The rise of the “World of Tanks” online game has seen a scramble by plastic model manufacturers to cash in on the popularity of weird and wacky vehicles that would otherwise have languished as expensive specialist resin-only offerings. Dragon’s new (and controversial) “Black Label” line has given us the M103 (a US Vietnam-era heavyweight) and the M6A1 (a failed WW2 prototype, and now offers us perhaps the Cold War’s most influential failed project – the MBT/KPz 70. If this review seems familiar, it effectively fossilises my recent build log
So, what exactly was the MBT/KPz 70? There’s a great Wikipedia
entry on the subject, but essentially this joint US-West German project from the ‘60s was aimed at creating a new generation of main battle tanks to replace the excellent Leopard 1 and M60 in frontline service against the expected Soviet assault across the East European plains. The Leopard was a fine tank, but its armour wasn’t thick enough to survive the latest AT weapons, while its main gun (the Rheinmetall version of the British L7 105mm) was becoming outclassed. And the M60, with its prodigious thirst and extreme height had its own problems.
The new project would be more powerful, faster, harder-hitting, and better protected than these existing MBTs. However, as everyone knows, a horse designed by committee often winds up looking like a camel! Competing interests saw the tank fitted out with almost every gadget imaginable, with inevitable effects on performance and cost. As a result, the intended weight-class of about 45 tons soon ballooned almost as much as the budget, and eventually the Germans pulled out and used the lessons learned to develop the rather nifty Leopard 2. The Americans also cancelled the project a couple years later, developing the M1 Abrams instead.
Advanced features included adjustable-height hydra-pneumatic suspension that could drop the tank for a low hull-down stance, or tip it for a level platform on the backslope of a hill. Then there was the radical idea of housing all three crew in the turret to make the hull even lower – this placed the driver in a rotating “cage” so he always faced the hull front regardless of how the turret was traversed! (He could also swing to the rear for high-speed getaways…) And the crew was only three because the main gun had an autoloader. Then there was the 20mm cannon in a pod on the turret side, used for anti-aircraft defence as well as targeting soft-skins on the ground. This gun popped up from its armoured covers like something out of Thunderbirds!
The Achilles Heal of the project was the main gun, the US XM-150 152mm dual-function tube for either the Shillelagh missile or a conventional projectile. Essentially a larger version of the gun in the M551 Sheridan and M60A2 “starship”, it suffered the same range of problems inherent in a weapon that tried to be both a rifled gun and a smoothbore missile launcher.
Just over a dozen tanks were built by the US and West Germany, with a number of differences in things like powerplants, so the surviving tanks are as unique as snowflakes. The DML kit represents the German version, said by DML to be based on the vehicle currently in the Munster museum. (The one in Koblenz has a different engine deck.) Builders wanting a US version will have to carry out some surgery, or wait for the AM guys to fill the gap.
There are some walkarounds out there, including this Armour Workshop one at Munster
, a PrimePortal one of the Munster
tank, a mixed-bag of mostly Koblenz
shots, and the Armour Workshop study of the Koblenz
vehicle. For the truly scratch-happy there are also walkarounds of the American versions, such as Matt Flegal’s shots at Fort Knox
Jim S gave a video preview
that included all the sprue shots, so I’ll just jump in with the build. Looking things over, this kit is indeed very close to the Munster prototype – which is great considering the concerns voiced in the run-up to its release. The one obvious flaw is an odd one – the bump-stops for the suspension arms are the Koblenz-style snubbers rather than the Munster types, and this is unfortunately visible from the side. What makes it odd is DML included a four-page photo-essay of the real tank to prove the accuracy of their model, and the correct bump-stops are clearly visible in the pictures – go figure!
The hull matches the few basic dimensions I have on the vehicle, to within the tolerance of my Mk.1 Eyeball and ruler. One thing to note is the odd assembly sequence that invites you to add lots of delicate detail before joining the hull top & bottom together – I will be gluing the main lumps together before adding anything breakable! Also, the lower hull tub on my sample is warped inwards at the top, so I need to fit a series of braces to push it out or the sponson fillers won’t meet the edges of the upper hull. The other odd thing is the suggestion that the wheels be glued to the suspension arms before fitting them to the hull – again, I will follow a more traditional assembly sequence and fit the arms to the hull first. (I like to leave wheels loose for painting…)
One nice touch is the set of instructions for lowering the suspension, in case you want yours to tilt or squat. Bear in mind this will affect track tension…
Up on that big turret, the hatches for the commander and driver are separate parts, but the gunner’s hatch is moulded closed – why? The driver’s hatch sits in a ring that rotates on the real thing, so at least you can position it to face “hull-forward”. In front of the commander’s hatch is a large boxy sighting device that can pivot for targeting, and is retractable. DML offers instructions to show how to pivot it (by cutting off a part of the fixed base that is inexplicably moulded onto the sight box), but as the retractable base is moulded onto the turret you cannot “retract” the device without a little surgery. In front of the gunner is his sight, with “glass” and a door that can be posed open or closed. A separate transmitter for the missile sits in a box in front of the 20mm cannon, again with “glass” and a closable door. Sadly, none of these devices have any of the optics behind the glass, which is visible in photos of the real things.
