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SMER (Heller) 1/72 Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (0833) Build Review

I begin the build with the cockpit area, and what’s provided in the kit is pretty sparse – a floor, two seats, an instrument panel and a stick. However, All I’m going add are some harness straps to the seats. You could add more, but I’m not sure how much would actually be visible on the finished model.

I then fit the cockpit floor in place, and that isn’t as easy as you might think. It takes a bit of fiddling to get it all straight. And this isn’t the only time I’ll be saying that during this build…

Then, I do the only other bit of additional detail I’m going to add here, the inverted cylinders for the Argus engine. On the original, the front bank of two cylinders are clearly visible through the cooling vent on the front of the cowling. On this kit, all you get is the opening. So I make up something that looks a little like the cylinders and pushrod tubes out of bits of sprue and stretched sprue. It all looks a bit rough here…

But with everything temporarily joined, I think it will look OK from the front when it’s all painted.

Then, I paint the engine, the engine compartment and the interior of the cockpit. I add some harness straps to the seats – these are just drafted out in a graphics program and printed on a laser printer. They wouldn’t stand close inspection, but I hope they’ll add some visual interest to what is otherwise a rather empty cockpit.

I also attempt to dry-brush some detail on to the instrument panel. Not easy because what little detail is there is barely raised at all.

Then I join the fuselage halves and add the cowling nose. Fit is, well, just about OK but less than perfect. A little sanding and some filler will be needed to fill the worst of the gaps. 

With the fuselage and nose joins sanded and filled I add the tailplanes and struts, and that isn’t simple either. Location consists of a single, small, short round peg on the tailplanes and a corresponding hole in the tail. This doesn’t give a clear or strong fit and you’re going to need to carefully position and prop the tailplanes while the glue sets. I guess that’s just how things were back in the 1970s when this kit was first released!

The wing halves are then joined and there aren’t any problems here, though location isn’t well defined and you do have to be careful to get congruence between the upper and lower halves.

Next, I add the leading-edge slats to the wings and again, that’s tricky due to vague location. Several plastic pegs are moulded into the leading edges of the wings, but there are no corresponding locating holes in the slats into which these fit. You have to glue the slats roughly into place, then prop them while the glue dries, keeping your fingers crossed that you’ll end up with something that looks plausible and matches on both sides.

In terms of overall construction, I’m going for the Luftwaffe version, and the camo scheme on the top of the fuselage, wings and tailplanes will need masking. All the struts that support the wings and undercarriage will get in the way, so I’m going to paint the wings and fuselage first and separately, then I’ll add the canopy and finally the wings and undercarriage. Next, I work on painting the canopy framing. I begin by taking the canopy parts off the sprue and doing some basic masking. And wow, there are a great many tiny sections of masking required! I’m not complaining – one of the reasons I chose the Storch as a subject was so that I could work on my (in)ability to mask and paint canopy frames. You have to take your time, use a series of fresh blades in your craft-knife/scalpel and aim for a state of tranquil focus. Or something like that… It took over an hour to get to the stage below, where I’m ready to start slopping some paint on the canopy.

And this is the result. It’s, well, not as bad as some of other attempts at framing. Though that isn’t a high bar to exceed! Of course, I still have to join the five pieces of the canopy together, and I have a feeling that’s going to be tricky.

But for the moment, I put the canopy aside and begin painting the fuselage and wings. I start by painting the lower surfaces light blue, then masking and painting the base, lighter green on top.

Then, guess what? It’s time for even more masking to delineate the splinter camo scheme on the upper surfaces.  And when I peel off the tape, just to add to my usual masking woes, the base green paint lifts off in places. This only happens on the fuselage and tail, but quite large sections of paint are removed (as you can see below). I don’t really understand why – I’m using my usual masking tape, I didn’t burnish it down particularly hard and the Vallejo acrylic paint I’m using is the same I always use. Oh, well, some careful touching up is required.

But at least I end up with pretty much what I was aiming for.

Next I add the decals. These are pretty good – dense, but not too thick and printed nicely in-register. I do notice that in a couple of places, most obviously on the fuselage identification letters (though it isn’t noticeable in photographs), there is some silvering, though I used both Decal Fix and Decal Softener.

Next I assemble the five parts of the canopy. It’s not easy to get everything aligned and the canopy has to be both accurately and robustly assembled because the wings attach directly to tabs on the top. And I’m not going to say that this is impossible, because clearly it isn’t, but it is very, very tricky. You’ll be juggling five separate and oddly shaped parts that just don’t fit particularly well while trying to get everything to line up. I’m happy and relieved to end up with something that looks even approximately correct.

Next, I touch up the areas of green that have become chipped, give everything a coat of clear varnish and then I attempt to attach the wings and struts. And again, that’s fiddly. The fit of the wings on to the stubs on the canopy top isn’t great – there is a fair amount of play. So, the underwing struts are needed to avoid droopy wings and keep everything in place, but these don’t fit especially well either. The small struts that fit into the wings inboard of the main struts also don’t quite seem to fit – they seem too short to connect with the main struts when they’re in place. In the end, I prop everything straight and level and hope that it will be close to right when the glue sets.

When the glue on the wings and main struts is dry, I move on to the final part of construction, the fragile undercarriage. For a change, this isn’t tricky, it’s fiendishly difficult – this is turning out to be a much more challenging build than I had anticipated! On each side, there is a single vertical leg that includes the shock-absorber and wheel and these are held in place by a pair of V shaped struts that glue into the fuselage underside (though no locating holes are provided) and side and to the undercarriage leg. Or at least, that’s the theory… On the pointed end of the end of the main, lower strut, there is a small pin, but there is nothing at all to fix this into on the undercarriage leg, and the instructions don’t really give any clues of how these are meant to join. In the end, I file off the pin (which seems to serve no purpose anyway) and attach the point of the strut with a butt joint to the top of a small box on the inside of the undercarriage legs. That isn’t really very satisfactory, but I just can’t see any other way of joining the undercarriage legs and supporting strut. With that done, trying to then get the undercarriage leg to attach to the underside of the wing while simultaneously getting the struts fixed to the fuselage underside is an exercise in swear-inducing frustration.

