Thursday, 24 August 2017

Gallic Spitfire

Historical Background
On 15 June 1936, the French Air Ministry promulgated the specifications for a new fighter aircraft. It called for an aircraft with a speed of 500 km/h at 4,000 meters, climb to 8,000 meters in less than 15 minutes and with take-off and landing runs not exceeding 400 meters. It was to be armed with two 7.5mm machineguns and one Hispano-Suiza HS.9 20mm cannon, or two such cannons. The private design firm led by Emile Dewoitine, whose D.513 design was rejected by the Armee de l'Aire in favour of Morane-Saulnier's M.S.406, responded by using a design utilizing the latest construction techniques and the most powerful engine at the time, the 890 hp Hispano-Suiza 12Y-21 liquid-cooled engine. The original design was rejected after the specifications were uprated. The Dewoitine concern revised their design but the nationalisation of the French armaments industry in 1937 and continued changes in the manufacturing programs delayed the work on the aircraft, designated D.520. On 3 April 1938, the Air Ministry rewarded contract No. 513/8 to SNCAM (the state-owned consortium of which Dewoitine is now part of). 

The prototype eventually flew for the first time on 2 October 1938 but only reached 480 km/h while suffering from dangerously high engine temperatures. Further modifications, including changing to a newer -29 engine, three-bladed variable-pitch propeller and incorporating exhaust ejectors, finally allowed the prototype to reach its design speed. Two further prototypes include a larger tail, sliding canopy and longer undercarriage legs. They were also armed with a Hispano-Suiza HS.9 cannon in an engine mount and fired through the propeller spinner and two MAC 1934 7.5mm machine guns (one under each wing) were also fitted. A small tailwheel instead of a skid was fitted to the third prototype. Flight tests were successfully undertaken, resulting in a contract issued in March 1939 for 200 machines, powered by the -31 (later -45) version of the 12Y engine. A contract for additional 600 machine was issued in June but was later reduced to 510 in the following month.

The outbreak of war in September 1939 resulted in a new contract which brought the total order to 1,280 while the Aéronautique Navale ordered another 120. The first production D.520 flew in October 1939. The production aircraft have the rear fuselage extended by 51cm, redesigned engine cowling panels, the curved, one-piece windscreen replaced with one containing an optically flat panel and armour plate behind the pilot's seat. The production-standard armament consist of an engine-mounted Hispano Suiza H.S 404 20mm cannon and four MAC 1934 M39 7.5mm machineguns in the wings. Despite the improvements, the first batch of 520s failed acceptance tests due to insufficient top speed and troublesome cooling. Redesigned compressor intakes and modified cooling pipes improved the latter while propulsive exhaust pipes cured the former. As a result, the type was not declared combat ready until April 1940.

As the aircraft was not operationally ready until the stated time, Group de Chasse I/3, the first unit receiving the D.520, only used them for training. By 10 May 1940, 228 were manufactured but the Air Force only accepted 75, with the rest being sent back to the factory to be retrofitted. Only GC I/3 was fully equipped and on 13 May, they clashed with the Luftwaffe, shooting down one He 111 bomber and three Hs 126 observation aircraft without loss. The rapid fall of France meant that only four more groupes de chasse and three naval escadrilles equipped with the type before France's capitulation. Of the eight units, only GC I/3, II/6 and II/7 and AC1 saw action. Against the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica, the Dewoitines claimed 114 kills (plus 39 probables) while losing 85. By the time of the armistice in June 1940, 437 D.520s had been built with 351 delivered. 165 were evacuated to North Africa while another three escaped to Britain. In April 1941, German authorities allowed the Vichy government to resume production of 1,000 aircraft. As part of the agreement, 550 D.520s were ordered to replace all single-seat fighters in service. The Vichy D.520s were in action against the Allies during the Syrian campaign in June-July 1941 and also against Operation Torch in November 1942.  The aircraft was also used by the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica.

The Kit
Rather surprisingly (as French WW2 aircraft were rarely kitted by the mainstream manufacturers), Tamiya came up with the kit of the D.520 in 1996 as part of their 1/48 renaissance in the 1990s. There were just 45 parts in dark grey sprue and 5 more in clear styrene. Although obviously some compromises had to be made to ease construction, the level of detail is adequate for the average modeller. Some options are available such as separate canopies and positionable radiator shutter and flaps. There is also an option for a different radio aerial but you have to check your references first before using the alternate aerial. The particular kit used here was the 2011 re-release with new decals and the addition of a Citroen Traction 11CV (to avoid licensing fees, it was simply dubbed 'staff car'). Actually I don't do car models (except for that single 1/24 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X) especially in 1/48 but perhaps it could be used as an introductory kit for my son. The alternate radio aerial is now shown to be used for two of the marking options available in the kit. Speaking of which, they are:

1. Adjudant Chef  Bouton, GC II/3 Dauphine, 2 Escadrille , June 1940
2. Adjudant Chef Denis Ponteins, GC II/7, 3 Escadriile, June 1940
3. Sous Leutenant Pierre Le Gloan, GC III/6, 5 Escadrille, Spring 1942

The decals are quite thick however but the red in the French roundel has been corrected (the red was more burgundy in the earlier release). As a matter of interest, the original Tamiya kit also include markings for Le Gloan's earlier plane, aircraft No.277.

