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Dragon 1/72 Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. L Late production (7645) Armor Neo Pro Build Review

I begin with construction of the lower hull. The plastic parts all go together with no problems, but then I try to fit the large PE grill that goes on the underside of the rear hull, and it just doesn’t seem to fit. I trim it down until it does, but then discover that it fouls the exhausts, so I make an executive decision to leave it off. That leaves an opening under the rear hull but, on the completed model, this would only be visible from underneath, so I’m not too concerned.

Then I assemble the various parts on the track guards. Some are really tiny, but location is clear and fit is good, so that’s OK.

I then add the track guards to the lower hull. Again fit is very good, though it takes some careful positioning to get these straight.

Then I complete the upper hull by adding the PE parts. Happily, both grills fit perfectly, though the instructions are a little vague about where the upper armour plate on the upper hull front goes, so it takes some squinting at images of actual Panzer III Ausf. Ls to figure this out.

The upper and lower hull fit together very nicely indeed with no gaps and no need for filler anywhere.

Construction of the turret is straightforward, though it’s a little tricky to get the rear stowage bin straight and level and you do have to be careful to get the mantlet/armour/gun assembly to line up.

I check the fit of the turret on the hull, and everything looks fine.

Hey, it feels like I’m making good progress here. So far, the build has been OK – a bit fiddly in places, but fit is generally good. Then I start to work on the tracks and running gear and it all goes a bit pear-shaped. The first problem becomes obvious when I join the two halves of the sprockets and idlers and then offer these up to the hull (I want them temporarily in place so that I can check the fit of the upper and lower runs of the tracks). There is a pin on the rear of the hull, but no locating hole on the idler (you can see the lack of a hole in the idler in the image below). Similarly, there is a pin on the sprockets, but no corresponding hole in the hull. It isn’t a disaster – I simply drill 1mm holes in the right places and everything goes together, but the instructions don’t mention a need to do this. That does seem odd to me – is this normal on Dragon tank kits?

Then I offer up the upper and lower track runs, and it gets even odder. As you can see from the image below, both are too long. I mean much too long, with perhaps nine or ten links more than is required, top and bottom. According to the instructions, the upper run should extend from the centre of the sprocket to the centre of the idler and then you should use the individual links to create the curve where the track passes over the sprocket and idler, which is a pretty standard approach for link-and-length tracks. The ends of the lower run will be bent up outside the area of the roadwheels, so it does need to be a little longer, but not this long! I do a quick search online and find a decent image of the link-and-length tracks for the Revell 1/72 Panzer III Ausf. L, and the top run there is 32 links long. Here, it’s 42 links. I don’t get it – these are clearly 1/72 Panzer III tracks which look nicely to scale in terms of link size and spacing, but the upper and lower runs provided don’t fit and I can’t just cut them down or they won’t engage properly with the single links.

After a bit of head-scratching, I decide to adopt the simplest possible solution. Fortunately, the upper and lower track runs are thin and quite flexible, so I start by wrapping the front nine links of the upper run round the sprocket and I glue these in place. That will leave the free end of this track run extending as far as the centre of the idler at the rear.

Then, I also glue the front of the lower run to the sprocket, bend it into position to fit round the roadwheels and then bend it round the idler and glue it in place. Obviously, you do need to be patient here and to frequently check what you’re doing by placing the whole assembly on the hull to ensure that everything lines up. This is what I end up with, and I only needed to use one of the single track links to join the gap on the idler between the upper and lower runs.

Here are the tracks in position on the hull and with the roadwheels temporarily in place (and you’ll see that I have tried to include some sag on the top run). I don’t think it looks too terrible, but it takes time and a fair amount of fiddling to get there and this isn’t how the instructions say the tracks should be constructed. I have looked at a number of reviews of other small scale Dragon kits that use Neo Tracks, and I haven’t seen this issue mentioned. Has anyone else come across this? At least this does leave me with plenty of spare single track links which I can assemble into a short run and place in the front hull stowage area!

