it does mean that some superglue is need to make the top run sit even close to flat. You can see the before and after below.

Finally, I add the spare track-links on the front hull and it’s done.

After Action Report

As noted in the In-Box review of this kit, there are several things missing here. The lack of mudguards and the turret stowage bin look odd, and I have tried to address these here. However, this kit also lacks things like tools or a stowage box on the front hull, towing cables and exhaust heat shields. These do detract from its overall appearance. That said, the quality of mouldings here is notably better than, for example, the 1/76 Airfix Sherman released just a few years earlier which I reviewed recently.

Despite what it may say on the instructions, this isn’t a Tunisian Tiger; it’s a later model so one of the paint schemes (which isn’t accurate anyway) and one set of decals just don’t apply. Both paint schemes and the box art show rubber tyres, but that is wrong with this type of late Tiger roadwheel. The fit of some parts, notably the roadwheels, really isn’t great and it takes some care to get something that is close to accurate.  The tracks really don’t look very convincing at all.

However, it’s very cheap at well under half the price of some other small-scale Tiger kits, and if there was a “classic” category for kits, this would very definitely fit in it, being more than fifty years old. I built one of these as a kid (and I remember struggling with the roadwheels back then!) so for me, it’s a piece of nostalgia as much as anything else. However, judged purely on its merits as a kit, there probably isn’t a great deal to commend this compared to lots of other, more recent and better small-scale Tiger kits. Unless it brings back memories of childhood, you’re on a really tight budget or you have a particular attachment to 1/76 scale, it’s probably worth paying a little extra to buy something rather more accurate and complete.    

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Airfix 1/76 M4 Sherman Mk. I (A01303V) Build Review

I intend to go for a quick build pretty much OOB, but there are a couple of things I do want to do. The main gun provided with the kit just looks silly – it’s much too thin and I want to replace it. There are also two odd humps on the rear hull where the lifting rings should be – I’ll replace these things with something that looks a little more like the original.

I start with the gun. A piece of circular sprue of an appropriate diameter is cut, lightly tapered and drilled and I use this to replace the wimpy kit version. Not perfect, but an improvement.

I then start to assemble the hull. Fit isn’t great here – the hull sides seem to be slightly warped and even after using tape while the glue sets there are gaps between the hull sides and the front of the transmission cover at the front. A little filler is needed here. I also replace the humps on the hull rear with a couple of plastic-card plates and half-rings.

Assembling the cupola and hatches is a little tricky because location for the hatches isn’t great. It takes a bit of fiddling to get something without large gaps.

The lower hull sides are sanded to remove the sink-marks and part numbers. Then everything gets a coat of MIG Jiminez olive green. As has happened before with this paint, the result is a slightly glossy finish that’s darker than I was aiming for, but as I’ll be using a couple of coats of matt clear varnish, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.  

Then, I paint the roadwheel tyres, a fairly easy job because the rubber tyres are proud of the wheel centres. Assembling the suspension is tricky, mainly due to fit issues. In ten of the twelve roadwheels, the hole in the centre was too small to allow the wheels to be fitted over the spindles on the bogies. I had to drill them out with a 1mm drill. There are also ridges and moulding imperfections on the spindles that attach the bogies to the hull sides – these have to carefully trimmed to get the bogies to fit. Even the sprockets don’t fit well – on one side the fit was fine but on the other, the spindle of the sprocket was too large to fit in the hole in the hull side – I had to drill out the hole with a 2mm drill.

Once the suspension was done, I added some highlights on the hull, suspension and turret then used a final thinned coat of olive green to blend everything in.

Then the decals were applied using Vallejo decal fix and decal softener – I’m going for British 4th Armoured Brigade markings. After that, everything gets a coat of matt, clear varnish which reduces the shine and lightens the overall colour.

Then, the tracks. The T-41 tracks fitted to some Shermans, which is what I think these are supposed to be, comprised thick rubber blocks with steel bars inside fitted between metal retainers and end-pieces. I used black and grey for the blocks and gunmetal for the retainers and end pieces to try to replicate this.

