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Zvezda 1/72 Jagdpanther (5042) Build Review

I decided to build this kit in a slightly different sequence to usual, mainly because of the tracks. On the last two Zvezda kits I built, I was able to happily ignore the track construction until the hull was done and painted. However, the arrangement of roadwheels on the Jagdpanther is quite complex, so I have decided to follow the instructions and built the wheels and tracks on to the lower hull before working on anything else.

First, I completed construction of the lower hull by adding the suspension arms and other parts. This is all fairly simple and fit is good. There is good detail here, though none of it will be visible on the finished model. Then, I painted the roadwheels, sprockets and idlers. I also painted the tracks at this stage – nothing fancy, just an overall coat of dark grey, some dry-brushing with light gunmetal and some acrylic brown wash for rust and dirt.

Then, I began to assemble the wheels and tracks on the lower hull, and man, was that a pain! The first problem was when I tried to attach one of the rear idlers. This was the result.

I didn’t feel that I was using excessive force, but somehow I snapped off a corner of the lower rear hull including the idler mounting. I glued it back in place with a piece of plastic card for reinforcement and carried on. The next step was to add the inner blocks of eight roadwheels. That, happily is fairly simple. So is adding the next block of four roadwheels.

Then, you use one hand to hold the lower hull, your other hand to fit the tracks on to the tiny plastic pins on the inner roadwheels and your other, other hand to carefully bend the rest of the stiff plastic track into position. You see the problem! Both the previous Zvezda kits I worked on were of Russian tanks (a t-34 and an SU-85). These have just a row of double roadwheels with sturdy plastic pegs between the two sets to hold the tracks in place. That worked well.

Here, the complex arrangement of roadwheels means that the mounting pegs are tiny, and you are trying to locate the tracks on these while threading the lugs on the inner side of the tracks between three rows of wheels. Then, when you have finally managed that, and while holding everything in place, you must add the final row of four separate roadwheels, three of which also have tiny pegs that must locate into the tracks. But, as you are pressing these into place, you can’t see the pegs on the inner face of the wheels. And if you get them even a miniscule amount out of alignment, they snap off. Or at least, mine did. It took my thirty minutes of wrestling and almost my entire stock of swear-words to get the first side done, and even then, there was still a tiny gap where the tracks join on the bottom of the run. I finally sorted that out and retired for the evening.

The second side was just as challenging, but somehow I did end up with a lower hull with two sets of tracks that look sort of all right. But this was not a process I enjoyed in the least!

With the tracks and lower hull done, it’s time to move on to upper hull construction. Happily, this is very simple. Fit is generally very good and in a couple of places, on the rear plate of the upper hull and the inner mantlet, for example, it’s pretty close to perfect. No filler is needed at all. The gun and outer mantlet attach to an arm fixed inside the hull and this allows the gun to both elevate and traverse.

Then, you need to snap the upper and lower hulls together, and this is a one-time process. There is no test assembly here, once the parts are snapped together, they stay that way! Happily and once again, fit is good. There is a small visible gap at the front where the upper and lower hulls join which needs a line of filler and I needed a little more when I added the lower rear hull plate, but that may be because I snapped off a corner of the lower hull during track construction. The schurzen side plates also fit very nicely indeed. I’m leaving off the tools, tow-cables etc., at this stage to make basic painting easier.  

This kit does nicely replicate the squat, purposeful look of the Jagdpanther. With the bulk of construction done, it’s time to start main hull painting. First, it gets several thinned coats of Mig Jiminez Dunklegelb.

Then I add everything but the spare track-links, tow-cables and machine gun and add some fairly subtle highlights using a lightened version of the base dunklegelb.

Then, I add a fairly simple camouflage scheme.  I have had lots of problems with these in the past, especially with the contrast between the green and brown and the base dark yellow. I have tried filters to try to tone this contrast down, but they haven’t turned out too well, so here I’m simply using lightened versions of the basic dark brown and green, applied with a stippling brush. And it doesn’t look too bad, in fact, I’m happier with this than with most of my previous attempts at German camo schemes and I’m hoping that the final oil wash will tome things down even more. Before that, I add the decals and give everything a quick coat of matt varnish.

Then, it gets a pin-wash with dark grey oil, I add the last few parts, and that’s the Zvezda Jagdpanther done.

After Action Report

Having said previously how much I loved Zvezda tracks, I found the tracks on this kit an utter pain to assemble. This job was fiddly, time consuming and the amount of force needed to get things like the final set of outer wheels in place graphically illustrates just how fragile the lower hull assembly is at this stage of construction. Maybe I’m just clumsy, but it would be much too easy at this stage to break something critical. Having said all that, the finished tracks have more detail and probably do look better than vinyl versions in this scale.

Other than that, assembly was simple and straightforward and fit was very good everywhere. I do like the fact that the tools, tow-cables and other parts are provided separately, and this certainly makes them easier to paint and they look so much better than moulded-in-place parts. I did note on this kit that every part can be snapped into place without the need for glue – on previous Zvezda kits, some small parts did need to be glued in place.

Overall, this is certainly one of the most accurate and complete small-scale Jagdpanthers available. Perhaps it’s even the best? For me, the main question is, having built this, my third Zvezda 1/72 kit, would I tackle another? And the answer is,,, probably. The arrangement of roadwheels and tracks made this a challenging build for me, so I’m not sure I’d be rushing to buy, for example, a Panther or Tiger by the same manufacturer. However, I do still feel that these hard plastic tracks represent the best detailed 1/72 tanks tracks that I have come across to date. So, another Zvezda 1/72 kit? Yes, but perhaps something with a simpler arrangement of roadwheels…

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Zvezda 1/72 Jagdpanther (5042) In-Box Review and History

Introduction

I have wanted to build a small-scale Jagdpanther for some time. This must be one of the most iconic of all the German AFVs of World War Two and there are several versions available in 1/72 and 1/76. Having enjoyed a couple of Revell (ex-Matchbox) 1/76 kits recently, I was tempted by the Revell 1/76 Jagdpanther. Like most of the re-issued Matchbox kits, that one comes with a rather nice diorama base, but it is missing track-guards and its proportions just don’t look quite right to me.

