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Scratch-built M65 280mm Atomic Cannon
(U.S. Army - Cold War)

In May of 1950, the Watervliet Arsenal began designing the 280mm Gun T131 for the U.S. Army. This heavy, mobile, long-range gun was developed to fire the W-9 15-kiloton atomic 280mm Projectile T124. By the spring of 1951, the first T131 gun was mounted on the T72 Gun Carriage. From 1951 to 1953, 20 guns were manufactured.

To transport the T131 Gun, in 1950, the Kenworth Motor Truck Company began the manufacture of the M249 4x4 Heavy Gun-Lifting Front Truck and the M250 4x4 Heavy Gun-Lifting Rear Truck. From 1952 through 1953, 33 Front and 33 Rear Trucks were manufactured. Each truck was powered by a Continental AO-895-4 six-cylinder engine, with a maximum output of 375 hp and a top speed of 45 mph.

From 1954 to 1964, the U. S. Army fielded 20 units of these units, most in West Germany, and several in Okinawa. Officially designated the M65, the weapon was popularly known as The Atomic Cannon.

The gun could be emplaced and set up for firing in approximately 12 minutes, and returned to the traveling mode in approximately 15 minutes. The publicly-acknowledged maximum range of the 280mm gun was 20 miles, hitting within 20 yards or less of the desired target. Decades after the M65 was deactivated, an Army veteran assigned to M65s in Okinawa told me the actual maximum range was 35 miles.

On May 25, 1953, at 8:30 am, as the tenth of a series of eleven nuclear test firings during Operation UPSHOT-KNOTHOLE, T131 number 9 fired a W-9 15-kiloton warhead (shot GRABLE) a distance of seven miles. The device detonated at an altitude of 524 feet above the target in Area 5 (known as "Frenchman Flat") on the Nevada Proving Ground. This was the only nuclear firing of the M65.  (Tankograd)

Technical Manual images of the M65 280mm Motorized Heavy Gun (Tankograd)

In 2000, I started AutoCAD drawings of the M65, based on an initial batch of 250 photographs, and dozens of measurements of the unit on display at the Armored Fighting Vehicles Museum at the U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Ground, Aberdeen, Maryland.

In October, 2007, I started construction of a scratch-built 1/72 scale model of the M65, using Evergreen brand white styrene plastic sheet, rod, bar, tube and structural shapes, as well as aluminum and brass sheet, tubing and wire. The model was completed 26 months later, in January, 2010. Although I tried to photograph the construction process thoroughly, I did not try to keep a record of the time I spent building the model. My best estimate is something around 575 hours. Below is a slide show of the completed model.

Click on a thumbnail image to open the slideshow and view the images at a larger size. (Note that there are three separate galleries of images.)

The paint used was Humbrol through-out, with a partial redo of paint after a disastrous experience with Poly-Scale clear flat. Floquil clear flat was used on the second try. All white numerals and lettering were custom press-type, created by a studio in Marietta, Georgia, plus stars from SuperScale decals. The black and yellow bumper striping was black Humbrol paint on yellow SuperScale decal. This model received a Gold medal at the 2010 AMPS National contest in Auburn, Ohio.

To see slide shows of the construction of the Atomic Cannon model, please CLICK HERE.

To see my other website, devoted exclusively to The Atomic Cannon, please

To order AutoCAD PDFs of my Atomic Cannon drawings, in many different scales, including
1/72 scale to match the new DRAGON models 1/72 scale plastic assembly kit, 


PanzerKampfwagon VI Ausf. E  Tiger I
(German - World War II)

PanzerKampfwagen VI Ausf. E Tiger I (Google)

The World War Two German panzer known as the Tiger I was developed starting in 1937 as a replacement for the PzKpfw IV. Two designs were tested: the Porsche VK.4501 (P) (a model of which can be seen far down this page) and the Henschel VK.4501 (H) which became the choice of the Wehrmacht. First introduced near Leningrad in 1942, the Tiger I fought in Russia, Europe and North Africa, and although relatively few in numbers, quickly developed a reputation for toughness and lethality, particularly in the defensive role. However, by 1945 the numerical advantages of the Allies in armor and air superiority proved decisive.

The Tiger I tank was 27 feet 9 inches long, 12 feet 3 inches wide, 9 feet 5 inches tall, weighed 56 tons, had a top speed of 23 miles per hour and a range of 73 miles (paved roads) and 42 miles (cross country). Armament consisted of one 88mm cannon and one or two 7.62mm machine guns (Squadron Signal Publications).  

Revell of Germany Tiger I  

I bought this Revell of Germany kit of the Tiger I in Slovakia, in 1998, twenty-two years ago. At that time, I don't think it was for sale yet in the USA. The kit box still has the price tag in Slovakian Korunas (crowns); this was more than ten years before Slovakia converted to Euros, I believe. I wasn't all that interested in building a Tiger I then, but I couldn't resist buying a new, as-yet unavailable Revell kit so far from home.

The model had sat on a shelf in the Collection of Unbuilt Kits ever since, a low priority, until I bought a couple of Concord Publications booklets about the AFVs of the Deutsches Afrika Korps, the WWII German Army in Africa. The variety of desert-sand-and-brown-and-tan-painted AFVs intrigued me. Once I realized that Testor's Model Master paints included five of the DAK colors, I decided to build a few German AFVs in these schemes. The Panzer IV displayed just next down the page was the first, and this Tiger I was the second. Come to think of it, the long ago scratchbuilt Krupp Protze truck way down this page is also DAK.

The kit was fun enough to build until I got to installing the tracks to the wheels. The fit here was poor, with many gaps between individual links. The individual links would not fit level around the drive sprocket, until I cut off all of the outer sprocket teeth where the sprocket contacted the tracks. If I ever build another Revell Tiger I, I'll order some resin tracks from OKB Grigorov. I replaced the 88mm main gun and the bow machine gun with turned brass/aluminum, and the grenade mortars on the turret were scratchbuilt from Evergreen plastic. Eduard photo etch replaced the exhaust stack guards, and hand grips were made from brass wire. Looking at the kit photos, I see I should have replaced the grossly too large towing cables from the kit with new ones made from finer wire.

Other than the Testor's Afrika Khakibraun overall, all paint was Humbrol. The decals for this particular Tiger I in Tunisia in 1942 were by ARMO. Flat finish was Testor's Clear Flat Lacquer.

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images:

PanzerKampfwagon IV Ausf. F2
(German - World War II)

PanzerKampfwagen IV Ausf. G (Google)

The PanzerKampfwagon IV was the workhorse of the Wehrmacht in World War II. It saw combat in all theaters of the war in Europe, Russia and North Africa. The Ausf. F2 was a refinement of the PzKpfw IV, incorporating improvements in the design derived from combat experience: thicker armor, a more powerful main gun, slightly wider tracks and a rear idler wheel that was faster and easier to fabricate.

The PzrKpfw IV Ausf. F2 was 21 feet 9 inches long, 10 feet 5 inches wide, 8 feet 9 inches tall, weighed 26 tons fully loaded for combat, had a top speed of 25 miles per hour and a range of 80 miles off-road. Main armament was a 7.5 cm antitank gun, plus two 7.92mm machine guns. (Spielberger)

Dragon/Trumpeter/Revell kitbash of PzKpfw IV Ausf. F2 

For years I have been collecting kits of German AFVs from World War II, but I have only assembled a few of them, so far. What pushed this build out of the starting blocks was the idea of combining a set of all-in-one-piece tracks from a Trumpeter kit of a PzKpfw IV "Dicker Max" SPG with the hull of a Dragon PzKpfw IV F2. I wanted to model a Deutsches Afrika Korps IV, because I find the DAK desert camouflage colors more interesting than the European and Russia theater color schemes.

I added turned brass barrels at the main gun and machine guns. The Trumpeter track assemblies fit the Dragon hull well enough, although the Trumpeter track units look to me like they don't drop low enough at the rear idler. The rear idlers molded into the Trumpeter parts were the earlier eight-spoke design, so I cut them out and replaced them with seven spoke idlers from the Revell of Germany PzKpfw IV Ausf. G kit.

The DAK overall Afrika GrunBraun was Testor's ModelMaster paint, lightened with Testor's flat White for scale effect. The pin wash was with greatly thinned Testor's Afrika KhakiBraun, and the drybrushing was with Testor's GrunBraun with even more Flat White added. All other paints were Humbrol, the decals were from the Dragon kit, and the flat finish was Testor's Clear Flat Lacquer. Click on the thumbnails below for larger images: 

M109A2 155mm Self-Propelled Howitzer
(US Army 1950s - Present)

M109A2 Self-Propelled Howitzer (Google)

Development of the M109 155mm Self-Propelled Howitzer began in 1953. By 1969, 2,111 M109s were manufactured for the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marines. An improved 155mm gun and requests from the field for upgrades resulted in the version designated M109A2; 823 units were produced between 1976 and 1985. Steadily improved and upgraded over time, M109s have served in dozens of national armies and are still in use through-out the world.

