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M3 Stuart Initial Production Interior Kit (35401) 1:35


Mike

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M3 Stuart Initial Production Interior Kit (35401)

1:35 MiniArt via Creative Models Ltd

 

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The M3 Stuart was designed before the US went to war, based upon the experiences of the British, which led to the US top brass deciding that their M2 light tank was obsolete. While the radial engine M3 was an improvement over the M2, it suffered from an underpowered M6 main gun at only 37mm, which although it was improved later in the war, the crews had to suffer with it for some considerable time. The British troops in Africa used it first against the superior tanks of the Afrika Korps, but fared badly in combat, suffering from the lack of range of the Stuart in the wide-open spaces of the African desert. It was fast and manoeuvrable however, and a British driver’s comment that she was a "honey" to drive led to one of its nicknames during the war.

 

The M3A1 was an improved version that deleted the sponson mounted machine guns of the initial production, and some of these used more conventional diesel engines instead of the bulky radials, which gave the crew more room for other equipment.  It also had a new turret with a basket for the turret crew to stand in, and no cupola for the commander that gave the tank a lower profile, and added a gun stabilisation system that helped with vertical alignment of targets while the tank was on the move, ironing out the bumps for the gunners.  In British service it was known as the Stuart III and with the diesel engine version was designated the IV.

 

It was hopelessly outclassed by Axis armour in Europe for tank-on-tank engagements, and was soon relegated to infantry support and recce roles, where it performed well.  It was more successful in the Pacific theatre against the lightly armoured Japanese tanks in the jungle, where medium and heavy tanks could soon flounder in the mud and jungles.  It continued to be used to the end of the war by the Allies in the Pacific area, although Russia, another user of the Stuart disliked it intensely and refused to take the upgraded M5 design that followed the M3A3. Variants were used well into the 60s, and Brazil even built their own version with redesigned upper hull and carrying a 90mm gun. Paraguay still had a few of its ancient original stock of 12 beyond the turn of the millennium, which is astonishing, considering the age of the machine.

 

 

The Kit

This is a brand-new tooling from our friends at MiniArt, which are producing an amazing output of new kits and partial re-tools in recent years, which is doubly-impressive given the situation in Ukraine over the last few years.  This kit arrives in a top-opening box with a painting of an initial production Stuart on the front, clearly illustrating the prominent sponson-mounted machine guns that it shared with early variants of its stablemate, the M3 Grant/Lee.  Inside the box are thirteen sprues in grey styrene, which is at variance from the sprue map, which shows twenty grey sprues, but this is due to some of the sprues being linked together on runners in our example.  There is also a clear sprue, a fret of Photo-Etch (PE) brass in a card envelope, a decal sheet, and the instruction booklet, which is printed in colour on glossy paper, with profiles of the decal options on the rearmost pages.  Detail is excellent as we’ve come to expect from MiniArt, and as this is an Interior Kit, you also get the complete engine and the entire crew compartment, for which the hull panels are detailed on both sides, although the interior has a few unavoidable ejector-pin marks, as they must go somewhere, after all!  The running gear is similarly well-defined, and the tracks are supplied as link-and-length, taking the benefits of individual links and making the job a lot less labour intensive.

 

