AFV Club has released the third version of Israeli’s rework of the venerable American M109 Self-Propelled Howitzer (SPH). This time around we meet the ‘Doher’, or ‘Galloper’ - an augmented boxing of their recent ‘Rochev Bet’ release. The M109A2 Doher was fielded in 1993, eventually replacing all of the earlier Rochev models in active service by 1997. After the active service units received their share, the IDF began to replace some of the reserve units' vehicles. Today one can find in the reserve units both the Doher & Rochev models.
All types share the same hull, turret, barrel, engine & transmission. Most of the improvements of the Doher are internal and can't be seen from the outside. That said, external differences include a second turret mounted machine gun, the remotely controlled gun travel lock, silent running diesel powered generator/APU mounted in the right rear turret corner, and the addition of a storage basket mounted on the right side rear corner. Additionally, the commander’s turret has a different shape and can be locked in a slit position, a position that does not exist in the Rochev. Finally, the Doher sports different Tactical markings since the upgraded capabilities of the Doher drove changes in the way an artillery battery is operated. Beside the normal IDF V's and numbers, there is also Hebrew letter markings (Aleph, Beit, Gimel).
Opening the Box
The sturdy AFV Club kit box is relatively heavy and filled to the brim with parts and extras. The plastic is soft and in places, very thin, but I did not find any warpage or damage in shipping. There was some flash but nothing significant and what is there is limited to the smallest parts. The kit is replete with a variety of extras including a very nice spring-loaded metal barrel and extra metal bits, an excellent IDF posable figure cast in resin, soft-vinyl combat boots, a host of personal weapons, and a bunch of extra shells and shell casings, complete with their own decal sheet of stencils. The ‘rubber band’ track is well molded and takes paint and glue just fine.
Curiously, there is very little in the way of combat stowage for the four large bustles and two front racks – you’ll have to go to your spare parts box to fill those items up.
The contents of the box include:
- 21 sprues in soft, light-tan plastic, packaged separately.
- Solid aluminum barrel, packaged separately
- Turret (two pieces), packaged separately.
- 1 soft nylon sprue of wheel inserts (so the wheels can be removed for painting)
- 1 soft DS-type sprue of combat boots and gun tarp
- 1 metal spring for the main weapon
- 1 length of string for the wire spool connecting the vehicle with forward fire control
- 1 photo-etch sheet, including wrap-around basket mesh for the two front baskets
- 1 clear plastic sprue
- 1 small bag of resin parts for a single IDF figure, with weapon.
- 2 small sheets of decals with markings for three vehicles
- 1 28-page black and white instruction booklet with 47 steps, including three pages of color, 5-view decal placement and paint guides.
The kit comes with three schemes represented using five-view drawings and two small (but perfectly registered) sheets of decals printed in Taiwan. The three color schemes represent vehicles unknown units.
The side-bounded instruction booklet, unfortunately, does not contain a list of unused parts – an omission which is compounded by the fact that the parts map is printed on one half of one page - too small to read the numbers. In addition, in many places in the instructions, the part numbers are super-imposed directly over the main image (see image) which makes it a challenge to keep track of what has been added and what still needed to be attached. It would be better to pull the part numbers away and to the sides of the main images to help the modeler.
On the plus side the instructions contain color call-outs for Gunze Sangyo (lacquers and acrylics), Humbrol, Revell and Lifecolor, and the decal placement instructions are supplied in beautiful, five-view CAD images. Also, AFV Club thoughtfully included a page showing the history of the M109 in images, as fielded since 1962, (sans the three IDF versions, however).
Things to consider before starting:
The plastic used in the kit is soft; softer than what you might find in most other model kits. If you are like me and use a scalpel as your go-to hobby knife, you will want to take extra care in cleaning the parts before assembly. This is especially true with the many parts that are small and delicate - a deft touch is the key here.
There is a lot of detail across the top and sides of the vehicle, and if you choose to add your own combat loads into the bustles and forward stowage racks you will need to carefully stage your build in order to make sure everything is painted and ready before final assembly.
While AFV Club includes a lot of extras in the box, like crates, weapons, and artillery rounds, there is nothing in the form of baggage and such for the bustles and storage racks. I went to my trusty spare parts box for these items.
The Lower Chassis, Running Gear and Main Deck
Assembly begins with the lower chassis, which comes together with separate bottom, sides, front and back. There are internal side extensions that fit above the track, filling in the gaps between the sides and the upper deck. The fit of everything is spot on and sturdy when finished.
The instructions will have you drill a variety of holes in the sides of the vehicle to accept equipment (Steps 2 and 3) but does not provide anything in the way of go-by’s to do this. Rather than guess where the holes should go, I decided to leave the sides as they are and attach things as I saw fit later.
The running gear is next, consisting of separate torsion bars and five-part wheels that can be pushed on the axles and removed later for painting with the addition of nylon inserts.
