Confessions of a Shermanoholic
Detailing and correcting Italeris Sherman M4A1
I am a shermanoholic, which is I am slightly obsessed with the Sherman tank. I know how
I got this "disease": from a modelling friend who was similarly afflicted. It is
probably incurable, but I am not particularly concerned with that, as it is quite an
This particular project had been in the back of my head for a few years but I had left it for some day when I didnt have any inspiration for any of my normal (conversion) projects. It consists of building the Italeri Sherman M4A1 (kit no 225) more or less "as is". Dont misunderstand me, I dont mean "out of the box", rather "without converting it". I decided that I would try to bring the kit up to "state of the art" standard by detailing and correcting it.
I knew I had a couple of Italeri kits stashed away, but I also knew I had a lot of whole sprues left over from previous conversions. After rummaging through my Sherman spares box I found out that my assumption was a big understatement I had two complete kits as spares. Feeling slightly embarrassed I decided that I would only use parts and detail sets that I had already bought. No new purchases for this project!
The purpose of this article is to show what can be done with an old (I remember building it for the first time some time in the late seventies) but good kit. When this kit was new, Italeri was at their best, and in my opinion they were THE best at that time! Tamiya may have had sharper detail, but they lacked the finesse and subtlety that Italeri kits had. The object is an Israeli Sherman M1 as it looked in the early sixties. Israeli Sherman nomenclature is somewhat different, as the type of gun is the deciding factor instead of the power plant. Sherman M1 then is a Sherman with the 76 mm M1 gun, which in turn means that it has the T23 turret. France supplied the majority of Israels Shermans of this type and my model probably represents one of those.
I will concentrate on common details, appropriate for any "M4A1 (76) w", as the official name for this type is, but where appropriate I will mention specific Israeli details. As there hardly exists two identical Israeli tanks they may not be applicable to all examples of this type and anyone contemplating a similar project should approach it in the same manner as I did: select a specific tank from photos and work from that. Numbers within parentheses in the text are references to Italeri part numbers.
The M4A1 was a cast hull variant, and as such should have a somewhat rough texture instead of the smooth surface the Italeri kit has. Texturing is best done before any major assembly work is done. Start by assembling the turret halves together, then add the frame for the shell ejection port on the left side (81) and the gun mount (75). There will probably be a rather ugly seam between the turret halves, but theres no need to sand the seam, it will be eliminated during the texturing step.
My favourite "liquid glue" is ethyl acetate, which can be obtained at the local chemist shop (at least here in Sweden). This works just like commercial liquid glue, but it is much more effective and a whole lot cheaper, properties that will be appreciated next. Ordinary liquid glue will do as a substitute, but the process will take more time. Start by brushing liquid glue on a small area, about one cm² is enough. Wait until the plastic has softened somewhat, then use a stiff brush and stipple the surface with irregular movement until the surface looks pebbled. Stop when the brush starts to lift strands of plastic from the surface. Repeat the whole procedure again on an adjacent area until the whole turret has been treated, with exception of the gunners sight cage, the aerial base attachment areas, the hatch areas and the stowage rack for the .50 cal MG, as these were relatively smooth. The turret will look horrible after this treatment and this is quite correct, as the process is only halfway done. The texture is still much too coarse for a Sherman, but for a Russian KV-1 or IS-2 tank it would be quite okay. The next step is to just brush liquid glue over all areas that have been textured to make the surface smoother. This will eliminate most of the coarse pattern but will leave a somewhat irregular surface that should look like cast armour. If necessary the surface can be lightly sanded when absolutely dry.
Repeat the procedure on the gun shield (74), loaders hatch ring (87), upper hull (32), transmission cover (41) and the air intake cover (48). Dont texture the engine deck covers as these are made of traditional rolled armour plate. It is sufficient to just slightly roughen these with light parallel sanding.
When these chores are done the parts should be left to fully harden before further work commences. If using ethyl acetate about half a day is sufficient, for other types of glue it can take a couple of days.