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Construction begins with the vehicle’s floor, laying out driver controls, foot pedals and other equipment, plus a choice of two styles of rectangular floor hatch, just in case you have a preference.  The transmission and front axle assembly is made up from five sculpted and cooling-finned parts, which is then detailed with pivots, end-caps and linkages before it is installed on the floor, adding a short length of wire to link the assembly to a nearby conduit if you feel adventurous, then building up a box with a padded top, and two crew seats from base frame, cushion and back cushion, with a pair of PE lap belts wrapped around from the rear.  The curved transmission armour on the front of the tank is detailed with various towing eyes, additional bolt heads that are cut from the sprue runner, and a central frame that can be folded from PE or replaced by a single styrene part.  When it is complete, the interior face should be painted so that it can be installed on the front of the floor, locating on a trio of ledges with the floor inverted.  The sloping drive-shaft tunnel is made from three main parts, adding a bottle to one side, a decal nearby, and a small grab-handle on the opposite side.  This is lowered into position in the centre of the floor, with a small cut-out allowing it to fit over a transverse suspension bar moulded into the floor.  A very busy engine firewall is based upon a rectangular panel with cut-outs, onto which a fire extinguisher and other equipment are installed, followed by a pair of radiator cores and associated hoses, plus a Thompson machine gun latched in place, minus magazine.  The completed assembly is slotted vertically into the floor, which will later mount the radial engine on the opposite side, but first there is much more space to take up with equipment.  A square(sih) stowage box with soft top is built and installed in front of the firewall on the left, a two-part instrument panel is attached to the transmission housing, applying three dial decals into the circular faces, making another diagonal panel from three-parts, with a PE dial in the centre, which then has a decal applied over it.  The driver’s seat is emplaced behind his controls, fixing another box made earlier into position on the right side behind the bow-gunner’s seat, with another smaller box nestled behind that, and a pair of ammo boxes in front of the gunner for his immediate use in battle.  Just because war isn't quite dangerous enough, a four-part jerry can is made and sited behind the driver in case they run short, although its usefulness might not yet be apparent because the fuel tanks are next to be made.  First however, another small farm of boxes on a palette is made and attached at two points on the bulkhead on the right side, which even has a canteen flask attached to one side.

 

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Working on the engine bay now, the two fuel tanks are situated in the front corners of this area, with caps on top that can be accessed from the engine deck by removing two large armoured covers.  Another tank is installed in the rear left of the compartment, adding various manifolds and hoses once they are in position before the curved engine support is slotted into the bay near the front.  The Continental W-670 engine is next, with all seven cylinders moulded in this boxing, all of which have separate head parts, three pairs of which are linked by a narrow curved rod.  A conical fairing is arranged around the forward end to duct the cool air from the large cooling fan, with a cross-brace and circular boss across the open space at the forward end.  The fan is mounted on this boss, with a stub-axle on the outer face, with all the blades moulded into this well-detailed part.  The tinwork is substantially different from an aviation variant of this motor, but the push-rods, intake hoses and ancillaries are similar, while the exhaust take-off doesn’t have the same constraints on it.  The two exhaust manifolds carry the fumes from three and four pistons each, reducing to two larger pipes that end with a stepped joint to strengthen the join between it and the exhaust pipes.  The intake manifold at the bottom of the engine is fed by two pipes that head up the sides of the engine, covered by a substantial engine carrier beam that also holds additional ancillaries, with the hole in the centre allowing more to protrude.  More ancillaries including distributor and belt are layered over the carrier, with two tubular mufflers attached to the tops of the exhaust pipes, after which it is fitted into the engine bay, adding a cover to the top portion between the fuel tanks.  Only now can the hull sides be fitted, but not before they are detailed with various parts, including electrical junction boxes, ammo boxes and other small parts, adding final drive housings to the front ends, using the bogie axle ends to locate the parts on the sides of the floor.  The rear bulkhead is built with a hatch space in the upper half, with a dash-pot on the inside and a beam across the top edge, gluing it to the rear of the vehicle with the assistance of a scrap view from below.  The rear hatch is in two sections, one of which has a PE clapping plate, both having handles, while the left door has a strange pot with a straw fixed to the inner face, and both doors can be posed open or closed as you wish.  Above the hatch is an overhang with a PE mesh horizontal insert and styrene rear, with a couple of towing eyes mounted on the lower edge of the bulkhead.