Then, when you have finally managed to get one leg sort of attached, you still have another to go! I think that trying to get both undercarriage legs attached and reasonably congruent on this Storch  is one of the most frustrating things I have attempted since I restarted modelling, mainly because there are no clear attachment points with which to join these parts. I recently wrote in another article how kit-building can induce Zen-like feelings of relaxation. Well, trust me on this, not if you’re building this Storch! I finally get both legs approximately attached, and leave everything to set.

The last thing to do is to fit the two smaller, upper V shaped struts that also support the undercarriage legs. And while there are sockets on the fuselage sides for these, if you place the open end of the strut in the sockets, the other end doesn’t line up with the undercarriage leg. I do the best that I can and I fudge the location of these struts so that they look just about right.

The biggest surprise comes when the glue is set and I turn the model right way up to discover that, despite all the problems with assembly, everything sits pretty much straight and level. That I didn’t expect! With the last construction completed, I add an oil wash to highlight recessed detail on the wings and tail and that’s this tiny Storch finally finished!

After Action Report

The first half of construction here was fine. Fit was OK, though perhaps location is a little vague. Then came adding the leading-edge slats, building the canopy, adding the wings and struts and finally the undercarriage and associated struts. And none of that was any fun at all. Fit is horrible or non-existent, parts just don’t seem to fit in locating holes (except where those aren’t provided at all) and getting the undercarriage attached and straight was just a series of frustrations. Perhaps none of those things are really a surprise given that this is really a 1970s kit, but these problems make it very difficult to recommend this one and it certainly isn’t suitable for a newcomer to this hobby.

Which is kind of a shame, because somehow, despite all the problems and the fact that things like the struts are clearly oversize, the finished model does nicely capture the flimsy and inelegant look of the Storch. As a finished kit, this kit is sort of OK but it surely was a struggle to get there!

I have read a few other build reviews of various iterations of this kit, and while some do mention construction challenges, none prepared me for just how awkward this would be to build. This is difficult. Really difficult. And not in a good way. It’s hard to see precisely where some parts fit, the instructions provide nothing more than broad hints and a few bits seem to be the wrong length or size. If you really want a 1/72 Storch, you may be prepared to put up with all this but honestly, I’d suggest you consider spending your cash elsewhere if you want to retain your sanity.

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SMER (Heller) 1/72 Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (0833) In-Box Review and History

Zen and the Art of Model Kit Building

SMER (Heller) 1/72 Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (0833) In-Box Review and History

I’m still trying to build up my rusty aviation kit building skills. And there’s one thing I really struggle with: painting canopy frames. Recently, I purchased a vauuform canopy to replace one I broke during a build. It cost pennies, but there was a fixed postage charge, so it seemed logical to order a kit at the same time. Then, I spotted this 1/72 SMER Storch for less than €8. Well, it would have been rude not to buy it at that price, and the Storch has an awful lot of canopy framing to paint, so it’s a great chance to practice.

SMĚR is a Cech company that market a range of aircraft, ship and car kits in various scales. However, this particular kit isn’t really by SMĚR: it’s a re-box with new decals of the Heller Fieseler Storch that was first produced back in 1976. This is a fairly old kit, but given that the 1/72 kit market isn’t exactly awash with models of the Storch, there isn’t a great deal of choice. So, it’s cheap and it’s old. But, is it any good? Let’s have a look…


In 1935, the Luftwaffe issued a specification calling for designs for a new army co-operation aircraft with short take-off and landing (STOL) capability. The winning design was submitted by Fieseler Flugzeugbau Kassel, the company started in 1930 by WW1 flying ace and aerobatic champion Gerhard Fieseler.

An early Storch lands on Unter den Linden in Berlin in 1939

There was nothing particularly radical about the design. The fuselage was constructed of metal tubing covered in fabric. The wings were made of wood and also covered in fabric. Fixed slats were attached to the leading edge of the wings with large slotted flaps and ailerons that drooped when the flaps extended beyond 20˚ at the trailing edge. Power was provided by an Argus As 10C air-cooled, inverted V8 engine producing less than 250hp.

A restored Storch shows its wing-folding ability

However, the combination of a large wing area and relatively light weight gave what was designated the Fi 156 truly astonishing STOL capability. Landing speed with flaps was just 50km/h (that’s just over 30mph folks!) and in a headwind, it could come to a stop in under 10 metres, little over its own length. In a headwind, it could take-off after a run of around 3 seconds/50m.

A Storch fitted with an auxiliary fuel tank

In addition, it’s large glazed cockpit projected over the side of the fuselage, giving great visibility even below. The wings could be folded for easy transport and storage and the long legs of the undercarriage contained oil-and-spring shock absorbers that allowed the aircraft to land and take-off safely on rough ground. These legs drooped when the aircraft was in flight, leading to the name by which it became universally known: Storch (stork).

A Storch on the Eastern Front in 1941.

This was a truly versatile aircraft that was used in a variety of roles including artillery spotting, observation, casualty evacuation, aerial photography, cable-laying and even bombing and anti-submarine missions (a few Fi 156 were adapted to carry a single depth charge). The Storch served on every theatre in which Germany was involved during World War Two and around 2,000 were produced by Fieseler in total, mainly the Fi 156-C version modelled in this kit.

