by: Bill Cross [ ]
By June of 1940, Adolf Hitler was looking like the all-time military genius of modern history. Having dispatched Poland, France and the British Expeditionary Force twice (in Norway and Belgium) with lightning campaigns whose speed and relative ease shocked his generals (and even himself), Hitler was poised to finish off a woefully under-prepared Great Britain.
The only thing holding him back, though, was the English Channel.
The last successful cross-Channel invasion of the British Isles was William the Conqueror in 1066, and the Wehrmacht knew it would have its hands full getting an army onto the English beaches. Most importantly, Germany had made no advance preparations for invading England, mainly because Hitler couldn't imagine the British would go to war over Poland, and it was assumed any significant conflict would be with traditional adversary France. So the army and navy tried developing both an invasion plan and the means to make it happen. According to The Battle of Britain by Hough and Richards, the army wanted three landings, while the navy felt it could only protect one beachhead. The compromise was a swatch stretching from Ventnor to Ramsgate, and was dubbed "Operation Sea Lion" (Unternehmen Seel÷we).
With the cross-channel push slated for November 1940, the Germans began scrounging every barge they could find on the rivers and canals of Europe, since they had no dedicated landing craft like the Higgins boat or the Landing Ship Tank (LST) in their navy. Simultaneously, testing began on prototype vehicles intended to bring Blitzkrieg to Britain. The Wehrmacht's war wizards didn't have time to develop something from scratch, so they adapted ordinary vehicles to the job of getting ashore.
In the case of their armor, they envisioned a combination of floating tanks (like the Pz. II Schwimmpanzer) and submersibles, the most common being a Pz. III fitted with a breathing tube, rubber seals for the turret & commander's cupola that could be blown off once on land, and a radio beacon for communicating with the surface. Special barges equipped with cranes would lower the vehicles into as much as 15m of water. And they were more than prototypes: as many as 160 of these Tauchpanzer were readied while the Luftwaffe tried to sweep the RAF from the skies over the beaches.
But the British had other plans, and Operation Sea Lion was canceled after the Luftwaffe got its *** kicked during the Battle of Britain. Given Germany's pathetically small surface fleet (made smaller by losses in whipping the English in Norway), and history's lesson about the Spanish Armada, air supremacy was essential. When the Luftwaffe buckled at the knees, Hitler lost interest in Sea Lion. Believing that England was, for all intents and purposes, beaten and would not prove of further import to his plans for expansion into the Soviet Union, Hitler turned East in his planning. The following Summer he would go from genius to goat by mimicking Napoleon's disastrous Russian misadventure.
Historians are divided now on the chances of Hitler successfully replicating William the Conqueror. Most believe the Kriegsmarine would have been no match for the Royal Navy, even if the Luftwaffe had gained some level of air supremacy. With the Battle of Britain's 70th anniversary two years ago, interest in the Early War has been building. Cyberhobby.com, Dragon's "rarities" subsidiary, is being true to its mission and has released one of the Sea Lion submersible panzers, a version of the Pz. III Ausf. F.
Inside the usual Cyberhobby white box are:
19 sprues of light gray styrene
1 hull tub
1 turret box
Y sprues of clear styrene
1 sprue of cuppola and mantlet covers in Dragon Styrene
1 length of DS "air hose"
6-page instruction booklet
1 fret of PE
2 bags of handed Magic Tracks
1 small sheet of depth marking decals
2 Ziploc baggies of wire supports
The kit is somewhat mis-titled as "Operation Seel÷we." The German name for the planned invasion is Unternehmen Seel÷we, so it should more properly be "Operation Sea Lion." But beyond that, it's an excellent Cyberhobby-type release: rare, but not unique or fanciful; specific to a mission; loaded with arcane details unlike the main variant of its type; and well-executed with Dragon's usual fine production values. The kit has the usual crisp molding and excellent detail we expect in these white box issues, with things like a perfectly-cast one-piece hull tub that makes for good fit and little chance of warpage. There is no evidence of flash or knock-out marks.
This in-box review will be supplemented with a build feature.
The instruction booklet is Dragon's usual exploded-view method, which is fairly straightforward. Beware of the many pieces on the parts schematic page in blue; a substantial portion will not be used, so be careful not to confuse them.
painting and decals
The Germans did organize their Tauchpanzer into four battalions, but the kit only gives modelers a single option:
Unidentified unit, Puttlos Test Center 1940 in Panzer Gray
There are no unit markings or tactical symbols, and the decals are for the depth markings on the support frame for the floating air intake.
As is typical with Dragon kits, things start with the running gear. A nice combination of styrene with PE additions, the wheels show the pre-war German passion for ornately-extruded steel parts like idler and drive wheels looking like an Art Deco masterpiece. The real vehicle's torsion bar suspension is replicated in styrene, giving modelers some leeway if they wish to have the tank going over an small obstacle or uneven surface. I strongly recommend one of Quick Wheel's masks for painting, as it both makes the job quicker and the results superior to hand painting.
After assembling the wheels, torsion bars and return rollers, it's on to the rear armor and exhaust, then the fenders and their myriad of goodies: shovel, ax, fire extinguisher, etc.
The third major step involves the rear engine deck with its hatches nicely provided as separate parts. Then comes the turret deck and the driver's compartment cover and hatches (again, separately-molded). With the hull sub-assemblies finished, it's time to marry them to the hull tub itself. The fit appears to be good from dry fitting.
Then it's on to the turret and the Magic Tracks. I will be switching to Friulmodel metal tracks, but these are preferable to rubber band ones. Be cognizant of the fact that the early Panzer IIIs and IVs were fitted with the narrower 36cm tracks. The kit provides "handed" tracks in light and dark gray styrene.
One key difference in this kit vs. other Pz. IIIs is the DS rubberized canvas covers for the commander's cuppolas and gun mantlet. With the turret so sealed, it's on to the breathing apparatus and frame. After that, you're there.
While not a kit the general AFV modeler will be drawn to, those of us who love the Panzer III will want this kit, if nothing else because of the "what if?" elements. If the Germans had invaded England, this would have been the vehicle to take on the defenders on their home beaches.