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

Confessions of a born-again kit builder – why I’m a little daunted by the sheer quality of some current kits