Sunday, January 31, 2010

Project: 1/48 Panther Ausf. G Late Progress

Here is the Panther as it stand now. As can be seen major assembly has been completed as well as painting and decaling. Seen in the forground is one of the Friul tracks, and behind it are a few segments I haven't assembled yet. Missing still are the suspension wheels (still need paint) and machine guns.

For this project I also picked up a set of Hauler engine screens. This is an excellent product, well molded and adds quite a bit to the appearance of the model. They're also quite cheap.

Overall construction of this kit -- despite the metal hull -- was very good, and the level of detail is a notch better than some of the other kits. For example, Tamiya often molds things like small grab handles as a solid component. But on this kit, they're often seperate and thus look much better. Despite all this, the lower hull still suffers from fixed torsion bars and a general lack of detail.

I am also very pleased about how the paint job came out. The photo unfortunately doesn't do it justice, in my opinion, with the colors looking a little off (the green in particular). That being said, I plan on using the same technique on another project (a Tamiya Hetzer) in the near future.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Project: 1/48 Panther Ausf.G Late

The Panther has always been one of my favorite tanks from WWII. Modern, powerful, and mobile, it would have been the best medium tank of the war if it wasn't for the reliability issues it had. The very first production models had numerous problems, including a weak fuel line that caused the engine to spontaneously catch fire! While most issues were resolved as the vehicle matured, one that never really was resolved was the fact that the transmission and final drives were designed for a vehicle some 15 tons lighter, and often failed after an average of 150 miles! Still, the strong armor, powerful cannon, and the fact that Germany was moving to a defensive war rather than offensive offset -- at least somewhat -- these issues.

When Tamiya released its Panther series in 1/35 scale a decade and more ago, they were some of the finest kits in 1/35 scale. With the advent of the 1/48 scale line, they shrunk it down to produce this kit.

Like many of Tamiya's 1/48 scale models, the Panther Ausf. G "Spät" kit has a die-cast lower hull. Ostensibly it is to "enhance realism by adding weight," I more strongly suspect this is to cater to the collectible market, which irrationally associates quality with metal (and perhaps so they can claim their collections are not, in fact, toys). The result is that the lower hull again lacks detail due to the limitations of steel molding technology.

One feature of the Panther tank was its use of interleaved road wheels. This helped reduce wear on the tracks and wheels by distributing the weight over a greater area, as well as helping flotation in boggy ground. The downside was that damage to one road wheel often meant that its neighboring wheels had to be removed as well. For the modeller, it makes consruction of the tracks more problematic. I plan on using Friul individual, workable tracks for this project. The Friul tracks are cast metal (pewter this time instead of steel!) and are articulated by means of a wire inserted through all the links. This is in my opinion superior to the "clickable" tracks, as the wire pivots are much more robust. Additionally, the weight of the pewter helps to produce a realistic sag, an area where the weight of metal is indeed superior to that of plastic.

Finally, as the model tank I wish to produce will have the reinforced mantlet armor, as well as crew heater, I plan to hand-paint the camouflage. By the time this specific version of the tank was introduced, the German Army had switched from camouflaging in the field, to factory applied schemes. Thus, the schemes were often with a "hard edge," and hand painting simulates this style very well.

One day, I'd like to revisit this model and produce an early ("frühe") version, with zimmerit anti-magnetic paste.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Project: 1/48 M4A1 Progress

The Tamiya kit as it stands now. Assembly of this model is mostly complete, with just a few bits to finish. As can be seen in the photo, I've started assembly of the tracks, molded in link-and-length assembly. Unfortunately, when painting this model, I forgot to paint the idler and drive sprockets, so assembly of the tracks will have to wait until those get sprayed. Additionally, the M2 .50CAL machine gun provided in the kit is fairly poor, lacking separate grips for the weapon as well as simplified detail. This will get replaced with a Verlinden after-market machine gun. Also, I ordered a Legends after-market stowage set to give the tank that "lived in" look...

Overall assembly is straight forward. Although it cannot be seen well in the photo, I enhanced the cast texture on the hull, transmission cover, and turret by stippling with liquid cement. Also fit of the transmission cover to the hull is not very good, and you can tell Tamiya cut some corners with it. It required a bit of filler on the hull sides to get rid of a pair of unsightly gaps. I suspect this job would've been easier if the lower hull was plastic instead of metal, but for some reason Tamiya decided to mold the lower hulls in die-cast metal, which is inferior in detail to a conventional plastic item. Newer kits no longer have this "feature," but we must suffer through it with the older kits...