The M109A2 weighs 27.5 tons, is 30'-0" long (including gun barrel), is 10'-4" wide, is 10'-8" tall, has a top speed of 35 miles per hour and a range of 216 miles. The 155mm howitzer has a range of 11 miles for the conventional shell. (Squadron Publications, Wikipedia) 

Riich M109A2 155mm Self-Propelled Howitzer

In 1995, after I had scratch-built a 40mm turret for an M247 Sgt. York conversion, I got interested in attempting to scratch-build an entire AFV of the M109A2 Self-Propelled Howitzer. I bought an Italeri 1/35 scale model kit of the M109 to use as a guide, making tracings of the Italeri parts and shrinking the drawings down to 1/72 scale. I then made copies of the 1/72 drawings on Sticky-Back self-adhesive Xerox film. I got as far as the lower hull you can see in the images below, but then I lost interest before the M109 project achieved critical mass. This happens, sometimes. At the time, I probably didn't yet have the skills needed to pull off some of the trickier aspects of an M109 in 1/72 scale, anyway. The next scratch-built AFV project I attempted was the MBT70, followed by the M55 8" Self-Propelled Howitzer, both of which you can see by scolling down on this page.

Immediately below are two images of the ill-fated scratch-built M109A2 (white plastic and brass wire) and progress on the Riich M109A2 kit:


The M109 project languished through the years: I would pull out the box of Italeri and scratch-built pieces, but I was never inspired enough to take it up again. Too many 1/72 AFV assembly kits ready and waiting for me to build, simple and trouble free. But then a year or so ago, I got word of an M109 kit in development by a company called Toxos. I kept an eye on the company's progress on this project, only to be disappointed to learn Toxos had disappeared. But soon after a company named Riich announced they were producing 1/72 scale kits of the M109A2 and the M109A6. As soon as they were available on eBay, I bought one of each.

Other than the turned barrel and the tire rims, the shovel and the tow cable on the turret roof, I built the kit out of the box. It went together well, although the tinier parts were challenging to clean up, cut loose and install without losing or breaking them. The tracks were link and length and worked fine, but I screwed up somehow and needed one fewer links on the left side and two more links on the right.

I opted for an olive drab paint scheme, with Woodland Scenics white press-type alpha-numerics for the U.S. Army unit markings, all based on wanting to do a simple, early version of the M109A2, rather than either of the three-color or four-color camouflage schemes offered by the kit. All paint was Humbrol, flat finish was Testor's Clear Flat Lacquer, radio antenna from a house paint brush bristle. Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images:

M1A2 SEP Abrams
(US Army 2001 - Present)

M1A2 SEP Abrams tank (Google)

The Abrams M1A2 SEP (Systems Enhancement Program) was an upgrade begun in 1994 that added improved microprocessors and computer mermory, more armor to the front and sides, a more powerful thermal viewer to the Commander's Independent Thermal Viewer (CITV), and a separate, external air conditioning unit for the computers within the turret. The Abrams SEP tanks began to arrive in US Army units in 2001. (Michael Green, At War Series)

For more information about the Abrams tank, see the text in the M1A1 Abrams entry, below.

 Flyhawk kit of the M1A2 SEP Abrams

The fourth version of the Abrams I have built, this Flyhawk kit of the M1A2 SEP Abrams, is a remarkable model. State-of-the-art 3D computer modeling was applied to cutting-edge slide-mold technology to create a nearly perfect plastic model assembly kit. Each track is molded as two, side-by-side pieces containing all of the track links and guide teeth in unbroken loops, similar to the Dragon kit of the USMC M-103A2, depicted below. Unlike the Dragon M103A2 kit, however, the Flyhawk kit had all of its road wheels and drive sprockets molded separately from the track parts, which made painting the wheels, tires and tracks easier.

Also of note is that Flyhawk molded the several separate periscope groupings in clear plastic, which could be back-painted with an anti-laser red, and once inserted into the appropriate sockets in the hull and turret, gave a pretty authentic transparent appearance. The level of detail through-out the kit is phenomenal, rivalling many 1/35 scale kits. This 1/72 kit even came complete with its own photo-etched screens and details. My only complaint is that a couple of very thin, tiny parts were too delicate to remove easily from the runners, and broke too easily at the locations where the flowing styrene met itself in the molds.

On this kit, I broke from my usual strict fealty to the Holy Realm of Humbrol Paint. Since I wanted to paint this model in the appropriate post-Gulf War One (1991) Desert Storm color, I gave Testor's Model Master Enamel paint No. 2136 "US Army/Marines Sand" a try. I added a very little of Testor's 2038 Light Grey FS 36492 to lighten and dull the Sand paint slightly. The Testor's airbrushed very smoothly, drying to a very thin coat. All other paints were Humbrol, of course; I haven't gone completely deranged. Kit decals, LS lenses and house-paint-brush-bristle antennae completed the model.

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images:

Kit Bash M1A1 Abrams
(US Army 1980s - 2001)

M1A1 Abrams tank (Big Block tracks) (Google)

The M1 Abrams tank arose from the ashes of the cancelled MBT70 tank, much like the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter benefited from the knowledge gained during the AH-56 Cheyenne program. Initial planning for the XM1 began in February 1972, and by May 1973, Chrysler and General Motors were awarded contracts to build three prototypes each of their competing designs. The gas-turbine-powered Chrysler tank won the production contract in November 1976. 

In addition to the fast, quiet and powerful gas-turbine engine, the Abrams incorporated an American version of the newly developed UK steel-and-ceramic composite armor known officially as "Burlington", and unofficially as "Chobham". After much testing and steady evolution of the M1 design, the M1A1 Abrams was delivered to the U.S. Army, starting in 1985. In the First Gulf War of 1991, the M1A1 Abrams proved to be an exceptionally successful AFV, providing remarkable readiness levels, mechanical reliability, crew protection and lethality. (Michael Green, Pen & Sword Publishing)

There are currently many excellent books available recounting the Abrams' performance in Operation Desert Storm.  My favorite account of the entire conflict is Crusade: The Untold Story Of The Persian Gulf War, by Rick Atkinson.

The M1A1 Abrams is 26 feet 0 inches long (hull only), 32 feet 4 inches long (including gun tube), 12 feet 0 inches wide, weighs 62.6 tons, has a top (road) speed of 41.7 miles per hour, a cross-country top speed of 30 miles per hour, and a range on internal fuel of 275 miles at a cruising speed of 25 miles per hour. Main armament consists of one 120mm cannon, firing armor-piercing depleted uranium projectiles up to 3,500 meters, and HEAT (high-explosive, anti-tank, multi-purpose) rounds up to 3,000 meters; secondary armament consists of one flexible .50 calibre, one flexible .30 calibre and one co-axial .50 calibre machine gun. (Steve Zaloga, Osprey Publishing) 

Kit bash of Trumpeter, Revell of Germany, and TigerModel M1A1 kits

I have wanted to build a 1/72 scale model of the Abrams tank since the early 1980s, but I kept waiting for some unknown reason to finish one, until 2016. I built a Tamiya 1/35 scale kit of the Abrams in 1982 or so, when that was the only kit available in any scale, painting it in a winter MERDC scheme. I even built a Tamiya 1/35 scale T-62 tank in USSR markings to be the Abrams hapless, out-classed adversary.

As 1/72 scale kits of the Abrams were released, I bought them: Hasegawa, ESCI, Matchbox and Revell of Germany, each kit being a little better in details and features than its predecessors. On a vacation trip I started the Revell of Germany kit, but couldn't get any farther along than assembling the lower hull (badly, at that).

With the passage of more time, more kits were released, by still more manufacturers: Dragon, Trumpeter and in 2015, TigerModel. I read reviews and comparisons of the various kits, made notes, and thought about how to kit bash the best 1/72 Abrams possible. In 2014 I started buying a European bimonthly modeling magazine called Abrams Squad, many issues of which contained someone's build of a 1/35 scale Abrams. I filed away these magazines and every other book or booklet on Abrams tanks I could find, and in 2015 I read an hagiography of General Creighton Abrams, the tanker after whom the Abrams tank was named (he must have been some kind of force of nature, if that book is accurate).

Finally, something triggered the push I needed to start a 1/72 scale Abrams kit, perhaps my purchase of the Abrams Squad special publication of just Abrams models, or the richly illustrated volume on the Abrams from the Images of War book series. I must have finally felt I had all I needed to start the model. So, here it is.

Based on all of my research, books, kits and Abrams kit building articles, I decided to combine the Trumpeter kit hull and turret, the Revell of Germany kit wheels and tracks, turret details from the TigerModel kit, and a little scratch building at the rear turret bustle to create the model you see below. I failed to photograph any progress of the build, but I plan to build three more versions of the Abrams, so maybe I'll document some of that process.

I left the upper and lower hull parts separate, until the tracks were installed. As seems to always be the case, comparisons of the finished model with photos of real M1A1 tanks revealed that the Trumpeter turret appears a little too short in height, particularly noticeable at the front armor. I decided to try to alter the proportions of the turret, to better match the photos and drawings of the M1A1. To see this process, CLICK HERE and scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page: Modifying the M1A1 Turret. The floor of the turret bustle is cut out of a sheet of aluminum photo etch screen intended to resemble HO scale chain link fencing.

