Until very recent times one of the major issues generals faced was that there were about 8 hours every day when they had to effectively stop fighting due to the lack of light. Sure, torches, fires, search lights, phosphorous rockets and other, less sophisticated ways existed to illuminate the battlefield, but their effect was not very impressing to say the least, and they made the whole point of the exercise -namely killing the other side around the clock- very difficult. Armored fighting was practically impossible at night; this is why the prospect of being able to use tanks and other armored vehicles, while the enemy was essentially immobile, was especially attractive for military planners.
The Third Reich was probably the first power to put active night vision equipment to use on the battlefield. A more detailed description of the development history can be read here:
These systems were very crude by today's standards. They required massive infrared projectors to illuminate the battlefield, and this IR light was detected by the special visors attached to the fighting vehicles. The German Army quickly converted a couple of sd.kfz.251 halftracks to carry the 60cm infrared searchlight (named "UHU" - owl), and a couple of towed guns, tank hunters and tanks to be able to use the IR detectors.
Needless to say the system performed poorly in field conditions. The technology was not exactly mobile (or quiet), the view range was very short, and the image quality poor. Not to mention the gigantic IR light was a very vulnerable (and tempting) target. (To be fair, practical night-vision equipment was only developed during the '70s-'80s.) Some units were equipped with the new system during 1944, but shortly after the vehicles were quickly converted back to their original roles. While the "UHU" did not bring breakthrough in military technology, it certainly is one of the strangest looking halftrack out there, which was the main reason I wanted to build one. (The experts on the 2012 Operation Think Tank mentioned the issue of night vision equipment; not sure exactly what part it gets mentioned, but the whole Q&A is worth watching… Youtube Operation Think Tank
What you get
set comes in the usual sturdy blister pack. The set consists of about 30 resin parts and a small photoetched fret. The casting, in general, is quite good, while the details are not always there; most of the parts are quite simplified. The bottom side of the wooden planks for example are not very well detailed, and have a lot of flash. The conversion is designed for the Hasegawa kit, however it should work fine with any ausf. D kit on the market. Personally I prefer the Dragon kits, as the level of detail is much higher. An added benefit is that the floor panel has only the no-slip surface detail, and has no holes and locator pins for the benches, which makes conversions much easier.
The searchlight is a relatively complicated assembly, but fortunately the instructions are simple and clear. There are a couple of items that you will have to make out of wire (namely the frame of the seat and the control wheels).
There is a serious issue, however. While the resin parts are very nicely cast (albeit a bit simplified) and easy to work with, there are parts which are not provided -and it's a bit of a problem. The 251 carried not only the searchlight itself, but a whole generator as well, which was used to power it. This quite prominent piece of equipment, which essentially filled up most of the fighting compartment, is missing. This means a very thorough research, and quite a lot of scratch building skills, should you want to build an accurate representation of the vehicle in this scale. (I myself lack these skills, and for the review I did not attempt to build a generator.) Google image search is a very useful tool for researching the UHU; AFV Modeler Issue 35 has a couple of articles on this vehicle, and I also found the instruction sheets of the available 1/35 UHU models very informative –before I’ve given up on the generator.
KORA models produced a similar conversion (Kora
), which I did not have a chance to inspect in person, but it seems like it has the same problem: a missing generator. (The CMK conversion looks more complex, judging by the photos.)
All in all, the CMK kit is easy to build, it looks the part, but if you really want to depict an accurate UHU halftrack, you will have to build a whole generator from scratch.