Sunday, 6 May 2018

American Panzerjager



Historical Background
In the aftermath of the Battle Of France, the US Army perceived that in the face of the German Blitzkrieg tactics, its units are expected to be faced by large numbers of German tanks attacking on a relatively narrow front. The enemy was expected to break through the thin anti-tank gun screen. Therefore it was decided that the main anti-tank units, the Tank Destroyer battalions should be concentrated and made mobile. This was later turned into the so-called tank destroyer doctrine and was championed by Lt. General Lesley McNair, Commanding General, Army Ground Forces. Under this doctrine, the tank destroyer battalions were to be held as reserve at the corps or army level and to be moved quickly to the site of enemy armoured breakthrough, using aggressive tactics to destroy enemy tanks. This led to a requirement for a fast, heavily-armed vehicle. Although equipped with a turret, the tank destroyer was more heavily gunned, but, in order to be more maneuverable, more lightly armoured than a regular tank, This doctrine was considered to cause the delay in introducing the M26 Pershing heavy tank and limited the Sherman's armament to just 3"/76mm.

The first prototype of a standardised tank destroyer (as there already existed the half-track M3 75mm GMC and the truck-based M6 37mm GMC) was based on the M3 Medium Tank chassis but it was later decided to use the M4 (Sherman) Medium Tank chassis. The first M4-based prototype was designated 3-in Gun Motor Carriage T35. It was armed with a M7 3-in (76.2mm) gun in a circular, open-topped turret (developed from the defunct M6 heavy tank project) and placed on top of a M4A1 chassis. The second prototype, the M35E1 used the M4A2 chassis and used a pentagonal turret with flat, sloped sides, frontal 'beak' and inverted-slope rear face. The turret and the hull plates were held in place by large nuts. In June 1942 it was standardised as the 3-in Gun Motor Carriage M10 and was ordered into production. The M7 gun fired a number of anti-tank rounds including M79 AP, M62 APCBC, M93 HVAP and the APHE. The last mentioned, despite its shortcomings were included in 54 rounds carried. Two large counterweights were carried at the back of the turret because of the weight of the weapon and the lightness of the turret. An M2 .50-cal machine gun, along with 1,000 rounds can be mounted at the top rear of the turret. The weapons were supplemented by the crew's personal weapons for self-protection. Being an M4A2-based vehicle, the M10 was powered by a General Motors 6046 diesel engine rated at 375hp. Later, the M10A1 variant were produced, these differed from the M10 by being based on the M4A3 chassis and used a petrol engine and the last 300 vehicles were armed with a M1 3-in gun with a better performance than the M7.

The M10 first saw action during the final stages of the North African campaign in 1943. The vehicle was successful as it was able to destroy most German tanks in the theatre. The M10 however did not conform to the actual tank destroyer doctrine, and in mid-1944 was supplemented by the smaller and lighter M18 Hellcat. The M10 later faced the Tiger and Panther tanks in Europe, whose frontal armour was proof against the M10, unless a HVAP round was used. In theory, the open-topped turret is a liability in urban or forested areas, making the crew vulnerable to grenades, mortars and artillery. However the turret was liked by the crews as it allow better visibility and communication with the infantry. And should the vehicle be disabled, the open allowed them to escape more easily. The doctrine of using armoured vehicles working in close support with the infantry also helped protect them from enemy infantry. Some individual vehicles rigged extra armour to act as a roof, protecting them from mortar and artillery fire. Towards the end of the war, the armour of the M10 was proved to be too thin and was vulnerable to German infantry anti-tank weapons such as the Panzerfaust and the Panzerschreck. To help bolster protection, crews started to pile sandbags on the frontal plate and baulks of timber for the sides. Another weakness was the slow turning rate of the turret - it took 2 minutes to make a full turn, because of manual traverse. However since they operated in larger numbers, and generally being more maneuverable than their opponents, the weakness was not really a distinct disadvantage.

Several hundred M10s were delivered to the Allies as part of Lend-Lease. The British designated their M10s as '3 in Self- Propelled' or 'M10 3 in SP' and was operated by the Royal Artillery. The British M10s saw action in Italy and North-West Europe, many being upgraded with the QF 17-pounder anti-tank gun as the 17pdr SP Achilles. 54 M10s were delivered to the Soviet Union, although there were few records of them in action. The Free French Army also operated M10s, where one M10 named Sirocco, assigned to the Regiment Blinde de Fusiliers Marins, disabled a Panther tank during the liberation of Paris. The Panther was parked near the Arc de Triomphe, with Sirocco at the other end, at the Place de la Concorde. Requiring a snap shot, Sirocco managed to get a first-round hit when the gunner remembered the textbook length of the Champs-Elysses, dialed the range and fired.

A total of 6,706 M10 and M10A1s were built between June 1942 and December 1943. 300 of those were turretless M10A1s designated Full Track Prime Mover M35 used as artillery tractors. Apart from the M18, the M10 was also supplemented by the M36 GMC, armed with a 90-mm gun.

The Kit
Until 1999, the only 1/35 kit of the M10 was the 1960s-vintage Tamiya kit (and its Academy copy). The kit has only basic detailing and is oversized, being more of 1/32 scale. In that year, AFV Club, the Taiwan-based scale model manufacturer released this new-tool kit. The kit consists of 332 plastic parts, 8 vinyl parts (2 track runs and six components for the suspension), 1 nylon string, 1 turned aluminium barrel, 1 spring and a decal sheet. The kit is well-moulded and having good detail, although it, like Tamiya Shermans, has hollow-backed road wheels. Being an open-topped vehicle, AFV Club has included a fairly complete interior, which was way better than the Tamiya kit. No ready rounds are included in the kit and AFV Club suggests a separately available brass ammunition set.  The M10's distinctive applique armour bosses are moulded separately, with tiny raised circles moulded on the hull for their placements. The separate bosses make it easier for modelers to hang goodies on the hull and the turret, without cutting them off first. Grouser racks are also included, together with 26 grousers. The tracks are of the T49 three- bar steel cleat style. AFV Club also suggested the alternative (separately available) workable T51 rubber padded track. Recoiling gun gimmick was included through the use of the supplied spring. Decals provide markings for six vehicles:

1. 'Pistol-Packin' Mama', Tank Destroyer School, Texas 1943
2. 634th Tank Destroyer Battalion, Germany 1944
3. ROC Army, Jinmen Island 1958
4. 'Le-Malin', French 2nd Armored Division, France 1944
5. 'Lion', France 1945
6. 'Essling', France 1945

Construction
Since the M10 is an open-topped vehicle, construction tarted at the interior. Not much however is included (and as I have never seen the actual interior, it's rather moot actually). What were there however was nicely detailed. There are seats for the driver and his assistant but no control columns were included. The instrument panel was painted and drybrushed (although I shouldn't bother, really). The ammo rack on the sponson is already moulded on but thankfully the tubed rounds are separate, avoding the ugly moulded-on ammo of Academy's M18. The beautifully-detailed transmission were next. After assembly, it was cemented to the transmission cover and the whole thing was mated to the main hull. The interior then received a rather heavy dark wash. Moving on to the suspension, AFV Club's VVSS suspension has a bit more breakdown than other companies' allowing more articulation especially for dioramas (which I don't need). It was quite tedious but strangely enough, after all the effort making the suspension articulate, they have the wheels with hollow backs.....The rear plate and all the fittings was then fitted to the hull, although I left the exhaust for the time being.

