by: Gabriel [ ]
The subject of the present feature was generously offered for build review by Armorama. The 1/35 scale model was issued by Zvezda as item 3625.
I will not proceed into a description of the kit because Jim’s “Cracking the box” review covers very well the subject. I wish only to mention that the “Stuka zu Fuss” version comes as an add-on to a previously released Sd.Kfz. 251/1 Ausf. B and this is obvious on the sprues themselves and mostly on the quality of the parts.
The kit offers two options: with or without the rockets and their frames; in both cases, the launching platforms have to be installed. I decided to build the version without the rockets in place from two reasons. First, the vehicle looks encumbered and I really doubt the rocket were installed for long marches. My projected diorama will represent a moving column / traffic jam somewhere immediately behind the front line so I thought carrying rockets ready to fire in tight traffic over the (also projected) bridge will be out of place. The second reason is that no photographic reference that I run into – I have studied a good few dozen of war time photos – shows any “Stuka zu Fuss” carrying simultaneously both type of rockets (HE and incendiary) as offered in the kit (the starboard is fitted with 32 cm HE in metallic frames while the port side carries 28 cm napalm rockets in wooden crates). I have no intention to enter here into a controversy about the use of the rockets and I have no pretention that my research was exhaustive; I’m just saying that my first instinct says fitting the rockets on the frame as per instructions is not quite OK. I may be wrong. Nonetheless, almost all the parts provided with the kit will be used in the diorama, as to be seen further.
Chassis and tracks
A very good feature of Zvezda instructions is that the subassemblies are depicted on the left hand side in their leaflet. For whoever uses the “paint as you go” method as I do, those instructions are very handy, helping the modeler to plan easily the following step. Although I grouped together the steps in logical order for this article, in fact I was working in parallel on different subassemblies, some of them being ready much before the build itself requested it, other delaying my build with days in a row. For instance, I address together the chassis and the tracks in this chapter but in reality I started with the chassis and I finished the whole build with the running gear and tracks, one month later.
I skipped the engine, despite the fine detail because I knew from the beginning the inspection hatches will show closed. I did not discarded the Maybach; it will feature in the same diorama but in another place (see below and the pictures).
The assembly of the chassis should be straight forward and did not requires many parts. Unfortunately, the fit on the font side was suspicious from the good beginning as a gap of some 2 mm remains between the main frame and the cross traverse which supports the front wheel assembly. I couldn’t figure out right away how this will affect the final match. I just hoped for the best.
The wheels look quite good; some detail is not perfect, but I am not a rivet counter. The rods supporting the wheels (the end of torsion bars) have quite crude molding (the section shape is more of an ovoid than of a circle) and the wheels can slide to their places only with serious pressure. My solution was to apply plenty of liquid glue on the rods, wait for a few seconds for the plastic to melt superficially and only after to push the wheels in. The method worked flawless. The reverse is that once glued like that, the wheel is impossible to remove without damage. Normally this situation should not occur, but in my case it did.
The tracks on this particular kit have received particularly bad reviews from other modelers and with good reason. The molding is quite poor and the “metallic” links are not fitting into each other without sanding. Now, there are 110 links in both sides and each one has to be individually sanded both from left and right, to keep the central alignment, and only after that fitted. All in all I spent some 6 hours in just building the tracks – maybe I went too slowly. I read also in other reviews that the detail is soft – not true in my particular kit. Another complaint said the small holes thru the links were clogged up with residual plastic and needed cleaning – also not true in my kit. Finally, another modeler indicate a wider than normal track. This complaint is genuine and the difference with other manufacturers’ kits is quite eloquent. Another problem related strictly to construction is the poor design of the “workable” mechanism. The pin that fits in the previous link in building sequence is too thick and the “rubber” shoes that holds it in place cannot provide enough clearance for the track to remain workable. I ended up with semi-rigid tracks which I shaped around the interleaved suspension with some difficulty. And this brought me the next headache; both idler pins broke. Because the fracture was flush with the wheel bearing I assumed the glue alone will not offer enough strength to sustain the tension of the tracks in the final assembly process – and I was right. I drilled holes thru the defunct now axle in both sides (inside the wheel and inside the idler arm) and I inserted stiff metallic pins, cut from a paper clip. This provided strong enough and flexible enough to absorb the finished track’s pressure. The only issue was that I couldn’t install back the idlers with the new pins without breaking the next set of wheels. As explained earlier, the way I glued them made impossible the removal without damage and the rods broke inside those wheels too; only this time some glue was enough because, being the last peer of road wheels, they have enough support from the preceding ones and from the idler to remain in place, even with the track stretched.