As usual with aircraft kits, work started at the cockpit. And as per my usual style, the parts were painted while still on the tree. The interior was not painted XF-24 Dark Grey as suggested by Tamiya but a custom mix of XF-17 Navy Blue and XF-8 Flat Blue which may or may not match the dark blue of the real aircraft. The seat back was painted XF-49 Khaki while the seat cushion was painted a mix of XF-10 Flat Brown and XF-64 Red Brown (to imitate the colour of leather). There should be an opening at the top corners of the seat, between the frame and the canvas seat back. It should be drilled out but I left them as they were. The instrument panel was painted Flat Black as per the instructions. The decals were then applied on the instrument panel and they fit nicely over the raised detail, especially after receiving a dash of Mr Mark Softer. The completed cockpit was then sandwiched betwen the two fuselage halves

Although Tamiya instructed the modeller to cement the exhaust manifolds at this time, I left them off as it might complicate matters during painting. The wing halves were cemented with no problems encountered. Some care had to be taken when fitting the wing to the fuselage to avoid gaps, especially towards the rear (a tiny gap did appear at the rear joint but easily filled with super glue). The flaps, which can be positioned in the down or up positions (cut off the tabs if you want them in the 'up' position) were left off at this time as I wanted them in the 'down' position. The tailplanes fit without any issues. The lower nose fairing however did not fit well, resulting in gaps at the wheel well and on one side of the fuselage. The radiator fairing was assembled, the grilles painted first with Mr Color Silver and then cemented to the fuselage. Finally the nose was cemented. I couldn't find the supplied poly cap; thankfully I still have leftovers from previous Tamiya kits and found one which matched the slot.

Painting and Decalling
Before painting can be done, the choice of markings has to be made beforehand. All three are interesting but I was quickly drawn by the Armee de l'Aire de Armistice's garish red and yellow stripes on Leutnant Le Gloan's plane. I was also intrigued by the story of the pilot, who fought for both the Allies and the Axis. He joined the service in 1931 and at the outbreak of war, he served in GC III/6, flying Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 fighters. He shot down his first victory, a Dornier Do 17P on 23 November 1939. He shot down three more enemy aircraft (another Do 17P and two Heinkel He 111) before the squadron re-equipped with D.520s and moved to Southern France. On  13 June, Le Gloan shot down two Italian BR.20 bombers, achieving 'ace' status. Two days later he shot down four Italian CR.42 fighters and another BR.20. GC III/6 was later withdrawn to Algiers and following the fall of France, the unit became subordinated to the Vichy government.

In May 1941, the squadron was transferred to Syria. On 8 June 1941, he shot down his first Allied fighter, a Hawker Hurricane. By 5 July, he had claimed five Hurricanes and a Gloster Gladiator and thus can claim a unique record of becoming an ace for both sides. GC III/6 was then withdrawn back to Algiers. Following Operation Torch, French forces in North Africa returned to the Allied fold. GC III/6 the re-equiped with P-39 Airacobras and it was in this aircraft that Le Gloan met his end on 11 September 1943. The engine of the Airacobra malfunctioned at Le Gloan tried to make a wheels-up emergency landing. However being used to external tank-less French fighters, he probably forgot the drop tank of the aircraft which should be jettisoned before landing. The remaining fuel in the tank exploded, destroying the aircraft and killing Le Gloan instantly. He was just 33.

The model was painted according to Tamiya's instructions. The lower parts were painted a mix of 2 parts XF-25 Light Sea Grey and 1 part XF-2 Flat White. The grey portion of the upper parts were painted an equal mix of XF-25 and XF-23 Light Blue (the original release of the kit has a mix of 1 part XF-18 Medium Blue and 3 parts XF-53 Medium Grey). The green was a mixture of 2 parts XF-49 Khaki and 1 part XF-5 Flat Green while brown was straight XF-10 Flat Brown. The yellow nose cowl, spinner and rear fuselage present a challenge as with white, yellow is not an easy colour to apply and require several layers to make it opaque. I originally wanted to have a richer, deeper yellow by adding a bit of red but I decided to go for straight XF-3 Flat Yellow. The decals were then applied. They are quite thick and a number of decals broke over raised details. The decals for the tail required some cutting to position it accurately. The fuselage chevron tricolor stripe and the bottom red stripe were made as a single piece of decal. This may cause problem during application and I therefore cut it into three pieces for an easier handling. And as I was half-asleep by the time I did it, I read the instructions wrongly and have the upper left wing ID stripe at a shallower angle than it should be. By the time I realised the error, the decal can no longer be moved. Stupid boy!

With a kit this simple, there wasn't really much to do at this stage. The landing gear however needed some trimming to the fairing and to the top of the gear itself so they can fit properly into the well. The aerials at the top and the bottom of the fuselage was cemented and so while the flaps were then permanently cemented into place. The torn areas of the decals were touched up using Tamiya paints (X-14 Sky Blue, XF-2 Flat White and a mix of X-7 Red and XF-3 Flat Yellow). The model then received panel line enhancement using AK Interactive Paneliner solution with thicker application being done on the borders of the control surfaces. The exhaust manifolds were painted Burnt Iron and afterwards Tamiya Weathering master 'Rust' was applied onto them. Tamiya Weathering Master 'Soot' was then applied on the fuselage to represent exhaust deposits and also propellant residue near the gun openings. Finally, an overcoat of Flat Clear was sprayed, finishing the build.

Tamiya's kit of the 'French Spitfire' is another prime example of Tamiya philosophy of having simple to build yet having great details (OK not that great but highly acceptable, except maybe for the cockpit and the landing gear). Even though a few problems arose during construction, in general the parts were very well-moulded and engineered. The subject matter is also welcomed as like French early war armour, there aren't that many choices and types kitted by mainstream manufacturers. As for the Citroen, it went into my to-be-build stash. 

Sunday, 30 July 2017

A Revolutionary Armour

Historical Background
By the early 1960s, the T-54/55 family was a rugged and proven design. However, realising the Western armies were catching up and that the T-54/55 family have come to the end of their development potential (being based on World War 2 ideas and concepts). A new design team at Nizhny Tagil was designing the rather revolutionary (as it was designed with a smoothbore gun) T-62 to adress the issues. At the same time, Alexander Morozov, chief engineer of the T-54/55 moved to the KMDB bureau in Kharkov. Studies have begun in 1951 and the KB-60M team led by Morozov came up with Obyekt 430, with three prototypes built. The new design was radical by using a compact opposed-piston engine with two lateral gears on each side. It also has a new suspension featuring lightweight, small-diameter road wheels and tracks with rubber joints. However the armament was the same D-54TS 100mm gun as the T-55 and the glacis armor was kept at 120mm. As it did not present clear superiority over the T-55, production was not pursued and worked commenced on a newer design, Obyekt 432.