To achieve the iconic Desert Sand hue, many samples of custom paint colors were mixed, including acrylic paints by Tamiya and enamel paints by Testor's, before settling on a blend of Testor's Sand FS 33531, Testor's Flat White and a few drops of Testor's RAL 8020 Afrika Braun, thinned for the airbrush with Humbrol's thinner. The base coat was given a pin wash of a thinned, darker Testor's mix, plus a spot streaking of very thin, slightly darker Testor's mix. Finally, a drybrushing was done with a lighter shade of the Testor's mix. Gloss coating with Future Acrylic Floor Finish prepped the model for the miserable Revell of Germany decals (it took two sets of decals to end up with one set of markings "successfully" applied to the model.

Other paints used were Humbrol, with the final flat finish by Testor's Clear Flat Lacquer. MV Products lenses were added at the head and tail lights, and bristles from a nylon house painting brush were added as antennas. Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images:


Kit Bash M1 Abrams
(US Army 1980s)

XM1 earliest production Abrams tank with worn set of current Big Block tracks (Google)

The M1 was the first production version of the Abrams tank, entering service with the U.S. Army in February, 1980. Main armament of the M1 was a 105mm rifled cannon, but this was almost immediately upgraded to the West German Rhinemetal 120mm smoothbore cannon. This first improved Abrams was designated the M1E1. (Squadron Signal Publications) (For more facts about the Abrams tank, see the notes for the M1A1, above.)


Kitbash of ESCI turret and drive sprocket, Trumpeter hull and Revell of Germany road wheels and tracks.

To make a model of the first production M1 Abrams, I kitbashed the turret from an ESCI M1 with the hull of a Trumpeter M1A1. I also used the road wheels and tracks from a Revell of Germany M1A1. Based on my study of the Abrams reference books and magazines, these parts from different kit manufacturers seemed to provide the most accurate M1 possible.

To create the 105mm cannon, I machined an RB  brand turned aluminum barrel (intended for a 1/72 scale Jagdtiger) making a shank at the mid point for the fume extractor, and making another shank at the gun tube base to fit into the Trumpeter Abrams mantlet. The fume extractor was built up of telescoping aluminum and brass tubing, making sure the fume extractor was properly off center towards the top, per my references.

Evergreen sheet styrene was added to the rear of the side skirt armor, per the initial Abrams design. (Problems with mud from the tracks building up on the drive sprockets of real M1s led to cutting away part of the rear skirt armor.) In the meantime, a round flat steel plate was added to the outer face of the drive sprockets, as a temporary fix for the tracks coming off of the sprockets. I used the ESCI drive sprockets in this kitbash, because they included this plate.

Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images:

According to my references, the first production M1 tanks were factory painted in FS 34079 Forest Green for delivery to the US Army. To simulate this color, I used Humbrol No. 116 US Army Dark Green, lightened with Humbrol No 34 Flat White. After airbrushing this lighter mix overall, I thinned paint from a fresh tin of unlightened No. 116 with Humbrol thinner and applied this darker pin wash to all of the raised and recessed details on the wheels, hull and turret. I also used this wash very lightly and selectively to make vertical streaks on the skirt armor and turret sides. This helps break up the monotone appearance of the base coat of paint.

Once the pin wash was thoroughly dry, I airbrushed Future Acrylic Floor Finish over all parts of the entire model. This provides a glossy surface for the admittedly few decals to come, but it also eliminates the chalky residue from the Humbrol thinner of the pin wash, making the darker wash stand out even more. 

Once the decals were applied, I took a different, lighter shade of paint, Humbrol No.117 US Army Light Green, and drybrushed it on the raised details, corners and edges of the wheels, hull and turret. Another coat of Pledge Acrylic Floor Finish was airbrushed overall to seal the decals and to even out the drybrushing. The details were painted, antennas installed, and then Testor's Clear Flat Lacquer was airbrushed overall. MV brand lenses were installed at the head lights and tail lights, and the upper hull was glued to the lower hull, to complete the model.

Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images.

Kit Bash M1A2 Abrams
(US Army 1990s - 2001)

M1A2 Abrams (Google)

The M1A2 resulted from a series of internal and external upgrades to the M1A1 Abrams tank design, the most visible exterior differences being the Commander's Independent Thermal Viewer (the little tower on the left front of the turret roof) and the Improved Commander's Weapon Station (the octagonal array of periscopes and the .50 calibre machine gun mount at the commander's hatch). The M1A2 was authorized in 1990, with the first units being delivered to the US Army in 1992. Subsequently, funding was procured to bring nearly every Abrams in the Army's inventory up to M1A2 standards. (Tankograd)

For information about the M1A2 Abrams' dimensions, weight, weapons and capabilities, see the entry above for the M1A1 Abrams.

Kit bash of Trumpeter M1A2 and Revell of Germany wheels and OKB Grigorov resin tracks.

This is the third Abrams tank model I have built. Having done two Abrams in monochromatic paint schemes, I wanted to do something different with this project, so I attempted a NATO three color camouflage, using a product known as poster putty as a masking medium. If you are interested in seeing how this masking technique works, CLICK HERE. When you get to the "Building AFVs" page, scroll down to "Poster Putty Camouflage Masking".

To make this particular NATO-based M1A2, I referred to the Tankograd publication Fast Track M1A2 SEP V2 Abrams. Having learned about the dimensional shortcomings of the Trumpeter turret on the M1A1, I modified the depth of the Trumpeter turret as a first step. Otherwise, the Trumpeter M1A2 kit was complete enough, with the CITV and the ICWS, but I wanted to add a few more bits and pieces of the constantly evolving Abrams AFV to it, so I installed some equipment from a Tiger Models Abrams TUSK kit: the computer air conditioner in the main turret bustle rack, the secondary bustle rack, the infantry phone on the right rear of the hull, the three Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) panels on the turret stowage rails, and a couple of other bits here and there.

To provide the later version "Big Block" track pads, I bought a set of resin tracks for the Abrams, but these resin tracks proved too fragile, splitting length-wise when I tried to clean them up. Instead, I sanded off the old-type chevron-style track blocks from the Revell of Germany tracks and cut out a couple hundred tiny rectangles from of Evergreen styrene strip. After gluing them to the tracks, I painted and installed the tracks on the RoG road wheels on the Trumpeter lower hull.

However, once I saw the pictures I shot of the finished model, I was not satisfied with the results, so eventually I stripped off my home-made tracks and replaced them with a different set of resin tracks by OKB Grigorov of Bulgaria.

After practicing the putty-masking technique on a sacrifical Trumpeter upper hull, I think the masking job on the completed model worked quite well. Now I can tackle some of the other multi-color camouflage scheme AFVs I've wanted to build: a Panzerhaubitze 2000, a Jagdpanther, a Leclerc, a Challenger II and others.

All paint was Humbrol, the colors selected to approximate the scale effect at 1/72 scale; the decals were from a Revell of Germany kit, the flat finish was Testor's Clear Flat Lacquer. MV Products lenses were added to the head and tail lights, and nylon paint brush bristles were added as antennas. Click on the thumbnails below to see the larger images:


IS-III (Stalin III)
(USSR - World War Two)

IS-III (Stalin III) tank (Google)

The IS-III (Iosef Stalin III) was the WWII culmination of the line of Russian AFV tank development that started with the IS-85 in 1943. Seeking to match or exceed the lethality of the German tanks, tank destroyers and anti-tank guns, the IS series involved ever increasing improvements in armor and firepower. The IS-III was in service in January 1945, but was just too late to see combat in any numbers  in Europe. The first Western glimpse of the IS-III was in the Berlin Victory Parade in September, 1945, and the immediate reaction by the West was surprise and concern. Western AFV development for years to come was measured against the capabilities of the IS-III, which remained in active service through-out the 1950s.

The length of the IS-III was 32 feet 9 inches, width was 10 feet 6 inches, height was 8 feet 11 inches, weight was 45.8 tons, range was 106 miles, top speed was 22 miles per hour. Armament consisted of one 122mm dual-purpose gun and two 14.5mm machine guns.  

Trumpeter IS-III (Iosef Stalin III)

This Trumpeter brand kit of a Stalin tank was interesting: it contained two ways of building the tracks. The first option was the standard assembly of bogies, drive sprocket (toothed wheel at the rear) and return idler wheel (at the front), with link and length pieces of track: individual links to fit around the drive sprocket and return idler, and straight runs of multiple links molded in groups, to fill in the straight sections of track. Option two was one molded assembly for each side that contained all of the track, in running position, with half of the sprocket, road wheels and idler molded to the track. You add the second halves of all the wheels, and the entire assembly is complete. Very speedy. The only drawback with option two is that while the exterior of the tracks are well detailed through the use of slide molding (multi-part, moving mold faces that slide out of the way, to free the piece from the mold), the interior faces of the tracks were smooth and featureless, instead of jointed like the real tracks. After much agonizing on my part (easy assembly vs. authentic detailing), I chose the link and length option. It was worth it, but a lot more work.

On this model, after all of my pontificating about weathering on the "OPINIONS" tab of this website, I opted to apply a modest wash of darker green to the recesses, and a modest amount of drybrushing with a lighter green. It definitely prevented this all green model from becoming too monotone. Sue me. All paint was Humbrol, radio antenna was a single bristle from a nylon housepainting brush, driving lights were by LS Lenses, decals were from the kit, flat finish was Testor's Clear Flat Lacquer.

Click on the thumbnails below to see the larger images.