The next step after texturing is to add all those casting numbers that the Sherman seems to be festooned with. There are a number of photo etched (and even dry rub decal) detail sets available for this purpose, but I prefer to shave off the small ID numbers from sprues, as I think it is easier to blend them with the surface than it is with the metal type. As they were different from one manufacturer to another I can only suggest a close study of photos to determine size, style and placement. For this tank I added casting numbers on the most visible places, namely the transmission cover, the turret top and left side, and the gun shield. I considered adding them to the suspension but in the end decided against it it was just too much work. I guess you have to draw the line somewhere
Not much need to be done on the lower hull. The towing shackles at the front and the rear were drilled and a short strip of plastic card was added from the outer end of the front pair to the transmission cover. The particular tank that I was modelling had two British spare track racks at the front. I had some spares from a DML Firefly and used them but they are very simple in appearance and can be scratch built in a couple of minutes from 1 mm wide plastic strip.
The VVS suspension needs some major attention. To begin with, I replaced the wheels as Italeri only provides the early five-spoke variety. Instead of those I used some home made copies of the late pattern dished wheels. The same applies for the idler wheels, they were replaced with home made pressed wheels with detail on both sides. I had originally cast a lot of these in white metal some ten years ago and I will continue to use them until my stock is empty. There are good replacement wheels available from The Tank Workshop, but as I have said earlier I would only use my spares box for this project.
Although it doesnt appear to be, the suspension is in fact reversible between left and right side. The track skid can be mounted either way and the return roller bracket can be mounted on either side of the suspension unit. As a consequence, the suspension needs a lot of extra detail. Start by adding four bolt heads on the track skid (one on top of each corner) and two bolt heads on the top of the return roller bracket (also at the corners). Next drill four holes at the front, where the return roller bracket should be mounted if reversed. Finally, add three hexagonal nuts at the bottom of each suspension unit side (six per unit, 36 total).
The suspension mounts on the lower hull should be detailed with five bolts per side (ten per unit, 60 total).
Although hard to see, the exhausts were covered with cyano acrylate glue and sprinkled with baking powder to give them a rusted appearance.
The tracks supplied by Italeri are next to useless as they are so hard and in any case they are of the wrong type for this tank. I replaced them with the excellent T54E1 ("US metal chevron") tracks from Friulmodel. A sure sign of being a shermanoholic is when you start buying these sets in six-packs (or, as was the case for me, all available at a couple of my regular suppliers)! Recently RHPS has added this type of track to their growing range of Sherman tracks and judging by their previous results they too should be excellent.
The front lights were drilled and painted silver inside, after which they were filled with Humbrol Clear Cote. Some prefer MV lenses but I think that is overkill, to me they look much too pretty to represent a driving light, as I find them to often have a fogged or slightly dimmed appearance in real life. The light guards were used after trimming (they are much too thick) as photo etched replacements often look to thin.
Unfortunately both hull periscopes are moulded shut and as I had decided to have both hatches closed I had to open the covers and scratch build periscopes. This is not as complicated as it sounds. Start by carefully removing the covers and thin them slightly, then rebuild the mounting plate from plastic card. Periscopes were scratch built and the covers added on top of them. The drivers hatch received a Verlinden periscope (after the moulded cover had been removed) but I didnt bother with the co-drivers hatch. New periscope guards were then built from copper wire.
This particular tank has only the sand shield mounting strips so these were built from plastic strip with drilled mounting holes. The rear parts of the sand shields (31 and 35) were modified according to photos and added.
Continuing backward from the front we next come to the fire extinguisher pull handles protective box. Remove the strange bars and build a box in plastic card behind it, then add two T-shaped pull handles inside. The pull handles should be painted red. The filler caps need locking pins from copper wire and retaining chains from Aber (or similar source). The rearmost filler cover has a protective collar and this needs a small drainage hole at the rear, bottom end. The same goes for the air intake collar, except that it should have two holes in line with the outer edge of the engine cover hinges. While you are at it, add a small weld seam at the center of the collar. My favourite method for making weld seams is to take a bit of thin plastic rod, dip it in liquid glue for a minute to soften it and then glue it to its place. While it is still soft ridges can be made by pressing the edge of a scalpel blade lightly against it. When painted, this looks like a weld bead.
The edges of the grouser compartment covers should be thinned and a diamond pattern net added in front of the opening. Drill a hole on top of them and insert a piece of plastic rod to simulate the bolt through them.
About the nicest thing I can say about the tools is that they are absolutely worthless! There are several alternative sources available but in the end I used tools from the Tamiya M4A3 kit. All attachment points were removed from the tools and new ones were made from plastic strip and rod. Tie-downs were made from copper wire and lead foil was used for straps.