An MS.500 with a radial engine

Amongst other locations, the Storch was manufactured during WW2 in Puteaux in occupied France and after the liberation of that country in 1944, the French Armee de l’Air requested that production continue, initially using parts provided from Germany and later, with new aircraft manufactured by Moraine-Saulnier (as the MS.500 Criquet) using a variety of engines including air-cooled radials. Almost 1,000 examples of various models of the MS.500 were produced and these were used in operations in Indo-China and Algeria.

What’s in the Box?

Inside the sturdy, end-opening box you’ll find three sprues moulded in light grey plastic and a single transparent sprue.

Alternate parts are provided so that you can build this as a Fi 156 or as a MS.500. You get two alternate canopy tops and different tailplanes. However, you don’t get alternate wings – the decals provided are for an aircraft used in French Indo-China (present-day Vietnam), and it was found that the humidity there rotted the wooden wings on the MS.500 which were quickly replaced with metal versions that would obviously have lacked the rib detail shown here.

The canopy parts seem cleanly moulded and the framing is well-defined, something that will help with painting. The cockpit access door on the right side is provided as a separate part, so you could show this open.

Surface detail is OK, with an attempt at replicating the fabric finish on the wings and fuselage. However, the few panel lines are raised rather than recessed and there is a fair amount of flash here.  

Detail is about what you’d expect for a 1970s kit, i.e., not wonderful. Here, for example you can see the control stick (top) and the the MG 15 machine gun for the rear cockpit mount (middle). It’s also notable that there is no engine, though in the original it can be clearly seen throught the cooling vent in the nose and the exhausts are too small and the wrong shape.

The decals cover two aircraft, a German Fi 156 used in Yugoslavia in 1943 and a French MS.500 used in Vietnam in 1952. I was surprised to see that the nasty swastikas for the tail are provided (though they aren’t shown on the box-art or colour scheme), but each is split in two, presumably so that you won’t be offended by the presence of this fascist symbol if you decide not to use them. Given that the Storch was also used by Italy, Spain, Sweden, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, amongst others, there are lots of options if you want to source alternate decals.

Two colour schemes are provided.

The instructions look fairly simple, and include a brief history of the Fi 156.    

Would You Want One?

What is provided here looks OK, but it’s pretty sparse compared to more modern kits. The cockpit (which will be visible through the greenhouse canopy) is particularly spartan, no crew figure(s) are provided and the Argus engine, clearly visible through the large vent on the front of the nose on the original, is completely missing. Some of the fine detail looks a little overscale and the machine gun, for example, doesn’t really look much like the original at all. However, in terms of overall shape and proportions, this does look pretty close. In many ways, this is a typical kit of the 1970s, providing a decent starting point for a detailed finished model rather than including the exhaustive detail we’re used to in more modern kits.

If you don’t fancy this Storch there are, as far as I’m aware, just two alternatives in 1/72. Airfix released a 1/72 Storch all the way back in 1967. Given its age, It isn’t terrible apart from the undercarriage legs. Two versions are provided in compressed (landed) or extended (in flight) form. Unfortunately, both are too long and look rather odd. If you care, the Airfix kit also shows the cockpit access door on the left, for some reason, while it was actually on the right. Academy released a 1/72 Storch in 1998, and it really isn’t bad. It’s available in several forms with different markings and it can be built as either a Fi-156 or an MS 500 (though it provides only a single set of wooden wings), and it even includes a radial engine if you want to model the MS 500 fitted with the (uncowled) Salmson 9AB nine cylinder radial engine. Some versions of the Academy kit also include a Kubelwagen if you want to put your Storch in a diorama.

Neither the Airfix nor the Academy kits model the Argus engine at all and in both (as in this kit) the cockpit interiors are pretty rudimentary. You might think that there are other 1/72 kits of this aircraft, but those offered by AZ Model, MisterCraft, Aurora, Pantera and others are, like this kit, just re-boxed versions of the original Heller kit.     

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SMER (Heller) Fieseler Fi 156 Storch (0833) Build Review

Heller 1/72 Somua (79875) Build Review

I start as recommended by the instructions, by assembling the four parts that make up the lower hull. Four parts. How difficult can that be? Well, if it’s these particular four parts, perhaps rather more difficult than you’d expect.

The problem is location. Although the instructions show locating pins, there aren’t any. So you’re left to try to figure precisely how these parts fit together. I mean, I get the general idea, but actually getting all four joined with some sort of congruence is far from simple. And when I’m finally done and I test-fit the upper hull, I realise that the rear bulkhead is too high and needs to be trimmed and the front is too low and will require filler.

I decide to ignore the instructions which suggest that joining the upper and lower hulls is the last step of construction and I go ahead and do that now. It takes some trimming before I get the upper hull to fit correctly, and then it’s obvious that the small semi-circular flanges via which the actual upper and lower hulls would be joined on the original don’t line up. I have to trim off all the flanges on the lower hull.

With the hull finally complete, I assemble the suspension, road wheels, sprockets, return rollers and idlers on each side. Happily that’s fairly simple. I leave off the suspension covers for the moment to make painting easier. I also check that it’s possible to squeeze the tracks between the top plate and the return rollers and that they’re long enough – it is and they are.

I add the last few bits and pieces to the hull, with the exception of the exhaust, tracks, shovel, and side-covers which I’ll add after painting.

Then I start work on the turret. Assembling the upper and lower halves is simple, but just as with the hull, there aren’t any pins or holes to aid with location so some care is needed. When It’s done, I carefully sand the join and add some filler to modify the shape of the right side. I also do a little work on the main gun – it’s notably far from circular, so I spend some time trying to sand it into a better shape and I then drill it out.

