by: Russ Amott [ ]
Long before the start of WWII, Japan's military realized that they would be conducting extensive amphibious operations on the many islands that dotted the pacific. As a result, they started on plans to build a tank that could provide direct support to the landing forces during a sea-borne invasion. After 10 years of failed attempts, the Imperial Japanese Navy took over the program from the Army. They used the basic detail of the type 95 light tank, but reworked the tank extensively. Rivets were replaced with welds, the diesel engine could divert power from the drive train to a pair of propellers and large pontoons were placed front and back on the tank. The pontoons had individual compartments inside so that in the event of damage, only a small section might flood.
The resulting tank was highly successful but very complex. Much of the tank had to be machined and assembled by hand. The tank itself was small, and the already cramped four man crew was increased by 1 with the addition of a mechanic, who was needed to transition the tank from amphibious mode to combat mode, and keep things operational.
At sea, the tank would have not only the bow and rear hull pontoons, but also a large stack over the engine intake and a conning tower over the turret. The tank commander would direct the tank from above, calling down direction to the crew. The tank could make about 10 km per hour at sea. On land, the tank could only move at half power until the mechanic had switched full power to the main drive. He would then have to move through the hull, releasing the clamps that held the pontoon sections in place. The conning tower would be released and the driver would take over directional control of the tank. The commander served as loader for the gunner. There was no firewall in the tank, and in the tropics the heat must have been unbearable
The tank was adopted in 1942 (2702 of the Imperial calendar) and designated the Type 2 but due to the complexity of the design only 184 units were built. By the time it was available for combat, Japan was on the defensive, preventing it from being used in it's intended role. They were used in defensive positions, with the exception of at least three tanks that were used during a counter attack at Saipan.
The 37mm main gun and two 7.7mm type 97 machine guns were fairly standard armament for a light tank, but the thin armor made the tank vulnerable to anything of .50 cal and above.
When Dragon first announced this kit there was a lot of excitement and talk throughout the scale modelling world. Much of it was about the lack of the pontoons. The box title states specifically "Combat Version". The pontoons would have been dumped as quickly as possible on the beach to allow the tank to move. I suspect, as do many others, that Dragon will eventually release a "Sea Version" at some point. Considering the interior detail provided, I hope they finish off the interior as well.
As for the kit itself, I will state here that I believe this to be the best molded kit Dragon has ever done, and the finest kit I have seen from them yet.
The box is spacious, allowing plenty of room for the sprues inside. On the instruction sheet the sprue layout shows NO parts not for use. In fact, there are only a dozen or so optional parts that may not be used.
The "A" sprue comes in two parts, one with the road wheels and return rollers, drive sprockets and return roller mounts, and the other with the final drive housings, idler assembly and idler wheels. Details are very fine and crisp. The idlers and road wheels are specifically handed, but I could see no difference in their appearance.
Sprue B has the rear engine deck, bow plate, hull mg and release clamps for the pontoons. Again, detail is exceptional, especially for the type 97 mg. I could not get photos good enough to do it justice.
Sprue C is the turret details, 37mm gun and coaxial type 97 mg. The turret ring has fine teeth detail and the gun mount is incredible.
Sprue D has the propeller drives, some interior details and hull attachments. The turret shows attached to this sprue on the instructions. The turret in my sample was separate, and the detail was excellent.
Sprue F is clear parts, consisting of vision blocks, signal light and head light lens.
Upper hull, "H" and lower hull "G" are separate parts, again with outstanding detail.
There is one etch fret with hubs for the road wheels and idler, muffler screen and three small attachments for the turret roof. Two lengths of DS track are included, again with exceptional detail. The guide horns are hollow and all surfaces are crisp. They are individually packaged to protect them. There is a small decal sheet with markings for four tanks. All are painted in IJN gray. The first marking is for the tanks of the 5th naval Ground Base Guard at Saipan, which have the battle flag marking on the turret sides. The other option provided is for one of three tanks of the 27th Naval Special Ground base Guard, Aitape. All are from mid 1944.
I did not see any molding issues, and only the tiniest amount of flash on the antenna. There are some very fine mold lines on the turret and some more prominent on other parts that are easily removed. Test fit of the upper and lower hull parts showed good alignment and no fit issues.
There are a number of errors in the instructions that will be called out during the assembly of the kit.
