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Zvesda 1/72 Soviet Tank Destroyer SU-85 (5062) Build Review

It’s time to start the build of Zvesda’s 1/72 SU-85 and, given that this kit is “Snap together – no glue required” I obviously won’t be needing any glue. Except, that’s not quite how it turned out…

The first job, as usual on most 1/72 kits, is drilling out the bore of the main gun. I don’t enjoy this – it’s just too easy to drill a fraction off-centre, but in this case, it all goes well.

Construction begins with the upper hull. The parts required to assemble the gun, mounting and mantlet fit fairly cleanly and are indeed designed to snap together leaving the gun free to traverse and elevate. However, you will be wanting to use glue to hold things like the rain cover and mantlet securely in place. Likewise the small vents on the roof and the rear part of the upper hull. These do all have mounting pegs and corresponding holes, but IMHO, glue is needed for a secure fix.

Just two parts (the handrails on either side of the hull) have no means of fixing other than glue. In general, the whole snap-together approach actually works very well in as much as it provides clear locations for all parts but really, you’ll be wanting to use glue too. Things like the rear fuel tanks are very nicely made – construction is idiot proof (they will only assemble in the correct orientation) and fit on these is superb.

However, I was less happy with the fit in other places. In particular, there is a notable gap on the right side and top of the main gun mounting. This is sufficiently wide on the right that you can see inside the hull, so filler is required. The rear plate of the upper hull also has fit issues and it took some sanding, filling and re-scribing panel lines to get something that looks right.

Both the exhausts fit into cut-outs in the rear hull that are a fraction wider than the exhausts, so again, filler is required to fill these gaps. The upper and lower hull halves also snap together, but again, glue is required for a secure fit. Both front and rear joins required sanding and filling. The rear join in particular needs a fair amount of sanding to get something that looks right.

The lower hull incorporates part of the track guards that fit into holes in the upper hull. I was concerned that these would be visible from above, but the joins are generally covered by toolboxes and other equipment, so these aren’t really a problem.

I have left off the tracks, sprockets, idlers, roadwheels, tools and tow cables at this stage simply because I want to paint these separately. I find that painting tyres on roadwheels in particular is much easier while these are loose and they can be mounted on a match or cocktail stick and rotated.

With the sanding and filling done, it’s time for something completely different. Rather than using a black or dark base for the main coat, I am going to use white. The reason is simple – I’ll follow this with a coat of varnish and then a coat of olive green. I will then buff the surface, hoping that the white will show through the green on high spots to replicate, wear, fading and highlights. That’s the plan, anyway…

I begin with a coat of matt white from an aerosol can. This is followed by a coat of clear, matt varnish. This also gives me a chance to check that my attempts at sanding have blended in the worst of the gaps. You’ll have to take my word for it because I forgot to take any photos of the kit at this stage. Just visualise an all-white SU-85…

Then I spray a top coat of Vallejo Olive Drab, also from a can. OK, I know, there is great deal of debate about precisely the shade of green used on Soviet tanks in World War Two. There seem to have been several different shades of green depending on where the paint was mixed and the tank painted. Some paints seem to have reacted to exposure to sunlight by becoming darker while others faded to a lighter colour. Then, you have to take into account colour scaling… For what it’s worth and in my view, just about anything resembling olive green is acceptable for a WW2 Russian AFV.

Then I buff with the abrasive side of an ordinary household scourer to create lighter areas on high spots by revealing the white undercoat. Then, it gets a coat of clear varnish mixed with a little olive drab to tone down the highlights a little.

Overall, this is close to what I was looking for. I then add the decals, though I put these on the right side only as that seems to accord with the vehicle in the museum in Moscow. I add paint chipping around hatches and other areas using dark grey and then it gets another coat of clear varnish and then it’s on to the oil washes.

I use a dark grey oil for shadows and to highlight things like the grilles on the rear deck and I add some white streaking and highlights to larger panels. I’m not too unhappy with the overall result, though it has turned out a darker green that I had hoped. If I’m doing another Russian WW2 AFV in this scale, I may use a different, lighter green as the base colour.