PanzerKampfwagen V Panther Ausf. A
(German - World War Two)

PzKfw. V Panther Ausf. A (Google)

The PanzerKampfwagen V Panther was the German response to the effectiveness of the USSR T-34 tank, first encountered in 1941. The Panther was designed to be fast (37 mph), well armored (100mm turret front, 80mm glacis plate), and well armed (7.5cm gun). Learning from the T-34, the MAN German engineers applied the armor at a sloped angle, which by geometry increases the amount of steel through which an armor-piercing shell must pass to penetrate. As the design developed, increases in armor thickness led to increases in total weight, which caused mechanical problems, contributing to engine overheating and breakdowns in combat. However, eventually these reliability problems were resolved, and the resulting improved Panther tanks were very effective.

The Panther was 22 feet 5 inches long, 11 feet 3 inches wide, 10 feet 2 inches tall, weighed 45.5 tons, had a maximum speed of 28 miles per hour and a range of 110 miles. Armament was one 7.5cm main gun and three 7.92mm machine guns. (Octopus Books)    

Revell of Germany Panther Ausf.A

This Revell of Germany kit of the Panther tank was an interesting project that incorporated several different learning experiences. When RoG started producing tank models with injection-molded styrene link and length tracks (like ESCI, only better) I was excited, because although I had built about seventy 1/76 and 1/72 scale AFVs in the 1970s, I never really liked the vinyl tracks that came with those Airfix, Fujimi, Hasegawa and Matchbox kits. At that small scale, the thick, stiff vinyl tracks looked like big fat rubber bands, instead of the highly articulated, flexible, sagging metal links that real tanks displayed.

The link and length (L&L) tracks of the RoG tank kits included molded detail on the inside surfaces of the tracks, which the ESCI kits ignored. Also, the RoG tracks always had guide teeth, which ESCI often left off, although occasionally, the RoG guide teeth would be located incorrectly. I collected nearly all of the RoG tanks as they were released, and started several of them, but until this Panther tank, I never finished one.

Jig to support tank hull and align road wheels

One of the major accessories that I added to the kit was a full set of photo-etched brass that simulates "zimmerit", the concrete-like paste that was applied to German tanks, from about September 1943 until September 1944, as a defense against magnetic mines. (Suicidally-brave Russian soldiers would run up to a German tank and slap on a mine with magnets that would hold the mine against the steel of the tank until the mine exploded.) Zimmerit separated the magnets from the steel far enough that the magnets couldn't work. This is a detail that until recent years, AFV kit manufacturers did not include as surface detail on their German AFV kits. As a result, accessory manufacturers began to provide zimmerit in either resin or photo-etched brass. This PE zimmerit was made by PART, in the Czech Republic. 

Testing the jig for road wheel alignment. Note the PART photo-etched zimmerit, the turned barrel from RB Models, and the grey plastic details from a Dragon Panther.

One of the interesting learning experiences connected to this model was my acquaintance with a fantastic model builders internet discussion group (DG) called Braille Scale. This is a DG dedicated to the building of smaller-than-1/35-scale AFVs, and is a sub-group of a much larger DG called Missing Lynx. "Braille Scale" supposedly refers to either models so small you have to build them by touch, or models so small you go blind trying to build them. On the Braille Scale site, I began to learn many useful ideas for model building, I saw many terrific AFV models, and I learned about a strange sub-group among AFV builders called "bolt counters." Bolt counters are enthusiasts so dedicated to the accuracy of the models they build that they literally count the numbers of bolts, rivets, louver blades, tire ribs etc., on models, and report to each other the degree of accuracy in different AFV kits.

As I read the comments on Braille Scale, one of the first things I learned from the bolt counters was that this RoG model of the Panther Ausf.A had six periscopes on the commander's cupola (hatch on top of the turret roof), instead of the correct seven periscopes. When I started building the Panther, I therefore sacrificed an unwanted Dragon 1/72 Panther Ausf.G turret to get the correct, seven periscope cupola. See the grey parts on the roof of the tan turret.

I also learned from other bolt counter discussions that as a concession to model engineering limitations, the Revell kit had too few teeth on the drive sprocket, and too few (and too large) track links in each tread. This I decided to ignore; there was nothing I was willing to do to correct that.

I further learned that some of the proportions of the upper hull, the slope of the glacis (front armor plate), arrangement of the top deck, etc. were off. (I learned this after I had applied the photo-etched brass zimmerit parts.) I set the model aside, to ponder whether I wanted to spend anymore time finishing this "flawed" kit. I think it languished on the shelf for a couple of years, because of this ambivalence. 

Painted and decaled kit on alignment jig. Road wheels attached to brass wire axles with 30 minute epoxy, slowly curing: straight, plumb and level.

However, after I  so much enjoyed completing the IS-III tank (depicted above), I decided to finish the Panther kit, despite its flaws. I finished assembly by adding various grab handles to the turret and hull, plus a few photo-etched brass details (originally created for the ESCI Panther kit).

In the three images above, I show the jig that I built to accurately install the road wheels on to the suspension of the kit. One challenge to building AFV models is getting all of the roadwheels to align with each other. Although all real tanks have some sort of suspension that allows the road wheels to move up and down in response to the terrain, the wheels all pivot in a fixed vertical plane. One of the flaws of this Panther kit is that Revell provided very minimal nubbins on the hull on which to glue the wheels. To compound this problem, some of the holes molded into the road wheels were off center. A test fit of the eight wheels per each side revealed that they would be very difficult to line up plumb and level in a single plane. My solution was to build this jig: the thin strips of styrene would force the wheel to line up, the flat base taped to glass would make them all level, and the styrene box would float the hull at the right height in relation to the wheels.

To improve the mechanical joint between the wheels and the hull, I cored out the holes in the wheels, and installed thin but stiff brass wires in place of the feeble axles of the suspension. To fill the deliberate gap between the oversize holes and the thin brass wires, I filled each wheel hole with 30 minute epoxy glue. The 30 minute working time of the epoxy allowed me to install all of the wheels, place the model on the jig, and assure that all wheels were plumb and aligned, before it hardened. The next day, the model came off of the jig and the wheels were quite acceptable.

One unforeseen consequence of the cored-out holes was that the return idler wheels at the rear of the Panther dropped lower in height than normal, and by the time I noticed this, the tracks were partially installed, and there was nothing I could do about it. Some wartime photos of real Panthers show this, but it wasn't really my intention. Live and learn, as usual.

All paint was Humbrol, with the base color of No.83 Matt Ochre (Dunkelgelb) lightened with No. 34 Matt White for scale effect. A thin wash of No.84 Matt Mid Stone (darker than the No.83) was applied through-out, with a drybrushing of No.83 with even more No.34 white added to bring out the raised details. Decals were ARMO from Poland with a lot of MicroScale MicroSol to get them to conform to the lively PE zimmerit surfaces, and the flat finish was Testor's Clear Flat Lacquer. Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images.     


Panzerjaeger Panther (Jagdpanther) Ausf. G.1
(German - World War Two)

Early version Jagdpanther tank destroyer (Google)

Unlike the standard "tank" armored fighting vehicle (AFV), designed to work in cooperation with combined arms (infantry, artillery and tanks) together, tank destroyers are a sub-category of AFV deploying some particularly powerful anti-tank gun to specifically target enemy tanks.The Jagdpanther was a German tank destroyer based on the Panzer V Panther chassis. Instead of the expense and complexity of a revolving turret to house the main gun, as on the Panther, the Jagdpanther had a fixed, armored compartment to protect an 8.8cm gun derived from a very lethal German anti-aircraft gun.

The lack of a turret on the Jagdpanther allowed for thicker armor, particularly toward the front, as well as more ammunition storage within the roomier hull. Employed in the ambush role, the limited side-to-side traverse of the gun inside the armor casement was not too much of a disadvantage. Only 382 Jagdpanthers were built by the end of World War II, but these few machines were highly effective, especially once the Wehrmacht was forced to fight a retreating, defensive conflict.

The Jagdpanther was 33 feet 3 inches long, (including barrel; 23 feet 7 inches hull alone), was 10 feet 10 inches wide, was 8 feet 11 inches tall, weighed 92,000 pounds fully loaded, had a top speed of 28.5 miles per hour and a range of 100 miles (road) and 50 miles (cross country). The main armament was one 8.8cm PAK 43 cannon with 60 rounds and one 7.92mm MG 34 or MG 42 machine gun with 600 rounds. (Squadron Signal Publications)

Dragon Jagdpanther with OKB Grigorov resin tracks

Ever since I built a Bandai 1/25 scale, motorized Jagdpanther, at around age 14 or so , the Jagdpanther has been my favorite AFV. As mentioned elsewhere, I did my first, primitive model kit conversion of an Aurora 1/48 Panther into a Jagdpanther. Over many years I've bought all of the available 1/76 or 1/72 scale Jagdpanther kits (Matchbox, Revell of Germany, Trumpeter and Dragon). Once Dragon later released a Jagdpanther kit with zimmerit anti-magnetic mine texture molded on to the hull, I knew this was the Jagdpanther I would build. After an abortive first attempt at poster putty camouflage masking (Click HERE to see that effort; scroll down towards the bottom of the page), I tried to build a Jagdpanther a second time with this kit.

