Sd.Kfz. 138/2 “Hetzer” Early Version
by: Bill Cross
IntroductionAfter Germany occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938, the Nazis came into possession both of the Skoda Armament Works and its new LT vz. 38 tank prototype (subsequently renamed the Pz. 38(t)). Although in retrospect a rather conventional pre-war design, the 38(t) was in fact superior to both the Pz. I and Pz. II, and the Waffenamt ended up having over 1,400 of them built before production ceased in 1942. Like most of Germany’s early tanks, the 38(t) proved to be under-armored against the T-34, yet was too small to carry a large-caliber gun. Its excellent chassis became the platform for a variety of FLAK and PAK weapons, though the best usage turned out to be two excellent anti-tank SPGs: the Marder III and Hetzer.
The Hetzer (the German word means something akin to “hell-hound” and has the sense of a relentless, vicious attacker) proved to be an extremely effective and cheap anti-tank SPG. Armed with a 75mm PAK 39 L/48 similar to the one on later model Pz. IVs, this little devil weighed only 10 tons. Inside were 41 rounds and on top a remote-controlled MG-34 for anti-personnel defense. Unlike the heavier Jagdtiger and Jagdpanther, the Hetzer had none of the mechanical problems that plagued both of those behemoths, and could be produced in numbers great enough (over 2,800) to prove effective even against tanks as large as the JS-II. Unlike the Panzer 38(t), the Hetzer’s sloped 60mm armor back and front and low profile both made it less vulnerable than turreted tanks.
The BuildOne of Dragon’s older 6000 series, the kit is a little light on detailing and will definitely benefit from after-market upgrades. Its 334 plastic parts include 216 individual track pieces (alas, no Magic Tracks), and are rendered in a light gray. These are complimented by 7 brass PE parts, and a decal sheet and painting scheme. The barrel is plastic and assembled from 2 pieces, though I avoided the hassle of sanding off the weld lines by using an Armorscale upgrade. The wheels and suspension lack the crispness of DML’s Panzer 38(t) Smart Kit #6290, and invite a lot of mudwork and weathering. Again, I’ve used the AM solution with some Warriors damaged road wheels.
The remote-controlled machine gun up top is nicely-detailed, but there’s not much to say about the rest of the kit’s outer features. In truth, though, the Hetzer was a “bare bones” solution to Germany’s massive armament deficiencies trying to stem the swarm of Soviet tanks flooding their borders by the end of the war. And with fewer “goodies,” the kit forces modelers to face up to the fact that many photos show AFVs with few or no tools, added armor, personal gear and all the other things we love to add to our builds.
In general, the kit went together easily with no fit issues per se. When adding the rear PE fenders, I first chewed them up a bit with a pair of smooth needle-nose pliers. The trick is to imagine a young, poorly-trained driver in a hurry and what kind of damage he might do. The Aber PE set is full of nice touches like a fender-mounted tool box and almost microscopic grab handles. I generally avoided the kit’s handles and fashioned my own from brass wire.
Painting, Decals & WeatheringThe kit gave only two poor variants from historical vehicles, none of them from the many Panzerjägerabteilungen (tank destroyer battalions) attached to Late War Wehrmacht infantry divisions. I had thought about choosing the brown & green Hetzer captured by the Polish Home Army dated to the Warsaw uprising, but in the end went for a typical Hetzer paint scheme and red-on-white numeral vehicle like one captured in Czechoslovakia in mid-1945. Since this is an early model Hetzer, I decided to do a lot of weathering and rust as though it had survived the winter of 1944-45. The paints are Tamiya acrylics, with MIG pigments. The Friulmodel tracks were heavily weathered, muddied and dusted.
If you can get this kit for $25 or less and enjoy “tarting up” a rather bland build with AM PE, then I recommend it.