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In-Box Review
135
Char ARL-44
Char ARL-44 heavy tank
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by: Matt Flegal [ NINJRK ]

Introduction

What a time we as tank modelers live in! Amusing Hobby has released a mainstream, injection molded kit of an obscure and French tank of the late 1940’s. For some reason I’ve been fascinated with this tank ever since 1994 when I picked up a copy of Christopher Chant’s book “World Encyclopedia of the Tank” which had a somewhat inaccurate line drawing and a paragraph on this mysterious tank that became the first post-war French designed service tank. As demonstration of the depths to which I have sunk I bribed my wife with a Paris vacation (which to be fair was pretty awesome too) to go to the Saumur tank museum and spend several hours photographing and measuring their example.

To be sure, this was not a successful tank. In fact it seems to be in an odd spot where even French language sources barely cover it. What follows is based on articles in French magazines such as “Guerre, Blindes et Materiels” that seem to be the only sources of published information from primary documentation.

France had a bit of an unplanned hiatus in tank production after Germany defeated their army in 1940 and conquered their nation. Just as the French fought fiercely if futilely to defend their country they did not give up under German occupation. French engineers went underground and continued to design tanks, planes, and other weapons throughout the war in preparation for when their country was liberated. Focus was on a 20 ton follow on the Somua S35 in the SARL 42 and another 30 ton tank with a 75mm cannon. This latter ultimately became the Arl 44 and was partially developed during the war by Hotchkiss and Somua under the guise of a tracked snow removal vehicle for the Germans using the pre-war Char B1 ter prototype as a basis. Very shortly after the Operation Overlord invasion hit the Normandy beaches the emerging French government began actions to rebuild their military. On October 9, 1944 the French Minister of War instructed the Minister of Production to begin an urgent program complete the design of the previously mentioned 30 ton tank as a transition tank to rebuild France’s tank industry. This tank was designed by the Direction des Études et Fabrications d’Armement (DEFA) and built by the Atelier de Construction de Rueil (ARL).

On November 25th the General Staff ordered 500 tanks with an interim turret mounting a French 75mm SA model 1944 cannon in an ACL 1 turret made by Atelier et Chantiers de la Loire. By December it was obvious that a larger gun was needed and the 90mm SA Model 1939 S cannon was initially chosen before deciding on the longer 90mm SA model 1945 gun in a larger turret. This turret was based on the pre-war FCM F1 tank by Schneider using salvaged armor plates from the battleship Dunkerque. Ultimately only 2 prototypes were built with the smaller ACL 1 turret in 1946. With the conclusion of the war the urgency of the program diminished and combined with the redesigned turret and new gun development stretched into 1947 and the turrets were not fitted until 1949.

During development the tank grew larger and larger as more armor and weaponry were piled on. Ironically it even used the German Maybach engine of the Panther, another tank that suffered from growing beyond the initial design specifications (The ARL 44 even suffered from brake and gearbox issues!). The production tanks finally entered service in 1950 with the 503e Régiment de Chars de Combat and by then it was obvious that the ARL 44 was hopelessly outdated and ultimately only 60 were completed. By the end of 1954 it was decided to scrap them.

Ultimately the tank was a failure as a tank but it served to resurrect the French tank industry and laid the foundation for the AMX 50 program that led to the much more successful AMX-30 tank.

When I found out Amusing Hobby was considering an ARL 44 kit I immediately reached out to them and sent them every Photo that I took and every sketch and drawing I made while measuring the tank at Saumur. Outside of my and a couple of other walkarounds on the net references are scarce and the commonly shared drawings are woefully inaccurate, GBM’s side view and Gaganaut’s digital plans excepted. I was really hoping they would make a decent kit of my particular modelling white whale.

Contents and Instructions

Let me get this out of the way at the outset, on the sprues this is a very intelligently designed and engineered kit. The instructions have a mere 15 steps. Assuming that it builds as well as it looks Amusing Hobby has made a true weekend build kit. It starts with a hull that is probably the most beautifully designed tank kit part I’ve yet seen. With minimal compromise in detail the entire upper hull, engine deck, glacis, and side sponsons is one piece of plastic that arrived unwarped or deformed in any way. For novice modelers this eliminates any problems with complex assemblies and trying to line up sponsons and so forth. Then the complex suspension is easily sandwiched between two plates and slid into the sponson frames which is a clever approach to what could be a challenging task requiring three or more hands.

Overall the detail is fine and delicate throughout the kit with the fender plating and complex exhaust system being standouts. The commander’s hatch and main gun travel lock are similarly delicate and nicely done. There is PE for the kit but yet again it is well done and somewhat minimal, covering the engine deck grating and plates and that’s all, the rest are in plastic and typically molded in place on a larger part.

Running with the theme of making this an uncomplicated kit the tracks are individual links but each link is made up of exactly one part. After a few years of dealing with complex ~37 part track links, this brought a happy smile to my face.

