Academy M4A3 Sherman w/T34 "Calliope"
A Calliope, pronounced "kah-lie-oh-pee", is a musical instrument that uses steam/compressed air to produce music via tubular whistles. Riverboats along the Mississippi River often had such instruments aboard. It therefore makes perfect sense that when the US mounted a rocket launcher atop a Sherman tank in World War II, the word would come to mind! The Rocket Launcher T34 had 60 tubes which fired 4.5 inch M8 rockets, either singularly, in groups of 6, or all 60, one after the other, in a continuous stream. The device was mounted on pylons either side of the Sherman's turret, with the rocket tubes held aloft directly above the turret roof. The firing angle of the rocket tubes was controlled by a mechanism attached to the turret's main gun. Raising or lowering the main gun changed the angle of the rocket tubes.
What's in the Academy Box
11 sprues of light gray plastic parts
1 sheet of water slide decals with 3 different marking options
1 small fret of photo etched brass parts
2 "rubber band" style lengths of vinyl track
Two separate assembly manuals, one for the tank kit, and one for the T34 launcher unit, the latter also contains the painting and marking diagrams.
Italeri made a model of this exact vehicle configuration, which appears to have been released sometime around 1995. It utilized parts from an older Italeri Sherman kit, together with new tooled parts for the T34 apparatus. And lo and behold, these Italeri parts have now found their way into this "new" kit from Academy. The kit utilizes parts from Academy's earlier "M4A3 105mm with M1 dozer blade", together with turret parts from their M4A2 75mm kit. I can't comment directly on the construction of this kit because this is an in-box review. But I have built previous iterations of Academy's Shermans and they have gone together nicely. I will make some comments on what I have observed in the box.
According to the kit instructions there are a ton of unused parts on the various sprues. I would take the time to take each sprue and mark the "unused parts" with a thick tipped Sharpie indelible ink pen. Also note that there are sprues marked "A" and also "a", and two different sprues marked "D". Thankfully the parts on the D sprues are completely different, and also one is numbered in the single digits and low teens, while the other sprue is numbered in the high 90s and in the hundreds.
Lower Hull Running Gear
Academy includes three different types of drive sprockets in the kit, but only lists the use of two types for this model. There are also two types of road wheels, the open spoke welded type, and the closed, pressed type spoke wheels. It is the latter that are listed for use in this kit. There are three types of idler wheel and all three are options in the kit. The road wheel bogie units are nicely detailed, and consist of seven parts each. They come with foundry casting marks where appropriate, something clearly lacking in Italeri's kit. The kit tracks are of the rubber chevron variety, with duck bill extensions. These are often seen on Calliope Shermans in period photos. Unfortunately, these tracks are vinyl, and thus are very difficult (impossible?) to glue. Academy's instructions show the need to weld the tracks together using a heated screw driver. They are also "stiff", being vinyl, and thus will be more difficult to get to conform to the road wheels. And every tenth rubber chevron has a molding flaw that will need correction. The modeler might wish to replace the tracks with an aftermarket option, of which there are a few in both metal and injection plastic.
Academy's M4A3 hull is of the large driver/co-driver hatch variety, which is correct for a Sherman Calliope, with a cast one piece transmission housing. The driver's and co-driver's hatches are separate, and can be positioned open or closed. Separate grab handles are included for the hatches. However, there is absolutely no hull interior of any description. There are no crew figures or half figures included in which to position in an opened hull hatch. Academy provides the modeler with alternative parts for the headlight, siren and rear light guards. Either injection molded parts, or photo etched brass parts. While you might opt for the injection molded parts if you are afraid of PE parts, I would strongly caution against this as the injection plastic parts are thick and "clunky". The main hull part, A1, has an irritating issue that has been seen in a number of Sherman hulls over the years: counter sunk weld beads. Sherman welds should be raised on the hulls, not depicted as sunken drainage ditches! Take some water-soluble putty, such as Deluxe Materials "Perfect Plastic Putty" and fill the depressions, and wipe smooth with a damp Q-tip. Once dry, apply primer to seal, and then apply some Archer Transfers weld beads in the appropriate areas.
The turret comes with alternative parts for the commander's hatch, either an earlier split hatch, or the later all-round vision block single hatch. Foundry casting numbers for the turret hatch parts are hit and miss, mostly miss. The split hatch parts have casting numbers, as does the main gun shield. However, there are none on the main turret shell, nor the shell ejection port. The 75mm main gun is a two-part affair, with a separate "tip", which will cause fit issues. I can't believe Academy doesn't have the ability to mold this as one piece? Either way, they chose not to. The turret shell is in two pieces, and so some filling and sanding will be required to sort out the seam. But the most annoying part of the turret is figuring out where to put the mounting holes for the T-34 unit. Academy has a diagram in section 11 of the assembly instructions showing a series of measurements the modeler has to achieve using the main turret shell part, G1. This kind of detailed work is NOT for the novice builder. Italeri took the trouble to create a notch on the inside of the turret shell which made it much easier locate the position for the mounting holes.
The Rocket Launcher T34
These are the parts from the original Italeri kit. The parts bag even says "Country of Origin: Italy". The Academy and Italeri sprues are identical in layout etc. These will be "challenging" to assemble: the rocket tube units are split into two halves, and they will need very careful alignment when being glued together. Then there will be some challenging work making sure all the tubes are "round" at the front end. There is no diagram in the instructions showing the firing wiring or where this wiring enters the tank. According to what I could discover in my research the wiring all went into the turret through a connection block that replaced the loader's periscope.
The Academy kit is your only option if you want a 1/35th scale injection molded Sherman Calliope (the Italeri kit is long out of production). But I think that with a little research, together with some care and attention to the kit parts, and perhaps replacing some items like the tracks with suitable aftermarket items, one can build a nice representation of an M4A3 Calliope. I can therefore recommend this kit for more seasoned modelers wishing to add this vehicle to their collection of Sherman variants. My thanks to Model Rectifier Corporation for the review sample.