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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 – Coming soon

Fantastic Plastic: Growing up with Airfix kits

Italeri 1/72 AH-64D (080) Build Review

One thing I noticed when I began this build (and which I missed in the In-Box Review) is that there are two sprues here, but though they are completely different, both are identified as “080 A”, moulded into a tab on the sprue. The instructions refer to them as A and B. This isn’t by any means a major problem, but it does perhaps indicate a certain carelessness in the making of the moulds for this kit.  As you follow this build, you’ll realise that this isn’t the only issue with these parts…

Anyway, I start on this kit by attempting to improve the shape of the rear of the fuselage sponsons. These are completely the wrong shape so I start by cutting off the rear of the existing sponson.

Then, I create a new rear part of the sponson using plastic card and filler. The result certainly isn’t perfect, but I believe it is closer than the kit version.

Next I work on the cockpit tub. No real problems here and I don’t spend a great deal of time on detail given that this is obviously the wrong cockpit for this model of AH-64. The seats are a problem. They include harness shoulder straps, which is nice. But they also have distinct ejector pin marks right in the centre of the rear seat cushion, right between the straps. If you sand off the pin marks, you’ll lose the strap detail…

Before I join the fuselage halves, I check the fit of the cockpit, and I’m glad I do because it’s around 2mm short.

In the image below, you can also see just how bad fit between the fuselage halves is – look at the area in front of the cockpit and the mounting hole for the upper sensor module… I use filler to build up the front edge of the cockpit in the hope that this will help to hide the gap.

Then, I join the fuselage halves. Fit, frankly, is horrible. There are locating pins, but even using these as guides, the two halves just don’t match up – this is especially noticeable on the top of the nose, ahead of the cockpit. After lots of sanding and the use of a fair amount of filler, I end up with a fairly smooth join, but of course I lose all the raised panel lines and rivet detail in the areas where I have sanded the joins.

Then I assemble the halves of the engine pods. Again, these have locating pins and again, the top and bottom halves just don’t line up. This leaves a very noticeable seam between the halves. I’m going to sand and fill to remove this, but this also means that I’ll be removing virtually all the detail from the outside of the pods. Just take a look at the image below (and yes, I have used the locating pegs and holes to line the pod halves up). I really can’t remember the last time that I dealt with this level of fit issue, though I suspect it was around 1972… 

After a great deal of filling and sanding, I end up with engine pods that look just about OK, though as you can see, they now lack surface detail on the outside. I have also added the undercarriage and the horizontal stabilator, which is tricky to fit straight.

I go on to add other bits and pieces to the fuselage, including the canopy and the underwing stores. I used filler to build up the fuselage ahead of the canopy, but more was needed at the rear of the canopy to cover a small gap. In addition, the Hellfire missiles really don’t look anything like the originals and the endcaps for the Hydra rocket pods fit badly – lots of sanding and filling is required to get smooth cylinders.

Final construction of the fuselage is completed and happily, I don’t encounter any further serious fit problems. I also construct the rotor head, blades and Longbow radar and these go together precisely and  with no problems at all – hurrah! These are temporarily fitted, but I’ll be leaving them off until painting is finished. I also Ieave off a couple of small antenna that don’t seem to appear on operational versions of the AH-64D – I guess that these were perhaps unique to the prototype? As you can guess, I haven’t enjoyed this build at all but now, finally, I’m ready to start painting.

Masking the cockpit is less of a problem than it can be simply because the canopy comprises mainly large, flat panels. I go for several thinned coats of Vallejo Russian Uniform for the base coat. The instructions suggest olive drab, but I’m going for a British Army Air Corps version and these seem to be a lighter green (and current US Army AH-64s are painted grey, not green). I add some highlights and pick out details like the sensor panels and hydra rocket heads in a light grey and add the decals.

Finally it gets a grey oil wash to pick out details and make the whole thing look well-used. Most images of operational AH-64s show them with blotchy, discoloured and chipped paint. With that done, this Italeri AH-64 is finally finished. One thing I’m particularly disappointed about on the finished kit is that the pilot’s control panel is clearly visible, and is equally clearly the wrong panel for this model of AH-64.

After Action Report

If you want to build a small scale AH-64, buy one of the Academy kits. Or anything else at all rather than this, the kit that time forgot. I have read in other reviews that fit on this kit is “indifferent.” I disagree. Fit is only indifferent in the good parts. In many places, it’s utter crap. You’ll be left with the choice of leaving very visible seams, or sanding and filling which will remove much of the raised surface detail. Some parts, such as the cockpit, just don’t fit the opening in the fuselage.

I had initially thought of adding some detail here. The M230 chain gun, for example, lacks the distinctive protective cage fitted on all Apaches and the Hellfire missiles used by the British Army have distinctive markings for which decals are not provided. But really, I couldn’t be bothered given all the other problems I encountered here. By the time I finished just building this kit, I was losing the will to live…

I had been really looking forward to building an aviation subject for the first time in a number of years before I began this build but, as a wise man once said: “This is no fun, no fun at all.*” I’m not normally a giver-upper, but I really struggled to find the enthusiasm to finish this build. I have built some old kits since I re-started kit-building a few years back, but I haven’t come across anything quite this bad. Almost every single step of the build involved dealing with deficiencies in fit and mouldings that just don’t match.

Does crap fit and a lack of accuracy make you feel nostalgic for the kits you built as a kid? If so, you might, possibly, enjoy this one. Otherwise, I can’t think of any reason why you’d waste your money on this piece of shoddy tat. Avoid at all costs!

* If you care, it was Johnny Rotten, at the Sex Pistol’s last gig in San Francisco in 1978.

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Italeri 1/72 AH-64D (080) In-Box Review and History

Italeri 1/72 AH-64D (080) In-Box Review and History

Observant readers will already have noticed that this isn’t a review of a tank or AFV kit. When I first got interested in kit-building back in the early 1970s, I mainly built 1/72 scale aircraft. So, this is a bit of nostalgia for me and hey, it’s a kind of flying tank, so I feel that it does sort of fit here…

I first encountered the AH-64 back in the early 2000s. For more than twenty years, I lived with my family in a remote glen in the Scottish Highlands. It was a great place for aircraft spotting, being part of an RAF low-flying training area (I recall watching one RAF Jaguar flying so low over a remote loch that it left a boat-like wake on the placid waters…). Late one night, I was walking my dogs in the forest near my home. It was dark, but there was an almost full moon, so I didn’t need my head-torch. Then, I heard something strange approaching…

It wasn’t a jet, it sounded too slow and low to be a piston-engine aircraft and it lacked the characteristic “whop, whop” of a helicopter. This was a low growl that seemed to be heading my way. I watched in amazement as two squat, angular helicopters appeared, flying just a couple of hundred feet above the trees and visible only because they were silhouetted against the moonlit sky. That was the first time I ever saw an AH-64 (though I guess these were probably the version used by the British Army, the WAH-64) and I was well-impressed.

However, I have never attempted a kit of this classic attack helicopter. So when I saw this Italeri kit on special offer, I couldn’t resist. It was first released back in 1987 as the AH-64 and then updated in 1991 to portray the AH-64D version. Given that the basic elements of this kit are now well over thirty years old, is it any good?

History

The notion of the attack helicopter really emerged during the conflict in Vietnam. A new version of the iconic Bell UH-1 Iroquois transport helicopter (more often known as the Huey) was created with an entirely new fuselage which lacked a cargo bay and had seats for just a pilot and gunner. In the mid-1970s, Hughes Helicopters began work on an entirely new aircraft, the Type 77. The first prototype flew in 1975 and by 1986, the design had been designated AH-64 Apache and was entering service with the US Armed Forces. By that time, Hughes Helicopters had been bought over by McDonnel-Douglas and from 1997, Boeing Defense, Space & Security took over production so this is now generally referred to as the Boeing AH-64.

An AH-1 Cobra, one of the first attack helicopters.

This one tough helicopter. The pilot and CPG/Gunner sit in a bathtub constructed of Kevlar armour and separated by a plexiglass blast shield. All important systems include redundancy, so the AH-64 can keep flying with significant damage. On the original version, a Martin Marietta TADS/PNVS targeting and night vision navigation system was combined with the Honeywell helmet-mounted day/night gunsight and a McDonnell Douglas/Bell mast-mounted day/night target tracking sight to allow target acquisition and tracking day or night.