The gunners secondary sight is missing from its armoured protective cage and must be added. I used a slightly cut down periscope from a Verlinden set, but it is relatively easy to scratch build the periscope as only the front and the sides can be seen. Next on the agenda is to remove the sorry blob of an excuse for the 2-inch bomb thrower (smoke mortar), drill a hole and add a new barrel from plastic tube.
For some strange reason Italeri has provided a British No 19 wireless set B aerial base when instead it ought to be a U. S. SCR 500 series aerial base, as all the kits decals are for U. S. tanks. As Israel used U. S. radios a replacement must be found, in my case it came from a Verlinden detail set.
At the rear of the turret the heater exhaust (the half-elliptical protrusion) can do with a slight reduction in thickness of its edge. I also added some plastic card inside the turret to prevent viewing the empty interior through the exhaust.
The .50 MG travel clamps are very basic and I replaced them with remains from a DML Firefly (actually, those parts are originally from DMLs Pershing kit).
The gun barrel is a very strange beast. Not only does it have a totally fictitious, sectioned appearance, it is also slightly too short. Fortunately, by removing the "steps", it can be corrected, thus creating a smooth, continuous taper. Shortening the gun mounting on the inside of the gun shield until the gun barrel protrudes enough solves the length problem. As it is the length is 72 mm from the tip of the gun barrel to the gun shield, whereas it should be 74 mm (according to D. P. Dyers drawings in ). The innermost part of the barrel should be painted polished steel as this part recoil into the gun shield when the gun is fired.
When this is done the co-axial machine gun can be added on the left side of the gun barrel (mine came from an old Tamiya M3 Stuart). Take care that the tip of the machine gun barrel just protrudes slightly, it should be almost flush with the opening. Lastly, the gunners sight to the right of the barrel should be added. The sight was made from a short length of tube with the same inner diameter as the opening, into which an even shorter length of clear rod was glued.
Early Israeli vehicles were generally painted in olive drab. Most of the Sherman M1 were delivered from France and were painted in a French tone which faded to a brownish shade. My favourite olive drab is Tamiya XF-62 and this was used on the undersides, but for a more faded appearance I used a combination of Gunze Sangyo H 52 olive drab 1 and Aeromaster 9040 U.S. olive drab 41 on the top and sides.
The current fashion in painting seems to be the "artistic" style with heavy emphasis on exaggerating panel lines by priming the model with black paint. This is supposed to simulate fading. Well, to me it does NOT do that! I find it is just a way of "cant make the paint cover evenly" and I think it looks horribly artificial. Paint doesnt fade inwards from edges according to my experience, but rather according to the amount of exposure to sunlight. Consequently, the top should be palest, then the sides and lastly the bottom, which might not fade at all. I start with a complete coat in the base colour and then gradually airbrush lighter, transparent coats of successive, more faded variants of the base colour. For olive drab I mix a yellow tone to lighten the colour and red to darken it. Dont use white or black, which will only result in a greyer colour. I dont use washes and drybrushing to accent details either, that belongs to the same category of "innovative" (I use the word in the same context as Sir Humphrey Appleby usually did, in my favourite TV show, "Yes, Minister") painting as the above-mentioned style. My method is instead to give the whole model a "dirtying bath", to simulate use. For this purpose I use a mixture of Liquitex Acrylique artist colour ivory black and burnt sienna. I make a very thin wash of this muddy dark red brown paint, add a drop of dish washing liquid and then proceed to cover the whole model with it. It will run into crevices just like an ordinary wash, but it should be even thinner so that when applied to a painted surface it will just stain the colour when dry. It will usually dry slightly unevenly but that is one of the effects that to me only serve to enhance the realism. If needed, the process can be repeated and if too much has been applied it can be removed with a damp towel. Chipped paint and general wear and tear at edges and hatches are then added if called for, along with fuel stains, dusty footprints and exhaust soot.
Tracks are painted with Humbrol track colour and then they are literally marinated in a slightly thicker variant of the above-mentioned Liquitex wash. This is more like a conventional wash, but taken to the extreme. The easiest way is to dip the tracks in the wash and then let them dry, preferably hanging from something. Repeat the procedure if necessary. When dry those parts exposed to wear can be drybrushed with Model Master Metalizer stainless steel or Humbrol Metal Cote polished steel. If, as in this case, they are made of metal a light sanding is used instead.