 

The next assembly is a thirty-cal machine gun, which has a cloth dump bag half moulded-in, finished by an additional part, and with an ammo box with a short length of link under the breech with a two-part mount.  This is slotted through the glacis plate in a mount from the inside, adding a two-part instrument panel with five dial decals in front of the driver, plus a strengthening strap under the driver’s hatch.  It is glued into position on the front of the tank, fitting the transmission inspection hatch with handle to the centre, and adding a pair of towing shackles to the front.  The driver’s hatch is in two parts, and can be posed closed for battle, or with both parts folded open to allow the driver to see the full vista.  A two-layer T-shaped cross-member is located over the upper glacis, adding a PE bracket that supports the open driver’s hatch, and a pair of bearing spacers to the final drive housings.  As already mentioned, the earliest Stuarts had sponson-mounted machine guns, which extend from the main hull out over the tracks, roughly along the middle third of the vehicle’s length.  The two parts are glued into position, and two .30cal machine guns are trapped between two-part mounts, one fitted to each sponson on a curved adapter with a three-part magazine that has a short length of link visible at the top.  In the space behind the guns, boxes of ammo cans are stacked, leaving sufficient space for the two-part radio box in the left sponson, adding a length of power cord later in the process.  A battery box is situated at the rear of the right sponson, adding a couple of grab handles, and inserting a divider between it and the flammable ammo storage.  The sides of the sponsons can then be built around the equipment, painting the interior faces as you go, consisting of a short wall to the rear, a long panel along the side, and an angled panel with exit for the machine gun muzzle at the front.  This is repeated for both sides, fitting two hatches to the front of the upper hull after adding an extra layer behind, a clear vision port, and openers to the sides.  If you intend to pose the hatches up, you have the option of leaving the inclement weather inner hatches in position, which have large panes of glass and windscreen wipers to save filling the tank with precipitation.  The open outer hatches are propped up with a pair of short stays from their top hinges.

 

The hull roof is next, starting with the panel that has the turret ring moulded-in, adding rollers in housings to the underside, additional nuts on the top ring, and a pair of filler caps on the deck behind it, shaving away clasp details around them, and fitting a grab handle to one side.  The completed part is lowered into place on the hull, adding a horn to the glacis next to the bow gun, including a small length of wire between it and the nearby bracket.  Turning to the engine deck, four holes are drilled out on the diagonal deck panel to fit handles, gluing it in position and fitting a pair of rear lights on brackets to the sides, adding a little connecting wire if you wish.  The main deck panel has a box added to the underside before it too is placed over the engine, adding a PE shroud to the forward edge to deflect incoming rounds or debris.  Another PE bracket for one of the aerials is attached to the right, with another mounted on the side wall slightly lower and further to the side than the other.  The aerial bases are each made from two parts, adding 73mm of stretched sprue, wire, or carbon fibre rod to represent the aerials themselves.  A pair of dome-topped cylindrical airboxes are built from four parts each and attached to the rear of the sponson on brackets on both sides.

 

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We finally get some wheels for the bus, starting with the over-size idler wheels, which are trapped between two halves of the swing-arm, choosing one of two styles depending on where in production the tank fell.  The idler wheels have PE rims glued on each side, building two of these assemblies, plus two more drive sprockets for the other end of the track run.  The road wheels are mounted in two-wheel bogies, each one made from ten parts, building four in total, handed for each side.  The road wheels flex-fit into position between the arms of the bogies, so that they can be mounted on the sides of the vehicle in shallow recesses along with the idlers and drive sprockets, with three return rollers on short axles above the main run.  As discussed earlier, the tracks are link-and-length, using long single-part lengths under the wheels, individual links around sharp curves, and shorter lengths where the tracks are relatively straight.  The various sections are attached to the sprues at the edges, and each short portion has a unique tab and slot format to ensure that parts can only be put together in the correct manner.  There are a few ejector-pin marks on the inside of the longer track link sections, but these are raised and on flat surfaces, so shouldn’t be difficult to remove with a sanding stick or sharp blade, and won’t slow you don’t too much.  When the track runs are suitably cured, fenders are added over the open areas, the rear straight sections fitted with a curved end to reduce kicked up mud, while the front section have inner side skirts to prevent mud ingress, which is improved further by gluing a PE web between it and the leading edge of the glacis plate, along with a PE stiffening strap further back.