There are lots of 1/72 Jadgpanthers available, but many of those have dimensional issues too. At least one (also produced by Revell) is actually closer to 1/76 than 1/72! However, for me, the greatest issue with most small-scale Jagdpanthers (as well as Panthers and Tigers) is the tracks. The large, broad, heavy tracks fitted to this vehicle have characteristic sag from the front sprocket. Visually, this is a very distinctive feature of this vehicle, and one that I’m not certain can be portrayed accurately by vinyl tracks.

Of course, there are also kits with link-and-length tracks available, but I do find it challenging to assemble these believably where they are assembled from individual links and pass over the sprocket and idler. However, there is one manufacturer whose 1/72 tracks I have found to be simply outstanding: Zvezda. This Russian manufacturer provides hard plastic tracks that are nicely detailed and moulded in one piece – they’re simply bent over the sprocket and idler and joined by pegs hidden within the roadwheels.

I have built two Zvezda 1/72 kits and on both, I was very impressed by their track design. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that these are the best tracks I have come across on any small-scale armour kits. I want to build a Jagdpanther, and I want the tracks to look right. So, the logical choice is Zvesda’s Jagdpanther which was first released in 2017. Will I end up happy or suffering from more 1/72 track-angst? Let’s take a look…     

History

The Pak 43 developed by Krupp was the most powerful German anti-tank gun in service during World War Two. It was intended to compete with the existing Rheinmetall 8.8 cm and it comfortably exceeded the penetrating ability and range of even the dreaded “eighty-eight.” The Pak 43 could penetrate the frontal armour of even the heaviest Soviet and Allied tanks at ranges of over 12km and it was accurate up to 3km. However, this fearsome weapon had one major drawback – it was so heavy and unwieldy that it made a less than perfect towed gun. 

A pair of Jagdpanthers somewhere in France, 1944

A study in 1942 by the Heereswaffenamt (the R&D arm of the German army) developed what looked like an ideal solution. The new gun would be installed on a self-propelled chassis based on the then-new Panzer V Panther tank (a version was also used as the main gun for the Tiger II). Various delays meant that the new vehicle did not enter mass production until November 1943 at which time it was given the designation Sd.Kfz.173 and the name Jagdpanther (hunting Panther).

The new tank-killer housed a crew of five behind a solid slab of frontal armour that was 80mm thick and sloped at an angle of 55˚. This made the front armour impervious to most Soviet and Allied anti-tank weapons. With power provided by a 23 litre Maybach V12 petrol engine, the Jagdpanther was fast too, with a top speed of almost 30mph.

A Jagdpanther with the early one-piece main gun

However, Allied bombing raids and shortages of skilled workers and materials meant that by June 1944, fewer than fifty Jagdpanthers had been manufactured. Production accelerated after that, but only just over four hundred Jagdpanthers were produced in total. There were a number of detail changes to the Jagdpanther during production with the most obvious including a change from a one-piece to a two-piece barrel for the main gun and from a welded to a bolted mantlet. There were just two formal model designations: The first Ausf. G1 was based on a Panther Ausf. A engine deck. From around January 1945, the Ausf. G2 used a Panther Ausf. G engine deck. Many Jagdpanthers were fitted with Schürzen side-armour, though this often does not seem to have been fitted.

A Jagdpanther with Schürzen side-armour and the two-part main gun.

The earliest Jagdpanthers were also provided with the Zimmerit anti-magnetic coating. However, this was discontinued from September 1944 to speed production and because magnetic anti-tank weapons were becoming rare on the battlefield. Jagdpanthers were used on both the eastern and western fronts. Most Jadgpanthers produced during 1944 were sent to western Europe or to the Italian front. Later models served in both the east and west.    

What’s in the Box?

This kit represents a Jagdpanther Ausf. G1 incorporating the later bolted mantlet and two-part main gun. It lacks Zimmerit which identifies it as a vehicle produced between September 1944 and January 1945. All 96 parts for this kit, other than for the lower hull which is provided separately, are on two sprues and moulded in fairly soft, light brown plastic.

Surface detail looks very good indeed, though all hatches are moulded in place and this doesn’t use slide-moulding so the main gun and exhaust are solid.

This is a snap-together kit, though from my previous experience, I would assume that glue will also be needed. The roadwheels are interesting, with the inner blocks of wheels being moulded as complete assemblies and only the four outer wheels provided as individual parts.

Spare track links, tow cables, tools and other small parts are provided separately rather than moulded on, which is always good to see. There are even a couple of cooling fans that will be placed inside the rear hull under the circular openings in the engine deck.

The tracks look very good indeed. Detail on both inside and outside is impressive and from my previous experience with kits from this manufacturer, I’m hopeful that they will build to a good recreation of Jagdpanther tracks.

The instructions are clear and look easy to follow. The description of how to build the tracks is worth paying attention to because this is a little different to most kits that come with vinyl or link-and-length tracks. It’s notable that the instructions state that the join in the tracks is on the top run on one side, and on the bottom run on the other.

A generic colour scheme is shown though this, like the decals, doesn’t show a Jagdpanther from a particular unit or even from a front – it’s up to you to choose which (if any) of the unit numbers you use. The decals do look sharp and they are printed in-register.

Overall, and like the other Zvezda kits I have built, this looks very good. Detail is sharp, adequate and everything seems to be in the right place for a late-production Jagdpanther Ausf. G1. Dimensionally this looks pretty close and it certainly seems to be one of the better Jagdpanther kits out there.    

Would you want one?

The last two Zvezda 1/72 kits I built were impressive and I’m hopeful that this one will be just as good. If you do fancy something different, there are plenty of alternatives, though all of them seem to have particular issues.

The Revell (ex-Matchbox) 1/76 Jagdpanther from 1974 has a number of problems. It’s completely missing track-guards (though these are shown on the box art), the sprocket appears to be located too far forward compared to the upper hull and the gap between the tracks and upper hull looks too large. Ironically, the Revell 1/72 Jagdpanther released in 2010 also has dimensional issues that mean it’s actually very close to 1/76. Otherwise, it’s a pretty good kit with link-and-length tracks.

