It’s time for another first here on Model Kit World: a 1/48 scale tank kit! I have been thinking about this for a while. This scale lies neatly between tiny 1/72 and 1/76 and the much larger 1/35. But. What does this scale actually look like? Do these really combine the detail of 1/35 with the ease of construction of smaller scales?
In the mid-1970s, another Japanese manufacturer, Bandai, produced a whole range of 1/48 AFV kits. Monogram and Aurora also produced AFVs in this scale, but all of these gradually lost out to the popularity of 1/35 kits produced by Tamiya and others. By the 1990s, it was difficult to find any AFV kits in this scale. Although they already produced a range of 1/48 aircraft kits, it wasn’t until 2003 that Tamiya finally introduced their 1/48 military miniatures series.
There are now a large number of Tamiya 1/48 AFV kits. Early versions had die-cast lower hulls, but this one, like most of the later 1/48 kits, is all plastic. These generally have a good reputation for accuracy and detail and this kit was released in 2018. But, what’s it like? Let’s take a look…
I have already covered the history of the M4 briefly in other reviews, so here I’m going to focus on something different: how models of the M4 were identified. When I got back into modelling, I found the variety of M4 types bewildering. Hopefully, this will explain the meaning of the various designations and help to define how the M4 changed and just what an M4A3E8 actually was. If you get bored, you can always skip to the next section…
A British M4A1 with a 75mm gun in North Africa. The M4 was first used in combat by the British Army in North Africa.
The M4 Medium Tank entered service armed with the 75 mm M3 L/40 main gun. This was an excellent weapon for use in the close support role, firing an M48 HE round that contained 1.5lbs of TNT, making it one of the most effective HE shells fired by any tank in World War Two. It’s anti-armour performance was less impressive, capable of penetrating only up to 68mm of armour at a range of 500m. That wasn’t seen as a major problem because the US Army was developing the Tank Destroyer doctrine while the M4 was being designed: it was assumed that specialist Tank Destroyers would engage enemy armour, leaving the M4 to focus on the support role.
On the left in this image is an M3 Gun Motor Carriage, one of the first US Tank Destroyers. They were used widely in Tunisia, but didn’t prove to be effective against German tanks.
When US forces began to encounter German Tigers and upgraded Panzer IVs in Tunisia, it became apparent that TDs could not provide full protection and that a main gun with improved armour penetration was required for the M4. A new gun, the 76mm M1 L/55, was fitted in a turret modified from a design originally intended for use in the abandoned T23 tank project. The 76mm gun had better armour penetration, but a less effective HE shell. For this reason, the 76mm gun didn’t entirely replace the 75mm gun: units were provided with a mix of both types which allowed them to engage enemy armour with the 76mm guns and attack soft targets with the 75mm gun. In the naming convention adopted by the US Army after the introduction of the 76mm gun, (75) or (76) was added after the model designation to denote which type of main gun a particular model was equipped with.
Early M4s were found to have a tendency to burn when hit by enemy rounds: up to 75% of all early M4s burned when hit. Analysis of engagements in Tunisia identified ammunition stowage as the problem: ammo racks in the sponsons, above the tracks, were protected only by thin side armour. A hit on the hull side could ignite the shell propellant which could not then be extinguished (the propellant contained its own oxidant). If one shell started to burn, this would rapidly spread to others, turning the tank into a furnace.
A French M4A2 with extra armour panels welded on to the sponsons to protect the internal ammo racks and an additional armour panel added to the turret, to the right of the mantlet.
As a short-term solution, panels of applique armour were welded on the hull sides to protect the internal ammo racks. In the long-term, the solution was wet ammunition stowage: ammunition was stowed in a bin in the hull floor beneath the turret basket which was filled with a mix of water and anti-freeze. This dramatically reduced the incidence of fires following combat damage. Tanks provided with wet ammo stowage are identified by the addition of “W” to the model name.
There were a number of detail changes to all versions of the M4 during its long production history, mainly involving hatches, the glacis plate and transmission covers. The only other major change was the introduction of horizontal-volute-spring system (HVSS) suspension, which provided six pairs of roadwheels per side (the original VVSS suspension allowed only six single roadwheels per side). This enabled the fitment of wider tracks that reduced the ground pressure of this version to just over 10psi, improving its ability to travel over broken or soft ground. From late 1944/early 1945, some M4s were provided with HVSS suspension.
An M4A3 (75) W with HVSS suspension.
There were five main models of the M4, principally distinguished by different types of engine. These were not sequential models: many were produced concurrently in different plants in America. Some were phased out as the war progressed but some models of the M4A1, for example, were still being manufactured up to the end of the war in Europe. The models were:
The M4 was powered by a radial gasoline aviation engine, the Continental R975. Almost 7,000 were manufactured and all featured the 75mm gun. None had wet ammo stowage. The M4 was used extensively by the US Army as well as the British Army, in which it was named the Sherman I. Production of the M4 ended in January 1944.
The M4A1 used the same engine, but had a cast upper hull rather than the welded upper hull on the M4. This was the only M4 variant with a cast hull and it was produced in two basic forms: the M4A1 (75) and the M4A1 (76) W. Later models also featured HVSS suspension. Over 9,000 examples of all types of M4A1 were produced. The M4A1 was used extensively by the US Army and by the British Army, in which it was named the Sherman II. Production of the M4A1 continued until July 1945.
An M4A2 (76) W supplied to the Red Army under the lend-lease agreement.
