Tag Archives: Zvezda

Zvezda 1/72 Jagdpanther (5042) Build Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After Action Report

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

History

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

A pair of Jagdpanthers somewhere in France, 1944

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

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

A Jagdpanther with the early one-piece main gun

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

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

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

What’s in the Box?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you want one?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First chore on the Zvezda T-34/76 is drilling out the main gun and with that done, it’s time to start on the hull. There is actually very little construction involved. The headlight and antenna base are added as are the toolboxes. I’ll be leaving off the tow cables to paint separately. The exhausts must be fitted to the rear of the upper hull and, just as on the Zvezda SU-85, there is a small but noticable gap on either side that needs to be filled. 

After complaining that the fit between the upper and lower hull on the SU-85 wasn’t great, here it’s very good indeed. No filler needed and only a quick swipe with a sanding stick though unlike the SU-85, the exhausts aren’t moulded open here.

Then, it’s on to the turret. There are no fit problems with the mantlet, main gun or turret base, and no filler is needed but the hatches have a moulding seam and some distortion once they’re cut off the sprue and they do need a fair bit of sanding to make them flat.

It’s only when I try fitting the turret in place that I realise I have made a mistake in construction. I glued the turret base in place in the upper hull. Then, the turret snaps on to that part. However, it won’t rotate because I have glued the base in place. If I had just pushed this into place from the inside and then snapped the turret on from the top, it would have then revolved. Note to self: read the instructions! At least by glueing the base in position I can keep the turret separate for painting and snap it in place at the end.

I also fit all the roadwheels and the inner halves of the sprockets and idlers – the outer halves will have to wait until the tracks are fitted and I’ll be painting these separately. These wheels fit much better than the same parts on the SU-85 which were a very tight fit.  

It all then gets a base coat of flat white, and then it’s time for the main colour. When building the SU-85, I confidently said that just about any colour of green will do for a Russian tank from World War Two. Protective Green 4BO, the standard green used on Russian AFVs, certainly varied in colour both as it was applied and due to weathering and fading. However, I felt that the SU-85 ended up just too dark, so this time, I’m mixing my own base colour for brush-painting.

After a great deal of experimentation, I come up with something I’m fairly happy with. It’s very light at this stage, but I know that adding varnish and oil washes will darken it quite a bit. One problem quickly becomes apparent – once the two hatches on the turret roof are sanded to make them flat, they fit so closely and flush with the roof that they virtually disappear under the paint. I distress the finish with a scourer to highlight worn areas.

Then I add the decals to the turret and paint on some light chipping and then it all gets a coat of matt varnish.

Then, it gets a dark grey oil wash to bring out shadows and some white oil streaking to give some visual interest to flat panels. 

Then I paint the roadwheel tyres and exhaust and the tracks get the usual dark grey undercoat, with highlights added with a soft pencil, then a coat of clear varnish and some brown acrylic wash on the tracks and roadwheels to simulate mud. Assembly of the tracks is a little fiddly, and might have been better done before joining the upper and lower hull halves. I didn’t do it that way because I want to paint the tracks separately and I was concerned that the upper/lower hull join might need filling and sanding. In the event, this join was fine and I could probably have painted the upper and lower hull separately and then joined them once the tracks had been added. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?

The upper and lower runs are anchored on to pegs on the inner halves of the idlers and sprockets as are the curved end sections. Getting these all neatly in place with the upper and lower hulls joined is tricky, but the end result isn’t bad at all. Overall, I rather like this method of creating the tracks. It’s also nice to see that the upper run isn’t completely straight – it does incorporate a little sag.

All that then remains is to add the tow cables and a radio antenna and the Zvezda T-34 is finished.

After-Action Report

I’m still struggling to get a good representation of Protective Green 4BO. I think this is better than the darker green I used on the SU-85, but my brush painting is still far from perfect.

The kit itself isn’t bad. Fit is generally very good and I do like the tracks. The snap-together nature of this kit doesn’t really affect construction and the fact that I ended up with a non-rotating turret was entirely up to my failing to follow the instructions. I also managed to snap off and lose the headlight to the carpet monster and I was forced to make a replacement.