The Italeri 1/72 Jagdpanther is a reboxing of an Esci kit from 1975. Dimensionally it’s not bad (though it’s a little large in some respects), but it has parts from both early and late production models and the placement for things like the tools is very odd. This kit comes with either vinyl or link-and-length tracks, but both versions are poor, with no internal detail at all. Both S-Model and HaT do 1/72 Jagdpanthers, and both are dimensionally accurate. However, these kits are intended for wargamers rather than modellers and both are somewhat light on detail.

Dragon do a 1/72 Jagdpanther early production model in their Armor Pro series. This is a very nice kit featuring PE parts and Zimmerit on the hull. However, it features a Panther Ausf. G rear engine deck, and this would only be appropriate to an Ausf. G2 late model Jagdpanther, and none of those were provided with Zimmerit! Some people suggest that combining the early engine deck from the Esci/Italeri kit with this Dragon offering would produce a respectable model of an early Jagdpanther, but that would be a relatively expensive approach given the current high cost of Dragon kits – here is Spain, buying both these kits cost over €35!.

Trumpeter also do a 1/72 Jagdpanther, but it comes with vinyl tracks and, given that on the last Trumpeter kit I built the tracks were rather too short, it’s not a kit I’d be rushing to buy.   

So, lots of choice, but it does seem that the Zvezda 1/72 Jagdpanther is one of the most accurate in terms of both dimensions and parts. It’s also fairly cheap and it does come with those lovely plastic tracks!

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Revell (Matchbox) 1/76 PzKpfw II Ausf. F (03229) Build Review

I’m planning to build the tiny Revell 1/76 Panzer II pretty much out of the box, with a couple of minor changes. First, the main gun is just too long. A bit of checking suggests that at 1/76, the main gun on a Panzer II should project just over 11mm from the support ring on the mantlet. As provided, the gun is around 14mm long, and it looks wrong so, when preparing this part I’ll be making sure that I cut it to the correct length.

Second, this kit comes with a stowage box for the rear of the turret. Many Panzer IIs were provided with these bins, but most photographs of DAK tanks shows that they weren’t fitted. So, I won’t be using the parts for the stowage bin which also means that I’ll have to fill the mounting slot on the turret rear and fabricate a new pistol-port for this area.

OK, time to get started. I begin with hull construction and I immediately run into a problem. The hull comprises just five parts – the upper and lower hull, the sides and the rear plate. Fit is fine and I carefully follow the instructions which show the top of the rear plate being in-line with the top of the hull sides.

However, when I do a dry assembly to check fit, here’s what I get:

As you can see, there is a very noticeable 2-3mm gap between the top of the rear panel and the underside of the upper hull. This also means that the top of the box on the rear plate is too low – it should be level with the top of the rear hull. That can’t be right! It feels like I’m doing something wrong here, but I just can’t see what it is. The only simple solution is to mount the rear plate a few mm higher, so that it projects above the hull side plates. That makes it fit at the top though I lose the smooth transition to the lower hull plate.

With this fixed, I continue with hull construction and everything else fits well. I also make a new pistol-port out of plastic card so that I can use one of the ports provided with the kit for the rear of the turret.

Next, the turret. Fit of all parts is good with no need for filler. I use some Tamiya white putty to fill the mounting slot for the turret stowage bin, add an additional pistol port on the rear and cut the main gun down to a more reasonable length.

Then, I add the sprockets, idlers and return rollers to the hull (I’ll be painting the roadwheels before I add them) and glue the three parts of the diorama base together. And that’s pretty much construction finished! I can’t resist trying the completed hull and turret on the base, just to see how it looks…

Time to start painting. The hull and turret both get an overall coat of Tamiya Dark Yellow followed by the painting of highlights with a lightened version of the same colour.

Then I add the decals and paint the tools and other bits and pieces.

Then, it all gets a coat of clear varnish followed by a wash of dark brown to emphasise shadows and mute the highlights.

The tracks get a coat of dark grey followed by highlighting with a soft pencil.

The diorama base gets a base coat of Tamiya Dark Yellow followed by a couple of brown oil washes. The building is finished in stone with a darker grey for damaged areas.

With the addition of the exhaust, and tarpaulin and the roadwheels, that’s it except for adding the tracks. It’s worth noting that the fit of the roadwheels on to the spindles on the hull isn’t great and some care is needed to avoid wonky wheels. There also isn’t much room to slide the tracks between the track-guards and the sprocket, but it can be done with a little wriggling.

I decide not to use the figures provided with the kit. They really are quite oddly proportioned when you look at them closely and I also leave off the decal for the building – I think it looks a little out of place on a ruined wall. And here’s the finished Panzer II:

After Action Report

This was another simple and satisfying build. The fit problem with the rear hull plate was strange – I haven’t seen it mentioned in any other review and I’m still wondering if I did something stupid (always a possibility) though I can’t see what it might be. Other than that, there were no problems at all here and once again, the Matchbox vinyl tracks are simple to join without the need for glue. They are also commendably thin compared to some vinyl tracks.

The diorama base is a nice addition that really adds to the finished model though I’m not so sure about the figures. OK, the quality of mouldings here probably isn’t up to the best modern standards, but I do think it’s possible to end up with a perfectly acceptable finished model of the Panzer II. The only possible issue is that this is a really tiny kit, which is a challenge if, like me, you have large, clumsy man-fingers. How small? Well, here it is hiding behind a 10p coin…

Overall, this is a pleasant way to while away a few idle hours and it’s always great to discover that another kit from my younger days really isn’t bad at all. For under €10, I don’t really see how you can go wrong with this kit.  

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Revell (Matchbox) 1/76 PzKpfw II Ausf. F (03229) In-Box Review and History

Introduction

As you will know if you read my review of the Revell 1/76 M24 Chaffee (and if you haven’t, you’ll find a link at the end of this review) I really enjoyed building that 1974 kit. It was as cheap as chips, fairly accurate, simple and it came with a rather nice diorama base. So, for my next project, I thought I’d go back to another kit that originated as a Matchbox product at around the same time.

