by: Matt Flegal [ ]
In late 1943 the Soviets launched a competition to design a new heavy self-propelled gun to go into production in 1944. The TsAKB bureau mounted a 203mm B-4 howitzer on a KV-1S chassis after it proved unworkable to modify the KV-1S production lines to make a larger and more stable chassis. The design itself was a failure, proving unstable during firing and overloaded. Trumpeter has been nice enough to release a kit of this esoteric vehicle and I was fortunate enough to build it.
The kit is primarily molded in Trumpeter's usual grey plastic with the length and link tracks molded in tan. Two lengths of string, a small photo etch fret, a small clear plastic sprue and a tiny decal sheet complete the kit. Flash is minimal, and with the exceptions of the tracks the knock out marks are minimal and on part areas that will be hidden from view. The string is fuzzy and probably best replaced by braided wire or nylon cable (for the surgeons out there, 5-0 silk would make an excellent replacement for the smaller thread!). As is typical for Trumpeter, detail is generally good, with some areas exquisitely molded and others simplified.
As far as accuracy goes, there are few pictures of the actual vehicle that I've found and the kit looks good in comparison, with the exception of the complicated rear steps and shell loading ramp. The ladders attach to the droppable ramp at the same junction as the ramp attaches which doesn't appear accurate in the one photo I've found of that structure. In addition, the steps are made up of vertical PE pieces that don't look like the horizontal treads on the real steps. I would suggest using only one of those treads per step and mount it on the block to sit horizontal like a real, well, step.
Steps 1-4 involve the basic construction of the chassis and running gear. As with all of the Trumpeter KV kits, it captures the clunkiness of the design perfectly and fits together very well. Aside from a few missing welds there is little to criticize. However, as a dedicated rivet counting curmudgeon I have a couple of small issues. The first is that I really wish they had the top intake grills separate as in their other kits to make it easier to replace them with PE. Secondly, the tracks have a whole bunch of annoying raised ejection marks. I would have much preferred depressed ones that would be easier to fill and sand as you can spend a bunch of time getting them removed. As you can see in some of the pictures after a fair bit of sanding I said to heck with it and put them on. That said, the tracks look great and have a very realistic sag to them. They don't snap fit so be prepared to work in sections to keep them from slipping apart. Also, the mud scrapers (part M2 and M5) once placed will prevent the drive sprockets from coming off which will then prevent removing the tracks after assembly. I found I had to add an extra track link below the idler compared to the instructions. One thing that I really do appreciate is that Trumpeter uses different sized locating pins for things like hatches and the driver's visor so you can't mount them upside down without making it entirely your fault. As an aside, it builds easily and my model building 7-year old daughter was able to build all of it with supervision, with the exception of the tracks. She should probably get an author's credit.
Steps 5-7 complete the hull. Everything fits together well with the exception of the two I-beams (part H11) which are fiddly to get into place once glued. In retrospect, I'd suggest leaving those parts unglued in their housing (Part H17 and H18) until they are placed on the hull and then lining them up to fit into the well atop the hull. The instructions call for part J9 in step 5 but on the sprue it is listed as J8.
Steps 8-14 involve putting the cannon together and this is a bit of a different story from the rest of the kit. It is quite well detailed and intricate, although attaching three bolts per side that could have easily been molded in place is a bit confusing. The parts fit is rather poor in places and you'll be using a fair amount of putty. The barrel of the cannon has one half that insets into the other and it fits poorly, seeming undersized. I would suggest using a shim towards the opening to hold the piece in place so it doesn't drop down. I didn't, so instead of filling the two gaps I ended up having to fill the depressed area with putty and reshaping the barrel. Be smarter than I! And replace the thread on the winch, it looks fuzzy.
Step 15 completes the kit. Mounting the gun mount is a bit iffy as there isn't great guidance given and you basically sit it in place, glue the joins, and don't touch it. Eye it from as many angles as possible before gluing. The two shields can be placed in dropped position and, if you're careful, the fold-out stands will drop into place.
Paint it, decal it if you wish, and you're done. It is an impressive looking beast and with the exception of some putty-needs it is a straightforward and pleasant build.