The main deck of the chassis fits together in five large pieces, including two flat sides that slide on perfectly at the end. But this is where things start to get tricky. The surface of the main deck is covered with detail that is attached over the next few steps (9-12) -steps that are illustrated with the part numbers superimposed over the images. I assume these were illustrated in this manner to conserve space, but the effect is confusing and difficult to follow (see image).
The intricate gun travel lock assembly can be built in either the travel position or stowed. That wasn’t exactly clear to me and I accidently let it dry in the travel position.
The only hiccup for me in the build was in the next Step (16), where the return rollers are assembled and placed on the vehicle. I reversed Parts C28 and C29, so when the remaining two suspension pieces were added, it ended up moving the wheel far higher than it is supposed to be, according to online references and images. The parts only fit one way on to C28/C29 so I was confident I had things right at the time. Once dry, the location of the wheel made it difficult to remove and reattach - the tension on the track requires a nice, sturdy bond. As a consequence, the clearance for the track is nil, and the fenders splay upwards once the track is attached. That one’s on me.
Steps 17 and 18 bring the position-able spades together – a nice design here. In Steps 19-22 you attach all the detail to the sides of the vehicle. Since I passed on guessing where the holes to be drilled were back in Step 2, I attached things based on references and where things had to go to allow space for other stuff, like bedrolls, etc., from my spare parts box. Most of these, and the nicely molded ammunition crates included in the kit were left off for painting, to be attached later. I also left off the tow cables since, on my vehicle, there would be little room to spare for them.
AFV Club provides two lengths of relatively stiff nylon/plastic track runs in the kit. They are nicely detailed and take glue, paint and weathering products well. They have quite a bit of sag in them, so I had to glue the stiff track down onto the tops of the running gear to keep it from bowing up. Even thought the return rollers were attached too high, I still had to remove two links from each side to make them fit. (See image)
The 155mm L39 Main Gun
The multi-media main weapon included in the kit is impressive. The main barrel and several other bits are made of solid turned aluminum and brass, and the fit of everything is perfect. That said, there is a vertical ‘blade’ that extends down from Part E12 in the instructions that is AWOL. It has no number, and I could not find anything in the unused parts that matched it. Unfortunately, that blade is key to attaching the muzzle-velocity radar above the main tube. I had to add a chunk of plastic and use a lot of slow-drying glue to coax it into place as it dried.
One final note: When assembled, the 155mm gun is relatively heavy, and will tend to make the turret want to flip out of your hands accidentally (ask me how I know). Just be careful when handling the model after Step 29!
The rest of the build (Steps 29–44) bring together the busy and beautiful turret. The turret itself is made up of three very thin parts that are strong enough when assembled but getting there is tricky. I had to glue the bottom (Part O2) to the main turret (Part O1) in stages, adding the back of the turret last.
Like most modern combat vehicles, the Doher is loaded with detail. AFV Club gives you the option of adding what looks like a laser range finder or simply filling the hole with a flat round plate. I chose the latter, adding it at the end of weathering since it is fitted with a clear plastic front shield.
There are two rear bustles and two front storage racks that really give the Doher a busy, combat look. Cleaning and assembling these, however, is not for the feint of heart. The fit is excellent, however, and if you use a little patience they come together quite well. Once assembled and dry, they are remarkably strong and hold up well while you go about adding things on top and inside of them. The most challenging part of finishing these was adding the PE mech to the front two storage racks. I first annealed the PE to help it conform to shape, and then glued the mesh on one area at a time until it completely covered the racks underneath.
The large commander’s hatch up top can be positioned open or closed, and contains some internal detail, but there is no detail provided inside the turret. A figure set into the opening will sufficiently fill the void, however.
A nylon sail fits over the top of the main gun mount in Step 40. The ‘DS-like’ material takes paint and glue just like plastic and will bend and conform to shape no matter what elevation the gun is set at.
Before starting on the two turret-mounted machine guns in Step 44, drill two holes in Part 5U2 to accept Parts U22 and U23. Likewise, the ammunition boxes do not have any apparent connection points. I used slow-drying Testor’s ‘Black Bottle’ cement and coaxed them into place.
There is also an issue with the image and part numbers in the instructions in Step 44, and the parts on the sprue. The side-mounted gun magically grows a vertical ‘mounting post’ extending down from gun in the instructions but the post is not included on the parts listed. Fortunately, if you hunt around the HUGE amount of unused gun parts in the kit you will find what you need to finish out this gun properly.
The last sequence in the instructions guides you through assembling and dressing up the large number of personal weapons and artillery rounds included in the box, ostensibly for use in dioramas. The shells and casings come with their own sheet of decals and are quite detailed.
In addition, there are instructions for creating antenna using stretched sprue. Never being successful in that area, I added two antennas from my spare parts box.