 

Before we start festooning the vehicle with pioneer tools, a pair of headlamps with clear lenses are placed, one on each fender protected by a PE cage, and both with a short length of wire leading back to hole in the glacis plate.  To apply the pioneer tools you have two choices, the first and easiest method is to use fully styrene tools that have their clasps moulded-in.  You can fit the same variety of tools to the rear of the vehicle removing the slightly raised location points from the styrene panel, and replacing them with PE clasps around separate tools that have no clasps moulded-in.  An axe, pickaxe shaft and head, and a shovel are included, with a scrap diagram showing the finished area with PE clasps.  More tools are located on the forward sponsons, with the same choice of moulded-in styrene clasps or separate PE fittings, which again have the raised marks removed first, with a completed diagram showing their locations once in place.  The same process can be carried out for the single towing rope that the modeller must provide from either a 157mm length of braided wire or thread, fitting a pair of styrene eyes to the ends, and clamping it in place with PE brackets along the left sponson and fender.

 

Now for the turret, starting with the main 37 mm M6 gun, the gun tube formed by a single part with hollow muzzle that is surrounded by a two-part frame, and has the halves of the breech closed around the rear, adding extra detail on the right, and a breech protector to the left side, followed by three-part pivots that are fixed around the gun without glue, then the coaxial machine gun is attached to the right side of the breech, and its ammo box is located on the left side, fed by a ‘bridge’ of link over the main gun in a guide to the breech of the smaller gun.  The sighting tube is installed on the left with an adjustment wheel, pushing the barrel through the mantlet and inserting it into the front of the turret, which has been made from a well-detailed ring, with the faceted turret sides arranged around it after being detailed themselves.  The roof has a yoke inserted on its underside in stowed or combat positions, and is glued in place, sliding the mantlet armour over the main and coax guns from in front.  The commander’s cupola is similarly faceted, and each side is prepared by fitting a vision block in the slot, creating an asymmetrical hexagonal shape, and deciding whether to pose the turret crew’s vision ports open or closed.  The commander's hatch is a flat panel with a lock on the upper edge, and hinges on the lower, which can be fitted open or closed, with more vision ports on the turret sides posed open or closed around the rest of the perimeter.  Another .30cal machine gun is trapped between a two-part mount with adjuster handle, and fixed to a short column that is secured to the left side of the turret on curved brackets moulded into the surface.  An optional two-part ammo box with a length of link can be fixed to the side of the gun, or if you wish to leave it off, an alternative stub part is supplied in its place.  Before putting the turret into position, a few small parts are added under the gun near the hand-winding wheel for the turret.  With that, the turret can be dropped into position to complete the model.

 

 

Markings

There are four decal options included on the small sheet, and you’d be right to guess that they are all in some variation of WWII Allied green, with only their individual markings to tell them apart.  From the box you can build one of the following:

 

  • Royal Tank Corps., British Army, Tactical Training School, Egypt, Summer 1941
  • 2nd Armoured Division, Louisiana, USA, Autumn 1941
  • 1st Armoured Division, Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA, Autumn 1941
  • Unknown Cavalry Regiment, Camp Funston, USA, Spring 1942

 

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Decals are by Cartograf, which is a guarantee of good registration, sharpness and colour density, with a thin matt carrier film cut close to the printed areas.

 

 

Conclusion

It’s great to have this much detail present in a newly tooled kit of the diminutive Stuart, or Honey as the Brits called it, and it deserves to become the de facto standard for the scale.  If interiors aren’t your thing however, just wait a little while and an exterior-only kit will be along shortly.

 

Very highly recommended.

 

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Review sample courtesy of

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  • 2 weeks later...

One thing that I noticed with the etched set, is that they have put "feet" on the headlamp brush guards. If only all of the Etched brass manufacturers would do the same. It will make the bond so much stronger when gluing them in place.

 

John.

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