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Mike

French FT-17 Light Tank - 1:35 Meng Model

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French FT-17 Light Tank (Cast Turret)
1:35 Meng Model


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The Renault FT-17 was a ground breaking tank, and the first true "tank" as we know them today, carrying its main armament in a turret, as opposed to side-mounted, or front mounted sponsons with a limited arc of fire. It was small and relatively manoeuvrable compared to both the British Mark IV/V and the German A7V, with light weight on the tracks helping it to get around on the battlefield. Toward the end of WWI it was widely used by the Allies in a number of battles, and because it was easily transportable due to its size and weight, it could be moved between operations with relative ease, even being carried on the back of wagons or on trailers towed by other wagons.

The turret was small, with only room for the gunner's upper body inside, with the driver occupying the majority of the sloping forward section of the tapering hull. The rear contained the engine, which was Renault built, outputting a stunning 35hp, which was enough to propel it to a maximum speed of just over 4mph, little more than a brisk walking pace. This was a decent turn of speed by WWI tank standards however, and meant that the tank seldom pushed too far forward from any accompanying troops. It had a variety of armament options ranging from a 37mm gun to an 8mm Hotchkiss machine gun for infantry support. Even a 75mm gun was shoehorned into the chassis to create a self-propelled gun of sorts.

Due to its success on the battlefields of WWI it became a popular tank with many countries, even finding its way into the US Army inventory, with almost identical copies made by the Russians, Japanese, American and Italians. The French army still had a sizeable number on strength at the beginning of WWII, which were hopelessly out-classed by then, falling easy prey to the more modern German tanks in the Battle of France. A few captured examples were pressed into third-line service guarding airfields and such like.


The Kit
This is a brand new tooling from Meng, and confirms their position as one of my favourite kit companies at the moment. Their talent for doing a fabulous job of often neglected and left-field subjects endears them to me at every release, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. The kit arrives neatly packaged in a slightly smaller than usual top-opening box with that classy looking semi-matt finish to the lid. Inside is quite a lot of plastic, as well as some additional multi-media bits and bobs. There are ten sprues of a light sand coloured styrene, a bag of black individual track links, a small Photo-Etch (PE) sheet, a small bag containing two white-metal parts, two steel pins and four springs, decals and combined instruction and painting booklets. The first six pages of the instruction booklet are taken up by the now usual four language introduction (English, Cyrillic, Japanese and Chinese, I think?). The next pages show 23 construction stages, followed by a parts diagram and the painting and markings guides.

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First impressions count, and I couldn't be happier with what's in the box. The detail is excellent throughout, and some of it is achieved by some very cleverly engineered sliding moulds, which improve the detail and simplify the build process significantly, particularly around the running gear area. I have heard a few comments about the price so far, but after discounting the people that would still moan if it was £10, and still complain that it didn't include figures, it will soon find a price-point with the online retailers that will be much more conducive to significant sales. I have built another manufacturer's kit of this tank a few years back, and it fought me every step of the way, so I'm very happy to see a proper tooling in good quality styrene that has all the detail that was missing from the older kit, as well as a more sensible and robust approach to the fitting of the suspension and track sponsons.

The kit has a full interior, and the emphasis is very much on that four letter F word. The driver's compartment, the gunner-commander's area and the engine compartment are all realised within the cramped hull, and I was pleased to see that I'd got my scratch-built attempt at an interior mostly right from the poor research I carried out at the time. Before construction starts, a whole page is dedicated to two diagrams that call out all the major parts of both the tank itself, and its engine. Personally, I'd like to see more companies doing this, as I find it quite educational and it helps me re-remember some of the terminology that temporarily disappears when I'm writing reviews or discussing models with friends.

The first item that you'll be building is the transmission, which is mounted on the chassis at the very front of the engine compartment, with the belt-work projecting through the forward firewall into the gunner's area. Heaven help him if he got his britches caught in those wheels! The drive-shaft is fully enclosed, and the power it rotated 90o in both directions to reach the two drive sprockets at the back of the tank via reduction gear that is enclosed in complex circular housings bolted to the sides of the engine. The engine sits between these housings and looks rather small in comparison, but is made up of a significant number of parts, including a full radiator assembly, control rods and various ancillary parts with hoses. There is even a hand-cranking lever projecting through the bulkhead in case the engine stalls under fire. The large bulkhead slots in separating the engine from the crew (mostly), who sit on a raised floor, underneath which are the control linkages. The driver has a seat pad on the floor, with a wide leather strap strung across the area behind him, preventing him from falling backwards into the gunner's feet. This can has a small element of sag and wrinkling moulded in, as well as the three buckles that allow it to be removed in the event of maintenance or an emergency. The driver's controls rise from below the floor through two slots, and a gear selection assembly with stick sits to his right, while the pedal box is right at the front of his area, coming up from below through three more slots in the front of the floor part. On the left behind the driver is a choice of three types of ammunition storage, from a panel of 12 "dinner-plate" magazines for the 7.5mm Reibel MAC Mle.31 machine gun that was fitted after 1931, a rack of 37mm rounds, or an empty rack, which could be partially populated by a number of the 40 individually moulded 37mm rounds on the sprues. A fire extinguisher is mounted in on the right hand wall, along with more ammo, with a pair of selectors and their linkages attached to the walls to either side of the driver.

