by: Gino P. Quintiliani [ ]
Originally published on:
The T-54 and T-55 tanks are a series of Soviet main battle tanks introduced in the years following the Second World War. The first T-54 prototype was completed by the end of 1945. The T-54 eventually became the main tank for armored units of the Soviet Army, armies of the Warsaw Pact countries, and many others.
The T-55 was developed after trials with nuclear weapons showed that a T-54 could survive a 2–15 kt nuclear charge at a ranges of more than 300 meters (980 ft) from the epicenter, but the crew only had a chance of surviving at 700 meters (2,300 ft). The decision was made to create an NBC (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical) protection system, which would start working 0.3 seconds after detecting gamma radiation. The new tank was also fitted with the new V-55 12-cylinder, 4-stroke, water-cooled diesel engine developing 581 hp. It was also fitted with a 100 mm D-10T tank gun with the STP-1 "Gorizont" vertical stabilizer. The 100 mm gun fired BR-412 series full-caliber APHE ammunition, which had superior penetration capability when compared to the T-34 that it replaced. There was also a single bow-mounted machine gun operated by the driver. The T-55 was fielded in May of 1958. The Red Army received a tank that was superior to World War II designs and theoretically better than the newest tanks of potential opponents.
The T-54/55 series eventually became the most-produced tank in military history. Estimated production numbers for the series range from 86,000 to 100,000 and have been involved in many of the world's armed conflicts since the later part of the 20th century.
When I received the package and opened it, I was initially surprised by the hefty weight of it. It is really heavy. Then I opened the box and figured out why. There are a bunch of sprues in there; it is crammed full. The kit has 95 sprues! A whopping 1284 parts! Many of them are not used though as there are common sprues from other versions of T-54/55 that MiniArt uses. Of those, 165 are PE parts on two frets. It includes markings for 12 different vehicles of various countries throughout the years.
You can see a great in-box review of this kit by Andras (SPONGYA) here (http://armorama.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=Reviews&file=index&req=showcontent&id=13631). It includes sprue shots and detailed pics of the parts, along with a good description and instruction pictures.
Steps 1-8 build the very detailed V-55 engine. It starts with a two-part block and multi-part cylinder heads and valve covers. Then you start adding the accessories. I opted to plumb it with glow plug wires coming out of the glow plug controller at the front of the engine and fuel lines up top coming out of the central plenum to each cylinder. I used thin (0.015) solder for the added wires and fuel lines. Interestingly, there is no transmission or any other parts for the rear-most compartment. This is the case with all the MiniArt T44/54/55 series tanks with interiors. I do not know why they didn't include this area. It would have been minimal parts when compared to the rest of the kit and would have been nice to be able to open up this area as well.
Steps 9 - 13 work on the running gear and start the lower hull details. I found the holes for the torsion bars were a little tight, so I drilled them out w/a 1/16" bit. They slid right in after that. There are a lot of parts for the running gear and it is fully articulated when done; just go slow and use glue sparingly. You also start adding the interior parts for the lower hull. The control rods and laterals are finely detailed. The floor pieces and covers for the torsion bars look great as well. I had no issues with any of the hull detail parts.
Steps 14 - 30 have you start the interior of the hull. I did deviate a bit here from the instructions. The instructions would have you build and add details to each inner wall section, then glue them onto the outer side hull sections. Once they are joined, they call for you to paint the lower hull a blue-gray color and the side walls/hull sides white. After painting and detailing, you are then to glue the side hull pieces onto the lower hull part. To me, this would leave very weak joints where the hull sides meet the hull bottom. This is a crucial joint to keep the hull all together and in one piece. My method is to glue the outside hull sides (A4, A5) to the lower hull (B31) first. Then paint and detail the inner hull wall sections (Ud1, Ud8) and the hull tub (a4, A5, B31 assembly) separately. Once everything is dry, I then added the inner sidewalls to the very secure hull sides and bottom. The sidewalls just slide into place. I don't know why they have you do it the other way, but this works better for me. I also jumped ahead a bit and added the rear hull plate (A6) to secure everything before painting. The interior detail pieces include both sidewalls, driver’s area and seat, a rear wall, and a very detailed compressor (there are 14 pieces just in this assembly). The overall hull interior is very detailed. The rear wall has a very nice PE fan and small PE clips. There are 36 rounds to add onto the hull walls. There are also a few fire extinguishers, bags, hull-mounted 12.7mm machine gun, and ammo boxes to add as well. Everything is very detailed and looks great. On the outer side of the hull, there were also many fiddly pieces to add. They include very nice position lights and a small horn. There were also more pieces for the suspension in the form of bump stops for the roadwheel arms and little detail pieces on the final drive housings. The front idler mounts are also added here.
