by: Andras [ ]
The SU-122 (Samokhodnaya Ustanovka 122 mm) was the first “true” self-propelled gun designed in the Soviet Union. The idea was based on the success of the StuG III concept: using a tank chassis to give mobility to large artillery pieces. Three different guns were considered when the development process started in the Spring of 1942: the 76.2mm ZiS-3 field gun and the short barrelled, low velocity122mm M-30 howitzer for infantry support, and the 152mm ML-20 howitzer for a more specialized assault gun role attacking fortified positions. The first attempt to create a 122mm gun armed SPG was made using captured StuG chasses (SG-122). This project was abandoned as captured vehicles were difficult to keep in service. Parallel of the development of the SG-122 there was an attempt to use the T-34 as a basis for an SPG; this utilized the same F-34 gun as the T-34 (U-34). It had an increased armour protection, and was lighter than the T-34. This vehicle was probably deemed not very practical (the lack of turret made it easier to produce, but it also limited its flexibility; having been equipped with the same gun as the turreted T-34 it did not really offer any improvement.) The decision was made that the Ordzhonikidze Ural Heavy Machine Building Plant (UZTM) would start on merging these designs together into the U-35 by mounting the M-30 S howitzer onto the U-34 chassis. Testing revealed a number of faults and ergonomical problems (poor working conditions for the crew), but the vehicle –with some changes in fighting compartment layout, and other minor improvements- was accepted into service as SU-35 (later SU-122) at the end of 1942. The SU-122 production lasted until the summer of 1944 with a total of 1150 vehicles built.
The first production vehicles rolled off the assembly line in January, 1943, and were essential for the Soviet war effort until the more advanced models, the SU-152, ISU-152, ISU-122, SU-85 were introduced in 1944. (This was the point where the Soviet SPGs diverged into dedicated anti-tank platforms –SU-85, SU-100-, and assault guns – the SU-152, ISU-152.) Operationally they were successful in their role: their HE round was very much able to destroy enemy positions, and it was very useful against infantry. The low velocity shells were not as effective against German heavy tanks as the 152mm howitzers were.
I was really excited last year when I saw that MiniArt was issuing a model of the SU-122. Even though my main focus shifted to Braille scale lately, I am very much interested in building tanks with complete interiors. This normally includes buying expensive aftermarket sets –IF they are available at all; T-72 I’m looking at you- but now it seems like MiniArt and a few other companies offer the interiors as premium content for a non-premium price. That said if interiors are not your thing, the SU-122 will be issued without the interior details included if I’m not mistaken. (It would make sense to issue the interior separately for those who would like to work with the old Tamiya kit.) The new SU-85 and the T-54 models are going to be issued with full interiors as well. This model depicts the first production version of the SU-122; there will be later versions issued.
In the Box
The model comes in the typical MiniArt cardboard box with a nice cover art showing the vehicle. It’s a reasonably big box, and it is full of plastic. There are 733 plastic parts, and 95 PE parts included. The plastic itself is pretty pleasant to the touch, and quite soft. The moulding is great; you see casting surfaces at the appropriate places, and the detail is very good. There is a minimal flash around some parts. As usual, MiniArt might have gone overboard with the tiniest, thinnest parts in plastic, as they are so delicate, they easily break while you try to remove them from the sprues. Clean-up is not exactly easy, either. Sometimes it’s just better to swap them to thin plastic rods (the rods attached to the control levers at the driver’s station come to mind).
The kit comes with a full interior; and I use the word “full” in every sense possible; the model is crammed with details. (I will have to figure out how to display the vehicle so that most of it remains visible; probably a cutaway would be the best solution.) It comes with individual track links, however they are not “workable” as the instruction manual claims; a longer section falls apart quite easily without glue.
For the basic measurements I've used my reference books on the T-34, and for the assault gun superstructure I have used the images I found online. I have only found one photo of the interior (well, someone helped in the forums to find these images), so I cannot comment on how accurate the model is from the inside.
The instruction manual comes as an A4 booklet with colour pages. The introduction mistakenly says that the vehicle is built on the T-44 chassis, which is not correct. The colours are given in Mig Production’s paint codes; it would be great if they were also given in other popular paint companies codes such as Tamiya’s or Humbrol’s. There are six decal/paint options provided for the model: one captured vehicle carrying German markings, and the rest are Russian ones. One in particular is very unique as it depicts a white-washed SU-122 with actual branches painted on the front and a gigantic red dot painted on the top; I think this is the one I will go with –an actual Christmas SPG.
The building is divided into sub-assemblies which are then brought together to complete the vehicle. It’s worth studying the plans first to decide what to paint when, and plan ahead with the construction. As an example it makes sense to paint some of the firewalls, and other interior components with the rest of the interior, instead at further steps along the build when they appear. (Some work has begun on the model, so it’s not a strictly in-box review. One more caveat: due to the number of sprues included I only took photos of the unique ones; some of them have as many as ten copies included in the box.)
The build starts with the engine, radiators and the transmission. It goes on for a good two pages, and by the time you’re done, you will have a very detailed depiction of a V-2 diesel engine and the assorted parts. The wiring diagram for the engine (or anything else) is not included, so you will have to get these from references.
I have deviated from the building sequence somewhat so I don’t have to repeat the same painting and weathering steps separately. I would only suggest installing the last two pairs of the Christie suspension, as they are going to be painted the same blue-grey as the rest of the engine bay; the suspensions in the front will be painted white, however. These should be added later, since the bottom of the interior is painted in the same blue-grey colour as the engine bay.
Driver’s station and fighting compartment
This is also a pretty busy part of the model, with the thinnest little parts making up the controls and the rods that are connecting them to the engine compartment. The assembly is fiddly, however there are no problems with fit. Every tiny detail comes together perfectly. Some of the thinner rods would probably be better off replaced; they are so delicate that some (C35 for example) were already bent by the stressed sprue attachment point during transit. A large part –the armour protection for the transmission (part Ba33) - was already bent on the sprue (see photo). Since the plastic is relatively soft, it will not be a problem to glue it into place using a clamp to hold it in shape until the glue sets.
The hull sides are detailed first, and then attached to the bottom of the hull; I would suggest leaving the smaller bits off, and only glue them on once everything else is in place. The interior of the fighting compartment is painted white; deviating from the instructions it makes sense to first only assemble the parts that will be white, paint them, and after this step continue with adding the other parts. By step 41 we should have most of the engine compartment ready, alongside with the bottom of the fighting compartment with the front plate attached, with the sides and the swing arms for the road wheels installed. (I’m planning to install the engine towards the end of the build.)
Step 42 to 49 details the assembly of the main gun. Interestingly the firewall between the fighting compartment and the engine compartment is only installed at step 53- I think it would make more sense to do so at earlier steps –possibly at step 40 once both sides are glued on. The next couple of steps detail the assembly of the rest of the fighting compartment with the sides and top of the superstructure. (The cast metal parts have incredibly nice casting structure.) The pistol ports cannot be opened unlike in the case of the T-44 model by MiniArt. Here the instructions would have you attach the headlights and other small parts to the side walls before gluing them onto the model; I would suggest leaving these parts off until the main part of the construction is done as they can be broken off quite easily. The gun barrel is a one-piece plastic affair; there are turned metal barrels available, but the kit part is perfectly adequate.
The next steps (63-66) detail the assembly of the back of the SPG, and the installation of the tracks. Step 66 is not very clear on the sequence, but make sure you add the tracks first (which means painting and weathering the underside of the chassis), and then add the cover of the engine compartment. The rest of the steps (up to 71) are about “dressing up” the exterior with the external fuel tanks, the straps for the grousers and mudguards.