Obyekt 432 was armed with a smoothbore 115mm D-68 gun and replaced the human loader with an elctro-hydraulic automatic loading system. This risky feature allowed a smaller internal space which in turn lowered the silhouette (by 76mm) and consequently the weight (from 36 tonnes in Obyekt 430 to 30.5 tonnes). The capture of an Iranian M60, armed with the L7 / M68 105mm gun resulted in the adoption of composite armour. Although raising the overall weight to 34 tonnes, it was compensated by installing a more powerful (700 hp) 5TDF engine. Morozov considered Obyekt 432 worthy of production and gave the greenlight after the tank prototype was unveiled in September 1962 and successfully passed all tests. The production line was set up in 1963 and the tank was redesignated T-64 after the year of its introduction into service. The T-64 was considered a better tank than the T-62, with regards to greater mobility and protection.

Even as the first T-64s were just rolling off the assembly line, the design team has already begun work on Proyekt 434. This would be armed with the new and more powerful D-81T 125mm smoothbore gun derived from the towed 2A45 anti-tank gun (and given the GRAU index 2A46). The larger gun would mean a low ammunition load (just 25 rounds and unacceptable by the authorities) but the dimensional parameters did not allow the designers to enlarge the design. Therefore the autoloader was retained (although using a new 6ETs10 design), allowing 28 rounds to be carried. The gun was also equipped with a 2E23 3-plane stabiliser coupled to a TPD-2-1 sight. A TPN-1-43A periscope for night driving was provided for the driver while a L2G infrared projector was mounted co-axially to the left of the gun for night fighting. Armour was modified and spring-loaded plates ('gill armour') were mounted along the mudguards. Some small storage spaces were created along the turret while the snorkel was mounted to the rear of the turret. Hatches were widened and an NBC system was installed. Prototypes were tested in 1966-1967 and production of the type, known as T-64A was started in 1968 after 600 T-64s were built. Morozov was awarded the Lenin Prize for his work and the T-64A also influenced the cheaper T-72 design.

Designed for elite formations, the T-64A underwent a first round of modernisation in 1971-72. The fire-control system was upgraded, replacing the original sights with a TPD-2-49 day sight incorporating an optical coincidence rangefinder and a TPN-1-49-23 night sight and stabilisation using a 2E26 system. Night vision was provided courtesy of TBN-4PA (for the driver) and TNP-165A (for the commander) night vision equipment. The commander was also provided with a 12.7mm NSVT AA machinegun, which can be remotely controlled through a PZU-5 sight. The T-64AK command version was also introduced during that period. Work beginning in 1973 with Obyekts 476 and 477 ended with the 'B' variant of the T-64 in 1976. The T-64B has a more powerful engine and the ability to fire ATGMs through the main gun tube. Both versions underwent  other modernisation cycles until production ended in 1987. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, which now controls the factory in the renamed city of Kharkiv, continue the development of the type, resulting in the T-64BM Bulat.

Despite being produced since 1963, the T-64 family only entered formal service in 1967 with the 41st Guards Tank Division in the Kiev Military District. As a tank with various new technologies, teething problems were anticipated and it was prudent that they were based near the factory for technical support. As the Soviets' most modern tank at the time, they were concentrated in East Germany and Hungary in anticipation of war with NATO. They were not deployed during the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan although it was possible that some were tested there. T-64s of the 59th Guards Motor Rifle Division saw limited combat experience during the crisis in Moldova in 1992 and they may also got involved in Chechnya. T-64s were finally used in a larger scale during the Ukrainian Civil War in 2014 when the Ukrainian forces were deployed against pro-Russian separatists. Due to the high price tag and the high technology used, the T-64 was never exported by the Soviet Union. Post-Cold War, Russia still operates around 2,000 T-64s. Ukraine has 1,500 (900 of them were in storage for reserve and export) of which 100 are of the latest T-64M Bulat standard. Other ex-Soviet Union users include Kazakhstan and formerly, Belarus. The T-64 were also used by emerging small states such as Transnistria and Donetsk Peoples' Republic. In 2014, The Democratic Republic of the Congo received T-64BV from Ukraine, so far becoming the only non-CIS nation to operate the tank.  

The Kit
In 2012, Trumpeter came up with the first of their T-64 family, dubbed 'T64' Mod 1972. I put the quote marks as this kit is actually T64A Mod 1972. The 550 or so parts were spread among  20 light grey and 1 clear plastic trees, 1 soft vinyl tree (which, rather inexplicably, includes the unditching log), a one-piece hull and turret, three small frets of PE, a metal barrel and the usual decal and instruction sheets. At least some of the PE parts have no plastic originals, PE is all you have. The tracks are of the link-and length variety although trumpeter do have a separately available workable separate track links. There are two styles of mantlet covers : one for 0 angle and the other at a slight elevation. Build options allow two versions : with ('Estate 1') or without ('Estate 2') the commander's MG (Cookie Sewell mentioned that the those are Model 1972 and 1969 respectively but added that a bit more work need to be done other than simply adding or leaving the machinegun). The decals provide a pair of Guards badges, five sets of numbers and pairs of numbers 0 to 9. There is just one colour option.

