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M3 Lee Mid Prod. (35209) 1:35 Interior Kit


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 M3 Lee Mid Prod. Interior Kit (35209)

1:35 MiniArt via Creative Models Ltd

 

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In the years before WWII America realised that they were lagging behind in respect of armour, a fact that became especially clear when Germany came out from under the Versailles treaty to show off and then use their new tanks and Blitzkrieg tactics.  The M3 Lee was conceived in 1940 as a medium tank carrying a powerful 75mm gun, partly for manning by their own crews, but also because Britain had requested a large number of tanks to make good their losses from Dunkirk.  The Lee was a decent tank but suffered from a high silhouette and limited traverse of the sponson-mounted 75mm gun, but was still widely used.  In British service it was known as the Lee if it was fitted with the original American turret, or the Grant when using the lower-profiled British specification turrets.

 

The Lee was used primarily in Africa and the Pacific theatres where the 2nd line equipment seemed to be fielded (for the most part) by the enemy, and against the Japanese who were far behind with their tank designs and tactics.  It underwent some substantial changes including cast, welded and back to riveted hulls plus changes in the power pack and loss of the side doors to stiffen the hull.  The riveted hulls suffered from rivets popping off and becoming projectiles when hit, which could be just as lethal as a penetrating round and was never fully eliminated.

 

The Kit

MiniArt began 2019 with a new tooling of the M3 Lee and are expanded their range by adding new parts as they go along.  We've come to expect great things from MiniArt's new kits and of course this one is no different with a ton of detail included both externally and internally, as it is a full-interior kit with the increased part count that comes with that.  The box is standard MiniArt fare with an attractive picture from their usual artist, and inside are a huge number of sprues of varying sizes with 68 in grey styrene, a single sprue in clear, a fret of Photo-Etch (PE) brass, decal sheet and the instruction booklet with painting guide at the front and rear completing the package.

 

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Construction begins with the vehicle floor onto which the transmission and final drive assemblies are fixed along with a long drive shaft.  The front crew stations are installed around the final drive, and in the centre is the ammo storage with a tread-plated top with the engine firewall behind it.  The ammo bin can be posed open or closed using the same door parts, exposing the striking plates moulded into the assembly, and more shells are added to the firewall in racks.  Just in case the tank isn't quite flammable enough, a spare fuel can is strapped to the firewall, as are a couple of radiators which I'm hoping can be switched off or redirected in the desert!  Moving to the lower sidewalls, these are separate parts and are fitted out with equipment such as fire extinguishers, ammo and a Thompson machine gun with plate mags with the bow gunner's bench seat added to the starboard side as they are joined and the sponson floor fitted at right-angles using slots and tabs.  Take care here to clamp them firmly against the bottom of the firewall to prevent them from drooping while setting, which would open up a world of pain if they set-up out of position.  The rolled lower glacis part is also added, and the final drive bell housings that are incorporated into the sidewalls mate with these to complete the shape of that area.

 

The Lee/Grant and to an extent the Sherman were powered by radial engines that sat vertically in the hull and can be blamed for their slightly tall hull shapes.  This is provided in detail with the kit with all the cylinders, push-rods and exhaust tubing, plus the tin-work that helps cool the engine all mounted to a sturdy lateral mount that goes around the ancillaries at the rear.  Two cheek parts are added into the engine compartment first, and the engine rests on the brackets protruding from the walls.  Various tanks and reservoirs are squeezed into the remaining space along with piping for the twin airboxes and the general "spaghetti" that's seen on this kind of engine.  The supports for the engine cover are fitted to the sides and the aft bulkhead with access hatch and twin exhaust stacks close in much of the hard work, with twin doors (open or closed) at the back and a PE mesh grille completing the top of the area, allowing the rising heat to escape.

 

The lower hull is finished off with a pair of short arches over the drive wheels and a host of additional equipment filling up the interior with more shell storage, tanks and auxiliary generator.  The big 75mm gun and substantial casemate are built up next for fitting into the hull front and the curved splinter shield that allows 14o of traverse to either side to counter any errors in position from the driver or enemy movement.  The breech is surrounded by a shield and has the manual traverse wheel and other driver controls plus his seat and sighting gear included, as well as another box containing the 75mm shells peculiar to his gun.  Before it can be installed the super-structure must be built up to accommodate it, including the sidewalls, the curved surround and the angled front panels of the glacis.  The various hatches can be posed open or closed, and an instrument panel is fitted to the inside of the glacis.  The bow machine gun is actually a twin mount with two .30 cal M1919s firing through a hatch near the port sponson.  The rest of the hull is then built up in much the same manner as the real thing, but with glue and the rivets only there for show.  Fuel caps and another Thompson are added along the way, and when we reach the engine deck there are two large panels, the smaller of them having PE grilles and more filler caps, with both of them covered in small PE tie-down lugs.  The rear of the deck overhangs the hull and a small armoured "skirt" protects the tops of the exhausts from stray rounds where PE brackets are used to hang the aft lights.  The completed deck is then covered with pioneer tools and their PE tie-downs, plus the towing cables that you need to source yourself to go with the plastic eyes at each end.  A scrap diagram shows their location and how to fix the PE straps to the tie-downs and eyes, with a length of 145mm suggested.