The instructions would have you populating the outer walls of the hull with various stowage boxes, pioneer tools and the front suspension mounting at this stage, but I think I will leave those off until I've built up the slabs of the hull… I am somewhat clumsy at times. The sidewalls and a the smallest of front and rear bulkheads are added to the floor/hull assembly, and a 95 litre fuel tank is dropped into the engine compartment between the forward firewall and the radiator. The engine deck and turret ring are built up from a number of parts, and includes a nice raised vent on the rear of the deck, plus a strengthening rib on the underside. It is dropped in place on top of the walls, with the small angular plates that make up the glacis plate installed at the very front of the hull, and to the sides of the driver's vision slot. Another small V-shaped plate sits at the very rear of the engine deck. The front suspension mount is made up from a white-metal slider, a spring and an end-cap, which is fitted to the outer hull with a large cover without gluing the metal if you're careful. This is repeated on the opposite side, about level with the driver's torso.

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Building of the roadwheels comes next, and here Meng's use of slide-moulding has saved a lot of work for the modeller, and let's face it - it's not most AFV modeller's favourite part of doing armour. The roadwheels are moulded so that in a one-piece wheel you get detail on both faces, and a recessed centre of the rolling face. Usually this would require at least two parts, glue and doubtless more clean-up, but because of the fancy tooling, you have two sprue-gates and no seamlines to clean up, which has got to be a major achievement when looking at 18 roadwheels and ten return rollers. The roadwheels are mounted in pairs apart from the front set which has three wheels, and these are further mounted in pairs on a larger rocker-arm within the armoured sponsons. The top of the sponsons are covered by more armour, with leaf springs within that will probably not be seen again, on top of which the return roller assembly is mounted. A suspension assembly at the front gives the return rollers some flex, and the rollers are trapped within a ladder-like pair of bars, hinging at the rear. The idler while is large, and held in place by a metal yoke that can be adjusted fore or aft on the real thing, in order to get track tension just right. You have a choice of two types of idler, one that is stamped and riveted, the other having a seemingly wooden grain moulded in, which I'd not seen before. A scrap diagram shows the correct positioning of the idler wheel within the front forks of the sponson. An axle holds the drive sprocket in place at the rear of the sponson, and this forms the rear mount for the sponsons to the hull. The front mount is the white metal, spring and styrene assembly mentioned earlier, which attaches to the inside of the sponson at top and bottom, although its position isn't clear from the diagrams, but will probably become obvious as you approach the job.

A number of early tanks had unditching skids at the rear to prevent them from toppliong back on steep gradients as well as from getting stuck in in ditches. The FT-17s is made from an L-profile metal web with a panel covering its lower face and webbing the major components together on the sides to give additional strength to this important part. It also has a towing hook built into the top, with the option of replacing that with a sand-bag draped over the upper surface. In practice it was common to see tow cables or stowage festooned around this area, so have at it! All that remains to finish the hull is to add the upper viewing panel to the driver's hatch, plus the two side opening main hatches for him to exit the vehicle, then the two clamshell doors on the engine cover, with the overlapping vent panel that folds forward onto the engine deck. These are detailed with additional grab handles, latches and strengthening ribs, then painted white on the inside - a colour choice that seldom stays white, especially in the engine bay.

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The track links are supplied loose in a bag, and each one may need just a tiny bit of flash removing from the moulding process, and a tiny little pip in the middle of the contact patch where the styrene was injected. This will be particularly easy to sort with a good knife and perhaps a swipe with a sanding stick to finish off. There aren't many links on each side, and each piece clips into place against the other neatly with minimal effort. You'll just need to make sure you have the overlapping lips in the correct place before they are assembled, and within a few minutes you'll have the necessary 32 links ready for each side. There is no glue involved with the process, so you should end up with a fully workable set of tracklinks to drape around the roadwheels and click-fit together. Painting them off the tank would seem to be the sensible option, but that's entirely up to you and your preferred method of building. They are small and easily lost however, so now I've opened the bag for the review, I've put them in a spare ziplok bag I had lying around, as they're off at a moment's notice into the great unknown.

