As always, I start with...
The Historical Bits
Panzer III was pretty much the very first wholly German-designed main battle tank. Panzer I and II shared many similarities with other models internationally. Learnings from the design of the prior vehicles gave German engineers enough know-how to work out their own designs.
Most of them very visionary, but very complicated in any regard. Out of these designs Panzer III (as it later would be called) was deemed fit for serial production.
|Panzer III Ausf.A. Note the very different suspension to later versions.|
The first few versions of Panzer III (A, B, C and D) were small production runs, mostly for testing various wheel configurations. These early versions, including the first large series production version E, were all armed with a 3,7mm main cannon. A, B, C and D were armed with three MGs (two co-axial MGs in the gun mantlet plus one for the radio operator in the hull), for version / Ausführung E the co-axial MGs were reduced to one.
|Panzer III Ausf.E with the final suspension All future Pz.III versions used.|
Courtesy of www.wardrawings.be
Panzer III was planned as a medium main battle tank from the get-go. For efficient gun operation the crew was to be five men: A commander, gunner and loader in the turret, the driver and radio operator in the hull. The turret had no floor and the commander and gunner were sitting on chairs affixed to the inside of the turret while the loader stood in the hull (and had to move along when the turret turned). It was the first tank to feature vehicle intercom for crew to communicate between them.
Large scale production of Panzer III Ausf.E commenced right before the start of the war and Panzer III vehicles saw first action in Poland. For the attack on France in May 1940 349 Panzer III were available.
Production of the Panzer III was slow. Over the first years German industrial power proved to be inefficient for wartime tank production at this point and a lot of care was taken to fulfill highest quality standards rather than quick assembly line production.
Right from the start the larger 5cm gun was suggested and indeed the 3,7cm gun proved to be on the weak side matched against the French tanks. The overwhelming success was soley due to superior tactics and the use of the tank arm compared to the French army. From 1940 on vehicles were rearmed with a 5cm gun. These vehicles saw use on all fronts.
1941 the German armed forces were confronted with the biggest technological shock of the war - the emergence of the T-34 at the Eastern Front.
From one day to the other German army HQ started to doubt their glory boys, the tank arm. Panzer III, originally planned to be the main battle tank, was deemed outdated. Panzer IV, larger and capable of carrying bigger guns in its turret, became the army's main battle tank until enough Panthers would be around.
Starting halfway during Ausf.J, Panzer III was re-armed with a longer 5cm gun (leading to a much higher muzzle velocity and thus 'punch') and more and more up-armoured. In the deserts of North Africa these vehicles still outperformed any Allied models up to and including the M3 Lee/Grant.
|Panzer III Ausf.M. Note the long 5cm gun and the added armour|
at the mantlet and front of the chassis.
On the Eastern Front the signs of the time were clear though, and so Panzer III with the new, longer 5cm was kept pretty much the same until the end of production of Panzer III in its original shape. The last series production model, Ausf. N, was reverted to infantry support role or to support heavier tanks such as Tigers and got equipped with a short 7,5cm gun.
|Panzer III Ausf.N, with the short 7,5cm gun, was relegated to support roles.|
Production ended in August 1943. Even before that numbers were reduced drastically in favour of the then much more successful Sturmgeschütz III (more on those in a future review!) which was produced in large numbers until the end of the war.
The box has the usual Rubicon Models design. I said it before - I don't like Rubicon's box illustrations much. It always looks straight out of a computer game and has a very sterile and synthetic look to them.
Apart from that the front informs us that the kit was easy to assemble, 1/56th in scale and lets us build the Panzer III Ausf. J, M or N.
On the back of the box we see a more schematic look at the Panzer III, along with some historical information and a picture of the decal sheet (always a highlight with Rubicon kits!) we will find included in the box.
The box itself is of the usual thin cardboard, quite shiny and big. There is no tape to keep it closed, so with minimal hinderance we can take a look at the goods inside.
What's in the Box?
There are three sprues inside, obviously not made by Renedra. They are single-wrapped in plastic.
Rubicon models is a Hong Kong based company and so, more than for anyone else, it makes sense that they produce in China. A few words on the company and as I perceived it so far: Rubicon Models popped up in the fall of 2014 and caused quite a stir with the almost simultaneous initial release of a whopping 7 different plastic World War 2 tank kits at 1/56 scale (and they haven't stopped since), the same scale as Warlord's and many others produce in conjunction with their 28mm sized infantry figures.
They clearly are going for the comparatively big Bolt Action market which demands more and more tanks, preferably made of plastic. Rubicon's initial advertisements could be described as shrewd. They certainly leave an impression of being very hungry and determined to cluster-bomb the market with releases left and right. After making a poor impression with initial ads they toned it down and instead switched to supporting tournaments with prizes, send out review copies to reviewers and integrate community feedback into their design process a lot.
Now let's return to the model at hand.
The instructions manual is a folded A4 sized sheet and the instructions themselves are clear and concise. There is a little paragraph with historical info thrown in there as well. It is the same text as on the back of the box.
Now this is a proper decal sheet. To be honest this was the part I've been looking forward to the most. Many other 28mm scale WW2 vehicles I worked with or reviewed were lacking in this department. Rubicon clearly did some research on this because this decal sheet has everything one could ask for: A sufficient number of turret numbers (including differing designs), Balkenkreuze of various designs and sizes and even a number of Afrika Korps insignia. The Panzer III was in service with the Wehrmacht throughout the war so a number of different options for decals is required.