Final steps will be track assembly, mounting the machine gun, and weathering.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Project: 1/35 M4A3(75)W Sherman Progress

Here's the M4A3 as it stands now. Most major assembly has been completed, and all that needs to be done is mount the stowage rack and spare track links on the rear hull, as well as the tank commander's hatches. One negative point about this kit is that the loader's hatch is molded close, and requires surgery in order to model it open. So I understand, newer issues of this kit modified the mold so the loader's hatch can be posed open. 

Paint jobs on these tanks were pretty standard Olive Drab, like most US Army equipment during WWII. While plain OD is often used as a point in the detriment for modeling US Army equipment in WWII, it can actually weather in interesting ways, something I'd like to really bring out on this kit.

Another modeling point I'd like to explore is stowage. Many period pictures of these vehicles in service showed vehicles loaded down with lots of crew stowage. These vehicles were designed for extended operations in the field, so the crew tended to acquire a lot of equipment to make their home on wheels more livable. Much of the stowage for this vehicle will probably come from the after-market, though I have yet to decide on what exactly that will be.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Project: 1/35 M4A3(75)W Sherman

The M4 Sherman was the standard battle tank of the US Army and Marines in WWII. When it came out it was reasonably powerful and armored, able to tackle German tanks of the era on close to an even footing. Although advances in gun technology on the German side would reflect poorly on the Sherman, it was reliable, available in large numbers, and able to get to where it was going.

The M4A3 was an effort to utilize the US industrial capacity to its fullest extent. It replaced the Wright radial engine with paired Ford truck engines, giving it a boost in horsepower as well as reliability (acceleration was smoother, for example, when compared to the Wright engine which "hesitated" when the accelerator was depressed all the way). The hull was later upgraded as well, eliminating the bulges for the driver and co-driver (thus enhancing protection) as well as containing the cannon stores in "wet" tanks filled with anti-freeze. This effectively reduced the tendency of the Sherman to burn when penetrated, and helped with crew survival.

When Tamiya came out with their M4A3 kit, the market was pretty thin on Shermans. The Tamiya kit was then a big leap forward, providing a reasonably detailed kit of an important tank. Over the years, other Shermans have been released that potentially supplant or exceed the Tamiya kit. But the nice thing about it is that it is available and easy to aquire. Out of the box it can be built into a reasonable replica.

For this project, I'm keeping it fairly simple: no aftermarket parts to speak of and just a few details added that are missing. The biggest detail missing on this kit are the 3 bolts on the bottom of the suspension bogies, an easy fix with some Grandt Line bolts. Other than that, however, I want to keep it simple.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Project: 1/48 M4A1 Sherman

1/48 scale has always been a siren's call for me. In my opinion it is the "perfect" scale: capable of holding similar detail levels as 1/35 scale, with the added advantage of a more compact size. This makes it especially ideal for making dioramas and the like, with a realistic footprint for display purposes in the home.

That being said, 1/48 scale armor models are also not nearly as popular as their larger scale stablemates. The first forays into the scale came from the likes of Aurora, with a handful of 1/48 scale kits (including some very interesting subjects, like the never-realized MBT-70, or the Swedish "S" Tank). A major player stepped into the scale in the 1970's, in the form of Bandai. At the time, Bandai was going head-to-head with Tamiya, both companies virtually inventing their respective scales (Tamiya "invented" 1/35 scale as a "metric" alternative to 1/32). In the end, however, Bandai lost for a number of reasons, and today 1/35 is the king of armor modelling scales.

Things began to change, however, in the new millenia. In the '00s, Tamiya in an effort to reinvent itself, revisited the 1/48 scale, releasing a flood of kits in a short period of time. That flood has now dried to a trickle, but a new kit is released a couple times a year. While 1/48 may never rise to challenge 1/35 scale, it is here, and so far looks like its staying.

The Tamiya kit represents a fairly standard mid-production M4A1 Sherman with a cast hull, with a few options. The modeler can leave off the applique armor and/or use the 3-piece bolted transmission cover, along with the open spoked road wheels for a fairly early vehicle. Or on the other hand the modeler can use the one-piece transmission cover and stamped road wheels along with applique armor for a later version. Of course the Sherman was seen with a number of different features so one can mix and match too. Also included is the narrow M-34 gun mantlet, but the suspension is the later type with the off-set return rollers. Nor is there provisions for modeling direct vision slots in the hull, so a very early M4A1 cannot be modeled. That being said, there's lots of room in the kit and a lot of options.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Project: 1/35 M1 Abrams

One of the unfortunate aspects of modelling now is the tendency of modern equipment to go through upgrades, and the manufacturers of kits to do the same to the molds. While this is understandable -- current equipment often sells better than older equipment -- it does have the negative aspect that a segment of a vehicle's development history is lost.

