latest release (6604) in their ever increasing Panzer III series is the M version with schürzen (armoured skirts to the non-German speaking world). I believe this is the last major production variant for the turreted gun tanks to be kitted by Dragon
, hopefully they will now turn their attention to the early StuG versions. As might be expected, this is not a new kit as such, but rather a collection of sprues from existing releases to produce this particular variant. In the jam packed box you get 17 sprues (a good third of these parts will feed your spares box), 2 frets of photo etch (most of it is optional), decals for 7 marking options, and a small bag of Magic Track links for the ubiquitous spare track armour seen on most Pz IIIs and IVs, a most welcome surprise, but unfortunately you get DS main tracks. Molding quality is typical Dragon
, crisp, with excellent detail and almost no flash, and mostly minor mold seams to be cleaned up. Ejector pin marks are few, replaced by small nodes. If you've never built a Dragon kit, be prepared to spend a lot of time cutting these off. Most of the nodes are easily removed and don't interfere much with the detail of their respective parts. We'll skip the obligatory sprue shots as there is really nothing new here except for the decals. For an idea of what's in the box, you can refer to the links below.
The instructions are the usual Dragon
quality, mostly clear with a few omissions and an odd head scratcher, more on those as we go along. One thing to note is that you get a few choices in this kit (front glacis and visor options, spare track holders and exhaust pipes), so check your references to determine what is appropriate for your vehicle. Some of the sprues have the same letter, making life interesting when hunting around for the correct part. Dragon
has marked these differences with colour and by using small and capital letters. There are lots of fine and teeny tiny parts in this kit. Be very careful removing parts and cleaning up seams. One tip I'll pass along is to use a single edged razor blade and cutting block to help with delicate parts removal and cleaning up attachment points. And as always, test fit everything before gluing.
I tend to build in logical sub-assemblies and don't necessarily follow instructions to the letter so the photos may seem to sort of jump around a bit in terms of sequence. For example, I build the hull and fenders before attaching finer details and tools etc. I find there is a risk of knocking parts off and painting items such as tools becomes more difficult if they're glued in place.
First up is the running gear and hull, no real surprises here apart from the first omission which seems to be common to all Pz III/IV kits; the failure to mention you should remove the 6 nubs on the hull tub. Another minor point is that the right hand torsion bar part number (A2) isn't mentioned but the correct parts are rather obvious. Just be sure to keep the bars properly handed so that the swing arms mount correctly. I would recommend leaving the fender support brackets off until you have the fender in place, either glued or taped, to ensure a good fit. They can be added after the fender has been glued in place if you wish so. I decided to add the glacis plate at this point but left off the spare track holders, the upper one is optional anyway. A shim was needed for the glacis as I didn't want to use filler for the slight gap, there is nice weld detail that might get messed up. I left the swing arms and suspension bits off for the time being, I found that the swing arms get in the way when handling. If you trim the mounting pins off the arms, you can articulate the suspension.
The sprockets will need some filling if you don't plan on slathering mud on them. The idler wheels have etched rings that fit perfectly. Take care gluing the halves together, you will need to do some cleanup of the seam on the spokes. If you lightly sand the mating halves and apply a little more glue than the usual, you might get lucky and have no gaps to fill, just excess plastic to shave off. The road wheels and return rollers are simple enough. The rubber parts have a raised “CONTINENTAU” text molded on, simply shave the U into an L if this bothers you. I won't be attaching the running gear until after painting and track installation, see the section at the end as to why.
Take your time fitting the idler support arm, the cover (B2/3) might sit proud, a little filing of the inside of the cover and/or the rear lip of B38/33 will take care of that. Before gluing in place, check the fit of the rear hull plate (a12). From previous experience, I know the rear plate fit and the subsequent fit with the idler supports can be messy. Happily this time around it all seems to go together nicely in that regard. I'd recommend gluing the rear plate in first and then coercing the idler supports in place and trimming a little of the mounting tab of B38/33 if the fit is too tight. This way you can avoid excessive sanding/filling if the covers sit proud. The towing brackets are a seriously tight fit, scrape or sand a little to help, filler will be needed.
