The Type 89 was a medium tank of 12.7 tonnes, production by Mitsubishi starting in 1931, the design being modelled on the Vickers Medium C which the Imperial Japanese Army had procured in 1927. It was Japan’s main medium tank throughout their campaigns in Manchuria and China in the thirties, continuing in use through to the end of the war, although by then being superseded.
This IBG kit represents a mid-production model Ko, the early petrol engine version manufactured until 1934. Apart from the engine, the Ko also has a different layout from the later diesel models, with the hull machine gun on the right and the driver on the left. This mid-production Ko has the flat glacis plate and also a high commander’s hatch cover.
Packed in the usual IBG big top opening box this kit has around 160 parts, as follows:
- Sprue C in two parts, the main upper superstructure
- Sprue D, the lower hull and hull details
- Sprue E x 2, the wheels and most of the tracks
- Sprue F, the side skirts and more track
- Sprue G, the turret
- Sprue J, the glacis plate
- Sprues for two figures (not illustrated in the instructions)
- Photoetch sheet
- Decal sheet
There is also a stapled A4 booklet of instructions that includes a full colour paint guide representing an example of the 7th Tank Regiment, Shanghai 1937, for which only one of the decal sets is appropriate, the others on the sheet being for other variant releases of this kit.
On the face of it the kit looks quite nicely produced, including a number of components that have been slide moulded to provide full detail on more than one surface, for example the main hull superstructure and the side sponsons on sprue C (photo 1). Sprue D (2) had a couple of damaged items, the long rod tool not being fully formed (see also photo 16) and the plastic option for the exhaust muffler cover being smashed (see also photo 20). The tank tools are provided as separate parts, which is welcome, although as well as the broken bar, the pick looks a bit basic (17).
Looking at sprue E (4) it becomes obvious why the part count is quite high; this tank has a lot of wheels, all in two parts, and then there is the track, of which about thirty links are individual components. Note that the return rollers are slide moulded (25, 26) so conveniently attached to the sprue by their axle stubs, unlike the road wheels. Some of the sprue gates are pretty thick, taking as examples the return roller mounts (27) and the suspension arm/bogie units (24). Details are a little soft in places, for example the tools (16, 17), the main gun (33), the exhaust (21), while other parts, mainly the larger components, are well defined and look very decent, for example the sponsons (12), glacis (34), turret (35) and the superstructure (36, 37).
As well as the plastic we get a small photo-etched sheet (39) which includes the alternative muffler cover (so the plastic version being broken was OK then…), some thin side girders and some very thin braces for the anti-ditching tail.
A welcome inclusion is two figures, one a legless commander for the turret hatch (10), the other a crew member standing outside the tank, with his right arm outstretched (8, 9), as if leaning on the tank, I think. While the standing figure, moulded in one piece, is reasonably good, the turret figure is a bit blobby, with that kind of melted look, the fists on the ends of the separately moulded arms being ball-like. Some careful painting might be enough to produce a respectable result.
Having built two of IBG’s Turan kits recently I thought I’d be well practiced with their multi-wheel and indie track link breakdown, and set off snipping the 32 road wheel halves from the sprue (40). With all those safely in a plastic tray I freed the bogie units (41), taking some care as the sprue gates are thicker than the join between the leaf springs and the wheel arms. The tops of the units can be cut flush and not cleaned up as they are totally invisible by the end of the build. The wheels were then added to the bogies (42). Again, no need to clean up one of the wheel sprue tags as it will be hidden, and I thought I’d leave the lower tag that will be in contact with the track, until the units were built up and set. Notice that the wheels are small with a rimmed edge, so cleaning up the attachment points is something of a pain, particularly all 36 of them. I thought at this stage I might get away with a quick smooth off with a sanding stick and that the tracks would hide the rough edges.
While the wheels were setting, the return roller mounts (5 each side) were glued to the hull, and the hull itself was assembled (43, 44, 45). Fit was all perfect with some of the glue application being through the turret ring, so nice and neat. The sprockets attached to the sprue by the teeth, and not between, so cleaning up is relatively easy (46). The axle stubs are keyhole shape so as to fit in the locations points one way only (47, 48). Photo 48 also shows the wheel / bogie units attached to the stanchions which protrude from the hull baseplate. This doesn’t provide a particularly definite join for such a big and important part of the assembly, the location being guided by small pins on the bogie tops that fit into holes on the stanchions. The holes needed to be made a little bigger and the pins a bit shorter. A stronger design might have been for the stanchions to be moulded with the bogies and then mounted into a lateral channel under the hull. As it was I managed to get them cemented on reasonably straight and put them aside to set (49).
The idler, at the front, is also toothed, attaching to the side skirts along with one additional front road wheel mounted on its own T shaped axle (50, 51), one of those slightly awkward assemblies where the T axle kind of has to float in place while the inner plate is then glued on top.
The return rollers, as mentioned already, are slide moulded, so the axle stub is the attachment point both on the sprue and on the build, so easy enough to clean up, although the axle itself is a bit on the short side, making for a not especially precise join. Photo 52 shows the rollers having been aligned using a steel rule, and 53 a side view.