Finally, I used Abteilung Oils Faded Green as a wash to make everything look a bit grubby and to give some detail to the hull, suspension bogies and turret. I also painted the tools on the rear hull – not an easy job as they are not very well defined. Then it got a radio antenna and a final coat of matt varnish and I added the tracks – these are the usual pain to join, but they are a good length and fit well over the sprockets, idlers and roadwheels. This is the end result.

After Action Report

Overall, this looks OK, but it has some problems that make it difficult to recommend. Most experienced modellers are going to want something that is more accurate to a particular model of Sherman and that has sharper mouldings. However, even as a cheap beginner’s kit, this has some drawbacks. Notably, ten of the twelve roadwheels just didn’t fit on the spindles on the bogies – I think that would be a massive frustration for a young modeller.

Other than the fit issues, this is a quick and simple build, and sometimes, that’s rather nice. The main gun provided with the kit is horrible, but it isn’t difficult to replace. Perhaps the best thing is to simply accept this as what it is; a kit from nearly sixty years ago when standards and expectations for small-scale models were lower. What you’ll end up with is a piece of Airfix nostalgia rather than an exemplary Sherman kit. If you are willing to accept that, or perhaps to use this as the basis for building something better, then this is inexpensive way to while-away a few hours.

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Airfix 1/76 M4 Sherman Mk. I (A01303V) In-Box Review and History

Airfix 1/76 M4 Sherman Mk. I (A01303V) In-Box Review and History

In 1961 The Guns of Navarone was one of the big movie success stories, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space and Bonanaza, one of the first television shows to be broadcast in colour, topped the ratings in the US. However, for model kit makers the big news was that Airfix were planning to launch a new series of tank kits. The first three, Churchill, Panther and Sherman were all released that year.

All were released in HO/00 scale. Today, that seems a little odd – it equates to around 1/76 and Airfix already produced several popular aircraft kits in 1/72, so, why didn’t they do the same with these tanks? No-one is entirely certain, but it seems most likely that this was related to the fact that in the late 1950s, a large proportion of Airfix kits were accessories for HO/00 model railways. The very first small figures the company released, Civilians, were intended for use on model railways and produced in the same scale. When Airfix started releasing sets of military figures in 1961, they kept to the same scale. So, it probably seemed to make sense to also make their tanks to the same scale which equates to around 1/76.

Nowadays, that makes Airfix tank kits oddballs amongst the majority of 1/72 AFVs. However, I am keen to see if one of the very first Airfix tanks, released almost sixty years ago is any good. This is the Vintage Classics edition released in 2019 and featuring artwork from 1963.

History

The M4 was one of the most important and widely produced of all tanks of World War Two; only the Russian T-34 was produced in greater numbers. A large proportion of early M4 production was sent to Britain where this tank was given the name Sherman. The name was later formally adopted by the US Army and led to the practice of naming US tanks after American Generals.

The success of the German Blitzkrieg in 1940 shocked the US military into accepting that the tanks they currently had were less than ideal for modern mechanized warfare. Although America was not at that time involved in the war, work immediately began on the design of a new tank. The outcome was the M3 (with variants known as Lee and Grant), a tall, cumbersome design with a one-man turret mounting a small calibre gun and the main armament, a 75mm cannon, mounted in a sponson in the hull. Suspension was derived from the previous M2 light tank, the VVSS (Vertical Volute Spring Suspension) type with three sets of bogies on each side, each with two rubber-tyred roadwheels. The M3 was a stopgap design and work immediately began on a tank using the same lower hull, engine, transmission, suspension and running gear but with a main gun mounted in a revolving turret.

An US M4A1 Sherman in Tunisia

The outcome was the M4, first produced in February 1942. The initial version was the M4A1, with a distinctive cast hull looking a little like an upturned bath-tub and a three-man turret mounting a 75mm main gun. Later versions were upgraded to the new M1 76mm main gun. The 400 hp petrol engine gave good performance but its fuel tanks provided a notable fire hazard.