With the tracks on both sides finished, that’s construction pretty much done so I can begin painting. I start with the hull sides, running gear and tracks. I’m using Vallejo German Grey for the base colour. This seems to be a good match for Dunklegrau, though it is rather dark and in real life this paint seemed to quickly fade to a much lighter colour, so I will be lightening it and adding  even lighter dry-brushed highlights. And of course, I’ll be painting the tiny roadwheel and return roller tyres, not one of my favourite parts of building any tank kit! The tracks get a dark grey base coat, then gunmetal highlights on the treads.

These tracks were a real chore to build because of the over-long runs, but I think they look all right now they’re finished and painted. Then, it’s on to the hull and turret. Everything gets a base coat of lightened German Grey, then I add some drybrushed highlights on sharp edges and raised areas.

Then I paint the tools on the track-guards and tow cables on the rear hull, And that’s a bit of a pain because they’re so tiny.

Then I add the decals, the spare roadwheels, jack, headlights and spare tracks and give it all a coat of matt varnish. I am using a different varnish here. Previously, I have used AK Interactive Matte Varnish (AK 190) and while it’s OK, it sometimes gives more of a satin finish. This time, I’m using Vallejo Premium Airbrush varnish, and even brush painting, I notice that this gives a totally consistent, truly matt finish. Then, it all gets a wash with a dark grey oil to emphasize shadows and grubby everything up a bit and finally I add some dust with artist’s pastils and that’s it done.

After Action Report

In my In-Box review, I wondered whether Neo Tracks might be the answer to my continuing track problems? On the basis of what I found here, the answer is no! I still have no idea why the upper and lower track runs here were much too long. And that’s a problem because it means you can’t really build the tracks using the technique suggested. The result looks sort of OK, and these tracks are accurate in terms of detail, but the finished result isn’t notably better than you’ll find in other kits with link-and-length tracks.

Otherwise, this kit is pretty good. Fit is great just about everywhere and it does seem to build into a very accurate representation of the Panzer III Ausf. L. OK, it would have been good if the tools and tow cables were separate parts, and perhaps the five vent covers on the rear deck too – in reality, these didn’t sit flush with the deck, but slightly above, and this isn’t shown here. I tried to paint areas of shadow round these vents to suggest that they’re separate items, but still, actually having separate parts would have been good.

And, contrary to what I claimed in the In-Box review, the exhaust, smoke launchers and other bits and bobs are included here that will allow you to finish this as an Ausf. M if you want (though this isn’t mentioned on the box or in the instructions) . You could even use the suggested Dunklegelb finish with that version… Overall, this is a perfectly reasonable little kit. It’s not perfect and it does seem a little expensive for what you get, but it builds into a nice representation of the Panzer III Ausf. L (or M).

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Dragon 1/72 Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. L Late production (7645) Armor Neo Pro In-Box Review and History

Dragon 1/72 Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. L Late production (7645) Armor Neo Pro In-Box Review and History

If you are a regular reader here, you’ll know that there is one thing that I have found more consistently disappointing and frustrating than any other aspect of tank model kits: tracks! I have lost count of the number of tank kits I have built that have been spoiled by over thick, too-tight, poorly detailed tracks made of unglueable vinyl. Even some of the hard plastic tracks I have come across simply look nothing like the original…

Which brings us to the subject of this review, the Dragon 1/72 Panzer Ausf. L in the Armor Neo-Pro series featuring “Neo-tracks.” Dragon have an enviable reputation for producing accurate kits with very high quality mouldings, so when I saw this as a Black Friday special offer, I couldn’t resist. The Dragon Panzer III Ausf. L was first released in 2011 and this Neo-Pro version in 2021. Dragon kits are comparatively expensive – here in Spain they generally retail for around €25 – 30, which seems a lot for a 1/72 tank kit but when I saw this one for under €15, I thought I’d take a punt.