The 20mm gun has options to build it lowered for storage or raised for action. With careful construction it can elevate, and the whole assembly can be left loose to traverse.
the buildStarting with the hull
I added braces that measure 60mm across at the top, 50mm across the bottom, and 23mm tall. (These are notched to fit around the bulge in the lower side walls.) I made sure the sides and bottom edge were square, and pushed them down to counteract the floor’s tendancy to bend upwards when the sides are straightened. Anyone who has built a DML/CH Sherman will know the problem!
I noticed the fans leave big holes, so built a shadow-box under them. I had some black plastic handy, but could have just painted white Evergreen if needs be. This box also helps stiffen the otherwise-bendy engine deck.
The other thing that needs doing before the hull is closed up is the side grille. On the real one this is filled (by a filter? Can’t tell) so I didn’t want it see-through. Besides, DML did something odd with the sponson floors that means they sit about 2mm too high, rather than lining up with the bottom edge of the hull. This is all too visible with empty grilles. I cannot help wondering if the designers of the top and bottom weren’t on speaking terms…
When I finally assembled the hull I noticed the sponson floors are a poor fit around the edges and the lower hull is about 1mm too long, just enough to leave a gap between the rear plate and upper hull sides. This was fixed by filing the rear end of the lower hull (Grrr!) until everything fit. Note that adding the slats on the rear helps stiffen everything up. I had to bevel the front edges of the sponson floors to get a decent fit that still needs putty and sanding. Oh, and the upper hull had a slight upwards warp, so I needed to use tape to hold things tight while the glue worked.
To bulk out the floors I cut two filler plates from 0.020” sheet (137mm long x 18.5mm wide) and set them on strips of left-over 0.020” trimmings. There needs to be a crease at 102mm (measured from the rear), and a slight taper in at the front, but it all fits nicely.
After that I tackled the exhaust covers on the rear. I looked at the big louvered panel, and noted that it has too few horizontal slats for the Munster tank. (6 instead of 11) The way it is set up I don’t think I could just shoe-horn extra slats in between the existing ones – I’d need to scratch-build the whole thing. And it really isn’t worth the hassle for something most people won’t even notice! Those exhaust covers, however, are easier to fix. DML saw that they have a curved yoke at the top, with the cover assembly pivoted at both sides, but they still got the basic shapes wrong! For starters, that big old bar at the top should sit flush with the grille slats, rather than sticking out. And the actual yoke needed trimming down level with the little bracket on the side. (The real ones are bolted down with this bracket – for maintenance they are unbolted and swung upwards to reveal the exhaust pipes.)
Up on the rear deck I wasn’t impressed with the big holes in the fan covers – the pictures of the real thing are much more “busy” with rings and ribs. I don’t know if these were part of the steel casting or just a support structure for the wire mesh, but either way I needed to beef things up. While adding the missing rings would be a nightmare (they go between the existing ones), adding the radial ribs was comparatively easy. These were then topped off with some plastic gauze from a set of wedding placemats I acquired years ago in the “weddings” section of a big craft store. The mesh density is a bit big, but it goes a long way towards capturing the look of the real Munster tank! Hopefully the AM guys will soon come to the rescue with a PE set.
Moving to the back, the infantry phone box is a nice piece, but it looks a tad too big. Without access to the real tank, I assume they used a box from the Leo 1 rather than designing a new part when an off-the-shelf part would do. So I went to my Tankograd Leo 1 books and measured their scale plans, where the box is 10.5mm diameter in 1:35 scale. (That’s 370mm in full size.) The kit part is 12mm diameter, and the box from my Italeri/Revell Leo stash is only 9mm. All the tube from Evergreen & Plastruct comes in fractional-inch sizes, working out to 9.5 & 11.5mm – but I needed 10.5mm. So I wrapped the smaller tube with 0.020” strip to bulk it out, before adding a lid and other details. The result matches the “look” of the real one much better than the kit part, but I don’t think too many folk would be too upset by the large kit box. One odd thing is that DML gave their box an interior, but copied one that is missing the actual phone equipment!
The suspension arms come in two “lengths” so beware! Parts D31/30 are just over 1mm longer than parts D33/32, although I could not see any difference between the two “sides” so I doubt it matters if you use say D33 on the left or right. The two “short” arms go in wheel stations 3 & 5 (counting from the front) to get the correct gaps between the wheels, because all the H-P units are evenly spaced along the hull side. (These gaps are between wheels 1&2, 3&4, and 5&6.) However, DML made a boo-boo here because the real arms are all the same length – the gaps are made by mounting the H-P units with uneven spacing
! I only noticed this after it was too late, and it really isn’t worth fixing, but it does add needless complication to the choice of suspension arms.