Painting and Finish
Except for priming and pre-shade coats, I used Vallejo Model Air paints throughout. I’ve come to really like airbrushing this paint from a health standpoint, and I appreciate the amazing variety of ready-made colors available locally.
Primer and Pre-shade
I started by applying a coat of (rattlecan) Krylon Flat Black Paint/Primer for my dark, primer/pre-shade coat. Surprisingly, this low-cost solution sprays on easily and dries very thin and level – replacing a time-intensive task I normally use an airbrush and more expensive paint for. I use a dark primer coat to give the plastic and PE some grip, and to fill in the recesses - creating a shadow effect near the flat surface edges and adding depth for the subsequent coats to come.
Camouflage and On-Deck Baggage and Equipment
After the primer had degassed, I followed the pre-shade coat with Vallejo’s 73.614 IDF Israeli Sand Grey Surface Primer. Once that was set for a few minutes I laid down a light post-shade coat of Vallejo 73.613 Desert Tan Surface Primer. These primers work just like paint and they are a heck of a deal in the size they come in, considering the cost of the standard size paint bottles.
I painted most of the baggage a mixture of 66% Tamiya XF-49 Khaki and 33% XF-20 Medium Grey, followed by a dusting of Vallejo 70.613 Desert Tan. The straps are Vallejo Panzer Aces 340 Afrika Korps Highlight. Gas cans were painted MMP 088 US Army Olive Drab Faded and Water cans are MMP 035 NATO Black.
I painted the distance markers by first lining them up on a stickyboard and spraying them with Tamiya White Primer. Once dry, I ran three even strips of Tamiya tape across all the poles, and then laid down a layer of Tamiya Gloss Red. This left the bottom side of the poles unpainted, but I made sure that side was facing downward when I added them to the rack on the vehicle.
The shovel and sledge hammer heads s were first painted Tamiya NATO Black, and then detailed with Uschi Chrome powder. The shafts were painted using Tamiya XF-59 Desert Yellow, and then, when dry, covered with MIG Brown Wash Oil paint from a tube. I let this sit for a few minutes and then rubbed most of the oil off with a clean brush, leaving enough residue to simulate wood grain and dirt.
The machine guns were painted flat black, and then detailed with Vallejo Saddle Brown and Uschi Chrome metallic powder. I painted the ammunition boxes the same Khaki/Medium grey mixture as the baggage. The ration boxes are Tamiya paper boxes from my spare parts box. To fill the gaps in the bustles and stowage racks, I cut up small pieces of flat black fabric and poked it into place with tweezers.
Decals and Photo Etch
With painting finished, I laid down a thick coat of Future floor polish to give the decals a smooth surface to slide on to. Once the Future was dry I went about applying the decals using the Red and Blue MicroSol and MicroSet products. The decals were very thin and surprisingly stubborn once on the surface. Patience prevailed, however, and I was able to coax them into place.
Before I laid down a second, sealing coat of Future, I attached all the loose deck equipment and bags – anything that would need to be weathered with the rest of the vehicle. The second coat of Future would set the surface of these items up for washes and streaking.
When the Future was dry to the touch, I went to work adding a pin wash using Mig Dark Wash mixed (1:10) with Mona Lisa thinner. Once satisfied, I knocked down the shiny areas using Vallejo 70.520 Flat Varnish, followed by a coat of ‘road dust’ along the wheels and lower superstructure using Model Air 71.027 Light Brown. I also used this color to ‘tone down’ the decals a little.
Finally, I carefully added the two machine guns, the ‘glass’-fronted range finder, and added two antennas to the turret. Done, done and done!
No doubt about it, this kit was a challenge to build, and to finish. AFV Club has a solid reputation for offering unusual, highly accurate injection-molded kits. This is especially true for the Doher, their fourth foray into the M109A2 Self-Propelled Howitzer family.
That said, this kit is not for the faint of heart. You have to know what you’re doing, have a lot of patience, and you need to know how to slow down. Sometimes there are no easily-defined connection points between parts, or they are absent altogether.
AFV Club chooses to focus on accuracy, and sometimes, in my opinion, this comes at the expense of buildability. Much of the detail is composed of tiny, exquisitely formed parts that would go together perfectly on a one-to-one, full-scale vehicle, but don’t necessarily translate well to a vehicle that is only seven inches long. Positive locator pins or holes would help a lot, as well as (common) assists found on other kits, such as interior ridges and/or insets that may not have existed on the real thing, but including them, out of sight, is no crime on a model kit.
Still, I was more than satisfied with the end result, and all that busy detail looks great on the finished model.
The number of small parts, the complicated assemblies and use of photoetch leads me to recommend this kit to experienced modelers only. Go slow, pre-fit everything, and above all, have fun!
I would like to sincerely thank AFV Club for providing this kit for review, and to IPMS USA for giving me the opportunity to build it.