Then, it’s time to start on the tracks. You must follow the sequence of construction noted in the instructions here. First, the inner halves of the roadwheels, idler and sprocket are added. And that’s not as easy as it sounds. I really struggled at this stage. The problem is that all are a very tight fit on the spindles or sockets to which they attach. I guess this is to make them snap together, but it took so much force to get things like the sprocket inner half in place that I was concerned that it would snap. So, it took quite a bit of sanding, fitting and re-fitting to get to this point.  

Then, the tracks are added. The inner roadwheel with the pegs on it goes in the centre, and this locates the tracks in place.

I did a fairly simple paint-job on the tracks before fitting, just a coat of dark gunmetal followed by dry-brushed lighter gunmetal highlights and some brown for rust and dirt.

Finally, the outer halves of the wheels are added. Again, this isn’t easy and it takes more force than I was happy with. If I was doing this again (and I will be, soon…) I’d fix the inner halves in place during hull construction, dry-fit the outer halves and sand as required and then and paint the inner halves in-situ rather than trying to add them after painting the hull.

With the tracks done, all that’s left is to add the tools, tow cables and other bits and pieces. And here I found that, once again, the snap together construction means that I might have better to follow the sequence of construction in the instructions. If, as I did, you assemble the toolboxes on the hull, for example, before you try to fit things like the tow cable and saw, they don’t snap into place. To get these to fit, I had to cut off the locating pegs and glue them into position.

All that remains is to add a stretched-sprue radio antenna, and that’s the Zvesda SU-85 done…  

After-Action Report

I have been building mainly 1/35 kits recently, and I had almost forgotten how quick and fun these little 1/72 kits can be. Most construction was done in a single, short session and even the painting took much less time than usual. I also rather like the fact that these smaller scale kits are cheaper and take up less display space than their larger counterparts.

Overall, I was very impressed with this, my first Zvesda kit. Detail is crisp, accurate and complete, there was a total absence of flash and the only mould-release marks are placed inside, where they can’t be seen. As far as I can tell, this builds into a good representation of the SU-85 with no major inaccuracies or problems.

I’m not so sure about the whole “snap together – no glue required” thing. A couple of parts must be glued in place and I am not at all certain that some of the smaller parts could be fitted securely without the use of glue. On some small parts such as the sprockets, the amount of force needed to snap these into place is so great that I was concerned that I’d break them and I ended up sanding these and gluing them into position. It’s not a major problem, but I suggest you do have glue and sandpaper to hand if you’re building one of these.

This approach also means that you must either follow the recommended steps for construction or be prepared to glue some small parts into place. For example, I left things like the tow cables and tools until I had finished constructing and painting the hull, and that meant that some of these parts couldn’t be easily snapped into place.

Fit was, well, all right. Some filing and sanding was needed in a few places but no worse than I have experienced on several other kits. I do like the semi-hard plastic tracks provided on this kit. They look much more to scale than most rubber-band style tracks, they’re less fiddly than link-and-length tracks, especially in this small scale, and they bend round the sprocket and idler convincingly. These do mean that you must follow the recommended steps for assembly, but this isn’t difficult, just different.

I suppose the most important question is: having built this one, would I buy another Zvesda 1/72 kit? And the answer is an emphatic: Yes! In fact, I think I can feel a T-34 sort of mood approaching…

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Zvesda 1/72 Soviet Tank Destroyer SU-85 (5062) In-Box Review and History

Tamiya 1/35 Sturmgeschütz IV Sd.Kfz. 163 (35087) Build Review

It’s time to start the build of the StuG IV. I’m looking forward to this one because, in my limited experience, these older Tamiya kits are simple to build and fit is generally very good indeed. Because they were originally designed as motorised kits, the upper and lower hull are separate assemblies that can be joined later in the construction process, and that can make painting things like the roadwheels, sprocket idler and suspension a little simpler. I have decided to use the kit decals to model a StuG of Sturmgeschütz-Brigade 237 (formerly Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 237). This unit was formed in February 1944 and took part in action on the Eastern Front in defence against the Soviet offensive known as Operation Bagration.

I’ll be going for an overall dunklegelb (dark yellow) finish without any additional camouflage. As ever, I’ll be brush painting just about everything and I hope to create a slightly battered looking StuG from the early Summer of 1944.

