by: Tom Cromwell [ ]
introductionA few months ago MiniArt released a “what if?” model of a truly strange concept – the “ball” tank – and this author just had to have a go! There is no real prototype for it, although magazines like Popular Mechanics were full of these strange flights of fancy in the early decades of the 20th century. And Germany even managed to build a sort of ball tank, with two drive wheels and a tail wheel for balance – the Russians found it and hauled it to Kubinka. As far as I can tell this MiniArt kit isn’t based on anything concrete, although it might be derived from “back of envelope” concept sketches for all I know. I just assume they’ve imagineered all the wonderful internal detail!
And for those who prefer their what-ifs to wear the “angry spider”, MiniArt does a version with German weapons to replace the Russian ones in this kit.
contentsInside the box is a single bag bursting with sprues. I really wish MiniArt didn’t do this, as it risks warping the parts to pack them in so tight, but at least there’s a lot to play with! There are 23 grey sprues, one clear sprue, and a set of decals, for a total of 221 plastic parts – quite a lot for a tiny tank with only four “indy links” to its track. All parts are crisply detailed, and there is almost no flash.
The twelve-page assembly instruction book has a colour cover with no less than six made-up marking schemes based roughly on real tanks in Red Army use (and one captured by the Germans) so there is plenty of scope to add colourful interest to your model shelf.
the buildSince I cannot comment on accuracy of the kit, I guess I’d better build it! After looking over the instructions I quickly realised the big issue would be painting all the internal details. The only logical way I could see was to put aside the recommended sequence and instead build it as a set of paintable assemblies to be joined together later. So I started not with the engine as suggested, but rather with assembling the internal frame. This has two big rings separated by bars and frames, so I carefully glued the upper-half parts together but only dry-fitted the frame for the engine and the oil tank below it. That way I could spray the frame white, then separate the engine frame to build the engine on it before slipping it back in. Several items connect the engine frame to the one above, such as the driver and MG-operators’ seat frames – these I glued at the top end only. Despite the microscopic pegs and dimples MiniArt gives for alignment, everything lined up perfectly. (Oh, how I do wish they used bigger tabs for more positive locating!)
The keen-eyed will note I left off the rollers around the circular frames, as these would be hard to access for painting if fixed in place, and the lower ones get in the way of slipping the engine in. I’ll add them later.
Another big issue is deciding exactly how to show off all the lovely interior. Looking through the round door opening, it is hard to see and appreciate all the hard work. I decided I’d mount mine in a workshop diorama, with one half taken off for access to the engine. I’d need to build a cradle for the removed hemisphere (just like a complicated engine stand! It’ll need little wheels and a hydraulic jack…), and I can plunder a mechanic in overalls from the Tamiya Tank Loading set, so it should look good.
Aside from crew seats, which are best suited for circus acrobats, there is a very detailed engine and a geared drive mechanism for a large wheel that would rub the inside face of the single big tyre to make this beastie go. There’s no logical reason why it would move forward, rather than just let the frame (crew, weapons, and all) spin round while the tyre stood still, but clearly this is not a kit for the logical mind! The engine is quite detailed, and I assumed it would be from another kit of a real vehicle, but instead of providing the sprues from say the GAZ AA kit the parts appear to be new-tooled onto the same sprue as one of the hull hemispheres. Oh, and the instructions have very detailed paint call-outs for the parts, so it should look realistic when done. While we’re on the subject, the weapon sprues might be from other kits, but they have odd curved ammo racks that are specific to this kit.
Attached to the hemispheres are the inner and outer rings that trap the ball-shaped gun shields. I glued the outer ones, but only used PVA to tack the inner ones for painting as I will need to pry them off to fit the ball-shields during final assembly. You could glue them all in place if you didn’t want to move the guns.
I chose to leave the ammo racks empty on one side for interest. Then came the round doors – these I taped in place so I could add the hinges. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted them open or closed, and the hinges are non-working, so this leaves me the option. Working hinges here would have been a bonus.
The hemispheres are another place where MiniArt did us no favours – the mounting pins into the circular frames are tiny. If they had be more chunky they might have allowed assembly without glue, so we could pull them off to show off the insides. I thought of adding wire pins.
Building the 45mm cannons was a model in itself – there are so many parts to these guns! The sights are very fragile, and it is too easy to cut them from the sprue in the wrong place, ruining the mounting bracket – ask how I know. Don’t attach the breech end to the shield until after the shield is mounted in the vehicle, as the inner bolt ring cannot be manipulated over the shell-catcher bag.
I found the two training wheels on the sides to be a bit over-complicated. Instead of just being two halves (like a model airplane wheel) these have the two tyre halves assembled and then pressed up into the wheel cover – a process that involved a lot of careful sanding to avoid splitting the cover. I could understand if there was a full wheel that could spin. The struts are a bit fiddly to align, and I set them aside to dry thoroughly before touching them again. If this was a real tank these wheels wouldn’t keep it from rolling forward or back, so parking it level would be a tricky feat.
The only minor hiccup I found was that the headlight (part Be10) was supposed to have a triangular bracket on it, but the kit part did no have a bracket on it at all. As there was no such part in the box I made one from part of the sprue-identification tag.
markingsThere are six schemes, complete with colour side and front-view illustrations that show camo etc. All are made up, of course, but they represent two Red aRmy units from 1942-3, a “mobile checkpoint” on the 1st Belorussian Front in 1944, a captured German unit from the Eastern Front in 1944, a Polish 1st Armoured Brigade unit from the Red Army in 1944, and a tank from the Battle for Berlin complete with white stripe. I suspect the Berlin scheme will be very popular…
conclusionThis is a fun little kit that offers hours of serious modelling play time. Sure, it’s fictional in a way that makes even the most extreme paper-panzer look sensible, but it sure looks cool! It’s not for the novice builder though, given how fiddly the parts are. My only worry is whether there’s a market for it at full kit price – mine was a review sample.