I found a slight gap at the join between the rear plate and part B15, a shim was used once again. The short supports (A5/6) can be slipped in after the rear plate has been glued on, don't forget to trim the tabs as indicated in the instructions to allow assembly F to sit flush. Speaking of assembly F, double check the orientation of part a7. There's no mention of it, but you can of course glue hatches a5/6 closed. All the deep wading vents and hatches are in the open position on the kit but can be closed with minor modifications. If you choose the open option, glue the hatches in first, then attach the control rods while the glue is still fresh to position the hatches correctly, the rods slip into place quite nicely, just take care when removing them from the sprue. The exhaust can be added but leave it off should you wish make the painting easier. Glue up your choice of parts and dry fit into place to set.
Fenders and upper hull
would have you assemble the fenders with all the tools in place and then attach them at a later stage which is not an attractive option. I chose to add the fenders and supports, then continue with the upper and rear hull and added the tools and so on after. The fenders themselves fit reasonably well, a little trimming of the locating tabs was needed. Pay attention to what holes need filling or drilling and take care that you don't snap the skirt mounts off during clean up and handling. The mud flaps fit well, take extreme care with the latch hooks. You get the option of etch parts for the hooks but I opted for the plastic ones, they are far better looking if not very small and tricky to position. Oddly, Dragon
shows an option to use an etch support plate for the left rear flap, yet fail to mention you can also do the same with the right flap as there are parts for both, I went with plastic all around. Should you leave the rear flaps off, you can then install the etch pieces, it is a nice touch I must admit. Refer to the photos to see where the rear latch hook goes, it took some time to figure that one out. You also get an option with the convoy light. The headlights and mounts are very nicely done but no glass part is provided even though there are spares on the clear sprue, they don't seem to fit. The only thing to add is the wire, check your references.
While all that was drying I turned my attention to the upper hull and rear deck. These are separate units just like on the real vehicle. The upper hull went together nicely, I chose the simple option for the glacis as the vehicle I wanted to do seems to have this configuration. I decided on closed visors, they wouldn't be all that visible with the skirts in place and only used the mounting plate and MG body for the ball mount, no need to glue up parts that won't be seen, the muzzle is pre-drilled, but needs enlarging. You don't need to drill out the holes on the right hull side (I actually forgot to), the skirt bracket that goes there can have the pins trimmed off without any issue. I added the extra front armour next, a slight sanding of the “tabs” was needed to get a good sit with the top of the hull. You get an option of plastic or etch for the side wings, the plastic parts looked nicer. Make sure you get C3 added to the lower glacis, otherwise you'll wonder why the extra armour looks like it floats. I discovered you can get the MG and visor glass in place through the turret opening, so my cunning plan to leave the hull off until painting wasn't needed. The fit of the glass is tight, so a good shave will be needed. The clear plastic is also brittle, do be very careful removing and cleaning the part.
The rear deck is fairly straightforward. I found it easiest to remove the nodes from parts H16 after they were glued in place, otherwise you will probably distort the frames. Dry fit the engine covers first, then the hinges and glue once everything is aligned nicely. I chose the tow cable option rather than the empty clips, it is probably the best injection molded tow cable I've seen. Take extreme care with the brackets H10/11 for the side vent covers. One had snapped before I even looked at it. Do not attempt to clean up the brackets until you have glued them onto the covers. Dry fit the covers and brackets, tape in place and glue the brackets to the covers. After the glue has set, clean up the seams and nubs. Paint what can be seen in the bays and undersides of the covers red oxide before you glue them in place, the same applies to the engine compartment and covers.
You get an option with the lower schürzen, some tanks were fitted with them, some weren't and some had the brackets removed, or not added in the first place? Dragon
provides for both options so check your references. If you go with the mounts, they go in nicely with the exception of the rear ones. There is no placement guide for the lower leg so glue the top first, add the rail, let that set and then glue the bottom leg. You will most likely need to tape or clamp to keep the leg from popping loose until the glue has set. The schürzen are die cut on sheets of aluminum and snap off easily. Twist the bottom side of the frame back and forth until they pop loose, then do the same for the upper frame. The schürzen go on nicely but tend to pop off, I can see why this early style was modified on later Pz IVs. I had to get a coat of primer on for the photos, the glare was just too much.