The final installation of the tracks around the road wheels was not easy business because their stiffness. The “natural sag” went anything but natural; I had to glue each track to the supporting wheels in four places. Besides, the end connection link on the port side overstretched and a gap remained. It is not very visible and probably in the diorama will be completely obscured by terrain details, but I know is there, dauntingly.
Let say the aspect is satisfactory; for sure not the best tracks I ever built.
The interior is simplified a little, but well appointed. All parts are easy to install and the build went pretty fast. Regarding the level of detail, some modelers may be disappointed with the lack of it on the dash board (decal over flat surface only) or the “diamond” plate on the floor. Indeed, the latest looks dubious and I resumed in painting it without dry-brushing or wash, trying to conceal the flaw under featureless paint. The benches and the headrests are rather crude, but a good paint job can do it. I am wondering about the destination of the tail store compartments behind the headrests. Zvezda indicate storage for jerry cans. But the engineers’ tactical sign and the addition of the rockets themselves (usually allotted to heavy or armored engineers platoons) make me think there were used as stowage for pioneer tools. Anyhow, jerry cans are just as good for me.
The wall stowage compartments in front are for carbines: four rifles each side. Because those from the lowest row will be impossible to spy from any angle, and because the Zvezda weapons are so nicely detailed, I saved two as spares. They will show somewhere else in the diorama. In fact, one was already assigned to a figure, replacing the less spectacular Dragon one. All other interior details were added accordingly to the instructions, save the jerry cans – I’m still thinking on the matter.
Body and external details
The final assembly of the body on a vehicle of this type it is never trouble free, because of the compound angles of the body. Besides, I faced three problems from the good beginning: the alignment tabs between lower and upper body, the warped upper back end and the shattered lower back end. The first one was quite easy to solve: the pins are too tall and, although they are fitting well, a 0.5 to 1 mm gap will run all around between the chassis and the body. I sanded down the tabs one by one, dry fitting again and again, until all the eight tabs went neatly into place.
The beam that goes across the top at the end of the vehicle and provides support for the rear MG was quite warped in my kit, I suppose because of the hole for the MG rotating arm. I glued first the upper part to the lower one only on starboard side, making sure the alignment tabs are properly secured in place and, most important, the angle between halves is correct. At this stage the build looked awful, a 4mm large gap showing along left side. When the starboard side joint cured, I forced the port side in the correct place, holding the whole assembly with elastic bands and a set of clamps. The warped beam straightened by itself under the lateral and from below pressure. Surprisingly enough, I achieved a neat weld and the correct angles on both sides of the body. Just a little step appeared at the rearmost end between the halves. Also hair wide cracks appeared between the lateral walls of the body and the walls of the engine bay. A bit of Squadron green putty and some sanding was all I needed to seal the body airtight.
The most problematic remained the lower shattered end. The part broke naturally across the thinnest section in both sides. To add insult to injury, the breakage was far from clean. The left side was torn badly. I considered shortly to scratch build the part but I found the angles too complex. Finally, I decided to treat the three shards as individual parts and to attach them one by one. Of course, the fit wasn’t perfect, given the small contact surface and the odd angles, but the final result was good. With just extra thin cement and patience, everything ended up happily. On the right side, no mark of the breakage whatsoever; on the left side, just a little chip was still visible, where the plastic twisted before breaking – all too easy to fix.