Early Matchbox art for the Panzer II

Matchbox launched their new 1/76 armour range in 1974 with ten kits in their Purple range, all covering subjects from World War Two: Sherman Firefly, A-34 Mk I Comet, Panther, Jagdpanther, Panzer III, Humber armoured car, Puma armoured car, M16 half-track, Wespe SPG and M24 Chaffee. Each kit was moulded on two sprues and each was provided in a different colour. Each also included a diorama base and several featured figures. In 1976, three more kits were added to the Purple armour range: Hanomag half-track, T-34/76 and the subject of this review, the Panzer II Ausf. F.

Revell purchased the rights to these kits in 1991 and in 2005 began releasing then under the Revell name. Currently, eight of these original thirteen Matchbox 1:76 armour kits are offered by Revell: Jagdpanther, Puma, Comet, Humber Mk II, T-34, Chaffee, Wespe and the Panzer II. Revell also sell a later Matchbox 1:76 kit – the Char. B.1 bis & Renault FT.17, which was added as part of the larger Orange range in 1983, after the Matchbox kit range had been sold to Hong-Kong based Universal Toys in 1982. 

These Revell re-releases are identical to the original Matchbox kits other than that they are now provided in new boxes, they are manufactured in a single colour of plastic and decals and colour schemes for some have changed. When it was released back in 1976 there just weren’t many small-scale Panzer II kits available. This kit was well-received back then, but how does it look now?       

History

Like many other German weapon systems during World War Two, the Panzerkampfwagen II was introduced as a stop-gap solution to a short-term problem, but it remained in service for far longer than anyone could have anticipated. In 1934 the only German tank in service was the tiny Panzer I. The designs of both the Panzer III and IV were well advanced, but production delays meant that it was clear that these tanks would not enter service as quickly as hoped. As a temporary measure, it was decided to accelerate the production of a new light tank which was originally intended as a training vehicle and which was expected to be phased-out when the Panzer III and IV finally entered service.

A column of Panzer IIs in Poland, 1939

The result was the Panzer II, a ten-ton tank with a revolving turret housing a Rheinmetall KwK30 L55 20 mm quick-firing main gun, a weapon derived from the 2 cm FlaK 30 anti-aircraft gun. This gun was capable of firing both high explosive and armour-piercing rounds at the rate of six hundred rounds per minute. The turret also housed a co-axial 7.92 mm MG 34. Motive power came from a six-cylinder Maybach petrol engine developing 140hp. Five roadwheels on each side were each controlled by separate leaf-spring suspension units. This tank held a crew of three: a driver, a commander who also fired and loaded the main gun and a radio operator who sat behind and below the commander.

US Army Ordnance Unit Recovers a captured DAK Panzer II Ausf. F in 1942

By the time that German forces invaded Poland in September 1939, almost twelve hundred Panzer IIs were involved, compared to less than one hundred Panzer III and under two hundred Panzer IV. By the time of the German invasion of Belgium and France in May 1940, the Panzer II was still the most numerous German tank in service.

Another Panzer II Ausf. F of the DAK. This one does look rather dark in colour – could it be finished in Dunklegrau (dark grey)?

The first main upgrade to the original Panzer II came with the Ausf. F model which incorporated thicker armour and a commander’s cupola. This was the final production version of the Panzer II and over five hundred were produced. The vehicle depicted in this kit is an Ausf. F of the Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK). Panzer IIs served throughout North Africa and were still in use in Tunisia in 1943. 

What’s in the Box?

Like all the early Matchbox kits, this one is provided on just two small sprues, each originally provided in a different colour but now both moulded in a sand-coloured plastic. The kit includes two figures and a rather nice diorama base.

The tools are moulded in-place on the hull and only the commander’s hatch is a separate part. The level of detail and crispness of the mouldings is, well, variable. The upper hull and suspension, for example, are both nicely detailed.

However, some other things are less well done. Take a look at the main gun, for example, just to the left of the figure below. It lacks the characteristic bulged shape of the original, in fact, it’s little more than a blob of plastic and it’s much too long.

The co-axial machine gun is also a little vague. You can see it here, directly above the other figure.

Overall, the quality of moulding here just isn’t quite as good as the earlier M24 Chaffee which I reviewed earlier. It isn’t terrible, but it just isn’t as good as current small-scale kits.

The figures themselves are reasonably detailed and seem to be wearing appropriate uniforms though their heads and hands do seem a little large.

The tiny tracks are vinyl and not terribly well detailed, but at least they are fairly thin and they do use the same locking tab seen on the M24 kit, which does mean that they can be joined reliably and without glue.

The decals cover two vehicles of the DAK, one from 15th Panzer Division and one from 5th Light Division. Both sets of decals are fairly plain, but they do seem to be reasonably accurate. The instructions don’t mention it, but the red Arabic text is intended to be applied to the ruined building on the diorama base.

The instructions are black-and-white and provide acceptable 3D views of all steps of construction. The only anomaly is that the instructions seem to show the main gun being fitted back-to-front, with the bulged part, which should be near the muzzle, adjacent to the mantlet.

The instructions also provide three-view details of where the various decals go, but oddly, no information at all about paint colours. The box art features a dramatic action painting of a Panzer II in a desert setting, but it appears to be finished in Dunklegrau (dark grey). That might be appropriate for a Panzer II on the eastern front, but not, as far as I know, for a tank of the DAK. In the beginning, DAK vehicles were overpainted when they arrived in Africa with locally sourced Italian paints that gave something approximating an overall sand finish. Later, a two-tone, low-contrast camouflage scheme was used, though most photographs of DAK Panzer IIs seem to show tanks finished in a single, fairly light sand colour (though one of the photographs of a DAK Panzer II in the history section above does seem to show a tank finished in a dark colour, so perhaps a DAK Panzer II in dunklegrau finish isn’t impossible?). It isn’t difficult to find this out, but it does seem odd that the instructions don’t mention paint colours at all.

One other thing I will mention is the stowage box at the rear of the turret. That’s provided with this kit but, most wartime photos of DAK Panzer IIs show that they weren’t fitted with these stowage bins.   