However, as a kit, this is pretty good. Perhaps the surface detail isn’t quite as sharp as some newer kits, the turret hatches could be better defined and maybe this would have looked good with some tools, spare track links and other bits and pieces of outside storage, but in general this is a good representation of a T-34/76 early Model 1934.

These little Zvezda 1/72 armour kits are good value and simple to build, which makes a nice change from some more complex 1/35 kits I have built. I don’t feel that this T-34 is quite up to the standard of the same manufacturer’s SU-85, especially in terms of the sharpness of the detail, but it certainly isn’t terrible. This makes a pleasant and relaxing way to while away some lockdown hours and there isn’t anything here that would challenge most kit-builders.

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Zvezda 1/72 Soviet Medium Tank T-34/76 Model 1943 (5001) In-Box Review and History

Introduction

I recently built a 1/72 SU-85 kit by Russian kit-maker Zvezda. I thoroughly enjoyed that one, so I thought I’d try another offering by the same company, a Model 1943 version of the iconic T-34. Like the SU-85 this is a “Snap-Fit. No Glue Required” kit. I was originally put off these small Zvezda kits because I felt that a snap-together kit sounded like something aimed at kids (and this was at one time marked on the box as “My first model kit”) but the SU-85 went together well with some sanding and filling and I’m now looking forward to building another small-scale Zvezda kit.

I had assumed (always a dangerous thing to do) that this would be very similar to the SU-85 kit, which is basically a T-34 chassis and running gear with an 85mm main gun in a fixed mount, but I was wrong. This is an older kit, first released in 2011 (the SU-85 was released in 2020) and in terms of, for example, track construction, this is quite different though the quality of moulding looks just as good.

I have already built a T-34 in 1/72, the Revell version of the later T-34/85, and that was very nice indeed. Can this snap-together kit be as good? Let’s take a look…

History

Much of my working life has been spent in engineering, and I find a comparison of German and Russian approaches to tank design and construction during World War Two fascinating. German designers generally aimed for technical excellence and that involved almost continual change and improvement of initial designs. The T-34 represents a very different approach. The T-34/76 tank that invading German forces met in the Summer of 1941 was good, but it was far from perfect. A major problem was the cramped, two-man turret that provided poor outside vision and required the commander to issue orders to the crew while maintaining situational awareness and identifying targets as well as aiming and firing the main gun.

A Model 1941 T-34 in the Victory Park Museum, Moscow.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Russians were well aware of these problems and as early as the Summer of 1941 plans were well advanced for the T-34M (also known as the T-43) which would have included torsion bar suspension and a three-man turret mounting a more powerful main gun. However, the invasion changed all that and a decision was taken to retain the T-34/76 as it was to ensure the highest possible rate of production. The GABTU (Main Auto-Armoured Technical Directorate) permitted no changes to the basic design that might slow the rate at which T-34s rolled out of factories.

One of the principal locations producing the T-34 was Factory 183 in Kharkov. However, in late 1941 the city was evacuated as the Germans approached and the factory was disassembled and shipped east. Factory 183 was merged with the Dzerzhinsky Ural Railroad Car Factory and re-established in the Ural city of Nizhny Tagil to create the Stalin Ural Tank Factory No. 183 which soon became the world’s single largest producer of tanks.

Finishing a cast Gaika T-34 turret in Factory 183.

One of the few changes allowed was the creation in 1942 at Factory 183 of a new, cast Gaika (hex-nut) turret that was a little wider and less cramped than the original, though it was still a two-man turret with two circular hatches in the roof rather than a single, large hatch. The final modification to the T-34/76 before the introduction of the T-34/85 in early 1944 was the addition of a turret cupola for the commander that was introduced in the second half of 1943.

