Home > Reviews > USA WWII > Dragon M4A3 (76)w VVSS Sherman Battle of the Bulge (6255)


Dragon M4A3 (76)w VVSS Sherman Battle of the Bulge (6255)

by Frank De Sisto

Contains 1,426 styrene plastic parts (including 158 for the figures, 912 for the tracks and 18 clear for periscopes and lights), 20 photo-etched brass parts, two turned aluminum parts, two turned brass parts and one metal cable; eight pages of instructions in 12 steps, water-slide decals for six sets of markings. Price: $37.95 USD.

Over the years, if the modeler wished to produce a late M4A3 with the 76mm gun turret, he was forced to “kit-bash” or convert the Tamiya kit, work with the less-desirable Italeri kit, or use the older DML kit, which itself was based on parts from Italeri. For various reasons, the results could sometimes be less than satisfactory. Recently, DML began re-tooling their various M4-based kits. The first of these was actually their third attempt at an M4A4, while the next one was an excellent M4A2 (76). The M4A4 (actually a British Mk. Vc Firefly) had many re-worked parts, including very nice suspension components, which were carried over onto the M4A2. Other than the suspension, the M4A2 was basically all-new, with some nifty display features and a fine 76mm turret.

Now, DML has introduced an M4A3 with VVSS suspension and a 76mm turret, which will be followed by another kit (#6183) with HVSS suspension and field-applied supplementary armor, as well as a third kit with VVSS (#6083). But, I am getting ahead of myself.

This latest kit is full of options and extras. Starting from the ground up they are: two sets of individual link tracks (“British-style” steel chevron and rubber chevron), which also include the option of adding extended end connectors. Of note is the complete absence of shrinkage or ejector pin marks on the track links. There are two complete sets of road wheels; welded with five spokes and pressed with six spokes, along with their accompanying idler wheels. The pressed road wheels have separate rear faces and also include grease nipples and release valves (as do the welded wheels). Curiously, there is no rear face detail for the pressed idler wheels. There are also two sets of bogie units: straight return roller arm or up-swept return roller arm. These are nicely done and include cast-in ordnance parts numbers in appropriate places. To these are attached separate springs, track skids and road wheel arms. The up-swept arms are appropriate for this model, while the straight arms will prove useful on other kits. These are attached to a properly detailed M4A3 lower hull (with filled-in sponsons) by using nicely detailed separate mounting plates.

The rear plate is the proper style for an M4A3 and includes very nicely done “fish-tail” exhausts, complete with open ends. There are also two different styles of exhaust deflectors, which for want of a better description I will call, “early” and “late”. The “early” style is for use on this kit and is the very first accurate one ever seen in styrene plastic.

The upper hull is based on the new part from the M4A2 kit, but with a properly configured and angled rear plate. To this is attached the baggage rack and spare track block rack, as well as gun tube cleaning rods. The engine deck is separate as are the engine access doors, which are detailed on both sides and are devoid of knock-out pin marks. There are separate fuel and water caps with detailed hull openings, so they can be shown in the open position. The forward hull features separate driver’s and co-driver’s hatches, that also have separate periscope mounts and covers, etched brass brush guards and clear periscope blocks. The plates in which these hatches sat were castings that were welded in place, so the foundry numbers and symbols are present, but the modeler will have to add some form of texture. The bow .30 cal. machine gun features nice cooling jacket details and pre-drilled bore, thanks to slide-mold technology. All head- and tail-lamps come as optional clear or grey plastic parts, and also include a choice of plastic or etched brass brush guards. The tools are nicely done, but could use belt detail, while the tow cable is a combination of plastic ends, to which are attached a braided metal wire cable. These are fixed in place with etched brass clamps. The differential cover is the later, cast one-piece sharp-nose style (appropriate for this version) featuring very well-done cast effect. To this part are added tow shackles and their mounts. There are no foundry numbers or symbols here but that’s no big deal, since this style frequently had these on the lower section, back near where it met the belly plate.

There are two areas in which the hull could be improved. The first is the weld seams, which are depicted as recesses, whereas they should be slightly raised. The second is the lack of separate grab handles for the crew and engine compartment hatches. These are easily added by the modeler, but because of the attention paid to the rest of the kit, these shortcomings stand out. On the other hand, the complete diesel engine deck and doors, as well as the rear plate and exhaust system is included, something that will further the creation of the “ultimate” Sherman spares box.

