Last summer I fell for some kind of sale on the Warlord website, bought a bunch of plastic. Amongst those things was their M3A1 Half-Track kit. Time to have a closer look at this fella and maybe give it a little twist.
...aaaaaand stop! Time to grind this whole thing to a halt for the mandatory historical bits. :-p
The Historical Bits
The M3 Half-Track Carrier was a development of the M2 Half-Track which itself was designed in the late 1930s (based on French findings about the performance of half-track vehicles) and used mainly as an artillery tractor or reconnaissance vehicle. The M3 was the infantry transport vehicle for the then developing mechanized infantry. The differences to the M2 were a longer crew compartment, eleven seats and rear doors.
In many ways the new vehicle was very similar to the German Sd.Kfz.251. While the Sd.Kfz.251 had a better ballistic shape and had a better off-road performance than the M3 it was more complicated in terms of maintenance and its crew compartment was 20% smaller. The M3 didn't run as loudly as the Sd.Kfz.251 did as well.
International Harvester produced the export versions M5 and M9 (the same as M5, but with access to the radio from the inside and slightly different interior layout). Due to International Harvester's production sites being a bit different some changes had to be made to the design of the M5 Half-Track from the original M3 Half-Track. Instead of face-hardened steel regular steel armour was used. To maintain the same level of protection, thicker steel plate armour was used. The advantage of this material was that it could be welded (which leads to the main distinctive feature of the M5/M9 as opposed to the M3 - the rounded rear edges) and chances of bolt caps and similar shrapnel were way less likely to shoot around the interior after a hit. The frontal fenders were simplified to a flat cross-section rather than the rounded one on the M3.
Overall the performances of the M5/M9 were comparable to the M3's and close to 11,000 were produced by International Harvester for export under the lend-lease contract (some were kept in the US for training) to the Allies. Most of the vehicles were sent to Britain. The Soviet Union received 834 of these vehicles, plus 342 M2 Half-Tracks and two M3, and a bunch more after the end of the war.
Mechanized infantry was not part of the Soviet doctrine at that point, so Half-Tracks were rarely used in the same role as in other armies of the time. They were mostly used to tow artillery, as ammunition carriers or staff cars. While infantry was transported from time to time, this was mostly restricted to recce groups and even for this the White M3 Scout Car seems to have been preferred by the Red Army.
So why am I banging on about the Lend-Lease version of the model at hand? Well, because my intention right from the start was to convert this fellow into a Soviet used version.
The Red army only received two M3, so this would require some converting. When I asked around for ideas on how to turn the plastic M3 into an M5 I didn't get much input beyond what I found after a bit of googling to begin with. I even had to read things like 'I just stick a red star on it lol' (I'm pretty sure that 'lol' was used there.) and 'Does it even matter?'. The people they let into wargaming these days. It is downright shocking. ;-)
Before changing things around though, let's stick to the established process of these reviews and have a look at the box the model comes in.
The front of the box shows the usual for Warlord Games. Picture of the model painted properly, lots of flock and terrain around it, wild background. Nice paintjob, I really like the look of that.
The back as always shows a clearer picture of the model in the front as well as another variant, a French one in this case. Nice.
As indicated by the back of the box, the first thing to fall into the eager modeller's hands once the box is ripped open is a small decal sheet. Lots of US Army stars (also used by the British), additional decals for Free French units and an ambulance version as well as lots of vehicle numbers, USAs and so on. Good decal sheet, leaves nothing to desire. Possibly of good use to me, because if you want a red star and have a surplus of US ones use those and paint them red.
The assembly instructions are very welcomed on this kit. Usually half-tracks are the most complicated kits to assemble. The instructions could be clearer, but are perfectly serviceable.
Now let's have a look at the sprues. Two thereof, everything is there, including three(!) machine guns, an okay amount of stowage (rolls of tarpaulin and hessian(?), two jerry cans), some tools cast onto the sides of the doors and a driver. As a nice touch they didn't cast the hands of the driver onto the steering wheel, so you can model the vehicle with a driver on the wheel or without.
You also get a choice of towing cable or the characteristic unditching roller (just a roller thing to keep the rather exposed bumper from digging into the ground in cross-country driving) for the bumper. The parts are of the usual quality. Good detail, soft plastic.
Assembly / Conversion
I went on to assemble most of the model. As usual I did not glue on the wheels and tracks for easier painting.
Now for the conversions.
The main differences I identified were the rounded corners in the back, the different fenders (flat, slightly enlongated to the front and with a slight bend upwards), a lot of rivets had to be removed (thank the gods for curved blades!) as the steel used could be welded. I also swapped the driver's head for a soviet tanker's. Probably not the perfect match, but Steerin' Juri used to drive a tank, but it was shot down underneath him so he was turned into the half-track's designated driver and kept his tanker's leather helmet on.
As mentioned many times before, I'm a firm believer in the importance of stowage on vehicles in the field. I added a bunch of bedrolls (some made of resin, some made of paper tissues and wire or string) and rucksacks as well as a small external fuel tank (possibly filled with vodka? Or is it fuel? And is the distinction that important?) from a T-34 model and a dented old bucket. Buckets are always handy.
I probably should have added more stowage and such, but couldn't find any more a the time and it's the kind of stuff that can always be added afterwards as well.
Now I feel a little silly for having taken that long for these few simple conversions. The trickiest thing surely was getting the fenders right in the front.
Painted, Done, Verdict
Painting the fella was very straightforward. I painted him as a batch of four Soviet vehicles. Other than with most of my 28mm Soviet WW2 vehicles, I put on some red stars decals, just to make it look a bit more interesting and I painted on a slogan on one of the sides.
I kept the MG mount 'turret' thing removable, because I never saw any pictures of Soviet half-tracks with those. No MGs at all, because that's nother of these things I can add afterwards. As far as I know the US half-tracks were delivered to their allies all ready with 0.5 and 0.3 calibre MGs though.
As far as my verdict on this model kit goes: Well, what can I say. It's a perfectly fine model kit. The driver figure is a little tall, but that's the old problem of fitting a roughly 28mm figure into a 1/56th scale vehicle model. The dimensions are a perfect match when it comes to height and width. In terms of length the model is a nudge too short. The model is available pretty much everywhere for roughly GBP 17.00. If you're into plastic, if you need an M3 Half-Track or variant thereof you can safely go with this one.
The nice thing about the straight sides of this model is that you can play around with rain mark effects and such. Rather nice to paint overall. I hope that you like the result!
I hope that you enjoyed this review, found it interesting, entertaining and so on. If you have any questions, comments or indeed commission inquiries, feel free to let me know via the comments section, the Battle Brush Studios Facebook page or via e-mail.