The A34 Comet was the last of the British Cruiser tanks based on the Christie suspension and saw service in Europe in the last few months of WW2. Sometimes described as an upgraded Cromwell, it was more like a complete re-design, with more than half of the tank components being changed. The Comet was designed around the need for a larger gun while retaining the low profile, speed and manoeuvrability of the Cromwell. The 77mm (76.2mm) gun was developed from the 17pdr, with a shorter overall length, using shorter rounds, allowing turret size, and thus overall tank size and weight, to be kept down. Although having slightly lower velocity than the 17pdr, accuracy was improved, and the "hole punching" ability in combination with the capability of the HE rounds was good enough to satisfy the requirement for a dual purpose gun. Wider tracks with return rollers, greater ground clearance, a lower profile turret with the All Round Vision cupola, and increased armour, were among other notable advances.
Vespid Models is a new model kit brand based in China, and this is their second kit, released simultaneously with their Pz.Kpfw VIII Maus. An interesting pair, both being designed and produced at around the same very late stage of WW2, and showing the divergent paths of British and German tank design. Although WW2 German tanks generally have a reputation far superior to their British designed counterparts, the Comet is arguably a much more sensible design than the Maus. Anyway, let’s look in the box.
Vespid provide a refreshingly compact and sturdy top opening box, featuring a painting of a Comet about to crush a swastika-clutching stone eagle as it passes dejected German prisoners with a smouldering Panther wreck in the background. With the lid off the box looks well stocked, with four full sprues, turret and hull, etched sheet, decals, and what is labelled as a “Bonus” metal barrel; I’m not sure if that means the barrel is a limited edition, and there is also a plastic barrel, but it is certainly welcome. Sprue layout is like this:
- Sprue A – hull top, sides (photos 2, 3)
- Sprue B – turret base and mantlet, and hull details (photos 4, 5)
- Sprue C x 2 – wheels and tracks (photos 6, 7)
- D – hull tub (photos 8, 9, 10)
- E – turret superstructure (photos 11, 12)
- F – metal barrel (photos 13, 14)
- P – etched sheet (photo 15)
- Decals (photo 16)
Instructions are a glossy fold out sheet including three colour profiles, although all are identical in terms of being overall “British Olive Drab”, and are mainly to show the decal options: C Squadron 23rd Hussars, “Crusader” of 3rd RTR, and “Cobra” of 3rd RTR, all Germany 1945.
Paint references are given for Mr Hobby, Hobby Color, Humbrol and Tamiya. I suspect that the references given for what is correctly described as British Olive Drab No.15 (aka S.C.C.15 Olive Drab) are unlikely to be matches that will satisfy the purist, and I don’t think any of them were formulated to represent this colour, although there are other paint brands that have done just that.
First impressions are that this is a very nicely moulded kit indeed. There is no flash, and in fact very few parts even have visible mould seams, the plastic barrel (photo 26) being a notable exception, although the metal item renders that irrelevant. Often ejector marks on the undersides of track guards need to be eliminated to be invisible from a side view; here that only applies to the front pair immediately behind the curved fronts of the track covers; they will need to be trimmed and sanded away, while all others are very subtle and not close to the edge, so little or no sanding will be necessary (photo 3). Other ejector marks are small and will be hidden in any case, while sprue attachment points are fine. On my sample kit there was one broken part, B27, the barrel clamp (photo 22).
Slide moulding is used on two of the sprues. This allows the return rollers to be attached to sprue C by their axles so there will be virtually no cleaning up (photos 38 and 39). On sprue B the two BESA machine guns and the plastic main gun have open muzzles, and the leaf spring mounted tow hook attachment point is also provided for (photo 40).
Surface detail is well rendered, with bolt and hinge detail being sharply defined, as are panel lines, for example on the engine deck (photo 19). See photos 33, 34 for the wheel bolts, and 23 for the driver’s front plate. The armour plate has a fine surface texture and the turret top has a transverse weld seam (photo 11). Parts that represent thin sheet steel have been rendered fairly thin, if not at completely authentic thickness, but there is nothing chunky looking about the track top and side covers or the exhaust cowls, for example.
While the turret front plate and mantlet (photo 20) are superbly moulded, the designers have perhaps, as others have in the past, fallen in to the trap of basing their moulding on a preserved example of the Comet, or perhaps good quality photos of the prototype. Photos show that T335011 “Crusader”, one of the decal options, was equipped with the canvas mantlet cover, fitted to prevent the ingress of water and dirt, and I think this would have been standard on production tanks in action. Covers have probably worn out or rotted away on some preserved tanks and were not fitted to the prototype.
