Somua S35 French Medium Tank

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Those who have studied the collapse of the mighty French military machine in May 1940 at the hands of Germany’s armed forces know that it wasn’t a lack of quality fighting equipment as much as an inability to utilize it effectively that sunk the French cause. In a number of large and small battles between the two sides, effective French leadership together with the proper tactical use of the equipment at hand had the French blunting if not outright defeating their German counterparts. And when it came to tanks in particular, the French had some pretty formidable weaponry. One of the finest tanks of the day was the French Somua S35, weighing in at 20 tons, and carrying a 47mm main gun plus a coaxial machinegun. With frontal armor at 40mm, this was equal to anything the Germans had on hand at the time. It also had mobility, able to reach speeds of 29 mph on improved roads. The three man crew had excellent all round visibility thanks to the commander’s rotating cupola atop the turret, plus a series of episcopes and telescopic sights available to the crew members. The crew was also linked together for fighting purposes by voice tubes and telephones, thus increasing a well drilled crew’s ability to work together. The French fielded around 450 of these excellent tanks in May 1940.

MANY years ago Heller of France issued a series of 1/35th scale injection molded 1930’s French tanks, including the Somua S35. The Somua kit had a number of issues, including poor turret shape, and stiff vinyl tracks that took MAJOR work to have them “sit” right. However, the English firm of Airedale Castings came onto the scene with a full resin kit of the Somua, but at over US$100 not a cheap alternative to the Heller kit. Airedale Castings did offer a separately available resin replacement turret for the Heller kit, while On The Mark Models offered up a nice PE set, and Fruilimodelismo offered excellent replacement tracks, all at a price.

Enter Tamiya with a simply wonderful all injection plastic kit of the Somua that blasts the Heller kit back to the 20th Century, and is half the price of the Airedale resin kit. Tamiya’s kit comes molded in their standard tan colored injection plastic, with the parts contained on five main sprues. There is a sixth sprue of clear parts, plus poly caps and metal tow chain. There is a set of black and white instructions, together with a large glossy fold out two sided color and markings guide/vehicle history. A small decal sheet provides markings for three different French Army vehicles. The plastic parts are sink mark free, very well detailed, and there are no ejection pin marks anywhere to be seen except very tiny ones on some of the track links, which are prepackaged individual links. The Somua S35 was constructed with a cast metal turret and upper hull, and Tamiya reproduces the cast texture in a very convincing way on the relevant parts of this kit.

Construction starts, as it tends to with armor models, with the lower hull. Make sure you drill out the appropriately listed flashed over openings on part B7, lower hull, for later installation of various external hull attachments. The lower hull consists of four main parts, and then a tiny clear part, G2, which attaches to the inside floor of the lower hull part B7. What the purpose of this part is I haven’t a clue, as being on the INSIDE of the hull, on the bottom, it simply can’t be seen once the model is completed and resting on its tracks?? Next comes construction of the road wheel bogies, and Tamiya indicates that you should avoid getting glue on the road wheels, presumably so they will rotate freely once assembled. I frankly don’t see the purpose of this, as the model is after all a static model? There is a reasonable amount of detail to the bogie and wheel parts, but frankly this is all for next to naught as the bogies are pretty much hidden once the side skirting, parts C10/C7 and C8/C9, are installed. Do however note that the bogies are listed as “A” or “B”, so make sure you clearly mark them as such to get them installed in their correct positions. There is nice casting detail on the two part drive sprockets, and this can be seen as they aren’t hidden by the skirting. Sandwiched between these two parts are the traditional Tamiya black vinyl poly caps. The idler wheels, also two parts, lack a poly cap, and the modeler should probably avoid getting glue on these as by remaining freewheeling, this will make adjustments to the track assembly later a bit easier.

Once the lower hull and its various external attachments are assembled, it is time to move onto the tracks, which as mentioned earlier are individual links and are already prepped for assembly. Each has a tiny ejection dimple mark which needs sanding down, and the tiny “hole” filling, at least on the few links whose outside track face can be seen once the model is fully assembled. The plastic used for these tracks is different from that of the rest of the kit, appearing to be a bit more ‘vinyl-y” than for most of the kit. This doesn’t appear however to detract from its ability to be glued with regular plastic model glues such as Tamiya’s own “Green Cap” liquid glue, or Testor’s liquid glue that comes in the black plastic container with the needle applicator. I mention glue because while the instructions indicate that the tracks simply snap together, I have found in the past that the snap type tracks simply don’t hold together well. So I have a tendency to glue them together once assembled and in place on the vehicle. Also make sure, as Tamiya states in the instructions, to make sure you note the direction of the tracks, making sure they face the correct direction on both sides of the model. Tamiya provides a color photo of the correct track alignment on their glossy fold out which includes the color and marking diagrams.

Next we move onto the construction of the upper hull, starting with assembly instructions Section 13. Tamiya provides separate engine access doors on both sides of the rear upper hull, parts C5/6 and C15/16. There is also a separately molded crew access door part C32/37. However, the kit itself provides no hull interior detailing whatsoever. The rear upper hull engine grates are separately molded parts, and are very nicely detailed.