Before attaching the doors, I had to fix another breakage from the box on the articulated arm. I completely removed the broken length of styrene and replaced it with another rod of similar thickness which – guess what! – it is the broken handle of a shovel! The kit provides two shovels, and the instructions are completely oblivious to them! I decided sometime along this build that the doors will be displayed open but I was reluctant to the last moment to glue them like that. Unfortunately, the fit of the doors is not good. Firstly, I thought it should be a consequence of the broken back end. But studying the completely assembled model shown on the back of Zvezda’s box, I have seen that, in fact, this is a congenital problem of the kit. The same right door which refused to align in my build is off the mark, in the same way, on their build too! Even so, I did not glued the doors open, but I taped them shut, to prevent accidents and to be able to paint the exterior.
At this stage I sealed the body interior and primed it, meanwhile dealing with the exterior details. The most prominent feature for this version of Sd.Kfz. 251 are the frames surrounding the body used as launching platform for the rockets. Here you can clearly see the difference between the old parts and new parts of the kit. The fit is accurate and the apparently weak structures are actually quite though and easy to handle for painting and installation. Except cleaning minuscule parting lines, there is nothing special to report in here. The attachment of the frames pay some dividends to the poor engineering of the body. There are some lateral notches in the upper lip of the body sides and I couldn’t figure out why my frames are not centering good to them. Well, the answer is simple: those notches are for another version of the Sd.Kfz. 251, most probably for 251/1 (maybe 251/3).
The pioneer tools are nicely molded but no specific places to attach them. There are some general recommendation in the instructions manual but I have preferred to ignore them, snatching the opportunity to squeeze along with the indicated tools an extra shovel – the other one was completely damaged from the box. The truth is they going to be obscured in good measure by the launching platforms; perhaps the lazy modeler understandingly won’t even bother to paint them properly.
As additional external details, Zvezda offers jerry cans, but not to be fitted in the typical frames. They are, according to war time photos, stored in the void created between the rocket frames and the angled body. Personally I considered that a nice detail and decided to keep it for my build, although the jerry cans are not glued in place.
Finally I attached the Notek light and the front bumper, specific for Ausf. A and B.
Painting, decaling and weathering
Using the “paint as you go” method allowed me to change primers depending on what I intended to paint. For this build I used mainly two primers. For body parts in general I relied on light gray flat enamel from Testors. For smaller sub-assemblies (machine gun, radio etc.) I used a homemade enamel mix which can be described probably as “dark aluminum” (flat black silver), also from Testors / MM range. Non-metallic small parts I had usually primed with flat gray enamel. For the body and larger parts I used an airbrush; for smaller parts I used small paintbrushes.
The whole model is painted in acrylics, except for the mirror which is painted in silver enamel. The body is airbrushed with home brewed panzergrau. The small details are painted with synthetic brushes (no. 2 and down). Most colors are craft acrylics from Homefront range.
The panzergrau surfaces received two light coats of spraying; the others up to five coats of brushing. Generally, I favored well diluted paints in several coats for light colors and a “solid” coat for dark colors. Everything was sprayed with a final coat of semi-gloss.
I was asked already in the build blog how I am doing the “metallic” parts. The process is easy. I primed first with above described “dark aluminum.” When dry, I applied the main coat: a mix of gloss black and silver, acrylic this time. The silver tones provided by acrylics are less bright than the enamels. A too bright edge of a pick, let say, will look “unrealistic” for the scale. Finally I dry-brushed lightly with silver acrylic to pick up some detail.
Also I was asked by a friend how I did the wooden parts. I will detail here how I painted the benches. Initially they were primed with the entire sub-assembly in light gray flat enamel, then received the panzergrau, together with the floor. Subsequently, I “blocked” the panzergrau with medium brown in selected areas. Further on, I applied a translucent layer of antique white. The result was still a light brown. For the next step, a re-applied antique white, this time a more consistent mix, but without covering the entire surface, thus obtaining a “wood grain” effect. Last step was an extremely light yellowish-brown acrylic wash to enrich the color tone and to bring out the sunken detail.