This was followed by the M4A2, with a hull constructed from flat plates of welded steel and a GM diesel engine. The M4A3 was similar but equipped with a new liquid-cooled Ford V8 500 hp petrol engine. The M4A4 (which is what I think this kit portrays) was introduced in July 1942 and was equipped with the original 75mm main gun and the astonishing Chrysler A57 Multibank engine, essentially five Chrysler inline six-cylinder petrol car engines arranged round a central shaft. This massive and complex engine meant that the rear hull on this variant was slightly longer.

M4A4 Shermans being produced at the Chrysler Plant in 1942. The tank on the right is an M3.

Over 7,000 examples of the M4A4 were manufactured between July 1942 and November 1943 by the Chrysler Corporation. This version was supplied in large numbers to both Britain and Russia and smaller numbers were also used by the US Army. In addition to being used by Russian forces on the Eastern front, this type of Sherman saw action in Sicily and Italy as well as during the invasion of Normandy.

There are a bewildering number of Sherman variants and even within tanks of the same type there are significant differences in things like mantlets, hatches, the transmission cover at the front of the hull and the rear deck. This shouldn’t be surprising given that Sherman production was carried out at eleven separate plants in the United States and the rush to production meant that whatever components were to hand were used.

In many ways, the Sherman was a great tank – it was mechanically reliable, powerful engines gave it good performance, it was roomy inside and its relatively low weight (just over thirty tons) and narrow width made it easy to transport. It was also provided with a gyroscopically stabilised main gun, an innovation in World War Two that theoretically made firing on the move more accurate, though the system proved to be less than 100% reliable.

A British Sherman Mark V in operation in Sicily, 1943

The main problem was that, while this was a good design in 1941, it was no match for German tanks and tank destroyers that began to appear from late 1942. Its 75mm cannon was not capable of penetrating the frontal armour on tanks such as the Panther and Tiger while its own frontal armour was vulnerable to penetration by a range of late-war German tank and anti-tank weapons. As the war progressed, the Sherman was provided with more powerful main guns, improved armour and diesel engines until, by 1945 it had evolved into a formidable fighting vehicle.

What’s in the Box

Inside the box there are four sprues of fairly brittle, green plastic, a set of decals and a set of rubber-band type tracks.

Detail and sharpness of the mouldings isn’t too terrible given the age of this kit, but they are not up to modern standards. The tools moulded on the upper rear hull, for example, are not particularly sharply defined, which will make painting difficult. At least the turret and hull hatches are separate mouldings though there is no internal detail.

There are some obvious issues. Most notably the main gun looks much too thin and too tapered – the 75mm main gun was a chunky piece of kit and helps define the appearance of early Shermans and the part provided with the kit looks completely wrong.  The turret is a little too narrow and lacks detail, particularly on the rear. It also lacks the rear stowage box seen on many Shermans and no front mudguards are provided. Details on the hull are simplified and the moulding of the roadwheels is variable – some aren’t bad while others are very poor indeed and on many, the mounting hole obviously isn’t quite in the centre of the wheel.

The suspension, sprockets and idlers are all greatly simplified though this still just about looks like Sherman suspension. The suspension and running gear on the Airfix 1/76 Lee/Grant tank kit released in 1969, which should be identical to the Sherman, is actually better in all respects.

The tracks are the same type provided with other1/76 Airfix AFV kits, being moulded out of flexible, dark grey plastic that seems impervious to most glues. Detail on the outside of the tracks is a reasonable attempt to replicate the T-41 simple rubber-block type tracks fitted to some Shermans.

One thing that is notable is how much moulding techniques have improved in the last sixty years. There is a lot of flash (even on the tracks), some visible sink-marks (on the hull sides for example) and for some bizarre reason, both hull sides have their part numbers moulded on the outside, between suspension bogies where they will show if not sanded off.

The sprues also show their age – the attachment points to parts is very large in some cases and the way that, for example, the sprockets are attached to the sprues certainly wouldn’t be acceptable now. I generally remove items from sprue with a small craft-knife but some of these look better tackled with a chainsaw.  

Decals are provided for two Shermans; one for a British Army tank from 4th Armoured Brigade in June 1944 and one for an unidentified unit of the US Army. The colour scheme for the British tank is shown in the instructions (which are clear and fairly straightforward) and the US scheme is provided on the back of the box.