While studying the instructions prior to assembly, I noticed that there are a number of unassigned slots on the lower hull sides. The instructions didn't mention anything about them but I guess it has something to do with other versions of the T-64 (mounting for the bracing struts of skirts, perhaps?). They were duly filled and sanded off. While a review site mention that the axles fit loosely inside their slots, I found that they are not and fit positively. The mud scrapers are PE and Trumpeter provided a template to bend them into shape. No problems here although I got disoriented while looking at the diagram (that's what you get when building the model at 11.30 p.m) which also resulting in Parts B17, B18 and B25 initially cemented the other way round. Rather than continuing with the wheels and tracks, I decided to do the upper hull first. This also means that Parts B26 would be left off at this time.

Before cementing the upper hull plate, three holes need to be bored in first. The mass of indents underneath the upper hull plate means you have to study the diagram a bit before committing your drill bit. The upper hull plate did not really fit well to the lower hull tub, but I just need to apply a bit of a pressure for a clean fit. The fittings on the front glacis plate were then cemented onto it but I left the towing clamps off for the time being (BTW, the kit only provides towing eyes but not the tow cable itself, which needed to be sourced from elsewhere). The three thingies on the engine deck are made of vinyl and one one of the suffered from slight deformation. Parts PE-B11 and -B12 were left off at this time as I found they could be knocked out easily during handling. Although not mentioned in the instructions, Part B24 (2 pieces) were added onto the engine deck. Areas soon under PE screens were painted Flat Black before the screens were added.

I decided to use the long-range fuel tanks, thus parts PE-A13 and D14 were used. Instructions for the assembly of the tanks were not included so I resorted to the internet (using the instructions for other Trumpeter T-64 kits). Before adding the wheels and tracks, I decided to add a basic mud mixture to the lower hull at this time as it would be easier without the wheels in the way (although the smaller wheel of the T-64 could make it easier even when already cemented to the suspension). Only afterwards the wheels were joined and placed on the suspension. Although no polycaps were provided, friction kept most of the road wheels in place while the loose ones were cemented. And as per my usual MO, the tracks were painted first before being snipped off the sprue tree.There were no real issues with the tracks with just a real minor clean-up problem.

Work on the turret was started by removing details on the turret roof and drilling a number of holes into the turret shell. While most manufacturers mould shallow holes to mark the areas to be drilled, Trumpeter have them in the shape of faint raised ridges (perhaps because the dome-shaped turret makes it harder to mould the indents inside the turret shell?). BTW the decision whether to finish the model with or without the commander's NSVT machine gun would have to be made at this time as each version have different details to be removed. The sub-assemblies such as the turret-mounted boxes, the main searchlight, station-keeping light and the snorkel were tackled first and they were then set aside. The 'straight' mantlet cover was used and the turned metal barrel was chosen. However, part PE-A19 cannot be slipped over the muzzle. The trick I learned and used in my AFV Club Centurion model cannot be used here as the fume extractor  is moulded together with the barrel and any horrible cut cannot be hidden as with the Centurion. So, it was left off. The rest of the turret fitiings, PE parts and the sub-assemblies were then cemented to the turret. The holes I drilled earlier turned out to be out of alignment, resulting in a rather asymmetric position of the boxes. Trumpeter also didn't mention that there are two types of the searchlight arms, to be used in conjunction with the mantlet cover selected.

Painting and Decalling
The instructions, like Hobby Boss's ZTZ-96, puzzlingly suggests Tamiya's XF-20 Medium Grey to represent dark green! Instead I used XF-65 Field Grey (which is green) instead of XF-20. This was followed by the regular wash process. The tracks were painted a base of XF-64 Red Brown and accented with AK Interactive Track Wash. The model then received the regular wash treatment. For markings, they are rather bland (as befitting the Soviet tanks of the Cold War era). Trumpeter provided five number sets and a 'number jungle' for those to fancy their own selection of three digits. Also available are two Guards badges. For my kit, the factory worker generously provided an 'extra' decal sheet for my spares stash! Anyway I chose number 576 and ignored the Guards badges as they were usually applied during parades only.

Despite its shortcomings, I had to use the kit-supplied unditching log. It was painted a base of XF-55 Deck Tan and dry-brushed with Vallejo Camouflage Medium Brown. The NSVT machinegun, which remain separate from the mount until now was cemented. Graphite from a pencil was rubbed onto the machinegun to get that 'metallic' look. As Trumpeter did not include the towing cables, the spares box was raided again, using a leftover string while the cable eyelets came from the kit (it's a mystery why Trumpeter only gives you the eyelets only). Although two cables were made, I only used one at the end. Some paint scratches were made using Tamiya XF-11 JN Green and oil/fuel spills were made using X-19 Smoke. The lower hull and the tracks were then slathered with Vallejo thick mud and when dry, AK Interactive Earth Effects was applied. The turret was then put in place. It was a tight fit but it means that I wouldn't have to worry about the turret falling off in a mishap! 

Trumpeter's T-64A Model 1972 is a good kit with not many problems encountered while building it. While the kit itself is all right, the instructions is slightly confusing with a few mislabelled and unmarked parts - perhaps not a problem for a seasoned modeller but can be a bit confusing to newcomers. The instructions also omitted steps to assemble and install the long-range tanks, but in the age of information, you can go to certain websites which have instructions from other Trumpeter T-64 kits to use as guide. Other negative points include the rubbery unditching log - with soft surface details unlike the regular styrene type.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Oh bugger!

I hosted most (nearly all) of my photos with Photobucket and they have now disallowed '3rd party linking', causing loss of photos in this blog (and elsewhere in the cyberspace). I'm now in the process of transferring the photos elsewhere. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Samurai Cavalry Mount

Historical Background
In the 1930s, the Imperial Japanese Army began experimenting with the concept of combined arms formation. However they found out that the Type 89 I-Go, designed as an infantry support tank, cannot keep up with truck-borne infantry. The Imperial General Staff then issued a requirement for a fast, lightweight tank which can be used for infantry support and also spearheading assaults on their own. In 1933, the Army Technical Bureau proposed a 7-ton tank, capable of 40km/h speed. A technical delegation was sent abroad to study French cavalry tanks and also Christie tanks and Carden-Lloyd tankettes. The prototype was completed in 1934 and was tested in Manchuria during the winter of 1934/35. In 1935, at a meeting in the Army Technical Bureau, the Type 95 was proposed as the main tank for mechanised infantry units. The infantry had concerns that the tank was insufficiently protected but the cavalry arm insisted that the improved speed and armament compensated for the thin armour. The cavalry won the argument as the infantry arm conceded that the new tank was better than the alternative - armoured cars. Production was started by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in 1936.