Step one is sub divided into steps A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, K, and M. A is the drive sprockets. B, return rollers. No issues. C is the road wheels. Test fit and previous experience led me to believe that A5 to A6 was not right. Dragon generally have even numbered parts match up with even numbered parts in road wheels. The fit of A6 to A8 and A5 to A9 was best. The road wheels can be moveable if assembled carefully, which helps when painting. Step D, A16 goes to A18, A17 to A19. (A16 and 17 are the same parts, as are 18 and 19).
E and F are the locking clamps for the pontoons. B40, the F parts, are slightly chamfered on the corners. Mark these or keep them separate just in case so they don't get mixed up with the others.
G is the propeller drive. Part D19, the drive shaft connection, is toothed. It is a shame to hide the part inside the hull where it won't be seen. H is a fuel tank, I believe. Part D3 has a bolt head on one side, so look carefully before you glue it in place to make sure the bolt head is on the outside. K gives you the option of having the engine vents closed or open. If open, Part D10 will sit at an angle off of the bracket arms, which are all wrong. For open, it should be parts 15 and 21, 16 and 20 for the two sides. For closed, pats 17 and 23, 18 and 22. I chose open because of the better detail visible. M is the assembly of the muffler, consisting of 7 plastic and one etch part.
Once all these sub assemblies are done, part two puts them all on the hull. Note the placement of the propellers, as they are handed. There is a small box calling out the assembly of the idler. They are labeled "D" but should all be "A" parts. Again, with careful use of glue, the entire assembly can be left moveable, allowing for better placement of the idler wheel when placing the tracks. Extra thin cement is not a good option for this part. Trust me on this. I still got them placed fairly far forward.
For the bow plate you have the option of open or closed vision ports. The ball mount for the type 97 mg is fully functional and though it doesn't show in the instructions, you could position the driver's vision block in the open position. There is also the option of replacing the pontoon clamp with a solid plate if you are representing a "late" version of the type 2. I didn't install the hull mg as I love the detail and wanted it placed on the AA mount.
The fuel tanks, pontoon clamps and external hull tie downs are added in step 4. Step five then adds all external hatches and vents. The fuel cap covers, part D2, have a raised bump on the inner surface. If you want to show them closed, this must be removed. I applied the cement, when to place the first part, and discovered this (remember to dry fit). I popped it open and then set the other side to match. The bow plate is attached in this step as well. It was the only part of the build where the fit was not clean. On both sides there were small gaps left.
The upper and lower hull halves are attached in step 6. If you are going to have anything open, the interior should be painted white.
Step 7, P and Q are assembly of the 37mm gun. In Q, part C46 should be attached to the bottom of part C45, the gun mount. The gun breech block, part C2, can be in the open or closed position. If open you will have to drill out the breech. Step 8 is the placement of turret details, with open vision ports optional. Etch parts are also optional for the turret top. The plastic details are very good, which is fortunate as I promptly dropped one of the etch brackets and lost it. The rear hatch can be positioned open or closed. I left this open as it looks directly into the gun breech. For this same reason, I left the turret top hatch closed, so you don't look down on the empty hull. It can be shown open if you want a better view of the gun or if you have a figure to place.
The turret forward vision ports (I think), parts C30 and C31, are reversed in the instructions. Once painted, if shown open, or as the assembly instructions show if closed up, the gun mount is slid into place from the outside and the rear housing with the shell basket is attached from inside the turret. Then the turret ring is placed and assembly is complete. You have the option of showing an antenna and AA mount, or just the bracket in place. The photos I have of the completed kit show the turret final assemblies dry fit for placement.
The last step is attachment of the tracks. The detail of the DS tracks is incredible, but the fit is very tight. In all photos, and the box art, the tracks show considerable sag. Even if the DS tracks are glued around the drive sprocket, return rollers and idler, it will still appear stretched in between.
Fit of all parts during assembly was nearly perfect. Assembly was simple and straightforward, right out of the box. If you want to show track sag you will need the aftermarket tracks from Cybermodeler. If you are thinking about tracks from the Type 95, there are significant differences between the drive and suspension system of this tank, and the tracks are different as well.
As stated at the beginning, my impression of this kit is that it is the finest Dragon has produced to date. Everything, from the subject itself, to appearance to assembly of the parts and completed model, is ideal. I certainly hope Dragon offer more subjects in the range of Japanese armor.
This kit was provided to me by Armorama. I have searched the web to check for prices. They ran from as high as $80.00 US before shipping, to the best price I found, at Hobbybuy.com, for $44. I highly recommend this kit to all modelers.