I complete the turret with the addition of the main gun and MG mantlets and that’s construction pretty much done. Now it’s time to start painting. First, everything gets several thin coats of Vallejo Dark Yellow, which looks a reasonable match for the ocre jaune used on French tanks early in World War Two.

Then I add a camo pattern based on the instructions and using Vallejo Olive Green for vert.

Finally, I use a 0.8mm black marker pen to add the black lines between the main camo colours. This is fiddly, but not too difficult.

Then I carefully add a matt varnish coat once the pen lines are dry – you do have to be careful with the varnish because if you’re a little too brisk with the brush, you can smear the pen lines. Then I add the decals using Vallejo Decal Fix and Decal Softener.

And then it gets an oil wash in dark brown to bring out the shadows and make everything look a bit grubby. Then I add the tracks and the exhaust pipe, though not the shovel – when I looked at it properly, it’s much too large and a very odd shape. And that’s it done.

After Action Report

Sorry Heller, but this just isn’t a great kit. In terms of fit, ease of construction, detail and overall quality, this falls short in every area.  OK, I know, it’s forty years old, but it is still notably worse than a number of other kits from the 1960s and 1970s that I have tackled. The tracks are particularly nasty. Not only don’t they resemble the tracks on the S35, they’re made of a particularly light, rubbery vinyl that just won’t take glue – I had to use a couple of stiches to get them joined.

This is especially disappointing because the S35 is an interesting subject for a small-scale armour kit. But there just aren’t many kits of French AFVs of World War Two in 1/72 or 1/76. Your only options for the S35 in this scale is this one or a quick-build wargaming kit. If you decide to go for this one, be prepared for some challenges along the way.  

I like old kits and I generally enjoy building them. This one, not so much. The previous kit I finished was a Revell/Matchbox kit from 1974. It had good detail, was crisply moulded and it was simply a joy to build. On this one, the only warm feeling I got inside was down to indigestion. In all honesty, this is probably one to avoid unless you’re willing to put in some effort and work with aftermarket parts in order to improve it.

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And if you want to see how much fun old kits can be:

Revell (Matchbox) 1/76 M24 Chaffee (03323) Build Review

Heller 1/72 Somua (79875) In-Box review and History

French manufacturer Heller began producing plastic kits all the way back in 1958, making them one of the earlier producers of injection-moulded kits, only a few years behind Airfix. The company has always produced models with a French flavour, often covering little-known aircraft from World War 2. Unfortunately, the company has experienced several periods of financial difficulty, with the latest in 2019 leading to Heller being bought by a German company, Glow2B, and Heller kits are now produced in France and Germany.

Just like Airfix, Heller have re-released a number of their early aircraft kits in the “Heller Museum” range. This range includes some little-known types from World War Two: if you fancy building a kit of a Potez 540 or a Liore & Olivier 45, look no further! However, Heller have always had a much smaller range of AFVs which seems to have remained continually in production since the 1970s.

This kit was first released in 1979 as the only World War 2 subject in a series of five 1/72 Heller AFV kits (all the others covered contemporary French armoured vehicles). It’s now the only WW2 subject in their 1/72 AFV range apart from several versions of the M4 Sherman. However, the Sherman kits are relatively new, being released in 2014/2015. I built one of those, and it was pretty good, but I’m keen to try an earlier offering from this company. This particular re-boxed version of this kit was released in 2001 and re-boxed again in 2013, but it doesn’t seem to have changed at all since its initial release. But as ever, the question here in MKW is: it may be an oldie, but is it also a goodie?  


In the early 1930s both Britain and France were pursuing a new doctrine that required a number of different tank types. Light tanks were to be used for reconnaissance, fast medium tanks would combat enemy armour and exploit breakthroughs while heavier tanks were used to support infantry. In Britain, medium tanks were classed as Cruisers with the first example, the A9 being introduced in 1938. In France, these medium tanks were classed as Cavalry tanks, but only one entered production before the outbreak of World War Two.

The initial French army specification was raised in 1934 and in 1935, a prototype produced by a Schneider subsidiary, the Société d’outillage mécanique et d’usinage d’artillerie (SOMUA), was selected for production. The first tanks were delivered in 1936 and given the designation Automitrailleuse de Combat modèle 1935 S, though they were more commonly referred to simply as the S35.

In many ways, the S35 was an outstanding tank. It was fitted with a 47mm SA-35 main gun, the most powerful main gun fitted to any tank prior to World War Two. Its V8 engine produced over 190bhp, giving the S35 a useful top speed of 25mph and large fuel tanks gave a range of almost 150 miles. The cast hull was provided with 47mm of frontal armour, more than any other tank in service in the mid-1930s. These features have led many people to claim that the S35 was the best tank available to any nation at the outbreak of war. But combat isn’t just a real-life game of Top Trumps where the weapon system with the highest spec always wins, and the S35 also had notable issues.

It was rather tall, which made it an obvious target, and its cast hull had a tendency to split along its bolted joints if it was hit by anti-tank fire. However, the most significant problem was its cramped turret. The first version of the turret provided space only for the commander who, in addition to directing the other two crew members, had to find targets and aim and fire the main gun and co-axial machine gun. A revised version was provided that provided just enough additional space for the radio operator to squeeze his head and shoulders into the turret to help with loading the main gun, but even this 1½man turret severely limited the S35s ability in combat. A shortage of equipment also meant that only the platoon leader’s tank in each five-tank platoon was fitted with a radio. Communication between the tanks in each platoon was done by means of flags, not an easy task in the heat of battle and made even more hazardous by the lack of a true commander’s cupola.

A captured S35 in German service on the Eastern Front in 1941. Like all S35s used by Germany, this has been modified by adding a commander’s cupola to the turret.

