17pdr Self-Propelled Gun "Archer"

Published on
Review Author(s)
Scale
1/35
MSRP
$73.00
Product / Stock #
CB-35074
Company: Bronco Models - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Dragon Models USA - Website: Visit Site
Box Art

Background

I'm sure, no matter what you model in WW2, you've heard of the British 17-pounder, most notably in the Sherman “Firefly’'. Well, there was also a towed version – however, it wasn't the most mobile piece, so the British looked for a way to create an SP gun. Fortunately, they avoided cloning the Bishop and instead came up with a new design based on the existing Valentine tank. To keep it compact, the gun faced over the rear deck in a rather low and sleek fighting compartment. The disadvantage of this layout is, of course, that one can't fire on the move, but it is great for ambush scenarios where you back into a firing position, crank off a few, and scoot away, and that ultimately became the fighting doctrine for this weapon.

There was a slight glitch in that the driver had to dismount while the gun was firing, so there was a delay while he remounted, etc. Nonetheless, it was a powerful weapon system, unfortunately delayed in production so it didn't really show in combat in NWE until Oct '44, and even later in Italy. After the war, it was used by the British Army until near the 60's and in several Mid-east countries – Syria, Egypt, etc. – so there are lots of possibilities.

Finally, the manufacturers, and modelers, appear to be tiring of yet another SdKfz.123.456/A(1) (Mid) mit UmptySqwats but keine Zimmerit, yada, yada, yada that never saw light of day – same with the infinite variations on the Sherman, curved, riveted, wet, dry, HVSS, VVSS, whatever – and we're getting some good British armor and weaponry – Valentine, Dingo, new Matilda, Humber, 2-pdr, Bofors, 17-pdr, among others, and figures to with them with promise of more to come.

Chicken or Egg question. Jumping slightly ahead of myself, the plastic in this kit, at least all the hull components, is identical to that of the MiniArt Valentines. The instructions are not the same, interestingly enough.

The Kit

OK, back to the good stuff – STOP!!!! Do not open the kit box unless you want it to stay that way !!! No kidding, it is chock full and it will not, repeat, NOT close up neatly again. Maybe I'll get another and photograph it step by step as I pull out stuff to see if I can get it back in again…

In particular, do not start opening bags without first locating the tiny 1/4" x 1/4" x 1/8" bag containing 2 springs and securely taping it somewhere you will remember. I did my first inventory at sprue level, without opening bags,and the spring bag was there, with the PE and decals, I think. Then, when I went back to opening bags for photographs – well look closely, you won't see it. A couple hours later, it dawned on me and I was back on the floor crawling around until I located it.

OK, there are about 485 injection parts, not counting those greyed-out, and another 216 pieces for track. There are about 200 photo-etch pieces with about half being replacement tie-down cleats and shell lifting handles. There are the previously mentioned springs, a string, 4 clear parts, a sheet of decals, and a 32 page instruction book. Also several sprue runners have various tiny nuts, wingnuts, etc, you can trim off and use -- I won't inflate the part count by including them.

On quick inspection, the parts are excellent. I see some thin flash along edges, some thin seams, and just a few shallow ejector marks on the interior walls of the fighting compartment. There are a lot of fine, tiny little parts - I will say this more than once. And I guess that tightly packed box kept things safe, because I see no damaged or broken parts. Off to a good start, assuming I don't lose too many of those fine, tiny little parts.

I see two issues – well, maybe one issue and a complaint. Terry Ashley has pointed out that, when assembled, the road wheels appear spaced too far apart. Terry thinks the large and small road wheels are a tad too small, about 0.9mm diameter. I think the real issue may be that the bogey assembly isn't quite right. I laid the road wheels over the drawings in my references – the small road wheels seem right on, while the large ones seem to be too small, about what Terry says. However, the axles of an assembled bogey are also a tad too far apart on the sub-bogey (B11) holding two small road wheels, and then between that and the large road wheel. Each discrepancy is tiny, but additive. Regardless of exactly why it is wrong, I do agree with Terry – if it's that important to you, fix it. I won't – dig this thing into a hasty emplacement diorama and you might not even see it anyway.