Neo-tracks are simply length and link tracks which, at 1/72, can be a challenge. But I’m hoping that at least they’ll be accurate when they’re done. Are these the answer to my track woes? We’ll have a look inside the box in a moment, but first, let’s take a brief look at the Panzer III.

History

Design of what would be designated the Panzer III began somewhere around 1934. Although Germany was still formally banned from producing tracked AFVs under the terms of the Versailles treaty, the Nazis were soon to repudiate this and to begin open development and manufacture of tanks. Two tank designs were complete by 1935, for the Panzer I, a machine-fun armed light tank initially intended for training. and the Panzer II, another light tank armed with a 20mm autocannon and primarily intended for the reconnaissance role.

The first Panzer III, the Ausf. A. Only ten examples were produced, all provided with coil-spension and five roadwheels. Subsequent versions switched to first eight and then six smaller road wheels.

However, plans were developed to create Panzer Battalions comprising four Companies. One would be equipped with a tank provided with a large calibre, low-velocity main gun, ideal for firing high explosive shells and acting in the infantry support role (the Panzer IV). The other three companies would be equipped with tanks provided with high velocity main guns, and the primary role for these companies would killing enemy tanks. These were to be equipped with the new Panzer III.

A Panzer III Ausf. D during the German invasion of Poland, 1939. This was the first Panzer III produced in numbers, armed with a 37mm main gun and, as you can see, fitted with exposed leaf-spring suspension and eight small roadwheels. From the Ausf. E on, all models were provided with six roadwheels and more robust and better-protected torsion bar suspension.

Initial discussions on the Panzer III would centre on its main gun, and deficiencies in this choice would affect the Panzer III for most of its service life. It was agreed that this tank would be armed with a 37mm main gun derived from the PaK 35, the principal towed anti-tank weapon then entering service with the Wehrmacht. Arming the Panzer III with a similar gun would, the Heereswaffenamt (HWA – German Army Weapons Agency) pointed out, would greatly simplify ammunition supply. That was true, but many senior German Army commanders disagreed, asking for a 50mm main gun on the Panzer III and pointing out that British Cruiser tanks were already being designed that would be armed with 40mm (2-Pounder) main guns while the existing Russian T-26 had a 45mm main gun.

A Panzer III Ausf. E with torsion bar suspension and six roadwheels but still armed only with a 37mm main gun.

The HWA won the argument, but agreed that the turret ring on the Panzer III would be made large enough for the mounting of a 50mm main gun if that should prove necessary in future. All early models of this tank, essentially, the Ausf. A – E, were armed with a 37mm main gun, and in combat against British and French tanks in 1940 this proved to have serious limitations. The 37mm rounds simply bounced off the thick frontal armour of British Matildas and French Somua S35s and Char B1s. The new Ausf. F model appeared after the campaign in France was over and while the first of these were still armed with the 37mm main gun, most of this version were provided with the more powerful 50mm L42 main gun. All versions of the subsequent Ausf. G were also armed with the 50mm L42 gun.

A Panzer III Ausf. G in North Africa. Finally, it has a 50mm main gun, but it’s just L42, giving it relatively low velocity and while it was effective against British tanks in this theatre, it proved weak when used against Russian tanks on the Eastern Front.

However, when Germany invaded Russia in the Summer of 1941, even this new weapon proved ineffective against Russian T-34s and KV heavy tanks. The Panzer III was up-gunned again, this time with a KwK 39 50mm L60 main gun, a modified version of the towed PaK 38 anti-tank gun. This had higher muzzle velocity and more penetration compared to the L42 gun, but it still struggled to penetrate the frontal armour of the T-34 at most ranges. This new gun was first fitted to the Ausf. J which began to be delivered to front-line units on the Eastern Front in late 1941. However, it was also becoming apparent that the armour on the Panzer III was inadequate when facing the best Russian tanks. That led to the subject of this kit, the Ausf. L, armed with a 50mm L60 main gun and provided with additional armour on the mantlet and hull front.