Although 600 S35s were originally ordered, only 450 had been completed when the war began and only 250 were available to meet the German invasion in May/June 1940. After the fall of France, almost 300 S35s were used by German forces as the Panzerkampfwagen 35-S 739(f). More than a dozen S35s were still in German service as late as the end of 1944. When the Allies liberated France, several of these German S35s were recaptured and used by Free French forces. No S35s were retained in French service after the end of the war, though there was a subsequently abandoned project which considered creating a tank destroyer by using the S35 hull as a mount for the British 17 Pounder anti-tank gun.

What’s in the Box?

The 40 parts are provided on three sprues and moulded in light brown plastic.

A quick examination of the parts suggest a mix of good and not so good. The upper hull, for example, seems fairly sharply detailed and nicely done.

The turret, however, doesn’t look so good. The large main hatch is part of the main moulding and things like vision slots and the rear hatch are barely hinted at. I’m also not convinced by the shape of the turret on the right side. On the left, it looks fine but on the right It angles sharply in towards the front – arrowed below.

Photographs of real S35s do not seem to show this. The image below shows the right side of the turret of a restored S35 and you can see that it’s a more complex and more rounded shape. The turret on the Heller 1/35 scale S35 kit is quite different and much closer to the original. Some work may be required here.

The suspension bogies and roadwheels are moulded as single assemblies, though they are at least sharply moulded and, to be honest, they will barely be seen because of the side covers.

The thing that really lets this kit down are the tracks. These are quite simply the worst tracks I have seen on any small-scale tank kit. They have no internal detail at all and barely any external detail. The image below, in case you’re wondering, shows the external detail, or rather, the complete lack of it.

These are even worse than, for example (and this is not something I ever thought I’d find myself writing) the vinyl tracks provided with the very first Airfix tank kits from the 1960s. They not only don’t resemble the tracks fitted to the S35, they don’t even look like tank tracks at all!

The small decal sheet is printed in-register, but there seems to be a problem with the colour on the roundel – as you can see, the red outer circle fades to dark blue for round one third of its circumference.

At least the instructions are simple and clear. Only one colour scheme is suggested, with decals for M10713, a tank described as belonging to the 4th Squadron of the 2nd Armoured Division of the 3rd DLM in 1940.

The suggested colours for the scheme are Oak Satin for the base with a contrasting camo pattern in dark green. That makes sense – French S35s in 1940 seem to have generally been painted in ocre jaune (a light yellow brown) and either vert olive mat (a lighter green than the olive drab seen later in the war) or vert (a light green). However, while the box-top art for this shows a thin black line between these two colours, this isn’t mentioned in the painting guide. These black lines do seem to have been used on S35s, as you can see in the image below of a restored S35 at the French tank museum at Samur.

The image below from 1940 appears to show M10713, the actual tank on which the markings and colour scheme for this kit are based. You can see that the paint scheme is very similar to that on the colour image above, with thin black lines between the colours.

This image comes from https://www.chars-francais.net, which also notes that this is a tank of the 2nd Escadron (not the 4th as the instructions claim) of the 2nd Régiment de Cuirassiers which was part of the 3rd Division Légère Mécanique (Light Mechanized Division, DLM). This tank was knocked-out during one of the biggest tank battles of the campaign in France on 14th May 1940 in Walhain-Saint-Paul in Belgium. However, this website, which is a great resource for information about French AFVs during World War Two, notes that this tank’s turret number was actually 85, not 65!

I think the website is probably correct – it lists the numbers of every S35 in the 2nd Régiment de Cuirassiers in May 1940 and tank 65 was actually hull number M10719, a tank of the 1st Escadron. If you look at the image above, you can see how the vision slit on the turret could make an 8 look like a 6 and perhaps that’s where the error in the decals originates? I don’t have any suitable alternative numbers so I’ll stick with the numbers provided with the kit. I will be attempting a paint scheme with black lines between the camouflage colours.

Would you Want One?

Viewed as a kit from 1979, this isn’t too bad in terms of detail and accuracy. It isn’t great, but it certainly isn’t terrible though the turret shape on one side looks wrong. The tracks, unfortunately, are utterly dreadful! I will probably use the tracks supplied with the kit, because I like to review and build these old kits OOB. However, if you’re thinking about one of these kits, you might want to consider finding alternative tracks. There isn’t much choice, but Bulgarian model and add-on parts manufacturer OKB Grigorov do provide replacement tracks in 1/72 for the S35 at a very reasonable price (you’ll find a link to their site at the end of this review) and I think that if you’re considering buying this kit, you might want to have a look at those!

Tracks and turret shape apart, this looks sort of OK. The overall dimensions are close to what you’d expect and I think it will be possible to create something that looks like an S35. The colour schemes used on French tanks of WW2 are extremely colourful and varied and that’s one of the reasons I’m keen to build this one. There seem to have been five productions batches of S35s and each seems to have used a slightly different scheme – on some S35s, the turret and hull appear to have used a completely different camo scheme! I’ll follow the kit instructions which look accurate, but I’ll be including the black separation line between the colours. That will be a challenge but if I can get it right, I think it will look rather distinctive.    

If you do want a small-scale kit of the S35 and you don’t fancy this old Heller offering, I’m afraid that the options are very limited. In fact, the only alternative I’m aware of comes from Chinese manufacturer S-Model who offer a 1/72 1+1 kit of the S35. Like most kits by this manufacturer, this is a simplified, quick-build kit intended primarily for wargaming. The tracks, running gear, suspension and side covers are moulded as a single part on each side, for example, though the tracks are much better detailed than these Heller efforts.