An early AH-64

Armament comprises an M230 chain gun carried under the nose and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and Hydra 70 rocket pods on hardpoints under the stub wings. From 1997, the AH-64D added a large radar dome over the rotor mast housing an AN/APG-78 Longbow fire-control radar (FCR) target acquisition system. The D version also introduced a new “glass” cockpit featuring several Multi-Function Displays (MFDs). The Longbow radar allowed the acquisition and simultaneous tracking of up 128 ground targets. After the introduction of the D version, the original (non-radar equipped) Apaches were retrospectively designated AH-64A.

A WAH-64D, a version provided with Rolls-Royce engines and operated by the British Army Air Corps, not the Royal Army

A single AH-64D can pop-up from behind dover, exposing only its radar dome for a few seconds. It can then drop back behind cover and fire Hellfire missiles at up to 8 of those targets. A secure data link can share radar data and allow other AH-64Ds which remain behind cover to engage these same targets.  This is a devastating tank-killer.

A US Army AH-64 escorts a UH-60 Black Hawk in Iraq.

The AH-64 has been used in combat by US forces in Operation Just Cause in Panama, and in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan during the first and second Gulf Wars and during the NATO intervention in the former Yugoslavia in 1999. The British version of this helicopter, the WAH-64, has been used extensively to support British Army operations in Afghanistan.

What’s in the Box?

In the side-opening box you’ll find two sprues moulded in dark green plastic and a single transparent sprue.

The transparent canopy is admirably clear, but the cockpit framing isn’t particularly well-defined, which will make masking and painting tricky. The quality of mouldings and detail are variable and there is some flash. All panels lines are raised and rivets look a little oversize.

Some things, like the rotor head for example, are very nicely moulded and detailed.   

On the other hand, the M230 chain gun is quite crude and lacks detail.

The biggest visual problem here concerns the shape of the sponsons on either side of the fuselage. The rear part on both sides is based on the very first AH-64D prototype (which is probably unsurprising given that this kit was released back in 1991). You can see an image of the prototype AH-64D and the kit fuselage below.

On all operational versions of this helicopter, the rear of the sponsons are a quite different shape. Strangely, the side views in the instructions show the sponsons as provided, but the colour side views on the back of the box show the correct shape for the left-side sponson. Why? You can see what the rear of the sponson should actually look like on the image below.

You can either accept that what you’re building is a model of the prototype (though the markings provided aren’t suitable for that) or you will have to do some work to re-shape the rear of both sponsons if you want to portray an operational version.

Decals and colour schemes are provided for three Apaches covering the US Army, the Dutch Army and for a WAH-64D of the “Royal Army.” I presume this last is a reference the British Army Air Corps. I mean, really, there is no such thing as the Royal Army. How much (or how little) research would it have taken for Italeri to discover that? I think this tells you just how much care and attention went into creating this kit. No decals are provided for the prototype AH-64D, though that’s what is shown on the box-art.  

The instructions seem adequate, though they do contain at least one error: Step 4 shows the sensor modules in the nose being fitted upside down – fortunately, the box art shows the correct orientation.   

Would You Want One?

Overall, this is a mix of good and rather shoddy. It feels like a kit produced in haste, but given that it was released all the way back in 1991, you might have hoped that it would have been sorted out by now. Some of the detail (the rotor head, for example) is very nicely done but raised panel lines aren’t something you’d expect to find on a modern kit and this lacks a lot of details seen on operational Apaches. This also has some fairly serious errors in terms of representing an AH-64D. Most noticeable are the sponsons which I have already discussed.

The second issue is the cockpit: the cockpit control panels provided here are the “steam gauge” version from the earlier AH-64 kit and they lack the distinctive MFDs provided in both front and rear cockpits on the AH-64D. Personally, I can probably live with that: on a 1/72 kit with a closed cockpit, you won’t be able to see much of the control  panels. In many ways, this reminds me of the aircraft kits I struggled with in back in the 1970s – it certainly doesn’t feel like a kit from the 1990s. I like a challenge and I enjoy trying to improve old kits, so I’ll have a go at trying to make this kit into a reasonable representation of the operational AH-64D. You may feel differently, and if you do, there are alternatives in 1/72.

The best of the rest are any of the Academy 1/72 AH-64D kits. These were first released in 2015 and all are accurate, have lots of detail and engraved panel lines. Hasegawa also do an AH-64D in 1/72, but like this Italeri kit, it uses elements from an original AH-64A kit from 1983 and it’s not particularly accurate. Hobby Boss also offer an AH-64D in 1/72, first released in 2007, but it has the same issue with the rear sponsons as this version.

For such an iconic and widely used combat helicopter, it’s surprizing to me that so many available small-scale kits (other than those by Academy) have glaring accuracy issues. If this was a kit featuring, for example, a significant tank from World War Two which had equivalent accuracy issues, I suspect if would be the subject of howls of derision. When I work on modern tank kits, I’m often impressed by the level of detail  and accuracy provided. This on the other hand feels like a throwback to an earlier era when, if something kinda, sorta looked like the original, that was generally good enough. It will be interesting to find out whether this can be built into something that looks acceptable but, out of the box, this appears to have some serious problems.    

Related PostsItaleri 1/72 AH-64D (080) Build Review – coming soon

Tamiya 1/48 U.S. Medium Tank M4A3E8 Sherman “Easy Eight” (32595) Build Review

I’m generally following the instructions here, but I plan to assemble and paint the suspension, running gear and tracks before I continue with the rest of construction.

I begin with lower hull assembly. Fit is great and I included the weights provided, though I still don’t really understand why they’re there…

There is nice detail on the rear hull: the exhausts are particularly well done, though I don’t think they will be visible on the finished model.

Then it’s on to assembling the suspension bogies and sanding moulding seams off the roadwheels. No problems here and fit is great but location is also particularly good. When adding the circular parts on the front and rear of the main bogie frame, I failed to notice that these face in opposite directions. That became obvious as soon as I tried to fit one the wrong way round: it wouldn’t fit. Regular readers will know that I have been known to fit parts upside down, back to front or occasionally, both. Good location helps to avoid this.   

Although I will be adding the tracks later, I do want to assemble the top run and the curved sections that go round the sprocket and idler now, before I paint anything. There are five separate links at front and rear, and two more single links used to connect the elements of the bottom run. There are no spares, so do be careful! I suppose you could modify some of the spare track links that are intended to be stowed on the fenders if you do lose one of the links, but it’s better not to if you can avoid it.

I followed the advice in the instructions by gluing the five separate links together flat. Then I dry-fitted the sprocket and idler and glued the inner wheels of the large return rollers in place. Then, I placed the top run in position and, before the glue was completely set, curved the five links at either end to the right profile and attached them to the top run. When it’s dry, the whole assembly of top run with front and rear curves attached can be removed for painting separately. Obviously, I won’t be able to construct the bottom run until the suspension bogies and road wheels are assembled and in place, but that should be much simpler because there are fewer single links to deal with.

I do want to mention location again here: there is a vertical peg on the inside wheel of the rear return roller. This engages with a hole in the top track run (which will be hidden by the fender on the completed model). Using this peg to locate the top track run means that you are assured it’s the right way round. That’s great, because it means you can’t inadvertently fit the tracks upside down. It feels like whoever designed this kit was actually thinking about assembly. Top marks Tamiya!   

Then I paint and assemble the suspension parts. Assembly is straightforward and simple, For painting I used a base of Vallejo Russian Uniform, highlights in a lightened version of the same colour and a dark grey oil wash to bring out the shadows. All tyres are painted in Vallejo Dark Grey.

With the suspension in place, I can assemble the bottom track runs in the same way as I did for the top.

Then these are painted in a base of Vallejo Dark Grey, drybrushed gunmetal highlights and a brown wash. Then I fit the tracks, and it’s a bit of a stretch – perhaps one additional track link might have been useful?  That said, once in place, these do look like steel tank tracks, not rubber bands.

With the lower hull complete, it’s time to take a look at the upper hull. The seven parts that comprise the main construction, you guessed it, fit perfectly – no filler needed here at all.

I add all the remaining bits and pieces to the upper hull, other than the tow cable, tools and spare track links which I’ll add later. I guess you could argue that the front and rear light-guards are a little thick, but personally, I’d rather accept that than faff about with tiny PE parts.

