by: Mick Toal [ ]
The kits To begin with, I must stress that this is a "joint review" of two resin upgrade kits from Australian venture Mouse House Enterprises to enhance the flawed and aged Tamiya M113 FSV (proper nomenclature "M113A1 Fire Support Vehicle (FSV) Saladin turret").
The two kits I am reviewing in tandem are: MA 136 Australian M113A1 Saladin Fire Support Vehicle (FSV) update and MA 134 Australian M113A1 sponson and belly armour (for Tamiya).
I believe the Tamiya Saladin FSV kit came out in the late 1980s ... while the turret wasn't bad, the hull and running gear were the original 1970s era items (great in their day, but a completely new 1/35th M113/A1/A2/A3s are sorely needed) and the roof was a complete work of fiction (to be fair, only 16 of these vehicles were converted for the Australian Army and reference pictures were not as readily available as they are in this Internet age). The trim vane was correct only for the original petrol-engined M113 and only one aerial mount was supplied for the turret, which actually had one on each side behind each hatch.
The Tamiya Saladin FSV seems to be re-released periodically, they regularly turn up on the second hand market or, as was the case with me, a few modeler have them semi-started on their shelf but the project stalled when they got to take a closer look at a real vehicle.
I bought my Tamiya Saladin FSV in 1990 when I was still in the Australian Army and, after looking over a real vehicle in a museum, I had a valiant crack at correcting the kit. Alas, the flawed project bogged down and gathered dust ... just last year I scrapped it - keeping the driver's hatch and semi completed turret in hopeful posterity.
Naturally when Mouse House announced their MA 136 Australian M113A1 Saladin Fire Support Vehicle (FSV) update I ordered one as soon as I heard about it. However, looking at the site, I saw the uniquely-Australian belly and sponson armour does not come with the FSV upgrade. This is not incorrect, as the converted vehicles in their original guise would have been without the armour, however, every vehicle in Vietnam had belly and sponson armour fitted and the vehicles that soldiered on in Australia post war had sponson armour, which was welded in place.
Being an avid Vietnam modeler, I also ordered the MA 134 Australian M113A1 sponson and belly armour (for Tamiya - there is also a version for the Academy kit with the separate suspension arms) and proceeded to rustle up '113 bits from the spares boxes for the build.
the resin I must say that Mouse House has come a long way when it comes to the standard of its resin casting - which is absolutely first class. There was zero warpage, the casting plugs were easily removed and there were only two tiny bubbles which were easily filled.
Cleanly cast parts are nice, but at the end of the day they need to fit, and that they did - each and every item perfectly.
the Sponson Armour I started with the belly armour and followed the instructions by starting at the front and progressively gluing towards the rear. Once the hinges for the ramp were in place, the recesses in the rear of the plate were filled and sanded flat. Regards the positioning of the sponson armour, it was designed to be installed above the first three road wheels, and since the M113 family has torsion bar suspension, one plate will be slightly further back than the other- and vice versa - if the wheels are taken as a guide.
The hull The mine protection in place, I moved to the upper hull, and that top plate is a "drop fit" - superb! For the purposes of this review I have concentrated on just fitting the kit parts and not correcting the multitude of flaws in the base kit (some of which I will address in a build log commencing as soon as this review is published). That said, to get the best out of the conversion two mods are needed - the extended trim vane (unique to Australian M113A1 variants, and very nicely done it is!) needs to be raised so the bottom is level with the bottom lip around the engine access hatch and the rear guards need to be lowered to install the jerry cans properly (apart from having only two handles, the Tamiya jerries are unusable because they have been "squashed" to compensate for the incorrect placement of the rear guards). My rule of thumb is the top of the guard should be aligned with the bottom of the original locating holes, which naturally have to be filled.
The instructions are vague regarding the placement of the pioneer tools, because in real life their placement was also vague and at the whim of the crew using webbing straps.
The Turret Moving on to the turret, the barrel shroud is a nice touch that was easily installed, but the starboard antenna mount needed to be modified because that side of the turret is perpendicular, and not angled inwards like the port side.
Four tow shackles are provided and while they separated from the casting blocks easily enough, I broke two fitting them ... this could have been avoided by properly cleaning up the inside surfaces. In the photographs accompanying this review the shackles are fitted to the front but not to the back, but you get the idea.
Mouse House also supplied an ammo box for the kit's .30 cal gun, which has long been lost in this case. I'm sure I'll find another gun to fit the part to.
To sum up, this upgrade just flew together ... now it's just a case of some smaller details such as bump stops on the hatches and mounting bolts for the track shrouds.
The FSV upgrade will not be all things to all people seeking to build an Aussie Saladin FSV, and it never could be - these vehicles served through three distinct eras and each had detail differences. For a Vietnam vehicle a full set of mine armour is mandatory, whereas a post war vehicle would only have the sponson armour fitted and several small peace time upgrades which are apparent on most surviving museum vehicles.
Needless to say, if you plan to model any other Aussie M113A1 in Vietnam from 1969 onwards, the Mouse House mine armour would be a great place to start.
Hopefully I can get a coat of Australian Lustreless Olive Drab on to this project ASAP so I can then review Mouse House's decal sheets for Australian Saladin FSVs in Vietnam!
Stay tuned for a build log on the Constructive Feedback forum ...
Click here for additional images for this review.