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

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