Now let's have a closer look at the three sprues:
When looking at tank model kits there always are certain things you check for first. For me the first point of interest is how the tracks are done. In this case the tracks and wheels are all cast into one single piece as you often see it done on smaller scale kits. Not my preferred way of doing it, because it makes painting the tracks much more work, but it is easier to assemble.
The second thing I look for usually are the 'fluffy bits' like crew and stowage. I am a huge fan of tank stowage, because if you look at a vehicle in the field they often are covered in stowage, tent squares, camouflage items, and so on. There is none of that in this kit, except for the mandatory extra track parts which can be affixed to the front of the chassis. There are no crew models either. Of course none of this is mandatory, but there is something to be said for model kits which go beyond the bare necessities. Of course designing more organic things like stowage and crew takes much more time and different training than putting together a tank model on a computer, so it fits Rubicon's strategy of large quantities of releases.
The model is cast in dark grey plastic of the usual wargaming model quality (soft, nice to work with). The details look nice enough, but could be crisper. I like how the armoured parts which are showing got a slightly rough texture to them. There is a nice amount of detail on the top of the chassis (tools, towing cable, ...) , but it suffers form the usual problems with such cast-on details: They are very flat. The spade and the other tools especially look a little small and the car jack (tank jack?) especially could be more detailled.
Assembly is as simple as expected, but I ran into trouble with the tracks. The way they are cast is such that there is a mould line running right along the middle of the tracks and are a pain to get rid of. At least no big harm can be done whilst removing them as the tracks are not particularly well detailled/defined. At least you can cut some corners here as the top of the tracks is covered by the mud guards, the bottom of the tracks won't be visible obviously and the front and back parts can be covered in mud and whatnot.
Building the model is very straightforward. The parts fit flawlessly.
I suggest not to glue the tracks and wheels in place prior to painting. Rubicon did an interesting thing with the Schürzen (spaced armour for extra protection and to diminish the effect of shaped charge ammunition) in that they are removable. The side armour is clipped onto the mud guards and the turret Schürzen are just placed on the top of the turret. Of course you can glue them in place if you want.
The turret is kept in place and rotatable via the classic bayonet system. It is very loose though (it gets better with paint on), so expect the turret to wobble a little if you shake the tank. The tank's main gun can be built movable so you can aim it up and down. That works really well and the grip on the axle of the mechanism is tight enough so the gun stays in the desired position. For some reason the container on the exhaust pipe is hollow on one side and that is clearly visible when the model is built so I closed the hole using some green stuff.
|This is how the side skirts are mounted. Nope, I did not take care of these horrible ring-shaped mold lines.|
They're not visible with the turret on.
On my model I replaced the spare tracks on the front of the chassis were with some resin ones which look much better. Last but not least I magnetized the gun barrels so I can switch between the long and stub nosed versions. Don't forget to drill out the gun muzzles, because if you don't the internet will scream at you, and so will I. ;-)
I think that given the versions of the tank which are to be depicted there should be some more options as to the extra armour in the front and maybe some chassis details, but this was an early model by Rubicon and for a gaming piece this is acceptable. Until someone comes along who does it 'properer'.
PaintingI painted this vehicle along with a bunch of other German WW2 vehicles of that timeframe.
Painting three-colour camo German vehicles gives quite different weathering options and requirements than one-coloured green vehicles of the Allies.
To be completely honest, I'm not very happy with the look of airbrushed camo on these vehicles. It just looks not quite right. Not sure if I can switch to hand-painted for the rest of my vehicles now though.
So what's my verdict of this model? There are some faults with it, namely corners that were cut in terms of historical accuracy in favour of making this a model covering a number of versions of the Panzer III. The way the Schürzen are attached looks little like they actually did. On the turret they did an okay job of replicating the look, on the side skirts less so. Schürzen on wargaming tanks are always a problem in general. of course because they always look too neat and they always are much too thick. Then there is the cover art, which I just don't care for. The latter is just a matter of tastes though.
The good things are the solid quality of the cast, the very good decal sheet and the clear building instructions.
So all things said, there is nothing inherently wrong with this model. There are some bits which are not quite as nice or could be better, like some stowage, a commander figure and more optional parts (I already mentioned the iffy situation with extra armour which I think was more varied than this model allows for, at the very least on Ausf.J) and the addition of another gun option to make the Flammpanzer III (virtually identical to the Ausf.M, with a slightly different looking "gun". This one's easy to convert though as that was pretty much just a pipe to cover up the flame thrower).
Let's keep in mind though that this one strictly is a gaming model and it aims for a market which has people longing for plastic models which cover the widest variety of versions of a vehicle per kit. In this regard it works. I think that Rubicon did better on later kits, but this is a solid 28mm wargaming kit for an important German WW2 combat vehicle.
Addendum: Rubicon's PR chap let me know that they are reworking their earlier kits (namely the Panzer III and IV kits, Sherman and T34 already were overhauled) to improve the quality, including some points I mentioned above. So maybe giving it a few weeks before running out and buying the kit may be a good idea if you want an even better kit.
I hope that you enjoyed this review, found it interesting, enjoyed the painting 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.