This is the third and final article in the series showing a detailed build of Dragon’s Panzer IV Ausf. F2 (G) Smart Kit. The first two parts dealt with the construction of the hull and it this part we deal with the turret and tracks.
Time for this stage 2 hours (cumulative 36 hours)
Steps 14 to 16 of the instructions cover the construction of the main gun. This is the long barreled Kw.K40 L/43 cannon that distinguished this model of Panzer IV from it’s predecessors and gave these tanks the extra punch to be able to meet the likes of the Soviet T34 on equal terms.
The gun and it’s breach are very well detailed consisting of around 30 parts that go together well without any problems. The main gun can be made to swivel up and down if wished but to do this parts B11 and 12 should not be glued to part B34 which is not mentioned in the instructions. Unfortunately, as with much of the internal detail, the breach will not be visible unless the hatches are left open and leaving them open would show up the lack of other internal details. There are two clear vision blocks that fit to the rear of the gun mantlet but as these are not visible I did not fit them.
The kit provides two alternative breach blocks, but as usual there is no indication as to which type fits which of the seven tanks that can be modelled. The breach block can be posed open or closed. Since the breach block would not be visible on my finished model, it hardly mattered which type I used, or whether it was open or closed. However, for somebody building a full interior and planning to have all the hatches posed open this might be a useful feature. The main barrel itself is molded in a single piece of plastic with only a tiny seam line to remove. This is a huge improvement over some kits that provide barrels in two halves.
Time for this stage 5 hours (cumulative 41 hours)
The turret construction is simple compared to the hull. There are only three main components:
- the upper turret consisting of the roof and sides molded in one piece
- the turret floor
- the main/gun mantlet already constructed as described above.
The fit of these three main parts was not brilliant, especially compared to the lower hull. There were gaps in the join line between the upper and lower turret although this did not matter since they would not be visible. After gluing the floor and upper turret together, it was quite difficult to get the main gun breach through the hole in order to fix the mantlet. Gluing the mantlet also proved difficult and even after clamping it tightly there were a couple of gaps which necessitated some reworking of the weld beads that run right around the mantlet.
With the main construction of the turret completed there is a miriad of small parts to add such as hooks, hatches, grab rails and the large rear storage box. All of these fit well and the various hatches can all be posed open or closed.
The commander’s cupola is a miniature in it’s own right. There are alternative parts depending on whether the vision ports are to be posed open or closed. These vision ports all have to be placed loosely in the lower half of the cupola and are then held in place until the upper cupola half is glued which is quite a juggling act. There are five clear vision blocks fitted to the inside of the cuppola but these were left off at this stage to be added after painting. The cupola hatch halves can be posed open or closed and there is good detail on both sides of the hatches.
One of my peculiar quirks with models is to make sure that they can be stored and transported easily and safely. I prefer that the turret can be securely located to the hull, so that it does not fall out when being transported. Some kits have a bayonet system with lugs on the turret that fit into slots in the hull, but there was nothing like this on the Dragon model. I made two cut outs in the turret opening on the hull and fixed a beam to the turret ring with projections that exactly fitted into the cut outs in the hull. It is easier to see this in the photographs below than to explain it.
Time for this stage 4 hours (cumulative 45 hours)
This model comes with Dragon’s famous individual link ‘Magic Tracks’. I have not used these before, but was quite excited about them since they have received very favourable comments in the press. Modelling has come a long was since tank tracks were represented by poorly molded rubber bands that resisted all forms of glue. These individual links are injection molded parts that have already been removed from there sprues. They are finely molded and have hollow guide teeth.
The track links are supplied in two plastic bags with each bag containing links with different shades of grey. I have read that this is done so that the left and right tracks do not get mixed up, but under close examination I could see no difference between the track links in the two bags – they seemed completely interchangable. There were 111 light grey links and 124 dark grey links. I am not sure why there are different numbers of links, but there are plenty of each type even taking into account those that need to be used for spare tracks mounted on the hull.
Actually, I found the track links disappointing for several reasons.