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The turret is quite a little model in itself, and its cast upper is moulded in one piece using sliding moulds to add details to all sides. There is also a little detail inside the turret in the form of rivets around the top hatch and mounting points for the equipment, but there are also three very fine ejection pin marks there too. If you plan on showing the turret interior off, you might want to remove those before construction. You have a choice of three armament types from the box, beginning with the 37mm cannon. This is a short barrelled gun, with a recuperator of almost matching length slung underneath the hollow muzzled barrel. The sighting tube is mounted to the left of the breech, which is a two part moulding, and all this is squeezed into the small mantlet. If selecting this option, a curved two-layered shelf is also fitted into the right side of the turret with ready ammunition held in the two layers. You'll need to use those 40 37mm shells to fill it if you've not gone for the "casual" look for the racks lower down in the hull, so make your choice wisely to avoid running short. If going for the Hotchkiss machine gun, the MG is a single part, with a small mantlet insert allowing it to poke through, and the sighting tube is to the left again. The more modern MAC Mle.31 is mounted similarly, although it has a square barrel extension protruding through the mantlet and the dinner-plate mags attach to the right hand side. The mantlet cut-out in the turret is lined with the appropriate adaptor, and the gun of your choice is inserted from within, to be held in place by two small plates around which it elevates. Your gun choice will also dictate your decal choice, so do bear that in mind when deciding. A PE strap for the gunner to rest his backside on is attached on either side of the turret lower edge, sagging downward under gravity, and is painted a suitable leather colour. The rear double-doors on the turret can be added in either closed or open positions, with two small tabs cut off each one if posing them open. The gunner/commander's cupola is made up from three cylindrical parts with the hatch on top, and the lower turret with turret ring moulded in attaches to the bottom of the turret to complete it. It is a drop-in fit on the hull, so if you want to show anyone your handiwork, it should be easy enough, but if you're going to transport it, you might want to consider gluing it in place, possibly temporarily with some GS-Hypo cement that won't marr the plastic.

The final step is for those that don't use the supplied Hotchkiss MG, and includes a tripod, ammo box and a length of ammunition, which you can either use as part of the stowage, or include in a diorama. Failing that, they could go in the spares box for another time.

Markings
There are four marking choices included in the box, and your choice of armament will dictate which you can choose to a certain extent, or vice versa if one option appeals more than the others. The decal sheet is small as befits the tank, but Meng has still used everyone's favourite decal company, Cartograf, to produce them. Although only three colours are used, the quality is excellent, with good colour density, registration and sharpness. From the box you can build one of the following:

  • French FT-17 4th Platoon, 1st Company, 29th Tank Battalion, May 1940 - 37mm gun with olive drab lowers and sand upper surfaces. 28 of clubs motif on the rear with white background and black edges.
  • French FT-17 1st Company, 2nd Battalion, "Le Tigre" Regiment, WWI - 37mm gun with red brown/green/sand tritonal camouflage with black striping along some demarcations. Red spade motif on white background and Le Tigre written underneath.
  • Finnish FT-17 2nd Tank Company, February 1940 - Hotchkiss MG, Brown/sand/green camouflage with a heavily worn white distemper over the top. Red diamond motif with white background on rear.
  • German Luftwaffe FT-17 France, 1944 - Reibel MAC Mle.31, Overall Panzer Grey with a white Balkenkreuz on the turret sides.

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Conclusion
Yet again I've been impressed by Meng's professionalism in their approach to kit design and presentation, and the detail packed into the tiny frame of this ground-breaking early tank is equally impressive. The detail is excellent, and it's difficult to find any fault with it other than the small machine guns not having slide moulded muzzles. After my "humorous" comment at the beginning, I feel churlish for wishing that crew figures had been included, but that's only because you don't have much choice of French WWI tankers on the market, and the crew are sitting in fairly non-standard positions. Add to that the fact that two decal options would be wearing Luftwaffe and Finnish uniforms, and I can understand why that wasn't done. Those wanting to crew their FT-17s will have to fend for themselves for the time being though.

Very highly recommended.

Available soon in the UK from Creative Models.
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Review sample courtesy of
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The kit does look very nice indeed. Will see if I can get one at Telford.

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Oh this looks amazing, I quite fancy doing the Finnish build, quite fancy it indeed!

Pete

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Yes indeedy - although the Finnish one is the second least interesting colour scheme. The Luftwaffe one is dull grey, but the two cannon armed ones are rather bright... I might have to do the Finnish one too if I'm going to do something different from my old RPM kit that's in my signature. :hmmm:

Incidentally - I nipped a few engine parts off the sprues before I went in for tea.... :frantic:

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Now this looks like a really good kit.

Julien

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Incidentally - I nipped a few engine parts off the sprues before I went in for tea.... :frantic:

And...???? :eat:

Christian the Married and exiled to Africa who is now trying to work out how he can get 3 or 4 shipped out without Yvonne knowing...

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...and, I didn't get chance to do anymore last night :shrug:


Have you tried not telling her? ;)

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Hello Mike,

A few things from a good French AFV modellers forum, Les colleurs de plastique, where there are a few knowledgeable guys concerning this FT.

- The oval constructor plate (Sprue C) should be only on the port side.

- There are no number plate. "4387" should be 70 387, which was not equiped with a 37mm gun in 1940.

- Number RG 241410 doesn't mean anything, it's the date of the last general overhaul. In this case it should be RG 24.4.37 (Day/month/year).

- Lacking also are the small signs (grenades) indicating the weight in tons for the post 14/18 options.

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Nice one Antoine :) I'm just putting the engine together as I type this, and it's a lovely little thing - lots of parts that fit together well and need minimal clean-up. There's one part that I managed to put on backward for a second, but I spotted it quickly and reversed it before the glue had a chance to set up. Most of the parts are keyed though, so it's possible only to put them in the right place :thumbsup:

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Nice look from your review, anyway.

I'd get tow, no, at least three.

So many interesting possibilities.

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