by: Russ Amott [ ]
Battlefield communication is always essential to victory. The need to control movement and direct forces in order to exploit opportunity on the battlefield, particularly to the large, fast moving armored formations Germany was deploying early in WWII as part of the blitzkrieg style of warfare was provided by command tanks, or Befehlspanzer. These tanks initially had the main armament removed to allow for extra radio equipment to be placed inside. The turret was welded in place and a large, bed frame looking antenna, was placed on the rear hull. Actual results in combat demonstrated a need for the command tank to be able to defend itself in combat as a functioning tank.
A major leap forward took place in 1942 when a new befehlspanzer variant was introduced, based on the panzer III ausf. J tank. The turret remained operational and the main armament, the 5cm L/42 was retained, although internal ammunition storage was reduced. The large frame antenna on the rear deck was replaced by a mast antenna with a star extension at the tip, placed in an insulated base protected by an armored ring, and a second mast antenna added to the port hull side. The hull MG34 that was operated by the radio operator was removed and the ball mount replaced with a pistol port. A wire basket was placed on the rear of the commander's cupola on some vehicles, for carrying pyrotechnic devices. Each of these features is included in this new release from Cyber-Hobby.
This kit offers the new parts required to build this specialized variant of the Pz. III. The kit is comprised of 500 gray styrene (one part separate as a slide mold part for the gun sleeve) and 19 clear styrene parts, three etch frets, two pre formed wires, one length of braided wire, two bags of Magic tracks, (colored separately for left and right), and waterslide decals for five vehicles. The instructions indicate that approximately 90 of the parts are not used. Construction is presented in 23 main steps, with sub assemblies shown in small side boxes in several of the steps. A painting guide is provided with colors from GSI Creos corp. Aqueous and Mr Color lines, and Model Master enamel paints.
a look in the box
As mentioned above, the kit combines parts from previous Smart Kit releases, and as a result there are two different sprues of the A, B, D and G (designated as black or blue in the instructions).
A Sprue x 2 (black), from the Pz. StuG III G, includes the running gear and torsion bars. Detail is excellent, with weld seams on the road wheels and inner strengthening rods, “Continentau” embossed on the road wheels and return rollers, inner and outer surface details on the drive sprockets, separate hub on the idler and a part not indicated but present on my sample, an MP40 in bracket, which was not present on my StuG kit.
A Sprue (blue) Pz. III, has the upper hull fixtures such as tie downs, fender brackets and the antenna bracket with wood texture detail.
B Sprue (black), suspension and rear hull plate, again well detailed with welds and bolt heads carefully rendered.
B Sprue (blue) Pz. III contains the front and rear hull decks, top hull plate, track guards with texturing on both top and bottom surfaces.
C Sprue Pz. III. Upper hull attachments with carefully depicted bolt details.
D Sprue (black) from the StuG III G has the hatches for the rear engine deck and front hull plate.
D Sprue (blue) Pz. III holds the 5cm L/42, with full breech and slide molded barrel with hollowed end.
E Sprue Pz. III, turret. The turret base has tooth detail and is designed to be set into the turret without securing notches. The turret upper has excellent weld and screw detail and is separated from the sprue.
F Sprue Pz. IV. A small sprue containing the commander’s cupola, with vision blocks optional as open or closed. This sprue also holds 8 track links, shown not for use. Spare tracks are common on photos I have seen, and so are optional for the modeler.
G Sprue (black) Pz. IV, small turret details for vision ports, turret side hatches and one antenna. Attachment points on many of the small parts are minimal, making for easier removal.
G Sprue (blue), three separate sprues comprising of vehicle tools, which most are shown not for use. Tow cable ends are hollowed and have nice cable detail.
H is the hull tub, which utilizes slide mold technology to the best, with excellent details shown all around. Bolts and welds are carefully done and no external sink marks are visible.
M and P Sprues are molded clear and contain the vision blocks and lights.
N Sprue is specific to the Befehlspanzer and holds the antenna rods, base for the rear deck antenna and a jack block with wood grain detail visible.
Etch parts MA, screens, idler rims and small details, MC, the pyrotechnics basket and one part MB, the star antenna. MD is the two pre-formed wires for the electrical conduit to the head lamps.
Magic Tracks represent the 40cm smooth face with hollow guide horns. They are handed, and packaged colored light gray for right hand side and dark gray for left hand side, if standing in the commander’s cupola facing forward.