The M4A2 was powered by a General Motors 6046 diesel engine. It was produced in three forms: the M4A2 (75), the M4A2 (75) W and the M4A2 (76) W. Later models of the M4A2 (76) W also featured HVSS suspension. Over 11,000 were produced, but this model was not used by the US Army in combat, though it was used by the USMC in the Pacific Theatre. This model was used extensively by the British Army (as the Sherman III) and by the armies of several other nations during World War Two including Canada, France, Russia and Australia. Production of the M4A2 continued until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945.
The M4A3 featured a Ford gasoline V8 engine that provided improved torque at low engine speeds. This was produced in four forms: M4A3 (75), the M4A3 (75) W, the M4A3 (76) W (with later models of this version using HVSS identified as the M4A3E8 and generally known as the “Easy Eight” due to the smooth ride provided by the improved suspension) and the M4A3E2, an uparmoured version known as the Jumbo. Over 8,000 were produced and the M4A3 was used by both the US Army and the British Army, where it was known as the Sherman IV. Production of the M4A3 continued after the end of the war.
The M4A4 was powered by a complex Chrysler gasoline engine. Only one version was produced which was armed with the 75mm gun. None of this version were manufactured with wet ammo stowage or HVSS suspension. Over 7,000 were produced, but none were used in combat by the US Army. Large numbers were provided to the British Army (as the Sherman V), to the Russians and to French units. Some of this model were modified in British hands with the replacement of the 75mm gun by a more powerful British 17-pounder (76mm) main gun. These were identified as the Sherman Vc, but often known as the Firefly. Production of the M4A4 ended in November 1943.
The final development of the M4 in World War Two and the subject of this kit: The M4A3E8 (76) W with a flat glacis plate, muzzle brake and HVSS suspension.
So, the tank featured in this kit is a late model M4A3 armed with a 76mm gun and provided with wet ammo storage, a simplified, flat glacis plate, larger access hatches for the driver and bow gunner and HVSS suspension. This was also one of the first American tanks to be provided with a muzzle brake on the main gun as standard. The 76mm gun tended to kick up a large cloud of dust when fired, obscuring the target for anything up to 30 seconds and revealing the position of the tank. The muzzle brake deflected the blast to the side, reducing this problem.
What’s in the box?
The first thing to mention is that this isn’t, as I had expected, just a shrunk-down version of the 1/35 Tamiya M4A3E8 released in 2015 (35346), though both kits share the same box-art. The break-down of parts on, for example, the turret is quite different here and this one comes with plastic link-and-length tracks rather than the vinyl tracks of its bigger brother. There is a little less detail here too: the 1/35 version includes things like casting numbers and separate hull hatches which aren’t included here.
What you get here are five sprues moulded in olive green plastic (there are two identical sprues for the tracks, running gear and suspension parts).
Surface detail looks crisp and includes nice casting texture on many parts. Though it’s notable that the turret comes in two halves which means some care will be needed to hide the join at the rear without sanding off this texture. All the mouldings look sharp and very clean, though this doesn’t use slide-moulding, so the muzzle brake is provided in two parts and the gun itself is a solid moulding.
The roadwheels and complex HVSS bogies look to be nicely detailed, sharply moulded and accurate.
The tracks look well detailed, inside and out, and appear to be an accurate representation of the all-metal T66 tracks fitted to this version of the M4.
Also provided is a piece of thin cord for the tow cable and four tiny polycaps. You’ll be using two of these for fitting the sprockets. That’s sensible: it’s helpful to be able to rotate the sprockets to allow them to engage correctly with link-and-length tracks. The other two are provided to allow the main gun to elevate.
Four small weights are included, to be placed in the lower hull. I have no idea why. Only the Commander’s hatch is provided as a separate part (which includes internal detail), and the top half of a Commander figure is also included. All tools and spare track links are provided as separate parts. No transparent parts are included.
Decals are basic: all you get here are seven stars for the hull and turret. Two are provided roughly overpainted in black, something that was done by some units late in the war as the white turret star was felt to provide too good a target for enemy gunners.
The only colour scheme is Olive Drab and two US Army tanks are depicted, one for a tank of the 5th Armored Division in April 1945 and the other for an M4 of the 4th Armored Division at Bastogne in January 1945. The only difference is that the tank from the 4th Division uses black turret stars.
The instructions look clear and simple and use Tamiya’s usual exploded views. On a separate sheet a very brief history of the M4A3E8 is provided.
Would You Want One?
My first impression on opening the box was that this kit seemed bigger than I expected. But perhaps that’s only because I haven’t built a 1/35 M4? It’s only by comparing the torso of the commander figure provided here with a 1/35 figure that it becomes obvious how much smaller this is.
Out of the box, this looks like a class act, as you’d probably expect from a relatively recent Tamiya kit. Surface detail is crisp and sharply moulded and I do like the textured finish on the turret and mantlet. As far as I’m aware, there are no notable dimensional or accuracy issues here and the link and length tracks look nicely done. The individual links are much larger than those found on a 1/72 kit, which should make assembly easier. Perhaps it might have been nice to see more interesting decals and some transparent parts but overall, I’m really looking forward to building this one.
Tamiya also offer an early production M4, an M4A2 and a British Sherman Vc Firefly in 1/48 scale. There is, as far as I’m aware, only one other M4A3E8 kit available in 1/48 and that’s a Korean War era version from HobbyBoss. It’s generally a nice kit, though there are said to be dimensional issues with the mantlet and suspension bogies and it comes with vinyl tracks, but it is provided with PE parts including the headlight covers.