I then join the upper and lower hull – no problems and everything goes together nicely. I am happy that I painted and finished the tracks before adding the upper hull and fenders – there is very little clearance between the top of the tracks and the bottom of the fenders and there is no way that you could add the tracks after the upper and lower hulls were joined.

Next, the turret, and there are no problems with basic construction.

The completed turret, minus the machine gun.

I mentioned in the In-Box review that I was concerned about seams on the rear of the turret, and in particular that the cast texture will make it difficult to hide these. One seam is particularly noticeable at the top of the rectangular panel that fits into the rear of the turret (arrowed above).

You can see on this photo of a surviving M4A3E8 that there shouldn’t be any visible seams on the upper rear part of the turret, though the lower seam looks OK. There doesn’t seem to be any option but to get busy with some filler and fine sandpaper, which is a pity, because the casting texture is well done and sanding will flatten this. I sand everything down and then try to recreate the texture with plastic cement.

I won’t really know if this has been successful until I get some paint on it, and that’s what I do next.

I start with several thinned base coats of Vallejo Russian Uniform – yes, I know, it’s a little light for Olive Drab at this tage, but once it’s finished with a wash of dark grey oil, that should bring it closer to the right colour. And the upper seam on the rear of the turret is no longer visible – hurrah!

Then both hull and turret get some dry-brushed highlights in a lightened version of the base colour.

Then I add the decals – I’m going for the version with the five white stars. The decals are dense, but thin – I use Vallejo Decal Fix and Decal Softener. It isn’t obvious in this image, but the decals do conform to the cast texture beneath.

Then, it gets a coat of clear varnish followed by a wash of Abteilung Oils Dark Mud, a dark grey. I let this dry and then carefully remove most of the wash with thinner – this darkens the base colour to something much closer to Olive Drab and leaves deeper shadow in the engraved surface detail as well as providing some colour variation and streaks on the hull and turret.

With that done, it’s time to add the last few bits and pieces – the tow cable, tools, spare track links and commander figure and a stretched sprue radio antenna. With those added, it’s done!

After Action Report

This really is a cracking kit. Fit and location of all parts is as good as you could hope for, detail is good and this builds into a pretty fair representation of a late model M4. Is it perfect? Of course not: things like the headlight guards are a little oversize, it lacks some of the fine detail of its 1/35 counterpart and it would have been nice to see some stowage items.

The link and length tracks are also a little fiddly to build if you want them to look good, though they’re easier than those found on smaller scale kits. Overall though, there isn’t much to dislike here. And the finished tracks actually look like tank tracks. If you have read other review here on MKW, you’ll know just how rare that is. This is a straightforward build that produces a pleasing finished model. What more can you ask from a plastic kit?

And what about 1/48 scale? Well, the finished kit is bigger than a 1/72 kit and, er, not as big as a 1/35 kit (you don’t get that sort of incisive analysis on other kit review sites, you know!). I mean, it’s fine. I don’t feel an overwhelming urge to build more 1/48 kits, but I wouldn’t rule it out either. If I’m honest, I do probably prefer the challenge of smaller scales, but I can’t think of any reason you’d be unhappy or disappointed if you chose this as an introduction to 1/48 scale.

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Tamiya 1/48 U.S. Medium Tank M4A3E8 Sherman “Easy Eight” (32595) In-Box Review and History

Tamiya 1/48 U.S. Medium Tank M4A3E8 Sherman “Easy Eight” (32595) In-Box Review and History

It’s time for another first here on Model Kit World: a 1/48 scale tank kit! I have been thinking about this for a while. This scale lies neatly between tiny 1/72 and 1/76 and the much larger 1/35. But. What does this scale actually look like? Do these really combine the detail of 1/35 with the ease of construction of smaller scales?

In the mid-1970s, another Japanese manufacturer, Bandai, produced a whole range of 1/48 AFV kits. Monogram and Aurora also produced AFVs in this scale, but all of these gradually lost out to the popularity of 1/35 kits produced by Tamiya and others. By the 1990s, it was difficult to find any AFV kits in this scale. Although they already produced a range of 1/48 aircraft kits, it wasn’t until 2003 that Tamiya finally introduced their 1/48 military miniatures series.

There are now a large number of Tamiya 1/48 AFV kits. Early versions had die-cast lower hulls, but this one, like most of the later 1/48 kits, is all plastic. These generally have a good reputation for accuracy and detail and this kit was released in 2018. But, what’s it like? Let’s take a look…  

History

 I have already covered the history of the M4 briefly in other reviews, so here I’m going to focus on something different: how models of the M4 were identified. When I got back into modelling, I found the variety of M4 types bewildering. Hopefully, this will explain the meaning of the various designations and help to define how the M4 changed and just what an M4A3E8 actually was. If you get bored, you can always skip to the next section…

A British M4A1 with a 75mm gun in North Africa. The M4 was first used in combat by the British Army in North Africa.

The M4 Medium Tank entered service armed with the 75 mm M3 L/40 main gun. This was an excellent weapon for use in the close support role, firing an M48 HE round that contained 1.5lbs of TNT, making it one of the most effective HE shells fired by any tank in World War Two. It’s anti-armour performance was less impressive, capable of penetrating only up to 68mm of armour at a range of 500m. That wasn’t seen as a major problem because the US Army was developing the Tank Destroyer doctrine while the M4 was being designed: it was assumed that specialist Tank Destroyers would engage enemy armour, leaving the M4 to focus on the support role.

On the left in this image is an M3 Gun Motor Carriage, one of the first US Tank Destroyers. They were used widely in Tunisia, but didn’t prove to be effective against German tanks.

When US forces began to encounter German Tigers and upgraded Panzer IVs in Tunisia, it became apparent that TDs could not provide full protection and that a main gun with improved armour penetration was required for the M4. A new gun, the 76mm M1 L/55, was fitted in a turret modified from a design originally intended for use in the abandoned T23 tank project. The 76mm gun had better armour penetration, but a less effective HE shell. For this reason, the 76mm gun didn’t entirely replace the 75mm gun: units were provided with a mix of both types which allowed them to engage enemy armour with the 76mm guns and attack soft targets with the 75mm gun. In the naming convention adopted by the US Army after the introduction of the 76mm gun, (75) or (76) was added after the model designation to denote which type of main gun a particular model was equipped with.

Early M4s were found to have a tendency to burn when hit by enemy rounds: up to 75% of all early M4s burned when hit. Analysis of engagements in Tunisia identified ammunition stowage as the problem: ammo racks in the sponsons, above the tracks, were protected only by thin side armour. A hit on the hull side could ignite the shell propellant which could not then be extinguished (the propellant contained its own oxidant). If one shell started to burn, this would rapidly spread to others, turning the tank into a furnace.

A French M4A2 with extra armour panels welded on to the sponsons to protect the internal ammo racks and an additional armour panel added to the turret, to the right of the mantlet.

As a short-term solution, panels of applique armour were welded on the hull sides to protect the internal ammo racks. In the long-term, the solution was wet ammunition stowage: ammunition was stowed in a bin in the hull floor beneath the turret basket which was filled with a mix of water and anti-freeze. This dramatically reduced the incidence of fires following combat damage. Tanks provided with wet ammo stowage are identified by the addition of “W” to the model name.

There were a number of detail changes to all versions of the M4 during its long production history, mainly involving hatches, the glacis plate and transmission covers. The only other major change was the introduction of horizontal-volute-spring system (HVSS) suspension, which provided six pairs of roadwheels per side (the original VVSS suspension allowed only six single roadwheels per side). This enabled the fitment of wider tracks that reduced the ground pressure of this version to just over 10psi, improving its ability to travel over broken or soft ground. From late 1944/early 1945, some M4s were provided with HVSS suspension. 

An M4A3 (75) W with HVSS suspension.

There were five main models of the M4, principally distinguished by different types of engine. These were not sequential models: many were produced concurrently in different plants in America. Some were phased out as the war progressed but some models of the M4A1, for example, were still being manufactured up to the end of the war in Europe. The models were:

The M4 was powered by a radial gasoline aviation engine, the Continental R975. Almost 7,000 were manufactured and all featured the 75mm gun. None had wet ammo stowage. The M4 was used extensively by the US Army as well as the British Army, in which it was named the Sherman I. Production of the M4 ended in January 1944.