Before doing anything else to the upper hull, the applique armour boss were assembled (they were of two-piece affair) and cemented to the hull. Faint raised circles mark their locations. The driver and co-driver's hatches can be made moveable but I decided to cement them shut as there were no figures to fit there nor there were interior to speak of. The rear plate was then cemented but the tools placed there were left off until after painting has been done. The same goes with the track grouser racks and the track grouser themselves. Before I forgot, the fire extinguisher was painted it was placed on the left hull as per the instructions. Unlike my previous armour builds, the upper hull and the hull pan was not mated prior to painting. Holes were drilled into the transmission cover after which plasticrods were inserted to act as support for timbers used to hold sandbag armour in place. The sandbags were made with two-part putty and while I *think* it looked better than the earlier sandbags on my M13/40 and M5A1 models, there are still plenty of rooms for improvement!

The turret was a multi-piece assembly with separate walls. The details on the walls were cemented first onto the respective walls. AFV Club however did not include the ready rounds and I have to turn to my stash to fill the turret racks - they are however 76mm rounds instead of 3-inch, so some artistic license was used here, besides, I have no idea of the differences between the two calibres! As mentioned before, AFV Club included the recoil gimmick for the gun but the weight of the metal barrel made the whole assembly quite wobbly so I just superglued the gun in place. The inside of the turret was painted before assembly while the applique armour bosses on the turret walls were left off temporarily while I worked out the stowage

Painting And Decalling
Again, if it's a World War 2-era US vehicle, it will be in Olive Drab. Tamiya XF-62 was the paint used this time while the tyres were painted using XF-63 German Grey. The tracks and grousers were painted a base of XF-64 red brown and given a wash using AK Interactive track wash while the tools (still on their sprues) were painted Steel and Red Brown. The 'timbers' holding the sandbags in place were unpainted and were just given a wash of red brown. As for markings, although the French M10s have colourful insignias, I prefer to have the M10 in its 'native' user's markings and therefore went for a US Army vehicle. I also preferred a front line vehicle and so the first option was out of contention also, leaving the rather bland and boring second option (the majority of M10s have rather boring markings anyway!). The sandbags were painted XF-57 Buff and given a brown wash.

Finishing
The panel lines, engine grille and the armor bosses were given a pin wash. the track grousers were then placed on the hull racks. Note that there aren't enough of the grousers to fill the racks.For accessories, items from Tamiya Allied Vehicle Accessories Set were selected, painted XF-49 Khaki, given a wash and were then cemented to the turret sides - the rolled canvas however needed sanding down (as it was meant to go on a rounded surface, like a Sherman turret perhaps) in order to avoid gaps between it and the turret. There was a slight gap remaining so I slotted a canvas bucket, also from the Tamiya set between the canvas and the turret wall. Other additional items include C-Ration boxes (also from Tamiya), generic boxes from Academy and gas cans from Hero. These were placed on the engine deck. Not much weathering was done, just applying Mig Productions European Dust on the lower hull and tracks.

Conclusion
The AFV Club M10 was considered to be the better of the two M10 kits available at the time I bought my copy. I have not seen the Academy one so I really cannot make a fair comparison. Nevertheless AFV Club kits are bit 'fussier' to build and apparently the shape of the turret is a bit off but to my eyes, it still looks very much like an M10. Nowadays, modellers would probably pick up the new Tamiya kit of the M10 but the AFV Club is still a good alternative. My nitpick with this kit is the lack of rounds for the turret ammo rack and the lack of personal weapons, otherwise it is indeed an excellent kit.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

In The Beginning


I started this hobby with the kit above back in 1983. Being an early 1980s kit and 1/144, the details weren't that awesome with raised panel lines and no cockpit (not even cavity, just blobs of plastic pretending to be the crew's heads). What was truly horrendous was that I glued the parts together using rubber adhesive (the one used by cobblers), the cuts were not cleaned up and my total lack of understanding on the decalling instructions. Instead of the usual dip in water-decal came loose-slide it off the backing paper-apply pressure and dry method, I simply cut the markings, backing paper and all, slather ordinary glue and stick em on their places on the model! Oh, the model was not painted at all. I can't remember whether the kit include landing gears but even if it did, it was not used as it the kit was intended to be more of a toy than a display piece!

Sunday, 25 March 2018

The Other Hellcat



Historical Background
In the aftermath of the Battle Of France, the US Army perceived that in the face of the German Blitzkrieg tactics, its units are expected to be faced by large numbers of German tanks attacking on a relatively narrow front. The enemy was expected to break through the thin anti-tank gun screen. Therefore it was decided that the main anti-tank units, the Tank Destroyer battalions, should be concentrated and made mobile. This was later turned into the so-called tank destroyer doctrine and was championed by Lt. General Lesley McNair, Commanding General, Army Ground Forces. Under this doctrine, the tank destroyer battalions were to be held as reserve at the corps or army level and to be moved quickly to the site of enemy armoured breakthrough, using aggressive tactics to destroy enemy tanks. This led to a requirement for a fast, heavily-armed vehicle. Although equipped with a turret, the tank destroyer was more heavily gunned, but, in order to be more maneuverable, more lightly armoured than a regular tank, This doctrine was considered to cause the delay in introducing the M26 Pershing heavy tank and limited the Sherman's armament to just 3"/76mm.