Decals printed by Cartograf, are cleanly printed, with the carrier film cropped close to the decal printing. The five vehicles represented are as follows:
• Unidentified unit, Russia, 1943. Dark yellow with dark green overspray pattern.
• Pz.Rgt. 7, North Africa, 1943, overall green/brown single color scheme. The color image on the side of the box looks more mustard colored.
• 2./Pz.Rgt. 1, 1.Pz.Div. “LAH”, Kharkov, 1943, vehicle number 555, whitewash over khaki brown.
• 1./Pz.Rgt.3, Pz.Gren.Div. “Totenkopf”, Kharkov, 1943, numbered I01, whitewash over dark gray.
• Pz.Rgt.11, 6.Pz.Div., near Stalingrad, 1942, numbered 903, faded whitewash over dark gray.
All parts on the sprues appeared to be well molded, with no obvious flaws or broken parts. Seam lines from the molding process are visible, but for the most part are very fine and easily removed. As mentioned above, sprue attachment points for the fine parts are very small, providing for easy removal. In the box the kit contents look very nice, but the only way to know how it fits is to put it together, which I did, following the instructions as closely as I could.
I studied the instructions, which are presented in fold out format with CAD line drawings. Careful study is required to prevent missing any parts. Placement of some parts is a little vague, so a reference is handy.
The first step covers construction of the running gear. The idler wheels receive metal rim inserts which fit nicely. The instructions indicate to attach the idlers to the idler tensioning rod, parts B38 and B33, but I waited until final assembly to do that. The drive sprockets had a small amount of flash between the teeth that needed removal, along with the seam line.
Steps 2 and 3:
After adding the lower hull details, the torsion bars are placed. They are handed so care is needed to not mix them up. When completed they should all be facing the right direction. Then the suspension swing arms are placed. The running gear can be positioned how the modeler wishes by removing a small locator pin on the hull, for example to show rough terrain. The front bow plate is also added in this step. Mine was slightly warped and as a result did not fit perfectly.
The rear hull plate. I test fit part B30 to the hull and then added the idler arms, B38 and 33, in an effort to get a better fit than my previous efforts. I did not add parts B2 and B3, the cast cover over the screw detail, until after the other parts were in place. There was still a small gap present that required filler. Parts A5 and A6, dividers in the rear vent, were added after the plate was in place as they would not sit squarely without bracing on both sides. I added the etch screens and then placed the other parts. I thinned out the ends of the exhausts, already pre-molded as hollow.
I skipped step 5, adding the running gear to the hull, until after painting.
Steps 6 and 7:
After finishing the rest of the rear hull details in step 6, I started on the left side track guard. The instructions differ from the completed part. Placing the tool box is a best guess as it does not use the alignment holes in the guard, but is placed offside somewhat. The pry bar, A33, looks very different from what is shown in the instructions. The jack stand, N3, matches up to the brackets on the track guard, but the top view of the completed assembly shows it moved more towards the rear. The antenna bracket is another best guess as to exact placement. When everything is complete, some of the placement holes are still visible and will need filler. The rear flap, A39, has the opening and gets the metal insert, MA16, not part A41, as is shown from the instructions.
The right hand track guard, is more straightforward in assembly, with only the attachment braces for the spare road wheel needing the locator pins to be removed and there are no locator holes on the track guard. The antenna bracket on this side gets shortened by 16mm and an etch braced on the end.
Steps 9 and 10:
Step 9 covers the rear deck hatches, step 10 is more complex. First, a small detail must be removed from the rear deck. The instructions show two small holes to be filled and one to be drilled. There is a third hole that must also be filled. Brackets for the tow cables are added. The mold seams on these parts are more prominent, with the smallest having a slight offset from the mold that will need to be cleaned up for best appearance. The tow cables are shown assembled, but there is no instruction for placing them. The base for the rear antenna is shown, but part N6, shown attached to the armored protective ring N2, is not identified. The etch screens for the intakes fit perfectly on this kit.
Steps 11, 12 and 13:
these steps handle the assembly of the upper front hull and the upper fighting compartment. Vision ports are made to be operable. Extra armor added to the forward hull gets either etch or styrene side plates. The styrene parts, C8 and C9, had better details and fit better. The right side antenna gets shortened by 16mm to match the bracket. There is a tab on the side of the antenna at the 16mm mark, making it easy to cut to the proper length. In place of the MG34 at the radio operators station, there is a pistol port insert to block off the opening. I left the antenna rods off, as well as the small parts on the track guards, as I tend to break them off during later construction.
