Academy 1/35 T-34/85 No.183 Factory "Berlin 1945"
The T-34/76 tank was designed in 1940 as a multi-purpose vehicle intended to take advantage of breakthroughs in enemy lines. After reports about the new Russian tank reached the OKH, German engineers were sent back to the drawing board under the pressure of many generals and the full support of Hitler himself. Two new tank models, the Panzer V "Panther" and the Panzer VI "Tiger" emerged from their work.
The Soviet Union's State Defense Committee met on August 25, 1943, after the battle of Kursk, and decided to upgrade the T-34 with a bigger gun to combat the new German tanks. This was a real challenge for the engineers. They had to conceive a new turret capable of housing the long barreled 52K model 39, the standard anti-aircraft gun of the Red Army at the time, without making any changes to the lower part of the tank, chassis, transmission, suspension or engine.
It was a bold move to choose this gun. The choice was clearly influenced by the heavy toll imposed by the German 88 mm (3.46 in) gun on every Front since the beginning of the War. In the race between firepower and protection it became apparent that no available engine could meet the Red Army's minimal mobility requirements AND provide sufficient protection from Germany's 88 mm gun.
The T-34/76 initially appeared to have the perfect balance of speed, armor and firepower, but events proved that firepower was lacking. The crew's protection was compromised, therefore something had to be changed. But confining changes to a new turret could provide a quick transition, almost uninterrupted, between the two types (the T-34/76 and its successor, the T-34/85), which was just what the Stavka required to maintain numerical superiority. The hull was almost unchanged except for the turret ring and the new turret itself. The turret ring had to be enlarged to give a more stable and sturdy base for the new gun.
Zavod #112 delivered the first T-34/85s to the elite Red Guards battalions, the best units. It is uncertain whether they saw action before January or February 1944, having been in training during December 1943. 400 had already been delivered to front-line units in early 1944 and they instantly became popular with the crews. They gradually replaced the T-34/76, and in mid-1944 the T-34/85 outnumbered the older versions.
By then T-34/85s formed the bulk of the tank units on the eve of Operation Bagration, the Soviet response to the Allied landings in Normandy, and the Red Army's biggest offensive to date. This was the final push, aimed at Berlin. The T-34/85 Model 1943s were usually given to chosen crews, usually of the Guard units, before production ramped up.
By late 1944 T-34/85 tank crews on the Eastern Front faced a new threat. This threat wasn't German tanks (although the Königstiger and many late tank hunters were quite impressive, if few in numbers), but rather the average infantryman, even from citizen militias (Volksstrurm) armed with the Panzerfaust, the first shaped-charge launcher. The Russian crews took the matter in their own hands to counter this sneaky and effective weapon. They mounted makeshift protection made of bed frames welded on the turret and hull sides. They projected enough from the hull itself to make the charge detonate sooner and spew its high pressure metal jet harmlessly on the surface. This improvisation was commonplace during the battle of Berlin.
Academy's latest 1/35th scale kit is this newly-tooled, limited edition T-34/85. It features details that were unique to the Factory 183 (UTZ) facility at Nizhniy Tagil, the largest producer of T-34 tanks.
The features and options include:
Slide molded one-piece barrel
Link-and-length track for ease of assembly/painting
Hull details that include a multitude of grab handles, spare track links, fuel cells, and stowage options
Improvised bedspring armor provided as photo-etched parts
Casting detail captured on turret surface
Simplified construction without sacrificing detail
Opening the box
The slightly oversized box is a little difficult to open, but its contents are well protected. The plastic is crisp and flash free and packaged to ship safely. The kit includes:
16 sprues in soft, light grey plastic, most packaged separately. Five of these sprues are for the myriad of rails and grab handles, and four sprues sport the twenty wheels.
2 sprues of black plastic containing link & length track sections
1 large photo-etch sheet containing ten screens, brackets, and an engine intake grille.
1 length of cotton string for use as tow cables.
1 8-page black and white instruction folding sheet with 19 steps.
The kit comes with two color schemes. These are reproduced as black and white ink drawings of the tank's left sides. There is a four view drawing of the turret included, however. A small, double-white inked decal sheet includes the following units:
11th Tank Corps, k235, Berlin Germany (May 1945). Green with white stripe.