However, also in 1943 a shortage of rubber forced another change. Instead of the road wheels being covered with rubber tyres, a small rubber shock-absorber was placed in the centre of a steel roadwheel which became known as a “locomotive wheel”. This saved rubber, but the sound it produced was so loud that it was difficult for the crew to communicate and Germans were given ample warning of any approaching T-34. A compromise was developed in which only the middle three roadwheels were steel and this was found to reduce noise notably while still saving rubber.

The T-34 production line in Factory 183. If you look closely, you will see that the tank on the right has rubber-tyred roadwheels at front and rear with steel locomotive wheels between.

The Russian focus on maintaining production paid off. More than one thousand, five hundred T-34s were produced in the month of December 1942 alone. Despite suffering massive tank losses in actions throughout 1942, the Red Army had almost twelve thousand more tanks in its inventory in January 1943 compared to one year earlier. The T-34/76 certainly wasn’t perfect, but enough of them were available that they caused major problems for German forces or, as Stalin is reputed to have said, “quantity has a quality of its own.”  

What’s in the Box?

This kit represents a T-34 produced in the first half of 1943 at Factory 183 in Nizhny Tagil and features a Gaika cast turret with two “Mickey Mouse ear” hatches but no cupola and steel locomotive roadwheels in the middle three positions. This T-34 is modelled without rear external fuel tanks, spare track links, a horn or tools. The box contains less than eighty parts comprising a single sprue and the lower hull moulded in light grey plastic and the tracks moulded in two separate sprues in black plastic. There are also decals and assembly instructions that include suggested paint schemes.

The single main sprue contains everything but the lower hull.

The upper hull is a single part with the driver’s hatch included. Surface detail looks reasonably good, though perhaps not quite as well-defined and crisp as the detail on the SU-85. There is virtually no flash and I can’t see any visible mould release marks. The main gun is moulded as a single part and is solid so it will need to be drilled out as will the exhausts. Two tow-cables are provided as separate parts but no tools or other items are provided for external stowage.

Roadwheels are nicely detailed and all lightening holes are moulded as open, so no drilling is required. The two types of roadwheel are clearly different and appear to be correctly modelled.  

The turret hatches are moulded as separate parts but there is little interior detail, no crew and no simple way to model these open as extended legs on the inside of the hatches help to snap the turret into place.

The tracks themselves are different to the single-piece, semi-flexible tracks provided with, for example, the more recent Zvezda 1/72 SU-85. Each track comprises four separate parts – a top and bottom run and two curved end-pieces to fit over the sprocket and idler. The curved end pieces fit into pegs inside the sprocket and idler. Interior and exterior detail on the tracks looks acceptable and they appear to be to scale.  

The instructions look clear with 3D views of all steps.

Decals and colour schemes are provided for two tanks.

One, all in Protective Green 4BO, is for a tank from the 22nd Heavy tank Brigade in the Summer of 1943 and the other, with a tan camouflage pattern over the green base, is for the 8th Heavy Tank Brigade in the same period.

I have not been able to find details of either of these units, but the main action on the Eastern Front in the Summer of 1943 was the massive Battle of Kursk in July/August and it is certainly possible that either unit may have been involved there.

Would You Want One?

This looks like a fairly simple little kit. Overall detail and accuracy look good and I like the fact that this represents a very specific point in the minor modification of the T-34/76. I also like the fact that this is a “bare” T-34 without fuel tanks, tools or spare track links which does make it look a little different. My previous experience with a Zvezda snap-together kit suggests that some sanding and filling may be required to get things like the upper and lower hull and exhausts to join without gaps, but I’m hopeful that this will create a reasonably detailed and accurate early T-34/76 Model 1943.

Kit builders are well-served with a plethora of T-34/76 kits in a range of scales. If you are looking specifically for a Model 1943, DML do one in 1/72, though this is a slightly later version with the commander’s cupola and, though it also features three locomotive wheels on either side, the holes in these are not moulded as open so you had better be prepared for an extended drilling session.  The DML kit does include external fuel tanks and stowage items. Italeri also do a very similar kit in 1/72 depicting a T-34/76 Model 1943 with cupola which was first released in 2020.