Would you want one?

My initial reaction here is that this is sort of all right. It isn’t awful in any respect, but the sharpness of the mouldings just isn’t up to modern standards nor even as good as some other contemporary Matchbox kits. Having said that, this is cheap, readily available and it does come with a rather nice diorama and a couple of figures.

Back in 1976 when this kit was released, there were very few small-scale Panzer II kits available. Now, there are quite a few alternatives though as far as I know, none in 1/76. The Italeri 1/72 Panzer II Ausf. F is actually a re-box of an old Esci kit from 1974. It isn’t bad, though fit isn’t the best and the vinyl tracks are rather thick.

Polish manufacturer First to Fight produce the Panzer II in both Ausf. C and Ausf. D versions in 1/72, and these are nice little kits. They are aimed at the wargamer rather than the modeler (the tracks, roadwheels, return rollers, idlers and sprockets on each side are moulded as a single part, for example) but they’re accurate and build into very reasonable models. Ukranian manufacturer Ace Model do a 1/72 Panzer II Ausf. F that includes lots of detail and photo-etched parts (including tracks!). However, Ace Models tend to do short-run kits, and their otherwise reasonable products often include lots of flash and surface imperfections. Dragon used to produce a 1/72 Panzer II, but it no longer seems to be available and I know nothing about this kit.

Finally Chinese manufacturer S-Model produce a Panzer II Ausf. C in 1/72. This another “quick-build” kit aimed at wargamers, but it is reasonably detailed, includes some PE parts and a turned brass main gun barrel. It comes in a pack including two tanks and a pair of tripod-mounted MG 34 machine guns.

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

I’m going to be building this elderly kit almost straight out of the box. I know, there is lots of additional detail that could be added to this kit, but I rather like the sheer simplicity of it. I will however be making two small changes: I’ll be drilling out the main gun and I’ll be removing the side-skirts that cover the upper return rollers and the tops of the tracks. The main reason for this second change is that I simply think that the M24 looks better like this, and most wartime photographs show these tanks without the side-skirts. Apparently they tended to clog with mud in the wet and snowy conditions found in Europe during the Winter and Spring of 1944/1945. The second reason is entirely practical – If you make this kit with the side-skirts in place, you will need to assemble and paint the tracks and running gear early in the build. Removing them means that I’ll be able to paint the hull before I add the running gear and tracks, which is my preferred style of assembly.

Anyway, on with the build. First, the turret. And this assembles with no problems and no need for filler at all. The main gun (which I carefully drilled out – there isn’t any room to spare!) is a slightly loose fit in the mantlet, so a little care is needed to get it straight. Otherwise, this is completely straightforward.

The main hull assembly consists of just four parts – two sides and the top and bottom and, once again, fit is very good. Only a tiny amount of filler is needed at the sides of the hull nose.

Next, I cut the side-skirts off the track-guards. This isn’t difficult, it just takes a little care and a very sharp craft knife. Here you can see one before and one after.

Then, the track guards and other bits and pieces are added to complete the hull. Again, fit is great, though the instructions are a little vague about things like the placement of the rear lights – an arrow points in the general direction of the rear hull but there aren’t any pictures of the completed rear hull.

All that remains is to assemble the roadwheels, idlers and sprockets (all will be painted separately) and that’s pretty much construction of this M24 done. I do like a simple build and it’s difficult to see how you could have a simpler kit than this!

To begin painting, I use white for highlights and black for areas of deeper shadow.

Then, it all get a coat of Vallejo Olive Drab. This is a little light for a US tank (I know it doesn’t look that way in this photo), but I’ll be using a dark wash later so that should bring it back to approximately the right colour.

When this is dry, I use a scourer to distress the paint to reveal the white highlights underneath. On such a small tank and at such a small scale, this has to be done carefully if it isn’t going to look overwhelming.

The decals are then applied using Vallejo Decal Fix and Decal Softener. The decals are nicely dense, but they do seem a little thick. That gave a few problems on the white star on the rear hull which needs to conform to the grilles and other detail underneath. Even after several applications of decal softener, this still wasn’t perfect.

Then, the whole thing got a coat of clear acrylic varnish. When this was dry, I used a wash of heavily diluted black oil paint. This finds its way into tiny crevices and details and helps to give emphasis to shadows. The only thing you have to be careful about is not allowing this wash to form pools that will result in noticeable darker patches on large panels and on the decals.

Them it’s time to look at the tracks. This kit comes with vinyl tracks and, given some recent experiences, I wasn’t looking forward to this. Joining vinyl tracks is never easy and, if they’re short, stretching them into place can break the joint. However, the joining of these tracks is different. At one end there is a long locking tab and at the other, a slot. 

All you have to do is push the tab through the slot and, when tension is applied to the track, the joint closes up. It isn’t completely invisible but, if the joint is placed at the top of the track run, under the track-guards, I think it will barely show at all.

The result is a simple, elegant solution to the problem of joining tracks that needs no glue at all. Now, here’s my question: If Matchbox managed to get this right almost fifty years ago, why are we still faffing about with vinyl tracks that are almost impossible to join reliably? Other manufacturers please take note – if you must supply your kits with vinyl tracks, please make them join as simply and reliably as these!

I paint the tracks very simply – just a grey gunmetal base, light gunmetal highlights for the treads and a wash of acrylic brown for rust and dirt. Then, I add the running gear and install the tracks. And guess what – they’re long enough to fit without stretching! Top marks to Revell (and of course, to Matchbox) for providing useable vinyl tracks.

Finishing the M24 doesn’t take long, mainly because there are no accessories, tools or spare track links provided. So now, it’s on to the diorama base, and this is the only part of this kit where the fit is not so good. Here are the two halves of the base glued together.

A fair amount of filler is required to make the join less visible.

With this done, I give the base an undercoat of Tamiya Dark Yellow. I then use several oil and acrylic washes to give some colour contrast and visual interest to the base itself. I leave the edges in Dark Yellow, again to add visual interest.

With the addition of the sandbags, signpost and MG34 to the base and a stretched-sprue radio antenna to the tank, that’s this build finished.