The Type 95, whose full designation was Type 95 kyugo-shiki kei-shensha Ha-Go, weighed 7.5 tons and was powered by a Mitsubishi A6120VD  air-cooled diesel engine allowing it a road speed of 45km/h. The complement was 3 crewmen : commander, hull machinegunner and driver. Like many light tank commanders of the period, the commander sat alone in the turret and he was responsible for observation, loading, aiming and firing the main gun, as well as commanding the vehicle. He also operated the turret machinegun (which was in the five o'clock position, rather than mounted co-axially with the main gun). The main gun was a 37mm Type 98 gun with elevation of -15˚ to +20˚. The armour-piercing round can penetrate 25mm of armour at 500 meters, although the majority of the rounds carried are of the HE type. Secondary armament was two 7.7mm Type 97 machineguns, one at the hull front and the other at the aforementioned turret. The suspension is of the simple bell-crank type but it had a tendency to pitch badly in off-road movement so that the Type 95 had to slow down to negotiate rough terrain. The interior was lined with asbestos in order to insulate the crew from outside heat and also to protect the crew from injury resulting from being bounced around when moving through rough terrain.

The Type 95 entered service in 1937 and were first used in China.  Although not designed for tank vs tank combat, it proved more than capable to deal with the Vickers, Panzerkampfwagen I and CV33 tanks/tankettes of the Chinese National Revolutionary Army. The first true test however came in June 1939 during the Battle of Khalkin Gol (the Nomonhan Incident) where Type 89 I-Go medium tanks, Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks and Type 94 TK tankettes faced Soviet BT-5 and BT-7 fast tanks. Although the Soviet tank armour was no thicker than their Japanese adversaries, their 45mm gun could penetrate Japanese armour at up to 1,000 meters while the 37mm gun of the Type 95 have a maximum range of 700 meters. When the Pacific War broke out in December 1941, Japanese armour was used in the jungle terrain of Malaya, smashing the British belief that tanks cannot operate in the jungle. The success of the Japanese stemmed from proper tactical deployment of their tanks, surprising the defenders where they least expecting them. In this instance, the relatively light weight of Japanese armour certainly helped. The Type 95 was also used during the invasion of the Philippines where they fought against American M3 Stuart light tanks. While both tanks have the same calibre of main armament, the Stuart have the advantage of thicker armour. However, the Japanese were more experienced and have better training (at the time), enabling them to overcome the American resistance. Later in the war, the Type 95 were outclassed by the Matilda, M3 Lee/Grant, M4 Sherman and even the M5 Stuart; when the Soviets entered the Pacific War in August 1945, it was totally vulnerable to T-34 and IS tanks. In fact, the Type 95 was vulnerable to any weapon larger than rifle calibre, especially in its hindquarters.  

2,300 Ha-Gos were built by Mitsubishi and also by Sagami Arsenal, Kokura Arsenal, Hitachi, Niigata Tekkosho and Kobe Tekkosho. Apart from the Japanese Army, the Type 95 were also used by the Imperial Japanese Navy's Special Naval Landing Force and the Thai Army. Captured examples were used by both sides in the Chinese Civil War and also by the French during the earliest stages of the First Indochina War. The Type 95 was also used as the basis for the Type 95 Ki-Ri engineering vehicle, Type 2 Ka-Mi amphibious tank and Type 4 Ke-Nu conversion (using the turret of the Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tank). The chassis was also used for the Type 3 ke-Ri tank prototype, Type 2 Ho-To self-propelled gun/tank destroyer prototype and the Type 5 Ho-Ru tank destroyer.

The Kit
While there are numerous kits of German, Soviet, US and to a smaller extent, British, armour, there are practically no kits of Japanese World War 2 armour by the major manufacturers. The only kits I can think of (before being acquainted with Fine Molds) were the Type 97 Chi-Has and Type 1 Ho-Ni from Tamiya. Then in 1990s, Fine Molds came up with a whole lot of Japanese armour kits, starting with the Type 95 Ha-Go in 1993. According to online reviews, Fine Molds did not do themselves any favours by pricing the kit at ¥9,800 (the average 1/35 kit costs between ¥3,000 to ¥4,000). In 2001, Fine Molds reboxed the kit with a new box art and at the same time reducing the RRP to be more competitive (I got mine from Hobbylink Japan for ¥3,200). The kit came in 145 olive-coloured styrene parts, a pair of vinyl tracks, a small PE fret and five white metal parts. The parts are well-moulded although the white metal tow cable (or whatever it was) have some flash in my example. A form for bending the PE (for the exhaust screen) is also included. 

Decals provide markings for eight vehicles:
1. #203, 8th Tank Regiment,  August 1945, Manchuria
2. #755,  8th Tank Regiment, June 1942, Manchuria
3. #244, Army Youth Tank School, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan
4. #20, 1st Tank Regiment, 3rd Company, Malaya 1942
5. 13th Tank Regiment, 2nd Company, Changsha, China
6. 6th Tank Regiment, Manchuria 1944
7. #1556, 7th Tank Regiment, 3rd Company, Philippines 1942
8. 14th Infantry Division Tank Company, Peleliu 1944

The instructions are almost entirely in Japanese and may cause some confusion especially for the painting and marking schemes, but otherwise have excellent illustrations.