The M10 was the first standardised product of this theory but to all intents and purposes it was just an interim vehicle. Back in December 1941, the Ordnance Corps issued a requirement for a fast tank destroyer using the torsion bar suspension, Wright/Continental R-975 engine and 37mm gun. The requirement for the armament however kept changing, which finally settled on 3"/76mm as T70 Gun Motor Carriage, standardised in February 1943 as the M18 Hellcat Gun Motor Carriage. The Hellcat was designed by Harley Earl of Buick Motor Company Division of General Motors.  Buick engineers developed an innovative torsion bar suspension that provide a steady ride, even at the road speed of 60 mph (which made the M18 the fastest AFV of World War 2). The Hellcat was subjected to the same tests that were applied to passenger cars at General Motors' Milford Proving Ground. Speed testing was done on paved, banked oval circuit while ride quality was tested on specially developed bumpy stretches. It was also subjected to further tests such as ability to ford six feet of water, climb low walls and ram through structures.

The M18, like other US tank destroyers of the time has an open-top turret which left the crew exposed to the elements, grenades and shrapnel from mortar and artillery. It wasn't really a concern as the maxim 'speed is armor' was applied to the tank destroyer force. In reality however, the high-speed of the Hellcat was rarely applied but when it did, it was used to good effect, allowing flanking moves to be made against the more heavily armoured Panthers and Tigers. The M18 was also designed with simplicity in maintenance in mind, with the engine mounted on rollers which permitted quick removal and maintenance. The transmission could also be easily removed and rolled out onto a front deck plate to facilitate quick inspection and repairs. The M18 was protected by rolled and cast homogenous armour plates,with thickness ranging from 6mm (floor) to 25mm (turret front). The main armament was a M1A1 or M1A1C 76mm gun with 45 rounds (9 ready rounds in the turret). The secondary armament was an M2 12.7mm machine gun in a ring mount and was provided with 800 rounds.

The M18 first saw combat at Anzio, Italy when T70 prototype was sent there for combat evaluation. Thereafter, the M18 was used on the slog up the Italian Peninsula and later, through the North-West of Europe. The Hellcats were never employed in their intended role per se as the Germans almost never employed their panzers in mass attacks. The TD battalions ended up being distributed among infantry divisions where they provided direct fire support against enemy fortifications or indirect fire against enemy movements. The Hellcat did fought as a pure tank destroyer on many occasions but most notably on 19 September 1944 near Arracourt, France. The 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion was attached to the 4th Armored Division when a platoon from 'C' Company detected a German ambush. The platoon managed to destroy 15 panzers, mostly the feared Panthers for the loss of three M18s. On 19-20 December 1944, during the Battle of The Bulge, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion, together with 1st Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, checked the advance of the 2nd Panzer Division, destroying at least 30 panzers. This is one of the cases where the Hellcat's high speed allowed it to be deployed in a blocking posisition within a short time. The Hellcat was also used by the Chinese Nationalist Army against the Japanese, but mostly in support of the infantry as Japanese armour in China was comparatively rare.

Post-war, the M18 were sold to other countries. The Republic of China operated some and when the vehicles had worn out, transferred the turret to M42 Duster chassis, turning them into Type 64 light tank. Another user was the former Yugoslavia, using them during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. The final user was Venezuela, which still have 75 in reserve. The M18 was produced until October 1944 with 2,507 built. The numbers include the turretless M39 Armored Utility Vehicle.

The Kit
Academy came up with their kit of the Hellcat in 1997. The kit was moulded in dark green plastic and contained 378 parts; the tracks are of single-length vinyl or alternatively, plastic link-and-length type. A length of twine, a small decal sheet and the assembly instructions rounded up the package. Options are provided for guns with or without muzzle brake and also with or without mantlet cover. Despite the year of release, the kit featured slots and holes in the lower hull for motorisation (and that was also perhaps the reason 'static model' was printed on the box top). Being an open-topped vehicle, there were interior details which was adequate in the 1990s. The tracks, both vinyl and plastic. are too thin and are best replaced with aftermarket goodies. Furthermore, I believe there were erroneous parts, especially a round shaped plastic, which I guess is the turret basket floor and the hull floor molded as one. Decals provide markings for two vehicles: 'I Don't Want A', France, September 1944 and 'Dorothy', Germany, December 1944. No details about the units those vehicles were assigned to.

Construction
The Academy Hellcat went slightly out of the norm by having you build up the interior first. Having said that, the interior is very basic. There was a partial interior for the drivers compartment with just the driver and assistant driver's seats and a rather nice of representation of the transmission. Bumps, instead of tubes (or at least a bit more detailed representations) were moulded on the sponson to represent ammunition stored on that location. The motorisation hole, although out of view, has a blanking plate and it's up to the modeller whether to add the plate or not (I did). The back plate was the cemented to the hull and was then followed by the suspension arms. Several parts, mostly for the two boxes at the rear end of the crew compartment, constitute the interior of the hull. While the suspensions arms were all fitted, the wheels were left off at this time.

The upper hull assembly was rather simple. A few details were cemented underneath the forward area and drivers' hatches were cemented in the closed position (they can be posed in the open position too). The fit between the upper hull and the back plate was not good however - the upper hull should sit flush with the top of the back plate but the slot on the back plate caused the upper hull to sit lower, making the top of the back plate standing proud. I managed to pry off the back plate and after some experimenting, decided to remove the slot and reposition the back plate so that the top stays flush with the upper hull. This however means that the sides near the top are no logner aligned while there were large gaps at the bottom and lower sides, requiring filling for the top and supergluing the bottom and also filling the gaps on the lower sides. While the headlights were fitted, the brush guards were left off at this time as a precautionary measure against rough handling (it's quite ironic, I know). The tools were also left off to ease painting. And speaking of the tools, the kit showed another of its eccentricities : having the tools' locations in faint, raised lines.The skirtings were also left off to facilitate the fitting of the tracks (and further fit problems because of the hull modifications stated above, more on this later..

If one follows the instructions (like I did), turret assembly started with the assembly of the gun breech. Being the most visible part of the interior, Academy has them pretty detailed (I have seen worse for open-topped vehicle, like the old Italeri M36B1. The breech was the set aside and the turret base was next.. While things like turret rotating mechanisms, commander's seat and other stuff were cemented to the base, the gunner's and loader's seats were assembled but also set aside at this time. The turret shel was then cemented together, trapping the trunnion between them. Two types of radios were provided for the turret bustle but no indication which belongs to which markings. The turret ammo rack was then assembled - they include ammunition for a full rack but I somehow think that they are rather anorexic for 76 mm rounds. To ease painting, the breech assembly was pre-painted before being put into place. Academy provided two types of mantlet - one covered and one without cover. I chose the covered mantlet with the appropriate parts for the barrel. Academy also provided plain (M1 gun) and braked muzzle (M1A1C) but again, there was no specific instructions about them. The M2 machine gun was left off at this time.