The complaint is mine. One option allows for additional track (34 pieces) to be hung off the driver's compartment, I suppose as additional frontal protection, but the kit does not provide this. Instead, they tell you to buy their AB3536 Valentine Track Set. The kit comes with 216 pieces of track but only needs 202 for the track itself, leaving 14 unused pieces – to make 34 total, they only needed to provide 2 more sprues of the kit track. The extra track set runs about $17, and then you'd have 16 extra sprues of track you can't use. What are you to do – find 5 buddies to split the cost, build 5 more Archers yourself, short-track a Valentine? Stepping off soap-box, now...

I say the instruction book has 32-pages, but the last two don't contribute anything, so you have 30 pages, with a one-page potted history, one page of symbols and paints, one page of sprue layout, 23 pages covering 42 assembly steps, and 4 pages of color & markings. The assembly steps are typical Bronco – usually well-organized, mostly very clear – loaded with info but not so crammed you can't read them. My usual "complaint" is that their very finely detailed line drawings sometime obscure what you are doing, so check carefully. There are places were the assembly arrows are overly complicated and actually obscure what the final assembly should look like (eg., seats in steps 11 & 12). They have used color well to emphasize some hidden positions, options, photo-etch, and tricky steps.

Speaking of seats, they come in one position – travelling. If you want them in firing position, which is an option, you'll have to figure out folding the seats yourself.

Detail painting instructions are spotty to non-existent. Obviously, being open-top, a lot of it is simply hull color. In a few places, the radio and the ammo, there are color call-outs, but that's about it. And there is plenty of detail to wear, weather, paint, etc., so have a ball.

There are only two build options, early and late version. The problem is they say nothing about what the versions are, or what they mean in terms of the markings provided. Inspection of the parts shows that late version vehicles had tow pintles fore and aft. None of the markings illustrations show tow pintles, so I guess they are all early. In any respect, there is nothing particularly sexy about early or late, so it's no real issue. There are a few build options specific to a couple of the markings option vehicles by serial number, but the instructions aren't always clear about that.

So let's look at options. The instruction book provides 4 vehicle camo and marking options, but two of them are the same serialed vehicle in same markings, just different camo colors. The decal sheet actually provides seven different serial numbers but no clue as to what to do with them or whether the other markings should vary – in fact, there are some unreferenced decals that may be important to all this.

Here's what I think I know:

  • Option 1: S79620, Polish 7th AT Regt, 2 Armoured Bde, Italy, 1943 in a Light Mud scheme.
  • Option 2: same vehicle but in an Olive Drab scheme.
  • Option 3: S279769, 3rd AT Regt, RCA, Can 3rd Inf Div, NWE, in plain Olive Drab.
  • Option 4: S279543, 15th Scottish Div, NWE, Winter 1944-45, in an Olive Drab scheme.

Also on the decal sheets:

  • S279917 is a variation on Option 3.
  • S279776, S279793, S279820 appear with the Option 4 decals and are assumed variations thereon ?

From what I can figure out, in my opinion, option 1 is spurious and option 2 is a misinterpretation of photos. There are photos of this vehicle and what Bronco suggests is black camo may just be residue from weatherproofing gunk applied during shipping.

The Build

Having finally learned my lesson with other tracked vehicles, I started with the track. There are 216 pieces of track, and each has 3 sprue attachments for a total of 648 snips, followed by 3-4 swipes of a sanding stick each. I will simply tell you that it takes one NCAA semi-final basketball game to accomplish this task. You also now know how over-due this review is… They go together easily but the connection isn't strong; I found links separating with the slightest bump and then I started getting superglue happy – you'll see some "kinks" in the final shots. I'd recommend leaving them off until everything else is done, unless you are using the side skirts, in which case I can only say be careful.

The first 3 steps are assembling road wheels and bogies and there are three small mistakes and two places to be careful. First, the mistakes – in step 1, wheel half B3 does not have a hole through it as the drawing shows; in step 3, the G-runner is really the C-runner; and there is no wheel part B2, just use a B1 as you did in step 1.