As usual with AFV kits, construction starts with the suspension/lower hull. The halves for the idler and sprocket wheels were mated and the wheel bogies assembled. I however did not assemble the return rollers as instructed at this stage. Unlike many Japanese model kits with one-piece hull, the hull was made up of seven pieces with part A10 acting as a stand for a crew figure (sourced elsewhere) and part A9 acting a stiffener for the hull assembly (and sort of a bulkhead). As usual with multi-part hull, care need to be taken in order to ensure good fit. Afterwards the external fittings of the lower hull were cemented, including the bell-crank suspension. The instructions mention something about Parts B15, B18, C1 and C2, which I guess have something to do with gluing parts C1 and C2 to B15 first and cementing them onto the hull before cementing Part B18. To ease painting, the wheels were left off at this time (and apparently Fine Molds thought so, as the instructions placed the fitting of the wheels somewhere towards the end of the build). 

The upper hull was then mated to the lower half. Before that happened, dry-fitting showed a bad fit especially between the final drive housing and the forward mudguards. After removing away locating tabs on the upper hull, the gap was merely reduced so out with the putty, Various smaller portions of the upper hull was then cemented to the main part, such as the driver's hatch, the hull MG sponson and the engine grilles. These larger parts were followed by smaller parts such as the driver's vision hatch, latches, towing eyes and lights. The tools and the jack were temporarily left off although the instructions instructed you to place them at this time. More stuff were added to the rear of the hull including what look like hinges. The exhaust was assembled and the muffler painted XF-64 Red Brown. Using the included PE former, the exhaust muffler guard was formed and superglued to the fender. Again, external items such as the vehicle ID plate and the 'tow cable' were left off. And although meant for later, I cemented the headlights and also the hull MG fairing/mount, leaving only the barrel for later.

Finally it was time for turret assembly. The turret was a simple affair with nothing inside, not even a rudimentary breech for the main gun or the machine gun. The turret shell was mated with the bottom. I left the interior unpainted because I wanted to have the hatch in the closed position (there are no interior to speak of and there are no figures to be placed in an open hatch). The two-part commander's cupola was assembled, taking care to avoid seams. The hatch covers were then cemented to the commander's cupola. The gun assembly consists of four parts and was meant to be moveable. Being a 1990s kit, the muzzle is solid and had to be drilled out. The assembly was then cemented to the turret and it was off to the painting stage. 

Painting and Decalling

Maybe it's just me but I find Fine Molds' painting directions rather confusing. So to clear things a bit, I referred to the Tamiya painting instructions for their Type 97 Chi-Ha. Despite a number of interesting markings including the one in Saipan (the photo of which showing its turret blown off the tank), I decided to paint my Type 95 as an early war example, specifically as one of the Ha-Gos that took part in the invasion of Malaya. The model was painted the same colours as my Type 97 Chi-Ha: Khaki (XF-49), Dark Red Brown (XF-10) and Dark Green (XF-13 IJA Green). The lightest colour (Khaki) was painted first with the Dark Green last. The yellow line was painted using Tamiya XF-3. While the embossed star on the glacis plate is instructed to be painted in Gold, I used Gunze Brass as it looks more to scale. The decals were then applied. While thin and not having registry problems (they are just white anyway, with the exception of the Hinomaru on the front hull plate), they are quite translucent, revealing the colour underneath. I had to paint over the decals to overcome this problem. 

I started by adding the few uncemented items such as the registration plate and the towing cables. The model then received a wash. Minor streaking was then done using AK Interactive products. I got lazy by this time and decided just to add Earth Effects wash on the lower hull and the wheels. Dirt was added into the track cleats using Mig Productions Russian Earth pigment and washed with AK Interactive Earth Effects solution. The tracks were then mounted onto the model. Fit is OK although it would be better if separate-link track links were provided as Type 95s usually display saggy tracks. The machine gun barrels were then cemented into place followed by the turret, finishing the build.  


Up until the time this post was written, Fine Molds is basically the only manufacturer with a fairly wide range of Japanese World War 2 vehicles (Tamiya only has the two Type 97s and the Type 1 SPG while Dragon has the Type 2 and Type 95). While generally very good in terms of surface detail, the Type 95 kit has a rather poor fit for the hull parts. The tracks while good, did not reflect the 'dead' tracks of the real vehicle unless you add retainers or invest in aftermarket tracks. The decal selection is good although the decal itself was rather disappointing. Nevertheless, it was still a good value for money.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

21st Century Desert Rat

Historical Background
The British FV4034 Challenger 2 was built and designed by the Vickers Defence Systems plc as a successor to the Challenger 1 MBT. The design was originally a Vickers private venture in 1986. Following the issue of a Staff Requirement for a next-generation MBT, Vickers submitted its Challenger 2 proposal to the British Ministry Of Defence (MoD), following the issue of a Staff Requirement for a next-generation tank. In January 1989, Vickers received a £90 million contract for a demonstrator vehicle. The demo phase ended in September 1990 with the tank meeting 11 key criteria for the design. This was followed by a competition from other designs, including General Dynamics' M1A2 Abrams and Leopard 2 (Improved) from Krauss-Maffei. Finally in June 1991, the Challenger 2 was declared the winner and orders for 127 MBTs and 13 driver training vehicles were placed. A further order for 259 MBTs and 9 driver training vehicles was placed in 1994. Production began in 1993 at Elswick, Tyne and Wear and Barnbow, Leeds with the first tanks delivered in July 1994.