Painting and Decalling
Generally for WW2 US tanks, you can paint them any colour as long as it was Olive Drab. I used Tamiya XF-62 Olive Drab for this build. The tyres were painted Gunze H77 Tyre Black. The pioneer tools were originally painted the usual colours - steel for the metal parts and Buff/Red Brown for the handles. Although the pioneer tools for US vehicles were actually painted olive drab, but visual interest's sake, I painted the 'wood' parts XF-64 Red Brown and the 'metal' parts in steel. For markings, as I have already used the muzzle-braked gun, I chose the second option, 'Dorothy' as it would be more plausible (according to the rough timeline stated in the instructions). The decals were typically Academy in-house but apply beautifully, perhaps due to the gloss finish. The tracks, including the spare track was painted XF-64 Red Brown and washed with K Interactive Track Wash. Oh by the way, I chose the belt-style tracks.

Finishing
The painted tracks was looped and being the of old Tamiya style, needed a heated flat screw driver to secure it. The rather ugly connecting area were placed so that it would be hidden by the fenders (despite virtually every photo showing the fenders being removed in the field). And talk about the skirts, the rear pair was affected by the change in the back plate's position. The port side wasn't bad as it only require a little putty to fix the resulting gap. The starboard side was worse as the fender is now further forward than it should be. The brush guards were next and as the cross-beams were divided into two, resulting in misalignment during test-fitting (similar to the light guards in Hobby Boss's ZTZ 96 kit). So I cut the cross beams off, replaced them with styrene rods and touched up the paint. Although the kit provided a sprue from Academy's Allied and German Tank Supplies Set kit, they were not used and I decided to use packs from the Tamiya Allied Vehicles Accessory kits and my spares stash instead. Vallejo Thick Mud was slathered to the lower hull, wheels and tracks.


Conclusion 

Apparently the Academy M18 is a hit-and-miss affair and the worse of the two 1/35 M18s in the market. Some reviewers mentioned the gross inaccuracy of the base kit, being dimensioned to fit motorisation (others beg to differ, saying the Academy kit's dimension was not that bad compared to AFV Club's offering) - it still looks like a Hellcat to me . The fit is 50/50 with the worst regarding the rear of the hull and the fit between the gun and the mantlet. Same goes with details - some good, some simplified (to the point of ridiculous like the sponson-stored ammo) and some missing altogether (like the gunner's sight). While the actual M18 tracks looks thinner than its contemporaries, it should not be as (scale) thin as it was in the kit. With just the two companies offering the type in 1/35 they are just the only game in town when it comes to M18s - it's all up to the modeller to choose which one (the Academy was cheaper and that influenced my decision!)

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Rounded Sherman



Historical Background
The US Army followed the events in Europe 1939-1940 and decided that their current medium tank, the M2 was obsolete to face contemporary battlefield challenges and designed the M3 Medium Tank (later nicknamed Lee/Grant). The M3 was a stop-gap measure, with the main 75 mm gun in a right-side sponson , with limited field of fire. In late August 1940, the Ordnance Department submitted characteristics for a new design to replace the M3. Development of the prototype was delayed to allow the M3 design to be finished and enter production. On 18 April 1941, the Ordnance Department chose the simplest design, called the T6. It was basically a modified M3 hull and chassis and mounted a fully-rotating turret armed with the M3 75 mm gun. The design borrowed many features from existing tank design such as the vertical volute spring suspension, rubberised track links and the usage of Continental R975 radial engine. The T6 prototype was completed on 2 September 1941 and production commenced in the next month.

The production M4s were kept as close as possible to the M3, including the tracks, suspension and transmission. The hull upper hull however was chaneged to cast type and the side entry door was eliminated. The lower hull was made of large welded parts with the bogies bolted to the hull to ease maintenance and repair. The upper hull was cast for the M4A1 version and welded for the rest of the variants (plus the cast front and welded rear 'Composite hull' M4). The M4 was powered by a Continental R975 air-cooled radial petrol engine rated at 400 hp. 660 liters of petrol was carried, allowing a range of 195 km. Later versions was powered by Ford V8 petrol or General Motors diesel engine. The frontal armour was 51mm thick while the turret front was between 64 mm to 76 mm, The front upper hull was angled at 56 with the lower half rounded, making the armour effective against most early war anti-tank weapons. Even so, the early versions had shot traps, located just in front of the driver and co-driver's positions.

Progressively thicker armour was added to later models and once in combat, crews often add improvised additional protection, using sandbags, wire mesh, spare track links and even wood. The sandbag armour was fairly effective on the sloped frontal armour where it gave extra protection against HEAT warheads (but not AP rounds). In 1944 however, General George S. Patton banned the use of sandbag armour as it was alleged that the sandbags were generally ineffective while the weight added extra burden on the tank. Research also showed that the M4 was prone to catch fire when hit by the enemy, caused by the explosion of ammunition stowed in the sponson above the tracks. This unwelcome trait gave the M4 grim nicknames such as Tommycooker by the Germans and Ronson by the British. A partial remedy was found by welding 25 mm thick additional armour plate to the sides containing the ammunition stowage while later models moved the ammo racks to the hull floor with water jackets surrounding the main ammo stowage. The tanks with the water jackets were known as 'wet stowage' (suffixed 'W') while the earlier stowage was known as 'dry'.

The M4, nicknamed Sherman (after General William Tecumseh Sherman) was originally armed with a L/40 M3 75 mm gun. The standard M61 round fired by this gun can penetrate 87 mm of RHA at 100 meters and 70 mm at 1,000 meters, sufficient to destroy Panzer IIIs and IVs. After protracted development, the Sherman was later armed with a more powerful M1/M1A2 76 mm gun, giving it at least a parity with L/48-armed Panzer IVs. The main armament was backed by two Browning M1919 machien guns; one co-axial with  with the main gun and another in the hull. 60 rounds was provided for the main gun with the machine guns shared 4,750 rounds between them. For anti-aircraft and further anti-infantry/soft-skin capability, a Browning M2 12.7 mm machine gun can be mounted on the roof.  The Sherman was manned by a crew of five: commander, gunner, loader, driver and assistant driver/hull gunner. Each of the crewmembers had a periscope to allow 360 view of the outside. On early versions, direct vision slits was provided to the driver and his assistant. Despite the inclusion of bulletproof glass and hinged covers, the slits were removed from later models due to bullet splashes.