After Action Report

This was a thoroughly enjoyable and stress-free build. This is a very nice little kit – everything fits well, the vinyl tracks are a delight to work with and I’m happy with the finished result. This M24 lacks some detail and finishing touches, but that certainly didn’t spoil it for me and you can of course add your own extras to turn this into something special. I like the diorama base. I think it adds to the finished model and, unlike some of the other early Matchbox kits, the base provided here is large enough to work well.

Going back to kits I enjoyed as a young man is always risky. What seemed like a great kit back in the early seventies can prove a bit of a disappointment when compared to current efforts. Memories of old kits can turn out to be more than a little rose-tinted. Not in this case! This was a tidy, well-moulded, well thought out kit back then and it still is now. This provided me with a great deal of enjoyment for very little money. If you enjoy building small-scale armour and you haven’t tried one of these old Matchbox kits, I thoroughly recommend the Revell M24.

The only question for me is: which one next? The Matchbox A34 Mk.1 Comet was a nice kit and it too has been reissued by Revell. But then I always liked the Panzer II Ausf. F and it too is available as a Revell offering as is the Wespe. And Revell have also recently re-released the Matchbox Humber Mk II armoured car…  I think I’m going to be busy for the next few weeks!  

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Revell 1/76 M24 Chaffee (03323)  In-Box Review and History

Revell (Matchbox) 1/76 M24 Chaffee (03323) In-Box Review and History

Introduction

I began kit-building in the late 1960s, and I was a huge fan of Airfix products. However, in the early 1970s a new rival appeared to challenge Airfix’ iron grip on my pocket-money: Matchbox Kits.

Matchbox, a tradename owned by British toy manufacturer Lesney Products, decided to get into the growing plastic kit business back in 1972. They introduced a series of 1:72 aircraft kits moulded in two or three colour plastic. I was fairly impressed with these, but it was the release of the first Matchbox 1:76 armour kits in 1974 that really grabbed my attention.

Not only did the new range cover well-known tanks such as the Panther and Sherman Firefly, there were also more unusual subjects including the SdKfz. 234/2 Puma, the SdKfz. 124 Wespe and the M24 Chaffee. Even better, each kit came with a small diorama base and figures even though they were close in price to Airfix AFV kits. I was instantly hooked and I built several of these early Matchbox kits. 

Early box-art for the Matchbox M24 Chaffee

In the years following the initial launch of the armour range in 1974, Matchbox released a total of eighteen kits, all covering subjects from World War Two. Sadly, Matchbox kits suffered from the same UK recession that afflicted Airfix and this, combined with a general decline in interest in plastic model kits, led to the bankruptcy of Lesney and the sale of the Matchbox kit range to Hong-Kong based Universal Toys in 1982. Universal maintained the Matchbox trade name and even introduced new armour kits up to 1990 at which point the moulds for all these kits were purchased by Revell.

From 1991 – 2001 Revell re-issued many Matchbox kits, including the 1:76 armour range, with new packaging but still featuring the Matchbox name. After that, some of these armour kits were issued again by Revell under their own name as combined figure and kit packages, though many of these were wrongly identified as 1:72 scale – for example, Revell pack 3160, M4 Firefly & Infantry includes the original Matchbox Sherman Firefly plus Matchbox British Infantry from 1978.

However, from around 2005, Revell began releasing these ex-Matchbox kits as part of a separate 1:76 armour range. Revell now offer nine of these original Matchbox kits, rebranded as Revell. These are identical to the original releases other than that they are in new boxes and now provided in a single colour of plastic unlike the two-colour originals.

Same kit, different box – the Revell M24.

I was intrigued to note when I received this kit, that it states “New” on the box. I mean, this kit and its decals are near to fifty years old and this is the same box that Revell have been providing since 2005. So, what’s new here? I did send a message to the nice people at Revell Customer Support asking for clarification, but so far, they haven’t got around to replying.

I loved those old Matchbox kits and when I realised that these Revell kits are simply reissues, I had to try one if only for nostalgia reasons. I was also delighted to note that these are very cheap indeed – the MRP for most of these kits is just €8.49. The only way to get a cheaper fix of kit-building deja-vu is to go for some of the early Airfix 1:76 offerings. I have great memories of these old Matchbox kits but, how will they look almost fifty years later? Are these kits cheap fun or just cheap and nasty? Let’s take a look.

History

The M3 and M5 Stuart light tanks were built in vast numbers by the United States. They were designed as fast reconnaissance tanks and in this role they were fairly successful but, almost as soon as they first faced German armour in Tunisia in 1942, it was apparent that these tanks lacked the armour and armament to survive on the World War Two battlefield. In early 1943, the Ordinance Department began working with Cadillac, manufacturers of the M5, to design a replacement light tank for US forces. 

The T24 prototype

The first prototype of what became known as the T24 was delivered in October 1943. Powered by two Cadillac liquid-cooled engines mated to the successful hydramatic transmission from the M5 and torsion-bar suspension, the new tank was relatively fast with a top speed of 35mph. However, this was achieved partly by keeping weight down to 18 tons which meant relatively thin armour. Most armour protecting the five-man crew was no thicker than 25mm, though it was sloped to improve resistance to penetration. The main gun was a modified version of the 75mm T13E1 light weight cannon originally developed for use in the B-25H gunship version of the Mitchell bomber.  

The performance of the prototype was so impressive that the Ordnance Department  immediately ordered 1,000, later increased to 5,000. The new tank began to reach front-line units in November 1944 with the designation Light Tank M24. It was the British who gave it the name Chaffee, named after General Adna Chaffee Jr., a former commander of the 7th Cavalry Brigade who had helped to improve America’s armoured forces.

An M24 of the 1st Armored Division in Vergato, south of Bologna, Italy in April 1945

Almost 5,000 Chaffees were produced before the end of the war and this tank was used by both British and American forces in Europe. The Chaffee proved to be a robust and long-lasting design that saw service with US forces during the Korean War and in a number of other countries in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Major users included France, Belguim, Italy, Spain and Norway – the last Norwegian Chaffees were not retired util 1993.