The M4A1 used the same engine, but had a cast upper hull rather than the welded upper hull on the M4. This was the only M4 variant with a cast hull and it was produced in two basic forms: the M4A1 (75) and the M4A1 (76) W. Later models also featured HVSS suspension. Over 9,000 examples of all types of M4A1 were produced. The M4A1 was used extensively by the US Army and by the British Army, in which it was named the Sherman II. Production of the M4A1 continued until July 1945.

An M4A2 (76) W supplied to the Red Army under the lend-lease agreement.

The M4A2 was powered by a General Motors 6046 diesel engine. It was produced in three forms: the M4A2 (75), the M4A2 (75) W and the M4A2 (76) W. Later models of the M4A2 (76) W also featured HVSS suspension. Over 11,000 were produced, but this model was not used by the US Army in combat, though it was used by the USMC in the Pacific Theatre. This model was used extensively by the British Army (as the Sherman III) and by the armies of several other nations during World War Two including Canada, France, Russia and Australia. Production of the M4A2 continued until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945.

The M4A3 featured a Ford gasoline V8 engine that provided improved torque at low engine speeds. This was produced in four forms: M4A3 (75), the M4A3 (75) W, the M4A3 (76) W (with later models of this version using HVSS identified as the M4A3E8 and generally known as the “Easy Eight” due to the smooth ride provided by the improved suspension) and the M4A3E2, an uparmoured version known as the Jumbo.  Over 8,000 were produced and the M4A3 was used by both the US Army and the British Army, where it was known as the Sherman IV. Production of the M4A3 continued after the end of the war.

The M4A4 was powered by a complex Chrysler gasoline engine. Only one version was produced which was armed with the 75mm gun. None of this version were manufactured with wet ammo stowage or HVSS suspension. Over 7,000 were produced, but none were used in combat by the US Army. Large numbers were provided to the British Army (as the Sherman V), to the Russians and to French units. Some of this model were modified in British hands with the replacement of the 75mm gun by a more powerful British 17-pounder (76mm) main gun. These were identified as the Sherman Vc, but often known as the Firefly. Production of the M4A4 ended in November 1943.

The final development of the M4 in World War Two and the subject of this kit: The M4A3E8 (76) W with a flat glacis plate, muzzle brake and HVSS suspension.

So, the tank featured in this kit is a late model M4A3 armed with a 76mm gun and provided with wet ammo storage, a simplified, flat glacis plate, larger access hatches for the driver and bow gunner and HVSS suspension. This was also one of the first American tanks to be provided with a muzzle brake on the main gun as standard. The 76mm gun tended to kick up a large cloud of dust when fired, obscuring the target for anything up to 30 seconds and revealing the position of the tank. The muzzle brake deflected the blast to the side, reducing this problem.

What’s in the box?

The first thing to mention is that this isn’t, as I had expected, just a shrunk-down version of the 1/35 Tamiya M4A3E8 released in 2015 (35346), though both kits share the same box-art. The break-down of parts on, for example, the turret is quite different here and this one comes with plastic link-and-length tracks rather than the vinyl tracks of its bigger brother. There is a little less detail here too: the 1/35 version includes things like casting numbers and separate hull hatches which aren’t included here.

What you get here are five sprues moulded in olive green plastic (there are two identical sprues for the tracks, running gear and suspension parts).

Surface detail looks crisp and includes nice casting texture on many parts. Though it’s notable that the turret comes in two halves which means some care will be needed to hide the join at the rear without sanding off this texture. All the mouldings look sharp and very clean, though this doesn’t use slide-moulding, so the muzzle brake is provided in two parts and the gun itself is a solid moulding.

The roadwheels and complex HVSS bogies look to be nicely detailed, sharply moulded and accurate.

The tracks look well detailed, inside and out, and appear to be an accurate representation of the all-metal T66 tracks fitted to this version of the M4.

Also provided is a piece of thin cord for the tow cable and four tiny polycaps. You’ll be using two of these for fitting the sprockets. That’s sensible: it’s helpful to be able to rotate the sprockets to allow them to engage correctly with link-and-length tracks. The other two are provided to allow the main gun to elevate.

Four small weights are included, to be placed in the lower hull. I have no idea why. Only the Commander’s hatch is provided as a separate part (which includes internal detail), and the top half of a Commander figure is also included. All tools and spare track links are provided as separate parts. No transparent parts are included.

Decals are basic: all you get here are seven stars for the hull and turret. Two are provided roughly overpainted in black, something that was done by some units late in the war as the white turret star was felt to provide too good a target for enemy gunners.       

The only colour scheme is Olive Drab and two US Army tanks are depicted, one for a tank of the 5th Armored Division in April 1945 and the other for an M4 of the 4th Armored Division at Bastogne in January 1945. The only difference is that the tank from the 4th Division uses black turret stars.

The instructions look clear and simple and use Tamiya’s usual exploded views. On a separate sheet a very brief history of the M4A3E8 is provided.

Would You Want One?

My first impression on opening the box was that this kit seemed bigger than I expected. But perhaps that’s only because I haven’t built a 1/35 M4? It’s only by comparing the torso of the commander figure provided here with a 1/35 figure that it becomes obvious how much smaller this is.

Out of the box, this looks like a class act, as you’d probably expect from a relatively recent Tamiya kit. Surface detail is crisp and sharply moulded and I do like the textured finish on the turret and mantlet. As far as I’m aware, there are no notable dimensional or accuracy issues here and the link and length tracks look nicely done. The individual links are much larger than those found on a 1/72 kit, which should make assembly easier. Perhaps it might have been nice to see more interesting decals and some transparent parts but overall, I’m really looking forward to building this one.  

Tamiya also offer an early production M4, an M4A2 and a British Sherman Vc Firefly in 1/48 scale. There is, as far as I’m aware, only one other M4A3E8 kit available in 1/48 and that’s a Korean War era version from HobbyBoss. It’s generally a nice kit, though there are said to be dimensional issues with the mantlet and suspension bogies and it comes with vinyl tracks, but it is provided with PE parts including the headlight covers.

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Italeri 1/72 Autoblinda AB 43 (7052) In-Box Review and History

It’s nice to see that Italian manufacturer Italeri aren’t shy about producing kits of some fairly obscure vehicles. Probably less than one hundred examples of this armoured car were produced and none were actually used by the Italian armed forces during World War Two. I rather like that approach: I do get tired kits of the same old AFVs and it’s refreshing to find a kit of something I have never even heard of.

Italeri also offer a kit of the earlier (and much more widely used) AB 41 and even one of the truly odd AB 40 Ferroviaria, a small armoured car designed to run on railway lines. The AB 43 kit was released in 2008 following the release a couple of years earlier of a 1/35 version of the same vehicle by Italeri.

So it’s Italian, it’s obscure and it appears to have a fiendishly difficult paint scheme. What could possibly go wrong? Let’s find out…

History

In 1937 the Italian Ministry of War invited tenders for a new armoured car (autoblindomitragliatrice). This vehicle was to be suitable for use by both police forces and as a reconnaissance vehicle to be used by tank units. Fiat-Ansaldo presented a proposal for a four-wheeled vehicle with four-wheel drive, four wheel steering and front and rear driving positions. The main armament was a pair of 8mm machine guns mounted in a fully rotating turret. This proposal was accepted and entered service as the AB 40.

The AB 40.

However, only around 25 were produced before an improved version armed with a Breda 20 mm autocannon was released as the AB 41. This would be the most widely produced version of this vehicle with over 400 hundred made which saw service in North Africa, the Balkans, Hungary and even with Italian units on the eastern front.

An AB 41 in North Africa.

In 1942 a specification was released for a new vehicle based on the AB 41. This was to incorporate a more powerful engine and was initially intended to be armed with a 47mm main gun. The dual steering positions were to be dropped, reducing the crew to three and armour was thickened and more steeply sloped at the front. A single prototype of the AB 42 was produced before the Italian army lost interest.

An AB 43 (left) and an AB 41 (right). The main visible differences are a lower turret and more steeply angled front hull armour on the AB 43.

After Italy agreed an armistice with the Allies in 1943, German engineers saw the prototype AB 42 and 100 of these vehicles were ordered for use by the Wehrmacht. Around 100 were manufactured as the Beute Panzerspähwagen AB43 203(i). These used a lower and wider version of the turret from the AB 41, though it was still armed with the 20mm autocannon.    