Production began at the Lima Locomotive Works, Lima, Ohio with all the first production tanks going to the British Army. By the end of the war, ten other production lines were opened, delivering some 48,000 M4s. The Sherman was produced in a  number of variants but the most distinctive was the M4A1 with a fully cast, rounded hull. Other distinguishing features were the inverted U-shaped backplate and the rear hull panel similar to the M3. Early M4A1s can also be distinguished by the return rollers being placed on top of the bogies (also like the M3) - it was changed with the more well-known style in Summer 1942. Originally there was only one turret hatch but another one over the loader's position was introduced in December 1943. The early M4A1s were armed with a shorter (L/31) M2 75 mm gun, which was later replaced with the L/40 M3 gun. Late version of the M4A1 was armed with the more powerful M1/M1A1 76 mm gun.

The Sherman was originally issued in small numbers to familiarise the US Armored Divisions. However, following the fall of Tobruk to the Germans and with Egypt and the Suez Canal threatened by further German advance, a decision was made to deliver Shermans to the British. The British received the M4A1 version (called Sherman II) and saw first combat during the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942. American Shermans saw their first combat a month later during Operation Torch. The M4A1 (and the original M4) were the prime variants used by the US Army until the introduction of the M4A3 with a more powerful (500 hp) engine. As individual tanks, the Sherman is inferior to the German tanks such as the Panther, being weakly armed (at least for the early version) and thinly armoured. As a type however, it was superior to the German panzers, being reliable, easy to maintain and more mobile than the ponderous Tigers.

The Kit
Dragon's Kit No. 6404 of the 1/35 ''39-'45 Series' is another entry in that company's new generation of Sherman tanks. Released in 2008, the kit was made up of 305 gray and 22 clear parts, a small fret of PE part, two lengths of one-piece tracks, a length of braided metal wire plus the usual decal and instruction sheets. The breakdown of the parts are similar with the earlier release of 'El Alamein Sherman' (that is, Sherman II/M4A1 used by the British during the Battle of El Alamein) but with the British-specific parts such as stowage bins dropped. The plastic parts are what we would expect from Dragon: well-executed. This specific boxing represented an early production M4A1 with direct vision slits for the driver and his assistant and with the early VVSS system (aka 'M3 type'). The tracks are of the DS100 soft styrene type and are most welcome by me after the tedious experience gluing the three-part tracks for my Firefly kit. The PE set was restricted to just light guards, vent covers, tool  tie downs and straps and fender tips. Decals provide markings for two vehicles: 'Hannibal', H Company, 66th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division, Operation Husky, Sicily 1943 and 'Honky Tonk', H Company, 1st Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division, Sidi Bou Zid, Tunisia 1943.

Construction
I started the building process with the suspension. The six sets of vertical volute suspension system (VVSS) took some time although the build was not as complicated as certain other companies' VVSS. It was also simpler as this particular kit is of an early model M4A1 with M3-style suspension (without the guide skid). Well in any case, despite the larger number of parts per suspension, it wasn't as tedious as having to cut, clean assemnle and paint 16 road wheels of a Panzer IV (and its derivatives)! After finishing the VVSS, they were set aside and I turned my attention to the lower hull. The rear panel and the transmission cover were cemented on the main body. Since the running gear would be mounted by this time, I painted them and the lower hull first. I must also mention that the cast texture on the transmission cover (and also the turret was very nice) and so I don't have to enhance them like I did on my Firefly model.

The upper hull, like the rest of the kit, was well done but still sporting the recessed weld beads. I reminded myself to place stretched sprue on the panel lines, flood them with Tamiya Extra Thin cement and turn them into raised weld beads but end up realising I have not done so only after decal. This was then followed by the rest of the fixtures and fittings on the hull except the pioneer tools. The upper hull was the cemented to the lower half. As the tracks were of the one-piece DS 100 style, they were left off at this time. The turret was next on the line and there wasn't much of a problem here, and as usual, the interior was devoid of any details. The turret has a convincing cast texture and I left the as it is  There are two types of gun barrel included in the kit; I chose the. The gun mantlet was completed first before being cemented to the turret shell. The rest of the turret assembly was straightforward with no problems. No M2 heavy machine gun was included (and the Sherman somehwat looked a litte bare without it).

Painting And Decalling
You can paint WW2-era US Army vehicles any colour you like, as long as it's Olive Drab. For this kit I used Tamiya's XF-62 Olive Drab. As all of the Army vehicles were painted a base of Olive Drab, I took a pause and decide which markings to use. Both are attractive ('Hannibal' is of two-colour scheme while 'Honky Tonk' has large American flag of both sides) but 'Honky Tonk' got the nod as it was more 'vibrant' (haha) with large US flags on both flanks. The kit however does not include the yellow band round the round so it has to be painted.A brown filter was applied. The decals were then applied with no problems even on the rather irregular cast texture (helped by Mr Mark Softer of course). and then followed by the usual wash The rubber part of the tracks was painted XF-69 NATO Black while the metal prortions were painted a 50/50 mix of XF-69 and XF-64 Red Brown.  The tools' handles were simply painted XF-59 Desert Yellow with the metal parts in Steel (what else?)

Finishing
The kit comes without any accessories (the tools and tow cable are standard issue so they don't count!) So I rummaged through my stash and came up with two ration boxes (the crew must be very fond of tomato juice!), two jerricans, a 75mm ammo crate, a duffel bag and a generic canvas roll; all coming from Tamiya and Academy vehicle accessories sets. And yes, I do think that just two ropes won't hold the stowage on bumpy desert surface but I got tired by this time of this build. While handling the model, it somehow managed to slip through my hands - no major casualties here except the co-axial MG barrel broke and were nowhere to be seen (I'm sure it will resurface in the next month, if not ever) so I have to cut off a barrel from Academy's M1919 MG from the same tank accessories set mentioned above and stick it in place as replacement. The model then received an overall thin cover of XF-57 Buff while the lower reaches of the hull received an additional layer of Mig Productions Iraqi Dust pigment.

Conclusion
What else can I say about Dragon kits? The parts fit well while the 'Smart Kit' concept means a less involved build (with less PE parts). The styrene track simplify the build further and at the same time having very acceptable details plus the 'live' nature of the (actual) tank's tracks means that there is no need to replicate track sag on the model. Dragon also appeared to have the Sherman as its own as nearly all variants of the Shermans have been kitted by them!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Supersonic Hun



Historical Background
In early 1949, with the wealth of captured German aerodynamics data, North American Aviation began researching for sustained Mach 1 flight. In January 1951 while its subsonic F-86 fighters were clashing successfully with the MiG-15 over Korea, North American Aviation handed an unsolicited proposal to the USAF for a supersonic day fighter named Sabre 45 because of its 45° wing sweep and being an evolution of the Sabre. The aircraft would be powered by a Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet which provided the best performance among the early jet engines. In July 1951, the mock-up was inspected and after over a hundred modifications were made, it was accepted as the F-100 on 30 November 1951. In January 1952, the USAF ordered 23 prototypes (YF-100) followed by 23 F-100A models in February and another 250 in August.