It is worth noting that the kit parts are untextured and smooth overall so I will be adding armor texture on my own build. For those who have the same plans study your references as there are significant differences in the various plates so stippling on Mr Surfacer or diluted Tamiya basic putty won’t be accurate, except on the thicker sponson side plates and turret. There are also very few weld beads molded in place and they really aren’t very good and bear scraping off (as they are molded as simply thin raised lines) and replaced. Go through the on-line walkarounds and you will find an awful lot of low profile welds all over this tank that will make the model stand out.

One odd choice is that the headlights are molded in tan plastic without a clear lens. My guess is that it is to keep the kit cost down as that would be a clear sprue for 2 small parts. Exhaust pipes have molded shallow holes but they would bear drilling out.

The instructions are clear and break down the assembly well. I used the 12 year old instruction sheet test (I had my 12 year old daughter read them. . . ) and she felt she could follow them easily. Since she has read many that have inspired her to say “These make no sense, I’d just build a different kit” I think it again shows Amusing Hobby’s desire to make a well detailed beginners kit. Two color profiles are provided. Honestly, I’m going with a “What-if” paint scheme so I can use the gorgeous pre-war French schemes. Seriously, anyone who gravitates to German WW2 armor because of the great paint schemes should really look into 1938-1940 French armor. Greens, browns, blues, purples, yellows and so on make a real eye catcher.

For inaccuracies there is really only one of any significance and that are the track bump skids on the top of the sponsons. Amusing Hobby molded them as rollers when they are actually bolted on semi-circular bumps. They will be mostly unnoticeable so most people won’t and shouldn’t worry about unless you can’t control your rivet counting psychoses.

Hyper-retentive rivet and weld counting. Since I can’t control those demons personally there are a few things to tackle. Again, they are pretty insignificant but since I have an unhealthy obsession with this tank I have a preliminary list.

On the turret the side mounted turret bin will sit flush against the turret wall and there should be a slight space between the bin and turret. There should be a latch added. The welds on the turret front, sides, and around the sight are thin raised lines and don’t look like welds. Remove them and replace with welds from epoxy putty but make them subtle. The front lower edges of the turret are a little sharp compared to the Saumur example but in the minimal footage out there an argument can be made that there are differences between the tanks. I’m going to round them out slightly.
On the hull sponsons the hatch hinges are bulkier than the real tank and don’t have the wide welds around them. There are chutes on the side which are well molded into the single piece hull where the double weld beads are represented as a smooth oval on the kit. If I was going to make one fix to the kit it would be this one (well, and shave off those turret weld lines).

Overall

I’m going to be building this shortly but based out of the box this kit feels like a Tamiya kit. Cleverly engineered, easy to build, well detailed with good instructions. For someone who wants a unique vehicle in a long weekend this kit is a great choice (insert caveat about proof being in the building, just give me a week or two!). Thank you to Amusing Hobby for tackling this rare beast and doing it well. For those with diorama interest they served in the 503e Régiment de Chars de Combat alongside captured German Panther tanks which might make a unique setting. Now please do the AMX-50 or A43 Black Prince! Actually, as the company that really seems to be focusing on the rare and paper panzer types of tanks imagine a Renault Char G1R or SARL 42.
SUMMARY
Highs: Uncomplicated kit design Easy to build Accurate in shape and most details
Lows: Poorly done weld beads Lack of armor plate texture Inaccurate track bump skids
Verdict: I commend Amusing Hobby for taking a real risk on a kit of a rare and little known tank that nevertheless filled an important spot in a major AFV producing nation's tank development and doing it very well while keeping it simple.
Percentage Rating
96%
  Scale: 1:35
  Mfg. ID: 35A025
  PUBLISHED: Aug 28, 2019
  NATIONALITY: France
NETWORK-WIDE AVERAGE RATINGS
  THIS REVIEWER: 90.56%
  MAKER/PUBLISHER: 88.50%

About Matt Flegal (ninjrk)
FROM: ALABAMA, UNITED STATES

Copyright ©2019 text by Matt Flegal [ NINJRK ]. All rights reserved.



Comments

Wow, talk about timing! Just yesterday I was saying "offer us this in 1/35 and styrene" and there it is! Spooky and gratifying all at the same time. Interesting that this beast of a tank appears to use the pre-war Char B track. Odd choice in a world predominated by cast skeletonized track. Just saying.
AUG 28, 2019 - 03:03 PM
Not only tracks, the hull design is looking like a Char B very much as well. Combined with some Panther influences. I guess we can call the ARL-44 the Char B1 très bis (but that doesn't do right to the Char B1 ter :-) ).
AUG 29, 2019 - 04:06 AM
It shares those components deliberately. It was to use up those old hull and tracks while still making a substantially new tank.
SEP 17, 2019 - 06:20 AM
   

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