Firstly, there was an obvious stub on the front of each guide horn where the link had been attached to the sprue when it was formed in the mold. As a modeller I am very careful removing plastic parts from their sprues so that they are not damaged. Unfortunately, the tracks have been removed from the sprues apparently with little care since many links showed some damage. I would have preferred that Dragon had provided the links still on their sprues so that I could remove them carefully.
The second disappointment is that some of the links had a circular ejector pin mark on either side of the guide horn. These were very odd. Some links had no marks, some had a very small mark that was barely noticeable, but about a third had either two circular depressions or two raised circles. I have no idea why there was such variability with these marks from one link to the next.
On some of the links there was also a noticable mold line around the edge of the link. Most of this would not be visible when the tracks were assembled but the seam on exposed ends of the links certainly would be unless the plan is to cover the tracks with mud which rather negates the point of having high quality links in the first place.
The effect of all these faults is that it was necessary to examine each link, clean up the sprue stub on the guide horn and possibly clean up the ejector pin marks either side of the guide tooth. This was a tiresome job which took two hours to complete. I could not contemplate cleaning up the seam lines on side edges of each track, but did so on the worst offenders.
The final problem with the track links is that they do not hold together without glue. I was hoping that they would snap together so that could be painted assembled and then put on the model. Some of the links did clip together quite tightly but the majority had a loose fit so that if a length of assembled track was lifted it fell into many small sections.
Construction and fitting the tracks
I was determined to paint the tracks separately. In order to do this I would assemble them into several sections before fitting them. In effect I was changing them into ‘link and length’ type tracks. In order to do this the tank wheels would have to be in their proper place so that I could form the tracks around them. Therefore, I left the track assembly until the tank hull had been base coated and the road wheels and return rollers had been glued on permanently. The drive sprockets and rear wheel stayed firmly on the tank without glue which was very handy since it meant I could add and remove them as needed to allow easier test fitting of the tracks.
I made the tracks in small sections using a tiny paintbrush to apply liquid poly cement to the hinges of each track link one at a time. A metal ruler was used to check that the tracks were being assembled straight but this proved unnecessary as they naturally assembled in a straight line.
After assembling a few centimeters I left the glue to set for a few minutes and then formed the assembled section around the wheels and left it for the glue to harden properly. Various pieces of cardboard, spring clips and plastic drinking straws were used to hold the tracks in the correct place and to induce a realistic track sag along the top run. It took several sessions to complete the entire section of track on both sides.
Deciding how many breaks I should leave in the track and where they should be was tricky and was acheived by trial and error with many test fittings as I assembled the tracks. I was able to make up the tracks in three sections on each side – a top run, bottom run and a few tracks that went around the drive sprocket.
After the tracks were finally assembled, they were washed to remove grease and dust. They had to be handled very carefully because they were delicate and if they had been picked up at one end would probably have broken. They were airbrushed first with Vallejo track primer coated with Klear (Future) acrylic varnish and then given a wash of Vallejo rust before being fitted permanently to the tank. I felt that weathering was best done with the tracks in place since any dust and mud would be all over both the tracks and suspension.
I was very pleased with the end result, but it did take quite a bit of effort.
If this model is representative of a Dragon ‘Smart Kit’ then it can in no way be considered to be simplified or dumbed down. In the first of these three articles I posed two questions:
- Just how easy are Dragon’s Smart Kits?
- To what extent is accuracy and detail compromised by the Smart Kit approach
I found the kit quite a challenge to build and it would have been so even had I chosen not to use any of the photo etched parts. The quality of the kit is first class, but there are just so many pieces and many of them are so tiny, that it does take a good deal of patience to complete the model. The Magic Tracks were a mixed blessing and I think that link-and-length or good belt type tracks would have been a better choice on a kit that was intended to be relatively simple. I would not recommend this kit to a beginner as it does requires some skill and advanced techniques.
As for the accuracy and detail, I found it to be top quality. Any compromises to make the kit easier to assemble were trivial and the final product has more finesse than any I have made to date. If you want to build a really accurate model of this tank then I would highly recommend this kit.
Now all that remains is to paint the beast!!!
Photos of the completed tank prior to painting are shown below.