One problem here isn’t with the parts themselves, but rather with what they build into.

From around 2013 until the release of the Vintage Classics edition in 2019, the packaging described this kit as a “Sherman M4A2” (and the colour scheme in the instructions for this kit still says the same) but it doesn’t especially look like one of those. The original packaging and current Vintage Cassics box are correct – this is an M4 Sherman Mark I.

However, compared to modern kits that precisely model a specific variant of a particular model, it’s a bit vague in terms of accuracy. Many details are simplified and indifferent moulding quality may be due to the age of the mould, but it certainly isn’t impressive. The too-small main gun (the size and proportion of the main gun are correctly shown on the views on the back of the box, above) and lack of things like mudguards and turret stowage are also disappointing.

Overall, this a kit that is really showing its age, way more than, for example, the Airfix StuG III which I built recently and which dates to just two years later. I’m sorry to say it but, after nearly sixty years of production, this feels like a kit that is probably due for honourable retirement.

Alternatives

There aren’t, as far as I know, any other 1/76 Sherman kits still around. There used to be a 1/76 Matchbox Sherman Firefly, but that went out of production some time ago. Airfix have announced a new Sherman Firefly for release in 2020, but this is claimed to be 1/72 and not 1/76 scale. If you are happy with 1/72, there are several alternatives, but perhaps not as many as you might expect and nothing to compare with, for example, the number of different T-34 kits available, especially if you want to model an early version of the Sherman with the 75/76mm main gun.

Trumpeter do a fairly nice 1/72 US M4 Sherman Tank. This has well detailed suspension and tracks and can be built as an early Sherman though it does have issues with the front hull – it’s too steeply angled. Here it is on the Trumpeter website.

Probably the best 1/72 early Sherman comes from Dragon who do an exceptionally nice Sherman Mark III (M4A2) with decals and paint schemes for British use in the western desert. It is extremely well detailed and accurate and includes PE parts. It can be seen on the Dragon web site.

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Fantastic Plastic – Growing up with Airfix Kits

Ah Airfix kits – plastic balm to childhood woes, fantasy fuel and source of endless joy and fascination.  I first became addicted to Airfix model kits in 1969 when I used my hard-saved pocket money to buy a 1/72 kit of an Angel Interceptor featured in the television show Captain Scarlet from our local paper shop (this was also around the zenith of my Captain Scarlet obsession). I did this against the advice of my parents, who advised that it might be “too difficult“. 

However, some hours later I emerged from my bedroom triumphantly bearing something that looked not entirely unlike an Angel Interceptor.  I was excited and not a little proud to have transformed a pile of plastic bits into something which looked uncannily (to my somewhat biased ten-year old eyes) like the original.  For around the next five years, Airfix plastic model kits dominated a large part of my life to a probably unhealthy extent.

This is where it all started…

The fascination with model kits is a difficult thing to explain to a non-addict.  After all, what’s the point in buying a small pile of parts when you could just buy, say, a rather nice and ready-made Corgi die-cast model of the same thing?  For me at least, the answer is in two parts.  First, there’s a deep satisfaction to be had in actually creating something yourself (“This is my Angel Interceptor.  There are many like it, but this is mine…“).  I have spent a fair part of my adult life restoring old motorcycles.  And I’d guess that the satisfaction that comes from transforming several boxes of bits into a viable motorcycle comes from the same root.  A sort of 1/1 scale kit.  I certainly feel far more connection to a vehicle I have rebuilt myself than I ever do for something I just buy and ride.  And so it was with models. 

And then there was price.  Part of the genius of Airfix lay in producing a range of kits which were, at their lower levels, easily within pocket money range.  I could afford to buy an Airfix Angel Interceptor out of a single week’s pocket money.  Die cast models were much more expensive and would have required saving for several weeks, a gulf of time not to be lightly considered when you’re ten.