On the right side of the Somua S35 are a series of four tool storage boxes. Period photos show that not all vehicles carried all four boxes. What period photos also seem to indicate is that these storage boxes were attached to the tank by a couple of straps, which attach to the horizontal bars that run along the tank’s right side. Tamiya supplies the tool boxes, and they have the straps molded on. They also supply the bars. But the tool boxes aren’t shown being attached to the bars. So I sanded off the straps, and will replace them with straps made from very thin card stock, and some PE buckles I found in the spares box.

The kit provides 5 onboard tools, including a shovel and an axe. Tamiya does not depict any way of securing these tools, so I again fashioned some simple attachment straps, this time with foil and spare PE buckles. I am sure they aren’t strictly accurate, but they “make sense”. I relocated the shovel from the side of the hull, to the rear, just to be different. For the rear of the vehicle Tamiya supplies the modeler with a three part rolled up tarp. This looks quite effective for an injection molded tarp, though some may wish to replace it with a suitable aftermarket item for finer detail? I left if off my vehicle. Also for the rear hull, Tamiya very thoughtfully supplies the modeler with a length of metal towing chain. What they don’t supply, which is a great pity, is a PE part for the headlight protection screen, as this can clearly be seen in photos of both period and museum examples of the Somua S35. It also appears in Tamiya’s own box art for the kit!

On to construction of the turret, and note that being a cast item on the real vehicle, when you join the upper and lower main turret halves (split horizontally), parts D10 and D11, there should be a casting seam line at the joint line of these parts. Check carefully photos of the real vehicle. Don’t forget to drill out the coaxial machine gun barrel for the turret. The kit comes with a fairly well done 7 part tank commander figure, with separate head, arms, helmet and revolver case. He is shown in the instructions sitting on the rear turret hatch, part D12. The problem with this is that the turret has basically no interior detail whatsoever, so if anyone was to look past the figure into the turret rear, it would be bare? That said, the entry opening into the back of the turret is pretty tight, and the figure might just cover up enough of the entry space to make this a moot point, but that is up to the individual modeler.

It is then on to the color and markings stage. As mentioned earlier, the kit comes with a small decal sheet covering markings for three different vehicles. Option A: vehicle “56”, 28th Dragoon Regiment; Option B: vehicle “42”, 13th Dragoon Regiment; Option C: vehicle “20”, 4th Cuirassier Regiment. The French did not organize their tanks into armored divisions at this stage, unlike the Germans. However, Tamiya does not indicate what specific year these markings depict in each case? The decals are very well printed, being in register, and opaque. Not as thin as one might like, but as usual with Tamiya’s decals, perfectly serviceable.

Regarding the painting of the camouflage on French Somua S35 tanks during the immediate pre war period: this consisted of a series of horizontal “bands” of color wrapping around the hull and turret. There was often a narrow band of black separating the colored bands. On the kit options, the black bands appear on the turrets only, though there is a different turret scheme on Option B compared to Options A and C. I didn’t find depicting the scheme I chose, Option C, particularly difficult, just time consuming. Firstly, I painted the model in three separate sub units: lower hull, upper hull, and turret. An initial primer coat of Mr. Surfacer 1500 Black mixed with Mr. Surfacer 1500 Gray (allowing for an extremely dark gray color) was first applied. I then got some Tamiya yellow masking tape, and cut some wavy narrow bands to mask off the black demarcation lines on the turret. I then spray painted the turret cupola Tamiya XF-23 Light Blue per the instructions, and this area when dry (24 hours) was then carefully masked off. Next I applied XF-21 Sky to the top of the turret, the top areas of the upper hull, and the appropriate areas on the lower hull side skirts. This was then carefully masked off once dry. Next came XF-58 Olive Green to the appropriate areas per the kit instructions. Again, this was carefully masked off when dry. I then deviated from the kit instructions when it came to the final paint color. Tamiya recommends XF-64 Red Brown, but I instead used Tamiya XF-10 Flat Brown, lightened with XF-2 Flat White. This to me gave a more Chestnut Brown, which is what I was looking for compared to Tamiya’s XF-64. When everything had dried, I peeled off the tape, and I was very pleased with the results. I next applied a protective layer of Tamiya X-22 Gloss Clear onto which to apply the decals. I used lots of decal softener to get the cupola air recognition roundel to lie down properly, as well as the “20” over the hatch detail on the left side of the turret. One small problem was the vehicle license plate for the rear of the model. It was too large for the license plate part, so needed trimming, and even then it was still a tad bit large. No big deal, just something worth checking before you go to apply this decal. Once the decals had thoroughly dried (48 hours), I applied a couple of thin coats of Tamiya X-22 Clear Gloss over the decaled areas. This “hid” any signs of the decal film very well.

I then sprayed some Tamiya XF-86 Matt Clear over all three sub assemblies. Then came the dark pin washes utilizing MIG 502 Abteilung oil paints, various dark browns, plus two different rusts, used mainly on the tank’s upper hull exhaust. Once all dried, the model was treated to one more application of XF-86 matt clear with some Tamiya XF-57 Buff to seal the model and add a little road dust.

This model is a gem of a kit, being very well detailed, easy to assemble, and really cool looking. What more can you ask for in a model??!! I would like to thank Tamiya USA for providing IPMS/USA with the opportunity to review this first rate model.


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