by: Bruce Worrall [ ]
The Crusader (officially called the A.15 Tank, Cruiser, Mk VI) is perhaps the most-recognized Commonwealth tank of the Desert War (although fans of the Matilda II may argue). British tank design at the time focused on two classes of tanks: slow, well-armoured Infantry Tanks that could move with dismounted troops and suppress enemy defences; and fast, lightly-armoured cruiser tanks that could swarm the enemy.
Design began early in 1939 at Nuffield Mechanizations and Aero Limited, and the Crusader was developed in parallel with the A13 Covenanter, using both the same polygonal turret as its less-successful cousin and a Christie suspension (with five road wheels per side instead of the Covenanter’s four).
The first Crusaders arrived in North Africa in May 1941, but did not see their first action until Operation Battleaxe in June, where 7th Armoured Brigade lost a number to German anti-tank fire. The Crusader’s speed was well-suited to manoeuverist desert warfare, however the reliability of its Mk. III Liberty enigine, thin armour, and the tank’s 2-pounder gun main armament proved less than optimal. The Crusader Mk. II added some armour protection, but it wasn’t until the Crusader Mk. III that the tank’s firepower and mechanical reliability issues were addressed.
The most obvious difference between the Crusader Mk. III and the earlier versions was the addition of the 6-pounder gun, a proven anti-tank gun now adapted to the Crusader turret. The larger gun, however, had one unfortunate side-effect: with less room in the turret, there was no longer space for a Loader, and the Commander had to assume the Loader’s duties. The other major improvement was the switch to the Mk. IV Liberty engine, addressing the reliability issues that plagued older-generation Crusaders.
The Crusader Mk. III made its combat debut at the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942, and served throughout the rest of the desert war. While it did not see service after Africa, its chassis served as the foundation for anti-aircraft, observation, communication, engineer, and recovery variants.
Until 2019, modelers wanting to build a braille-scale Crusader III only had one option – Hasegawa’s venerable 1975 kit, which was re-boxed by Revell in 2001. Enter Poland’s IBG Models. While not a familiar kit producer to many in North America, IBG was founded in 1991 and has over 150 scale model kits in their catalogue, including 1:700 ships, 1:32 aircraft, and 1:35 and 1:72 military vehicles. The majority of their kits fall into the last group, with 1:72 kits representing many less-common subjects, including artillery pieces, logistics vehicles, armoured cars, and some uncommon tanks.
The kit is packaged in a corrugated box with a thin cardboard cover. The folded-over flaps on the box top’s corners are stapled rather than glued. Not the sturdiest packaging I’ve ever seen, but adequate for all but the most extreme cases of rough handling. The box front art shows a Crusader III painted green advancing over flat, sandy desert terrain. This image, along with the kit name and IBG logo are repeated on the ends of the box top. One of the box top sides shows a colour illustration of each of the three marking options, while the other side includes box art from three other IBG kits.
The mid-sized box belies the kit’s contents, with three bags of sprues and the clear photo-etch/decal envelope only occupying about a quarter of the box’s volume. The sprues are conveniently bagged in resealable “zip”-style bags, allowing the modeler to avoid damage and part loss during construction. Sprues include:
A: Hull tub, driver’s enclosure, muffler.
B (x2): Drive wheels, idler wheels, outer road wheels.
C: Superstructure, hull rear, tow point, headlights.
D: Upper glacis.
G: Upper and lower turret halves, mantlet, main gun and coaxial MG, turret stowage bin.
N: Fenders (if using photo-etched sand skirts).
O: Fenders (if NOT using photo-etched sand skirts).
Unlabeled (x2): One-piece moulded track runs with inner road wheels and central portions of drive wheels and idler wheels.
PE: Photo-etch parts, including sand shields and mounting brackets, and headlight guards.
Decal Sheet: Decals for three marking options.
The overall quality of moulding is excellent, with no flash or parting lines visible on any parts. Ejection pin marks are limited to surfaces that will not be visible after construction is complete. As a modeler who is spoiled with the amount of detail provided on 1:35 kits from the likes of Dragon, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a 1:72 kit from an unknown (to me) company. I have to say that I was VERY pleasantly surprised. IBG has done a very respectable job replicating much of the tiny detail normally seen on British tanks of the period. Of course rivet and bolt heads are everywhere, and the fine detail is crisp and generally looks in-scale.
