by: Tom Cromwell [ ]
The Vickers-Armstrong 6-ton tank was one of the most successful and influential tanks of the inter-war years, despite being a complete sales failure in the country for which it was designed. Following on from the medium 12-13 ton tanks that Vickers had produced for the British Army in the 1920s, it represented a radical change of tactical philosophy inspired jointly by the success of the lightweight Carden-Loyd tanks and the dire economy of the UK after World War I. By the time it was designed, the firm of Vickers had absorbed the Carden-Loyd works, so the new tank benefited from the attention of some of the most talented engineers available including Sir John Carden and Vivian Loyd themselves. Unfortunately, the Army claimed the suspension was a weak point and turned it down. While this may have been a financially-motivated decision in the cash-strapped UK (A J Smithers claimed as much in Rude Mechanicals), it forced Vickers to seek export clients. And this is where the 6-tonner really took off.
As was customary at the time, most export agreements included licenses to build the tanks in the purchasing country. The two biggest customers were the Polish and Soviet governments, whose license-built versions were the 7TP and T-26 respectively. The T-26 alone ran to some 12,000 units! Other customers included Bulgaria, Finland, and Siam. The basic design even spawned the Italian M11/39 and M13/40 models, and influenced the Czech LT35.
The basic tank was the model E, with a choice of A or B variant. In both cases, the hull featured a distinctive suspension and an air-cooled Puma engine mounted at the rear. The A type had two small machine-gun turrets side by side, while the B variant had a single turret that came with a coaxial-mounted machine gun and cannon – a first for any tank. Regrettably, they left the factory with a short-barrelled 47mm gun that most end users replaced due to its inadequate performance. The larger two-man turret of the B variant was offset to the left of the fighting compartment to avoid interfering with the driver, who sat on the right.
This kit from Mirage, however, represents the much rarer model F, which came about through a request from the Belgians to install a more powerful water-cooled Rolls-Royce engine to fix overheating problems. To fit the new engine the designers had to shoe-horn it up the left side of the fighting compartment of a single-turreted B variant. This required that the turret be offset to the right, but to make room for the driver the turret had to be set back and the fighting compartment extended rearwards into the space intended for the engine compartment.
After all this work the Belgians declined the tank, so Vickers went back to the air-cooled Puma engine, but they kept the new hull design for future orders of the model E. New orders from the Finnish Army, Bulgaria, and Siam were thus filled with these “hybrid” F-pattern tanks with Puma engines. The Finns ordered theirs stripped bare (no guns or even seats) and adopted a better 37mm Bofors gun. After the Winter War they up-gunned theirs with 45mm guns from captured Russian T-26s. The Siamese tanks were impounded before they could be shipped, and were used by the British for training. It is worth noting that only the Finnish tanks had the turret offset to the right – the rest of the Mk F hulls had their turrets moved again to the left side to reduce crowding.
Mirage has already released a kit of the F variant as number 35310. Mirage also released a kit of the F variant with 45mm gun as actually used by the Finns (#35311). These and their T-26 and 7TP kits seem to share common moulds for many of their sprues, and judging by the style of the kit sprues and parts I suspect they stem from 1960s/70s tooling.
The box is a standard two-piece “lid and tray” design, complete with the red Mirage “swoosh”. Inside there is a poly bag with seven grey sprues holding 276 parts (not all are used), two vinyl tracks, a vinyl tow cable, a decal sheet, a painting guide, and a four-page folded instruction sheet. Several of the sprues come from the core 7TP kit that forms the backbone of Mirage’s many Vickers variants, but there is one sprue designed specifically for the Mk F hull.
All of the sprues and decals come from the earlier release (but with less flash), but the tracks are new. This is good, since the old ones were poor renditions of the famously long-lasting Vickers tracks, and these new ones are good enough not to demand instant replacement with AM parts. The other “new” component is the instruction sheet, since Mirage added English translations. Note that the earlier release of the Mk F came in an end-opening box, with absolutely no English text to be found.
Starting with the suspension, this is fairly well detailed but cannot articulate fully. Each side has two bogies with four wheels each, and the bogies should pivot if care is taken, but on the real thing each bogie was actually a span-bolster linking two, two-wheel bogies through semi-elliptical leaf springs. In fairness it is hard to see how these sprung bogies could be fully articulated in plastic. One of my sample’s suspension arms has a small sink-mark to deal with, but generally the kit is free of such blemishes.
There are lots of road wheels, with the “outer” wheel of each bogie cast solid while the rest had rubber tyres. Because Mirage also kits variants like the 7TP and T-26 using the same sprues, there are lots of unused alternative wheels. The tracks as mentioned are new, and are cast in a more useful “steel grey” colour where the old ones were black. These now join with two melt-able pins in an overlapping link like normal kits – unfortunately the instructions still show the odd separate “joiner” used with the old ones.
The hull is made up with separate sides and ends to allow for lots of rivet detail on all surfaces. The sides come from the old 7TP kit (the sprue says so…) which is fine for the Vickers Mk E, but to make a Mk F the upper parts that form the fighting compartment need to be cut away and replaced. The instructions illustrate it all well enough, but this is the first kit I’ve ever seen that requires drastic attention from a razor saw to build “out of box”!
The roof of the fighting compartment poses some of the accuracy problems – it has the raised pyramid cover in the front left corner for a hull machine-gunner that was added by the Finns, so it is not accurate for anyone else’s tanks. Likewise the driver’s glacis includes the opening for this gun. The other recipients of Mk F hulls all had the turret mounted on the left, precluding any such machine-gun station. (A replacement hull top from plastic card would solve the dilemma.) If the pyramid is removed and the exhaust relocated to the left fender this could even build to be the Belgian prototype, but the instructions don’t even suggest it.
Mirage provides a replica of the conical Vickers turret complete with short-barrelled 47mm gun. The turret sides lack the characteristic rivets due to the limits of two-part moulding. It also has a large square hole in the top that is filled by a separate plate, and hinges that must be removed, so it was clearly designed for another kit. The Finnish tanks were delivered without armament and their turrets had a rear bustle to house a radio, so the kit isn’t correct for them. It could work for a Bulgarian or Siamese tank, except that these too had turret bustles. There are other gun mount parts spare in the box, and a long-barrelled gun from the 45mm as fitted in the “Finnish turret” Mk F kit #35311 and presumably the T-26, but not enough of the necessary mount to place a 45mm in the turret without scratch-building.
There are decals for Finnish and Bulgarian tanks, and painting guides for these plus a British tank without markings.
So, what exactly is this kit? As-built, it is a fiction, representing a late-model Mk F hull sold as a Mk E version B once the hull tooling had been changed, and as far as I can tell it only existed like this in the Vickers sales catalogue. The hull is fine for a Finnish tank but the turret would need modifications to be accurate. For a Bulgarian or Siamese tank the turret is fine but the hull top and driver’s plate would need to be modified. And since the British tanks were confiscated from the Siamese order they too cannot be modelled from the box.
I had hoped to find some new tooling in this “new” release that would correct the problems of the old kit, but sadly this one has all the same parts. Whichever way you look at it there is some surgery required to make an accurate tank. But this kit does fill a gap in the Vickers family for those who missed it first time round, and the improved tracks make it worth the wait. If only the likes of Tamiya or Dragon took a more serious interest in inter-war armour…