Quarter Scale Sherman:
Building the Tamiya 1/48 Scale M4 Sherman

By Will Hendriks

Introduction

One fundamental advantage of building models in scale is the ability to compare the size of vehicles and other objects of the same scale, thereby giving the viewer an indication of their size in relation to each other. Models in a constant scale are also useful to the diorama builder. For modelers of aircraft in the very popular 1/48 scale, vehicles of any kind in this scale have been curiously limited in availability.

Until recently, the only armour models available in 1/48 scale were those produced by Bandai, later re-released by FROG/Fuman in the eighties, as well as kits produced in resin and/or metal by companies such as Gaso.Line of France and Hart Models of the UK. The Bandai kits, while well-engineered and featuring excellent interior detail, suffered from poor tracks. These kits are now available only at swap meets or on E-Bay. The resin and metal kits tend to be difficult to obtain, and are often expensive and require special modeling skills. Aftermarket accessories are also extremely limited.

Much to the surprise of many modelers, Tamiya is entering the 1/48 scale armor market this year with an aggressive array of no less than seven AFV's, plus figures and diorama accessories! This is in addition to the Kubelwagen, Schwimmwagen and Kettengrad, which hit the shelves last year. No longer just intended merely as airfield accessories, already available are the Tiger IE, M4 Sherman, and Sturmgeschutz StuG IIIB. The Hetzer should be released on the market very shortly, and at the Nuremburg Toy Fair Tamiya announced the forthcoming M4A1 Sherman, M10 Tank Destroyer, and a T-34. An impressive line up indeed!

History

This kit represents the early production model of the Sherman, the M4. What follows is a summary of the history included in the kit instructions. This version, which was the first to be officially accepted by the U.S Army, featured an angular welded steel hull. Armament consisted of a 75mm gun and two .30 calibre machine guns (one coaxially mounted in the gun mantlet, one in a ball mount in the front hull), and a .50 calibre MG in a flex mount on the turret. The vehicle was powered by a Continental R975 aircraft radial engine delivering 350 hp. Production began in July, 1942, in time to see action in Tunisia in 1943. The type served on all fronts until the end of WWII.

The Kit

This model appears to be a down-scaled version of the very popular 1/35 scale offering from Tamiya. The kit consists of 126 styrene parts on four sprues, a cast, primed metal hull and a small bag of polycaps and screws. Instructions are very clear, and are of the fold-out, exploded view variety. Water slide decals are included to do one of three vehicles: one overall olive drab, and two camouflaged vehicles, all in U.S. Army markings. The metal hull comes packaged in its own vacuum formed plastic shell. All this comes packaged in a sturdy box with very colourful box art.

The parts are flash free, with no sink marks evident. No ejector pin marks are evident on any viewable areas. The hull and turret surfaces feature a subtle cast texture, with separate crew hatches. Most of the tools are moulded in place, but the shovel and hand crank are separate. Appliqué armour is provided separately. Tracks are of the link and length variety, and are exceptionally well moulded, representing the rubber block version. One excellent feature is that the sprue gates are at the ends of the track lengths, so minimal cleanup is required prior to assembly. On the downside, the sponsons are uncovered beneath the hull, and there is no detail under the back of the hull. No side skirts are provided. There is no interior detail whatsoever. This brings me to the only real major problem I have with this kit, and that is the cast metal hull. While the part itself is beautifully cast and primed, and therefore ready for paint, I cannot understand what if any useful purpose this feature serves. Tamiya says this imparts "added weight and realism". The fact is that the kit now becomes a multi-media kit, requiring the use of superglue and/or epoxy to complete construction. This can put off some modelers from purchasing this kit. The added weight can also be a handicap, for if the model is dropped during or after construction, the added weight can cause considerable damage to the plastic parts. The cast hull, in order to be attached to the upper hull, has two long cones protruding into the inside, which is then attached with two metal screws. These items will make it very difficult for anyone that wishes to add interior detail. Dragon had metal hulls on their early 1/72 armour kits, but thankfully gave up on the idea.

Construction

Assembly proceeded pretty much according to the sequence in the instructions, but with some steps being accomplished simultaneously. The model was built strictly out of the box.

The parts for the three-piece bolted transmission housing were assembled and glued to the metal hull with superglue, as were the rear panel parts. The plastic parts fit to the metal hull perfectly. A small dab of filler was needed where the drive housing part C1 meets the front hull part C3, otherwise no other filler was required during this build. All the parts for the running gear were prepared for painting prior to assembly. I know a lot of armor modelers build the entire vehicle and then paint it, but I have not yet graduated to that level. My aim with a paintbrush is poor, and with an airbrush even worse!