During the 1960s and 1970s, M24s appeared in a number of movies, usually masquerading as German armour. Here are Chaffees of the Afrika Korps from Commandos (1968).

What’s in the Box?

I’m actually a little nervous when I open this box. I have such fond memories of the original Matchbox kits that I don’t want to discover that this is, you know, crap. As I have found when reviewing some other old kits (yes, Airfix Sherman, I’m looking at you…).

Happily, this time there are no nasty surprises. All 71 parts are provided in light grey plastic on two sprues.

Quality of moulding and detail look perfectly reasonable. This is a little simplified and it’s not up to the current highest standards perhaps, but it’s better than I expected given the age of this kit. It also looks like a simple build, something that I always appreciate.

The diorama base comprises six parts – the two halves of the base itself, a road sign, some sandbags and an abandoned MG34. It’s reasonably large. That’s good because on a couple of these early Matchbox kits, the vehicle ended up perched awkwardly on a tiny base, which looked rather odd. I guess these kits were designed to fit a box size and within just two sprues, which meant a smaller base on larger vehicles.  

The tracks are dark vinyl, but they’re actually quite delicately moulded, they aren’t too thick and they do just about represent the correct type of all-metal T72E1 track for a wartime M24. Detail on the outside of the tracks is basic and there is virtually nothing on the inside where there are also visible mould release marks. I will only find out if they’re long enough when I start the build! These tracks do feature an extended locking tab which I recall being rather easier to join than some vinyl tracks. Again, I’ll find out if this is true during the build.

The instructions are Revell’s customary rather nice colour efforts, with clear exploded views and three colour schemes, all claiming to be for tanks of the US 13th Armoured Division, 43rd Tank Battalion. However, all the sources I have consulted show that the 43rd Tank Battalion wasn’t part of the 13th Armored Division – this Battalion was part of the 12th Armored Division which first saw combat in Europe in December 1944. Something clearly isn’t quite right here, but I don’t suppose it’s terribly important as both the 12th and 13th Armoured Divisions used M24 tanks.

Two of the schemes are plain Olive Drab but a third has an interesting two-tone camo scheme with no markings. I think that what the instructions are suggesting is that markings are provided for two tanks, and that either can be finished in either overall Olive Drab or with a camo scheme, though that isn’t particularly clear. The box art certainly shows Skeeter, one of the tanks shown with an overall Olive Drab finish in the instructions, sporting a two-tone camo finish.

Decals are simple but perfectly reasonable and they even include appropriate text for the road sign. Well, almost appropriate – M24s saw action during the Battle of the Bulge and during the advance into Germany so, if you’re going to have a road sign, why not include Bastogne or some other location in the Ardennes or even Germany rather than a sign from Normandy? OK, I know, I’m nit-picking…

Overall, there is nothing here that looks too awful. Very fine detail, stuff like lifting eyes, hand-holds, towing shackles and brush guards over the lights, is not included at all. That’s actually a helpful approach if you want to add your own detail – some old kits represent things like lifting eyes as blobs, which then must be cut off before you can add something more appropriate. Here you mostly have a bare canvas that can be used as the basis for adding detail. The main gun is moulded solid, which is no surprise, and some of the attachment points to sprues look rather chunky, but overall, this looks like a simple, reasonably detailed and fairly accurate kit.

 I am really looking forward to this build! 

Would you want one?

There is nothing here that makes me think you wouldn’t want one of these. It scores high on nostalgia value and it actually looks like a reasonable kit. There isn’t a great deal of fine detail here but, there really isn’t a great deal of choice for kit builders who want to tackle a small-scale M24. For a very long time, the only options were this Matchbox/Revell version in 1:76 and a 1:72 offering from Hasegawa which was also released in 1974. The Hasegawa version isn’t bad at all and includes a couple of crew figures though it does have rather thick vinyl tracks of a type that are really only suitable for a post-war M24.

However, in 2018 Bulgarian company OKB Grigorov also released a 1:72 M24. This was the first injection-moulded plastic kit released by the company (they had previously focused on resin, metal and PE detail parts), and it’s very good indeed. It features nicely detailed link-and length tracks and is available in both the standard version and as the Mammoth Edition which includes the base kit plus all the detail parts that the company have produced for this tank. All versions provide alternate parts to model early and late models of the Chaffee.

I believe that there is also a 1:72 M24 from Chinese manufacturer Forces of Valor. However, having experienced their Panzer III, I would hesitate to recommend anything else from this manufacturer.

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Dragon 1/72 Sd.Kfz.231 (8-Rad) (7483) In-Box Review and History

Introduction

Dragon 1/72 AFV kits have a great reputation and I have always found the German Armoured Cars of World War Two fascinating. So, when my local stockist had a sale that included this 1/72 kit from the Dragon Armor-Pro series, it seemed too good a chance to miss.

Chinese manufacturer Dragon Models Limited (DML) began producing 1/72 AFV kits in 2003 and these quickly gained a great reputation for the quality of their mouldings. This is partly because DML use slide moulding, injection moulds that have moving parts (slides) which are extracted so that the finished parts can be removed from the mould. This allows the moulding of much more complex shapes than traditional, static injection moulds. This kit was released in its present form in 2012.

Does all that technology add up to a decent kit? Let’s take a look.

History

Design of the Schwerer Panzerspähwagen (Heavy Armoured Scout Vehicle) began in 1929 following a German military requirement for an armoured car for reconnaissance operations. The requirement specified good endurance and range and the ability to operate off-road. The result, produced from 1932 – 1935, was the Sd.Kfz. 231, a six-wheeled armoured car based on an existing Büssing-Nag truck chassis. It had a manually revolved turret mounting a 20mm autocannon and an MG13 machine gun.

Herbstmanöver des IX. Armeekorps bei Fritzlar 1936, Parade

A line of Sd. Kfz. 231 (6-rad) at a military display in September 1936. The vehicle second from the left is an Sd. Kfz. 232 (Fu.) fitted with a one-hundred-watt long-range radio and a “bed-frame” aerial.

