Dragon's latest Panzer III represents the Panzerkampfwagen III Sd Kfz. 141/1 Ausf L "Late" production. This kit is a bit of a mix and match from earlier kits, most notably the 2010 Dragon Models 6606 PzIII Ausf N with Winterketten. It also shares a bit of pedigree with the 2011 release of the Cyber Hobby 6422 Pz III ausf L Vorpanzer which builds an "Early" version of the Ausf L.
As early as 1940, Hitler ordered the Pz III to be equipped with the 5 cm Kw.K. L60 but it wasn't until December 1941 that the weapon was finally fitted to the Pz III ausf J. The Pz III Ausf J with the extra armor (Vorpanzer) and the L60 gun evolved into the Pz III ausf L and earlier Ausf Js with these features were re-designated Ausf Ls. Production of the Ausf L ran from June to December 1942 with a total run of 653 vehicles.
"Early", "Mid", and "Late" are terms historians and modelers have applied to help identify production changes. In reality, factory output never followed such a designation so there really isn’t a “Late” Ausf L. I compiled a list of production changes that when combined would result in a “Late” production vehicle but there are numerous photos which show a real mix and match of features.
- Fender side lights and horn were dropped - May 1942
- Elimination of the hull side escape hatches - June 1942
- Turret side vision ports not fully eliminated until July 1942
- Addition of turret mounted smoke launchers - September 1942
- Hull bullet splash guard eliminated from production - October 1942
The kit is up to Dragon's usual high standards of detailing and molding. It contains a box stuffed with sprues molded in light gray plastic, two bags of individual links or Magic Tracks for the Winterketten, a small fret of PE, and a small sheet of decals printed by Cartograf. The decals include three marking options; Pz.Rgt. 15, 11.Pz.Div., Kharkov 1943 and two options for an Unidentified Unit, Kharkov 1943, all with a Panzer Gray base with mottled winter white wash.
All turret and hull hatches are molded separately though no hull interior is provided and the turret interior is limited to an incomplete gun assembly and commander’s seat. Since this kit is a mix and match from prior releases, there are a lot of left over parts for the spares bin. But don’t be too hasty, some of those “extras” can be used in this build. See build notes for details.
The instructions are Dragon’s illustrated line art style and are pretty clear for the most part but there are a few mistakes that I will include in my build description.
Instead of following the instructions step by step, I will break my build notes into sections of the vehicle.
The Lower Hull is molded as one piece with very nice slide molded detail. Molded separately are the side hull front extensions, lower bow armor and rear armor plates. Assembly is pretty straight forward but I would make one modification. In Step 1 they have you glue B2(B3)to the Idler Wheel mount which is then glued to the hull. The rear hull is then installed in Step 6. If the idler wheel assembly isn't perfectly aligned - and this is a loose fit - a small gap exists that needs filling. I would suggest gluing parts B2(B3) after the rear hull plate has been attached over the idler tensioning bolts so the mating edge can be adjusted as needed.
Step 4 calls out assembling the pins B39 to the tow eyes parts B23 thru B26. Use this to help alignment but don’t glue the parts together until the towing eyes are glued to the rear hull plate B30.
The rear dust deflectors are installed in Step 6. On the real vehicle these are thin sheet metal parts to deflect the air exhaust. The kits parts are a little think to represent sheet metal so I used a rotary tool, files, and sanding sticks to thin the pieces down. I then used smooth jaw pliers to bend and twist the plastic to represent dented sheet metal.
The running gear is accurately reproduced with a high level of detail. Assembly is straightforward but the instructions are bit unclear. The Idler Wheels have a track horn guide ring which is represented with thin brass PE. On prior releases, this was a single piece brass ring which was challenging enough to get to seat properly, but this release now has the single ring chopped into three pieces. The assembly instructions still show a single piece but have a call out [X3]. To install the sections, I scuffed the brass with fine sand paper and used Tamiya liquid cement to hold them in place. When the liquid cement was dried, I applied small amounts of thin CA to fix the parts. A little bit of sanding cleaned this area up.
The road wheel arms mount to individual torsion bars. By clipping the small pin on the hull that locates the arms, the road wheels can flex and allow some positioning on an uneven base.
The pins that locate the return rollers are undersized for the hole in the cast return roller mount. To make installation of the return rollers easier, I drilled out the pin on the back of the road wheel (part A14) and installed a short piece of brass rod. I drilled a matching hole in the mounts. This will allow me to easily install them later.
The fenders are covered in Steps 7 and Steps 8 and a lot is going on here. Step 7 covers the left fender and there is a gotcha if you don’t pay close attention (like me). Side lights and horn were dropped from production in May. A very small call out in Step 7 shows that the correct fender to use is G1. It isn’t particularly noticeable and I made the mistake of using part B1 which is shown on the main exploded view. I got as far as glueing the tools and brackets on before I noticed my error. I had to trim the front fender from B1 and graft on the correct piece from G1. It was good practice for the right fender.