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It’s time to start the build of Zvezda’s 1/72 SU-85 and, given that this kit is “Snap together – no glue required” I obviously won’t be needing any glue. Except, that’s not quite how it turned out…

The first job, as usual on most 1/72 kits, is drilling out the bore of the main gun. I don’t enjoy this – it’s just too easy to drill a fraction off-centre, but in this case, it all goes well.

Construction begins with the upper hull. The parts required to assemble the gun, mounting and mantlet fit fairly cleanly and are indeed designed to snap together leaving the gun free to traverse and elevate. However, you will be wanting to use glue to hold things like the rain cover and mantlet securely in place. Likewise the small vents on the roof and the rear part of the upper hull. These do all have mounting pegs and corresponding holes, but IMHO, glue is needed for a secure fix.

Just two parts (the handrails on either side of the hull) have no means of fixing other than glue. In general, the whole snap-together approach actually works very well in as much as it provides clear locations for all parts but really, you’ll be wanting to use glue too. Things like the rear fuel tanks are very nicely made – construction is idiot proof (they will only assemble in the correct orientation) and fit on these is superb.

However, I was less happy with the fit in other places. In particular, there is a notable gap on the right side and top of the main gun mounting. This is sufficiently wide on the right that you can see inside the hull, so filler is required. The rear plate of the upper hull also has fit issues and it took some sanding, filling and re-scribing panel lines to get something that looks right.

Both the exhausts fit into cut-outs in the rear hull that are a fraction wider than the exhausts, so again, filler is required to fill these gaps. The upper and lower hull halves also snap together, but again, glue is required for a secure fit. Both front and rear joins required sanding and filling. The rear join in particular needs a fair amount of sanding to get something that looks right.

The lower hull incorporates part of the track guards that fit into holes in the upper hull. I was concerned that these would be visible from above, but the joins are generally covered by toolboxes and other equipment, so these aren’t really a problem.

I have left off the tracks, sprockets, idlers, roadwheels, tools and tow cables at this stage simply because I want to paint these separately. I find that painting tyres on roadwheels in particular is much easier while these are loose and they can be mounted on a match or cocktail stick and rotated.

With the sanding and filling done, it’s time for something completely different. Rather than using a black or dark base for the main coat, I am going to use white. The reason is simple – I’ll follow this with a coat of varnish and then a coat of olive green. I will then buff the surface, hoping that the white will show through the green on high spots to replicate, wear, fading and highlights. That’s the plan, anyway…

I begin with a coat of matt white from an aerosol can. This is followed by a coat of clear, matt varnish. This also gives me a chance to check that my attempts at sanding have blended in the worst of the gaps. You’ll have to take my word for it because I forgot to take any photos of the kit at this stage. Just visualise an all-white SU-85…

Then I spray a top coat of Vallejo Olive Drab, also from a can. OK, I know, there is great deal of debate about precisely the shade of green used on Soviet tanks in World War Two. There seem to have been several different shades of green depending on where the paint was mixed and the tank painted. Some paints seem to have reacted to exposure to sunlight by becoming darker while others faded to a lighter colour. Then, you have to take into account colour scaling… For what it’s worth and in my view, just about anything resembling olive green is acceptable for a WW2 Russian AFV.

Then I buff with the abrasive side of an ordinary household scourer to create lighter areas on high spots by revealing the white undercoat. Then, it gets a coat of clear varnish mixed with a little olive drab to tone down the highlights a little.

Overall, this is close to what I was looking for. I then add the decals, though I put these on the right side only as that seems to accord with the vehicle in the museum in Moscow. I add paint chipping around hatches and other areas using dark grey and then it gets another coat of clear varnish and then it’s on to the oil washes.

I use a dark grey oil for shadows and to highlight things like the grilles on the rear deck and I add some white streaking and highlights to larger panels. I’m not too unhappy with the overall result, though it has turned out a darker green that I had hoped. If I’m doing another Russian WW2 AFV in this scale, I may use a different, lighter green as the base colour.