The basic turret went together well enough, I again opted for closed hatches. You do get nicely detailed visors for the side hatches and cupola, but sadly, the bare bones of the turret just isn't enough to entice me to leave the hatches open. If you do decide to leave them open, you will need to remove some rather large molding pins and quite possibly the locking keys at the front of the lower turret half. In any case, remove the pin from the turret roof and slightly trim or remove the front pins on the lower half. There is a slight mold seam just forward of the hatch openings, it is very slight and I only noticed it when the light hit it at a particular angle, so look for it and gently sand or scrape it down. I had rushed ahead and didn't realize I should have added the recoil housing to help the barrel sit properly. Problem solved by trimming the locating tab on the rear of barrel off and then shoving it in as far forward as it would go. The barrel is molded in one piece with a light seam to clean up and open muzzle. The mantlet and the add on armour go together nicely, you get an etch option for the side wings, and again, I went with plastic. You also get a choice of MG mounts, one with barrel, one without. The muzzle is pre-drilled but needs enlarging as with the hull MG. A slight filing of the opening in E12 was needed to get the assembly to sit flush. I left the front armour loose to make painting easier, the fit is very snug.
The side hatches will fit nicely without gluing the frames in first. Double check which hinge goes where and get the hinges to sit as flush as you can with the turret face so that you don't get a step. A little filler/sanding/scraping will most likely be needed. I drilled holes in the bottom of the hinges, but these will not be seen. The lifting hooks that go on the smoke candle mounts are actually two pieces (D24/26) although this is not clear in the instructions. The hook needed profiling to better resemble a rod rather than the cut segment of a pipe – as it looked like. The candle racks are hollow and smoke canisters are provided as separate parts, the only details missing are firing contacts and wires.
The cupola goes together nicely, pay attention when cleaning up the hatches. I had accidentally trimmed the hinges off, fortunately I was able to get them glued back in place. The vision blocks can be slipped in from underneath if you go with closed hatches. You do get the option of open or closed covers so installation of the blocks is not mandatory. I drilled drainage holes in the lip per references. Drill in from the outside first at a slight upper slant but don't go all the way through, then drill from the inside out. If you lined up properly, the holes will “meet”. Drilling all the way through from either side is a risky proposition because you can't really control the angle and might end up with holes either too high or too low.
The turret basket is a bit fiddly, so take your time to reduce the amount of filler needed. Glue that in place and then the fun with the schürzen can begin. Glue the rear mounts (R30/29) first, then dry fit the rear. While the glue is still soft, eyeball the alignment of the brackets with the mounting guides on the inside of the skirt. Let the glue set properly, then clean up the mold seams. The brackets are quite thin and need a gentle touch. Next, glue the rear skirt to the back, and then one bracket at a time and clamp with clothespins. Let that set properly before moving on to the forward skirts and doors. I don't think the mounting guide is accurate as such, there probably isn't anything there in reality so if it bothers you, trim it off and pencil in a line as a guide. If the mounts and bolts don't line up, you can always shave off the bolts and reposition them as I did with the front set, more below.
I think brackets R22 and R21 should be swapped. Upon dry fitting they seemed to sit better this way and thus produce less stress and twisting to get them square with the skirts and nice and vertical, but they will not align to the mounting bolts and guides on the skirts. Your call here. A small trim of the mounting tabs was needed to get a better sit in the turret holes in either case. Glue and let it set, then clean just like the rear brackets. Add the doors to the rear skirt next, this sets your distance for the front skirts properly. You get the option of closed and open doors. If you want open doors, it looks like you will need to have open turret hatches as well, so plan accordingly. Shave off the mounting guides on the inside of the front skirts and glue in place, the guides may or may not line up properly in any case, and they aren't really needed. Check that they sit nice and level, clamp if needed. Once again, if the bolts don't line up, shave off and reposition once everything has set properly.
