Sunday, May 20, 2012

Project: DML's PanzerKampfWagen III Ausf. F 1/35

The Panzer III was the premier battle tank of the German army in early WWII. Designed alongside the Panzer IV, it was designed as a breakthrough tank, with good armor (for the time) all around and a cannon designed to punch holes in other tanks, as well as for throwing HE (unlike the PzIV at the time). While there were not many Pz IIIs available for the Polish campaign (less than 100, much of which were pre-production prototypes), more were available for the French campaign, and was a mainstay for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Dragon's kit depicts an early model, the F version. This was the 2nd main production version, differing only slightly from the Ausf E version (armored covers for the brake cooling system, and a modified engine). Indeed, at first glance it looks like one could build an E if you wanted to. While many Ausf E's and F's were later remanufactured with the 50mm L/42 KwK, this kit depicts the earlier variant still armed with the 37mm L/45 KwK, as well as twin coaxial machine guns.

I remember Dragon back in the old days, when they were issuing mostly 1/144 aircraft, and a small portfolio of their own original kits: mostly Soviet vehicles that suffer today from inadequate research (this was in the late '80s) and/or toylike features (operating hatches on the BMP, BTR, and BRDM series kits, seriously compromising detail). Later they would being issuing kits using molds from other manufacturers, such as Gunze and Italeri, with modified or reworked parts where neccessary. Eventually they would issue better kits, and this model is a long way from those early days.

If I could use one word to sum up this kit it is complex. I didn't do a parts count, but there are quite a few, along with Dragon's "Magic Track" and a fret of brass photo-etch parts. As usual, Dragon likes to get the most from their molds, and there is always a slight feeling of mix-'n-match with their kits. In this box alone there are sprues from their StuGIII and Panzer IV kits, alongside some sprues from other versions of the Pz III (Like the J model). This also means you sometimes get multiple sprues with the same letter designation. I had at least 2 sprues labeled "A" that were completely different, as well as sprues labeled "B".

Going slow is the way to build these kits, not only because they're expensive (this kit retails for over $60, though I got mine on sale for $26!), but because all of the detail and complexity will reward a slow and deliberate build.

So far I've managed to complete the hull. I still have to mask off the torsion bar axels, as well as a few other areas, in order to prep it for priming. This kit will get the standard dark gray of early war German tanks, so I'll be using a black primer, especially as the dark gray was fairly dark when newly applied. Weathering will do the rest to fade it.

Most of the photo-etch was fairly routine to add, without a lot of complex or confusing bends. Some, however, were pretty confusing to apply, not helped by Dragon's questionable intructions. A big issue was how the two fender supports (the brass bits towards the front in the above picture) attach. It took a great deal of test fitting to get them in there. As one portion rests on the tow shackles, I reccommend installing the towing shackles first, before attaching the PE components. Also the headlights were a bear to install, with very narrow gluing points.

Here is the tail end of this kit. The little brass circles on the rear fenders are cut-outs that allow the fenders to be raised in especially muddy conditions, but allow the night formation driving lights to still be visible. These can be protected as needed by flaps, represented in the kit by either photo-etch brass, or a plastic fender with these already lowered. Using the PE is the way to go for appearance purposes, but it might be less frustrating to just use the plastic piece. I use a slight dab of super-glue to bond the part, but cappilary action seems to have pulled the glue up into the fender seams. This meant I had a lot of difficulty getting a good bond with plastic cement, and the fenders kept falling off! I think I may have it now...

Currently I am working on the commander's cupola (which came from one of their Pz IV kits...not a suprise as they were the same in the real world!), and a failing of Dragon's instructions is once again evident. Assembling the vision blocks was a chore, not because they were difficult or very tiny, but because Dragon's instructions are not clear. I reccommend gluing the vision blocks to the lower ring first -- the tab is supposed to go between vision blocks, before gluing it to the cupola drum. You are also provided with clear parts to make the actual vision blocks, and this will make painting more challenging!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Project: 1/35 AMX-13 VCI

I picked this kit up some time ago as an impluse buy. I was vaguely familiar with Heller as a model producer, having worked on a Somua H-39 and wa-ay back an AMX-30. They're not a top-notch producer, but often if there is something you want that is French, they're the ones to look at first.

The AMX-13 was a post-war light tank, using an oscillating turret (that is, the barrel is fixed in elevation, and it is the turret itself that raises and lowers!) and a cannon initially based on the WWII German KwK-42 75mm L/70. As things go, the AMX-13 was converted into several different variants, including a 155mm SP Artillery vehicle, an artillery supply vehicle, and of course this subject: an APC.

The AMX-13 APC came in 3 major variants: the Early variant (VTP) with an externally mounted 7.5mm machine gun on a commander's cupola, a Mid-production variant (VTT, later VCI) with a small turret mounting a machine gun, and the penultimate variant (VCI M-56) mounting a 20mm cannon in an external remote turret.

Although the AMX-13 VCI is no longer in service with France (replaced by the AMX-10RC), it still soldiers on in many other armies, being an export success to many 3rd world militaries.

Heller's kit represents the VTT (nee VCI, before name change), and as kits go, you can know what to expect from this manufacturer. First there are quite a few parts with a lot of break down of shapes. This isn't neccessarily a bad thing, and based on the photos I've looked at, certainly looks the part. But it also means there are more areas where fit can be a bit dodgy, and that is certainly true here.

The two biggest obstacles to construction in this kit are the terrible tracks (mine broke when I was testing out the pliability, not a good sign), but worst of all the entire rear hull of this kit was badly warped. The kit comes with a mostly full interior for the infantry compartment, but given the complexity of painting, and the warped hull, I decided to model all the hatches closed (though you can open the drivers, infantry egress, and side hatches, as well as the turret hatch). This made fixing the mess of the upper hull a bit easier. Despite that, I still needed some filler on the rear corner to finish it up.

The rest of the build went pretty smooth. The kit comes with 2 crew (with fairly mediocre heads) and several infantry. The infantry are interesting since they represent the '50s to '70s kit, with semi-auto rifles (MAS-49s) and a light machine gun (AA-52). Again the heads are a bit bland, so I'm planning on replacing with Hornet heads (they do a set with French style postwar helmets), though the vehicle commander's head will be more difficult to replace (I cannot find anyone that does a '60s style French Armored crewman's head!)

For the tracks issue, I'm planning on getting a set of AMX-13 tracks from Accurate Armour.