A Panzer III Ausf. L on the Eastern Front and provided with a 50mm L60 main gun and added armour on the mantlet and hull front.

These began reaching front line units in mid-1942 and around 650 examples of the Ausf. L were manufactured during the second half of 1942. These tanks were used on the Eastern Front and in North Africa. This kit depicts a late production example, recognisable by the lack of pistol ports on the turret and escape hatches on the hull sides above the roadwheels.

What’s in the Box?

Inside the top-opening box you’ll find five sprues moulded in grey plastic, the lower hull, moulded as a single piece, decals and two small PE frets.

Detail looks very good and the mouldings appear to be commendably sharp even on tiny parts. Slide moulding is used, so the main gun bore is open, as are the optional smoke launchers for the turret sides. However, I was a little surprised to find that small details like the tools and tow cable are moulded in place. Painting these will be tricky.

Only the two-piece main turret hatch is moulded as a separate part and it includes some internal detail, though there are no figures included here and no internal detail for the turret itself. Apart from a couple of spare roadwheels, no stowage items are included.

And what about the link-and-length Neo Tracks? These are provided on two identical sprues, one for each side, providing one upper and one lower run and individual links to go round the sprocket and idler. The tracks seem to be nicely detailed inside and out and wholly accurate. Hurrah! However, there are jigs provided, including one that seems to model the sag on the upper run, but no clues in the instructions as to how to use these. 

One of the PE frets contains various grills for the rear hull and two tiny parts that I don’t recognise and that don’t seem to be mentioned in the instructions and the other provides an additional armour plate for the upper hull front.

The instructions are sort of OK, but not entirely helpful. As mentioned, they don’t really give any clues as to how to assemble the Neo Tracks or how to achieve sag on the top run using the provided jig. In some places, they seem to point in the general direction of where a particular part goes rather than showing the precise location. The instructions also show a pair of triple smoke launchers on the front top corners of the turret as optional parts (and all the colour scheme drawings show these as fitted), but I’m not convinced about that. These launchers were certainly added to the next model, the Ausf. M, but that also had a different exhaust system that isn’t modelled here. I haven’t been able to find a single wartime image of an Ausf. L fitted with these smoke launchers, so I feel these should probably be left off. Hull side escape hatches are also provided as optional parts, but again, I don’t think these should be used on an Ausf. L and they aren’t shown on the colour scheme drawings.

In terms of colour schemes, the instructions are confusing and, in some places, just plain wrong. Decals are provided and schemes shown for four tanks, all from Russia in 1942/1943. One scheme (the lower one on the image above) doesn’t give any clues as to the colours to use at all and on the only scheme where a base colour is indicated, this is identified as Dunklegelb (Dark Yellow). However, all Panzer III Ausf. L were manufactured from June – December 1942 and the introduction of Dunklegelb as a base colour on German armour didn’t begin until February 1943. So, all tanks of this model would actually have left the factory finished in overall Dunklegrau which doesn’t even get a mention here. I think that the box-art is correct (it shows a tank of  the 502nd Heavy Panzer Battalion in overall Dunklegrau finish) and the instructions, where they provide any guidance on base colour at all, are wrong. Given that it must take a great deal of time and effort to produce the moulds to make a model kit, you’d think it might be worth expending just a little more time to provide useful information about the colours in which it should be painted!

The small decal sheet covers four tanks and seems to be accurately printed, though the tiny unit insignia for the Wiking Division tank are each split in into two halves, presumably because they incorporate swastikas. More of a problem is that the decals don’t match the colour scheme drawings! The turret numbers for two of the tanks shown on those drawings aren’t actually included here and you get one spare set of white turret numbers, 101, but no clue what the colour scheme for that tank might be or what unit it belonged to. Though it isn’t mentioned in the instructions at all, decals are also provided for a tank of the 502nd Heavy Panzer Battalion which, although primarily equipped with Tiger tanks, initially also had a number of Panzer IIIs. This is the tank shown on the box art and though it isn’t particularly obvious, the larger of the two elephant decals (this was the insignia of the 502nd) goes on the rear of the turret bin and the smaller one on the front left track-guard. On their web site, Dragon claim that they produce “model kits that leave modelers with a jaw-dropping sense of awe!” That may be so, but they seem to produce instructions that leave this modeller with a baffled sense of “Eh?”