The Abrams is a chief contender for this unfortunate practice. Back when the tank was relatively new, both Tamiya and Esci released kits of the vehicle.When the real tank was upgraded to M1A1 status, Tamiya modified the molds to reflect the modifications in the new tank (although it is also possible Tamiya just doesn't want to release it again).

Esci on the other hand folded as a company, and many of its molds went into limbo. While Italeri has recently acquired the molds (re-releasing the M60 series tanks -- the best representation of this tank on the market currently), the M1 was not one that was re-released (perhaps so it wouldn't compete with Italeri's already very good M1A1/A2 kit series).

When I came across this kit, I knew I had to jump at the chance to get this kit, model acquisition moratorium or not. While the Esci kit is inferior to the Tamiya kit, the latter is very difficult to find for some reason, and this kit isn't so bad to be unbuildable.

But it is far from perfect. Fit is adequate, but there is a general sense of sparseness in details. The real tank had its fair share of nuts, bolts, and the like, all of which are missing from this kit. The Esci kit was the first to market, so much of this detail may have been missed due to inadequate resources and references (Esci's T-72/74 and BMP series has the same problems). Also the kit represents the weld lines as recessed when in fact they should be raised. Finally, the stowage racks don't fit well (and one was shattered for that matter).

All of these detractions are easy to fix (Grandt Line makes nuts and bolts, weld beads can be reproduced with thin plastic rod, and the stowage rack can be reproduced with brass wire). Finally, I was able to salvage the correct style of tracks from an old Tamiya M1A1 to replace the questionable link-and-length tracks (which unfortunately do not have a curvature for the end connectors molded).

I am definitely looking forward to getting this kit together!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Project: 1/35 M41G Walker Bulldog

The mailwoman just dropped this one off for me.As I purchased it before the model buying moratorium, it still fits within my plans. Plus I got it on sale!

The M41 was the standard light tank of the US Army between Korea and Vietnam, out of service before it could see any action with US troops (though there was some limited testing under combat conditions in Korea). However, it was widely exported to a number of countries in NATO as well as other US allies. Indeed, I recently spotted the vehicle still in service during the Thai coup in 2006!

The M41 was selected as the primary light tank by the newly constituted Federal Republic of Germany's Army, where it served alongside US M47 and M48 tanks, retiring in 1969.

When AFV Club announced this kit a few years ago, it was pretty exciting for me. Although by itself the M41 is an interesting tank, in West German livery it becomes that much more interesting. With the big German crosses on the side, as well as vehicle numbers and registration codes, it's probably the most colorful "stock" version of the tank as well, and allows me to add something fairly unique to my Cold War collection.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Project: 1/35 ASU-57 Progress

I've had this model for some time, but haven't made much progress on it in over a year. As can be seen in the previous post on this subject, the Eduard photo-etch set is very extensive, and will require a lot of work to bring it about. The picture below shows a few pieces already in place, as well as basic construction on the hull. The metal pieces are the photo-etch parts, the gray pieces are the kit plastic, and finally all the white bits is where filler was required. Pretty much every joint required filler, the fit was so bad. Furthermore, as can be seen in the photo, the upper hull has been modified to accept the better detailed Eduard parts.

Still yet to be acquired are the turned brass return rollers from Modelpoint, as well as a supply of ammo for the 57mm cannon.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Project: 1/35 ASU-57

The ASU-57 was the Soviet Union's first post-war attempt at an airborne tank. Less a tank and more an assault gun, it mounted a 57mm cannon, which by the standards of the day (early '50s) was already obsolete as a tank-killing armament. Still, a tank is a tank, and in an airborne operation, the ability of the vehicle to toss HE shells or kill light armored vehicles must have been appreciated. Lightly armored, it had an open topped crew compartment, making it very vulnerable to indirect fire and airburst weapons (not to mention "fightability" in an NBC environment).

