The M109 Howitzers started their military service in the 1960s and were the result of the U.S. Military looking for a Self-Propelled Howitzer with a protected crew compartment to replace the M44 and M52. This need dated back to the early 1950s before the M44 and M52 had even gone into full service with U.S. Forces, the reason for which was that both of the weapons systems had shortcomings which became evident very early in their military service. When the M109 entered service it very quickly became the standard NATO Self-Propelled Howitzer going into service with a number of NATO members. The M109 first saw limited action during the Vietnam War, and was still in service during both of the Gulf conflicts with both the British Army and the U.S. Army. The M109A2 came into service in the mid 1970s and is the subject of this review.
The kit is packaged in the standard heavy card box typical of AFV Club with an artistís impression on the front and both ends, along one side are a series of pictures of the actual model. Inside the box the contents break down as follows:
Thirteen green sprues;
Turret top and bottom;
Vinyl poly caps;
Two vinyl track runs;
A brass collar;
A small photo etched fret;
A length of black string;
Sixteen page instruction booklet; and
A poster of the box art.
At the start of this review I should start with a quick word about the packaging of the model. The sprues in the box and for that matter all of the contents that could be damaged have been packaged in their own bags with the exception of duplicated sprues which are packaged together, which has resulted in the model reaching me in the UK all the way from AFV Club without any damage occurring to the contents. I think this is an area we donít give enough consideration to except when a kit arrives damaged and we have to chase around seeking out replacements.
The instruction booklet consists of 16 pages and guides you through the construction of the model in 30 stages. The instructions have been laid out using the line drawing approach for which I have to admit a preference. The instruction stages have on some occasions been broken into more than one step, however in some stages the instructions are still a little busy and care will need to be taken during these steps.
The injection moulded plastic parts in this kit are good; there is no obvious flash that I could see and they also look free of distortions despite the amount of plastic in the box. There are pin ejection marks on some parts but they do not look to be in areas that will be seen. It is also worth mentioning that these ejection pin marks are very light and so if you want to work on an interior they should be easy to remove. One thing that showed up on the pictures I took were the number of flow lines in the model, and it should be said that these were not always picked just by looking at the parts. The flow marks due to being so light should not cause any issues during assembly.
The breakdown of the parts in this model leads me to believe that this kit has the potential to be joined by other members of the M109 family; nothing has been said about this one way or the other but it is potentially something to which we can look forward. The mouldings are also very fine for the most part; by this I mean that the parts are thin. There are some areas where the plastic has shrunk back during cooling; a good example of this can be seen on the rear panel where the light clusters are, these marks should not cause you any issues unless an interior is going to be included.
Unusually this model starts with the assembly of the lower hull which consists of nine main mouldings; it is this approach to the hull in particular that leads me to believe that more M109s may be on the way. AFV Club has included something that is becoming a lot more common these days which is that suspension can be articulated or workable. I advise that a lot of care is taken at this stage to ensure that the hull is square or it will throw out the whole model; so remember plenty of dry fitting to make sure everything is as it should be.
Stages 2 through 4
These two stages firstly take you through the addition of the torsion bar suspension and the swing arms. It should be mentioned that you also add the bell housing for the drive wheel. The first and last swing arms have shock absorbers attached to them and so are not adjustable without surgery. The wheels are all assembled and attached during these stages and uses the old Tamiya method of trapped poly caps in the wheel hubs; this is a matter of taste but I like the fact that the wheels can be removed for painting when the building is complete. Another nice aspect as far as I am concerned is that the rubber rims on the wheels are separate parts, this means that with the wheels being removable the plastic can be painted in your chosen rubber coloured paint and added to the wheels after the main painting has been completed, this also means that it will be easy to achieve a good demarcation line.
Stages 5 through 9
These stages cover the addition of the upper hull and again is not typical in that quite a few parts are used to make up the upper hull not counting the more detailed parts added in these stages. Stages 6 through 8 are all broken down into two sub stages and with this all being on one page it could be easy to miss something, and that is despite the fact that there are not that many parts added; a case of information overload if you donít pay attention. The grilles are very nicely replicated and have detail on both sides, so who is going to release a resin engine and gear box for this model as it cries out for one? The last stage here covers the assembly and installation of the travel lock.