One of the notable features of the AB 43 is clearly visible in this photograph taken in Belgrade in 1944. The spare wheels were carried low and on mountings that allowed them to rotate, enabling these spare wheels to help the vehicle cross uneven ground.

These armoured cars were used by several German units in Italy and the Balkans during World War Two. After the war, a number of AB 43s were used by Italian police and Carabineri units.

A beautifully restored AB 43 pictured at a display in Rome in 2008. This shows nicely the unique  camo scheme used by German AB 43s but oddly, it lacks German markings.

What’s in the Box?

All the parts are provided on a single sprue moulded in light brown plastic.

Surface and rivet detail look reasonable overall.

The wheels and tyres are moulded separately and the wheels even include appropriate SPA (Società Piemontese Automobili) logos in the centre.

The front and rear visors and the top and rear turret hatches are separate parts that can be shown open. Some interior detail is included for the turret, such as the breech for the 20mm autocannon and the hatches themselves include interior detail.

Overall, the mouldings here look sharp and nicely detailed. This kit doesn’t use slide moulding so the main cannon is not open. It’s so small that drilling doesn’t look possible – you’ll need a drill of 0.3mm and the barrel on this weapon had thin walls, so a very steady hand will be required.

I’d like to be able to show you the decals at this point in the review, but I can’t. Though the box itself and the plastic bag containing the single sprue were both sealed when they arrived, no decals were included. I contacted Italeri Customer support who replied promptly to tell that these decals may be available, and that they will be sent out (taking 3-4 weeks) if I pay “around €6.”  Now, perhaps I’m just a parsimonious, grumpy old Scotsman (actually, there is no doubt about it, I am a parsimonious, grumpy old Scotsman) but I must confess that this doesn’t seem very impressive. OK, I know, €6 isn’t a great deal of money, though it does represent more than half of what this kit cost me on Amazon. What irritates me is that this is for something that should have been included in the first place. Should I really have to pay for that? I don’t think so. I won’t be taking up Italeri’s offer and instead I’ll be using bits and pieces out of my decal spares box here. 

The instructions seem clear though, oddly, there is no mention of where to place part 12, the rear visor. Happily it isn’t too difficult to see where this belongs (it goes on the upper rear hull, if you’re wondering).

Three suggested colour schemes are provided on the rear of the box and in the instructions, Two are for vehicles in late-war German service featuring a complex three-colour camo scheme and one in overall red-brown is for an AB 43 used by the Italian State Police in the 1950s.

Would you want one?

In the box, this looks pretty good. The mouldings are sharp and the surface detail looks acceptable and it even has some interior detail, very unusual at this scale. Perhaps it would have been nice if a siren on the turret roof was provided for the State Police version (these usually seem to have been fitted) but overall, this looks like an accurate representation of this little-known AFV. If I have one reservation, it’s that the spare wheels seem to sit a little too high on the sides of the hull. If you look at the photos in the History section above and compare them with the side view showing the colour schemes, which accurately reflects what the kit looks like, I think you’ll see what I mean.

Obviously, the lack of decals is a pain but I assume that I was simply unlucky and that this isn’t a common issue. And if you do want to build a small-scale AB 43 and you don’t fancy this one, then I’m afraid you’re out of luck. As far as I know, no other manufacturer covers this vehicle in 1/72 or 1/76. Italian company DOC Models did offer a 1/72 version of the similar AB 41, but that was always produced on a small scale and I’m not certain that it’s still available.

Don’t be fooled – this may say Tamiya on the box, but it is actually the Italeri 1/35 kit.

Italeri offer the same kit in 1/35 form (6451), and it seems to be pretty good. It includes soft vinyl tyres, separate armoured headlight covers and all crew and engine access hatches are separate parts that can be shown open (though no engine detail is included). Decals and paint schemes are provided for the same three vehicles depicted in the 1/72 version. Tamiya also released a 1/35 version of the AB 43 in 2008 (89697), but, unusually for Tamiya, this is simply a re-box of the Italeri kit with the addition of two German crew figures originally included with the 1994 Tamiya Panther Ausf. G.   

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Tamiya 1/35 British Universal Carrier Mk II European Campaign (35175) Build Review

As you’ll know if you have read my In-Box review of this kit, I am deeply unimpressed with the supplied tracks. There are aftermarket tracks available: MasterClub, for example offer workable metal Universal Carrier tracks in 1/35. However, here in Spain, these sell for around €40 and that’s three times what I paid for this kit! They also won’t work with the sprockets supplied with this kit, so I have decided that I will just have to live with the Tamiya tracks.

Before I begin construction, I do a couple of small and fiddly jobs. First, I thin out the armour plates in front and either side of the driver/gunner compartment. The side plates are simple because they’re flat – below you can see one done and as supplied.

The front panel is a little more difficult because of its complex shape, but with some careful sanding, it can be done. You will lose some internal detail, notably the handles for opening the covers over the vision slots. However, these aren’t particularly well detailed in the first place and only two are provided – there should be three. I’ll be re-making simplified versions once I’m done with sanding down the panels. This is what I end up with (as you can see, I have also added the small metal ledge to the right of the gun section which, for some reason, also isn’t included).

Then, I drill out the muzzles of the three Bren guns provided. This is very fiddly – I had to use a needle to make a guide hole before drilling and even then, I can see that one is drilled slightly off-centre. I’ll probably use that as the stowed gun where the muzzle isn’t quite so obvious.

With those jobs out of the way, I begin construction as per the instructions, but only to a certain extent. The interior of both compartments here is very cramped and I want to add lots of dirt and wear and tear when I paint. Yes, I know, most of this will probably be hidden by the figures and stowage items when this is finished but hey, I’m going to give it a try anyway. So, I construct all the internal parts into sub-assemblies and I’ll be painting the insides of these before I join them together.

All these parts get several thinned coats of Vallejo Russian Uniform – it take several coats to get a consistent finish because the plastic used here is so dark.

You can also see the new vision slot handles I have added inside the thinned  front armour plate.

Next, I paint the seats and seat-backs. There seem to have been two types of seat covering used on the Universal Carrier: brown leather and khaki fabric. I go for the leather version, just because it provides more visual contrast with the rest of the interior. I also paint some chipping on the interior on areas that might see heavy use. I keep this fairly restrained – I think you can spoil a model as much by overdoing the weathering as by leaving it out entirely.

Then, it all gets a coat of clear varnish, a dark grey oil pin wash and some dark vertical streaking on the interior panels. I then assemble the main hull parts – fit is superb and location positive for all parts and no filler or sanding is required.  

I know that my replacement interior vison slot cover handles are far from perfect, but I do think that the thinned front armour panels look better than the massively overscale originals. The small instrument panel also painted up nicely, though this won’t really be visible with the driver in place. Next, I begin assembling the rest of the hull parts.

Constructing and painting the rear hull takes some thought. You have a back plate, then the exhausts, then the differential, then another shallower plate that includes the tools and finally, if you choose to include it, a plate with a tow-bar bracket. If you simply construct all of this first, then getting at the various bits to paint and weather them will be a problem. I added the differential and painted it and the rearmost plate first, then I added chipping and a grey oil wash.

Then I painted the exhausts (I didn’t bother adding textures or drilling out the exhausts, because these will barely be visible once construction is finished) and added them and, last, I added the rear plate that holds the tools. I’ll paint that with the rest of the hull and add the towing plate last of all.

Then. It’s time to work on the suspension and running gear. I want to complete and paint this so that I can paint and add the tracks before I add the side skirt and step. Assembling the suspension is simple, though the finished assemblies feel rather fragile. I paint the base colour, add the tyres on the roadwheels, idlers and return roller and then give everything a grey oil wash.

The tracks are made of fairly inflexible, thick vinyl and unfortunately, they’re also rather tight. Getting them in place once they’re painted feels like it’s risking breaking the suspension, and there is no hope of showing any form of sag with these tracks. At least it’s possible to hide the join behind the side-skirts.

With the tracks, suspension and running gear in place, I can add the side-skirts and step on either side, and with that, I can complete the painting of the exterior of this kit.

It all gets several thinned coats of Vallejo Russian Uniform and some dry-brushed highlights and then I add the decals using Vallejo Decal Fix and Decal Softener. These are nicely dense and printed in-register.