I didn’t realise until I started researching this article just how few small-scale kits there are of the S35. This was an important tank and one of the best available to any nation on the outbreak of World War Two. I’m very surprised that another manufacturer hasn’t provided a 1/72 kit of the S35, particularly given the limitations of both versions currently on offer.   

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OKB Grigorov replacement S35 tracks in 1/72:


Heller 1/72 M4A2 Sherman Division Leclerc (79894) Build Review

This is a longer build review than usual for the simple reason that this is a complex and detailed kit. So, sit back, relax and fortify yourself with your chosen beverage and let’s see how the Heller M4A2 turned out.

The first step with this particular kit is deciding which of the three tanks for which decals are provided to model? That will then allow me to decide which of the alternative parts to use. After some research, I decide to build Brive la Gaillarde, an M4A2 of 3ème Escadron, 12ème Régiment de Cuirassiers. This tank was used by Division Leclerc from its initial landing in Normandy on Utah Beach on 1st August 1944 through to the end of the war. After some Googling, I find a wartime photograph of this particular tank:

This photograph clearly shows which glacis plate, transmission cover and tracks to use. I haven’t found a clear photo of this tank that shows the running gear, so I’ll go with what the instructions in terms of which roadwheels, idlers and sprockets to use. With that decided, I can confidently begin the build. 

I start as per the instructions by assembling the lower hull and the suspension, sprockets, idlers and roadwheels. No problems with assembly and fit and location of all parts is very good.

Then, it’s on to the upper hull. Again, I follow the instructions and add things like the rear lights and brush-guards. I notice that Heller helpfully provide a painting guide for the rear lights.

However, there is a problem. Each rear light is approximately the size of a gnat’s eyeball. Here they are next to the head of a match:

I have a feeling I’ll be skipping this part of painting… Anyway, assembly of the rear hull proceeds without any major hitches. The fit on the rear deck and rear hull plates is wonderful. You will need to drill out a few holes in various places, depending on which tank you are building, but these are clearly shown in the instructions. The instructions note that You must also carefully cut away half of the bolts on the upper edge of the rear hull plate. It’s only when I have done this that I realise that you can’t actually see these on the finished model because they’re hidden by the rear stowage box.

The fit of the glacis plate is less impressive and there is a distinct gap on either side. A little Tamiya white putty is used to fill these.

The instructions suggest leaving joining the upper and lower hull halves separate until the tracks are in place. However, a quick dry assembly shows that there is also a distinct gap between the front edge of the glacis plate and the upper rear edge of the transmission cover.

This will also need to be filled before painting, so I think I may assemble the hull before painting and add the tracks later. Fortunately, there seems to be sufficient clearance between the track-guards and return rollers and sprockets to allow this.

I join the upper and lower hull halves and then fill the gap between glacis plate and transmission cover using more Tamiya white putty . This isn’t easy – you need to get a very thin line of filler into the gap but without covering the bolt detail on the transmission cover. I finally get something that just about looks acceptable and move on to completing the upper hull assembly.

The rest of the bits and pieces are added to the hull. Everything fits well and, as you can see, I have decided to go for open hatches. I leave off the tools and other accessories at the moment to paint these separately.

Then, It’s on to the gun and mount. The barrel comprises two parts, with the hollow tip moulded separately.

When it’s glued in place, it’s obvious that some sanding and filling will be needed conceal the join.

With  some careful sanding and the use of a tiny amount of Tamiya putty, I get something that looks fairly smooth if slightly tapered.

Then, the turret. Fit is great with no filler required anywhere. Some parts, such as the antenna base and the lifting rings are tiny and need careful handling and placement, but overall, no complaints.

The finished turret looks very good indeed. It’s a mini work of art in itself and, as you can see, I have gone for open hatches here too.

And that’s pretty much construction done. One thing I did notice that isn’t included here are the towing shackles on the front of the hull. I was thinking of adding a tow cable when I noticed that there is nowhere to connect it to! This does seem a little odd on a kit that is otherwise so detailed, and I improvise something out of the spares box – they look a little oversize, but I can live with that.

With that job done, it’s time to start painting. First, the hull and turret get a light base coat of white, followed by dark olive drab in areas of deep shadow under the track guards and on the rear hull. The inside of the hull and turret get a coat of black, to make sure that nothing of the interior will be visible through the open hatches and then it all gets a coat of clear varnish.  

It gets a top coat of Tamiya TS-28, Olive Drab 2. Then, I distress the finish with a scourer to bring up the highlights and then give it a coat of clear varnish mixed with a little Mig Olivegrun.

Next task is to add the decals using Vallejo decal fix and decal softener, and that’s not a five-minute job. French tanks had lots of markings and they are all replicated here – there are twenty decals on the hull alone! I was disappointed to note that some of the decals are badly out of register – that’s a surprise on a kit that otherwise exudes quality. Otherwise, the decals go on well with no silvering or other issues. I also paint the inside of the hatches, the turret and hull machine guns and the roadwheel tyres before giving everything another coat of clear varnish.

Then, it’s on to an oil pin wash using dark grey to bring up the shadows.

Then, I join and paint the tracks. I keep it simple – a dark grey for the rubber blocks, lighter gunmetal for the metal  parts with soft pencil highlighting and then an acrylic brown wash for rust and dust. Then, I put them in place and I discover that they’re so short that one of the joins immediately pulls apart.

OK, in the hope that someone from Heller (or any other tank kit manufacturer) is reading this, I have a message for you: if you must provide your otherwise finely engineered plastic kit with crappy, unglueable, vinyl tracks, MAKE THEM LONG ENOUGH! Please! Because, if you don’t then the fragile joints break when you try to stretch them into position. And that makes me cross, which makes me shout at my cat, and he’s a sensitive soul. This is just so frustrating – I mean, this is generally a very fine kit indeed, so, why spoil it with too-short vinyl tracks? OK, rant over. I’m calm now. Really. Almost.

