Home > Reviews > USA > Academy US Medium Tank M3 Lee (13206)

US Medium Tank M3 Lee

by Cookie Sewell


Stock Number and Description Academy (MRC) Kit No. 13206; US Medium Tank M3 Lee
Scale: 1/35
Media and Contents: 413 parts (411 in dark green styrene, 2 steel color vinyl track runs)
Price: retail price US $42.00
Review Type: First Look
Advantages: Corrects most of the glaring errors in the Tamiya kit; provides wide option array of parts or spare parts; comes with nearly complete interior less engine
Disadvantages: Odd choice of parts breakdown for kit causes some problems; turret has an overstated bump giving an odd shape; errors in other parts and some essential parts missing
Recommendation: Recommended for all Shermaholics and early war US armor fans



The M3 Medium Tank has always enjoyed a quirky sort of popularity, primarily for the fact that it was one of those pre-war tank designs with "tiered" armament a 75mm gun in a sponson on the right side of the hull, a 37mm gun in a rotating turret on the hull roof, and a .30 caliber machine in a rotating cupola on top of the turret. While the sponson-mounted gun was a matter of convenience adopted to speed conversion from the woefully inadequate M2 Medium Tank to the M3, it would take combat experience and the much improved M4 design to fix most of the problems with the M3 design. The Soviets accepted them under Lend-Lease, but soon nicknamed them "The communal grave for seven" due to the problems they faced against German armor. Even so, more than 6,000 were built in six separate series plus a special model for the British, the Grant.

Perhaps no other kit has been as eagerly awaited by American and British armor modeling fans as the new M3 series from Academy, but even before the kit was released a number of "experten" were making negative comments about it on the Internet. Most of the comments were due to the fact that the box art was drawn using the old Tamiya kit with most of its errors prominent in the painting.

Now that the kit is here, and can actually be evaluated for what it is and what it is not, there are some changes in viewpoints. WHAT IT IS: a freshly molded kit, providing an early model M3 tank without grouser boxes, driver's periscope, and counterweights for the guns, with the kit's directions showing the use of the early suspension bogies with the roller on top, five-spoke welded wheels, and what appears to be T41 reversible block rubber track. WHAT IT IS NOT: a totally accurate model of the M3 Lee, as it will require some work on the part of the modeler to fix or correct some of the niggling little details that are not spot on.

The kit comes as another "mix and match" sprue kit. The wheels are from the standard "Sherman Series" from Academy (sprue A) and provide two types of wheels, two types of drivers, two types of idlers, and the "flattop" return roller mounts with pillow blocks. This is essentially there to provide the VVSS springs and the five-spoke road wheels, and they are very good parts indeed. The new mounts with rollers on top (D47527 bogies) and a third set of drivers are provided on one of the kit's dedicated sprues.

The rest of the kit is new, but for every step forward the kit takes it makes a few sidesteps. First off, the lower hull is one piece less the stern and transmission cover, but now has a large oval hole in the belly. This is bizarre, as it serves no purpose. The floor unit for the interior (part C1) has a similar sized oval projection on it for positive alignment, but anyone wanting belly detail will have to putty this in and sand it smooth; likewise, if you want a later production version of an M3, you will have to add the escape hatch (which is molded on the inner floor but not the outer hull.) Note that due to the thickness of the center of the hull floor it tends to suffer from sink marks, but when painted flat white and under all of the rest of the "kit" inside the hull it should not be a problem.

The interior is fairly complete, and detail hawks will probably only want to add some wiring and etched brass to complete it. The guns are provided complete and the 75mm gun comes with correctly shaped barrels for either the early M2 (short) or later M3 (long) guns. However, no counterweight is provided for a transitional gun (M2 with stabilizer). The gun barrels are "slide molded" with hollow bores, as is the turret 37mm gun.

The interior comes with some more oddities. 48 rounds of 37mm are provided as single rounds, which is pretty much correct as they were clipped to the inside of the turret wherever they could find space. 75mm rounds are only provided as rims on one locker with an optional position lid; also, a tray with 24 50-round Thompson drums is provided with the locker. While this is correct, the Thompson is not provided!

The driver's position is pretty complete as well, straddling the transmission and driveshaft, and the complete turret basket is also provided. Unfortunately, and as I have looked inside of one of these tanks, once the turret basket is in place it is nearly impossible to see anything of the interior! Note that these parts also have a number of ejection pin marks on them as well, which may have to be cleaned up; however, as awkward as cleaning them up will be, they are all pretty much invisible once the model is assembled.

The model also comes with optional position rear access doors on the stern plate and a separate engine access plate on the engine deck. Underneath it the kit provides the fuel tanks and other rudimentary parts for the engine bay, but no engine. This is probably just as well, for the kit comes with a solid grating over the engine air intake vent on the engine deck which, due to the open nature of the original, should be replaced with coarse mesh. Unfortunately, when this is done you can see the engine and driveshaft connection on the original, which is not provided with this kit.

The kit provides the early pattern of mufflers and stern plate, but this was quickly replaced or modified due to problems with heat venting. Modified tanks had plates welded over the mufflers (one common problem for American tanks up through the M48A3 and M60 was the fact that the gas engines made the mufflers glow cherry red in the dark, and aside from the problems of heat and injury to crew members and infantry also gave away the tank's position at night) and two types of new exhausts, the more familiar one being the "fishtails" under the center of the plate and the air cleaners moved to where the mufflers used to be. While I have heard the kit's mufflers are not right, they do appear to match up with the photos in the Hunnicutt book among others.

The turret is somewhat odd. There is a large rectangular projection right under the commander's cupola projection; surprisingly, I did find a match in the Hunnicutt book on pages 72-73; however, this is on the prototype M3A2 welded hull tank. But the projection and the cupola mount are more fared into each other, and thus if the turret is used it will need some putty to smooth out the upper joint line contours. There is limited evidence it was another design produced for the tank, but seems relatively rare in photos. Your alternative is to either sand off the projection and file an undercut into the turret or use a resin kit like the Armoured Brigade turret to replace it. However, also note that the turret face has been "inverted" from a 47 degree angle to a 43 degree one.

The turret details look to be far better than the Tamiya one (which had the gun barrel in the wrong place among other sins). The interior is cramped and probably not very visible through the open cupola hatch, however.

The tank carries all four machine guns (two hull, turret and cupola) and all are nicely done, being of the same quality as those found in the Academy machine gun set. However, not one of them comes with an ammunition box or container.

Hull details are not bad, but the tools seem a bit anemic and it is hoped somebody can produce decent injection molded tools for kits someday. Right now it takes an aftermarket resin or brass set, or stripping another kit with more robust tools, to give American armor the right look.

The kit comes with two finishing options, both from the 1st Armored Division in Tunisia; "Kentucky" at Souk-el Khemis 1942 (yellow stars and trim on OD) and "After Effect" in Bizerte, May 1943 (white stars on OD).

Overall, and considering I personally gave MRC my copy of the Ordnance Plans for an M3 and escorted their photographer around APG while he shot 300+ photos of M3s at Aberdeen, this kit is not bad, but a bit disappointing that it could not have been spot-on. It will take some work to correct the errors, but for the most part they are relatively minor.


Thanks to Bob Lewen of MRC for the review sample.

Text and Images by Cookie Sewell
Page Created 24 March, 2006
Page Last Updated 17 May, 2006