Sunday, February 1, 2015

Rubicon Models M4A3 Sherman (IV)

Rubicon Models is a new company on the 28mm scale vehicle scene, and started out with six new plastic kits.

I bought four of them from The Plastic Soldier Company stand at Warfare in Reading in 2014 (Panzer III, Tiger I, T34/76 and M4A3).

The first one I built was the M4A3.

The M4 series tanks are a lot more complicated than my memories of Airfix kits from my youth had lead me to expect. The M4 came in a number of hull and turret variations, the Ax only indicates that it is a different, but not later design.

This kit is partly in competition with the Warlord Games M4, so there are a number of comparisons, even though the M4 and the M4A3 are very different.

The kit comes in a slightly flimsy box, but is packed with three sprues, an instruction leaflet and a decal sheet (generic US tank and halftrack).

The first thing you note is the presence of two turret tops.

The kit allows the building of one of the following main gun versions: 75mm, 76mm and 105mm howitzer. Unfortunately it is not easily possible to build the two turrets so you can swap between them (memories of the Airfix and Tamiya T34), this is understandable commercially.

Both of the turret tops are of the two hatch variety (the M4 has the single commander only hatch which made exiting in the event of a hit very difficult), the 75/105mm turret having a fixed loader's hatch. There are three different barrels and mantlets for the three options.

I decided to build the 76mm version which has the extended bustle on the back of the turret.

The kit goes together well, the main problem being the mould lines on the track and the pistol port.

The pistol port is an oddity, there are different parts for the early 75/105mm turret (and yes I used the one for the 76mm turret that is in the instructions), and it adds very difficult to clean up joint lines. Some variations of the turrets did not have the pistol port but no blank is provided

I ended up having to use milliput to fare in the port moulding.

The company makes great play on the one piece track design, which alleviates the join issues that two piece track (such as the Italeri/Warlord Games tank kits may exhibit). I did not have a problem with the M4 track, though I did have some issues with the Panther (more once I have finished it). The M4 track does have more detail on the track, which is missing due to the mould geometry on the M4A3 track. It is not a major issue but took a lot longer to clean up.

The M4A3 has detail on the inside face of the track units, hence is made of more pieces, but does not offer the later suspension types (other Rubicon kits offer different wheel types, and the later Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension would have been a very useful option).

Clever design allows the tank to be built into four sections that allow easy spray undercoating:
The hull top slides onto the track/lower hull. The transmission cover slides on and the turret is a bayonet fit. William Killan as usual provides scale.

So here is a quick walk round of the assembled tank.



Now some comparison shots (the M4 is undercoated):
 The differences in the hull shapes are prototypical, but no mention is made in the Rubicon information as to whether this is a Wet or Dry ammunition storage hull (I think it is wet, due to the steep glacis angle, Shemans had a reputation of being fire hazards, not due to fuel but penetrating hits shattering the ammunition which then proceeded to burn vigorously - wet refers to having water jackets surrounding relocated ammunition racks which required a redesigned hull shape).


In conclusion:
The kit assembles into a good representation of an M4A3. The ability to undercoat it in bits and then put it together makes painting so much easier.

The 76mm turret looks more modern and would allow the tank to be used in more modern scenarios, the M4 turret looks very dated. Unfortunately most later users of Shermans had the later suspension type.

The kit is slightly more complicated to put together, and takes a good deal more time (I managed to assemble the M4 in an evening, the M4A3 took a number of evenings).

Price wise, there is not a lot in it, the three tank box set from Warlord is £50, the Plastic Soldier Company have a deal for three tanks for £54 (individual kits are M4 £18, M4A3 £20).

My problem is that the M4A3 was not used by British forces (or at least rarely), so they are not so much use to me. If it had been an M4A4, that would be great as Sherman V (especially as a Firefly) would make it a significant upgrade to my existing Sherman I fleet..

Disappointingly, there is minimum additional items of stowage on the M4A3 kit, just spare track racks on the end of the hull. Rubicon are rumoured to be developing additional sprues of jerry cans, barrels, ammunition boxes and track etc which will be welcome.

So, it is a nice model but it is of minimal use to modellers and gamers of British forces. I look forward to their next British or US Lend Lease tank.

Now I have eight M4s to assemble…

I am looking at trying to use parts from the optional turret on an M4.