When the Cold War finally ended, and there was a thawing of relations between the former Warsaw Pact states and the West, we started to get a trickle of kits from the former Soviet Union as well as Eastern Europe. A lot of times this showed the abysmal nature of manufacturing in these countries, with most kits being toy-like or otherwise poorly molded or detailed. Still, in those early days, for many subjects they were the only game in town, and welcomed if you wanted a kit of an unusual or rarely seen subject.

Over time, Eastern Europe benefited from contact with the West, and kits steadily improved. While modern kits from this region are still not up to the level of kits coming out of Japan, China, Italy and the like, they can still put out decent quality kits at an affordable price.

The AER kit originates from Moldova, and was a post-Cold War product. While many kits benefited from modern molding and construction practices, the AER kit is not one of those. Just about ever component of this kit is either poorly molded, poorly detailed, or both. Still, if you want an ASU-57 in your collection, it's really the only game in town, and I'm not even sure the manufacturer exists anymore (I got mine off ebay). Along with this kit you MUST also get the Eduard photo-etch set, which adds considerably to the level of detail of the kit (fortunately the Eduard set is very cheap according to the manufacturer's website). Along with this it is reccommended you use the cannon barrel from Modelpoint (if you look closely at the pictures on the Eduard site, you can see the massive sink marks in the barrel; while trying to fix this problem, my barrel shattered, so I must get the Modelpoint piece to complete the model!). They also make a set of return rollers too, which should be useful. All these latter goodies are available from Modelpoint's US website.

While we're at it, the shells should be replaced as well, since the kit ones are barely detailed blobs. There are no shells on the market for the Ch-51 cannon, though this was a development of the WWII era ZiS-2, and used much of the same ammunition. Modelpoint comes to the rescue again with a full range of 57mm ZiS-2 ammo.

This kit is going to be a real challenge to build. But when done will be a pretty unique subject. Now if only there was an affordable ASU-85...

This kit is a big challenge

Friday, January 1, 2010

Project: 1/35 T-64B Progress III

Here's how the T-64B as it stands now. Most construction of the turret components has been completed, with the only remaining components needed are wire grab-handles on the turret sides, wiring for the smoke grenades, commanders hatch (to be added after painting and decaling, so I can get everywhere), NSVT machine gun (to be painted and weathered separately), and a little bit I have no idea how it goes (instructions not very helpful) so it will require some research on my part to see how it goes.

Construction of the turret was pretty smooth. That being said, I did make a mistake. The sight for the AT-8 "Songster" anti-tank missiles has a plate on the bottom of it. I had assumed this was the way the mount worked, but unfortunately it was an artifact of casting. I didn't have sufficient photo references to catch it, and I realized this after gluing it on, so there is no way I can get it off again. Well, live and learn...

Unfortunately, the kit was missing the cannon breach. However, as I constructed it, I realized my initial idea of showing the vehicle on a road march wouldn't work. The 125mm main cannon is at a fixed elevation, which is too low and will interfere with the driver if I model him with the driver's hatch open. This required me to scale back the number of figures I was to use on it. Since the driver's hatch must be modeled closed, the tank is likely no longer on a road march, but perhaps on an alert readying for action.

With this scenario in mind, I could no longer have the gunner's hatch open with a figure; unlike western tanks, Soviet tanks from the T-64 on have an autoloader and 3-man crew. In a situation where combat is possible, the job of the gunner is to man the cannon. Thus, I closed his hatch, and the lack of a breech isn't as significant.

The more I look at the tracks on the kit, the more unsure I am that I want to use them. There are three options available: Miniarm makes a set of workable tracks as see here. While from all appearances (and experience with other track sets they make), they're very nicely detailed and cast. The problem? If you notice how the tracks go over and around the drive sprockets, you'll notice there is a gap between the end connectors and the sprocket teeth, particularly at the top. The real tracks were at least 3 pieces, with separate pivoting end connectors. The Miniarm tracks typically cast them as a single link with end connectors already attached. Thus the tracks do not articulate correctly.

The second option is from a company called MasterClub and can be seen (top of page) here. Again, while nice, they have the same limitations as the Miniarm set.

The last option is the set of tracks from Skif itself, as seen here. The advantages are that the tracks are cheap, if a little tricky to use. Fortunately there is a review of them here, and the word is, not good. So I'm faced with a conundrum: either use the kit supplied tracks (which for some reason have lightening holes on every other link), spend big bucks for the Miniarm set and live with the detail issues, or save (lots) of money and wrestle the bear useing Skif's set. Not a lot of great choices here. In the end I might just slap some mud on the tracks and call it a day. We'll see...