I begin with assembling the various part of the upper and lower hull and the main gun. And it’s immediately obvious that fit is simply superb. Everything assembles with no gaps; the placement of parts is generally clear and there is no need for filler anywhere.

I assemble the upper hull with the loader’s hatch open (I’ll be placing the figure from the kit in this hatch) but with the Commander’s hatch closed. In retrospect, I might have been better to leave the Commander’s hatch open because the kit includes a rather nice representation of the periscopic Commander’s sight.

I also work on the Schurzen side armour at this point. In the kit, all five panels on each side are modelled as a single piece. However, in reality these were separate plates so I carefully cut the armour into five pieces on each side. Each panel is provided with its own mounting points and I’m hoping that cutting out the individual panels will be enough to suggest that these are separate parts without bending the individual panels as I have seen done on some kits. This also gives me the option of leaving out one or more panels, something that was frequently seen on well-used vehicles.

I then spray everything with a base coat of Tamiya TS-68 from an aerosol can, simply because I have a little left in a can and at least it gives me a consistent base to work on.

I’ll be using MIG Jimenez acrylic paint for the main colour, with Dunklegelb Base and Dunklegelb Shine for highlights. One thing I do like about these paints is that they’re translucent, so I apply the Shine first to areas that would reflect more light…

Then I add a top coat of the Base colour, leaving the highlighted areas still just visible.

Next, I carefully paint chipped areas on the upper and lower hull as well as on the gun and mantlet. I use a dark grey to suggest an exposed undercoat and I try to keep it logical – raised areas and places where there would be likely to get wear show more chipping.  

Then, I paint the tyres on the roadwheels and return rollers – not one of my favourite jobs! I also paint the tools, tow cable, jack and MG34 at this stage, and I’m trying a different technique here. I paint all these items dark grey and then highlighted edges and worn areas with a soft pencil.

I’m fairly happy with the result and these are added to the hull and the decals are applied using Vallejo Decal Fix and Decal Softener. The decals are fine, though they do feel a little thick.

Then, and I fix the gun and mantlet in position – a nice touch is that the gun can both traverse and elevate when it’s in place. Everything then gets a coat of clear matte varnish before I start on the oil wash to bring out shadows. I use Abteilung oils dark mud, a fairly dark brown which contrasts nicely with the dark yellow finish. The fine panel detail makes highlighting recessed lines fairly simple.

Then I join the upper and lower hull parts. Hey, it’s starting to look like a StuG!

I assemble the exhaust and give it a coat of Tamiya white putty to simulate a rusty texture and then paint it orange before overpainting with a thick layer of the same oil paint I used for the shadow wash. I then use thinner to rub off some of the oil paint and this gives a blotchy finish that kind of looks like rust. I’m also happy with the effect of the pencil highlights on the tow cable.

Then the tracks get the same treatment as the tools – after a base coat of dark gunmetal and a coat of clear varnish, I use a pencil to add a soft metallic shine to raised areas. When they’re in place I’ll add some brown acrylic wash to suggest rust and dirt.

Wrestling the vinyl tracks into position is fairly simple. They aren’t too tight, though it would be difficult to simulate any sort of sag. However, on this kit the top run of the tracks will be hidden by the Schurzen plates, so this isn’t a major issue.

The figure is next and, once again, I’m really not sure about the information provided by Tamiya. The painting guide on the box. This shows the figure wearing a camouflaged jacket and a green cap and trousers.

The style of the unform is certainly correct with the wrap jacket, but all the references I can find suggest that StuG crews (who were members of the artillery rather than panzer troops) wore grey uniforms throughout the war. So, I give my crewman a grey uniform, which also means I don’t have to attempt a complex camouflage pattern, something I think I’d find very challenging in 1/35 – I have to admit that my figure painting skills aren’t the best! A pistol holster is included in the kit but, as the figure doesn’t have a belt, there isn’t anywhere to hang this. The kit also includes headphones, but these fit so badly on the figure’s head that I leave them off.