In step 1 there is a no-glue symbol pointing at the sprocket (B20) and cap (B49) – what I think they are really trying to say is to slide the sprocket (B20) onto the final drive (B21/22) then glue the cap (B49) onto the final drive axle so the sprocket spins freely. And don't glue on the brake assembly (B24/23) until the other is dry and correct. If you look further, you'll see that no road or idler wheels turn, so you want to be sure the sprocket does. Then in step 2, you run into a similar situation with B41/42, B11, and the cap B10. You want B11 to rotate freely in B41/42, held on by the cap. However, there is a further problem – the cap is a tight fit into B41/42 and you may not get any rotation, important to having your road wheels on the ground. I ended up reaming out B41/42 with a 0.3mm drill and knife. Again, don't seal B41/42 and B43/44 until you know that B11 is properly mounted.

If you have not done a Valentine suspension before, know that it is almost impossible to get the road wheels neatly lined up. There is only a short "axle" going into the wheels so they'll wobble and the suspension arms move all over the place. I laid some track down and tried to use that as a guide while poking and prodding various wheels to stand up straight, be aligned fore-aft, and all that.

This is just a long build with many fine parts. At a certain point, you have to decide if you care. For example, the tiny PE tie-downs – in many places there are little molded-on tie-downs you can scrape off and replace with better PE ones. I did that in step 8 – I went through 12 of the PE ones to get 8 good ones mounted, then later on knocked off 4 of them. At that point I punted tie-downs, but the problem with that decision is that not all places have molded-on tie-downs, some just have little circles to show where the PE ones should be mounted. Same with a number of other PE parts, they are too small to make those folds, some of them less than 1/16" wide.

The transmission compartment has full detail, less lines and cables – see steps 6 and 7. If the radiators were swung open it would all show; the parts seem to imply this is possible, although the kit doesn't offer it as an option. It seemed that all one had to do was fiddle with the back deck and hatch in steps 17 and 18 to show it off. Unfortunately, when all was said and done, the radiators would not swing fully open once I put on part A33. Given this, you can probably skip much of steps 6 & 7 or at least not put in much effort.

I did something wrong, and I am still not sure what it was. Somehow, in step 15, when mounting the deck assembly to the hull, it would not fit – the deck assembly appeared to be about 1/16 inch too narrow and on a test fit, the front plate, part A16, would not fit unless I took about 1/16" out of it. Same issue with the front glacis, part A33. Also, it was difficult to locate the deck assembly, including assemblies 12 and 18, in the hull properly fore-and-aft. The net of all this was, as I feared, when I got to step 25, mounting the fighting compartment walls, the front wall, assembly 27, didn't fit. I have "solved" the problem with some severe butchery and some plastic strip.

All I can say, since I still do not know what I did wrong, is be very careful – perhaps test fit further in advance than I did before applying any glue.

Anyway, here we are at step 25 with the hull and fighting compartment done. Note all the shells and the two piece lifting devices on each. The white piece should be fabric and not all nice and neat, so if you really want to go all out...

Now we switch to the gun and mount. You'll note a subtle shift in the plastic as you do. Some sprue gates are a bit thicker. Be careful snipping off the gates as sometimes they include a tiny piece of detail – study the picture in the instructions before snipping. But on the nifty side, most every edge join is beveled and so you get a really nice clean join requiring little, if any, clean-up.

There are a few places one needs to study the instructions carefully – there are parts glued to an empty flat surface, so exact location is up to you. The exhaust system has a specific alignment but the keyed parts (De30) are free-floating in the muffler. And again, some of the photo-etch is simply too small to fiddle with, which could also be said of some plastic parts. You could easily be feeding the carpet monster on quantity of parts but not volume…

There is a tremendous amount of detail on the gun and mount; the breech will even slide open/closed if you are careful with the glue. The instructions really needed a few after assembly drawings.

I deferred adding the mount (step 28) until I had the rest of the gun and compartment ready, then did all three in step 33. It isn't all that easy. The gun has a very limited traverse and Bronco implements that, but it doesn't make for a very stable mount. This causes problems trying to get the gunshield properly glued to the front of the mount. I finally took it apart, glued the mount solidly in place, then glued the gun to the mount, then tackled getting the shield on properly. Needless to say, with all that glue, I did not need the travel lock. Do be sure the sight on the gun is poking through the hole in the shield.