Like the F-86, the F-100 has a nose-mounted air intake although thinner and more oval than the original Sabre. The wing of course has more sweep angle than the F-86 and it was also thinner. Decision was also made to move the ailerons inboard, allowing the Super Sabre to have a better rate of roll. Internal armament consists of four Pontiac M39E 20-mm cannons while external ordnance can range from unguided rockets to tactical nuclear weapons. The pre-production YF-100A first flew on 25 May 1953, seven month ahead of schedule, while the first production F-100A was first flown on 9 October of the same year. Test pilots however noted lack of stability at high speeds leading to inertia coupling. Although officially entering service on 17 September 1954 with the 479th Fighter Wing, the USAF declared that it was not ready for large-scale deployment due to deficiencies in the design. By November 1954, there were six major accidents including one on 12 October 1954 which killed North American's chief test pilot, George Welch.

The accidents forced the USAF to ground the entire fleet until February 1955. Because of the still existing problems, the A model was taken out of service beginning in 1958 with the last aircraft leaving active service in 1961. During that time another 47 'A' models were lost to attrition. The F-100A's place was taken by the 'C' model, which was built to satisfy Tactical Air Command's need for a fighter-bomber. The F-100C has longer wings to improve roll but otherwise similar to the F-100A and having all its problems. The inertia coupling was partially solved when the fleet was fitted with yaw and pitch dampers. To allow carriage of weapons and extra fuel, six hardpoints were made available underneath the wings. However not all F-100Cs can carry conventional munitions and like the A model, it suffered from attrition, losing 85 by the time the variant was retired in 1970.

The final single-seat version, the F-100D, became a dedicated ground attack machine with secondary air-to-air fighter capability. Key features of this variant include autopilot, in-flight refueling, ECM equipment and Sidewinder capability. To further address the dangerous flight characteristics, the wing span was extended by 66 cm and the tail area increased by 27%. 65 of the D model were modified to fire the AGM-12 Bullpup missile. As a type, the F-100 received numerous modification programmes during its service life. Many were concerned with the structure, electronics and to improve ease of maintenance. One of them was the replacement of the afterburner can with the one from retired F-102 Delta Daggers.

The F-100 saw combat service during the United States' involvement in Vietnam. Six Super Sabres were deployed to Don Muang air base in Thailand on 16 April 1961, acting as the vanguard for the type's involvement in the conflict until withdrawn in 1971. The Super Sabres mainly acted as fighter-bombers giving close support to ground troops and anti-MiG escort while two-seat F-100F model acted as Forward Air Controllers and performing the first anti-radar, Wild Weasel missions. By the end of their deployment on 31 July 1971, Super Sabres have logged 360,283 combat sorties : just four wings of F-100s have clocked a larger number of combat sorties than their WW2 predecessor, the P-51. Despite being used as escort fighters flying into North Vietnam early in the war, the F-100s recorded no MiG kills, save for one 'probable' on 4 April 1965.  No F-100s were shot down by enemy fighters but 242 were lost through other causes (186 by AA, seven from sapper attcks and 45 in operational incidents).

The F-100 was also used by Turkey, France, Denmark and Taiwan. The last-named received ex-USAF F-100As which were retrofitted with D model vertical tails. A number was lost during reconnaissance missions over China. The Super Sabres of the Armee de l'Air was used during the Algerian War of Independence.

The Kit
The Tamiya kit was released in 2001 following the original Italeri release in 1998. It was originally thought to be a straight re-release of the earlier, 1980s-vintage ESCI kit. Close inspection revealed that while the Italeri kit may indeed a re-release, there are some difference between it and the earlier ESCI kit. as follows:
1. An extra, non-existent frame on the canopy
2. Shorter (275- US gallon) fuel tanks
3. More detailed landing gear parts
4. Raised details for the instrument panel
5. Better-detailed ejection seat(s)
6. External ordnance

The kit engineering is fairly simple but it featured nicely engraved panel lines. Two types of exhaust nozzles were included - standard and the F-102 type. However the air intake is fairly shallow and ended at the cockpit. The decal sheet feature markings for three aircraft - each from USAF, Armee de l'Air and the Danish Air Force.

Construction
As nearly always with aircraft model kits, construction started at the cockpit. Also, as usual I painted the parts while still on the sprue - Gunze Aqueous H317 for the majority of the cockpit and seat, Tamiya XF-1 for the instrument and side panels and  the sidewalls white for the switches and dials. While having more details than the original ESCI kit, they were quite pitiful compared to other kits in the scale. Before joining the fuselage halves together, a ballast of 20 grams was placed at the nose (I just crammed plasticine in the nose halves until it feels 'right'). The wing parts were assembled; no problems here really, but the wing fences were a bit loose in their slots. As the intake trunking was non-existent, the 'bulkhead' was painted black before the intake was cemented to the fuselage. The intake-fuselage joint was not smooth and I had to sand the area for a seamless joint. Another area with bad fit was the lower tray on the fuselage (with two troughs for the two of the cannons) - I still wonder why do they have to make that area separate. As the canopy is a one-piece affair and a couple of decals go on both the canopy and the fuselage, it was attached and masked off. However, like the lower tray mentioned above, the canopy-fuselage fit was not great.

Painting and Decalling
I decided to finish the kit as a Hun from the 353rd TFS, 354th TFW (based at Myrtle Beach, Florida) 1958. Tamiya's instructions have you paint the interior compartment silver but I am of the opinion that they were actually painted US Interior Green. So I made a mix of 2 parts XF-5 Flat Green to one part XF-3 Flat Yellow paint the interior accordingly. The unpainted rear fuselage (on the real aircraft) was painted a mix of Gunze 8 Silver and 61 Burnt Iron while the exhaust was painted straight Burnt Iron. After masking, the rest of the fuselage was painted Tamiya TS-30 Silver Leaf (although with hindsightI think TS-17 Gloss Aluminium would be more appropriate). Afterwards the decals were applied. No problems here as Italeri's in-house decal are pretty good. Inside faces of landing gear bay covers and the airbrake were painted Gunze Silver 8. Tamiya Weathering master 'Soot' was used on the exposed metal area of the fuselage to simulate heat weathering (maybe other shades or colours were more appropriate but that's what I have in my arsenal).The decals were the treated to the usual decal solution application.