Other interior details were painted according to the instructions manual.
I have an innate repulsion for decals. I try to avoid them as much as possible, but I cannot get around the military marking which add comprehension to the model. I used the Balkenkreutz only on the back doors, on a central position, as indicated by Zvezda. Because the gap between the doors and the bad alignment evocated earlier, I didn’t get the best of results. No silvering or lack of transparency occurred, but the right door half (I sliced the decal after it dried so I can open the doors) is a little tilted by rapport with the door’s edge. The mishap it is barely visible thanks to the angled body, but still annoys me. The other decals (license plates, engineer’s company technical signs and the score of markings on the rockets and their frames) went flawless. The “K” (Kleist Gruppe) I decided to paint by hand, although I have in my stash three peers of “K’s” decals from other builds. I wanted them a little crude, to show they were hastily painted as often happened in the front line circumstances, where small units (especially the auxiliaries) were permanently moved and shifted under different commanding officers.
I always keep it to the minimum. In this particular case I just tolerated some scratches and chips appeared during the handling as being “natural”. Also I used a stiff brush for dry-brushing with a lighter tone of the base color, but also to “scuff” up the paint, particularly on the engine hood and doors, the sides being mostly covered by launchers and into the shadow. For the launchers, which I choose to paint black, I used a very light dry-brushing with silver, to show some “metal” shining thru the paint; anyhow, I kept the effect to minimum. The last thing I ever did to this model it was to apply a very thin dirt brown filter over the lower surfaces (tracks, road wheels etc.) to create a slight contrast but also to restore the flat appearance, marred by the semi-gloss protective coating. The next step, not undertaken yet, it will be to dust the model with pigments, according to diorama environment. As my diorama base has yet to be laid down, I abstained myself in adding any dust.
The model itself offers two building variants: with the arms of launching platforms lowered or raised. I explained above why I choose the folded support version. Included decals refer also to two versions of the vehicle, both of them deployed on the Eastern front, early campaign. Studying the war time pictures, it happened to run into the ones that inspired the kit maker (same license plate, same engineers company sign). There are few differences: vehicles carrying only two launching frames instead of three, a lot of stowage is missing from the kit by rapport to the historical photos, and so on. The builder will find plenty inspiration just browsing for those photos. Other options offered by the kit are open / closed access doors and open / closed engine inspection hatches. Zvezda provide also a nicely detailed engine.
Directly related to my projected diorama, I have chosen to retain the rockets and their frames and the engine (for which I scratch-built a “wooden” pallet from styrene sheet) as stowage for another of the two last vehicles to appear in it – more details on my future builds at their given time.
Although does not offers as many diorama possibilities other kits on the market, the deployment can be very rich in the right hands.
The kit has some inaccuracies. Some blogs based on comparative builds will show you a few. This is not the main issue for me; as I said, I do not count rivets. The only thing which quite bothered me was the lack of lateral mirrors on the body, prominent feature on all Sd.Kfz. 251 versions, ignored by Zvezda. I could have scratch build a pair, but I’ve learned to live without them (for this time only).
The quality of the plastic is doubtful: its tendency to shatter and the poor packing are sure recipe for accidents. Appended here a short list of damaged parts in my box, a few upon arrival of the kit, another few during handling: lateral front armored bulges rattling free in the box; the lower back of the main body shattered in three; the barrel of one MP twisted up to breakage point; the ammunition drums torn from the sprue, showing tear; a shovel’s handle broken in three; a rod from the right back door’s swivel arm broken, radio antenna bent.
The engineering is inconsistent: the lover part of the body is low quality; the upper part and the frames for rockets are superb. The same thing about details: either they are completely lacking (dash instrument panel, mirrors), either they are outstanding (radio unit, infantry weapons, rocket crates). Decals are top quality. Instructions manual is excellent. No photo-etched parts are accompanying the kit.
My final conclusion: a kit with too many ups and downs. In the hands of the patient builder, it can turn into a good kit out from the box. In the hands of inexperienced or impatient builder, there is not going to be much left after the rage.