The main armament of the Challenger 2 was the 120mm/L55 L30A1 rifled tank gun, the successor to the L11 gun arming the Challenger 1 and Chieftain. Unique among currently operating Western-designed tanks, the Challenger 2 retained the rifled barrel as the British Army continued to use the High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) rounds in addition to armour-piercing APFSDS rounds. The HESH rounds have a longer range than APFSDS and are more effective against buildings and soft-skinned vehicles. The Challenger 2 can carry up to 49 120mm rounds, usually a mix of L27A1/CHARM 3 APFSDS, L31 HESH and L34 white phosphorus rounds. The ammunition have separately bagged charge, ensuring a lower risk of ammunition explosion. The Challenger 2 was also armed with a co-axially mounted L94A1 (Hughes EX-34) 7.62mm chain gun, mounted to the left of the main armament, and a 7.62mm L37A2 GPMG mounted on a pintle on the loader's hatch ring. 4,200 rounds of 7.62 x 51mm NATO rounds were carried for the machine guns. Fire control unit was from Computing Devices Co. utilising two 32-bit processors with MIL STD1553B databus. The commander was provided with a panoramic SAGEM VS 580-10 panoramic sight allowing 360 vision in addition to the eight periscopes on the commander's station. The gunner's and commander's sight were also served by the Thales Thermal Observation and Gunnery Sight II (TOGS II), providing night vision.

For protection, Challenger 2 was clad in second generation Chobham armour known as 'Dorchester'. Details are classified but it was said that it was more than double the strength of steel. Additional explosive reactive armour blocks and bar armour can be fitted as necessary. The Challenger 2 is powered by a Perkins 26.6 liter CV12 diesel engine delivering 1,200 hp. Maximum speed was 60km/h (road) and 40km/h cross-country. Range was 450 km (road) and 250 km (cross-country). Crew was four as the British Army felt that usage of automatic loader reduces battlefield survivability (as the autoloader is actually slower than human reflexes). And unique to the British Army, the Challenger 2, like other  British Army tanks and AFVs since the Centurion, was equipped with a boiling vessel, allowing the crew to brew up tea or to re-heat their field rations within the safety of the vehicle. In 2014, some of the surviving 227 Challenger 2s are to be upgraded to Challenger Life Extension Programme (CLEP) standard. The Challenger 2 chassis was also used as the basis for other combat support vehicles such as the Titan armoured bridgelayer, Trojan Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) combat engineering vehicle and Challenger Armoured Repair and Recovery Vehicle (CRARRV) armoured recovery vehicle. Although Vickers developed an export version designated Challenger 2E, it did not find overseas customers. The only export customer was Oman, which bought 38.

Challenger 2 entered service in 1998 with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) in Germany. Besides the 2nd RTR, it serves with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the Royal Dragoon Guards, the Queen's Royal Hussars, the King's Royal Hussars and a squadron of the 1st RTR. The tank was used during peacekeeping missions such as around the Balkans but its first combat use was in 2003 during Operation Telic in Iraq. 120 Challenger 2s of the 7th Armoured Brigade, 1st Armoured Division were in action around Basra, mainly fighting against old T-55s. No Challengers were lost to enemy fire although one Challenger 2 of the Queen's Royal Lancers was destroyed in a blue-on-blue incident, being mistaken for an Iraqi tank by another Challenger from the 2nd RTR. In another incident, a Challenger was attacked by insurgents armed with machine guns and RPGs. The driver's sight was damaged and while backing away, more sights were damaged and the tank threw its track in the ditch. Now a stationary target, it was hit by 14 RPG rounds and a MILAN missile. However the most serious damage was done to the sights and it was back in action just six hours after repairs have been completed. In another incident, a Challenger 2 survived being hit by 70 RPG projectiles.  A further 'Chally 2' was damaged by RPG-29 in August 2006 and another one by IEDs in April 2007.      

The Kit
Hot on the heels of their M1A2 Abrams, Tamiya released the other main combatant during the 2003 invasion of Iraq - the British FV4034 Challenger 2 tank. The 'Desertised' in the kit title reflects the application of the full-length skirting to combat the dust of the Iraqi desert. The kit consists of 345 parts moulded in light tan plastic and 17 in clear. The quality of the moulding and detail was as usually expected of Tamiya. Also included were a small clear sheet for the commander's cupola periscopes, a sheet of thin white plastic for the turret front CIP, a length of twine for the towing cable and copper wire for the cable reel. The kit is basically based on Tamiya's earlier Challenger 1 and Challenger 1 Mk.3 kits but with suitable changes to depict a Challenger 2; the Chally 2 kit also boasted a greater level of detail on parts supposedly similar on the real Challengers 1 and 2. While many parts are well-moulded and have excellent detail, Tamiya missed the non-slip coating texture on the relevant surfaces. Also engine grill cover was not included and have to be bought separately. Decals provide markings for three Challenger 2s serving in Iraq.

As usual with AFV model kits, construction started at the bottom of the vehicle. However, Tamiya's instructions is slightly unusual by having the modeller attach the skirt mountings first. The idler mounts were not cemented to the hull but secured using the provided 1.5mm screws which allow adjustments to be made during track fitting. All the wheels were the painted while still on the sprue trees and was then cut and the scar retouched. Also out of the ordinary is the way the road wheels are placed: usually the arms were cemented to the hull first and the followed by the wheels. The Chally kit have them the other way round. The instructions also specifically orders the modeller to place the wheels rear to front. As I was not going to tempt fate, I dutifully followed the instructions! The rear panel was next where all the fittings there were cemented to it. The exceptions at his time were the rear lights brush guards and the jerry can rack. The latter was assembled but would be separate from the rear panel for the time being. The same was done to the external fuel tanks and the cable reel.

I figured that the upper hull cannot be finished without being joined to the lower half. The hull area behind the wheels (and the wheels themselves of course) were painted and the track joined. Although plastic cement can be used, I stick to cyano glue to loop the tracks. After the tracks have been fitted, the upper hull shell was slotted into place - poly caps secured the forward part of the joint. The ROMOR applique armour panels were then assembled and cemented into place. Almost all other fittings on the hull, like stowage boxes, exhausts, gun travel lock, mudguards and headlight mountings were then cemented. As the side mirrors were moulded in the stowed position, they were also cemented at this time. The fire extinguishers were not cemented at this tome to facilitate painting. Also, there are no engine grille covers provided with the kit - they are only available separately.