Would You Want One?

Detail here looks good in the box; all mouldings are sharp and there is very little flash and no obvious ejector marks. There are some tiny parts that appear to be the size of a gnat’s eyeball, but for those of you with less challenged eyesight that may not be an issue. The confusion between the decals provided and the markings shown on the colour scheme drawings is just stupid – decals are provided for just two of the four tanks shown and you have some spare decals, but no information about where they go or what unit they apply to. However, provided that you can work out how to assemble the Neo Tracks and that you ignore the colours suggested in the instructions, I can’t see any reason this won’t build into a respectable model of the Panzer III Ausf. L. However, there are a few (cheaper) alternatives if you do want to model this tank in 1/72.

The Revell 1/72 Ausf. L (02351) was released in 2003 and it’s a nice little kit that is generally accurate and includes link-and-length tracks. Revell also offer (or offered – I don’t know if it’s still around) a 1/76 Ausf. L and this is a re-release of the original Matchbox kit from 1974. It’s OK, though it does have rather thick vinyl tracks.

Ukrainian producer UM Models offer a 1/72 kit of the Ausf. L first released in 2016. This seems to be very nicely done with PE parts and link-and-length tracks. Plastic Soldier Company offer the Panzer III in 1/72 in a pack that provides three tanks that can be completed as the Ausf. J, L, M, or N though these are simplified, easy-assembly kits that are aimed more at wargamers than modellers.

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Dragon 1/72 Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. L Late production (7645) Armor Neo Pro Build Review

Forces of Valor 1/72 Panzer III Ausf. N (87011) Build Review

If you have read the in-box review of this kit, you’ll know that it’s not the highest quality of kits. You may therefore be wondering why I’m even bothering to build it? The answer is: I learn something from every kit I build and in this case, there is something particular I want to test. Specifically, I haven’t been happy with the two small-scale kits of German tanks I have built and attempted to paint with a camouflage pattern. The colours just look  too stark in terms of contrast and I want to try experimenting with filters to try to reduce that contrast. And that’s really what I will be focusing on here. But, to get something to paint, I first have to finish the build…

I will be attempting to make a couple of small improvements to the kit. First, I separate the conjoined blocks of roadwheels into separate pairs of roadwheels. The blocks look really nasty to me, and it only takes ten minutes or so to go from this…

To this.

The I fabricate some replacement schürzen for the hull using thin plastic card. These are still a little thick, but they are better than what was provided with the kit.

Then, it’s on to construction. The hull goes together with no problems at all and no filler required. Fit is good, in fact, many parts snap into place with no need of glue.

The turret isn’t quite so good and some filler is required for a couple of gaps at the bottom front and at the front of the rear stowage box. There is also a minor issue with the hatches – these are only designed to be open. If you want them closed, some trimming and filler is needed to get a good fit.

Now that it’s done, the upper schürzen mountings do look very thick. So, I quickly make some new ones out of thin plastic card.

With basic construction done, I decide to do a quick check of the tracks. These are vinyl tracks, but they’re thicker and less elastic than most I have come across. I add a couple of roadwheels for a dry fit (I’m leaving them off to paint the tyres more easily) and I add the tracks, just to check that they’re long enough. And here’s the result:

As you can see, the tracks are about 10mm too short! Initially, I was tempted just to stop here. Two out of the last three tank kits I have worked on have had too-short vinyl tracks, and I’m getting rather bored with it. These are even worse – they’re relatively thick and strong and so short that there’s a good chance that the joint will break or the rather flimsy rear idlers would snap if they are joined and then stretched to fit. After some rumination, I decide to go ahead with the rest of the build without even trying to join the tracks. I’ll leave the open section on the top run where, hopefully, it will be hidden by the schürzen.   