The turret top is an all-new molding, with openings for the commanders “all-around” vision cupola and the split-hatch ring for the loader. The hatches are all separate so they can be shown opened or closed. There are also several separate periscopes and their mounts, as well as covers, etched brass brush guards, and clear parts for the ‘scopes and vision cupola. The pistol port flap is a separate part, but if positioned opened, the area behind it will need to be opened up and detailed. The top of the turret features foundry casting numbers and symbols, as well as a very nice cast effect. The mantlet is also nicely done, featuring well-done cast texture and telescope sight detail (my review of the DML M4A2 erroneously called this a “.30 cal. machine gun”), but for some reason it lacks foundry numbers, which could have very easily been included. The 76mm gun tube comes in either plastic or turned aluminum and can be fitted with either a muzzle brake (pre-bored thanks to slide molding) or a turned aluminum thread protector. The loaders hatch ring can mount a very nicely detailed .50 cal. M2 that has separate ammo box, grips and pintle, as well as a pre-drilled bore, thanks again to slide-molding. Careful perusal of reference photos will show that some of these turrets had a lifting ring just forward of the loaders split hatch, at the edge. The part is included (H3, but marked in blue as “not for use”) and there is a properly located hole inside the turret that can be opened to accept it. To top it all off (get it?) the kit also includes the complete turret top and all fittings for the type with the small oval loader’s hatch, providing this kit with maximum flexibility. Again, the only shortcoming here is the lack of separate grab handles for the hatches.

Next on the agenda are the figures. There are actually two separate sets of figures. One is an “oldie but goody”, #6054, US Tankers. When it was released some years ago, it caused a stir for a couple of reasons; the first was that there were NO good plastic figures of US tankers available, the second was because of the way in which the figures were molded. As you know, “hard” styrene can not depict undercuts, which are especially critical when it comes to clothing on figures, typically sleeves and collars. To overcome this, DML went the “extra mile” and included the collars as separate parts, allowing for maximum detail. The Rawlings tanker helmet is also difficult to depict properly as a single piece. So, DML made each in four parts, not including the Resistol or Polaroid goggles (of which one of each is provided). The five figures (three partial, two full) wear typical gear such as coveralls or tanker’s jacket, have side-arms and various pouches. One fellow wears the winter cloth helmet, while another wears an M1 steel helmet. My favorite is the walking figure that carries a five-gallon water can in one hand and an M3 sub-machine gun (“Grease Gun”) in the other.

Since the kit is billed as being involved in the “Battle of the Bulge”, it appropriately includes four figures (set #6163) depicting the US 101st Airborne Division, known in this instance as the “Battered Bastards of Bastogne”. They are dressed appropriately in winter clothing that includes “mackinaw”-style overcoats, field jackets and rubber over-shoes. Again, intelligent parts break-down has allowed for maximum detail. The long coats have four separate “tails” each, to give the proper appearance, while each figures’ turned-up collar also adds to the effect. They are fully equipped with canteens, entrenching tools, bayonets, ammo and first-aid pouches and automatic pistol and holster.

The figures depict two riflemen armed with .30 cal. M1 Garand semi-automatic rifles (one is “on guard”, the other is kneeling and aiming), a BAR gunner and finally, an officer with a .30 cal. M1 carbine. They all wear M1 steel helmets, some of which have nicely depicted chin straps in the “up” position, on the front and rear rims. The figures have a complete assembly and painting guide (step 12 in the instructions); all they need is some attention to the finishing process and they’ll look fine. Perhaps some after-market resin heads, uniform insignia and weapons slings would not go amiss. With these additions, these guys will rival anything in resin.

The kit supplies painting instructions keyed to Testors and Gunze products. The six sets of decals can accurately mark the following tanks:

  • ∑Creighton Abrams’ “Thunderbolt IV”, of the 4th AD in the Ardennes, 1944.
  • “Somme IV” of the 1st AD in Italy, 1944.
  • “Kokomo” of the 760th Tk.Bn. in Italy, 1945.
  • “Julia/Cool Studs Inc. #4” of the 761st Tk.Bn. (Colored) in Germany, 1945.
  • “Beute Panzer” (captured tank) used by the Germans in Germany, 1945.
  • “711” of the 12th AD in Germany, 1945.

Not surprisingly, all of the markings check out when compared to color plates by Steve Zaloga in various Concord books. Two are in two-tone black over OD, and all of them have some sort of unique or colorful marking. My compliments to the sheet’s designer! The decals themselves are beautifully printed by Cartograf of Italy, so as expected, detail, registration and color saturation are excellent. The instructions themselves are well drawn and are an improvement over those in the M4A2 since they show the proper location of the suspension bogie mounting plates (parts V5). I have built the major components of this kit and can state that the overall fit of the parts are quite good. Careful clean-up of the turret shell and turret race parts (B31 and H1) where they meet will reward the modeler with very little clean-up. Remember that this is a casting seam, not a weld bead, so act accordingly.

The box is stuffed full of parts; Cookie Sewell was not exaggerating recently when he said he could not get them all back inside after a “first look”. Neither could I. Maybe the Axis modelers are getting lots of cool stuff from DML, which is OK by me. But, make no mistake about it, “Shermanaholics” are also being well-treated by this manufacturer.

Highly recommended.

Reviewer’s note: Since May of 2005, I have been working on books for Concord Publications, a sister company to DML. The reader may wish to take this into consideration. For my part, I will attempt to maintain an objective viewpoint when writing these reviews.

DML kits are available from retail and mail order shops. For details see their web site at: www.dragonmodelsltd.com.