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Mittwoch, 30. März 2016

Review: Rubicon Models M8 Greyhound




Heyhey, it's me again, with a review of another very recent release by Rubicon Models - it's the M8 'Greyhound' armoured car kit from which you can also build a M20 Utility Car. Originally designed to be a tank hunter, it became the US army's main recon AFV during World War 2.





  This time the kit was supplied by Rubicon models rather than bought by myself. (many thanks to Jamie!).


As always I'll start with the inevitable

Historical bits


In 1941 US Army ordnance department saw the requirement for a new anti-tank vehicle design carrying the 37mm gun. It was to be lightly armoured, wheeled, fast and to be used in an anti-tank role. Thus far the 37mm gun had been mounted on the back of a Dodge truck with very little protection apart from the gun shield itself.

Yes, quite an ad-hoc looking solution to tank hunting, but the thing was in use until 1945.


Actually deciding on a design and developing it to series-production readiness took much longer than anticipated. By March 1942 it had become appearant that German tank armour had gotten too thick for the 37mm gun, and the whole project got repurposed to a reconnaissance role and renamed the M8 Light Armoured Car. In this role it was to fit in between the M3 scout car and the M3/M5 light tank. Finally, in March 1943, the M8 entered service and first saw action in Italy and the Far East. Against Japanese tanks it even proved effective in the original anti-tank role.



The British and Free French received roughly 1000 M8 Armoured Cars to use under the Lend-Lease contract. While not being impressed with the thin armour (especially against mines. For this reason British crews laid out sand bags on the floor of the vehicle.) and severely lacking in off-road performance the vehicle swiftly earned itself the nickname Greyhound due to its high speed on roads (up to 90 km/h).

Between March 1943 and June 1945 a total of 8,523 M8 Armoured Cars were built at the Ford Motor Company plant in Saint Paul, Minnesota. To this day they are in service in Third World Countries and some police forces as riot control vehicles.

The M8 had a crew of 4 (driver and radioman in the hull, commander and gunner in the open-topped turret). It is armed with the aforementioned 37mm main gun, one .30cal Browning M1919 coaxial MG in the cast metal mantlet and in addition to this the monstrous .50 cal machine gun on top of the turret. There was some  back and forth about the addition of this gun. At first the M8 was built without any additional pintle-mounted gun, but the cavalry demanded it to be added. Yes, cavalry. They seem to be a US Army thing. Each infantry and armoured division had certain numbers of cavalry formations for recon and covering duty. In Europe during 1944 and 1945 those formations were mechanized and combined into larger units to serve as recon units for corps HQ. They usually were equipped with Jeeps and M8 Armoured Cars. So at first the .50cal MG had to be demanded and swiftly the ones which reached the units were converted with improvised ring mounts for the .50cal MG on top of the turret. The first factory-made MG mounts for the .50cal were right behind the turret and proved not satisfactory, so the ring mount was made standard on later production runs.

The later M8 with the .50 cal MG mounted on the ring mount.


The off-road performance of the M8 was less than convincing (especially in mud), which more or less restricted the movement to roads. Quite hampering for a recon vehicle. Still, the M8 seems like it did its job well enough to keep it on even though the US army  was looking for a successor model by the time production finally had commenced. Its durability, relative quiet run and reliability outweighed the poor off-road capabilities and for recon duty. All too often reckless commanders used the M8 in a direct infantry support role, which often proved disastrous due to the vehicle's light armour.

The sloped armour on the M8 Greyhound was 19mm in the front which made it resistant to large calibre MG fire. On the sides the armour was thick enough to resist MG fire. Due to its recon role it was equipped with either one or two powerful radio sets. In the latter case the crew had to make do with just 16 rounds for the main gun. Installing additional racks for 37mm ammunition was a popular field modification in the M8, as well as the usual armour protection increasing measures.


The M20 Utility Car was the only widely used official variant of the M8. Others were either rare field modifications or test runs (like the M8E1 with a new suspension or an Anti-Aircraft variant). The M20 was pretty much the same vehicle, but with the turret removed and open-topped. It was mostly a command&control car as well as used for recon duty. Again fitted with powerful radio sets, but roomier, lighter and more maneuverable than the M8. Atop the open roof it carried again the .50 cal MG on a ring mount and it carried a bazooka in a special rack in case armoured targets popped up. Of the M20 Ford produced another 3680 veicles.