Steps 31- 33 complete the hull by adding the rest of the interior parts and engine. I have had no major issues up to this point. I left the top hull panels (A1, A10) loose and joined them into one piece. I am building it as an exploded view so you can see all the details inside the hull and turret. This panel will be suspended on rods and hold the turret.
Steps 34 – 35 complete the engine and install it into the rear of the hull. I had no issues here.
Step 36 details the front glacis plate. Here, the light guard was a bit of a pain. I replaced the cross bars with 0.020 plastic rod as the kit pieces broke when I was cutting them off the sprue. The outer rings (Pb3, Pb4, Pb5) also broke into about four pieces each when removing them from the sprue. I was able to get them glued back together relatively squarely though. The guard came out pretty good, but could be squarer. I guess it took some hits and is a bit worse for wear.
Steps 37 – 42 builds the road wheels, sprockets, and the idler wheels and their mounts. These went together without issue.
Step 43 and 44 have you install all the road wheels and the front glacis plate. I deviated here as well. I prefer to leave the roadwheels off until final painting and then attach them along with the tracks. The way the kit is designed, the spindles for the wheels slide through the front side attaching to the roadwheel arms. Then a hub cover is attached to the outside of the roadwheel face covering and securing the pin inside the roadwheel and allowing the wheel to spin freely. This would not work to attach the wheel later. I cut the heads off the wheel spindles (parts Wj3 and Hm3) and attached the spindle to the roadwheel arms. This gave me smooth spindle pins to slide the assembled roadwheels over at a later time.
Step 45 – 50 build the rear engine deck and cooling fan covers. These all go together easily. I did omit some of the minuscule PE parts (PEa33 x9) that secure the screens over the radiators/cooling fans on the rear deck. I sent a couple flying off into oblivion while cutting them off the fret. After that, I was done with them. So far, that has been my only real complaint with the kit. It has some extremely tiny PE pieces and plastic parts that are a pain to keep track of as you snip or cut them off the sprues, not to mention attaching them to the kit. Most of these parts could easily be included as part of a larger plastic part/assembly. I feel they are unnecessarily over-engineered. Just my two cents. It does look great so far though.
Step 51 builds and installs a couple more cooling fan covers/access panels and effectively completes the hull. The rear deck screens came out nice. The PE fins were a royal pain in the ass though. There are 12 PE fins on one panel and another 10 PE fins on the second panel. This is another area I think could be better done in plastic. Unfortunately, once the rear deck parts are all installed, you can't really see any of the engine details except for the top. These panels cannot be left off either since there is nothing below it. You would need to scratch the radiators, cooling fans, transmission, etc., etc.... As I mentioned above, it is too bad Mini Art didn't include these parts to make a complete interior.
Step 52 – 57 builds the fenders for both sides of the tank. Here you start by selecting either late or early model fender fuel tanks. Both versions look very nice and are well detailed. I really like how they handle the fuel lines on the fender fuel tanks. They are all individual pieces in the kit and added to the tanks. They really look nice and were easy to install. There are a couple different storage box options here as well. For both the fuel tanks and the boxes, check the markings pages as each version shows which type they used on them. The fenders come out very detailed once done. I had no real issues building them either.
Step 58 and 59 attaches the fenders, attaching the tracks, and builds an exhaust outlet. The exhaust outlet is very nice and was easy to build. The instructions just show them on the tank, with a note for 90 links per side. I suspect that may not be true depending on how tight or loose you built the idler wheel mounts. I will leave the tracks off until after all painting is complete.