Then, it’s time to start on the tracks. You must follow the sequence of construction noted in the instructions here. First, the inner halves of the roadwheels, idler and sprocket are added. And that’s not as easy as it sounds. I really struggled at this stage. The problem is that all are a very tight fit on the spindles or sockets to which they attach. I guess this is to make them snap together, but it took so much force to get things like the sprocket inner half in place that I was concerned that it would snap. So, it took quite a bit of sanding, fitting and re-fitting to get to this point.  

Then, the tracks are added. The inner roadwheel with the pegs on it goes in the centre, and this locates the tracks in place.

I did a fairly simple paint-job on the tracks before fitting, just a coat of dark gunmetal followed by dry-brushed lighter gunmetal highlights and some brown for rust and dirt.

Finally, the outer halves of the wheels are added. Again, this isn’t easy and it takes more force than I was happy with. If I was doing this again (and I will be, soon…) I’d fix the inner halves in place during hull construction, dry-fit the outer halves and sand as required and then and paint the inner halves in-situ rather than trying to add them after painting the hull.

With the tracks done, all that’s left is to add the tools, tow cables and other bits and pieces. And here I found that, once again, the snap together construction means that I might have better to follow the sequence of construction in the instructions. If, as I did, you assemble the toolboxes on the hull, for example, before you try to fit things like the tow cable and saw, they don’t snap into place. To get these to fit, I had to cut off the locating pegs and glue them into position.

All that remains is to add a stretched-sprue radio antenna, and that’s the Zvezda SU-85 done…  

After-Action Report

I have been building mainly 1/35 kits recently, and I had almost forgotten how quick and fun these little 1/72 kits can be. Most construction was done in a single, short session and even the painting took much less time than usual. I also rather like the fact that these smaller scale kits are cheaper and take up less display space than their larger counterparts.

Overall, I was very impressed with this, my first Zvezda kit. Detail is crisp, accurate and complete, there was a total absence of flash and the only mould-release marks are placed inside, where they can’t be seen. As far as I can tell, this builds into a good representation of the SU-85 with no major inaccuracies or problems.

I’m not so sure about the whole “snap together – no glue required” thing. A couple of parts must be glued in place and I am not at all certain that some of the smaller parts could be fitted securely without the use of glue. On some small parts such as the sprockets, the amount of force needed to snap these into place is so great that I was concerned that I’d break them and I ended up sanding these and gluing them into position. It’s not a major problem, but I suggest you do have glue and sandpaper to hand if you’re building one of these.

This approach also means that you must either follow the recommended steps for construction or be prepared to glue some small parts into place. For example, I left things like the tow cables and tools until I had finished constructing and painting the hull, and that meant that some of these parts couldn’t be easily snapped into place.

Fit was, well, all right. Some filing and sanding was needed in a few places but no worse than I have experienced on several other kits. I do like the semi-hard plastic tracks provided on this kit. They look much more to scale than most rubber-band style tracks, they’re less fiddly than link-and-length tracks, especially in this small scale, and they bend round the sprocket and idler convincingly. These do mean that you must follow the recommended steps for assembly, but this isn’t difficult, just different.

I suppose the most important question is: having built this one, would I buy another Zvezda 1/72 kit? And the answer is an emphatic: Yes! In fact, I think I can feel a T-34 sort of mood approaching…

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Zvezda 1/72 Soviet Tank Destroyer SU-85 (5062) In-Box Review and History

Zvezda 1/72 Soviet Tank Destroyer SU-85 (5062) In-Box Review and History

Introduction

I recently purchased a 1/72 kit by Russian kit-maker Zvezda, the first time I have tried one of this company’s products. I confess that I have been rather put off by “Snap-Fit. No Glue Required” proudly emblazoned across Zvezda tank kit boxes. That sounds, well, a bit toy-like. Surely a snap together kit can’t be much good. Can it?