With the tracks finally wrestled into position (and the cat off in a sulk) all that remains to complete this kit is to add a stretched-sprue radio antenna the tools and other bits and pieces to the hull and turret. And there are lots of these including jerrycans and kitbags.

And that’s the Heller M4A2 (finally!) finished.

After Action Report

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. Some of the decals with this kit were badly out of register, which is disappointing. The vinyl tracks are, as usual, resistant to every known form of glue and they’re too short. Which is very irritating indeed. No tow cable or shackles are provided. Things like the brush-guards over the lights are too thick.

Other than these drawbacks, this is just an outstanding kit. It’s well-engineered, accurate and complete. In fact, I really don’t see how you could have a better representation of an M4A2 in 1/72. This very completeness provides its own problems – you will be dealing with very tiny parts, and these aren’t always easy to paint or to position accurately. I never did paint the tail lights and I was delighted to note that you can’t actually see these on the finished model because they’re covered by the jerrycans stowed on the rear hull. There are lots of options too, and it takes some research to be certain which to use. But at least you’ll have a good stock of unused parts for your spares box when you’re done.

For myself, I found the complexity here a little daunting. Dealing with things like accessories is simple in 1/35, but it’s more of a challenge in 1/72. The last tank kit I built in this scale was the tiny IGC Sandurni from Minairons, which has just three main parts. You could make many arguments that this is a better kit. It’s certainly a much more detailed kit yet, overall, I enjoyed the experience of building the IGC Sandurni more than this one. But that’s purely my own personal reaction. Overall, I think the finished kit here looks all right. But for my next 1/72 tank, I’ll be looking for something a little simpler!    

And here’s my cat, Clarence, wondering whether my next kit will involve too-tight vinyl tracks. He likes to watch me kit-building, but he doesn’t like shouting. And no, it isn’t an optical illusion – he really is cross-eyed. Readers who remember kid’s TV shows of the 1960s may even be able to guess why he’s called Clarence.

So, Heller, Airfix, Trumpeter, et al. Enough already with the too-tight vinyl tracks. For Clarence’s sake, please, give us something better.

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Heller 1/72 M4A2 Sherman Division Leclerc (79894) In-Box Review and History


When I was a young kit-builder, I was an Airfix snob. Not an easy thing to imagine now, but back in the late sixties, I really thought that Airfix kits were the absolute best. I was aware of other brands: Frog, for example, covered some interesting subjects and Revell did some different aircraft. I was also dimly aware of another company, Heller, and I would occasionally see their kits in my local shop. They were attractively priced, but they often portrayed aircraft I had never heard of and I never did try one.

Fast-forward fifty years, and I still havn’t tried a Heller kit, though I’m almost over my Airfix obsession now. Then I spotted a Heller Sherman in 1/72 at a local stockist at a very reasonable €9.99. A quick burst of Googling seemed to confirm that this is a well-regarded kit of the iconic Sherman, so I decided that it was time to finally give a Heller kit a try.

French kit manufacturer Heller started out in business around the same time as Airfix, in the late 1950s. Within ten years they had a very reasonable range of kits, mostly portraying French aircraft and vehicles. Also like Airfix, they have gone through some troubled times since, going into administration more than once, being bought over and, in the latest change of ownership, being bought by a German company in 2019 to become Heller Hobby GmbH.

Heller kits are still manufactured in France and they still have a large range of aircraft, mainly French military and civilian types, and their range includes the “Heller Museum” range, re-releases of earlier kits. What they don’t have is many tanks in any scale. But, back in 2014, they released two Shermans in 1/72, an M4 “D-Day” kit and this one, an M4A2 of “Division Leclerc.”   


The origin and history of the M4 Sherman tank is pretty well-known and I have already covered it in the review of the Airfix Sherman (you’ll find a link at the end of this review), so I won’t go over it again here.

What we’re dealing with here is the M4A2, a Sherman with a General Motors 6046 diesel engine (actually, two GM 6-71 General Motors truck engines combined into a single unit). Other than having a diesel engine, the M4A2 was pretty much like every other welded-hull Sherman, being armed at various points with both the 75mm and later the 76mm main gun. Around seven thousand were made in total but, for whatever reason, the M4A2 was never used in combat by the US Army, thought it was used by the USMC in the Pacific theatre.

Most M4A2s were provided under the lend-lease deal to Britain (who called it the Sherman III) and to free Polish and Czech armoured units operating out of the UK. The M4A2 was also very popular with Russia, partly because their other main tanks, the T-34 and KV-1, were also powered by diesel engines, which simplified fuel supply for armoured divisions. However, the subject of this kit is a Sherman of Division Leclerc, a free-French unit that took part in operations in Normandy and beyond.

Champaubert, an M4A2 of Division Leclerc

This is one of the vehicles for which decals are provided in this kit.

Philippe de Hauteclocque was a French army officer who took part in the Battle of France in 1940 and escaped to join Free French forces in Britain under the command of General de Gaulle. He led Free French forces in North Africa against Italian and German forces and in 1943, following the defeat of Axis forces in Africa, he was appointed commander of the newly formed 2e Division Blindée (2nd Armoured Division), a Free French unit scheduled to take part in the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944. Like many men fighting with Free French forces, de Hauteclocque adopted a nom de guerre, Philippe Leclerc, to protect his family in occupied France from German reprisals. 2e Division Blindée quickly became known as “Division Leclerc.”

Brive la Gaillarde, another M4A2 of Division Leclerc and another Sherman for which decals are provided here.

