A very big update today, so lots of photos.
Steps 9 and 10 deal with the rear engine deck with Step 9 calling for the construction of the main engine bay access doors and their armored vents as a precursor to their installation in Step 10. Step 10 then installs them along with their corresponding hinges, the three lifting eyes, the side air intakes, and the tow cables. You have to be careful to select the correct air intakes as called for in the instructions, A29/A30, instead of D2/D3 (these are from the StuG III) as they look virtually identical if you aren't watching the sprues closely. In addition, the PE screens need to be bent slightly on the edge that attaches to the hull, something the instructions don't point out but which becomes obvious when you test fit them. The tow cables come pre-molded into their brackets or, if you prefer, you can install the empty brackets that are also provided and either make your own cables or leave them empty. I want to mount the cables, so these were carefully cleaned up and dry-fit for now and will actually be installed later after painting.
Step 11 is a very simple step, simply removing four posts from the hull roof and installing the three lifting eyes.
Step 12 deals with the glacis plate and the installation of the front hatches, the armored brake housing vents, and the front head-lights. The choice is given to install either the clear lenses or the black-out covers and I opted for the black-out covers, saving the lenses for another future project. It's also necessary to drill out two holes that will take the base of the spaced armor arrangement, easily done with a pin vise.
Step 13 deals with the hull front and side plates. The front plate has the ball mount for the hull MG installed along with the MG34. Although the fully detailed gun and mount is provided, the only parts really necessary are J28 and J20 as the others will never be seen and were not used. I installed the armored glass block and visor in the open position, giving the glass a slightly greenish tint with some Tamiya Clear Green. The side hull plates had their visor ports installed in the closed position and the right side had the antenna mount installed and the antenna test fit.
Step 14 is a very important and busy step as it brings all the elements previously constructed together to form the hull. There's lots of different ways to go about this one potentially, but the key parts are the fenders, the hull nose and glacis, the main hull, and the rear engine deck. I started by first constructing the main hull using the platform A61 and installing the roof, sides, and front as a sub-step.
Next came the hull front. The add-on plates, part D1, were actually called for way back in Step 1, but I held off until this point to make sure everything had good alignment. This was installed along with the glacis plate as the next sub-assembly followed by the fenders. The front hull fender supports consist of two parts and the round brace portion, B9/B10, need to be switched around in terms of what side they match up with. The fenders themselves have to be precisely positioned and the left side required a little more attention than the right, but both went into place relatively smoothly. I also skipped ahead slightly and installed part C3, the base of the spaced armor plate, now instead of in Step 15 as the instructions would have it. Due to the tight space it goes into, it was easier to add it now before installation to the hull than later on. The main hull and rear engine deck were then installed without issues.
With all that squared away, the spare track holders were mounted to the front hull and glacis plate. The placement of these is not very clear on the instructions and it was necessary to check some reference photos to see how they should go. I used a couple of links from the Magic bags to check to see how they would line up relative to each other and that helped tremendously. I also added some blue-tack to protect the clear piece in the armored visor at this point since it's easier now vs. when the spaced plate is installed. This completed Step 14, which also calls for the tracks to be installed but which I'll actually do later after painting.
Step 15 is actually two different parts, the first part deals with the installation of the spaced armor to the hull front. This is a straightforward process with the exception of the top plate, MA8. The instructions indicate that it should attach all the way over to the right side when in fact it should attach all the way over to the left. The cutouts are designed to match up to the lifting eye and this is the give-away, along with the small bolt holes in the straps, that indicates the proper position.
The second part of the step deals with the construction of the commander's cupola. This is exactly the same as in any of the Pz IV Smart Kits or the III J Smart Kit, so nothing new here really. I opted for the closed position on both the vision ports and the hatches as I didn't really have the desire to show it open this time around.
Step 16 starts work on the main gun with the assembly of the mantlet and recoil housing. The choice of a plain or bolted collar is provided and I opted for the bolted. I also test fit the one-piece styrene barrel just to be sure it wouldn't cause any problems before gluing, everything fit just as it should.
Step 17 continues the process with the installation of the recoil housing to the gun barrel and then into the mantlet. All of this is then supposed to install into the mount that will attach to the turret face plate but the instructions here contain an error that will stop you in your tracks until figured out. The instruction indicate that part E11 should be used when in fact you should use G5. E11 doesn't have the correct D-shaped hole on the left side and the diameter of the hole for the main gun is too small, making it impossible to mount it. In the photo below the correct part G5 is on the left side. One of the hazards of having so many sprues/parts from different kits thrown together is also compounded by the instructions not being updated with the correct part call-out. Curiously, the parts diagrams on the instructions also don't show E11 marked as "not for use", so this one slipped by as an artifact from the III J kit instructions.
Once the correct part is found and used, the installation is pretty smooth. It's a good idea to not install parts E2/E3 just yet if you want the gun to remain elevatable, something the instructions don't indicate as possible.
Step 18 mounts the mantlet and gun assembly to the turret face plate. Uncharacteristically for a DML kit, the face plate has multiple ejector marks on the exterior surface of the face plate and these have to be dealt with as they will be easily visible.
With that taken care of, the plate and the hinge points, E2/E3 were installed along with the mantlet and gun. The breech and guard rails were also added along with the spent shell basket to finish the step.
This is all the detail that's provided for the gun area in terms of interior. No optics are provided for the gunner for example nor are there any interior details for the coaxial MG. Next up will be the turret construction and details as the last major component before painting.