With the arms in place, I looked at the bump-stops. The kit parts are ok for an in-service vehicle sporting volute springs on brackets, although the rearmost one is mounted too low – it should be the same height as the others. But these are based on the brackets of the Koblenz example, and the Munster tank had its stops replaced by solid struts to hold the tank up long after the H-P suspension had failed! So, in order to make an exact replica of the as-preserved museum exhibit I had to make new brackets. I started by filling in the mounting slots on the hull sides (best done BEFORE adding all those arms etc! guess how I found out…) since the new parts are not exactly in the same locations. The parts themselves started out as some Evergreen rectangular tube, cut to 4mm length and then split in half to create two deep channels. A bevelled edge and a “bolt” from 1mm Plastruct hex rod completed the bracket, while I then added a 6mm chunk of 060x125 strip for the top of the museum-added “strut”. These were topped with a track-guard made of 6mm of 030x125 strip, bent down at the ends. (The first one has no guard.) There is a longer track guard stretching across the rear three bump-stops and the roller mount, made with 57mm of 030x125 strip. Check your clearances with the tracks! I then added the “struts” from lengths of kit sprue (the “A” one, if it matters?) snipped and adjusted by eye. Note that this needs to allow room for the wheel, so use one to test & adjust each strut as you go.
The sprocket should be a bit thicker in the middle (the kit one is very wasp-waisted), so DML had to shrink the ring of bolts around the hub to fit their narrow part. They also skimped a bit on the ring of bolts near the teeth – this should be a much broader band with support “buttresses” beneath each bolt as seen here
. Part of the problem is the way the mud-holes go from a more tear-drop shape to a rounded triangle – they really ought to extend further out towards the rim.
Then there is that Final Drive cover “cone” – it is positively tiny! (Veterans of DML Shermans will know all about the Dragon’s scale difficulties where FDAs are concerned…) The real cone fills the space behind the sprocket, and has a massive bolted flange. I didn’t fix it, but did add a simple axle to the back of the sprocket to make it easier to line up during final assembly.
Next, I fitted the inner halves of the track support rollers – planning to add the outer halves only after the tracks are installed. Problem is, the two halves have no firm interlock! Both parts have a central hole, so I added some rod to the inner halves that serves as locating pins for the outers. (The road wheels and inner halves of the idlers will get glued on after paint, but before the tracks get fitted – that way the tracks just press into place without stretching. The outer halves of the idlers and rollers will be added after, to sandwich the track guide teeth in place.)
The rest of the hull details were now added, but the three-part headlamps were extremely fiddly! They consist of the lamp, a circular bracket, and a hull mount, all with barely-visible locating pins & dimples. I got the middle parts on wrong-way-up at first, then had to pry them off and try again. (The pin connecting to the hull mount should be at the bottom of the circular face, so the part “sits high” against the hull mount.) Note also the very nice cable-runs for the rotary beacons on the fenders are extremely fragile.
The final task on the hull was the mud flaps. The Germans are obsessed with these – just look at any Leopard! The Munster vehicle has them, but the Koblenz one doesn’t, so you could build an in-use prototype without them, but I want to model the Munster tank as-preserved so flaps were needed. After some fretting, I found they were surprisingly easy to make! Starting with a 20mm-wide strip of 0.015” Evergreen sheet, I measured and marked lines across it at 13mm, 15mm, & 21mm from the end. Cutting it at the 21mm mark, I then gently folded it over a ruler between the two lines (13 & 15mm) and glued the end onto the strip. (I secured it with clothespegs til it dried, being careful not to completely flatten the bend.) Afterwards I took a narrow strip of 0.005” sheet (about 1.5mm wide) and embossed six “bolts” by pressing it into my cutting mat with a toothpick. This was then glued to the top edge of the flap, along with two bits of 0.010” square strip added to represent the hangers that hold up the lower flap. A length of 2mm angle stock on the outer edge completed the flaps.
Having finished the hull (as far as possible prior to painting), I can say that it certainly is a decent rendition of the real thing – minus the few minor areas I outlined in the build. This is far better than some other “Black Label” kits where even the basic dimensions have come under fire!
Next up is the turret, which is suitably huge. The real thing had the dreaded auto-loader package taking up the entire bustle area at the back of the turret, and the kit includes the hinged cover on the underside that allowed removal of the whole unit. The moulded-on hinge details aren’t terribly crisp, and the inner faces lack “hinge pin” detail due to slide-mould limitations, so should have been separate parts, but it still looks ok. I started by gluing the top & bottom together, and adding the main gun “spindle” which is trapped by two “cheek” parts – that way I could address the welds here before adding anything breakable. The real thing has big obvious welds at the base of these “cheeks”, as well as around the 20mm gun pod, which are at best anaemic on the kit, so I used some Deluxe Materials “Perfect Plastic Putty”
and a toothpick to make new welds.