Stages 10 through 12
These stages cover the rear hull and installation of the idler wheels and their adjustable arms; to clarify the tensioner's position is set for the idler wheels unless again some surgery is performed. The rear door does have detail on both sides but without an interior it is better left closed. The detail looks good to me and the installation is covered well. I hope that SKP Model releases a set of their lenses and taillights for this model as it is one of the few areas I can see an after market product improving what is in the box. The rear idler wheel detail while accurate could be improved if more modern moulding techniques were employed to mould these as single parts
Stages 13 and 14
These two stages cover the assembly of the spades and their installation onto the rear of the hull, the spades can be manipulated but as always unless you are in the habit of playing with how your models are displayed I recommend they are cemented in your chosen position.
This stage brings work on the hull to a close with the addition of the track, rear mudguards, and rear light clusters; it is worth mentioning that the rear light lens colours are called out and match some of my references but not all.
Stages 16 through 20
These stages cover assembly of the main gun and is almost a kit in itself. The stages are broken down into sub assembly steps which helps the modeller take in all the information being imparted here. Care will need to be taken to ensure you get the orientation of the barrel right or you will be in for a hard time. The barrel is spring loaded which is a feature I am not a fan of as it seems completely pointless, however to each their own and it is a feature that does not detract from the model itself. The breech of the gun has also had a lot of work put into it with the locking rings being very nice but it is a real pity that this detail will not be seen once the gun is installed in the turret. The last stage in this section covers installing the gun into the turret and attaching the top and bottom of the turret.
Stages 21 through 27
Considering the actual size of the turret it is a very busy area on this model with a lot of effort having gone into accuracy of parts; it is however one area where some photo etched parts could improve the finished look. I should clarify that I mean areas such as the frame around the glass of the gunnerís sight. The hatches and doors all look good with good detail around the handles and latches. One area which has had a lot of effort put into them are the two baskets on the rear of the turret; each one of these baskets consists of eight very finely moulded parts which I can see causing some frayed nerves during construction. The tools attached to the turret all have detail painting instructions called out as you go.
Stages 28 and 29
These two stages cover the assembly of the commanders cupola and .50 cal heavy machine gun. The .50 cal has had a lot of work put into it resulting in a very realistic looking representation of what is an iconic weapon, and while I am a fan of metal barrels this model will not gain as much from the inclusion of one. The commanders cupola is simplistic in design but this simplicity has been faithfully replicated on this model.
This stage brings the hull, the turret, and the cupola together along with adding the aerials. For the aerials AFV Club has gone the heat stretched sprue route, and the length of this aerial is included in the instructions. This stage also cover the construction of a tripod stand for the .50 cal depending on your preference.
With the M109A2 complete this last stage covers the construction of an M1A1 Collimator which is an infinity aiming reference device. The parts build up into a very realistic looking M1A1 Collimator with the legs being particularly well replicated. I believe this device is used for accurate direct fire and is a nice inclusion with this model.
There are four finishing options provided with this model which are:
Portuguese Army; and
Two U.S. Army options.
Disappointingly the finishing options provided only tell you which country is operating the vehicle, and I would have preferred to be provided with some specifics rather than the general information. The two U.S. Forces options are the most appealing to my eye with three and four colour camouflage patterns.
I believe this model kit will build into a realistic finished model as I was unable to find anything amiss with the inclusions. The detail is as expected good and the only addition I would make is if SKP Model released a set of their lenses and taillights for it as I think they would be the biggest improvement that most would apply. The model design makes me very strongly believe that this is the first of a series of M109ís from AFV Club unless other companies release their versions of the M109. There are two changes I would have liked to see; the first is a more in depth finishing guide which at least covers specific units if not specific vehicles, and the other I would have liked to see is the inclusion of individual track links. Of the three models currently available that I can think of I would have to say that this is the one to get.
New Vanguard 86 Ė M109 155mm Self-Propelled Howitzer 1960 Ė 2005 Ė ISBN 1-84176- 631-3