Tracks and tools
Now that everything major has been taken care of, you can go and add details to the fenders and the suspension if you haven't done so already, or leave them off until after painting. The tools are somewhat of a disappointment. They are legacy issue from the first of the Pz III series kits and are looking a little long in tooth. The shovel shaft looks particularly strange to me. All come with molded on clamps which look ok, but should be replaced with etch for a better appearance. I'd go so far as to replace the tools with newer ones if this wasn’t an out of the box build. The jack is a multi-piece affair with optional base plate and looks good. I switched the handle with g58 as I'm not sure an open handle is normal procedure or not. Use the locating guides on the fender to help with the clamp brackets, dry fit, then glue the jack to the bracket, let it set, then remove and add the upper parts of the clamps. The jack block has simulated wood grain molded on, but only on the top so the sides need a bit of scribing to match. I glued the etch strap in place but not to the fender. The pe has marks for the bend and sits well and looks to line up with the mounts on the fender. The antenna trough has wood grain and looks the business. The antenna itself is a little on the thick side but passable. You can gently sand/scrape a bit more taper should you wish. Take extreme care removing the part from the sprue and during cleanup and you won't have to replace it with stretched sprue or an aftermarket item.
And finally, the tracks. As mentioned, these are DS and quite frankly, I don't like them for a few reasons. First off, they aren't as well defined as the old Magic Tracks, and secondly, replicating track sag is a pain. With schürzen in the way, sag won't be an issue. The track sits very tight even though they have 93 links which I believe is correct. The Stug III final kit I reviewed last year had tracks that were clearly too long by at least 3-4 links so I don't know if a set of Pz IV tracks had made it's way into that box or whether Dragon
has corrected this issue, thankfully I didn't need to start worrying about removing links. It's also a good idea to mark the tracks as they are handed although the difference in connector pin ends is so tiny, you probably wouldn't notice.
First things first, with a very sharp blade, trim off the tabs and shave off two sets of the inner mounting pins, they don't line up with the holes. There is also a gap left for some bizarre reason, this can be hidden so not a huge deal in that sense but annoying nevertheless. Apply glue to both surfaces and squeeze the join with tweezers or clothes pegs. Run some more glue around the join and let setup for a minute, then clamp and let dry overnight. In gluing up the track pin halves, you'll need to apply a liberal amount of glue, and using tweezers, squeeze to get the halves mated. You will probably obliterate some detail here in any event so don't worry too much about it other than to get the halves aligned and gap free. Try to use a little more finesse with the track pin halves as the DS plastic is very soft and doesn't sand or trim well but can be smoothed down a bit with liquid cement. In order to fit the track, first get the sprocket (or idler) into position on the kit, run the track around it then add the idler to the track and that to the kit. The fit is very snug to the sprocket and between the idler. Once that's done, add the road wheels and return rollers, this way, you won't stress the join. One other thing with the DS tracks is that there is a slight bow to them when in place over the sprocket, another item to add in the dislike column. The spare tracks were done up after first doing some minor seam and ejector pin cleanup, the pin marks are really quite minor but will be noticeable here. I first drilled holes for the missing track pin on the first links and then added stretched sprue to the last links to represent the track pin.
Painting and markings will have to wait for another installment. As mentioned, you get a good variety of options here although the painting guides could be larger so that they might actually be useful. The decals look nice and sharp and going on previous experience should pose no problems. On that note, some of the items on the completed kit are just blu tacked in place and the cupola visor glass is omitted to make life easier for painting, so if something seems amiss, that may be the reason. Oh and one mea culpa: I forgot to add the tow bars to the rear shackles, they do fit in without fuss.
Overall, this was a fairly easy and pleasant build. My biggest complaint is the tracks. To some, these may be just fine, however I feel that because Dragon
markets itself as a premier brand, the tracks should also reflect this. They simply aren't as good as the rest of the kit and are nowhere near as good looking as the old Magic tracks. I heartily recommend the kit to anyone with intermediate modeling skills and up. You will need patience and a deft touch with some of the smaller parts but they shouldn't pose an insurmountable obstacle. My thanks to Armorama and Dragon USA
for the review sample.
Below is a link to a photo feature of the finished model.
Pz III M with schürzen