The Dragon kit came with vinyl, one-piece tracks. I glued them into loops as designed, but I had my doubts about how convincing I thought they would look on the finished model, so I ordered a set of resin Panther tracks from OKB Grigorov in Bulgaria. There was a steep learning curve on these, the first resin tracks I've tried to install. The Braille Scale DG advised using a hair dryer to heat up and soften the resin tracks, to get them to curve smoothly around the drive sprocket and return idler, but I over-heated the first track and it warped and buckled. Eventually I got it sort of straight again, but I can still see the remaining distortion. The second track worked better with less heat more judiciously applied.

I used an RB brand turned-aluminum barrel with turned-brass muzzle brake and an ABER brand turned-brass machine gun barrel, plus an Eduard set of photo-etched engine fan/intake screens. All paint was Humbrol, done as described in the Panther entry, above. Decals were ARMO and the final flat clear lacquer finish was Testor's. Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images:

M46 Patton
(U. S. Army - Cold War)

M46 Patton tank (Google)

The U. S. Army M46 Patton tank was an evolution of the M26 Pershing tank. Intended to replace the venerable M4 Sherman tank, the Pershing was combat-tested in Germany in the very last few weeks of World War II, and was deployed to Okinawa just too late to fight. Post war improvements to the Pershing's engine size and power, transmission and main gun led to the new designation M46 Patton.

Manufactured by the Chrysler Corporation, the M46 Patton had a cast steel hull and turret, a Continental 810 horsepower gasoline engine, an Allison hydraulic transmission, torsion bar suspension, and a 90mm main gun. The M46 was operational with the U.S. Army from 1950 to 1957 (and with U.S. Reserve and National Guard units until the mid 1960s), fought in the Korean War, and evolved into the M47 and M48 Patton tanks. The M46 was 27 feet 9 inches long, 11 feet 6 inches wide, 10 feet 5 inches tall, weighed 95,000 pounds, had a top speed of 30 miles per hour and a range of 80 miles. (Squadron Signal books)

Pegasus kit of the M46 Patton tank

In recent years, as I've read reviews in modeling magazines about new plastic model kits, I've come across the description "over-engineered", in reference to a kit that has too many, too tiny, too difficult-to-assemble parts. This Pegasus kit of the M46 Patton fits that description, I believe. It's a splendid kit, with amazing detail, and great accuracy, as far as I can see when comparing it to my references, especially Hunnicutt's Patton A History Of The American Main Battle Tank. But the model was not without its challenges. In particular, the tiny individual track links were too fragile and too fussy to assemble easily. 

A different challenge with this kit illustrated another phenomenom I've noticed in state-of-the-art, 3D computer-generated kits: zero clearance between connecting parts. The engineers who created the computer files to manufacture the molds to make the M46 kit parts appear to have not allowed a reasonable gap between the pieces to be glued together. As a result, the parts have to be altered by the builder to make room for glue to flow at the join.

As I dry-fit the parts of this kit, I discovered that the zero clearance between the track links would require these modifications. I dutifully whittled and filed the track links to fit loosely, so that even after paint was applied, the parts would fit easily. Even at that, it was a struggle.

In the end, installing the track links and lengths was a slow, frustrating process. Quite a few tiny details on the track parts broke off due the the tight fit. Worst of all, despite all of the perfect computer precision that went into manufacturing this kit, and the care with which I tried to assemble it, the tracks did not meet neatly at the last join. I had to trim one end of the last length of track, on both sides of the model, to get the tracks to close, which led to uneven gaps between the track lugs (little projecting tabs at the edges of the tracks). If you look closely near the rear of the model, on either side, you can see how I had to cut off and re-glue a couple of the lugs, spreading them slightly farther apart to look more uniform in pattern.

To see a picture of the Evergreen jig I built to align the road wheels on the suspension, CLICK HERE and scroll down past the paragraphs about ESCI road wheels to the heading "Using Jigs To Align Bogies."

Added details include lifting rings at the hull and turret from brass wire, a modified RB brand M26 turned aluminum gun barrel, plus aluminum tubing at the fume extractor, M.V. Products lens head lights and tail lights, and a U.S. Army tank commander figure by Mili-Cast. I continue to experiment with minimal darker color washes and minimal lighter color drybrushing. All paint was Humbrol, decals were from the spares drawer, flat finish was Testor's Clear Flat Lacquer. Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images.

M48A3 Patton
(U.S. Army - Cold War)

M48 Patton medium tank (Google)

The M48 Patton was a development of the M46 Patton, incorporating substantial improvements in ballistic design, armor and engine capacity.  While the M48 was initially plagued with teething troubles, due to being rushed into production before thorough testing could be done, eventually, later marks of M48s were very successful AFVs. A series of incremental improvements in the M48 led to the M48A3, the subject of the model below. The M48A3 maintained the original 90mm main gun, but had the diesel engine upgrade, with its greater fuel capacity and consequent increased range.

In the United States, M48s served with the Army, National Guard, Army Reserves and Marines. M48s were also exported to West Germany, Israel, Jordan, India and Pakistan. The M48A3 was 28 feet 6 inches long, 11 feet 10 inches wide, 10 feet 2 inches tall, weighed 105,000 pounds, had a range of 300 miles, and a top speed of 30 miles per hour. Main armament was a 90mm gun, with secondary armament of a .50 calibre machine gun at the commander's cupola and a .30 calibre machine gun co-axial with the 90mm. (Squadron/Signal books)

ESCI and Italeri kit of the M48A3 Patton tank

This ESCI kit of the M48 Patton took a long time to complete. I started it and did a lot of construction, particularly on reworking the inaccurate, one-piece ESCI road wheels, but I lost interest in finishing the model. Later, I stole the improved road wheels to build the M55 8" SPG, and that really relegated the M48 to a distant back burner. However, while building the Pegasus M46 Patton, I was inspired to return to the forlorn M48 and finish it, as a sort of interesting link in the chain of U.S. Army tank development. To see some of the steps involved in building the M48, as well as an image of the unpainted model, CLICK HERE

The main gun barrel was scratch built from aluminum and brass tubing; the antennae were bristles from a nylon house painting brush. Brass wire was added at the lifting rings and the tank rider rails. Evergreen sheet, rod and strip styrene was used to scratch build the stowage basket on the rear of the turret. All paint was Humbrol, plus trying out a new formulation of Testor's Clear Flat LacquerDecals were from an Italeri reissue of the ESCI M48, which was also the source of the air filters, wheels and tracks.

Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images.  

Kit bash M103A2 120mm Heavy Tank
(U.S. Marines - Cold War)

The USMC M103A2 was a development of the only production United States heavy tank, the M103, originally designed for the U.S. Army in 1950-1951. After testing, development and improvements, in 1956 the M103 began to be delivered to the U.S. Army. However, by that point the Army's interest in fielding a heavy tank had waned, and after serving in small numbers in West Germany, the Army phased out the M103 in 1962.

However, the United States Marine Corps desired to acquire the M103 as their heavy tank, and by 1957 had ordered about 300 M103A1s, which were the improved version of the M103. In 1961, the USMC opted not to buy the new M60 Patton tank, but instead to have their M48 and M103A1 tanks upgraded with the Continental AVDS -1790-2A diesel engine. This new power plant and improved transmission increased the range of M103A2 from 80 miles to 300 miles. 

M103A2s served the USMC from 1963 to 1972. The M103A2 was 37 feet 1 inch long (not including the 120mm gun barrel), 12 feet 4 inches wide, 9 feet 5 inches tall, weighed 128,000 pounds (64 tons), and had a top speed of 23 miles per hour. Armament was one 120mm gun, one .30 calibre coaxial machine gun, and one .50 calibre flexible-mount machine gun at the commander's cupola. (Ampersand Publishing)

USMC M103A2 Heavy Tank (Google)

Dragon M103A1 kitbashed with Revell of Germany M60 to become a USMC M103A2

I first learned of this tank while perusing R.P. Hunnicutt's book Firepower - A History of the American Heavy Tank. What a brute; a sort of stretch M48 with a massive turret to house an equally massive 120mm gun. From time to time, I thought a little about kitbashing/scratchbuilding a 1/72 scale model of the M103, but there were always other AFVs I wanted to build more.

When a Bulgarian model company named OKB Grigorov produced a very high quality, 1/72 resin, styrene and photo-etched kit of the M103A2, I was tempted, but not enough to buy this obviously richly-detailed-but-complicated multi-media kit. So when Dragon announced an easy-build styrene plastic kit of the M103, I promptly pre-ordered one, directly from Dragon. It seemed like the perfect solution: an inexpensive, quick, fun build of a middle-priority AFV subject.

After I received the model, I began a search on the internet for review(s) of the kit, and that is when I found a pretty fierce critique of the Dragon 1/35 scale kit of the M103, such kit being the basis of the 1/72 kit. Turns out both kits of the M103 (undoubtedly based on the same computer-generated 3D drawings) had identical dimensional errors, which were pretty substantial as well as undeniable. 

I didn't agonize about this conundrum for very long. Using the online critique, plus the drawings and photos of the USMC M103A2 in my copy of the Hunnicutt book, I fixed what I reasonably could, ignored what I reasonably couldn't fix, and enjoyed the build. All objectives accomplished: inexpensive, quick, fun, finished, on to the next project.

Below are thumbnails of a few images showing some of the changes I made to the kit. Click on the images to see them enlarged.