The Division was equipped with American tanks, mainly M4A2s, and took part in fighting in Normandy, the liberation of Paris and Strasbourg and the final allied advance into Bavaria. Leclerc was awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour but died in an air crash less than two years after the end of the war.

What’s in the box?

Lots! I don’t think I have come across another 1/72 tank kit with so many parts and so many options. There are a total of over 130 parts provided on four sprues moulded in brown, fairly brittle plastic.

Detail on all parts looks absolutely excellent with crisp detail, no flash and virtually no visible mould release marks.

Accuracy in terms of representing an M4A2 of Division Leclerc looks outstanding. Most of the Shermans operated by this unit had wooden storage boxes added on the rear of the turret and hull – both are included here. Most photographs show the tanks with kitbags and stowage hung on the outside of the vehicle – kitbags, jerrycans and even a couple of American helmets are included. Full marks to Heller for not just modelling accurately an M4A2 but to including extra items to make this into a plausible representation of a tank of Division Leclerc.

I am very far from an expert on the Sherman and what worries me slightly here are the options. There are three different glacis plates, two different transmission covers, two sets of completely different roadwheels,idlers and sprockets and even two different sets of tracks! In one way, that’s great – it would be possible to build several different variants of the M4A2 from this kit, but it’s also slightly baffling. Take the glacis plates, for example. The instructions, box art and colour schemes all show the same glacis plate – the one with curved hoods in front of the driver’s and bow gunner’s stations. Is this correct for all three M4A2s for which decals are provided, because some Division Leclerc’s tanks have the squared-off hoods, which are also provided here? Should the same glacis plate be used for all three tanks and are these just common parts from the M4 Heller Sherman kit?

Likewise the transmission covers and tracks. The instructions don’t seem to given any guidance on which to use. I understand that some of the options are here simply because some sprues are common to the Heller M4, but two entirely separate and different tracks are provided, so some guidance on which to use would have been helpful. The instructions do note on which tank the different sprockets and roadwheels should be used, which is something. I guess the answer is to Google the specific tanks covered and try to find which parts are appropriate to each. I’m certainly not complaining about the wealth of options here, but I would have appreciated a little more guidance. Overall, the level of detail and crispness of mouldings looks very good indeed. Look at the image of the turret below – it’s not only accurate, it has a slightly rough surface that nicely represents cast steel.

Some parts are tiny – the lifting rings and brush-guards for the lights, for example, and care will be needed to get these off the sprue in one piece and to keep them out of the clutches of the ever-hungry carpet monster.  The hatches are all provided as separate parts and all have internal detail so they can be modelled open, but there is no interior detail and no figures are included. This kit doesn’t use slide moulding so the main gun, for example, is not moulded open. But, in an interesting approach, Heller have provided the tip of the gun, which is moulded open, as a separate part. So, you won’t have to drill the gun out but you will have to conceal the joint where the tip is affixed.  The only thing that isn’t included is the tow cable which is depicted on the box art.

The tracks are vinyl, rubber band style but they seem reasonably detailed though there are moulding marks on the inside. Each vinyl sprue provides two different tracks representing, I believe, T51 rubber block and T54E1 steel chevron type tracks. There are even two versions of the spare track links which match the two styles of vinyl track!

Many wartime photos show also that the Shermans of Division Leclerc had both spare roadwheels and track links on the front glacis plates. This isn’t mentioned in the instructions but both spare track links and extra roadwheels are provided, so this should certainly be possible. Thankfully otherwise the full-colour instructions are very good indeed. They’ seem clear and complete, painting instructions appear to be given for every part and the 3D views look easy to follow. Decals are provided for three tanks of Division Leclerc: Champaubert of the 501e RCC (Régiment de Chars de Combat), Brive la Gallarde of the 12e Regiment de Cuirassiers and Valserine of 12e RCA (Régiment de Chasseurs d’Afrique). The only colour scheme is overall US Army green.

The decals are as complicated as the rest of this kit. Tanks of Division Leclerc simply had lots of markings and these are faithfully replicated for three different tanks. However, guess what – there are options in the decals too! Three alternative styles of turret-top white star are included, but there are no clues as to which is appropriate to which particular tank. I do note that some of the decals seem to be badly out of register, which is a little disappointing.

Overall this looks to be a very good representation of the M4A2, though the sheer number of options and alternatives seem to me to edging towards “bewildering.” It’s probably just as well there aren’t any figures provided because these would almost certainly come with several alternative styles of socks and moustaches. If variety really is the spice of life, this is a vindaloo. Whether that fills you with joy or makes you slightly apprehensive is a personal matter, but I don’t think anyone could complain that they aren’t given sufficient options in this particular kit.   

Would you want one?

The immediate answer seems to be yes. The detail and options here are superb and the quality of moulding and attention to detail seem very good. Indeed, the level of complexity and optional parts is as good as seen on many 1/35 kits.  OK, it has vinyl tracks, but otherwise, I really don’t see how you could have a more complete or accurate French M4A2, especially at a price of under €10. If you can source some alternate decals and with a little modification, there is no reason you can’t also use this as the basis for a British, Russian, Czech or Polish M4A2 too.

If you do want to try an alternative, Italeri do a 1/72 Sherman III (M4A2) as part of their “fast assembly” range. This comes as a pack of two tanks which are somewhat simplified, being intended for wargames. They depict British Shermans from North Africa complete with sandshields.

Dragon do a few versions of the M4A2 including a USMC version, a later 76mm gun version in “Red Army” guise and a rather nice British Sherman III in North African trim. All are reasonably accurate and include DML’s soft plastic tracks. However, none seem materially better than this Heller effort and they just don’t provide the level of alternatives seen here.   

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