However, having read various reviews, it seems that this isn’t necessarily so. Zvezda tank kits in both 1/72 and 1/35 seem to be well regarded and the images I have seen of completed kits look rather good. So, I bit the bullet and ordered this kit from a local stockist here in Spain. I was slightly stunned when I did some initial research and discovered that this is a new-tool kit released in 2020. I’m more used to kits that are forty or even fifty year sold but hey, even us oldies can be persuaded to take a trip into the future now and again.

And I even have a tenuous personal connection with the vehicle depicted in this kit. In 2010 during a trip to Moscow I was able to visit the Central Armed Forces Museum on Ulitsa Sovetskoy Armii. It’s a fantastic museum with (as you’d expect) lots of Soviet hardware from World War Two and one of the exhibits I noted was an SU-85 – until then, I had never seen one in real life. Back then in 2010, it looked a little sad, with faded and chipped paintwork, but it has now been refurbished and repainted and, I strongly suspect, used as the basis for this little kit – the decals provided with the kit certainly match the current paint scheme of the SU-85 in the museum.

Zvezda themselves (the word means “Star,” by the way) were established in 1990 and are based in Lobnya, a town twenty miles north-west of Moscow. They produce a range of kits covering civil and military aircraft, ships and figures as well as an extensive range of AFV kits in 1/72 and 1/35 covering subjects from the inter-war period, to World War Two and later.

So, let’s take a look. Can a snap-together kit really provide a satisfactory modelling experience?     

History

The creation of the SU-85 was, like many other wartime developments, a short-term and expedient solution to a particular problem. By the summer of 1943, it was becoming clear that the T-34/76 had some major problems. Most significantly, it’s 76mm main gun was not capable of penetrating the frontal armour of the latest German tanks including the Tiger and Panther. In addition, it was recognised that its two-man turret, with the Commander being required to operate the gun, was partly responsible for inefficiency in combat. The solution was the T-34/85 with a more powerful main gun, upgraded armour and a three-man turret, but the new tank would not be ready until early 1944. What was needed in the meantime was a new vehicle mounting the 85mm main gun that could be produced quickly until the new tank reached frontline units.

By the late summer of 1943, the T-34 was becoming vulnerable to new German tanks and upgunned existing versions.

Image: Bundesarchiv via WikiMedia Commons

In response to this requirement, the SU-85 (SU simply means Samohodnaya ustanovka, self-propelled vehicle) was proposed. The Soviet Army had been considering plans for a medium tank destroyer since 1940, but no prototypes had been built. The Ural’s’kiy Mashinostroitelnyy Zavod (the Ural Heavy Machinery Plant, UZTM) near the city of Sverdlovsk had been producing the SU-122 heavy howitzer based on the T-34 chassis since mid-1942, and so it seemed logical that the same factory could quickly produce a vehicle using the T-34/76 chassis but mounting an 85mm main gun. Nevertheless, development of what became the SU-85 happened in a staggeringly short space of time.  

The SU-122 was also produced at the UZTM factory

A decree ordering UZTM to begin development of an SPG based on the T-34 was issued on August 8th 1943. The design used the chassis, lower hull, running gear, suspension, engine and transmission of the existing T-34/76 with a fixed superstructure holding four crew and an 85mm main gun. Production had to start by 25th August with no less than once hundred examples being produced by the end of the same month. Compared to protracted Allied and German AFV development, this is little short of incredible, but somehow UZTM produced the first SU-85s within the deadline and the first examples reached front-line units before the end of September.

Given this rush to produce, unsurprisingly the SU-85 design was refined and improved throughout its production history, though this was mostly done on an ad-hoc basis with no clearly defined sub-types. For example, the first SU-85s had a gun shield attached with four bolts. This was found to be insufficient and was soon increased to six. Changes were also made to armour, hatches, visors, pistol ports and other elements throughout production. There are a great many detail differences between vehicles simply designated as SU-85. Only two changes were sufficiently important to warrant formal recognition. SU-85s were produced in two factories at UZTM, #8 and #9. The SU-85 was designed for the D-5S85 gun, a development of an existing 85mm towed anti-tank weapon. However, Factory #8 also produced 85mm anti-aircraft guns, and on SU-85s produced at that factory, the barrel and breech from these were used. This gun was identified as the D-5S85A and SU-85s fitted with this gun are generally referred to as SU-85As, though they are externally identical to other models.