The two-piece-per-side wheel and track assemblies were very interesting: very easy to build and fairly convincing, although challenging to paint the wheels Marine green and the tracks and tires rubber grey, plus the burnished track guides and connectors. To mask the wheels, I used a technique of punching out round disks of Tamiya masking tape, using a steel punch and die set, as I had on the M551 Sheridan. If you want to see images of this, click HERE and scroll down to "Masking road wheels".

All paint was Humbrol, decals were Woodland Scenics rub-on letters and numerals applied to Testor's clear decal film, overcoated with Johnson's "Future" Clear Acrylic Floor Finish, flat finish was Testor's Clear Flat Lacquer. Antennae were housepainting brush nylon bristles.

Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images of the finished model.

ISU 152 Assault Gun
(USSR - World War Two)

ISU 152 assault gun (Google)

The ISU 152 was an Assault Gun AFV built on the chassis of the IS II tank (an assault gun is like a tank but without a revolving turret). The Assault Gun concept is usually less expensive to build than its tank counterpart, and can be just as effective when used to attack fixed targets such as bunkers, or in camouflaged ambush against attacking AFVs.

The ISU 152 was armed with a 152mm gun-howitzer, which proved especially effective in urban settings, when used for destroying German defensive emplacements. Due to its relatively low muzzle velocity (one measurement by which such guns are rated against each other) this gun was less effective at long range against German tanks, and experiments were tried to improve its performance. Ultimately, the best anti-tank results were achieved by installing a different, higher-velocity gun, the A-19 122mm, resulting in the ISU 122. (Osprey Publishing).

The ISU 152 was 30 feet 1 inch long, 10 feet 1 inch wide, 8 feet 2 inches tall, weighed 52 tons, had a range of 72 miles on internal fuel and a top speed of 19 miles per hour. (Wikipedia)

Model in front of kit box

The story of this model is particularly about the "art" of model building. It all started with a turned aluminum 1/72 gun barrel: I was ordering some RB brand turned aluminum 1/72 AFV barrels on eBay when I spotted the barrel for a Soviet ISU 152. The detail of the tiny muzzle brake slots machined into the sides of the barrel was irresistible to me, and I didn't even yet have a kit of this tank. After ordering the barrel, I shopped for the kit and found this Italeri model. 

Once the model arrived, I was completely captivated by the box art. Now, box art is almost by definition the least trustworthy source of authentic color information about a subject; the goal of box art is to persuade you to buy the model, not provide accurate color guidance. Many years ago, in California, a truth-in-advertising law was passed requiring kit suppliers of kits sold in California to use only photographs of the completed kit as box art, not vivid, exciting illustrations.

I knew the warm, bronze/yellow-green used in the box art was probably highly suspect, but I just loved how it looked. I scoured the internet for some matching justification for painting my model such a color. I pored over internet discussion groups of USSR armor enthusiasts, seeking confirmation that this was a historically accurate hue. Finally, I found images of monument tanks on display in Russia that appeared to be painted like the Italeri box art. Despite knowing that the modern paint used on a historic tank was itself often questionable, that was good enough for me. Besides, who can know exactly what color(s) every single USSR AFV was painted during the chaos of World War Two?

To add the appearance of welding to the intersecting vertical edges of the massive armor plates, I applied Archer brand texture decals. These decals are made from clear decal film that has had resin texture added: rivets, stitching, wood grain or weld seams. A coat of Future Floor Finish was applied to the raw plastic, to help the decals stick, and then more Future was applied to seal over the weld decals. After all had dried thoroughly, the first coat of paint was airbrushed.

On the surfaces of the kit that, because of the kit-molding process were too smooth (instead of simulating a rough, cast metal finish, like on the real AFV), I carefully but repeatedly brushed Testor's Liquid Plastic Cement, to soften the plastic. While the styrene was still soft, I pressed the tips of the bristles of a small, short, stiff paint brush into the melted plastic, to roughen the surface. Once the glue had cured and the plastic was rigid again, it gave the appearance of a coarse metal casting, particularly after the application of a darker-colored wash and a lighter-colored drybrushing.

I had fun mixing the paint for this project. I started with relatively "pure" colors: Humbrol No. 80 Matt Grass Green and Humbrol No. 60 Matt Scarlet, because I know from experience that trying to alter one of the factory-mixed military colors can be problematic. The Humbrol Authentic military paints are often the result of Humbrol mixing five or six differently-colored pigments. Adding one complex Authentic Color to another often just results in a muddy mess. With the relatively simple green and red paints, I was able to slowly arrive at the shade of bronze/yellow/green I was seeking. I constantly compared my dried paint samples to the box art. Once the hue seemed close, I then added Humbrol No. 34 Matt White, to achieve a scale color. This mix was airbrushed overall as the base color. Once dry, Humbrol No. 26 Matt Khaki thinned with mineral spirits was flowed around raised details and down into engraved details. Humbrol No. 83 Matt Ochre was drybrushed on the raised details and edges.

Once all the color painting was finished, more Future was airbrushed overall to give a little depth to the weathering, and to prep the paint to receive the decals. After the decals were applied and had dried overnight, Future was airbrushed one last time over the decals. The wheels and tracks were installed and weathered, and then the flat finish was added, absolutely last.

All other paints were also Humbrol, decals were from the kit, headlight lens was by M.V. Products, antenna was a nylon bristle from a house paint brush, flat finish was Testor's Clear Flat Lacquer. Click on the thumbnails below for larger images.

Conversion M-247 Sergeant York Anti-Aircraft Gun
(U.S. Army - 1970s through 1980s)

M-247 Sgt. York Anti-aircraft Artillery (Google)

The M-247 Sgt. York was an attempt to develop and deploy a mobile anti-aircraft gun with U.S. Army tank divisions, to counter the threat of Warsaw Pact ground attack aircraft. The program to create this vehicle was eventually named DIVAD, for DIVision Air Defense. Existing 30mm, 35mm, 37mm, and 40mm guns were considered for installation in a new turret, to be installed on refurbished M-48 or M-60 tank chassis. From the five corporations who responded to the request for proposals, Ford Aerospace and General Dynamics were selected to develop their prototypes for evaluation. In the end, the Ford Aerospace entry, armed with twin 40mm Bofors (Sweden) guns, was selected.

The M-247 was equipped with two radars, a revolving rectangular antenna for target search and IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe), and a cone-shaped dish antenna for target tracking, all derived from the radar system of the USAF F-16 jet fighter. The M-247 was named Sgt. York in honor of Sergeant Alvin C. York, who was given the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in World War One. Unfortunately, the M-247 was never able to function successfully, even after extensive testing and modifications, and the program was cancelled in 1985 after production of the first 50 units. (Hunnicutt; Wikipedia)

The development of the M-247 intrigued me at the time, and I followed its progress in the print media. I hoped it would successfully protect our forces in Europe from all those Mil-24 Hind helicopters and Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack fighters, and I was sorry it didn't work out. (Let's hear it for the Stinger missile.)

ESCI M-48 A5 chassis with scratch-built Sgt. York AA turret

Below are images of the unpainted, scratch-built 1/72 Sgt. York turret, along with the Tamiya 1/35 scale plastic model kit I used as a guide for my scratch-building. Regrettably, these images are scans of color prints of pictures I took in my pre-digital photography days, and are not very sharp.

I used the Tamiya 1/35 scale parts to trace and draft the shapes I would need, by hand with pencil on drafting vellum. I then photo-copied the tracings on to self-adhesive film, reduced to 1/72 scale. Applying the film to sheet Evergreen styrene, I cut out and assembled the turret, adding details from Evergreen styrene strip, rod, tube and structural shapes. At the last minute, I discovered a real M-247, under tarps, behind a chain link fence, at the Aberdeen Proving Ground AFV Museum. I identified a last few interesting details, from my photos shot through the chain link fencing, and added some photo-etched screening in the appropriate location.

Click on the thumbnails below to see larger, even more grainy images: 

This was the second scratch-built/conversion AFV project I attempted (many years earlier, while in high school, I cobbled together a pretty crude conversion of a 1/48 scale Aurora Panther tank into a Jagdpanther. Wish I still had that howler). As described above, a Tamiya 1/35 Sgt. York kit provided the source for drafting and fabricating the 1/72 turret. The ESCI kit of an M-48 A5 chassis was built and modified, also according to the Tamiya kit. Humbrol paints were used through-out, except for the Poly-Scale flat finish. The camouflage was based on one of the prototypes, finished in a U.S. Army MERDC "Red Desert" scheme. The tan color was airbrushed over the entire kit, and then the red, buff and black were painted by hand. This model won a Silver Medal at the AMPS National (in 1995, I think) in Havre de Grace, Maryland, and a First Place for Scratch/Conversion Small Scale AFV at the 1995 IPMS National in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Click on the thumbnails below to see the images in detail.

Scratch-built MBT-70  Main Battle Tank
(U.S. Army - Vietnam Era/Cold War) 

MBT-70 (West German repainted as U.S. Army) (Google) Note the bulky add-ons at the turret, reportedly weights to simulate full load condition.