The entire running gear and lower hull was painted Humbrol Dark Earth. Testors ModelMaster Olive Drab was then drybrushed over the high points, giving the structure a dirty, road-worn appearance. The rubber wheels were picked out with Testors Acryl Flat Black, and the bogies and drive sprockets were assembled, remembering to insert polycaps in the drive sprockets prior to gluing. The bogie assemblies were then glued onto the metal hull with superglue. The tracks were prepared by first painting them on the sprue with Testors Acryl Flat Black. The metal teeth and end connectors were painted with Humbrol 173 "Scenic Track Color". This was the most time consuming portion of the build, painting all those little connectors! When dry, some graphite from a pencil was rubbed on the teeth and connectors with a finger to impart a worn, metallic sheen. The tracks were then installed on the running gear with the help of Tamiya Super Thin Cement as per the instructions, and fit perfectly! (The Sherman tanks did not have track sag as some of the European tanks did. On the StuG IIIB kit this sag is moulded in the upper lengths running over the return rollers).

Construction of the upper hull and turret coincided with assembly of the lower hull. The main gun is cleverly mounted with polycap inserts within trunnions all hidden within the mantlet, allowing the gun to elevate up and down. As many of the parts as possible were glued on to the upper hull and turret in preparation for painting. All hatches were left off and later mounted closed with white glue, just in case Tamiya releases a set of U.S. tank crew figures in the future (hint, hint).

The hull and turret were painted Tamiya XF-62 Olive Drab, as was the front of the lower hull. However I found this to be very dark, so Testors ModelMaster Olive Drab enamel (which is lighter) was lightly brushed over the entirety, which resulted in a better finish. Details were picked out using Humbrol Gun Metal for the metal parts and Testors Acryl Burnt Sienna for the wood handles. The upper hull was then attached to the lower metal hull with the screws provided. All was then given a gloss coat of Future in preparation for decals. The decals went on without a hitch, with no silvering, and without the need for setting solutions. These glossy surfaces were then sprayed with a light coat of Testors Acryl Flat varnish. Once again the finish was very dark, much darker than I wished. Here one of my armor modeling friends came to the rescue. He told me about the techniques described by Miguel Jimenez (of MIG Productions) as "Filters". This involves basically a very thin wash (about 95% thinner to paint), applied over matt surfaces, subtly changing the underlying colors, much the same way as a color filter over a lens does in photography. For more on Filters and other techniques see Missing Lynx, Articles, Rarities World.

Using this information, I prepared a very thin solution of Testors ModelMaster Olive Drab enamel and thinner. This was then applied over the whole model with a brush several times, allowing each layer to dry an hour or two before applying the next layer. The finish that resulted was very realistic, with subtle variations in color over the model's surface. The finish was quite flat, so a very light coat of Testors Acryl Semi-Gloss varnish was applied in select areas to impart a painted metal texture.

Graphite was rubbed lightly around the main gun muzzle to impart a smoky appearance, and also on grab handles and a few raised areas on the vehicle. A few paint chips were added with dark grey. The model was further weathered using CMK Stardust weathering pigments thinned with Tamiya thinner, and applied with a brush. The final result is very convincing. The .50 cal. MG was painted with black, drybrushed with gun metal and the fittings picked out with olive drab and burnt sienna, and inserted in its mount. The headlight lenses were picked out with flat white enamel, the tail lights with white and red. An aerial fabricated from stretched sprue was added as the final touch.

Conclusion

This is an excellent kit, despite my reservations about the metal hull. The detail is very good for this scale, and the Sherman looks right at home among my 1/48 scale aircraft collection. Aftermarket accessories are already in the works from various suppliers, including photoetch and turned aluminum barrels!

I enthusiastically welcome this new range of kits, and will be buying and building more.

Special thanks to my friend and armor modeler Jason Kobi for his knowledge and inspiration.

References and Further Reading

Panzer Modelling Masterclass, Tony Greenland, Windrow & Greene Publishing. 1995

"The Filter" By Miguel Jimenez, www.missing-lynx.com

"The Secrets of Pigments" By Miguel Jimenez

Track 48 - An excellent resource for quarter scale armor modelers, hosted by Garfield Ingram. Source of aftermarket accessories such as Track48, Gaso.Line and Tarmac.

And, of course, Missing Lynx. Excellent website devoted to all things armor modeling related.

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