From here, you are into the final assembly of all sorts of little stuff to the exterior – but don't get complacent. In step 34 the instructions don't tell you that you need two headlight assemblies (P12, Da1) and thus don't warn you that they must be handed -- look ahead to step 36. Also, the hole in P12 isn't big enough to fit Da1. And note the instructions (which I ignored) for running wiring to the lights.

The two driver's periscopes have seven parts each – talk about detail, but it's hard to see. The instructions do not tell you that you can use clear part Da4 for the body instead of De31. Also in step 35 is something that looks like a rangefinder, part C93, but it doesn't go anywhere – it's just there on the page.

Watch yourself, steps 36 and 39 aren't always clear in what parts are used with vehicle S279620. Assembly 33 is not used in step 36 but you won't find that out until step 39. Likewise, in step 39, the instructions don't tell you that the spare roadwheels are for S279620 only. You might want to sand off the raised placement markers.

The tow ropes are interesting – the two cables are double-stranded, making a whole new challenge in cutting 4 equal length pieces. The instructions don't give a length, but 4-1/2" is about right. I think the front-left attachment (De17) is too far back and the loop-ends conflict with other parts, so I moved it forward under the spotlight. I found it easiest to glue string ends together, then glue that single piece to the end-loops rather than try to glue individual pieces.

Ignore the paint, I mixed up a bad batch evidently and what looks OK on the bench doesn't show well on the camera in this light. And, no, I didn't decal it, weather it, wear it, or anything – I may "re-camouflage" it later on. I tested a few odd pieces of decal and had no problem applying them to scrap plastic, so I don't foresee any problems with the main items.

Summary

I'm going to give the kit a highly recommended, with reservations. It is a really, really, finely detailed, state of the art kit, but not at all for the inexperienced modeler or the faint of heart.

As I got to the end of the build, I found myself wishing for an extra sprue De, the one with many tiny little parts. Of course, at other times in the build, I found myself wishing for the same thing about other sprues with tiny little parts. You might think my comment about the spare track links at the beginning a bit facetious, but it carries through the rest of the kit – there are no extra tiny little parts, anywhere. This elevates the anxiety level around the build, a penny-wise, pound-foolish philosophy that risks modeler favor.

I really can't say enough about how the modeling gods are favoring the British modeler at this time, not just with high quality but with new subjects, and Bronco is one of the leaders. If you just have to have an Archer, there is no reason to wait – there won't be one better than this. But realize that you need to hone your tiny, tiny part-handling skills before you start on your journey. The good news is that it's hard to conceive what an aftermarket set would have that the kit already doesn't (except maybe some spare tiny little parts). You get through this, you'll have a gem.

I would like to sincerely thank Dragon USA and Bronco for supplying the review kitm and IPMS/USA for allowing me to review it. As usual, I apologize to Dragon, Bronco, and the membership for the lateness of this review.

References

  • British Infantry Tank Mk.III Valentine (Armor PhotoHistory #3), Dick Taylor, Model Centrum PROGRES, Warsaw, Poland, 2010, ISBN13: 978-83-60672-15-0.
  • British Armored Fighting Vehicles (WW2 AFV Plans), George Bradford, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA, 2008, ISBN13: 978-0-8117-3453-0.
  • Warpaint Colours and Markings of British Army vehicles 1903-2003 Volume 2, Dick Taylor, Mushroom Model Press, Sandomierz, Poland, 2009, ISBN 978-83-89450-92-0.
  • British Military Markings 1939-1945, Peter Hodges & Michael D. Taylor, Cannon Publications, Notts, England, 1994, ISBN 1-899695-00-1.
  • British Army Colours and Disruptive Camouflage in the United Kingdom, France, and NW Europe 1936-1945, Mike Starmer, self-published, 2005 (contact mike_starmer@hotmail.com).
  • British Middle East Colours Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy 1943-1945, Mike Starmer, self-published, 2003, amended 2010 (contact mike_starmer@hotmail.com).

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