Then, it all gets a coat of clear varnish and then a dark grey oil wash.

That’s main hull construction done, so I begin to add all the bits and pieces. I begin with adding the rolled canvas cover, stowage bag, tools and towbar to the rear.

Then, I added the tow cable to the front. I found joining the string to the tow eyes extremely frustrating – the string is too thick to fit inside the hollowed-out part of the eyes. It took a lot of fiddling about and the use of some strong swear-words to get something that looked right.

Then I start to add the weapons, starting with the three Bren guns.

Then, the two Lee-Enfield rifles and the Sten gun.

And finally the ammo boxes, helmets and other bits and pieces in the interior.

And with that, construction and painting of this Universal Carrier is done. All that now remains is to paint and add the figures. These seem reasonably detailed, though you do have to be careful when adding the arms to the driver and the seated figure to make sure that these are in the correct position to rest on the bodywork.

I do my best with the painting of the figures, though the result isn’t really that great. When I paint 1/35 faces, they often end up looking insane, or gormless, or their eyes point in completely different directions. On a couple of memorable occasions, I have managed to achieve all three at once! The point I’m making is that if these finished figures don’t look wonderful, well, that probably isn’t Tamiya’s fault. They’re quite well sculpted with nicely defined detail.

With the figures done and a couple of antenna added, that’s it for this Tamiya Universal Carrier.

After Action Report

As I noted in the In-Box review, there is both good and not-so-good stuff here. The not so good includes a front armour plate that’s just silly-thick and tracks that are very poor. The over-thick front plate can be thinned, but you’re stuck with the tracks unless you decide to replace both those and the sprockets with after-market items.

Set against that, fit and detail are both pretty good and there are no significant problems with construction and virtually no need for filler at all. OK, the rivets look a little small and the 8th Army figures are really showing their age, but otherwise, this is a pretty reasonable kit for not a lot of money.

The three ETO figures aren’t bad and I like the fact that lots of internal stowage is provided. When it’s done, this looks satisfactorily busy, which is pretty important on a finished model where so much of the interior is visible. So, would you want one? Well, probably… If you can put up with the tracks (or if you’re willing to source alternatives) and if you are willing to modify or ignore the front armour plate. I can’t give this a totally unqualified thumbs-up, but it is by no means a terrible kit and it’s a pleasant way to while away those long evenings…

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Tamiya 1/35 British Universal Carrier Mk II European Campaign (35175) In-Box Review and History

Tamiya 1/35 British Universal Carrier Mk II European Campaign (35175) In-Box Review and History

Guess what? It’s time to look at another early Tamiya offering: the Universal Carrier Mk II. This first appeared all the way back in 1976 as MM189 which included markings and two figures for a vehicle used in North Africa. In 1994 this was reboxed with new figures as 35175, British Universal Carrier Mk II European Campaign and in 2004 it was reboxed once again with different figures as 35249, British Universal Carrier Mk II Forced Reconnaissance.

Both re-boxed versions are still available but the only differences seem to be in the figures, decals and some additional accessories: otherwise, this is still the original 1976 kit. As you’ll know if you have read other reviews here on MKW, I really like these early Tamiya kits. They build well and there aren’t too many tiny parts. They’re also pleasingly cheap: I found this one on Amazon for considerably less than you would pay for most current 1/72 tank kits. So, it’s old and it’s cheap but, is it any good? Let’s have a look. 

History

Let’s start with a quick quiz question: Which is the most-produced AFV of all time?

You might guess at the M4 Sherman, the Russian T-34 or even the German Panzer IV. But you’d be wrong. A paltry 8,000 Panzer IVs (the most numerous German tank of World War Two) were constructed. Almost 50,000 examples of all variants of the M4 Sherman were produced in total. When production finally ended in 1954, more than 84,000 of all models of the T-34 had been produced.

Soldiers of the  2nd Monmouthshire Regiment leaving a Universal Carrier during training in 1941.

But none of these get close to the winner: over 113,000 examples of over 200 variants of the British Universal Carrier were manufactured in five countries between 1934 and 1960 and used by the armies of over 30 nations. How come? What was it about this tiny AFV that made it so popular in a range of roles?

Around 2,000 Universal Carriers were provided to the Soviet Union during World War Two under the Lend/Lease arrangement.

The Universal Carrier story began in 1934 when Vickers-Armstrongs produced a prototype of a light tracked vehicle that could be used to carry a machine gun or to tow a light artillery piece. Sometimes called the “Fighting Tractor,” the D50 used suspension, tracks and running gear from the Vickers Mk VI tankette and an open-topped, lightly armoured hull. A few were adopted for service with the British Army as the Carrier, Machine-Gun No 1 Mark 1 in 1936. Subsequently, several variants were produced including the Medium Machine Gun Carrier (armed with a Vickers water-cooled machine gun), the Scout Carrier and the Bren Gun Carrier. In late 1939, production was consolidated into a single model: the Universal Carrier

The Vickers-Armstrongs D50

Most versions were powered by a 3.9 V8 petrol engine that gave the 3.75 ton Universal Carrier sprightly performance and a useful top speed of 30mph: good performance on and off-road was one of the prime reasons for this AFV’s enduring popularity. Most carried a crew of three, with the driver and commander sitting side by side in front with a third crew member in the compartment behind (the other rear compartment was generally used for stowage, though a fourth crew member could be carried).

A Universal Carrier of 52nd Reconnaissance Regiment dramatically illustrating its performance during training in Scotland in 1942.

The Mk II version was introduced in 1941 and incorporated only minor changes to the hull and external stowage and the later Mk III changed only in terms of the engine cover and air intake system. Universal Carriers served with virtually every British and Commonwealth unit during and after World War Two and were used in all theatres. In the United States, more than 20,000 examples of the T16 Universal Carrier were built, essentially a licence-built version of the British design.

A Universal Carrier being used by Australian light horse troops in the Western Desert in 1941.

Most Universal Carriers were used to carry a three-man team operating the Bren light machine gun (which is why this vehicle is sometimes known as the Bren Gun Carrier) though examples were also armed with the QF 2-Pdr anti-tank gun, the Boys Anti-Tank Rifle, the 3 inch Mortar and there was even a flamethrower version, the Wasp. What ultimately made this tiny armoured vehicle so useful were its speed and reliability coupled with incredible versatility. While it may not have excelled in any one role, it could be successfully used for almost anything that its users could imagine. 

What’s in the Box?

Parts are provided on five sprues moulded in very dark grey plastic. There is virtually no flash and detail looks crisp. No clear plastic or PE parts are included.

Overall, external detail here is adequate, though there don’t seem to be enough rivets and the rivet heads themselves are rather small.

Detail on many internal parts is sharp, especially considering that this kit is over 45 years old.

There is a notable difference in quality between the two figures in desert uniform provided with the original 1976 version and the three figures from 1994. All five are included with this kit, but the later figures are much better: nicely sculpted in relaxed poses and with faces that have expression.

Lots of weapons are provided including three Bren guns (one on an AA mount), two Lee-Enfield rifles, a Sten sub-machine gun and a PIAT anti-tank weapon. All seem to be accurately represented and sharply moulded.

A number of stowage items are provided including the rolled canvas cover, a large stowage bag on the rear and assorted backpacks, ammo pouches, ration boxes, stowage bins, canteens, helmets and Jerry cans.

One problem that really stands out even in the box is the thickness of the front armour and the plate to the right of the driver’s position and to the left of the gunner’s position. These are over 1mm thick here making them around 40mm thick at 1/35 scale. In reality, this plate should be no more than 10mm thick. The rear armour panels are also too thick but, because these have circular section inserts on top, this isn’t so obvious. If you look at the image below of a Universal Carrier Mk II, you’ll see what I mean.   

How many times do I find myself complaining about the tracks provided with AFV kits? I’m afraid I’m going to do it again here: these vinyl tracks are disappointing and, frankly, a bit crap.

The spacing between links is much too wide, there is no internal detail at all other than the guide horns and they are rather thick. More importantly, these look nothing like the tracks fitted to Universal Carriers. The use of widely-spaced links in the tracks also means that the sprockets are wrong: they have just 18 teeth, less than half the number of teeth on the original. That looks odd and means that you can’t use the provided sprockets if you decide to replace these tracks with aftermarket items. Oddly, Tamiya also do a 1/48 scale Universal carrier and the sprockets and tracks in that kit are identical to (and just as wrong as) those provided here.

