by: Jan Etal [ ]
IntroductionThe Panzer III or Panzerkampfwagen III, Sd Kfz. 141 was a medium tank developed by Germany in the 1930s. Initial production began in 1937 and continued through numerous models or marks until early 1943. The tank served on all fronts during World War II.
The final model, the Panzer III Ausf. N, represented by this kit was produced from 1942 to 1943. It was basically the J/L/M versions re-equipped with a short-barrelled 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 gun to be used in the infantry support role. Approximately 700 tanks of this version were produced before Panzer III tank production ceased. The chassis continued to be used as the base for assault guns throughout the war.
The subject of this review is the Pz.Kpfw. III Ausf. N DAK 1/72 Armor Pro, kit #7386.
ContentsAfter opening the box one is presented with two large- and one medium-sized sprues moulded in the standard Dragon grey styrene plastic. Each is separately bagged, as is the slide-moulded lower hull. On the standard Dragon accessory card one will find a pair of Dragon, DS plastic tracks, the turret top, two small photo-etch frets and a set of Cartograph water-slide decals.
A four-sided instruction card is provided displaying a parts diagram, two pages with eight assembly steps in the form of exploded-view line drawings with arrows for parts placement, and one page showing painting and markings. The painting and marking pictures are provided for two tanks. One is for a tank of the sPz.Abt.501, Tunisia 1942/43 and the other for sPz.Abt.501, Tunisia 1943. The colour references provided are for the GSI Creos Corp Aqueous Hobby Color, the same company’s Mr. Color and Model Master enamels.
The parts count is as follows:
Sprue ‘A’ - 41 (Panzer III General Parts)
Sprue ‘a’ - 10 (Panzer IIIN Specific Parts)
Sprue ‘D’ - 44 (Suspension Wheels)
Sprue ‘E’ - 2 (DS Tracks)
Sprue ‘X’ - 1 (Lower Hull)
Fret “MA’ - 5 (Engine Screens Plus)
Fret “MA’ - 1 (Frontal Top Armour Plate)
Total parts count is 104 with only two styrene parts marked as unused.
ReviewMoulding of the parts has to be seen to be believed. This is evident right down to the cast-on idler tensioning mechanism and delicate rivet/fastener detail. Not only the main gun but even the two MG-34s and exhaust pipes have hollowed-out bores thanks to slide-moulding. Flash is all but nonexistent and mould seams are for the most part light and easily removed with a scraping of a sharp hobby knife. There are a few light ejector pin marks but most live in areas that will not be seen after construction. Sink holes on my sample were nonexistent.
Unlike other recent Dragon kits this one has a somewhat higher parts count. Initial inspection showed that the lower hull casting and the ‘D’ sprue (suspension wheels) appear identical to the earlier Dragon StuG III kits (#7254, #7283). However, the IIIN kit’s lower hull sides possess a raised outline where typical early Panzer III hull hatches would be found. That is where any similarity between the two previous kits and this one ends.
The main ‘A’ sprue contains the bulk of the Panzer III generic parts. A smaller ‘a’ sprue holds parts specific to the Ausf. N version. With the exception of the jack, all tools are moulded on the two fenders, as is the tow cable on the rear engine compartment top. The engine compartment louvers are also moulded on and there is absolutely no surface tread pattern detail on the two fenders. This was quite disappointing as it was not the case with the previous StuG kits.
The turret side hatches are moulded in place but the commander’s two-piece hatch has the option of being posed open or closed. Quite surprisingly, there are actually a few turret interior details present but nothing substantial. The radio antenna and its storage tray are moulded as one piece and it can only be displayed in the stowed position. One glaring omission is that while the box cover shows stored track in a rack on the tank’s bow and on the turret, no spare links are provided in the kit.
Sprue attachment points (gates) size and locations are all over the spectrum. While some smaller parts have correspondingly small attachment points, other large parts have excessively large, numerous and/or poorly located sprue gates. One example is the turret mantlet (A26) which possesses a quite prominent ‘V’ shaped gate that overlaps three sides and will require tedious cleaning up.
Build ObservationsAs with any kit, the builder should study the instructions prior to building. This process may not be as rewarding as glue meeting plastic, but can save one time by foreseeing an evident problem.
Step 1 is quite busy and mainly deals with preparing and placing parts that make up the suspension components and adding a few lower hull details. While the return rollers are slide-moulded as pairs of wheels, the other running-gear components are two-piece affairs. The only issue here is for the builder to make sure that the inner and outer halves are properly aligned.
Four shock absorbers (A12) should be glued on before anything else, as placement after other components would impede the process. The return rollers have a pin that fits into a hole in the hull side and the fit was quite loose. The road wheels halves have locating features but no alignment tabs. I chose to make sure that all the lightening holes lined up with each other by eye. The sprockets and idlers have alignment tabs but they are a bit vague in fit. This is a case where the builder will need to make sure that the spokes of each respective part line up.
Fit of the idlers and sprockets into the holes in the hull sides was satisfactory. The road wheels on the other hand were a tad loose and care will need to be taken to make sure their orientation remains correct.
During this step the front spare track holder/rack is added. Attention then focuses on the hull rear area. The first PE part is required to be placed at this point and is the rear engine-deck lower grill (MA-3). The instructions for its placement are at best vague and my example did not fit properly and required trimming. Three rear plates are to be placed and the uppermost one, A33, has no locating features and must be aligned by eye. Similarly plate A10 placement is the same. The last lower plate (A5) has a protruding section that must fit into a depression in the hull. The protruding section needed to be sanded down as the depression was too shallow.
