Echelon Fine Details from Singapore are relatively new company, but they are filling quite important gap on the market with their decal products. Until now it was hard to get well researched, accurate and complete decals for modern armor. With their first release (decals for Spanish Leopards 2A4) Echelon showed that they can offer one of the best decal sets on the market - well researched, perfectly designed and flawlessly printed by Microscale Industries. The second release from Echelon, reviewed here, is a decal sheet for US Marines M1A1 Abrams tanks participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In a resealable plastic bag we get a single decal sheet (approx. 125mm x 195mm) and A4 size instructions folded in half. Instructions are printed in full color and include small color photos of all tanks featured on the decal sheet. Pictures are unfortunately small and do not show many details. Decal placement diagrams are very clear and detailed. Besides decal placement there is also some useful info added about details of USMC tanks, like placement of troops telephone and EPLRS antenna. Decals themselves are flawlessly printed. Very fine stencils are legible and colors are in register, with small exception of really minimal color shift on some labels.
There are six tanks featured on decal sheet:
1. "Sinister Minister"
- Platoon Commander, 2nd Platoon, C Company, 2nd Marine Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division
2. "BIG PITO"
- Platoon Commander, 3rd Platoon, C Company, 2nd Marine Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division
3. "Kitten Rescue"
- Unidentified B Company tank
4. "4 PLAY"
- 2nd Platoon, D Company, 1st Marine Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division
- Tank of Executive Officer, D Company, 1st Marine Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division
6. "Hard Licker"
- B Company, 1st Marine Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division.
The most impressive artwork on the decal sheet is the one for the last tank listed above. The tank had large horned sculls painted on front turret combat ID panels. You get two very finely printed versions of the skull picture on decal sheet - one with and one without shading. This gives modeler an option to add his own shaded patches, as those printed on one version of artwork are dithered using only black paint and look good only from the distance. This particular tank which carried those markings was equipped with mine plow, what is clearly indicated in instructions.
It is worth mentioning that all tanks featured on this sheet had additional stowage racks attached to the standard Abrams turret bustle rack. Eduard offer photoetched set which allows building USMC style rack. The rack included in Dragon OIF USMC M1A1 kit is unfortunately of wrong type, as it is the type used by US Army 3rd ID (if I remember correctly), not Marines.
As a very welcome addition to vehicle specific markings, we get a lot of generic stencils and labels, typical to Abrams tanks. Included are complete warning markings for Missile Countermeasures Devices (MCD) and stencils for External Auxiliary Power Units (EAPU). Stencils are also included for Combat Identification Panel frames. There is also a number of shipping and GCE (Ground Combat Element) labels included, often seen on tanks shortly after their arrival to Kuwait and Iraq. Other markings present on the sheet are barrel inspection date stencils, "lift here" markers and generic USMC vehicle numbers. Maybe the nicest feature of Echelon decal sheet is that we get enough markings to apply on six complete models - all required stencils and labels are given in at least six copies! This makes this sheet particularly attractive purchase for modeling clubs and other group builds, as six modelers can use single sheet to build six different OIF USMC Abrams models.
I tried to compare markings on the decal sheet with photos of real tanks, but I only found a handful of photos of those vehicles. Those photos didn't reveal any mistakes in markings however - everything I was able to verify was very accurate. Main sources of reference photos for Echelon were Andy Elesky and Mike Mummey - I contacted Andy in attempt to get some of his photos for comparison, but he is in Iraq right now and doesn't have access to those pictures. He informed me however that he had verified Echelon's work and confirmed that all those markings were very accurately reproduced indeed.
The only additional thing that I would like to see in instructions and was not provided, is more complete information about various non-standard features of six presented tanks. For example while comparing decals to photographs I noticed that tanks 1. and 4. had CIPs painted in not typical way. Usually CIPs on turret front have darker "frames" only on four corners of panel. On those two tanks however both front CIPs had full rectangular green frames painted (or made of adhesive tape) around panels. Turret side CIPs had their metal mounting frames painted green, so they also looked like they had green borders around sand painted panels. Those green rectangles on front and sides of the turret were quite noticeable feature on some of those tanks, but there is no mention about it in decal set instructions, with exception maybe for small photos of tanks which show those features if you look closely.
Echelon decals were printed by Microscale, so I didn't expect any problems with application of them on the model, but I decided to perform some tests anyway. I used my old Dragon M1A1 Abrams model, as the rough non-slip texture on its hull is very good to test decal quality. I painted small area with the Future to get smooth surface for decals. Then I used one of round bridge class decals cut in half. I applied one decal part using just warm water and a piece of paper towel to press it to the model surface. To apply the other decal I used Microscale's own Set and Sol decal solutions. First decal stuck to the model quite well, but I was not able to force it to snuggle down to the rough surface and decal film was silvering very noticeably. The other decal reacted perfectly to Set and Sol and decal film almost completely disappeared despite the heavy texture of plastic underneath. So use of some decal setting solutions is highly recommended with those decals and Microscale's products are recommended. I did not try to use Solvaset with those decals, but there is really no need to use such a strong solution.
Reviewed decal sheet represents really the top-notch quality. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to build USMC Abrams from Operation Iraqi Freedom, but in fact many generic marking included will be useful for any Abrams model, including Army ones. If you were looking for some motivation to build a few Abrams models (I suggest using Tamiya M1A2 kit, as it includes option to build USMC M1A1), then just get this decal set. You would probably have serious problem deciding which of those interesting markings choose and there may be just one solution - build six models and use all those decals!
Echelon Fine Details decals are available in USA among others from Mission Models
, where I bougth my set. For other resellers and distributors list, visit Echelon web site