This is a longer build review than usual for the simple reason that this is a complex and detailed kit. So, sit back, relax and fortify yourself with your chosen beverage and let’s see how the Heller M4A2 turned out.
The first step with this particular kit is deciding which of the three tanks for which decals are provided to model? That will then allow me to decide which of the alternative parts to use. After some research, I decide to build Brive la Gaillarde, an M4A2 of 3ème Escadron, 12ème Régiment de Cuirassiers. This tank was used by Division Leclerc from its initial landing in Normandy on Utah Beach on 1st August 1944 through to the end of the war. After some Googling, I find a wartime photograph of this particular tank:
This photograph clearly shows which glacis plate, transmission cover and tracks to use. I haven’t found a clear photo of this tank that shows the running gear, so I’ll go with what the instructions in terms of which roadwheels, idlers and sprockets to use. With that decided, I can confidently begin the build.
I start as per the instructions by assembling the lower hull and the suspension, sprockets, idlers and roadwheels. No problems with assembly and fit and location of all parts is very good.
Then, it’s on to the upper hull. Again, I follow the instructions and add things like the rear lights and brush-guards. I notice that Heller helpfully provide a painting guide for the rear lights.
However, there is a problem. Each rear light is approximately the size of a gnat’s eyeball. Here they are next to the head of a match:
I have a feeling I’ll be skipping this part of painting… Anyway, assembly of the rear hull proceeds without any major hitches. The fit on the rear deck and rear hull plates is wonderful. You will need to drill out a few holes in various places, depending on which tank you are building, but these are clearly shown in the instructions. The instructions note that You must also carefully cut away half of the bolts on the upper edge of the rear hull plate. It’s only when I have done this that I realise that you can’t actually see these on the finished model because they’re hidden by the rear stowage box.
The fit of the glacis plate is less impressive and there is a distinct gap on either side. A little Tamiya white putty is used to fill these.
The instructions suggest leaving joining the upper and lower hull halves separate until the tracks are in place. However, a quick dry assembly shows that there is also a distinct gap between the front edge of the glacis plate and the upper rear edge of the transmission cover.
This will also need to be filled before painting, so I think I may assemble the hull before painting and add the tracks later. Fortunately, there seems to be sufficient clearance between the track-guards and return rollers and sprockets to allow this.
I join the upper and lower hull halves and then fill the gap between glacis plate and transmission cover using more Tamiya white putty . This isn’t easy – you need to get a very thin line of filler into the gap but without covering the bolt detail on the transmission cover. I finally get something that just about looks acceptable and move on to completing the upper hull assembly.
The rest of the bits and pieces are added to the hull. Everything fits well and, as you can see, I have decided to go for open hatches. I leave off the tools and other accessories at the moment to paint these separately.
Then, It’s on to the gun and mount. The barrel comprises two parts, with the hollow tip moulded separately.
When it’s glued in place, it’s obvious that some sanding and filling will be needed conceal the join.
With some careful sanding and the use of a tiny amount of Tamiya putty, I get something that looks fairly smooth if slightly tapered.
Then, the turret. Fit is great with no filler required anywhere. Some parts, such as the antenna base and the lifting rings are tiny and need careful handling and placement, but overall, no complaints.
The finished turret looks very good indeed. It’s a mini work of art in itself and, as you can see, I have gone for open hatches here too.
And that’s pretty much construction done. One thing I did notice that isn’t included here are the towing shackles on the front of the hull. I was thinking of adding a tow cable when I noticed that there is nowhere to connect it to! This does seem a little odd on a kit that is otherwise so detailed, and I improvise something out of the spares box – they look a little oversize, but I can live with that.
With that job done, it’s time to start painting. First, the hull and turret get a light base coat of white, followed by dark olive drab in areas of deep shadow under the track guards and on the rear hull. The inside of the hull and turret get a coat of black, to make sure that nothing of the interior will be visible through the open hatches and then it all gets a coat of clear varnish.
It gets a top coat of Tamiya TS-28, Olive Drab 2. Then, I distress the finish with a scourer to bring up the highlights and then give it a coat of clear varnish mixed with a little Mig Olivegrun.
Next task is to add the decals using Vallejo decal fix and decal softener, and that’s not a five-minute job. French tanks had lots of markings and they are all replicated here – there are twenty decals on the hull alone! I was disappointed to note that some of the decals are badly out of register – that’s a surprise on a kit that otherwise exudes quality. Otherwise, the decals go on well with no silvering or other issues. I also paint the inside of the hatches, the turret and hull machine guns and the roadwheel tyres before giving everything another coat of clear varnish.
Then, it’s on to an oil pin wash using dark grey to bring up the shadows.
Then, I join and paint the tracks. I keep it simple – a dark grey for the rubber blocks, lighter gunmetal for the metal parts with soft pencil highlighting and then an acrylic brown wash for rust and dust. Then, I put them in place and I discover that they’re so short that one of the joins immediately pulls apart.
OK, in the hope that someone from Heller (or any other tank kit manufacturer) is reading this, I have a message for you: if you must provide your otherwise finely engineered plastic kit with crappy, unglueable, vinyl tracks, MAKE THEM LONG ENOUGH! Please! Because, if you don’t then the fragile joints break when you try to stretch them into position. And that makes me cross, which makes me shout at my cat, and he’s a sensitive soul. This is just so frustrating – I mean, this is generally a very fine kit indeed, so, why spoil it with too-short vinyl tracks? OK, rant over. I’m calm now. Really. Almost.
With the tracks finally wrestled into position (and the cat off in a sulk) all that remains to complete this kit is to add a stretched-sprue radio antenna the tools and other bits and pieces to the hull and turret. And there are lots of these including jerrycans and kitbags.
And that’s the Heller M4A2 (finally!) finished.
After Action Report
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. Some of the decals with this kit were badly out of register, which is disappointing. The vinyl tracks are, as usual, resistant to every known form of glue and they’re too short. Which is very irritating indeed. No tow cable or shackles are provided. Things like the brush-guards over the lights are too thick.
Other than these drawbacks, this is just an outstanding kit. It’s well-engineered, accurate and complete. In fact, I really don’t see how you could have a better representation of an M4A2 in 1/72. This very completeness provides its own problems – you will be dealing with very tiny parts, and these aren’t always easy to paint or to position accurately. I never did paint the tail lights and I was delighted to note that you can’t actually see these on the finished model because they’re covered by the jerrycans stowed on the rear hull. There are lots of options too, and it takes some research to be certain which to use. But at least you’ll have a good stock of unused parts for your spares box when you’re done.
For myself, I found the complexity here a little daunting. Dealing with things like accessories is simple in 1/35, but it’s more of a challenge in 1/72. The last tank kit I built in this scale was the tiny IGC Sandurni from Minairons, which has just three main parts. You could make many arguments that this is a better kit. It’s certainly a much more detailed kit yet, overall, I enjoyed the experience of building the IGC Sandurni more than this one. But that’s purely my own personal reaction. Overall, I think the finished kit here looks all right. But for my next 1/72 tank, I’ll be looking for something a little simpler!
And here’s my cat, Clarence, wondering whether my next kit will involve too-tight vinyl tracks. He likes to watch me kit-building, but he doesn’t like shouting. And no, it isn’t an optical illusion – he really is cross-eyed. Readers who remember kid’s TV shows of the 1960s may even be able to guess why he’s called Clarence.
So, Heller, Airfix, Trumpeter, et al. Enough already with the too-tight vinyl tracks. For Clarence’s sake, please, give us something better.