11th Tank Corps, k238, Berlin Germany (May 1945). Green with white stripe.
A separate insert includes a parts map on one side and painting instructions and decal placement on the other. Paint callouts are included for Humbrol, Gunze Creos, Testors Model Master, LifeColor, Revell and Vallejo brands.
Things to consider before building:
The texture on the turret representing rolled steel is very rough; too rough frankly, for the scale. You may want to use sandpaper to even it out a little, or perhaps even add a thin layer of putty to fill in some of the deeper abrasions.
The stars of this kit are the photo etched 'bedspring' screens. You'll need a folding or bending tool to get these right; I don't think a simple pair of flat-surfaced needle nose pliers will suffice. Some of the delicate screens are over two inches in length and with p/e like this you don't get any 'do-overs'.
The area beneath the fenders is unobstructed. One can therefore add the link & length tracks at any time, which helps with the painting and finishing tasks.
The Lower Hull and Suspension
In the first four Steps you assemble the 10 sets of wheels, drive sprockets, return rollers, and suspension. Each wheel set includes an inner and outer facing piece; these are nicely molded with perforations along the outer rims. You have to drill a number of holes in the two hull sides to receive various items, so make sure you do this before attaching the sides to the hull bottom, as access will be limited. A solid wall superstructure is inserted at the center wheel position for strength.
Academy suggests that you assemble and attach the tracks in Step 4, although I think you can wait until the end of the build to do so since access is un-obstructed.
The Main Deck and Rear
In Step 5 you attach the various on-board accoutrements, including a rear hull engine hatch that unfortunately does not contain any interior detail. Some p/e that is used on the front hull that does not have any plastic alternative included in the kit.
In Step 6 you bend a p/e screen over the end of a plastic frame. Thus represents the engine intake, not all the way across, front to back, but just down the back half. You also have to bend six p/e brackets in the same way. That won't be easy. Fortunately, the plastic hatch contains much of the same detail and can be used as is in a pinch. Steps 7 and 8 continue with upper deck detail, including the numerous hand rails prevalent on Soviet armor, which are finely molded and contain no flash.
The Turret and Main Weapon
The turret comes next. I thought the rough texture of the turret was a little heavy handed, and could use a little toning down with sand paper or putty before assembly. The 15piece cupola and hatch looks a little fiddly but contains good detail inside and out.
Academy includes a single, slide-molded barrel. It is hollowed out at the end, a beautiful piece of work that eliminates the need for filling any seams. Step 13 adds one more poseable hatch (without interior detail) before you join the upper and lower hulls .
The 'bed spring' Screens (Turret and Main Hull)
The stars of the kit are the bed spring screens, as I mentioned earlier. Their assembly is pretty straightforward, but care must be taken not only in bending the screens and their brackets, but also in keeping track of the parts so that the correct springs attach to the turret and the hull. I suggest that you bend each element and stick the screen and its brackets to a labeled sticky note for safe keeping, until they are ready to be assembled and attached to the model. All four edges of each screen are bent twice along a long axis. I think you'll need some kind of bending tool for the job.
Academy recommends that you attach the brackets to the screens first, and then the resulting assemblies to the turret and hull. But Academy makes no mention of the order to attach them. For the turret I suggest that you attach the rear and front screens first, next the two front side screens, and then the two rear side screens, since you will know how much spacing to leave between the screens by centering them up against what is already in place.
The T-34/85 is one of the iconic tanks of World War II, and this late-war 'bed spring' variant has always been a favorite for modelers. Academy has done a good job of bringing this interesting kit to market.
The slide molded barrel, the simplified design and the link & length tracks will appeal to beginners and folks who are looking for a quick way to 'the paint and finish stage' (like me!) The detail photo etch screens will appeal to the more advanced modelers. It is unfortunate that Academy chose to provide poseable hatches but failed to include even the most basic detail on the inside of the hatches. But this kit is a solid effort and will result in a fine looking model.
I can recommend this kit to all modelers who are up to the challenges posed by assembling and attaching the ten photo-etch screens, since these parts are the star of the kit, the rest being a relatively straightforward build. If you mark up the instructions beforehand as suggested, and go slow, you shouldn't have any problems, and you will have a fine (and unusual) looking model to show for it.