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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After Action Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

History

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

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

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

Champaubert, an M4A2 of Division Leclerc

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

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

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

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

What’s in the box?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you want one?

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

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

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

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Airfix 1/76 M4 Sherman Mk. I (A01303V) Build Review

I intend to go for a quick build pretty much OOB, but there are a couple of things I do want to do. The main gun provided with the kit just looks silly – it’s much too thin and I want to replace it. There are also two odd humps on the rear hull where the lifting rings should be – I’ll replace these things with something that looks a little more like the original.

I start with the gun. A piece of circular sprue of an appropriate diameter is cut, lightly tapered and drilled and I use this to replace the wimpy kit version. Not perfect, but an improvement.

I then start to assemble the hull. Fit isn’t great here – the hull sides seem to be slightly warped and even after using tape while the glue sets there are gaps between the hull sides and the front of the transmission cover at the front. A little filler is needed here. I also replace the humps on the hull rear with a couple of plastic-card plates and half-rings.

Assembling the cupola and hatches is a little tricky because location for the hatches isn’t great. It takes a bit of fiddling to get something without large gaps.

The lower hull sides are sanded to remove the sink-marks and part numbers. Then everything gets a coat of MIG Jiminez olive green. As has happened before with this paint, the result is a slightly glossy finish that’s darker than I was aiming for, but as I’ll be using a couple of coats of matt clear varnish, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.  

Then, I paint the roadwheel tyres, a fairly easy job because the rubber tyres are proud of the wheel centres. Assembling the suspension is tricky, mainly due to fit issues. In ten of the twelve roadwheels, the hole in the centre was too small to allow the wheels to be fitted over the spindles on the bogies. I had to drill them out with a 1mm drill. There are also ridges and moulding imperfections on the spindles that attach the bogies to the hull sides – these have to carefully trimmed to get the bogies to fit. Even the sprockets don’t fit well – on one side the fit was fine but on the other, the spindle of the sprocket was too large to fit in the hole in the hull side – I had to drill out the hole with a 2mm drill.

Once the suspension was done, I added some highlights on the hull, suspension and turret then used a final thinned coat of olive green to blend everything in.

Then the decals were applied using Vallejo decal fix and decal softener – I’m going for British 4th Armoured Brigade markings. After that, everything gets a coat of matt, clear varnish which reduces the shine and lightens the overall colour.

Then, the tracks. The T-41 tracks fitted to some Shermans, which is what I think these are supposed to be, comprised thick rubber blocks with steel bars inside fitted between metal retainers and end-pieces. I used black and grey for the blocks and gunmetal for the retainers and end pieces to try to replicate this.

Finally, I used Abteilung Oils Faded Green as a wash to make everything look a bit grubby and to give some detail to the hull, suspension bogies and turret. I also painted the tools on the rear hull – not an easy job as they are not very well defined. Then it got a radio antenna and a final coat of matt varnish and I added the tracks – these are the usual pain to join, but they are a good length and fit well over the sprockets, idlers and roadwheels. This is the end result.

After Action Report

Overall, this looks OK, but it has some problems that make it difficult to recommend. Most experienced modellers are going to want something that is more accurate to a particular model of Sherman and that has sharper mouldings. However, even as a cheap beginner’s kit, this has some drawbacks. Notably, ten of the twelve roadwheels just didn’t fit on the spindles on the bogies – I think that would be a massive frustration for a young modeller.

Other than the fit issues, this is a quick and simple build, and sometimes, that’s rather nice. The main gun provided with the kit is horrible, but it isn’t difficult to replace. Perhaps the best thing is to simply accept this as what it is; a kit from nearly sixty years ago when standards and expectations for small-scale models were lower. What you’ll end up with is a piece of Airfix nostalgia rather than an exemplary Sherman kit. If you are willing to accept that, or perhaps to use this as the basis for building something better, then this is inexpensive way to while-away a few hours.

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Airfix 1/76 M4 Sherman Mk. I (A01303V) In-Box Review and History

In 1961 The Guns of Navarone was one of the big movie success stories, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space and Bonanaza, one of the first television shows to be broadcast in colour, topped the ratings in the US. However, for model kit makers the big news was that Airfix were planning to launch a new series of tank kits. The first three, Churchill, Panther and Sherman were all released that year.