And I guess that there is yet another important reason why small children are attracted to model kits (and train sets, toy cars, tiny soldiers, doll’s houses and all the other miniature paraphernalia of childhood).  To a small child, the world can be a frightening and confusing place filled with endless rules, baffling conventions, potentially violent big boys and a vague apprehension that it will someday be necessary to enter the adult world and perform some useful (but probably spirit-crushingly dull) job.  And of course for boys, there are girls, who are especially confusing and irritating.  A miniature world is a domain over which an uncertain small boy can have absolute control.  A refuge which never surprises or confounds and conforms entirely to a boy’s views on the right and proper order and place of things.  In short, a safe source of imaginative escape.

Airfix kits certainly hit all the right buttons for me.  They were not only cheap, they were readily available from newsagents, Woolworths and most corner shops.  As were the requisite glue and paints.  And apart from the Angel Interceptor, Airfix produced a fine range of kits which modelled military hardware in encyclopaedic detail – my Captain Scarlet obsession wore off relatively quickly, but my interest in World War Two hardware still endures.  Initially, there seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of wonderful kits to build.  However, once the exciting Spitfire, Messerschmitt Bf109, Mustang, Tiger Tank, etc. had been completed it became necessary to provide a modelling fix via more mundane fare – I recall trying (without notable success) to muster enthusiasm for the Grumman Gosling.  A fine aircraft to be sure, but a tiny kit utterly devoid of guns or bombs, a major drawback as far as I was concerned at a time when the worth of most kits was judged on how many of each were included.

Artwork by Roy Cross for the Airfix 1/72 scale Airco DH.4

One of the best things (for me, anyway) about Airfix kits of the 1960s was the fantastic box-top art.  Each kit was illustrated with an exciting and vibrant painting showing the subject in action.  Some of these really are works of art, and I quickly decided that the illustrator involved was a genius.  It was only much later that I came to realise that the artwork for most of my favourites was produced by a man named Roy Cross, a talented commercial artist who worked for Airfix from the early 60s until 1974.  And that I was right about his being a genius.  The paintings he produced to enhance Airfix packaging are now rightly regarded as classics of aviation and maritime art and are highly collectable.  

I was horrified in the mid-1970s (though by that time I had lost most of my interest in kits) to note that this wonderful and dramatic artwork had been clumsily defaced to remove any hint of violence.  Subsequent kits featured basically the same pictures but sans gunfire, explosions, burning vehicles, crashing aircraft, etc.  The results look rather bland and uninteresting compared to the originals and hint at a complete lack of understanding of why small boys build model warplanes and tanks.  No wonder Airfix sales fell-off so badly in the late 70s and early 80s.

Airfix packaging for the P-40E Kittyhawk from around 1965 (top) and 1978 (bottom).  Note that the fleeing troops and burning armoured car and trucks have been removed from the later version of the illustration.

I found most Airfix kits surprisingly easy to construct, with the exception of bi-planes where it was fiendishly difficult to attain a satisfactory congruence between the upper lower wings.  I solved the problem by mainly building monoplanes.  However, it wasn’t long before I came to find the monochrome appearance of my kits troubling.  So, one week my pocket money was spent on two tins of Humbrol gloss enamel paint (one dark green the other dark brown) and a single small paintbrush.  On the day of my purchase, my mother went out for the evening leaving my father to “keep an eye” on me.  I knew from past experience that this would involve him happily spending the evening reading the newspaper and watching television providing I didn’t do anything loud enough to attract his attention.  Once he was settled, I quietly retired behind the sofa with the paint and a 1/72 Airfix Westland Lysander which I had completed some weeks earlier.

This was my first experience of enamel paint (all I had used before were the rather odd smelling poster paints provided at school) and I was immediately impressed with the density and easy coverage of both colours.  After an hour or so, I sat back and contemplated the finished result.  There was more paint on the canopy than was ideal, certainly, and the use of a single brush meant that the brown and green camouflage pattern wasn’t perhaps quite as clearly delineated as I would have liked, but overall, I was well satisfied. This was just so much better than the previously rather bland, grey Lysander.

However, I was a little perturbed to note that the paint didn’t seem to be showing any signs of drying and that my hands were liberally covered in brown and green paint.  Rubbing these on my trousers strangely transferred lots of paint to the fabric without seeming to noticeably lessen the stains on my hands.  I also became aware that the carpet in the vicinity of the kit was liberally spattered with blobs of paint.  Especially where it had dripped off the wheel spats, making interesting starburst patterns in brown and green on the mainly orange and red pattern (hey, it was the early seventies).  Spirited rubbing with the end of a sleeve only seemed to make these patches larger, though again copious quantities mysteriously adhered to my jumper.  Interesting stuff, this enamel paint. 