Next, the painting. I begin with an undercoat of Mig Jiminez Dunklegelb base, then I highlight using Dunklegelb shine and give it all a final thinned coat of the base shade. Then I apply a basic camouflage scheme using Mig Olivegrun and Shokobraun. There is no standard scheme – these camouflage colours were applied in the field and they range from carefully thought out and meticulously applied schemes to something that looks as though it has been done by tossing buckets of paint at the vehicle.

However, the contrast between the camo and base colours is too great. I want to try to use a filter to tone this down. The question is, what colour do I want to use? I have painted a scrap of card in the same colours as the kit and I use this for testing. I try very dilute mixes of oil paint and thinners with dark brown, ochre and a mix of brown and titanium white, but none give particularly satisfactory results, mainly because they all pool badly. Eventually, I use a dilute mix of acrylic white and clear varnish to tone everything down and make it look dusty. Then, I overpaint with a filter of very dilute dark brown oil to emphasize shadows.

Frankly, the result isn’t great. The brown wash works well enough, but I clearly I still have work to do on the filter. It has toned-down the camo contrast but at the expense of a blotchy overall finish. I may consider buying a ready-mixed filter and trying that in future.

All that then remains is to paint the roadwheel tyres , the tools and some other small bits and pieces. I also paint the tracks and discover an odd thing that I have seen on other vinyl tracks – they accept paint, but strangely the original colour of the vinyl seems to show through when the paint dries. I painted the tracks a dark gunmetal with lighter gunmetal highlights but when dry, they look black with lighter highlights. On another kit I might have tried again but on this one, I’m just keen to get finished and move on.

So, here is the completed Forces of Valor Panzer III. At least with the hull schürzen in place, you can’t see the gaps in the tracks!

After Action Report

I didn’t enjoy this build and the principal reason can be summed-up in one word: Tracks! I think you know what I mean! With the provided tracks, this kit is basically unbuildable. When I discovered that, I was tempted to abandon this build without finishing it. I persevered only because I want to use this as a test-bed for new painting techniques. The paint job turned out pretty badly, and that certainly isn’t the fault of this kit. However, while otherwise this might be a good kit for a beginner, the fact that the vinyl tracks are just way too short could only cause disappointment and frustration.

I can’t say I’m especially happy with the finished model. The mouldings are a mix of very good and not so good. Some of the fine detail is nicely done but the odd and overscale hull schürzen and the very thick turret schürzen mountings, for example, look very strange. Construction is generally straightforward and fit isn’t bad at all in most places.

I didn’t notice until I parked it next to some other 1/72 kits that this kit is also too large. On the original Panzer III, the hull was 2.9m wide, excluding schürzen. That should equal a whisker over 40mm wide in 1/72. However, this kit is actually almost 46mm wide – its hull is close to the width of a Tiger tank in the same scale and it’s noticeably larger than a T-34. On its own, this isn’t too noticeable but next to other kits in the same scale, it just looks wrong.

This isn’t a dreadful kit, but neither is it particularly good. With so much choice covering the Panzer III in this scale, it’s just very difficult to see why you’d choose this one. There are cheaper and easier to construct small-scale tank kits for beginners and there are much more accurate and detailed kits for not a lot more money for more advanced builders. Sorry Waltersons, but for me, this is probably one kit to avoid.    

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Forces of Valor 1/72 Panzer III Ausf. N (87011) In-Box Review and History

Forces of Valor 1/72 Panzer III Ausf. N (87011) In-Box Review and History

Introduction

Now that shops here in Spain are beginning to re-open after COVID lockdown, I recently found myself strolling past a toy and model shop I had never noticed before. And there in the window was a 1/72 tank kit by a manufacturer I had never heard of for a reduced price somewhere south of €5. Well, how could I resist that?