Step 8 shows two options for the right fender. Follow the lower exploded based on fender part G11 since no lights are installed on this fender. G11 is molded with the locating holes for the gun cleaning rods, but I could not find any reference of a “Late” version with gun cleaning rods stored on the fender. You can chose to add the parts, or leave the holes and cover them with a tarp. To make things difficult, performed some minor surgery. I used the top illustration (part B12) based fender assembly but grafted on the front fender section from G11. Fortunately, the fender support arm (A56) covers most of the seam and any minor misalignment is normal as these fenders often got beat up pretty badly.
The rear mud flaps are shown using parts A40 and A41 with the fixed flap molded to the portion that flips up. The kit also includes separate pieces to these parts but is not called out in the instructions. If you want to show the rear mud flaps flipped up or missing, use part A42 for the stationary piece and parts A38 and A39 for the rear flaps. I chose to show the mud flaps down but used the separate parts to add more dimensionality.
The kit fenders and mud flaps are nicely detailed with texture on both sides and structural members nicely replicated. I decided to add some minor dents and dings to the fenders and flaps to add some interest. I used a motor tool and a variety of cutters to thin the front and back mud flaps and the edge along the sides. I used smooth jaw pliers to deform the plastic parts.
The Upper Deck/Fighting compartment is covered in Steps 11 thru 15. There is a lot going on in these steps including mating the upper hull to the lower hull with full running gear. In Step 11 the instructions show adding the bullet splash guard (A24) but this was eventually eliminated from production because the Vorpanzer armor extended above the upper deck. Be sure to trim the four locating pins.
In Step 13M, there is an option of two Kugelblende (ball mount) for the MG. The correct part to use is G31 with the ring to attach the dust cover. A lot of nice little pieces are attached to the MG but most won’t be seen. If you model the hatches closed, B47 and B48 are all you need.
Steps 13N and 13P show a nice subassembly of attaching the armored shutter brackets to the side plates. If these are closed, all you need to worry about attaching are parts A19 and A20.
In Step 15, they have you install armor plates to fill in the gaps between the hull deck and the front Vorpanzer. Parts C8 and C9 will be easier to install with the fenders in place and might require some trimming or thinning to fit. The PE part MA8 should sit on top of the brackets and sit flush with the top inside edge of the front armor plate C20.
The rear under hull smoke candle dispenser was phased out and replaced with the turret mounted smoke launchers but reference drawings show the bolt pattern for the bracket still on the rear plate so maybe the internal bracket was still installed. Assuming this, I installed part B10 but B11 can be skipped.
Dragon gives you two options for the tow cables and brackets. One option is for the tow cables molded stowed in the brackets. The cables are molded as two loops, C21 and C22. C21 will need to install first with C22 crossing over this part in places. The second option is to install all the stowage clamps empty. The detail is nice but the parts are a little thick for scale so I cleaned up the tow cables as best I could without loosing too much detail cleaning up the parting line. Included in the kit but not called out in the instructions are small wing nuts. I used these to detail up the tow rope clamps. The are very small and easily pop off. I think I lost a couple during weathering.
To help the narrow tracked PzIIIs and PzIVs cope with the poor roads and muddy terrain of Russia, the standard 40cm track was modified with a thin integral paddle extension to lower ground pressure. The thin paddles often bent or broke off from rough road travel and it is common to see this detail in photos.
The Magic Track links are nicely molded with good detail. Unfortunately, there are two ejector pins marks on the inside face of each track. I tried a couple different techniques for cleaning the pin marks and found using a small flat needle file the quickest and most consistent. Even though they are depicted on the box art, the ice cleats are not included with this kit.
The kit instructions call out using 98 links per side. I found 93 to be sufficient with 94 looking too loose. To create the runs I laid a piece of Tamiya yellow tape sticky side up and assembled the links. I then ran over each joint with Tamiya Extra Thin Cement. The glue takes a little while to fully set up so I was able to drape the tracks around the running gear and let them dry and firm up. I then went over each link seam with more liquid cement to fully set the tracks. Even so I had some separation of the links during the weathering process.
I used small needle nose pliers to bend and twist a few of the tracks as seen in photos.
The turret assembly is covered in steps 16 thru 22. Assembly is straightforward but the instructions contain several incorrect call outs.
In Step 16, the commander’s armored glass blocks (M2) are installed into the copula shutters. These can be installed after assembling the copula and make painting easier since you don’t have to work about masking the clear parts.
In Step 18, the loader’s glass block P1 should be omitted. If the gunner’s vision port is closed, that one can be omitted too. With hatches closed, the gun breech assembly can be omitted too but I chose to assemble this to show the included kit details.
In Step 19, the gun mantle armor side pieces are incorrectly labeled. C6 and C7 should be switched with the thicker section facing inwards. Steps 20 and 21 assemble the stowage box and some minor turret details.
In Step 22, you have the option of adding the turret mounted smoke launchers. These were added to the Ausf L in Sept 42 but not every vehicle was fitted with these so check references if you want to build a particular vehicle. The part details are nice but there are a couple of minor issues with the kit parts for the smoke candle assemblies.
