by: Andras [ ]
The T-44 medium tank was a late-war design developed on the basis of the T-34/85 already in production. Due to wartime production needs it was not produced in high numbers during the war, and it did not take part in any action (as far as we know), but it served as a testbed for further tank development.
Although the tank itself was not successful (mechanical issues and design problems plagued the vehicle), and only about 1800 was ever produced, nevertheless, it was a link between the T-34 medium tank (itself being an incredibly successful design) and probably the most successful tank design ever, the T-54/55 main battle tank. If you look at it you can even see the resemblance to both: it mounts a turret similar to the T-34/85 (and it mounts the same gun as well), and its hull looks very much like the T-54.
During the war it was realized by the Russian planners that the T-34 chassis needs to be upgraded to meet the challenges of the ever-evolving battlefield. It needed better armor protection, better armament, better ergonomics, while maintaining its mobility and small size. There were attempts to improve the T-34; this resulted in the development of the T-34M, the T-43 (whose turret found its way onto the T-34/85), and the T-44.
After a couple of prototypes, the main production model was finished by July, 1944. The tank has got a new 12 cylinder engine, which was turned perpendicular in the engine compartment; a very novel approach at the time. (One that was kept in the T-54/55 as well.) This complicated the transmission; however it saved a lot of room, and it made the engine easier to access for maintenance. The room saved inside the chassis was used to enlarge the crew compartment, and to move the turret to the center of the tank. This had several advantages: the weight distribution was better (allowing for some significant increase in armor, and it also improved driving characteristics). The changes also increased the accuracy of the main gun. The tank has got a more modern torsion bar suspension instead of the outdated (and uncomfortable) Christie one. The fighting compartment -uncharacteristically to Russian tanks- was very spacious. The crew comfort was further increased by decreasing the number of people from five to four - the bow machine gunner/radio operator position was omitted. The radio was moved to the commander’s station, and the bow machine gun was deemed to be unnecessary. The rest of the space was used to store more ammunition (so the commander/gunner/loader did not have to stand ammo crates in the hull) and fuel. The driver’s hatch was moved to the top, and he got a periscope as well. Despite of the increase in armor, the tank’s weight was still 31.8 tonnes.
The production model was using the same 85mm ZiS-S-53 gun the T-34/85 had; there were prototype models using three different 100mm guns ( D-10, LB-1 and ZiS-100) and the 122mm gun as well. The T-44-122 failed its field tests against the T-44 and a captured Panther, however the 100mm model was used as a basis for the T-54 prototypes.
The war had ended before the T-44 could get into action. It was kept secret for a long time (I’m not sure why; after all the IS-3 was proudly displayed in the Victory Parade, in Berlin), and a couple had taken part in the invasion of Hungary during the revolution of 1956.
I was really excited when MiniArt announced the SU-122 and the T-44 with full interiors; after all, I have a fixation on building models with detailed fighting compartments. The model came in the usual MiniArt cardboard box, with the tank’s painting as a box-art. The box is quite big for a model this size, and it is full of plastic. The tank is made up by 674 plastic parts (15 clear), and 94 PE parts.
Strangely MiniArt has chosen to supply several small sprues, instead of fewer large ones. All the torsion bars come on their own mini-sprues, for example. (This increases the amount of plastic used for this model, which increases the amount of plastic going to the waste-bin. Recycle!)
The tank comes with a full interior, workable tracks and torsion bar suspension, which explains the high number of parts.
The three largest sprues (Ab, B, C) hold parts for the hull, engine and turret; the running gear (and parts of the track assembly) are on ten identical sprues (track F), plus on two identical sprues (Df). The rest of the tracks are provided in 6 strips (K). The rest of the sprues contain all the other smaller bits and bobs you’ll need for the interior and exterior of the tank. The gun barrel is plastic (not a turned metal barrel), but looks very well done. (And can always be switched to an aftermarket part, should you really want to.) The plastic and moulding quality are fine; there are no issues with flash, distortion or breakage, and the plastic is not brittle at all. A recurring issue with small plastic parts is the high number of attachment points, but this is a technological limitation of the injection moulding technology with which we have to live with.
There’s a quite large PE sheet, and a very nicely done decal sheet included. The decals offer several options; even two fictional captured vehicles in German colors. The color codes are only provided for the Mig range of paints, and there’s no color guide for the interior.
The instruction booklet is really well done: it’s an A4 sized multi-paged booklet with colored illustrations (where necessary), and some information on the tank itself.
The assembly is covered in 62 steps. The first eight steps detail the assembly of the engine (cabling can be added using reference photos). Steps 9-11 detail the assembly of the suspension. Steps 12-21 moves onto the rest of the interior. Interestingly the assembly of the lower hull follows the “old school” method: you get the bottom of the hull and the sides separately. This is actually quite nice, because you get to finish the interior parts of the side panels with painting and weathering, before they’re locked in a less-than-accessible position. Steps 22-28 adds further details to the lower hull, and adds the tracks; steps 30-32 shows the assembly and attachment of the mudguards. Step 34-35 shows the finishing touches to the hull.
The next part will be the gun assembly from steps 36 to 44. Steps 45-62 show the assembly of the turret. The turret, again, is constructed from two side-parts, but this, again, lets you finish the interior details before closing them up. I think this is a really nice solution to the challenges of fitting the interior details into the turret. (The casting texture is really nice on the exterior surface.)
Looking at the assembly guide the build does not look very challenging or difficult. There are some very thin parts (the ammo racks look very delicate, and would probably break if you just look at them funny), but overall the assembly looks straightforward. You would need to change the order of the steps, obviously, since it makes more sense to build all the interior details at once- and to paint them at the same time.
The fact that the driver’s compartment and the full engine bay (transmission especially) are not included is a strange omission for me; after all, they do leave empty spaces in the model, while all the other parts of the interior are exquisitely detailed. To be fair I have not even noticed this omission looking at the instructions until someone pointed it out for me. So a word of caution: the model only has a partial interior. Hopefully some aftermarket company will fill in the gaps (literally and figuratively).
All in all, it is an excellent model; I’m looking forward to the build.