The MBT-70 was an ambitious, joint U.S. Army/West German project from the late 1960s, to develop a shared, very high-tech, Main Battle Tank. A revolutionary new hydropneumatic suspension sytem allowed the tank to lean to either side, rear up in the front or back, and rise to full height or sink to the ground. The gun tube was designed to fire caseless 152mm shells or launch Shillelagh missiles, using a very sophisticated fire control system of laser, infra-red, and heat sensors. The three man crew was housed in the turret, protected from nuclear fallout, chemical, or biological weapons, and the driver's position was motorized to revolve opposite of the revolution of the turret, so that he was always facing forward. Not unlike the U.S. Army's AH-56A Cheyenne attack helicopter of about the same time, the MBT-70 attempted to incorporate too many new, promising but untried technologies, all in one very complex machine.

Differing objectives, politics and escalating costs caused the partnership to dissolve. Eventually, the West Germans evolved the Leopard tank series from their version of the MBT-70. In time, the U.S. Army developed the amazingly successful M-1 Abrams tank from the ashes of the cancelled MBT-70. (Hunnicutt)

Scratch-built American Pilot Model Number Two MBT-70

In high school, I built the Aurora 1/48 scale kit of the MBT-70. In typical Aurora fashion, the kit makers had rushed the model into production, and the kit resembled the Army's study model of the MBT-70, more than the actual prototypes. Ten or twelve years later, I built the Aurora kit a second time, trying to improve where I could on the kit, but I didn't have much in the way of reference material. Finally, once I bought a copy of Hunnicutt's ABRAMS - A HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN MAIN BATTLE TANK, I had a drawing and many photos, including one in color, of the MBT-70. I hand-drafted and traced on mylar the 1/48 scale drawing from the book, and reduced the drawing to 1/72 scale. 

Unpainted scratch-built MBT-70 on road wheel alignment jig

This heavily Photo-Shopped scan of a very old, pre-digital, photographic print shows the unpainted MBT-70 on the jig I built to align the road wheels. Wish I had many more, much better pictures of this, my first full scratch-built AFV.

The model was scratch-built from Evergreen brand sheet, strip, rod and tube styrene plastic, with brass sheet metal at the front fenders, and brass wire details. The missile/gun tube was built up from aluminum tube. The tracks and drive sprockets were from a Revell of Germany Leopard tank kit, and the road wheels and return idler wheels were from an ESCI M-48 tank kit. I made a master of the left and right hydropneumatic suspension units, made RTV molds of the masters, and cast six Alumalite resin copies of each. Humbrol paint was used through-out, with scratchbuilt decals from Woodland Scenics brand press-type lettering. Poly-Scale clear flat was used for the final coat. This model received a Gold Medal at the 2001 AMPS National at Havre de Grace, Maryland.

Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images. 

M551 Sheridan Airborne Tank 
(U.S. Army - Cold War/Vietnam/Desert Storm)

M551 Sheridan Airborne Tank (Google)

As early as 1952, the U.S. Army began the development of a new, light tank to replace the M41 Walker Bulldog. After experimenting with several concepts and prototypes, the Army combined the need for a lightweight, air-transportable tank chassis with the promising potential of the revolutionary Shillelagh gun tube/missile launcher. The Shillelagh was to be installed in the MBT70 (see above) and the M60-A2 Starship. Firing either 152mm caseless, high-explosive shells or the infra-red-guided Shillelagh anti-tank missile, this system seemed the perfect solution to provide serious tank-stopping power within a lightly-armored tank.

In 1960, General Motors Corporation won the contract to produce first five, then ten, prototypes of the XM551. After much revision and evolution, the resulting tank was given the designation M551 Sheridan, with standard production beginning in 1965. A limited amphibious capability (rivers and ponds only) was provided through a system of hoistable canvas screens, with a rigid, folding front panel to plow though rough water.

Political considerations within the Army caused the Sheridan to be rushed into deployment in the Vietnam war. Many shortcomings in the performance and effectiveness of the tank became apparent under combat conditions, shortcomings which might have been more successfully resolved, had development and testing not been so compressed. However, over time these problems were largely dealt with, and the Sheridan remained in service with the U.S. Army through-out Vietnam, USAEUR, Grenada, Panama and Desert Storm.

The Sheridan was 20 feet 5 inches long, 9 feet 3 inches wide, 9 feet 7 inches high, weighed 33,600 pounds combat-loaded, had a top speed of 43 miles per hour on flat roads, and a range of 350 miles on roads. Armament was one 152mm gun tube/missile launcher, one .50 caliber machine gun on the commander's cupola, and one 7.62mm machine gun co-axial with the gun tube. (Hunnicutt, Squadron Publications)

S-Models M551 Sheridan (Early)

This was my first experience with an interesting concept in plastic model tank manufacture and construction: unlike every other AFV on this site, instead of tracks molded separately from the wheels and installed during construction, this kit by S-Models had some of the tracks and some of the wheels molded in a single piece. I understand the intent of this approach is to ease the difficulty, and reduce the time involved, in assembling the kit. This is particularly attractive to wargamers, who build plastic model tank kits primarily to use as playing pieces in very authentic and detailed wargames. For the wargamers, the typical AFV kit has too many parts and takes too much time to build; time which could be spent gaming, instead. A separate industry has developed over the years, catering to the gamers.

Usually, kits designed with wargamers in mind are very simplified, have few parts to assemble, and therefore can be lacking in detail, as far as the AFV kit-building enthusiasts are concerned. It would appear that S-Models, based in the People's Republic of China, is trying to bridge the gap between gamers and modelers. S-Models has released a couple of dozen well-detailed AFV models, but often with a single part containing all of the tracks and wheels for one side of the tank. Below is an example of a particularly simple but never-the-less well detailed S-Model kit, of a 1930s British Vickers Light Tank Mk. VIB:

Parts for one S-Models 1/72 Vickers Light Tank Mk.VIB. Note the tracks and wheels molded as one piece for each side of the tank.

I had waited for a couple of decades for a good 1/72 kit of the Sheridan to appear, at least one better than the 1976 Airfix 1/76 scale kit. I long considered scratchbuilding the M551, but I was particularly stymied by how to replicate the Sheridan's rather unique tracks. The S-Models kit of the M551 was a very welcome addition to the world of model tank kits, and once this Sheridan was announced, I waited very impatiently for it to become available for purchase. As soon as it was listed on eBay, I promptly ordered it, direct from China, and once the kit arrived, I dove right in.

However, as soon as I started working on the kit, I noticed a concession that S-Models had made toward what was feasible for injection molding. To give strength to the tracks-and-wheels part, S-Models had molded the top run of track in contact with all five of the road wheel sets. Try as I might, I could not find a single photograph of this track condition occurring on any real M551s (see the B&W image of the M551 above, as an example). Fortunately for me, each S-Model kit box contains two complete kits. After some planning, I carefully cut the top run of track away from the roads wheels of kit A, sacrificing the kit A wheels in the process. I then cut the top run of tracks away from the road wheels of kit B, sacrificing the kit B tracks. Once all cutting was complete, I had the parts I needed to build one M551:

S-Models M551 left side tracks/wheels as molded, with top run of tracks in contact with tops of road wheels
TOP: Unmodified wheels and tracks part, left side. MIDDLE and BOTTOM: Parts from two S-Models M551 kits cut and modified to combine to make one accurate model, right side
S-Models M551 with combined parts to make accurate configuration of track and road wheels

In addition to modifiying the wheels and tracks, I also replaced the kit's photoetched parts: I scratchbuilt the stowage rack on the back of the turret with Evergreen styrene and photoetched aluminum screening, and I scratchbuilt the towing/lifting lugs with Evergreen strip. I replaced the kit's PE brush guards at the headlamps with brass wire, to give them more accurate shape and mass.

Sometimes (often) the really thick parts of an injection-styrene-molded model kit shrink as they cool, causing distortion in the part. That was the case with the S-Models rendering of the "Open Breech Scavenger System" main gun tube. I super-glued telescoping diameters of aluminum tubing into an assembly, and turned down the outside diameters as required on a lathe, to achieve a smoothly cylindrical gun tube. Since I wanted a pre-Viet Nam production version of the M551, I scraped the applique armor off of the bottom front of the hull. I scratchbuilt the numerous .50 calibre ammo boxes to be stowed on the turret.

All paint was Humbrol, the very minimal decals were from the kit, and the flat finish was Testor's Clear Flat Lacquer. Click on the thumbnails below for larger images.

Scratchbuilt M-55   8" Self-Propelled Howitzer
(U.S. Army - Cold War/Vietnam Era) 

M-55 8" Self-Propelled Howitzer on display at Aberdeen Proving Ground

The design of the M-55 8" Self-Propelled Howitzer was begun in 1951, as a supplement to the 155mm Self-Propelled Gun. The Pacific Car and Foundry Company began manufacture of the M-55 in 1952. The chassis was based on the road wheels and tracks of the M-46 and M-47 tanks. The massive turret was design to afford protection for the crew from the predicted chemical weapons and atomic fallout to be encountered on the battlefields of the 1950s.