The instructions call out using parts G4 and G11 for the brackets. The alignment pegs in the parts are too large and do not match the recess in the turret. This needs to be trimmed or use parts C12 and C13 which are blued out in the sprue layout but fit the recess in the turret. With either option, the plastic is a little thick, so I thinned them with needle files and sanding sticks.
The turret lifting hooks are made from two pieces. D25 for the bolted portion and D24 for the hook. D25 and D24 are the correct combination if you don’t use the smoke candles, but D26 should be used as the bolted base when using the smoke candle brackets. Install the lifting hooks before installing the tubes.
There should be a thin wire running from the back of each launcher tube to a small hole in the turret centered just behind the middle bracket arm. I drilled the smallest hole I could and threaded in fine copper wire.
To make painting easier, I didn’t assemble the upper hull to the lower hull in Step 14. I created a sub assembly of the bow plate, fighting compartment, engine deck, and fenders. I glued parts A15/B10 and A14/B9 to the fender underside instead of the hull. By trimming the hull locating pins off A14 and A15 the top subassembly can drop onto the lower hull. This makes final assembly of the tracks to the running gear so much easier since the track guide horn won’t let you slip the tracks over the return rollers if the fenders are installed; there just isn’t enough room.
With the fenders glued to the bow armor and fighting I used a piece of stretched sprue to replicate the electrical conduit from the Notek light to the bow head light.
The model was given a primer coat of Tamiya gray primer from a spray can. I cleaned up any issues and airbrushed a base coat of Tamiya Flat Black. For the Panzer Gray I started with a base coat of Tamiya Dark Gray followed by progressively lighter grays until I was happy with the effect.
I airbrused two light satin coats of clear acrylic to seal the base color and provide a smoother surface for weathering later. Where I knew there would be decals, I airbrushed a smooth coat of gloss clear to help the decals avoid silvering.
The tracks were painted with a custom mix brown-grey. The spare tracks were given additional light coats of various rust colored acrylic paints.
The tools were painted with acrylic paints. I rubbed the metal parts with graphite to create a metallic sheen. The placard on the fire extinguisher came from Archer Fine Transfers and was not included in the kit.
The exhausts were painted with various rust color acrylic paints. I thinned the paint down more than normal so the transparent layers would create a random mottled finish.
The kit decals are well registered and are plenty opaque for the gray base. They responded well with Micro Sol and Micro Set. I had a little difficulty getting the large one piece turret side numbers to move around for positioning so you might be better off with cutting the decal into individual numbers and trimming as much of the carrier film as possible.
The decals were too bright against the gray base paint so I airbrushed very thin Tamiya Dark Gray to cut down the contrast and blend the decal and surrounding surface textures so there would not be any issues with weathering.
The decals call out three different vehicles all with similar blotchy, worm white wash finishes. I used the HS techniques to replicate the worn paint. I first applied two light coats of hair spray and quick dried with a hair drier. I mixed Tamiya Flat White with a little grey and thinned with water. This was airbrushed in a blotchy cloud pattern over all of the surfaces; applying more paint in the recesses and less on the engine deck and sides. The white paint was then chipped away with a damp brush wearing away more paint where the crew would climb around on the vehicle.
Weathering began with an overall warm gray/tan filter to unify the colors and cut down the contrast. I then used artist’s white gauche to add some brighter areas back into the white wash. Dark brown and dark green enamel paints were used to accent the panel lines and add general grime. I then followed up with dark grey and white acrylic paints dabbed on with a torn sponge to add some newer chipping back into the finish. I also added a small amount of dark rust chips with the sponge to exposed metal edges. White acrylic paint was applied with a fine pointed brush to add the last of the bright white specks. I then used dry pigments and enamel weathering products to add the dusty appearance, road dirt and dried mud.
It was after the main weathering I performed the final assembly. I slipped the idler wheel and drive sprocket into the tracks. These were slipped over the alignment pins. The track flexed enough to install the return rollers. The road wheels were a little more tricky. The tracks popped apart a couple of times and didn’t fit back quite the way they were originally installed but I finally got them wrangled into place. Maybe I didn’t get the sprocket teeth lined up properly again. If I were to do it again, I might fit the road wheels first, then slip on the track/idler/sprocket combo installing the return rollers last.
Once the tracks were installed, I glued the Lower Hull to the Upper Hull assembly together using finger pressure to hold the front half down first while the glue set. I then did the same for the back section . I installed the last of the details like the spare road wheels and spare tracks.
After final assembly, I added a little more weathering to unify the upper and lower hulls and installed the stowed track runs and spare road wheels.
This latest Panzer III from Dragon is a very nice addition to their line up of German armor kits. The model builds up to a nice representation of a later production vehicle. If you check references, there are enough spares and extras included in the box to build earlier production batches by swapping out or omitting certain parts.
Thanks to Dragon Models USA and IPMS/USA for the review sample.
- My primary reference for production dates and details is “Panzer Tracts 3-3 Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. J,L,M und N development and production from 1941 to 1943” by Thomas L Jentz and Hilary Louis Doyle 2009.