Original 1976 box art

What makes it even more galling is that the box art for all versions of this kit show the correct tracks! And the box art for the original 1976 version clearly showed not only the right tracks but the correct number of teeth on the sprocket too. How can that be? Come on Tamiya: this just isn’t good enough. Your box artist clearly knows what these tracks should look like. Stop mucking about with new figures and instead, give us an updated version of this otherwise reasonable kit with some decent tracks and sprockets.

OK, my customary track-rant is over for this review. I’m calm now. Really. Let’s look at the other stuff. A short length of nylon cord is provided for use as a tow cable. It looks a bit fluffy to me, but hopefully it will look OK with a coat of paint.

Decals cover five vehicles, three used by the British Army (including one for a vehicle of the 1st Armoured Division in North Africa) and two for Canadian units in the ETO.

The instructions seem clear and include a brief history of the Universal Carrier. The only suggested colour schemes are “dark green” for vehicles in the ETO and “dark yellow” for a vehicle in North Africa.  

Would you want one?

There is both good and bad news here, The mouldings for this kit generally look clean and sharp with adequate detail, there are lots of stowage items, weapons and other bits and pieces to make this look suitably “busy” inside and out and the three ETO figures look nicely sculpted. There is a good range of decal options, and if this is anything like other early Tamiya kits, fit should be good and construction straightforward.

However, the two original figures in desert uniform aren’t very good at all, that front armour plate really is much too thick and the tracks are the worst aspect of this kit: they lack detail and don’t look anything like the tracks fitted to Universal Carriers. This isn’t a terrible kit by any means, but it could be easily be vastly improved simply by thinning-out the front plates and including visually satisfactory tracks and sprockets.

I’ll be attempting to thin out the front armour plates during the build and you could certainly buy aftermarket tracks but, one of the attractions of these early Tamiya kits is that they are now relatively cheap. Buying decent replacement tracks will cost you anything from two to three times what you’ll pay for this kit and you’ll also need to find suitable replacement sprockets. You’ll end up paying more than if you just bought a more modern kit! However, If you don’t fancy this one, your choices are very limited in 1/35.   

As far as I know, the only other company to cover the Universal Carrier in 1/35 scale is Chinese kit manufacturer Riich Models. Riich offer several variants of the Universal Carrier including both the Mk I and Mk II. These are two or even three times the price of this elderly Tamiya offering but all are fabulously detailed and very accurate (the front armour plates on these kits, for example, look much closer to correct scale thickness). But perhaps these aren’t for those of a nervous disposition: most include well over 400 plastic parts (including superb and accurate link and length tracks), separate metal suspension springs and up to 130 PE parts on two frets. Be prepared to get the tweezers and magnifying glass out if you go for one of these!  

Or, if you fancy a bit of small-scale fun, you could always go for the Airfix 1/76 Bren Gun Carrier and 6pdr Anti-Tank Gun. It comes from all the way back in 1964 and it’s currently available as part of the Vintage Classics range for not a lot of cash. The tracks are even worse than on this kit, the armour panels are even thicker despite it being at a smaller scale and the driver only fits because he doesn’t have any legs! But it does come with unlimited free nostalgia: I vividly remember buying one of these in the plastic bag pack with my pocket money. And being more than slightly disappointed to discover that it didn’t even come with a Bren gun…

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First to Fight 1/72 PzKpfw I Ausf. A (PL1939-002) Build Review

Research

I’m planning to build this pretty much out of the box, but I want to finish it as a Nationalist tank from the Spanish Civil War rather than a tank in Wehrmacht service in 1939.

From the time of its first introduction into German service until July 1937, all Panzer Is were painted in the Buntfarbenanstrich (multi-coloured-camouflage) scheme, a three-colour camouflage pattern consisting of earth-yellow, green and brown. The first batch of Panzer I Ausf. A tanks sent to Nationalist Spain left Germany in September and October 1936 and all would have been painted in the Buntfarbenanstrich scheme. So, I’ll be painting this in the three-colour camo scheme, which may be a challenge on such a tiny kit.

This image from Vallejo paints shows a Panzer I Ausf. A in the Buntfarbenanstrich scheme.

Panzer Is in Spain also had their turret hatches (or sometimes the whole turret top) painted white with a black diagonal cross as an air recognition symbol. On the front hull (and sometimes the rear of the turret too) they had the Nationalist red/yellow/red flash and on the lower front hull a three-digit identification code in white. That’s it. Everything needed to turn this into a Nationalist tank will be done during painting and by using some decals from my spares box.

The Build

Before I begin construction, I work on a pronounced moulding seam that runs all round the tracks. This takes some careful sanding – the plastic here is fairly soft and it’s all too easy to lose what little detail is provided on the outside of the tracks.

I briefly also consider drilling out the machine guns until sanity prevails. A 7.92mm opening in 1/72 scale is just over .1mm! I don’t have a suitable drill or eyesight for that so these will remain solid. I also consider adding a jack and fire extinguisher to the track guards, but I decide instead to build this straight out-of-the box.

Hull construction is simple: the upper and lower halves snap together and there are no problems adding the few bits and pieces. Fit is pretty good and no filler was required.

The upper and lower halves of the turret also snap together and again, fit is good.

And, after about ten minutes or so, that’s pretty much it for construction – the tracks and running gear are also a snap fit, but I’m leaving them off for the moment to make painting easier.

The main issue here is that this is just so hilariously small. How small? Well, here it is parked next to a 1/72 Jagdpanther…

Now it’s time to begin painting. And that will take rather longer. On the original, the base colour was earth-yellow with the other two colours being applied on top of that, so I’ll start with a few thinned coats of the base colour. I’m using a lightened mix of Vallejo Dark Yellow and US Field Drab to represent earth-yellow (which was a fairly light, yellow-brown). I have also added the white hatch with black cross to the turret.

Now it’s time to think about the camo scheme. On the original, this was sprayed, giving feathered edges to the different colours but, given that I’m using a brush, I’m going for a hard-edged finish and hoping that on a tank this small it won’t look too odd.

I’m using Vallejo Russian Uniform and a mix based on US Field Drab for the camo colours. These are both considerably lighter than the original colours used, but at this scale I think they give a reasonable representation of the colours in the Buntfarbenanstrich scheme. I add dry-brushed highlights to all three colours. 

Then it’s time the paint the running gear, and this is fiddly because this and the tracks are just one part for each side. After adding the camo colours, I use grey for the roadwheel and return roller tyres, and then a darker grey as a base colour for the tracks. I drybrush gunmetal highlights and then give the tracks an overall acrylic brown wash.

The last bits of painting involve the exhausts, the shovel on the track-guard and the machine guns. The perforated shrouds for the machine guns are nicely done, so I begin with a black base colour, then I carefully add dark grey, leaving the holes in black and finally I give both some gunmetal dry-brushed highlights. It’s a lot of mucking about on very tiny parts, but I do feel that this adds to the visual appeal of the finished model.

Finally, I add a light-brown acrylic wash on the lower hull and running gear to represent dust. And that’s painting done.

Then, decals. These are fairly simple – a rectangular red/yellow/red Nationalist flash on the glacis plate, a thinner, longer version of this flash on the turret rear and a white three-digit unit code on the front hull. The hull numbers seem to have been hand-painted rather than stencilled and were often not quite straight. All decals used here are created by using left-overs from the spares box cut to size.

The, I give everything a coat of clear, matte varnish followed by a grey oil wash to bring out the shadows. The exhaust heat-shields get a separate dark brown wash to try to make the indentations on the plastic look like holes with the rusty exhaust beneath showing through. Perhaps this is overkill, but I do feel that it helps to make these look like thin metal shields with holes in them rather than solid parts.

And that’s it for construction and painting on this tiny kit.

After Action Report

The main problems here are related to the tiny size of this kit and its simplified construction. It’s a very quick build and there aren’t any problems with fit. Most of the work here is in painting, and that is a little more challenging. I generally don’t look forward, for example, to painting roadwheel tyres, but then they’re this small, and moulded as a single part with the tracks and suspension, it’s even more difficult.

It’s the same with the camo scheme. This isn’t particularly complex, but getting something convincing on this tiny hull and turret does require some planning and some care. The decals were also an issue, because I didn’t use those supplied with the kit. Cutting out and joining tiny fragments of decal to make the Nationalist flash on the turret and hull was not something to tackle until I’d had my first coffee of the day.