Work on the turret started with the assembly of the gun mantlet / TOGS fairing. The cover for the sight and an opening on the right-hand side can be posed in the opened position but I chose to have it closed. The barrel halves were joined together and as usual care has to be taken to avoid visible seams. By the way, the barrel look a bit anaemic to my eyes. It was then joined to the mantlet and set aside for a while. The turret shell was then assembled with two of the antenna bases being cemented from below the roof. The poly cap to secure the Commander's panoramic sight was also inserted. But before the turret was assembled, holes were drilled into the relevant panels in order to accommodate the CIP panels later on. While most of the clear parts were made of clear styrene, the vision blocks need to be cut from the supplied sheet of clear acetate using the template provided..sheesh! The smaller bits on the turret like the commander's sight and the loader's machine gun were assembled but set aside at this time the others were cemented. The hatches were left off as I intended to use the figures.

And now, a lesson in planning your builds : plan beforehand and only make small adjustments as you go along, not major ones unless it was unforeseen. I was referring to my decision to add the anti-slip coating sported on Challengers which Tamiya did not provide. At the start of the build, I was trying to look for methods to re-create the coating, specifically using Rust-Oleum textured paint whuch have the best texture. Unfortunately none of the local hardware stores have them and I proceeded with the build. And then I remembered I have a bottle of Tamiya Grit Effect Diorama Texture Paint. After browsing the internet, looking for ways to apply it as anti-slip coating, I summoned my courage and dived in. The effect is rather coarse and may be more suitable for the Merkava. I tried 'watering' it down by diluting the thick paint with acrylic thinner and then applying it in thin layers. The coarser bits were sanded down. As this was my first attempt, results were mixed - the turret looked rather OK while the those on the hull were coarser, resembling the coating on the Merkava. And as many of the smaller (and uncoated) parts were already on the model, clean-up work need to be done. Thankfully they can be easily scraped off using a hobby knife and/or removed using thinner.

Painting and Decalling
The Tamiya instructions call for TS-46 Light Sand as the overall colour. I felt however that that particular colour is more suited towards American vehicles and that the British modern desert colour has a more yellowish tinge to it. As it was named Light Stone, I was thinking of using the mixture used for my Grant Mk. I. The problem is that photos show bewildering shades depending on the lighting conditions but most of the time showing a darker shade than the WW2-era Light Stone. After again searching the internet, modellers mention that a more suitable mixture, taken from Osprey's Modelling The Challenger 1 and 2 book, is 3 parts XF-59 Desert Yellow to 1 part XF-3 Flat Yellow. I duly used this mixture although I added a bit more XF-2 Flat White. Even so, it still show different hues under different lighting conditions (maybe the modeller got it right then). The dust skirting was painted XF-57 Buff as many photos show them having a different colour from the vehicle itself.

As for the markings, Tamiya provided decals for three vehicles, all from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys), 7th Armoured Brigade. I am a sucker for the more colourful markings so naturally I'm attracted to Option A (Tank No.1, 2nd Troop, B Company) with a small St. Andrew's flag on either side of the turret and a Union Jack atop the TOGS. However I was more interested in the plainer, but with a lion (or is it a griffin?) crouchant of the B option (HQ Squadron, Command Troop). The model was then given a red brown pin wash to highlight details. Although many real Chally 2s suffer from flaking paints (which some modellers replicate) I decided not to add any.

To tell the truth there aren't many things to do by this time, and mainly it was concerned with further weathering. The loader's machine gun mount was assembled and finally put in place and followed by the towing cables. Things at the rear of the hull such as the external fuel tanks and the jerry can rack were then cemented onto the model. The crew figures were painted but I deviated a bit by painting the disruptive pattern in XF-49 Khaki instead of XF-52 Flat Earth. Also, while looking at photographs, the crew helmets are mostly in a lighter colour (some are even wearing the infantry Mark 6 / Mark 7 helmets). The loader's helmet was painted XF-57 with the earphones in X-18 while the commander's helmet remain in X-18. Photographs also show that Challys carry their camouflage / thermal blanket in a U-shaped roll along the sides and the front upper glacis plate. I'm interested in adding this feature although knowing the rate I work, the putty might harden before I can add the surface features. 

After examining more photos, some show the roll being placed on the glacis plate atop the ROMOR bricks. This would have a smaller footprint, easing handling. I kneaded some two-part putty and then adding strips of Tamiya tapes and lengths of sewing threads. The still-soft putty was then pressed on the model. This resulted in elongated 'dough', the excess of which was cut. The placement was not not centred but I guess tank crews don't bother much if the roll is straight or not under combat conditions! Surface features were then added using a toothpick, a hobby knife and a nail file. Not sure about the colour of the roll, I painted it a mixture of XF-57 Buff and XF-49 Khaki. A water carton was placed between the loader's and commander's hatches while a ration carton was placed on the glacis plate (it is of the 10-person pack for infantry squads and not really suitable for a 4-person tank but what the heck). Guitar strings were cut and were then superglued to simulate radio aerials. Sand-coloured pigment powder was then applied to the lower hull and tracks.

After rather disappointing releases of American vehicles in the post-Cold War era (the M1A2 using the 1980s-vintage M1 kit as base and the M113A2 using the ancient 1970s M113), Tamiya released a wonderful kit of the Challenger 2. Although the lower hull is still based on their earlier Challenger 1 kit, most of the parts are new and well-moulded (case in point are the applique side armours - on the real vehicles, they are similar for both Challengers but the one in the Chally 2 kit has more detail than the earlier release). The only shortcomings with this kit are concerned with the lack of anti-slip surface and the engine deck grilles. Yet they still do not detract from the fact that this Chally is a very good kit.