Here we put all the assemblies together. At this point I noted that the mold tabs on the hull tub were still present. Being as true to the instructions as possible, I had not removed them as their removal is not called out, although the hull tub is shown without them. They are square and look like part of the hull assembly. With them out of the way the track guards and hull deck sections fit nicely. Parts A14 and A15 go in first. The front deck, over the transmission, must be added before the track guards,, then the rear deck and last the fighting compartment, or at least for the latter two it was the assembly order that worked best for me. Everything fit, with no issues except at the hull front, where the bow plate had not fit squarely before. It will require filler to close the gap. The instructions indicate to place the tracks at this point, but again, I am waiting until painting and final assembly.
Is the assembly of the commander’s cupola. The vision ports can be shown open or closed. When fitting parts F11, push them all the way down to get a snug fit. I did not place the hatch halves as I don’t know if I am going to have them open or closed yet.
Steps 16, 17 and 18:
This is the assembly of the external gun, with slide molded mantlet featured here. Unfortunately, the instructions indicate to use part D3, when it should be part C24. Part D29 is the separately molded gun sleeve, with very fine detail. Optional are parts G26 or G23, sleeve for the coaxial MG34, the former empty and the latter with the pre-bored muzzle extending out. Sadly lacking is the full gun, which is too bad considering the nicely represented full breech for the 5cm gun that is assembled in steps 17 and 18.
Step 17 adds vision blocks to the mantlet frame, the gun and recoil mechanism and the rotating insert for the gun. Parts E2 and E3 are placed. If you wish to leave the gun moveable, don’t glue them in place, but wait and glue them to part E12 in step 18. Pay attention to how the barrel is placed as the cutout on the end of the barrel mates carefully with the breech. If it is upside down the breech will be also.
This adds the spaced armor to the mantlet. Parts C6 and C7 are reversed. Again, fit was better than the etched parts so I went with the styrene.
Here we have the turret assembly. Again, vision ports can be left operable. The ventilation fan, part D15, which is finely detailed, is best placed after G6, the external bracket.
Steps 21 and 22:
After assembly of the turret basket, step 21, the turret is put together in step 22. I had no fit issues with the separate parts. The wire basket for the rear of the commander’s cupola is shown assembled. I set the ring, part MC4, on a table top, took MC3, the basket, and carefully formed the side wires around the ring. When I had them positioned how I wanted, I applied a small amount of CA glue to the ends of the wires, placed them around the edges of the ring, and let it set up. Part MC7, the support bracket, was carefully formed around an X-acto blade handle and then attached to the basket. Then it was glued with MC6 to the cupola. The brass was sturdy and heavier than the regular etch brass. I annealed everything before any bending, and it held up well, although I expect the bends will give out if worked too much. The turret sits in the turret ring without any locking tabs. The fit is not as snug as I would like, and so the turret will eventually be fixed into place.
To complete the model I added the notek light, head lamps and antenna. The star antenna assembly is made much finer than the regular etch, almost like aluminum foil. It was difficult to wrap around the antenna without mauling the individual arms.
The weather will not permit my painting the model outside, and the wife won’t permit it inside, so I’ll have to wait to set the running gear. As such, I also held off assembling the Magic Tracks until it can be painted.
As indicated, the plastic parts were generally molded very well, with excellent detail throughout. The plastic cut cleanly in general, although it had a tendency to tear a little, and if snipped too close to the part it would leave a pock mark in the part. I did not encounter any ejector pin issues or sink marks. Fit was better than the StuG III G Smart Kit I assembled previously. I was very satisfied with the styrene portion of the kit.
The instructions were more problematic. Dragon often gets knocked on the quality of their instructions. Unfortunately, they often deserve their reputation for having issues. I have taken to marking off each part as it is assembled, and checking before gluing to make sure parts match or are correct as to side and position. Even in doing this, I have found that I failed to note part C5, the bracket that holds the spare tracks (shown not for use) to the forward hull, called out in step 14. The instructions for this kit weren’t terrible, just a little vague in some parts, and busy. I have called out all the errors I found.
Overall, the build was very pleasant, with no major issue or complication. If you have a spare MG34, you could put that in the ball mount and build a standard Pz. III Ausf. J out of the kit. The paint schemes offer a lot of variety for looks, with all climate and color patterns considered. All hatches can be modeled open or closed, and there is interior detail on them. It looks very nice as is, or can be super detailed with aftermarket options for the “J” variant.