Providing a size comparison, here is this Nationalist Panzer I with two other 1/72 kits: a Republican IGC Sandurni by Minairons Miniatures (foreground left) and behind, a Zvezda Jagdpanther. You can see just how tiny these Spanish Civil War tanks were.

However, I’m fairly happy with the finished result. There is a particular challenge to building something this small, and a great deal of satisfaction if it turns out reasonably. Overall, there is little wrong with this kit, though I think it could do with more detail on things like items usually stowed on the track-guards, the tracks and the exhausts. However, given how scarce small-scale kits of the Panzer I are, your choice is very limited and I think you could do much worse.  

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First to Fight 1/72 PzKpfw I Ausf. A (PL1939-002) In-Box Review

It’s time to look at what is, for me, a new manufacturer: a 1/72 kit from Polish company First to Fight. I’m keen to continue building some of the tanks used in the Spanish Civil War and the Panzer I was the main tank supplied by Germany to the Nationalist side during that conflict. The simple fact is that there just aren’t many small scale kits of this tiny tank available, and I’m interested in finding out whether this one is a decent option.

First to Fight specialise in kits depicting vehicles used on both sides during the 1939 German invasion of Poland. The  “September 1939” collection was released beginning in 2013 as a series of magazines, each with a quick-build kit attached. This, the second kit to be released (the first was the Polish TKS tankette and the series eventually ran to 90 issues), first appeared in November 2013.

Can a quick-build kit really aimed at wargamers provide the basis for a decent finished model? Is it possible to have fun constructing and building a kit that is two inches long and comprises just 16 parts? Let’s take a look…

History

The Panzer I was the first tank designed and built in Germany after World War One. This tiny tank (it weighed a little over 5 tons and had space for just two crew members) used suspension based on that fitted to the British Carden-Lloyd Tankette and a hull with armour that was only 13mm on the front: in other areas, it was just 7mm thick.

Many of the earliest Panzer Is were produced without turrets as Schulfahrzeuge (training vehicles) and use to train new tank drivers.

This was always intended as a developmental tank, to be used as a training vehicle for Panzer troops and as an opportunity for German industry to learn the techniques and requirements of producing a tank. The first versions produced in 1934 weren’t even fitted with a turret and it wasn’t until the Ausf. A version that a manually operated turret mounting two 7.92 mm MG 13 machine guns was added. An air-cooled, 60bhp engine gave the Panzer I a top speed of only around 15mph off-road but a useful range of almost 200km.

The first combat-capable version of the Panzer I, the Ausf. A. This picture was taken during the campaign in Norway.

The Ausf. B version was introduced in 1936 and incorporated a larger, water-cooled engine producing 100bhp. Fitting this engine involved lengthening the rear hull and this allowed the addition of an extra bogie wheel on the suspension. Between 1936 and 1939, Germany supplied more than 130 Panzer Is (mainly the Ausf. A model) to Nationalist Spain and these were used by the Condor Legion and Spanish units during the civil war.

Panzer I Ausf. B. Note that it has five bogie wheels instead of four and different exhausts.

During the Spanish Civil War and in combat against Republican T-26 tanks provided by the USSR, the Panzer I proved to be very vulnerable. Its 7.92mm machine guns could be loaded with armour-piercing ammunition, but this was only effective at ranges of less than 150m while the T-26 with its 47mm main gun could destroy the Panzer I at over 1,000m.

A column of Nationalist Panzer Is in Spain during the civil war.

Despite its limitations, the Panzer I was used extensively in Spain and as a front-line tank by the Wehrmacht in Poland, France and during the early stages of the invasion of Russia: Panzer Is accounted for over 15% of total German tank  strength during Operation Barbarossa. The last Panzer I was withdrawn from front-line German service in 1942 but this tank remained in service with the Spanish Army until the mid-1950s.

A well-camouflaged German Panzer I Ausf. A during the invasion of Poland in 1939. The tank appears to be painted in a single colour in this image, but that’s almost certainly due to the limitations of wartime black and white film: it would actually have been painted in a low-contrast two-colour camouflage scheme of dark grey/dark brown.

What’s in the Box

This kit comes with a 12-page magazine that describes a battle on the first day of the German invasion of Poland which involved Panzer Is, provides a history of the development and operational use of this tank and includes a rather nice step-by-step guide to painting and weathering this model. At least I think that’s what it contains: it’s written entirely in Polish and I’m afraid my ability to read Polish is non-existent.

Part of the guide to painting weathering this kit. Probably.

Inside the side-opening box you’ll find two small sprues moulded in dark grey plastic containing just 16 parts (there is a 17th part, a hatch, but it isn’t used) and a small decal sheet.

Moulding is sharp though details like the exhaust pipes and a shovel on the left track-guard are moulded integrally with the hull. A jack, axe and fire extinguisher are shown on the box art and in the colour external views in the magazine, but these aren’t included.

The turret hatch is moulded integrally with the one-piece turret.

The tracks, sprockets, idlers, suspension bogies and return rollers are moulded as a single part for each side. Detail is generally good, though the tracks themselves aren’t particularly convincing and the inner horns are moulded as solid items that stretch right across the inside of the tracks.

The MG barrels are nicely detailed and appear to be close to scale.

There are no detailed construction details, just a single exploded view. However, given that you’re only dealing with 16 parts, that shouldn’t be an issue.

The small decal sheet provides some all-white crosses and white, 3-digit hull and turret numbers, though there is no information about which German units these numbers belong to.  

The magazine includes a colour scheme of all dark-grey and that’s also shown on the box art. However, I’m really not sure about that. 

From July 1937 all new German tanks and AFVs were painted in a scheme consisting of a base of dunkelgrau (dark grey) overlaid with a dunkelbraun (dark brown) camouflage scheme covering at least 1/3 of the vehicle. From November 1938, this colour scheme was retroactively applied to any tanks that still had the older three-colour camouflage scheme. However, dunkelgrau and dunkelbraun have very low contrast and on most contemporary black and white images the two different colours don’t show up: that’s where the idea that early-war German tanks were painted all dark grey seems to have originated. However, an all dark grey scheme didn’t become standard for German tanks until a paint shortage at the end of July 1940.

This wartime image of a Panzer IV in Poland in 1939 is one of the few where the two-colour camouflage scheme is clearly evident on the front hull and the front of the turret. My understanding is that all German AFVs used in Poland were painted in this way.

An all-grey German AFV would only be appropriate if you’re modelling a vehicle used in the Balkans or Greece in 1941 or in Russia up to February 1943. If you’re painting a German tank that took part in the invasion of Poland in 1939 (or the subsequent battles in Norway, Belgium, Holland and France in the first half of 1940), I believe it should be painted in a two colour (dunkelgrau/dunkelbraun) finish. In the magazine, there is a small inset view that shows a Panzer I painted in this two-colour camouflage scheme and I think that this is correct if you want to model a tank that took part in the invasion of Poland. 

Would you want One?

This is a quick-build kit aimed at the wargamer rather than the modeller and it is a little light on detail. However, the overall look of the Panzer I Ausf. A is well replicated here and I will be interested to see whether this will build into a decent finished model. First to Fight also offer the Panzer I Ausf. B and the command versions of both. If I’m honest, you don’t get a great deal for your money here: very few parts and a truly tiny model and, unless you read Polish, you won’t learn much from the magazine. However, there is a certain satisfaction to be had building and painting something so small. I think…

If you don’t fancy this one but you want to model a Panzer I Ausf. A, the only alternative in 1/72 comes from Chinese manufacturer S-Model who offer several versions. All are quick-build kits (like this one, tracks and running gear are moulded as a single part) but the S-model kits have more detail (the tracks are notably better, for example) including PE parts. Each S-Model box contains two Panzer Is which makes this something of a bargain.

If you want to build a small-scale Panzer I Ausf. B, the choice is a little better. In addition to S-Model kits of several versions of this tank, Italeri, Revel, Zvezda, Maquette, Aurora and Polistil all offer (or have offered at some point) versions of this tank in 1/72. However, these are actually all re-boxed versions of the same original kit which was first released by Esci in 1976. It isn’t bad in terms of detail, but the link and length tracks are noticeably oversize and do look a little odd.   

  

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