Another Roy Cross classic, this time for the 1/400 scale Tirpitz

I retired quietly to the bathroom to wash the paint off my hands, something I achieved easily at school with the paints provided there. However, quickly I discovered that a) the paint was impervious to water and b) my face also bore some impressive streaks of brown and green warpaint.  The paint on my face finally succumbed to the application of a nailbrush, with the loss of only a few layers of skin.  This was less successful on my hands, though it did leave the bristles of the nail brush an interesting shade of pale green. 

I also became aware that my hair sported a number of brown and green tufty clumps.  In my intense concentration, I had clearly been running my painty hands through my hair.  This had now partly dried and resisted the attentions of both nailbrush and flannel despite the fact that both seemed to attract vast quantities of paint. Hmmm…  However, I spotted a handy pair of nail scissors by the bath and shrewdly snipped off the offending clumps of hair and flushed them down the toilet.

I was sneaking back to the living room to retrieve the Lysander when my mother entered the house.  My father’s attention was finally attracted by her shrieks of dismay when she saw me.  I had imagined that the cunning repairs I had effected to my hair were invisible, but in retrospect her horrified reaction makes me think that it probably resembled the pelt of a mangy dog, with bald patches interspersed with the remaining painty streaks. 

Interestingly, during the following altercation between my parents it became apparent that in some way I didn’t fully understand, she clearly blamed my hapless father for this situation.  Sensing an advantage, I tearfully owned up to the paint spattered carpet and he was also comprehensively blamed for that.  An altogether satisfactory outcome from my point of view though I did learn to be wary of the tenacious qualities of enamel paint.  And the incident engendered a certain wary bitterness on the part of my father towards my model-making activities.

At around thirteen years old and at the height of my kit mania, I confidently announced my choice of future career path – I was going to be a writer for Airfix magazine.  My father helpfully pointed out that I was an idiot, and that I’d need a proper, regular job that paid real money and didn’t involve mucking about with glue and bits of plastic.  Somewhat chastened at this lack of enthusiasm, I came to realise that this was best kept as a secret ambition, not to be exposed to the scorn of unfeeling adults.  Like many of my ambitions.  Especially the ones involving Lady Penelope from Thunderbirds and Catwoman. 

I’m always amazed at how deeply unaware parents are of the secret inner lives of their children (or was that just my parents?).  As a child, you quickly learn that it’s necessary to share information on a strictly “need-to-know” basis with a clear classification of data.  Some harmless information may be shared freely with everyone (good school reports, successful cycle repairs, edited holiday highlights, etc.).  Some information is best shared only with acquaintances (interest in some movie or television programme with lots of gooshy bits, tough homework, etc.).  Some information must be restricted to close friends only (inappropriate career ambitions, crush on a girl/teacher, how to make a Molotov cocktail, etc).  And some information must remain forever unshared (essentially anything involving Catwoman or a burning desire to discover the location of Tracy Island as well as things like inadvertently breaking next door’s shed window during the testing of a home-made catapult, etc.).  I doubt that most parents really know more than about ten percent of what goes on inside their children’s heads.  Which, all things considered, is probably for the best.

Overall, my father was probably right.  After all, here I am still writing about Airfix model kits and still not getting paid for it.  I still don’t have a proper job and I haven’t yet managed to decide what I want to do when I grow up.  But nevertheless, Airfix kits in particular and model kits in general will always have a special place in my heart.  A glimpse of a Roy Cross box-top illustration brings such a jolt of nostalgic reminiscence that it’s almost painful.  Looking at pages from the 1969 Airfix catalogue has me cooing over old kits in the way rational people do over small children.  Airfix kits may not have been the most accurate, detailed or well-made but to me they were and always will be special. Though I still think that enamel paint was an invention of the Devil produced specifically to test the fortitude of small boys and the strained benevolence of parents.