The SU-85A at the Central Armed Forces Museum, Moscow

Image: Yuri Pasholok athttps://www.facebook.com/yuripasholok

The need for the SU-85 declined sharply when the T-34/85 entered service in the first quarter of 1944. It was decided that a new SPG, the SU-100 would be produced using a more powerful 100 mm D-10S main gun and equipped with a full commander’s cupola. However, shortages of the new gun led to interim production of the SU-85M, essentially an SU-100 fitted with the D-5S85A gun.

In total, around two thousand SU-85s were produced from August 1943 to November 1944. The SU-85 remained in service with the Red Army throughout World War Two and after and was also used by armies around the world including Vietnam, North Korea, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. This kit appears to be based on an SU-85A manufactured in June 1944 and currently on display at the Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow.      

What’s in the Box?

The box contains a total of just eighty-one parts comprising a single sprue, the lower hull moulded in light grey plastic and the tracks moulded in a black, semi-soft plastic. There are also decals, instructions and suggested paint schemes.

The single sprue contains everything but the lower hull.

Surface detail looks very good indeed, with sharp panel lines, weld beads and even tyre treads on the tiny roadwheels. I do note that there are two completely different tread patterns on the tyres of the roadwheels. However, an examination of photographs of the SU-85 in the museum in Moscow confirms that it too has this assortment of tyres. I have no idea if this reflects wartime practice or just the use of an assortment of tyres by the museum. The main gun is moulded as a single part and is solid so it will need to be drilled out.

The tracks themselves are quite interesting, being moulded in a black plastic that isn’t as flexible as vinyl but seems notably softer and less brittle than the plastic from which other parts are formed. Assembling the tracks looks a little different too, due to the method of construction. First the inner roadwheels and the inner halves of the idler and sprocket are attached to the hull. Then, the tracks are assembled and added, being anchored in cut-outs in the centre roadwheel. Then the outer half of all the roadwheels , idler and sprocket are added. It certainly sounds different but at least the tracks are nicely detailed.

A look at the instructions also reveals that “no glue required” is not entirely true. While most main parts do seem to be designed to snap together, some tiny parts like the handrails on the sides of the hull must be glued in place. The instructions note that “you can fix some additional parts with the help of glue.

Decals are provided for two vehicles, one from the 1047th Kalinkovichi SPG regiment with a suitably warlike slogan, Смерть немецкого оккупанта (Death to the German occupier) and the other from the 251st Guards SPG regiment which includes the text советский разведчик (Soviet prospector) for the hull side. The second option is the vehicle displayed in the Armed Forces Museum though it’s notable that the SU-85 in the museum only has the slogan “Cоветский разведчик” on the right side, not on both sides as the colour scheme and decals suggest. The overall colour for both schemes is Protective Green 4BO (though the instructions simply refer to it as “protective, which is a little confusing) , the standard green used on virtually all Russian AFVs during World War Two.

Would You Want One?

This looks like an interesting little kit. The overall detail and accuracy look very good indeed in the box but I’ll have to reserve judgement on the whole snap-together thing until I actually build this, something I’m really looking forward to. It’s always good to see things like the tools and tow cables being provided as separate parts as this does simplify painting. All the hatches are moulded as integral parts of the hull and can’t be constructed open, but that’s not unusual at this scale.  

The SU-85 isn’t a particularly popular subject in 1/72 – up to 2000, there wasn’t a single example available. AER were the first to release a 1/72 SU-85 back in 2000 and Unimodel followed soon after with their version. DML also do both an SU-85 and an SU-85M in 1/72, both nicely detailed kits first released in 2011. Armourfast also do a snap-together SU-85 in 1/72. All of these are perfectly acceptable kits with no huge problems.

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Zvezda 1/72 Soviet Tank Destroyer SU-85 (5062) Build Review