Finishing
I forgot to mention that I tried to remove that extra frame on the canopy. While it was removed without a hitch, the clean-up process went awry in the sense that I could not get the canopy clear again - not sure why but I guess my sandpaper were not fine enough (just down to 1500 grit only). Anyway, lesson learnt - try find finer grade of sandpaper and more importantly, do on scrap plastic before committing yourself. As usual, the landing gears were added first to allow the model to stand on its 'feet'. As for 'things under the wings', I decided to substitute the M117 bomb and rocket pods with a pair of AGM-12 Bullpup and a pair of Mk 81 bombs. Both are from Hasegawa weapons sets. The Bullpup has raised mould parting lines while the bombs have a pair of ejector pin marks, all of which needed cleaning up. Flat clear was sprayed onto the bombs while the Bullpups received a semi-gloss coat. Although many photos show USAF Super Sabres have their speed brakes raised while on the ground, I have them lowered for added visual interest. Some paint touch-ups were needed after removing the masks.There was no locating hole on the wing surface for the refuelling probe so I have to cut off the locating tab and just use Mark I Eyeball to place the aforementioned probe.

Conclusion
Although rather old, the Tamiya/Italeri/ESCI F-100 kit is still a good model. The glitches in the kit are rather minor and any reasonably competent modeler can sort them out (and count me out for that). Coupled with a rather low price (I got mine for RM36.00 which I think is half the price of of Hrumpeter's Hun) it was indeed a bargain.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

турбинный таик!



Historical Background
The T-80 series of Soviet and its successor states' MBTs can trace its origins to turbine-powered tanks proposals designed by one A. Ch. Starostienko for Leningrad Kirovsky Zavod (LKZ) in 1949. The tanks were never built because of very poor quality turbine engines of the time. In 1955, two prototypes were built at the same plant utilising 1,000 hp turbine engines by a team led by one G.A. Oglobin. Two years later, a team led by Josef Kotin constructed two prototypes of Obyekt 278 heavy tank, which were hybrids of the IS-7 and T-10 tanks, powered the GTD-1 turbine engine. Although weighing 53 tons and armed with a 130mm gun, the tank can reach a top speed of 57 km/h. It's range was poor however, due to high fuel consumption. The project was not resumed, not because of economic considerations, but also because of the death of Stalin in 1953 precluded any further work on heavy tanks.

In 1963, the Malyshev Factory in Kharkov, designed a variant of the T-64 tank dubbed the T-64T, powered by 700-hp GTD-3TL turbine engine and was tested until 1965. At the same time, the Uralvagonzavod factory created Obyekt 167T tank, powered by an upgraded (801 hp) GTD-3T turbine. In 1969, another team from LKZ, led by Nikolai Popov, designed a turbine-powered tank designated Obyekt 219 SP1, using the new GTD-1000T multi-fuel gas turbine developed at KB-3 of the LKZ since 1968. It was later renamed T-64T. The increased weight and dynamic characteristics of the more powerful engine than previously used required a complete redesign of the drivetrain and tracks. This resulted in Obyekt 219 SP2 with larger road wheels and return rollers while the road wheels was increased to six (from five previously). The turret was modified to use the same compartment, the 2A46 125mm gun and the autoloader as the T-64A tank. In 1976, Obyekt 219 SP2 was accepted for service as the T-80.

The T-80 has a similar layout with the T-64 with the driver at the front centre of the low, highly sloped hull. The two-man turret has the commander located to the right and the gunner to the left. Apart from welded steel RHA and laminate armour, the sides and the lower hull of the T-80 were protected by rubber flaps and skirts against infantry anti-tank weapons. Power from the engine was transmitted through a manual transmission system with five forward and one reverse gears. The hydropneumatic suspension of the T-64 was replaced with the conventional torsion bar system. The 125mm 2A46 gun was similar to the one arming the T-64 and was loaded using the Korzina automatic loader. While reliable, the system took between 7.1 to 19.5 seconds to load, depending on the initial position of the ammunition carousel.

In 1978, the improved T-80B was introduced. This model featured a new turret, laser rangefinder, fire-control system and a new autoloader. This allowed the B model to fire 9M112 Kobra (NATO AT-8 Songster) anti-tank missiles (and later supplanted by the 9M119 Refleks / AT-11 Sniper missile). In 1980, a new SG-1000 engine rated at 1,100 hp was fitted. In 1982, the B variant received a new gun and in 1985, fittings for explosive reactive armour (ERA) blocks were received. In the same year, Kontakt-1 ERA blocks were fitted to the T-80B, resulting in the T-80BV. The smoke grenade launchers were relocated to the sides of the turret to make way for the ERA bricks. On the front of the turret, the ERA blocks are joined to form a shallow chevron. ERA is also fitted to the front roof of the turret to protect against top-attack weapons such as the Swedish RBS-56 BILL and the BGM-71F version of the TOW missile. While giving additional protection against HEAT rounds, the Kontakt-1 ERA was not effective against APDS and APFSDS rounds. Further development resulted in the T-80U series. Ukraine pursued further development of the T-80, resulting in the diesel-powered T-80UD and the T-84.

Between 1986 through 1987, 2,256 T-80/T-80B/T-80BV were stationed in East Germany and by the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, 4,839 T-80s of all variants were operated by the Soviet Army. Their high speed and powerful armament led concerns in the NATO, leading towards the increase of the development of attack helicopters and anti-tank guided weapons. However, instead of leading the Soviet drive to the Bay of Biscay, they were first deployed during the political and economic turmoil in Russia in the early 1990s. They were first deployed in August 1991 during the attempted coup by hard-line communists and their allied military commanders against Mikhail Gorbachev. T-80UDs of the 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division drove onto the streets of Moscow but the crews' refusal to fire on the crowds and the parliament resulted in the failure of the coup. In 1993, during the Russian constitutional crisis, T-80UDs of the same Division was called upon by president Boris Yeltsin. Six tanks of the 12th Guards Tank Regiment took positions on the bridge opposite the Moscow White House and fired on it.

The true test for the T-80 only came during the First Chechen War. However, they were used in the effort to capture Grozny, a task unsuitable for MBTs and suffered accordingly. The tank crews were inexperienced, whereas the Chechens were mostly veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The T-80s used in the campaign were either baseline T-80B models without ERA blocks or having their ERA blocks empty. Furthermore RPG shots were aimed at the weakest part of the armour. Some tanks suffered catastrophic explosions when the ready rounds in the vertical carousel exploded after contacting the molten jet stream from a HEAT warhead. The T-80 performed so poorly, in that General-Lieutenant A. Galkin, the Head of Armour Directorate, convinced the Ministry of Defence never to procure gas-turbine tanks. In all 225 tanks were destroyed. But the Russians learnt the lesson and the T-80s only gave support to infantry from a safe distance during the Second Chechen War. Nevertheless, the high operating cost of the T-80 precluded its use in subsequent conflicts.