Dusting is done with pastels. I often use a lot of different colours like raw and burned variants of ochre, umbra and sienna, which are mixed according to the specific model and its particular operating environment. Dusting is done in two stages. The first is the "general" layer, which usually is the heaviest (relatively speaking). Removing dust (with a cotton tip) where the crew has climbed and handled the vehicle follows this. Fuel and water stains will often result in running dust and this is simulated next in the same way: with a wash. Finally, a thin layer of dust is reapplied so that the whole lot will take on a somewhat patchy appearance, just as in real life.
When studying Israeli tank markings you should always remember that Hebrew is read from right to left, except numbers which are read from left to right. Markings are the vehicle registration numbers on the hull sides, starting with the letter "tzade" (for "Zahal", which is the Hebrew equivalent of the English acronym IDF) and followed (after a dash) by the registration number. These are white on a black rectangle.
Turret markings are in white and represent the platoon number followed by a Hebrew letter indicating the vehicle in the platoon. Company/battalion markings are the well-known white "spinning V" and barrel bands, while a formation sign is carried on the front left hull. A white, black edged air identification band is painted length-wise on the turret top and additionally a fluorescent yellow ID flag appears to be draped on top of the turret in the photo I used as reference. The markings are dry-rub decals from a Verlinden decal sheet.
A more typical scheme for a Sherman M1 might be as they looked during operation Kadesh (the Suez war) in 1956. If this interests you, just add registration numbers. The large white markings were a consequence of the difficulties of identification experienced during this war. The air identification symbol used at the time was a large, blue St Andrews cross, edged in white. This was usually painted on the engine deck of Shermans. In 1:35 the dimensions of the cross members (measured from photos) are approximately 24 mm by 8 mm, including a 0.5 mm white edge.
Hopefully, this has been an inspiration for others. The list of corrections may seem long, but that is just the consequence of being a shermanoholic with all the related symptoms of Advanced Modellers Syndrome this implies. In any case, this is mostly attributed to too much references (did I mention that I have crawled on top of and inside of several Shermans at museums at more than one occasion?). I like this kit and I have built several models based on it, and as I still have a couple of them left in my wardrobe this pre-occupation isnt likely to end anywhere in the nearest future.
Parts and materiel
The list below contains, in addition to parts actually used, some alternative sources for parts that I recommend in case your spares box doesnt contain several complete kits, as mine turned out to do (head slightly bowed in shame)
Italeri kit No 225, Sherman M4A1
Aber 35 A16: Chains.
Aber 35 032: Sherman M4, M4A1, M4A3.
Friulmodel ATL-12 Sherman tracks.
MR Models MRA-3524: US Panzerwerkzeug.
The Tank Workshop 0026: M4 Late dished road wheels.
Verlinden detail set 204: SHERMAN Update kit.
Verlinden detail set 341: US tank periscopes.
Verlinden decal sheet 932: Israeli military vehicle markings No 2
The acknowledged gospel for the serious shermanoholic is , but for the model builder it isnt all that useful, especially when compared with , which is a very good reference if your main interest is how details look. It isnt perfect (on the other hand, which book is?), but it is quite good and I whole-heartedly recommend it. If you are interested in the development and history of the tank, then go for , as it has a lot of official detail photos and drawings from technical manuals.  is mainly a general overview of the various variants and a decent source of marking alternatives, but some useful detail sketches are included.
 contains the photo which was my main reference for specific details, but for those of you interested in, for example, a vehicle from operation Kadesh there are several useful photos. If, like me, your main interest lies with the IDF, then  is THE book! I have modelled Israeli vehicles for something like 25 years (in fact the reference section of  seems almost like an inventory list from my own library) but I still learned several things from this book.
 Hunnicutt, R. P. (1978): Sherman: A History of the American Medium Tank, ISBN 0-89141-080-5.
 Mesko, J. (2000): Walk Around M4 Sherman, ISBN 0-89747-410-4.
 Culver, B. (1977): Sherman in action, ISBN 0-89747-049-4.
 Zaloga, S. J. (1996): Tank battles of the mid-east wars, vol. 1: the wars of 1948 1973, ISBN 9-62361-612-0.
 Myszka, J. (1998): Israeli military vehicles 1948 1998, ISBN 0-64636-002-7.
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