M20 Armoured Utility Car

If you have got an M8 at home, lost the manual and aren't quite sure how it works or just in case you're interested in some more info on this fine vehicle, here's the M8 Crew Drill Field Manual from December 1943: http://www.warwheels.net/images/M8CrewDrill_FM2-6.pdf

The above manual was acquired through this excellent resource page on the M8.





The Box



As I mentioned in my review of the Opel Blitz, the illustrations in the front of the Rubicon kits are just not my cup of tea. It's a matter of tastes, but it's not to mine. The whole design somehow is a bit 'grey' to me on those boxes and lacks contrast I think.


The back, as usual, has a bunch of useful historical infos (quite a lot thereof), a very basic painting suggestion, and a nice picture of the included decal sheet.



The Contents


Rubicon boxes aren't shrink-wrapped, but pretty much everything in them is. So let's see what we have here..

First: A plastic sprue wrapped in plastic.





The casting is really good. Crisp, sharp detaills, no casting errors that I could see. These kits feel like they're half-way between being the typical wargaming kits and being proper scale models. A case in point is things like the MGs on Rubicon kits. I love their MGs. They are almost criminally flimsy (MG34 mostly), but they're beautiful and look right.


..and a second sprue:



I was surprised to see that there were no crew figures included at all. Now this may come over as a bit hypocritical as I did not care about them in the Open Blitz box, but with lorries I always think that I'll use them as terrain as much as I'll use them for actual gaming and more often as scenario objectives than playing with them. However, an open-topped combat vehicle such as the M8 I think it looks weird that the turret is completely abandoned. It's a bit like a Marder or an artillery piece without a crew. Sure, the gun is there, but it can't fire itself, right?

There is no stowage what so ever included either. Well, except for the folded-up tripod mount for the .50 cal. I think that this was a US things. On many vehicles on which they had top-mounted MGs they also carried around foldable tri-pods so the MG could be dismounted and used on a support weapon on its own.



There's the usual assembly instructions. Not as many historical infos and additional snippets as on the Open Blitz instructions, but it's clear and concise.

Now for the highlight - the decal sheet:


As always, filled to the brim with fun stuff, including plenty of decals for Free French and British vehicles and even some for German captured M8s. The US flags were only worn on vehicles at the landing in Tunisia and shortly thereafter for political reasons. This may sound silly, but I think the sheet lacks unit designation numbers, which is a bit of a bummer. Feel free to correct me though, I'm not an expert on US vehicles. 





Building


Assembly of the model is a breeze. The fit on the parts is very good, the instructions are clear.









There are barely any options to consider whilst building this kit. The only thing you have to choose is whether you want to have covered up toolboxes behind the front axle or the earlier land mind racks. Well, and you can choose if you want to have the driver's position top hatch open. Weirdly enough  the radio operator's hatch is cast shut.

While putting the thing together I noticed a very nice little additional detail - the wheels aren't perfectly round, but slightly flat in the bottom. Good detail, I appreciate that.

The main decision you have to make of course is: Do I build the M8 Greyhound or the M20 Utility Car? The real question we all ask ourselves though is: How can I build both?

The model with its M8 hat on (quite literally)...

Here's the thing - the way the kit is done this actually is possibly without much effort. It's very akin to the GW Warhammer 40,000 Rhino model: Take off the top hatch, replace it with a Razorback turret, done. Just don't glue it on and you can swap without any problems. This M8/M20 kit by Rubicon works exactly the same. The only difference between the M8 Greyhound and the M20 armoured car is that the first has a turret, the second one has a few more things inside to seat the crew.

...and with the M20 top.

You get two crew compartment tops in the box, you even get enough top hatches for the driver's position. It's clearly meant to be built with swappable top bits. However, there are two very surprising problems with that. First: if you put in the additional benches in the crew compartment for the M20 version the Greyhound turret doesn't quite fit. However, it's easy to cut down some unnecessary details on the lower end of the turret and it fits splendidly.