Next, I looked into the big empty space under the 20mm gun and decided it must be filled! I used the gun’s base ring as a template to cut a circle of plastic, added a 14mm-high wall of 0.015” plastic (bends easier than 0.020”) and fitted it up through the bottom. Life would have been MUCH easier if I did this before gluing the turret together!
The real 20mm gun pod was crammed with ammo feeds, motors, and electronics – none of which are in the kit. That’s not so bad for the Munster tank which appears to have these stripped out, but not so good for the Koblenz tank, or indeed a trials tank. Short of an ambitious scratch-build, we can only hope an AM firm comes to the rescue. Also, the kit gun is encased with two parts that make up a “drum” that is not realistic. For the Munster version I needed to lose the bottom half of this “drum”, along with the bottom cover of the gun’s receiver block – while retaining the outer edges of the drum. Then I needed to remove the moulded-on gun shield where the barrel meets the receiver since the Munster version lacks this part. Note that the missing bottom cover has all manner of what look like hydraulic hoses, based on the Koblenz pics. The support for the gun slides up & down on the real thing – you can position the kit parts along the slider, but must glue them in place so cannot “retract” the gun afterwards. I chose to have it “up”, with the covering doors open. Note these doors have tiny struts connecting them to the gun cradle – much swearing was had…
The gun pod outer wall lacks the welds seen in the walkarounds, so I added these from 0.015” Plastruct rod, scraped flat on the back with my knife (to avoid needing to cut grooves in the kit part), then were sanded down before getting scraped with the teeth of a razor saw to add rough texture to them.
The rest of the turret goes together as per instructions (with tweezers & patience), and the driver’s cupola is a separate part that can be “rotated” to face hull-forward regardless of which way the turret is placed – if you don’t glue it down. (Some bright spark will no doubt add gears to theirs so the turret can be spun while the cupola stays still…) Both the driver and commander have separate hatches with internal details, so you can pose them open and add a crew. Unfortunately (despite what the box-art says) the periscopes are all moulded in grey plastic rather than clear – as is the rotary safety beacon behind the TC’s hatch. There are four optics items that get clear lenses, all of which can benefit from some internal detailing. The missile aiming system needs a plate inside with two small holes (sheet plastic and 2mm holes courtesy of my old multi-size leather-punch), while the other three all use variations of a prism to bend light down into the equipment inside the turret. These I plan to simulate with some “mirror” card from the craft shop, but I added some plastic supports inside the hoods. For the big box in front of the TC I even added two discs with 2mm & 3mm holes, to be the “lens” seen reflected in the prism on the real one – otherwise the hole is too big and will look funny.
The only other addition was the missing socket for the searchlight, made from a punched 2mm disc glued to the left gun “cheek” before getting a 1.2mm hole drilled into it. The Munster tank has no cable from the searchlight, so the socket is visible – if you build the Koblenz tank you need to scratchbuild the cable and plug instead.
I started with the mantlet, opening out the two holes before filling them with “plugs” made from sprue whittled to shape. The real plugs are rubber, with a knob on the end – I made mine by scoring a notch around the sprue with the edge of a triangular file, before rounding the edges with a sanding stick. Afterwards, I used some 1.5mm Slaters plastic letters to make the raised “NON-BALLISTIC” text seen on the Munster tank.
The “business end” of the KPz70 is of course the XM-150 Gun/Launcher – a hybrid tube with rifling for conventional rounds, and a straight keyway for the missile to prevent it from spinning. The kit part is slide-moulded as a single piece including the bore evacuator, but it lacks the very subtle reinforcing collar at the muzzle, as well as a small flare at the base of the barrel. I added the muzzle collar from a 6mm-wide strip of 0.005” Evergreen sheet, glued on with the “fastest” glue I had to hand (Deluxe Material’s Plastic Magic
) because my normal liquid poly would take forever to out-gas and would dissolve the strip from underneath. The flare at the other end wasn’t worth the effort. There is a replacement metal barrel out there from RB Model.
The kit has some crosses and number-plate decals, but otherwise there really isn’t much choice – they were prototypes delivered in the Bundeswehr’s standard gelboliv paint.
Despite a few minor annoying omissions (mud flaps, “museum” struts, etc) this is actually a decent kit of the German version of this ancestor of the Abrams & Leopard 2. It looks the part, and seems to be about the right size and shape (unlike other “Black Label” stable-mates), so I’m quite pleased with it. Sure, a better rendition of the 20mm gun pod would be nice, but I liken this kit to Dragon’s Shermans from the 2000s – the basics are good, but it can use a little TLC to get a great result.