2018 seemed to be the year of the Panther from the start and there certainly was no shortage of releases of the variants from many of the big companies. As 2019 rolled around, Jagdpanthers and Bergepanthers seemed to continue the trend. However, about mid-year, there were whispers of the companies releasing their own version on the venerable US Sherman tank. Taska, now Asuka, certainly has set the bar high and we have seen as the summer rolled along that Rye Field Models and Meng have entered their own horses into the race. My focus here is on the M4A3(76)W release by Meng, complete with an extra added resin sandbag armor set SPS-070 ($57.00).
What’s Inside the Box
There are some definite perks in this kit that sets it apart-- one of the main ones being the twelve working metal volute springs for the suspension. Even the box they come in is useful as there are two box patterns to use to make a cardboard case of Jack Daniels and Chesterfield cigarettes. The first 1000 boxes came with a metal barrel to replace the two piece plastic and I was fortunate enough to receive one of these. There are ten tan sprues, two clear sprues, an upper and lower hull, cable and wire, a PE fret, and a decal sheet featuring four schemes. My kit box was pretty banged up when it arrived from China and some of the sprues were bent up a bit. The package also included the aforementioned sandbag armor set. One of the clear sprues consists of the jig to assemble the individual link parts into lengths of 11 links. The decal schemes include:
- “Thunderbolt VI”, Lt. Col. Creighton Abrams, 37th Tank Battalion, 4th Armored Division, US Army, Battle of the Bulge, Bastogne, Belgium, December, 1944.
- Vehicle Unknown, 709th Tank Battalion attached to 75th Infantry Division, US Army, Operation Nordwind, Northwest Colmar, France, January 1945
- Vehicle Unknown, 709th Tank Battalion attached to 75th Infantry Division, US Army, Alsace, France, February 1945
- 761st Tank Battalion, US Army, Austria, Spring 1945
We begin with the construction of the suspension and road wheel assemblies. The metal volute springs are pretty tight and one of the suspensions came out a bit wonky, although I think that might have been due to the damage suffered in shipping when some of the sprues were a bit bent up. The assembly was not too shabby other than that and they look great put together.
The lower hull went together with no hitches. The exhaust deflector comes as six separate pieces and can be a bit fiddly if you rush things, but look great when you are done. After attaching all the wheels to the lower hull, we start the least desirable part of the whole build, the track assembly. There are no link and length or rubber band tracks here...although as I started this step I sincerely wished there were. The track pads were fine, but the separate guide horns were problematic. The provided jig helps one to assemble the pads 11 at a time and the provided wire is intended to be used to connect everything together and make it workable. However, the wire proved to be too small in diameter and did not provide the needed friction to hold everything together. I ended up going to the craft store for .015” beading wire. While it was more suitable, the guide horns still spun around. In the end I needed to use white glue to keep everything in place while still having the flexibility needed to wrap around the sprocket and rear idler. Each side requires 79 links and I did assemble one side, but went with a spare rubber band track provided from a friend to keep my sanity intact.
Upper hull is assembled next and the top deck consists of three separate parts to sit over where an engine might be. I imagine at some point there might be an interior included and these separate parts would be quite suitable for showing off an engine. The upper hull is then attached to the lower. At this point all the fiddly lights, grab handles, and hatches ensues. A jig is included to bend the PE front and rear light guards, although plastic parts of these are also included in the kit. I found the jig quite easy to use and have a comparison shot of both together.
The rear plate with spare track link holders and the jerry can rack is next. Tools are also attached, as well as the engine deck plates and tow cable. At this point, you have a choice of adding either the side fenders or the duckbill extensions to the tracks...but you can’t have both. From my references, the duckbills are supposed to slide over the guide horns, but these attach right to the ends instead and so don’t fit all that well if you’re not careful.
We move to the gun breech assembly which was a welcome reprieve from the tracks. Things fit quite well, although you won’t see any of it if you don’t leave your hatches open. The breech assembly then fits into the top turret and the base parts attach over it all. The turret hatches and commander’s cupola assemblies follow. All of the fiddly bits like the searchlight, antenna base, machine gun mounts, and mantlet base continue here. The machine gun assembly is quite fiddly, but the cooling holes are all drilled out and the barrels are slide molded so no drilling required. There is the option to have it stowed away or deployed. I chose deployed, but it has a tendency to lean down despite my best efforts. The gun barrel assembly and turret attachment complete the build instructions. I was fortunate to have the metal barrel so this was quite simplified for me.
Painting and Weathering
I’ll admit, when I saw the kit box top, I was sold on the Thunderbolt VI scheme as Abrams was such an iconic figure in Patton’s 4th Armored Division. As I perused the rest of the book and saw the 761st scheme, my mind was changed. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Tuskegee Airman and painting their red tailed Mustangs in my aircraft builds. Having the option of recreating their armored equivalent was not something I could pass up. Plus all the excellent decals of “Cool Studs Inc.” sealed the deal for me. The Deep Green and Olive Drab scheme was the only one that didn’t include whitewash, and I used Vallejo Model Air paints for these. Some AMMO by Mig Decal Fix and Set helped snug the decals down.
Then I realized, tragically, that I was about to cover most of these decals up with the resin set of sandbag armor that Meng sent along. I also ended up taking the front lights and tow cable off as they would not fit with the two large resin pieces I was about to attach. The two large L-shaped pieces went along the sides of the hull pretty well, but there were some gaps. Luckily, Meng includes a half dozen or so single sandbags to add as you wish and they helped hide the gaps pretty well. I used Model Air paints for the tacks and sandbags. Weathering included AMMO washes and pigments.
Overall, I was quite pleased with the overall results of the build. I definitely am not a huge fan of how these tracks were assembled. I think if the guide horns weren’t separate, things might have gone smoother for me. If given the choice, I would have definitely gone with link and length or rubber band types instead as the track assembly of these links were really the most challenging part of the whole build. In the end, the tracks took me much longer to complete than I would normally take. Someone more skilled than I would’ve probably not had any problems, but the fact that the included wire was too skinny definitely hampered construction. Other than that, the fit was great and the build was really quite enjoyable. My sincere thanks to Meng and IPMS-USA for the chance to build this review sample.