So, here is a slightly unexpected review of a Panzer III Ausf. N kit produced by a company that may, or may not, be called Waltersons. The only information about these kits I can find on-line references “Forces of Valor” as a trade name and emphasizes that these kits are simple, robust and price-friendly (the full price of this Panzer III kit was under €10). The website also notes that all kits are “injected with pigment” in the appropriate final colour so that they don’t need painting. These sound like simplified kits so, I guess we are not dealing with DML levels of accuracy and completeness here.

This kit first appeared in 2011 as a product from Unimax Toys, a Hong-Kong based manufacturer. In its original incarnation, the box identified the manufacturer as Unimax and the kit as depicting a Panzer III of Panzer Brigade “Norwegen” in May 1945. The version I found is branded “Waltersons – Enthusiasm Beyond Compare” and cites Kursk 1943, though the box also mentions Panzer Brigade Norwegen. The box also notes that the kit is moulded in plastic coloured to match RAL 7028, which, according to my sources, is Dunklegelb (dark yellow), which was the base colour used on mid to late war German tanks.

So, this kit presents a different kind of challenge. A quick look inside the box suggests something that in some ways is more toy-like than most of the tank kits covered on this site. Will it be possible to use this as the basis for a reasonable model of the Panzer III? 

History

The Panzer III and Panzer IV were designed in the mid-1930s as Germany’s main tanks. The Panzer IV was intended as an infantry support tank and initially armed with a 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 main gun. The smaller and lighter Panzer III was to be a tank-killer and was armed with a 3.7 cm KwK L/46.5 main gun, a development of the Pak 36 anti-tank gun.

Panzer IIIs with 3.7cm main guns in Yugoslavia in 1941

Image: Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia commons

During the early war, in combat in Poland and during the invasion of France and Belgium, the Panzer III proved just about adequate but, when German forces invaded Russia in 1941 and found themselves facing T-34s and KV-1s, it was clear that a more powerful main gun was required. The Panzer III was upgraded with the 5cm KwK 38 L/42 main gun. However, even that proved less than effective in the tank-killing role and due to the limited size of its turret ring, the Panzer III could not be equipped with a larger main gun.

At that point, the Panzer III and IV underwent a role reversal. The Panzer IV was equipped with a modified version of the Pak 40 75mm anti-tank gun to become an effective tank-killer. The Panzer III Ausf. N was equipped with the same short 75mm main gun originally fitted to the Panzer IV and became used as an infantry support tank. A number of these later Panzer IIIs were also assigned to heavy tank companies to provide close-support for Tiger tanks – the full company compliment was nine Tigers and ten Panzer III Ausf. N. The Ausf. N was the second most numerous version of the Panzer III with more than six hundred produced in 1942 and 1943.

Panzer III with 5cm main gun and schürzen hull and turret armour in Russia.

Image: Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia commons

The subject of this particular kit is a Panzer III Ausf. N of Panzer Brigade “Norwegen”. This unit was formed in July 1944 at the Trandum military training camp near Oslo. Although identified as a brigade, the only units involved were a battalion of Panzer IIIs and Panzergrenadier battalion “Norwegen”. In early 1945, the brigade was transferred to Narvik to face a potential Russian attack on Northern Norway. This attack never materialised and the brigade saw no combat before surrendering to British forces on 10th May 1945. I had never heard of Panzer Brigade “Norwegen” before buying this kit and kudos to Forces of Valor for choosing such a little-known unit as the subject for a kit.

Panzer IIIs of Panzer Brigade “Norwegen” after their surrender. The three tanks in the first row are all Ausf. N. None of the tanks in this photo seem to show any markings at all.

What’s in the box?

This feels like a kit with a bit of an identity crisis and the box contains several surprises, some pleasant, some less so.