All were released in HO/00 scale. Today, that seems a little odd – it equates to around 1/76 and Airfix already produced several popular aircraft kits in 1/72, so, why didn’t they do the same with these tanks? No-one is entirely certain, but it seems most likely that this was related to the fact that in the late 1950s, a large proportion of Airfix kits were accessories for HO/00 model railways. The very first small figures the company released, Civilians, were intended for use on model railways and produced in the same scale. When Airfix started releasing sets of military figures in 1961, they kept to the same scale. So, it probably seemed to make sense to also make their tanks to the same scale which equates to around 1/76.

Nowadays, that makes Airfix tank kits oddballs amongst the majority of 1/72 AFVs. However, I am keen to see if one of the very first Airfix tanks, released almost sixty years ago is any good. This is the Vintage Classics edition released in 2019 and featuring artwork from 1963.

History

The M4 was one of the most important and widely produced of all tanks of World War Two; only the Russian T-34 was produced in greater numbers. A large proportion of early M4 production was sent to Britain where this tank was given the name Sherman. The name was later formally adopted by the US Army and led to the practice of naming US tanks after American Generals.

The success of the German Blitzkrieg in 1940 shocked the US military into accepting that the tanks they currently had were less than ideal for modern mechanized warfare. Although America was not at that time involved in the war, work immediately began on the design of a new tank. The outcome was the M3 (with variants known as Lee and Grant), a tall, cumbersome design with a one-man turret mounting a small calibre gun and the main armament, a 75mm cannon, mounted in a sponson in the hull. Suspension was derived from the previous M2 light tank, the VVSS (Vertical Volute Spring Suspension) type with three sets of bogies on each side, each with two rubber-tyred roadwheels. The M3 was a stopgap design and work immediately began on a tank using the same lower hull, engine, transmission, suspension and running gear but with a main gun mounted in a revolving turret.

An US M4A1 Sherman in Tunisia

The outcome was the M4, first produced in February 1942. The initial version was the M4A1, with a distinctive cast hull looking a little like an upturned bath-tub and a three-man turret mounting a 75mm main gun. Later versions were upgraded to the new M1 76mm main gun. The 400 hp petrol engine gave good performance but its fuel tanks provided a notable fire hazard.

This was followed by the M4A2, with a hull constructed from flat plates of welded steel and a GM diesel engine. The M4A3 was similar but equipped with a new liquid-cooled Ford V8 500 hp petrol engine. The M4A4 (which is what I think this kit portrays) was introduced in July 1942 and was equipped with the original 75mm main gun and the astonishing Chrysler A57 Multibank engine, essentially five Chrysler inline six-cylinder petrol car engines arranged round a central shaft. This massive and complex engine meant that the rear hull on this variant was slightly longer.

M4A4 Shermans being produced at the Chrysler Plant in 1942. The tank on the right is an M3.

Over 7,000 examples of the M4A4 were manufactured between July 1942 and November 1943 by the Chrysler Corporation. This version was supplied in large numbers to both Britain and Russia and smaller numbers were also used by the US Army. In addition to being used by Russian forces on the Eastern front, this type of Sherman saw action in Sicily and Italy as well as during the invasion of Normandy.

There are a bewildering number of Sherman variants and even within tanks of the same type there are significant differences in things like mantlets, hatches, the transmission cover at the front of the hull and the rear deck. This shouldn’t be surprising given that Sherman production was carried out at eleven separate plants in the United States and the rush to production meant that whatever components were to hand were used.

In many ways, the Sherman was a great tank – it was mechanically reliable, powerful engines gave it good performance, it was roomy inside and its relatively low weight (just over thirty tons) and narrow width made it easy to transport. It was also provided with a gyroscopically stabilised main gun, an innovation in World War Two that theoretically made firing on the move more accurate, though the system proved to be less than 100% reliable.

A British Sherman Mark V in operation in Sicily, 1943

The main problem was that, while this was a good design in 1941, it was no match for German tanks and tank destroyers that began to appear from late 1942. Its 75mm cannon was not capable of penetrating the frontal armour on tanks such as the Panther and Tiger while its own frontal armour was vulnerable to penetration by a range of late-war German tank and anti-tank weapons. As the war progressed, the Sherman was provided with more powerful main guns, improved armour and diesel engines until, by 1945 it had evolved into a formidable fighting vehicle.