Image; Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons

However, use soon showed that this vehicle did not have the required off-road capability and in 1935 bus and truck manufacturers Büssing-Nag were invited to submit a redesign. Although the new vehicle looked superficially similar to the previous version, it was completely different. A tough ladder-framed chassis mounted eight wheels, all steerable, all driven through differentials from the rear-mounted engine and independently suspended. The new design also featured a larger hull with sloped armour to accommodate the four-man crew, front and rear driving positions and a hexagonal, manually rotated turret mounting a rapid-firing KwK 30 20 mm cannon (the same gun as used for the main armament on the early models of the Panzer II) and (from 1938) an MG34 machine gun. These vehicles entered service in late 1938 as the Sd. Kfz. 231 (8-Rad).

German paratroopers ride on Sd. Kfz. 231s in Italy, 1943.

Image; Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons

The new design provided amazing off-road capability, good speed (up to 85kmh) and reasonable range (up to 300km). The eight wheels were arranged as two steerable four-wheel bogies.  In normal use, only the front four wheels steered and the rear wheels were locked but, it was also to steer from the rear position in which case the four wheels on the rear bogie were steered and the front bogie was locked. All this required a very complex drive and steering system and the Sd. Kfz. 231 was one of the most technically advanced early war German AFVs though, despite this, it also proved to be reliable in operational use.

An Sd. Kfz. 231 with Zerschellerplatte in the Balkans, 1941.

Image; Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons

The Sd. Kfz. 231 remained in production until late 1942 and in service with German units on all fronts throughout the war with only minor changes. The most obvious external change was the addition of “Zerschellerplatte” from around mid-1940, an additional plate of 8mm thick armour mounted around 50cm in front of the vehicle’s nose to provide protection from heavy machine-gun fire which it was found could penetrate the front armour. The area between the armour and the front of the hull was often used as a stowage area, but not all models received this armour upgrade. Later models also featured a more powerful KwK L/55 autocannon and a spare wheel and tyre, usually carried on the rear – early versions were fitted with self-sealing, bulletproof tyres and no spare was originally carried. Shortages of rubber and other material led to later versions having regular tyres and a spare.

Developments of this vehicle led to the Sd. Kfz. 232 (Fu), with additional radio equipment and a frame aerial, the Sd. Kfz. 233 “Stummel,” with a short-barrelled 75mm L/24 howitzer in an open-topped fighting compartment and the Sd. Kfz. 263 command vehicle. The Sd. Kfz. 231 was superseded, but never entirely replaced in Wehrmacht service, by the improved Sd. Kfz. 234 which looked similar but was actually a completely new design.

What’s in the box?

The small box contains three sprues and separate upper and lower hull sections, all moulded in light grey plastic, a set of decals by Cartograf and a four-page instruction booklet. No information about the history of the Sd. Kfz. 231 is provided on the box or in the instruction booklet. Each of the sprues, the upper and lower hull parts and the decals are all packaged separately in sealed plastic bags. No PE parts are included.

The quality of these mouldings is indeed very good. In fact, good barely covers it, these are really outstanding. My gob is smacked, my flabber, gasted.

The fact that the bore of the tiny 20mm autocannon is moulded open is impressive but things like the detail and complexity on the lower hull is nothing short of astounding and clearly would not be possible without using slide-moulding technology. The hatch in the turret is separate part that includes some internal detail, so this can be assembled open. The tools on the front hull are moulded separately, which always makes painting easier.

There seems to be lots of nice detail for the steering, suspension and differential units and even things like the tiny driver’s vision slots are cleanly and sharply moulded. Overall, all the detail is very sharp, I can’t find anything missing or wrongly located and overall, and in terms of the quality and accuracy of parts, this seems to be a very, very impressive little kit.

The four-page instruction booklet is simple and includes five colour schemes and decals for vehicles operated by several different units in Yugoslavia and Greece in 1941, in Mozdok on the Eastern Front in 1942 and in Kursk and Sicily in 1943.

The kit can be completed with or without Zerschellerplatte and with or without a spare wheel and tyre on the rear. The Zerschellerplatte has a towing cable moulded in on its front face and two jerrycans are provided for the stowage area between this plate and the front of the hull. The kit also includes four width indicating antenna on the corners of the mudguards, but wartime photographs indicate that these were often not fitted or removed.  

Are there issues? Well, some of the parts are really tiny and will take some careful removal from the sprue and assembly, but that hardly counts as a fault. I would have quite liked decals for a DAK version – the Sd. Kfz. 231 was used in the Western Desert where Rommel was particularly appreciative of its speed and range. Dragon also produce an Sd. Kfz, 232 (Fu) and the turret on this kit is common with that version, which means that it includes two small inverted triangular areas on the upper centre of the turret sides. These are used to mount the frame aerial on that kit and should be removed here. 

Tread detail on the side of the tyres is good but not so clearly defined on the edge. Some of the decals are so tiny that they are actually kind of silly.

The number-plates, for example, are separate decals and you must then add to these the requisite separate letters and numbers which are around 1mm tall. There are a couple of ready-made numbers but there are also separate digits to create your own – I really don’t relish trying to get those tiny characters straight. Two of the decals are for SS units and, presumably to comply with European prohibitions on replicating Nazi symbology, each SS rune decal comprises two separate pieces that must be assembled on the number plate.  

Other than those very minor niggles, this looks like a very impressive kit indeed and I very much look forward to building it.

Alternatives

Kiev-based Roden produce several versions of the Sd. Kfz. 231 (8-rad) in 1/72 scale including the Sd. Kfz. 231, 232 (Fu), 233 Stummel and 263. These are nice kits, but they don’t have as quite as much detail as the Dragon version.

Roden Website page for this kit

British manufacturer The Plastic Soldier Company (TPSC) produce a rather nice version of this vehicle in a kit that contains three models, each of which can be built as the Sd. Kfz. 231, 232 (Fu) and 233 Stummel. TPSC was founded in 2008 by Will Townshend to produce hard plastic figures and vehicles for wargamers and collectors and this kit also includes nicely detailed figures.

TPSC Website page for this kit

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Dragon 1/72 Sd.Kfz.231 (8-Rad) (7483) Build Review