Tracks are link and length in the same plastic as the rest of the kit, with the normal layout of four lengths plus the individual links to go around the sprockets and idlers (photos 35, 36, 37). Detailing looks good on both sides, they seem authentically thin, and are completely unblemished by any ejector marks or flash. Spare links are also supplied for stowing on the turret flanks.
An interesting feature is that the sides of the hull tub (photo 9) include the shock absorbers of the Christie suspension, which will be covered over by the separate hull side plates (photo 18), so that the suspension is authentically sandwiched between the two plates. I’m not sure how much of this will be noticeable after completion with the tank the right way up, but it will be visible if upside down, and possibly from the rear.
Hatch covers on the turret roof are both provided as separate parts (photo 25), and the openings are recessed (photo 11) so that the hatches won’t just drop through (been there before) if cemented closed. While the hatches are each moulded as a single piece, the instructions indicate the option to split them in two if you want them open, but note that unfortunately there is no detail on the undersides. The same isn’t true however of the driver’s visor, which is supplied in two parts (photo 27) so that if cemented in the open position, both the thickness of the armour plate and the internal detail of the visor are represented. The opening in the plate (photo 23) also includes a moulded ring on the internal face to provide a thicker appearance to the armour when the visor is open. These are nice touches, particularly as most photos of the Comet show this visor open, the driver having no hatch directly overhead.
Some small details are provided by the etched sheet, such as the tops of the episcopes, the aerial holder, and the quite complex looking sighting vane ("birdcage") that attaches in front of the commander’s cupola. Etched parts are also provided for the tow cable mount on the front plate, as well as handles for the driver and co-driver hatches (which are not openable).
The instructions indicate that the lifting eyes on the turret are to be drilled open, but note that there are also handles that have been moulded in place as simplified tabs, notably on the engine deck, that will benefit from being removed and replaced with wire.
One tool, a pick axe handle and head, is moulded in place on the track guard, while a shovel is provided as a separate component (photo 28). Also provided separately are the two eyelet ends of a tow cable, C8 (photo 41), which include the texture of the wrapped around cable ends, oddly, however, there is no actual length of cable provided. The instructions indicate these should be mounted on the rear of the offside track guard stacked one on the other, yet the tow cable mounting position is detailed correctly on the front plate, and indeed the cable is shown in the correction location on the box top art. So the modeller really needs to find a suitable cable, attach the eyelets and add it to the correct place.
Two options are provided for the exhaust covers, depending on which finishing option is chosen. These covers were known as “Normandie” cowls, and were designed to deflect the vertical columns of exhaust smoke that tended to be emitted after prolonged engine idling and which might betray the position of the tank. One is a single component, A7, the earlier version, the other, C7, is in two parts which allows the gun to be secured by the clamp on the engine deck with the barrel between the two cowls. These cowls were known to foul the gun when it was traversed to the rear in a depressed elevation, and there were reports of crews removing them for this reason; later they would be replaced by armoured “fish tails” that deflected the exhaust downwards without restricting gun movement. The Normandie cowl was characteristic of the Mk.1A, those with fish tails designated Mk.1B. The fishtails were to be fitted instead of the cowls from production number 100 onwards, but the new parts were delayed, and tanks continued to be fitted with cowls, but with blanking plates covering the apertures in the rear plate through which the fish tails were to be fitted. The blanking plates with the six bolts are represented in this kit; whether they are accurate for all three of the tanks provided for I don’t know, but it would be easy enough to remove them if desired.
As far as I am aware this is the first 1/72 scale plastic kit of this subject, the other “braille” scale kit being the 1973 1/76 release from Matchbox, which is still in production with Revell. Whatever nostalgia one may have for the early 70s kit, Vespid’s new offering renders it completely obsolete, being a thoroughly state of the art small scale kit, thoughtfully designed, with fine detail, link and length tracks, etched details and a metal barrel. The only disadvantage over the old kit (apart from no scenic base) is that this is at the pricier end of 1/72 armour kits at around £20. From what I can see by looking at the unbuilt kit however, the only real shortcomings are the omissions of the tow cable and mantlet cover, otherwise I’m looking forward both to building it (I’ve already ordered paint), and to more such high quality releases from Vespid.
Note that the photos below are for the build log of this kit which can be viewed here
P.M. Knight A34 Comet Tank. A Technical History
(Black Prince, 2016)