The M-55 was operated by the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps, from the 1950s through the Vietnam War, when it was removed from service. The M-55 was 26 feet long, 11 feet 9 inches wide, 11 feet 5 inches tall, weighed approximately 98,000 pounds with full combat load, and could travel a maximum of 150 miles on roads. Top speed was 35 mph. (Hunnicutt; Wikipedia)

Scratch-built M-55 Self-propelled 8" Howitzer

I think this is one seriously ugly AFV. A childhood friend had the Renwal kit that he and his dad had built, and that was my introduction to this machine. I continued to notice the M-55 whenever it would (rarely) pop into my line of sight. At some point, during college, I found the Revell "History Makers" reissue of the Renwal kit, in a hobby shop in Salem, Virginia. I bought it mostly out of nostalgia for my long-ago friend's model. Upon close examination of the model, I realized how inaccurate the kit was, especially at the suspension, tracks and wheels. Years later, another friend loaned me a copy of R.C. Hunnicutt's massive tome on the Patton tank. What a revelation Hunnicutt's book was for me! Incredible depth of information about the slow, steady development and evolution of U.S. Army AFVs, including prototypes, one-off dead-ends, variations built on a common chassis, etc. Plus, the book contained photos and a drawing of the M-55.

The last piece of the puzzle fell into place when I spotted a real M-55 on display at the AFV Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, USA. I got permission from the Museum curator to climb up on the M-55. My brother Charles and I painstakingly measured and photographed the M-55 in great (though never sufficient) detail. Back at home, I began my first AutoCAD drawing of an AFV. From that drawing came this scratch-built model. On this project is where I perfected my technique of printing AFV parts, based on the AutoCAD drawings, on to sticky back film, to guide the cutting of the pieces.

All of the road wheels, drive sprockets, return idlers and tracks were modified parts from an ESCI M-48 Patton tank kit. The cupola was from a Hasegawa HVSS Sherman tank. The 1/72 scale 8" howitzer tube was machined from a 1/35 scale tank barrel (don't recall which one). Details were from a variety of other, mostly ESCI kits. All paint was Humbrol, decals were scratch from Woodland Scenics rub-on numerals, and flat finish was Poly Scale.

Below is a very partial record of the construction of the M-55. Click on the thumbnails to see larger images.  

Conversion PanzerKampfwagen VI (P)
Porsche Tiger Tank Prototype
(German - World War Two)

Panzerkampfwagen VI [Porsche] (Google)

This AFV lost the competition with the Henschel design for Panzerkampfwagen VI, much more popularly known as the Tiger I. The Porsche design was powered by petrol engines that turned generators that in turn powered electric motors that drove the tracks. It was a development of the Porsche chassis for the Ferdinand and Elefant self-propelled guns. The Porsche Tiger prototype lost out primarily because of poor mobility and maneuverability, compared to the Henschel design. A new turret, armed with an 88mm gun, was designed and installed on both Pz Kw VI prototypes. (F.M. von Senger und Etterlin)

Conversion ESCI Elefant to Tiger (P)

Seeing pictures of this prototype tank interested me greatly, but I didn't consider trying to build a model of it until a 1/35 scale kit was produced by Italeri. I borrowed a copy of the kit from my friend, Bill Barrett, who owned a hobby shop, Lightship Hobbies, in Charlottesville, Virginia. I used an ESCI kit of an Elefant self-propelled gun for the tracks, wheels and much of the lower hull, and scratch-built the upper hull from Evergreen styrene plastic sheet, strip, rod and structural shapes, based on measurements and calculations from the Italeri kit. A Revell of Germany Tiger I kit (that I bought while on a missions trip to Slovakia in 1998) provided the turret. A Hasegawa Panzer IV provided the turret bustle storage bin. The scratch-building included tread plate-textured photo-etched fenders and running boards, copper wire tow cables, wiring to the headlights, and photo-etched screening over the cooling vents on the engine deck. All paints were Humbrol, with Poly-Scale clear flat finish. The only markings on the entire tank, the numeral "9" on both sides of the turret, were Woodland Scenics press-type text. You can now buy a 1/72 plastic model assembly kit of the Tiger (P) from the Dragon kit manufacturing company; so far, the only instance of which I know, of a commercial kit becoming available of one of the subjects that I have scratch-built.

Many thanks, Bill.

Below are two (unfortunately poor) scanned images of pre-digital, photo prints of the unpainted model:

Unpainted conversion Tiger I (Porsche) Prototype
Unpainted conversion Tiger I (Porsche) Prototype
Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images of the finished model: 

Scratch-built Krupp Protz 6x4
(German - World War Two)

Krupp Protz Kfz.69 6x4 Personnel Carrier (Google)

The Krupp AEG developed the Kfz.69 Protz in 1933, and production continued until 1941. Powered by a four cylinder, 55 or 60 horsepower engine, the Protz was used as a personnel carrier, artillery mover, staff car and light truck. A total of approximately 7,000 Protz were manufactured. The Protz was 16 feet 9 inches long, 6 feet 4 inches wide, 6 feet 5 inches tall, weighed 5,732 pounds, could carry 2,500 pounds, had a range of 280 miles and a top speed of 43 miles per hour. (Wikipedia)  


Scratch-built Krupp Protz Kfz.69 Personnel Carrier

Unlike most of my scratch-built AFVs, this model did not involve scale drawings. Instead, I used an unbuilt Tamiya 1/35 scale kit of the Protz to measure and scale down each 1/72 part. This approach was an interesting experiment, and I am content with the result, but ultimately the lesson I drew from this effort was that it is always best to work from scale drawings.

The only parts I did not make from scratch were the wheels (from five ESCI half-track models), the headlights (don't remember the source), the pioneer tools, miscellaneous tow hooks/suspension springs/other tiny bits, and the crew stowage in the cargo bed (ROCO 1/87 accessory parts). All other material in this model is either Evergreen styrene plastic, or brass or aluminum wire. There is as complete an undercarriage as I could build, including the underside of the engine, the drive train and transmission, the differentials, the complex suspension linkages, and the exhaust system.

I was interested in using one of the camouflage colors of the German DAK (Deutches Afrika Korp), a warm, peach/tan color called RAL 8020 Afrika Braun. Since the Protz would have arrived in Africa still painted in the standard Panzer grey, I first airbrushed all of the undersides of the model with Humbrol No.67 Panzer Grey. Then, I very carefully airbrushed Testor's Afrika Braun on to all of the upper surfaces and sides of the Protz, leaving the Panzer grey untouched where the theoretical DAK maintenance worker couldn't reach with his spray gun.

The 3.7cm Flak 43 gun and carriage were a Planet Models resin and brass kit, assembled pretty much out of the box. I didn't have the reference material (nor the interest) to try to add detail not present in the kit. The diorama base was from a Matchbox kit of a DAK half-track and anti-tank gun. Note the swastika in the Nazi eagle emblem above the door; in later issues of this kit, the model mold had been reworked to remove the swastika, to conform to European laws concerning the illegal display of swastikas. I had this emblem part left over from the Matchbox kit I bought in the late 1970s, prior to the no-swastikas policies.

Other than the Testor's Afrika Braun, all other paint was Humbrol, decals were Almark, and the flat finish was Poly-Scale. Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images of the Protz.

 M4A3 75mm Sherman 
(U.S. Army - World War Two)

M4A3 Sherman tank (Google)

More than 40,000 Sherman tanks were manufactured to fight in World War II, beginning with the the M4 prototype in February, 1941. The Sherman was deployed by every Allied nation, fighting on every front of the war. Although in terms of armor and weapons it was not the equal of the best German (and Soviet) tanks, it made up for those weaknesses in terms of reliability, ease of maintenance, sturdiness, speed, and potential for adaptation to multiple roles. The M4A3 was 19 feet 10 inches long, 8 feet 7 inches wide, 9 feet 0 inches tall, weighed 29.6 tons, could attain 24 miles per hour with its Ford V8 engine, and was armed with one 75mm gun plus up to two .30 calibre and one .50 calibre machine guns. (Octopus Books)

ESCI M4A3 Sherman tank

This ESCI kit was considered rare and hard to find; my copy here was actually an ESCI/Etrl rebox, bought second hand somehow. I had built a few ESCI armor kits by this point in time, and wanted to really do right by this rare kit. I did extra research from books such as the Squadron Publications "Sherman In Action", as well as other reference materials I can no longer recall. I added the spare bogie wheel (mounted on a holder welded to the rear of the turret), brush guards at the head and tail lights, the crew stowage (note the tiny masking tape straps suspending the rucksacks from the crew-added horizontal bar welded to the right side of the turret), and periscope guards at the crew hatches, fashioned from fine brass wire. Apparently, the large cranking tool on the back of the tank is held in place by magnetic attraction, since I didn't think to install any mounting clips to hold it, something I did a better job with on the Tiger (P).

This model was the zenith of my experimentation with the heavy weathering that is so de rigueur among the AFV model-building enthusiasts. After painting the base color of Humbrol No. 155 Olive Drab (lightened with Humbrol No. 34 Flat White for scale color), I added a wash of darker green, followed by heavy drybrushing with Olive Drab lightened with lots of Flat White. Even after being processed by the digital photography, converted to jpegs in PhotoShop, and then further processed by uploading to the website, I think you can see how overwrought the weathering appears. Although I was pleased to have accomplished the required results, I thought it was too much, and pledged not to conform to this convention, in the future.

All paint was Humbrol, radio antenna was a single bristle from a housepainting brush, decals were from the kit, and the flat finish was Poly-Scale. Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images of the Sherman.   

Scratch-built 1/72 M-65 Atomic Cannon

Scale 1/72

Email: AtomicCannon(at)embarqmail(dot)com