Steps 60 – 65 build and adds the external rear fuel drums, unditching log, and snorkel gear tube all located on the rear of the tank. Again, check the markings pages to see if your version has these parts. I am building an Iraqi Army version from Operation Desert Storm ('91, Gulf War), which did not have the fuel drums, unditching log, nor barrel cleaning rod tube on the rear. I didn’t build any of these parts, but they look like they would go together just as easy as the rest of the kit has. You also install the towropes and small retaining pins for them here.
Whew! The hull is done, only 40 more steps to go!
Steps 66 – 70 start on the turret. As with the hull, I built the turret interior parts in sub-assemblies to make painting easier. I had no real issues with this part of the build and there were no major PE assemblies to deal with. I did have to think through it and pick out the parts that remained white like a radio shelf that is shown attached to the radio first and other shelves and fittings. Go slow and think it through and you will do fine.
Steps 71 – 74 build on the main gun breech. No real issues here either. Again, be mindful off the different colored parts and build as subassemblies accordingly to make painting easier.
Steps 75 – 82 continues building more turret interior subassemblies. These all pretty much need to be painted before assembling into the turret shell. I has no issues here as everything went together easily.
Steps 83 – 85 attach the above subassemblies onto the turret lower ring.
Step 86 - 88 starts on the upper turret shell. I ran into a couple minor issues here as there are some parts mislabeled or not labeled at all. First, parts P22 and P40 are reversed. This is easy to figure out though since the two parts attach to eachother. The electronic component is part P49 and its mount is part P22. The other is an omission of a part number. It is on the ring that attaches to the turret roof interior that holds the gunner’s sight assembly. It is not labeled, but id part number N13.
Steps 89 - 90 work on the turret exterior. Here I had to replace the grab rails (Tc2, Tc3) with 0.020 brass rod as the plastic ones were too fragile and broke into multiple pieces as I attempted to take them off the sprues and clean them up. I also had to add a small strip of plastic on the front top of the gunner’s sight on the right (Da6) as the PE cover (PEa17)was too short.
Steps 91 – 97 build the two hatch stations for the turret. I had no real issues with these steps. Again, look at the color call outs and decide what has to be left off and painted separately. There are quite a few parts that are different colors here too. I adjusted the build sequence here too by joining the two roof sections (Ud11 and Ea6) first so I could make adding all the little parts to them easier. I will also leave this section loose and elevated as part of the exploded view to show off the turret interior.
Steps 97 – 99 build the external search light next to the barrel and the covered mantlet for the main gun. Both go together easily and look good when done. The search light gives you the option of a cover over the face, or a clear lens. It even includes a separate bulb if you use the clear lens. I went with the cover since that is the way it is most commonly seen.
Steps 100 - 101 assemble the two halves of the turret and installs the main gun and its mantlet. I had a bit of trouble mating the two halves of the turret. It may have been due to how I placed some of the interior parts, but I couldn’t get them to join together fully. I had to add a bit of putty around the whole of the turret base to fill the gap left. You have the option of using the covered mantlet assembled in step 99, or an uncovered mantlet (Ea12). If you use the covered mantlet, there are also four PE bolt strips to secure it with. The gun barrel is very nice with rifling molded into the tip of the barrel. It is perfectly round as well.
Step 102 adds the roof section, a bag to the turret rear and its PE straps, and the pivot arm for the turret search light.
Step 103 builds a driver’s foul weather hood as either the employed or folded and stowed position. I won’t be using the hood on mine.
Step 104 completes construction by mating the turret and hull and adding the driver’s hood and an antenna.
That is it. Finito!
Overall, this is a really great model. There are lots of parts, but that means very nice details when complete. I enjoyed building it, but I really enjoy doing interiors. The interior is what took the longest, especially having to build subassemblies and paint as I went. My only real complaint with the kit is that it has some extremely tiny PE pieces and plastic parts that are a pain to keep track of as you snip or cut them off the sprues, not to mention attaching them to the kit. Most of these parts could easily be included as part of a larger plastic part/assembly. I feel they are unnecessarily over-engineered. Finally, there is no transmission or any other parts for the rear-most compartment. I do not know why MiniArt didn't include this area. It would have been minimal parts when compared to the rest of the kit and would have been nice to be able to open up this area as well. Even though the parts count is high, if you go slow and think through the steps, it will be fine. Overall, the model came out looking great and the effort was well worth it. I highly recommend this kit, and Mini Art’s other T/54/55 kits with interiors.