Inside, you’ll find several sprues and individual parts, all separately sealed in plastic bags. These parts are moulded in a pale brown plastic that does, sort of, look like Dunklegelb. There is also a black vinyl sprue containing both the tracks and the commander figure, a set of decals and instructions.  

Let’s start with the plastic parts. There are three sprues plus the turret and upper and lower hull.

The biggest surprise for me was the high quality of many of the mouldings here. These are sharp and almost entirely without flash or any visible mould release marks. Detail is actually very good, with things like the roadwheels being provided with open lightening holes and even the mesh on the upper side of the track-guards being included.

Judging by the fact that the bore of the main gun is moulded open, I’d guess that these are produced using some form of slide-moulding technology. You can see in the picture below that there is even some attempt to show weld detail on the mantlet.

The down side is that some mouldings are clearly intended to make building the kit simple. For example, all the roadwheels are conjoined to form four blocks (two inner and two outer) of six wheels.

The tools and lower halves of the spare roadwheels are moulded in place on the hull and the gun mount looks simplified. The box art shows Nebelwurfgerät, turret mounted launchers for smoke grenades, but these aren’t included with the kit. However the turret hatches and exhaust, for example, are nicely moulded as separate parts.

However, my biggest disappointment is the schürzen side armour. This is not only much too thick, it’s provided in a strange overlapping design that looks really odd.

The soft vinyl tracks have reasonable detail on the inside and outside and the commander figure is made from the same material – good luck fixing his arm in place securely! 

The decal sheet provides just three decals – a single cross and two unit markings that portray a double-headed eagle with a red panel and yellow cross in the centre. I believe this is the coat of arms of 2nd Panzer Division and I have seen schemes that show this marking on vehicles used during Operation Citadel, the Battle of Kursk, though most of these also show a three-digit tactical  number on the rear of the turret armour and other smaller markings that aren’t provided here.

The instructions are straightforward exploded views.

The suggested colour scheme is a perfectly sensible Dunklegelb base with brown and green camouflage.

The instructions provide just a single short paragraph on the history of the Panzer III, written in something that only approximates English. You certainly aren’t going to learn anything new here.

Would you want one?

That’s tricky. If you find one of these for very little cash, then possibly, yes. However, the schürzen plates and mountings are way too thick, the tools are moulded in place and the roadwheels come as single blocks. All of these things can be fixed, of course, and the basic kit seems fairly accurate, cleanly moulded and it looks like a fair representation of the Panzer III. However, it does seem like a simplified kit aimed at an inexperienced kit-builder who wants to create a finished model as quickly as possible.

I’m kind of intrigued by this one. If I’m honest, the contents of the box are better than I had expected in terms of moulding quality and accuracy, but then I build lots of Airfix kits from the 1960s, so perhaps I’m not the best person to judge? I’m sure if you compared it to many modern 1/72 armour kits, this would look very toy-like. But, I think it will still nevertheless be possible to create a reasonable model of a Panzer III. And there is a sort of perverse satisfaction to be found in the process of making a kit better…

If you don’t fancy one of these, there are plenty of other Panzer III kits in 1/72 to choose from. Dragon do two versions of the Ausf. N, one from the DAK and another, with schürzen, of 2nd Panzer Division at the Battle of Kursk.

Italeri do a 1/72 Panzer III that can be completed as either Ausf. M or N and Revell do a rather nice Ausf. L kit which includes their link-and-length tracks.

Given all this choice of very decent small-scale kits, why would you choose the flawed Forces of Valor Panzer III? For me, the answer was simply that I stumbled across it at a price too good to pass up and I’m keen to use it to experiment with new techniques for painting German camouflage that may (or may not) work out. I would guess that this kit is really aimed at younger modellers who don’t want to spend lots of time on construction and may not be interested in painting the finished kit. However, that also presents a more mature (ahem!) kit-builder with an interesting challenge. Stand by for a build review…

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