With Step 2 the mufflers (a1, a2), a muffler guard (a11) and a tow pintle (A24) are attached to the hull rear. From dry fitting it became apparent that the mufflers are incorrectly numbered in the instructions. A1 belongs on the right side and A2 on the left when looking at the illustration of the inverted rear hull.
Step 3 has various detail pieces added to the two fenders. Spare wheels, boxes, Notek light, jack and such all have locating holes and fit well for the most part.
In Step 4 work on the upper hull superstructure begins. The easiest job was to place the two PE intake-grill screens (MA1) into their locations. Next an internal support piece (A6) is glued to the upper hull deck (Y). Part A6 required some judicious sanding to fit acceptably. The forward vertical sides of the superstructure (A14, A15, A16) were the next parts to be added. Each of these parts had some nasty sprue attachment points to clean up prior to their placement. The gates overlapped a stepped locating feature and the parts would not fit flush until the extra plastic was trimmed. This was a tedious process that required time and a steady hand.
The last parts to be fitted were the bow machine-gun barrel (A2) and the bow appliqué armour (A17). I did not fit these parts at this time and it should be up to the modeller to determine when best to attach them.
Step 5 sees the attachment of the front glacis plate (A3) to the front upper hull. The headlights (a7, a8) were then fitted to this part and these parts are side specific. Also during this step the upper superstructure (Subassembly ‘F’) and the fender subassemblies (‘D’ and ‘E’) are to be attached.
Part A3 was attached first and required minimal sanding. After dry-fit experimenting, I chose to glue on the superstructure (F) to the hull. Again, some necessary sanding was required to achieve a proper fit. Even so, clamps were required to hold these pieces in place until the glue dried. I chose to leave the fenders off to facilitate painting.
Turret construction is the focus of Step 6. Starting with the gun mantlet, it is made up of four parts. Part A20 is the innermost piece and fits mostly in the turret proper. It surprisingly has some internal detail on its innermost surfaces and is designed to allow some elevation. This in turn fits into part A26 which is primarily the turret front. This part had some seriously large sprue gates to deal with. Next in turn is the mantlet face (A25) and all three of these pieces form the bulk of the mantlet. Care will need to be taken when combining these parts as their general fit was rather loose.
Once the main mantlet pieces were glued together a main gun extension piece (A13) needs to be glued to the front-most piece (A25). Here again the fit was loose or sloppy. With this done the main gun barrel (a12) is to be attached and it also did not possess the most positive of fits. The final piece of the mantlet to add is the MG-34 barrel. This has a rather unusual attachment arrangement with a stepped end of the barrel meant to mate with a stepped protrusion on the mantlet.
With the mantlet attached, the smoke dischargers (A22, A23) were next attached. These are side-specific and had a nice clean fit. The commander’s cupola was glued on and did not have the surest of fits. The builder would follow its attachment with the hatches being glued in the desired orientation (open or closed).
The last items to deal with are those that make up the turret rear storage bin (A27, A28). The use of this bin is marked in the instructions as optional. Part A27 represents the main storage bin piece and A28 the back of the bin located closest to the turret rear. While the fit of the two pieces was acceptable the A27 part had some nasty sprue gates on its top that needed cleaning up.
Step 7 sees the attachment of the last larger PE part, MB-1. This part resides between the front upper hull and the front appliqué armour. The last part of the step is to place the turret on the tank. Unlike most Dragon turrets, there are no locking tabs on the turret ring to stop it from falling off if inverted. The turret is held in place by a modest press fit.
With Step 8 we see the two DS tracks attached to the suspension. As with recent Dragon kits, an information box appears in the instructions detailing the length of track required to be used and the properties of its material. According to the information provided the track should be 92 links or 158mm in length. A quick measuring showed that the length provided in the kit was exactly that.
After gluing the track ends together the track was dry-fitted over the suspension components. The two tracks fit fairly well with one being a bit taught and the other just a tad loose. As the information in the instructions suggests, the track can either be slightly stretched or trimmed and re-glued with normal styrene cement as needed. While the DS tracks have superb and fine detail, care will need to be taken when stretching them as they appear delicate in nature.
ConclusionsWhile an interesting subject and in many ways a beautifully detailed kit, this offering from Dragon is rather perplexing. It is as if two separate minds or purposes designed this kit, with one opting for the minute “Dragon detail” pieces of the past, and another introducing attempts to limit parts-count and speed assembly. To this reviewer it seems that we end up with a compromise between the two schools of thought that may not satisfy the majority of builders who prefer one or the other.
While the box top shows the turret and front hull festooned with spare tracks and a spare track rack is provided on the bow, no separate links are provided in the kit. While the earlier StuG III kits feature separate nicely-detailed engine louvers, this kit settles for plainer cast-on versions. The lack of fender tread pattern and the moulded-in-place tools will also disappoint many.
This kit is neither a quick build nor an advance from previous Dragon offerings. In this reviewer’s opinion, the kit is at best a compromise between the two, with a step backward as far as sprue attachment points are concerned. This kit will require the builder to take it slow and be prepared for some unpleasant surprises. With some care it could create an attractive representation of this vehicle.