In comparing the sprues against Fletcher’s “Crusader Cruiser Tank 1939-45” and numerous photos found online, the spirit of the Crusader III is well-captured in the kit parts. The following comments are, in my opinion, quite picky, as any shortcomings I identify will be very difficult to see on a finished model that will be less than five inches long.
The kit includes a three-sided hull tub with nice river detail on the sides. There were three very minor sink marks on the hull bottom (corresponding to three pins on the inside of the hull tub), but these can be easily-filled if they cause concern.
As mentioned, the tracks and suspension are built around pre-moulded track runs – not something that every modeler likes, but IBG has done a good overall job with the assembly. Outer road wheels, idlers, and drive wheels are glued to this larger part, and should look quite nice when assembled. One drawback – there are no axles connecting the hull to the wheels, as the whole assembly simply attaches onto the side of the hull. This should not be an issue for most modelers, as the omission will be impossible to see on the finished kit unless you turn it upside down.
The drive sprockets have the correct number of teeth (20), although the sprue gates connect these parts to the sprues where three of these teeth should be, meaning that the thicker sprue gates will have to be shaved down to match the size of the other tiny sprocket teeth. The tracks are very well-defined, although the track shoes look too tall and the horizontal grooves across the centre of each shoe appear too thin. The road wheels look good, with the correct number of bolts around the hubcaps and inner wheels, although the wheels are quite a bit shallower than those on the original vehicle. The hubcap profile seems quite thick and its edges quite rounded. Bolt heads on the wheels and hubcaps are simple semi-spherical blobs rather than hexagonal bolt heads.
The rear deck of the Crusader variants were a jumble of rivet heads, hinges, and grab handles, and IBG pulls it off quite nicely. Some of the detail appears slightly larger than it should be, but not to the point of un-believability. The number and position of rivet heads, handles, and hinges match well to images I’ve found. Rivet heads on the sloped rear of the engine compartment have a slightly oblong shape due to limitations of the injection moulding process, but the two moulded-on rear clevises are exquisite, and the glacis and driver’s enclosure are equally-impressive.
The turret looks very nice, replicating the Crusader’s complicated turret geometry quite will. The Crusader III’s two-piece commander’s hatch, which opened to the left and right, is represented by a single piece in this kit, requiring some careful cutting and a lot of sanding to achieve scale thickness if you want to build a tank with its hatch open (in fact, it may be better to construct new hatch panels from thin styrene). The piece representing the closed commander’s hatch extends all the way to the back of the turret roof. This is not accurate however, as the hatches on the real Crusader stopped about a foot from the back of the turret roof. After (literally) counting many rivets on the kit’s turret I’ve only discovered one error. When looking at a Crusader III from the front, there is a rivet head roughly in the centre of the triangular area to the right of the gun opening, but this rivet head is missing on the kit’s turret front. Finally, the 6 pounder gun and coaxial Besa machine gun have solid tips, and will need to be drilled out if you want to represent hollow barrels.
The instruction sheet is clearly-printed in a glossy booklet with good-quality line drawings for each step. Parts are clearly labelled, and all text instructions are printed in Polish and English. IBG uses its own combination of triangles, letters, and numbers to indicate previously-completed sub-assemblies, paint colours, and decals.
The assembly itself looks quite straightforward, as you’d expect for a 1:72 scale armour kit, with one exception. The forward edge of the photo-etched sand shields require two adjacent 90 degree bends, and the narrow strip along the top of the shields require two adjacent 35 degree bends – something that some modelers inexperienced with photo etch may find challenging. The kit does give the option of omitting the sand shields, but for PE-phobic modelers who want sand shields, no equivalent plastic parts are provided.
Painting and Decals
The instructions provide three marking options, with full-colour illustrations showing the vehicle’s front, back and sides. Colours are specified in Vallejo Model Air, Hataka, Life Color, Mr. Hobby, and AK Interactive paints.
1. Unspecified unit, Polish Forces in Great Britain, 1942 (“Olive Drab”)
2. 6th Armoured Division, Tunisia, 1943 (“Olive Drab”)
3. Unknown unit, North Africa, 1942 (“Light Stone” and “Very Dark Brown”)
Decals are printed by Techmod, and appear crisp and in-register. Carrier film appears to be a normal thickness.
I didn’t know what to expect from this kit. On the whole I was quite impressed with the amount and quality of detail crammed into so little plastic. As mentioned, there are some issues with the kit, but even if these are ignored it should come out as a very nice representation of a Crusader III.