Unlike the T-64, the T-80 was exported to a number of countries, including South Korea (as payment for Soviet-era debt), Egypt, Cyprus, Pakistan and Yemen.  

The Kit
As part of Trumpeter's wave of Soviet/Russian AFV kits, the T-80BV was released together with the baseline T-80B in 2013. The parts were laid across 27 plastic sprues (including 1 clear), two PE frets, the turret shell, the lower hull, a length of braided copper wire plus a decal sheet. No turned metal barrel was included. The parts look well-moulded and based on my experience with the T-64, should have a good fit. Unlike the T-64 however, Trumpeter provided certain parts in plastic as an alternative to PE parts. The turret frontal ERA blocks, a scourge on the already less accurate Dragon kit of the 1990s are of multi-part assembly. While more involved, they should be of better placement. There are a few errors in the instructions and instead of adding an errata sheet, Trumpeter sticked on the revised instuctions where approrpiate. Decals provide markings for four vehicles, all without description:

1. 410, Green (probably during the Soviet era);
2. 41, Green, Tan, Black (current, usually seen during parades)
3. 703, Green, Sand, Grey (probably during the withdrawal of the former GSFG)
4. 210, Green, Black, Grey (current)

Construction
As usual, construction started at the lower hull. The first step is concerned with wheel assembly but I skipped them and go straight for the lower hull. At a first glance, the lower hull featured a lot of detailing and as work commenced it sure involved quite a lot of work: the shock absorber alone consists of five plastic and one brass PE parts, and there are six of them. To save time, I used plastic alternatives instead of PE parts where applicable. Small details on the entrenching blade were left off as they would be hidden by the dust flap. And talking about the latter, Trumpeter provided them in plastic and vinyl. Also, the return rollers were not cleaned up as they would also be hidden behind the RPG skirting. The suspension arms, although having positive alignment tab, were quite loose and I managed NOT to line up the wheels properly. As per my usual style, the lower hull and the wheels were painted at this time (with the wheels still on the sprue). The paint were touched-up after the wheels had come off the sprue. Also, only the outside wheels have their seam lines cleaned up.

Work on the upper hull started by drilling 28 holes into the front glacis plate. This was followed by adding small details onto the plate and once done, the ERA blocks. The holes drilled to fit most of the blocks were symmetrical so you have to make sure the orientation of the blocks before cementing them (I got the main block (part M15), the other way round initially). The completed upper hull was then cemented to the lower hull pan. The engine deck was next. Nothing unusual here except that the mesh for the air intakes were of separate panels, creating extra work. Before proceeding any further, the tracks were assembled and painted. The guide teeth were separate so I add them to the link before joining them together. Again, I got lazy and left the upper run of the track altogether. The fenders were then assembled. Trumpeter provided an option for the mud flaps - styrene or vinyl. I chose the former as the vinyl alternative in my example were deformed. The ERA blocks for the side skirts were of the 'minimal', rather than the 'full option' variety.  


Work on the turret can now commence. As with the T-64, the turret shell was completed first, together with the barrel for the co-axial machinegun. The right-hand side ERA bricks were tackled first. These consist of five pairs of blocks with separate bottoms (presumably to avoid sink marks) with a PE part in between so that the bricks be propped up at the proper angle. They are marked I to V and I found it easier if one worked backwards i.e. V to I. Because of my sloppy handling the wedges aren't really straight. The left-hand ERA wedges were less tedious as most of the were moulded as one and as most would be hidden and just for structural integrity, only the outermost and the middle PE spacers were put in place. The rest of the left cheek ERA bricks are still separate however but they went on easier. The barrel is a two-piece affair with hard-to clean seam lines. Also, like the T-64, there are two mantlet covers, this time I use the raised one. The boxes mounted on the snorkel were placed at roughly 45-degree angle as many photos show them in this position or fully horizontal and not vertical as in the kit instructions. Certain other items were left aside at this time to facilitate painting.

Painting and Decalling
To simplify things and also as a throwback to the Cold War days, my T-80BV was painted green overall. The Trumpeter instructions once again mislabelled 'Light Green' as 'XF-20' (which was Medium Grey). For the green, I used Vallejo Air 71.017 4BO Green. The tracks were painted Vallejo Anthracite Grey and washed with Tamiya XF-72 JGSDF Brown. The RPG skirting was painted Tamiya XF-85 Rubber Grey. Although many photos show the unditching log being painted the same colour as the vehicle, I painted it using wood-y colours using XF-55 Deck Tan as base and afterwards, XF-64 was drybrushed onto it. The mantlet cover and the spent case container were painted XF-49 Khaki. Decaling was very simple as there were only five pieces. Each of the split two-digit number on the right-hand side of the turret shared a single carrier film so it's best to cut the film to avoid it bridging the gap between the ERA bricks on which they are located.

Finishing
I started by adding the dust skirt on the lower front hull. Like the mud flaps, Trumpeter provided two types of the skirt and this time I chose the vinyl alternative. The braided copper wire was then cut to recommended length but then I realised that 110mm was too long - it was too late as the wire has already been superglued to the cable ends. The unditching log was then secured to its place, followed by the external fuel tanks.The rest of 'things around the turret' were then added and the joint scar retouched. The commander's cupola is a mini-kit and was assembled and painted separately with the basic cupola and the NSVT mount being cemented together before the rest of the assembly. One comment here: the commander's sight is solid plastic and I have to use gloss blue/black to simulate glass. The model was then given the usual wash treatment. The whole of the model was then given a thin coat of XF-57 Buff (double coating for the lower extremities). Afterwards a rather thin application of Vallejo Thick Mud was applied to the running gear and lower hull and was then washed with AK Interactive Earth Wash, finishing the build.

Conclusion
I had the old Dragon T-80BV (marketed as T-80 with ERA) years ago and comparing the experience of building the two kits, it goes without much dliberaration that the newer Trumpeter kit was hands down the winner. Sure, there is no such thing as a perfect kit but I have a way much better experience in building this kit. The only 'downside' (if one decides to call it) was the mass of parts needed to assemble (although not as bad as some other companies' or even Trumpeter's other kits), besides I cheated! One particular thing though - the suspension arm should be absolutely be made having a proper fit as it was quite tough to line them up straight and level. A bit more caution should also be exercised when assembling the right-hand side turret ERA blocks as they might not be symmetrical at the end of assembly. Otherwise the kit is very nice.