 

At this stage the majority of the hull is built, but it is likely to fill with rain until the roof is fitted.  Before that the surround to the turret basket is completed with stowage space for six canteens moulded into the parts.  The stiffening plates to the lower glacis are also glued to the hull and then the roof is made up from a large main part that is stiffened with more ribs, and a small periscope in the roof of the main gun mount.  The three square access doors for the crew can all be posed open or closed with latches and small viewing hatches within that can also be posed open.  A short break has you fitting the driver's hatch and optional clear window with a PE wiper blade, plus a couple of towing eyes with shackles under the glacis and some truly tiny parts in plastic and PE between them.  After fitting the armoured cover to the main gun's periscope, the main gun in short or long version, two large stowage boxes for four of the decal options, and a few grab handles, you get to build up the running gear.  Aren't you lucky?

 

The Lee's suspension is very similar to the Sherman's with two fat wheels on a bogie with a return roller at the top, and there are three of these assemblies per side.  The wheels with their moulded-in tyres are attached to the bogies via swing-arms that pivot inside the cast bogie with an additional arm linked to the compressible rubber towers.  Before the front of the bogie is fitted the return-roller is installed so it is trapped between its two bearings.  Repeat that six times and then make up the idler wheels, which have PE edges and separate hub caps.  The bogies are attached to the sides of the hull on their mounting plates, and two stiffeners are added to the top of each one, while the idler wheels are attached to their axles on the adjustable tensioners.  At the front the drive sprockets are made up from two parts with an internal collar allowing them to remain mobile if you're sparing with the glue. 

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Tracks.  Love 'em or loathe 'em, they're a necessary part of most tanks and you have to do them eventually.  There are 79 track links per side, and each link is made up from four parts.  The pads are split to accommodate the links between them, and this is a little fiddly.  I built a test section up with the earlier interior kit, and each link is good looking with fine detail at the ends, flexing well as per the real thing.  It'll take some time to complete them, but they will be excellent as long as you're careful with preparation and the glue.

 

Now you can start the turret, most of which is held within the upper part, and that has some very nice casting texture moulded into it that should look great under a few coats of paint.  The frames for the small hatches are first to be added, then the hatches themselves are fitted in the open or closed position with small stays holding them at the correct angle for the former.  The sighting equipment, racks, and fume extraction equipment are then fitted before the breech is built up and fitted, making adding parts after that more fiddly.  The breech is started by joining the two main parts together, adding the surround, the coax machine gun, then setting it aside while the mantlet and elevation mechanisms are made up.  This all fits in the back of the riveted mantlet cover and includes a periscope next door to protect the viewer from being injured by direct small arms fire.  The breech is slid into the mantlet and an ammo box is attached to the starboard side then the completed assembly is inserted into the turret from the outside.  More equipment is fitted into the lower areas of the upper turret and into the lower turret part, including the increasingly important radio gear and their aerials once the two halves are joined.  The turret basket is bucket-shaped with a cut-out to one side to allow entry and exit, plus stowage space for more ammo for the guns and the machine guns, fire extinguisher and small button-seats for the crew.  Additionally, there is an opening door to the basket that widens the aperture and contains a pair of tanks for the electro-hydraulic rotation equipment.  A studded bezel is installed in the top rim and the rest of the traverse equipment is put in place along with a bit more wire that you'll need to provide, then one more seat on a pedestal is put in the centre of the basket which is then set aside while the little machine-gun turret is made.  It has its internal structure added along with some PE vents then the upper gun with its tiny mount, vision port and a short length of ammo on a top hopper is made up and inserted from the inside into its slot, then closed in by the turret ring underneath, and on top the bi-fold hatch, which can be posed open or closed.  A pair of armoured covers for the PE vents can be posed open or closed on the outside, completing the assembly.  The three sections are joined together, then dropped into the turret ring to complete the model.

 

Markings

The decal sheet is quite large for an AFV model and you can make one of five options from the box, as shown below:

 

  • 2nd Battalion 13th Armoured Regiment, 1st Armoured Division, Tunisia, Souk Ek Khemis, Nov.1942
  • 2nd Battalion 13th Armoured Regimennt, 1st Armoured Division, Tunisia, Sened, Feb. 1943
  • 2nd Battalion 13th Armoured Regiment, 1st Armoured Division, Tunisia, Souk El Arba, Nov. 1942
  • Combat Command A, 1st Armoured Regiment, 1st Armoured Division, Bizerte Tunisia, May 1943
  • 2rd Battalion 13th Armoured Regiment, 1st Armoured Division, Tunisia, Spring 1943

 

 

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The decals are printed by DecoGraph as usual for MiniArt, and have good register, colour density and sharpness, with thin matt carrier film cut closely to the printed areas.

 

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Conclusion

The parts count is large thanks to the inclusion of the interior and engine, which will keep you modelling for a good while, and the temptation to leave the doors open to show off the innards that you slaved over off to your viewing public.

 

Highly recommended.

 

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Review sample courtesy of

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