M31 US Tank Recovery Vehicle
Takom 1/35 scale
Reviewed by Cookie Sewell
B a c k g r o u n d
Even during WWI it was seen that the only thing suitable for recovering a tank in the 30-40 ton weight class was another tank, and as tank use multiplied the British began to convert war-weary tanks to retrieve the Mark IV and V tanks then in service. But they could do little more than pull them off the battlefield.
Little effort was taken in this area during the interwar years, and when WWII broke out the problem was now greatly exacerbated. The Germans, British and Soviets converted older tanks to use as tank retrievers but all any of them could really do was again just pull the tanks off the battlefield to the rear areas for repairs.
When the US began production of its first serious medium tank, the M3, it was then seen that at some point a dedicated retriever would be needed to both recover the vehicles and prove the necessary engineer and ordnance support for those tanks. In April 1942 Baldwin took an early model M3 and converted it into the T16 Heavy Tractor. It was a flop, but Baldwin redesigned it and added a boom crane to the design and offered this vehicle as the T2 Recovery Vehicle. Using M3A3 or M3A5 chassis, they were retrofitted with the current production version of the Wright radial engine and by March 1943 163 vehicles had been produced. Production ended in December 1943 with 805 T2 vehicles produced.
T2s began combat deployment to North Africa in March 1943 near El Guettar. In August 1943 the vehicle was declared “limited standard” and formally designated M31 Tank Recovery Vehicle, but most units continued to refer to them as T2s. Approximately 550 were used by the US Army at a rate of two to three per tank battalion plus others assigned to regimental and divisional maintenance units. Some 109 were stripped of their turrets and crane assemblies and used as M33 Prime Movers for heavy artillery.
The T2 removed all of the interior parts of the M3 tank and replaced them with a 40,000 pound winch located directly under the turret. Rollers were fitted to the belly of the tank for direct tow feeds of the cable or it could be fed out of the turret to use as a wrecker (aft facing crane boom) or a crane (forward facing crane boom) with braces and locks on both ends of the vehicle to give support. Three ventilators were fitted as were three large lockers for spare parts on the sides of the engine deck, and the 75mm gun was replaced with a dummy barrel welded to a large door that replaced the weapon. One bow gun was retained and a new lower cupola of British design was fitted to the turret, with a dummy 37mm welded to its rear side.
F i r s t L o o k
Up until now all that was available for this vehicle were mixed media after-market conversion kits like one from DES about 15 years ago, and all of them were for the less than accurate Tamiya kit. Now Takom has taken its nice new M3 Lee kit and added some 185 new parts to convert the M3 into a T2/M31. These include all of the items noted above. The kit comes with the same T51 tracks used by their M3 kit, but some of the T2/M31s used either T48 or T49 tracks per photos (3AD in particular converted all theirs to T48s).
Assembly starts with the lower hull as most kits, with this kit now adding in the roller assemblies in the belly of the vehicle. Two holes need to be drilled in the new stern plate for the hitch assembly. Note that the idler mounts (D2/3 and E18/19) are fixed once in place so care will be needed in assembly of the tracks as no adjustment is possible as with many other US medium tank kits.
Each bogie unit consists of some 19 parts (!) but they are logically assembled, have no “working” springs, and the only parts needing real care are the bolt heads that must be cut from the V sprue and cemented to the arms. The drivers are conventional two-piece affairs, but the idlers have separate rims and hubs. Watch out as the rear section (A1) seems to have some splayed sides and needs some quick attention with a sanding stick for a good fit.
The nicely provided track jig is for the upper run to ensure it lays flat on the top of the return rollers but has a slight upsweep to the drivers. This is the first time I have seen this in a medium suspension kit and while subtle can be seen in photos of early M3 tanks.
The assembly of the casemate and upper hull start with attaching the sides to the hull pan. This is followed by the duck-in for the inside of the gun mount area from two parts, the lower and upper glacis, and the left front hull panel. Hull doors are now single parts as they replicate the welded-up doors.
Nearly all of the major parts from this point on need holes drilled out so pay close attention to the directions!
The gun/door is next along with grouser/spare parts boxes. When the headlights and guards are added there is also an option to cover them with a shield sealing them off from damage.
The engine deck finishes the main upper hull and consists of the deck and two separate side panels. It comes with an etched brass screen and four small etched knobs. The kit portrays the vehicle with the late model rectangular air cleaners and centrally mounted fishtail exhausts. This is followed by the three spare parts/tool bins on the sides. The hitch, rear armored covers, and tow bars are then added.
Details include clear lenses for the headlights but surprisingly the siren (E4/8) has a solid styrene front vice an etched brass one as some other kits provide.
The turret and boom start construction at Step 18. The boom is nicely done but will require care in assembly and consists of some 50 parts with consideration of having it moveable with working rollers. The copper wire is the lifting cable and is fixed so not sure why all of the rollers are supposed to work!
The modeler is given a choice of either wrecker (rear) or crane (forward) positions but it appears the parts are to be fitted into place with separate locking pins. These are tiny but will give the modeler the option of both painting the turret off the vehicle and changing position once completed.
Five suggested finishing options for T2s are given: T2, 1st Armored Division, El Guettar, Tunisia March 1943 (OD with mud stripes, yellow stars); T2, 3-66 Armored Regiment, Operation HUSKY, Sicily May 1943(OD and earth, white stars in circles, 2-66 - SV-38 bumper codes, GEORGIA ON MY MIND in white, registration number U.S.A. 40,104,020 in blue drab); same vehicle, France 1944 (OD with black bands, registration number U.S.A. 40103935 in white, same bumper codes, INVADER in white); M31,756th Tank Battalion, 5th Army, Lungo, Italy January 1944 (OD overall, white stars in circles, 5A 756 - SV 37 bumper codes, registration number U.S.A. 40103211 in white); Unassigned vehicle, issue point, Oran, Algeria May 1943 (OD overall, white stars, shipping codes, registration number U.S.A. 40,103, 737 in blue drab).
C o n c l u s i o n
In summary, this kit answers the prayers of a lot of US armor fans and having only 500 parts will endear it to modelers not wanting tedious chores in building it. And I know of one modeler who will take a shot at putting an interior in this kit! (Not me - still working on the “Lulubelle” tank from “Sahara!”)
S p r u e L a y o u t
Text and Images by Cookie Sewell