The last jobs are to add the two radio antenna and hang the Schurzen plates on either side – they don’t have to be glued in place, so you can display the finished kit with one or more plates missing. And that is the StuG IV pretty much done… 

 After Action Report

Other than adding some rusty texture to the exhaust with Tamiya white putty (and that was the only occasion I needed to use any filler on this kit), cutting the Schurzen side armour into individual plates and adding the radio antenna, this build is straight out of the box. I’m very happy with the result and the kit itself is a sheer pleasure to build. There aren’t a great many tiny parts and what there is fits perfectly. The instructions are generally clear (though I did struggle to understand where to place the rear towing hooks) and there is nothing really challenging in this build.

As with the other old Taimya 1/35 kits I have built, this was just fun and relaxing to build and paint. Perhaps the tracks could be better and there is a gap between the upper hull and the top of the roadwheels that can be seen from some angles through the open loader’s hatch, though it would be simple to fill this with plastic card – I failed to notice until I had joined the upper and lower hull.  I’m sure that more recent kits of the StuG IV provide more detail and things like stowage items on the outside of the hull. Nevertheless, this builds into a reasonable representation of a StuG IV for very little money.

Two generations of German tank destroyer in 1/35

Italeri Marder III behind

Overall, this kit is highly recommended and it might be especially appropriate for someone coming to 1/35 armour kits for the first time.

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Italeri 1/35 SdKfz 139 Panzerjäger Marder III (6210) Build Review

It’s time to start the build of the Marder, and I’m a little nervous. I don’t own an airbrush and on previous 1/35 kits I have used acrylic spray-cans for the base colour. Despite what the instructions recommend, I’m going for overall panzer grey here to model a Marder in Russia in late 1942. I don’t have a spray-can of the right colour and I plan to brush-paint everything. Which of course brings its own particular challenges…

I begin with assembling the hull and almost straight away, it is clear that this kit has some fit issues. The first problem is that the rear right side of the engine compartment is badly bent. Now, I don’t think this is an issue with the kit itself, more probably in the way that this example has been stored, but it’s very noticeable. The picture above shows the assembled rear hull after I tried to straighten it out, but it’s still not straight. The second issue becomes obvious on dry assembly – the overall fit here just isn’t great, particularly round the rear hull. Compared to, for example, some Tamiya kits from the same period, parts just don’t fit together positively and a great deal of care is needed to avoid lots of unsightly gaps.

With the addition of some filler to the worst gaps, the hull is largely complete and it’s clear that there isn’t much internal detail here other than a couple of seats and a shell storage rack. I may add some helmets, gas-mask cases and other bits and pieces from the spares box to add visual interest later though, to be honest, the interior is largely hidden by the gun, mount and armour. The anti-slip mesh on the floor is quite nicely done, but it’s marred by some very obvious sink-marks and these are impossible to remove without sanding away the mesh. I paint the interior off-white, then add a layer of clear varnish and a wash of dark grey oil paint. This does enhance the detail, but it also makes the sink-marks very obvious.

Then, it’s time to work on the rest of the hull, though I’ll be leaving the upper guards off until the tracks are complete. The suspension parts fit well and without any major drama. Actually, most parts added to the hull fit fairly well, which is a relief. With the main hull done, I give that and the armour a couple of coats of well-thinned (to avoid obvious brush marks) coat of Vallejo German Grey.

Then, I rub with a household scourer to remove paint from details, high spots and edges.

Then, everything gets a very thin, lightened coat of Vallejo German Grey which leaves the highlights still visible.

Then, I add the decals and it all gets a coat of clear, acrylic varnish and then a wash of thinned black oil paint to enhance the shadows and some white streaks to give some variation to main panels. For some reason, the camera makes these look much more intense than they really are – they’re barely noticeable lighter areas, not white stripes! 

Then it’s time to start work on the gun and mount. The barrel is moulded in two halves and, though they have locating pins, fit once again isn’t great and it takes quite a bit of sanding and the use of filler to get something approximately circular and smooth.  

Overall, detail on the gun is quite good, but the location for some parts isn’t very clear and the instructions aren’t a great help. Once it’s done, it gets a couple of coats of German Grey.