In this picture and the picture above you can see where I cut the inner turret details.
They won't be missed as they are invisible anyway.

Of the .50 cal MG made to fit the ring mounts on the later M8 and the M20 you only get one. No problem. Either build the earlier M8 version with the flip-thing mounted MG at the back of the turret, or just convert a little and build the flippy-kind MG onto a ring mount (it won't have the 100% correct connector between the ring mount and the MG, mind). Now the thing is that there's only one ammo box for the .50 cal MGs included. I guess you could magnetize the MG, but this gets a bit fiddly and work-like and these things are to be avoided.

It's all a slightly weird situation. The kit clearly wants you to be able to build both, but it isn't quite willing to commit.



Painting


Last time I painted a US vehicle it was still in enamels and 1:72th. And it probably was a Sherman or the odd duck DUKW. So naturally I had to make up a new recipe, do some research and so on.




Surprise of surprises, it turns out that with US Olive Drab there's a similar situation as with Dunkelgelb - there is no 'right' shade or color! So I used what looked and felt right to me,



I got to try out some new techniques and in the end really dug painting this vehicle. The cool thing of course is that with US vehicles you almost always got a single-coloured vehicle on which you can play around with filters and zenithal highlights and discolored bits and whatnot. 


With the decals I ran into some annoyances. First, I had glued the additional box to the front of the vehicle. That's an optional part, and it's way easier to put on a larger US army star in the front without the box of course. It would more 'right' I guess. That big star in the back I nicked from Rubicon's decal sheet for the M3 half-track. There is a larger star with a circle around it on the decal sheet for the M8/M20 kit, but it's still too small for these engine covers in the back.


 A bit weird, specially as aerial recognition markings on US vehicles were quite a big thing. After all, they made excellent use of their air superiority and bombing anything that didn't look faintly Allied over and over just to be sure. The whole thing with the circle around the star developed mostly due to pilots calling for making the star more regonizable from above. The star alone from afar and through dust clouds and whatnot sometimes looked like a Balkenkreuz and led to unfortunate incidents.



The inner bits of the crew compartment I painted white. As far as I know this was the case on the M8. on the M20 only the driver's and radio operator's cabs were painted white and the back parts showing through the open top were also painted olive drab. I still painted it all white because it looks more interesting and most of the time I assume it will be in the tablein the M8 variant.

In the end I added two antennae. I think that only US vehicles had that snazzy bendy kind of antennae, right?




Final Verdict


So what's the bottom line on this kit?


The things I don't like about this kit are my personal dislike of the box design. Of course that's a bit reaching as it's a matter of tastes and in the end it's not that important. 

The other thing is this weird "you can have both kits in one, but not quite" situation with the MGs. I understand that this is easy to fix with some converting, but I think it could have been possible to make it easier for people to do the M8 and M20 as well.

In addition to that I would have appreciated a bigger aerial regonition decal for the back of the vehicle. The big star on the decal sheet is just too small for that. Of course there could be more stowage on the sprues as well, because there can never be too little stowage on vehicles. But Rubicon adressed that problem and will release  a dedicated US stowage pack in plastic within the next few weeks, akin to the German stowage pack.

The main thing I find a bit weird is the lack of crew in the turret. For an open topped vehicle you just need crew figures.


So much for the things I'm not too much into about this model. On the other hand, this one has the usual great quality decal sheet Rubicon Models do (and they're about to sell them on their own soon. Talk about exploiting core competence.), the instructions are clear and concise, the model goes together well and detail is better than on earlier kits such as the Panzer III (which I will review as soon as I got the chap painted).

I gather that Italeri/Warlord Games have released a plastic M8/M20 combi box as well. It's interesting to see these two companies go directly toe to toe with 28mm ww2 vehicles. Both seem to cost exactly the same. Would be interesting to have a look at the Italeri/Warlord kit as well, wouldn't it? Well, maybe some day...





Until then, all i can say is that this is a solid, solid model. A few little negative things aside it has everything a wargamer could ask for in a 28mm Greyhound or M20. The lack of crew is probably my main point of critizism, but I'm sure the enterprising people at Rubicon are on the problem already and will release some sort of US vehicle crewmen kit in the near future. 

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