What’s in the Box

Inside the box there are four sprues of fairly brittle, green plastic, a set of decals and a set of rubber-band type tracks.

Detail and sharpness of the mouldings isn’t too terrible given the age of this kit, but they are not up to modern standards. The tools moulded on the upper rear hull, for example, are not particularly sharply defined, which will make painting difficult. At least the turret and hull hatches are separate mouldings though there is no internal detail.

There are some obvious issues. Most notably the main gun looks much too thin and too tapered – the 75mm main gun was a chunky piece of kit and helps define the appearance of early Shermans and the part provided with the kit looks completely wrong.  The turret is a little too narrow and lacks detail, particularly on the rear. It also lacks the rear stowage box seen on many Shermans and no front mudguards are provided. Details on the hull are simplified and the moulding of the roadwheels is variable – some aren’t bad while others are very poor indeed and on many, the mounting hole obviously isn’t quite in the centre of the wheel.

The suspension, sprockets and idlers are all greatly simplified though this still just about looks like Sherman suspension. The suspension and running gear on the Airfix 1/76 Lee/Grant tank kit released in 1969, which should be identical to the Sherman, is actually better in all respects.

The tracks are the same type provided with other1/76 Airfix AFV kits, being moulded out of flexible, dark grey plastic that seems impervious to most glues. Detail on the outside of the tracks is a reasonable attempt to replicate the T-41 simple rubber-block type tracks fitted to some Shermans.

One thing that is notable is how much moulding techniques have improved in the last sixty years. There is a lot of flash (even on the tracks), some visible sink-marks (on the hull sides for example) and for some bizarre reason, both hull sides have their part numbers moulded on the outside, between suspension bogies where they will show if not sanded off.

The sprues also show their age – the attachment points to parts is very large in some cases and the way that, for example, the sprockets are attached to the sprues certainly wouldn’t be acceptable now. I generally remove items from sprue with a small craft-knife but some of these look better tackled with a chainsaw.  

Decals are provided for two Shermans; one for a British Army tank from 4th Armoured Brigade in June 1944 and one for an unidentified unit of the US Army. The colour scheme for the British tank is shown in the instructions (which are clear and fairly straightforward) and the US scheme is provided on the back of the box.

One problem here isn’t with the parts themselves, but rather with what they build into.

From around 2013 until the release of the Vintage Classics edition in 2019, the packaging described this kit as a “Sherman M4A2” (and the colour scheme in the instructions for this kit still says the same) but it doesn’t especially look like one of those. The original packaging and current Vintage Cassics box are correct – this is an M4 Sherman Mark I.

However, compared to modern kits that precisely model a specific variant of a particular model, it’s a bit vague in terms of accuracy. Many details are simplified and indifferent moulding quality may be due to the age of the mould, but it certainly isn’t impressive. The too-small main gun (the size and proportion of the main gun are correctly shown on the views on the back of the box, above) and lack of things like mudguards and turret stowage are also disappointing.

Overall, this a kit that is really showing its age, way more than, for example, the Airfix StuG III which I built recently and which dates to just two years later. I’m sorry to say it but, after nearly sixty years of production, this feels like a kit that is probably due for honourable retirement.

Alternatives

There aren’t, as far as I know, any other 1/76 Sherman kits still around. There used to be a 1/76 Matchbox Sherman Firefly, but that went out of production some time ago. Airfix have announced a new Sherman Firefly for release in 2020, but this is claimed to be 1/72 and not 1/76 scale. If you are happy with 1/72, there are several alternatives, but perhaps not as many as you might expect and nothing to compare with, for example, the number of different T-34 kits available, especially if you want to model an early version of the Sherman with the 75/76mm main gun.

Trumpeter do a fairly nice 1/72 US M4 Sherman Tank. This has well detailed suspension and tracks and can be built as an early Sherman though it does have issues with the front hull – it’s too steeply angled. Here it is on the Trumpeter website.

Probably the best 1/72 early Sherman comes from Dragon who do an exceptionally nice Sherman Mark III (M4A2) with decals and paint schemes for British use in the western desert. It is extremely well detailed and accurate and includes PE parts. It can be seen on the Dragon web site.

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