Then I rub off the high spots and give it a final coat of lightened German Grey. And then a wash of black oil paint and some white streaking. Then I highlight the control wheels in a light gunmetal and add the gun shield.

The road and return wheels, idlers and sprockets get the same treatment and the tyres are painted in dark grey. Then it’s time to work on the tracks. I’ll be assembling these on the running gear and then removing them for painting. Assembly isn’t particularly difficult and the instructions are clear. However, I do note one odd thing – the instructions state that seven single track links should be used on the rear idler and six on the front sprocket, but if you do that, this is the result…

Happily, there are plenty of spare single track links provided, so it’s simple to add another on the sprocket on both sides. Then the tracks are removed and painted. I keep this pretty simple – a base coat of dark gunmetal, highlights picked out in a lighter gunmetal and then an acrylic brown wash to simulate rust and dirt.

Then, I add the painted tracks to the hull. I’m happy with the result and this wasn’t nearly as fiddly as some track-and-link kits I have built. Finishing the tracks is always a good moment during the construction of any AFV as it really starts to look like a tracked vehicle.

Then, I add the track-guards, the rear storage and some other bits and pieces. The deformation in the rear hull causes some issues when fitting the guards, but with a bit of fiddling, it doesn’t look too bad. There are also some very evident sink-marks on the upper surfaces of the guards, and I’ll try to cover these with spare track links. After some more varnishing and oil wash, the hull is pretty much done.

Then, the gun and mount are attached to the hull which is straightforward. Finally, it’s starting to look a bit like a Marder.

Then, the top and side armour panels are then added and that’s another frustrating experience. There is a complete absence of mounting guides on the armour panels or the hull to say where and how these fit. It’s just way too easy to get the whole armour construction too far forward (or back) or to find that it’s not straight – I managed all three at various points before arriving at something I could live with. It takes a fair amount of referring to photographs of real Marders to work out where everything goes and some care and attention to make sure things are the same on both sides.

And finally the last parts like the exhaust, tools, jack and spare tracks links are added. The final touch is the addition, from my spares box, of helmets, gas-mask containers and an MP40 in the rear stowage and the addition of a radio antenna. I left out the expended shell casings provided with the kit, partly because they look a little oversize and mostly because my attempt to mix a brass colour looked so horrible. Finally, everything gets a well-thinned coat of matt varnish mixed with a little Panzer Grey. This tones everything in and reduces highlights while still leaving them visible.

And that is the Marder done.  

After Action Report

Other than drilling out the exhaust and adding some rusty texture to the same part with Tamiya white putty and adding a couple of bits and pieces to the rear stowage, this build is straight out of the box. Like just about every other kit I have attempted, this has both positives and negatives. The biggest negative is poor or imprecise fitting, especially in the hull and upper armour though this also applies to many smaller parts – almost every time there is a part with pegs intended to fit in locating holes, they either don’t fit without sanding or the locating holes are not provided and must be drilled-out. The instructions aren’t always great either, and I had to refer to some pictures of actual Marder IIIs to be certain about where some parts fitted. That said, there is nothing here that’s a complete disaster.

Set against that, the suspension, running gear and tracks are well done, the gun is fairly detailed and simple to construct and I’m happy with how these parts of the kit look now that they’re finished. Brush painting any 1/35 kit is a challenge, but overall I’m fairly happy with how this looks now it’s finished. There aren’t too many obvious brush-marks and I feel that the highlighting of things like rivets, bolts and other high-spots adds to the overall effect. 

Compared to more modern kits, I’m aware that interior and exterior detail here is sparse and I do feel that this kit would benefit greatly from the inclusion of two or more nicely detailed, convincingly-posed figures (I know, it comes with two figures but frankly, you probably aren’t going to want to use either of them).

Overall, this was a pleasant kit to build. Fit frustrations mean that it wasn’t quite as relaxing as, for example, some Tamiya kits of a similar vintage, but I generally enjoyed building this Italeiri Marder and the finished model does look pretty much like the original. If you can find one (especially a version like this, with length-and-link tracks) I recommend this as a pleasant way to spend a few evenings. And that, after all, is why we do this…

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Italeri 1/35 SdKfz 139 Panzerjäger Marder III (6210) In-Box Review and History