Alternating between assemblies while the cement sets, the side skirt / idler / front wheel components are completed (54) before being attached to the hull (55). Now it starts to lose that ungainly box on casters appearance and look like a tank. Some effort and care was required to ensure that the idlers were aligned reasonably parallel to the hull sides (56), not that easy as the idler is mounted on the side skirt assembly first, which is then mounted on to the tank.
Immediately on starting to fit the tracks with the length that goes under the road wheels I realised it wasn’t going to be as straightforward as with the Turan kits. A look at photo 57 shows how the outer rim on the wheels needs to fit either side of the centre of the track. To achieve this it’s necessary to have the profile of the wheel pretty much perfect, taking out the excess plastic while not damaging the appearance of the outer edge of the wheel. I found that even having done that, the central part of the track was a bit too wide to fit in and I had to narrow down that central strip a little. Once cemented I put a weight on top to keep it all in place while it set (58).
Next is the easiest bit of the track, the short curved strip from the road wheel to the idler (59), followed by individual links being attached one at a time around the idler (60), with all four corners being similarly built up (61). The photos make it look easy, but it’s not. The sprue attachment points are on both sides of each link necessitating the edge of each to be carefully shaped, as shown by the thin arrows (62). I then found that each individual link was too big and had to be shortened to coincide with the idler and sprocket teeth by filing down as shown by the thick arrows (62). In the CAD images and on the built model (of the Late Production version) on the IBG website, the tracks appear to fit because they don’t sit fully on to the teeth, so that a gap is visible between wheel and track, therefore they describe a bigger circle around the idler and sprocket, but photos of the real thing show that to be incorrect, and to be honest, it just looks wrong.
So after quite a lot of work all that remains is for the long section from idler to sprocket over the return rollers. Looks easy enough… except it turned out that the gap it had to fill was too long by half a link, so remove a link and it’s too short. The solution is to introduce track sag to make it shorter, but the return rollers are much too delicate to take any force, so the track needs to be bent off the model. The relative positions of the wheels and rollers was marked on a sheet of glass, then cocktail sticks were glue-gunned in place to create a former (63, 64). Pencils were used to curve the track down between the cocktail sticks with heat applied from a hairdryer (65). On cooling, with pencils removed, the track is now sagged (66) and glued in place (67, 68, 69).
Adding the side sponsons and track guards starts to give it the characteristic Type 89 appearance. The metal side girder is very thin and needs careful handling to keep it straight, especially the two filament like stays that attach to the track guard. I think the girders could do with being a bit thicker, and should have shaped ends that attach onto the side skirts rather than just ending squared off and not attached. Probably would have been better to have just made the vertical stays in metal, and the girders in plastic.
Maybe I was getting a bit negative by this stage, but when I came to assemble the box that goes on the back, things were again not straightforward. The handles for the lid are a bit chunky, so I replaced them with wire (74) then fitted the lid to the box. There’s a significant overhang (75) that needs removal to make the back flush so it fits on the back of the tank. The back of the tank has a large guide mark moulded which is too big to fit inside the box, so I removed most of it (76) and was then able to attach the box to the tank (77).
Some minor detailing was then added: machine gun, shackle, hatch handle etc. (78) and then the tail skid was assembled. Some care is needed as the riveted arms are quite thin (79), and the part that joins them has a flat attachment point on to the skids, so keeping everything lined up requires a fair amount of checking and adjustment (80). There are two shackles that attach, facing each other, to the cross member, both of which broke on removal from the sprue.
Putting that to one side, the parts for the turret are prepared (81) and assembled (82). I started by thinning down the edge of the hatch. Notice that the metal strip is just a piece of scrap, not a kit component, and the handles are those provided for the rear box, so no details are provided for the interior of the hatch if cemented in the open position, it is just flat. Obviously there is also no detail inside the turret, although if filled with the figure, that may be acceptable. The detail I added is just for effect and I have no idea what the hatch interior should be.
Returning to the tail, etched metal provides the cross braces (83). The X shaped brace was very thin in reality, so the scale thickness may be about right, although I think perhaps there should be a rectangular plate riveted in place where they cross over. The thinness does make it quite hard to handle, and I didn’t quite manage to keep it perfectly flat. If there had been a plastic alternative I would probably have thinned it down and used it, the other alternative would be to make your own from plastic strip. The best component on the metal sheet is the exhaust guard, which is very nice indeed, certainly much better than the solid plastic part; once bent around a piece of sprue it has a very fine appearance (84).
The arms were added to the tank commander, a little gap filling superglue being added to the joins (85). I left him attached to the sprue and used that to glue him into the turret. The remainder of the photos show the completed model primed in black. There are no shots of one side of the model as I accidentally drenched the side skirt with paint, then when I tried to remove it, melted the plastic with solvent… I had intended to do a full three colour camouflage finish, but having wrecked it, I stopped here. I felt quite sad about that, as I had spent about double the length of time building it than I had anticipated, and after all that effort, once the primer was on it looked much better than I thought it was going to.
So a bit of a sorry end to a kit build that I can’t say I enjoyed that much. Opinion is divided over link and length tracks in 1/72 scale, although I think they normally look better than either vinyl or integrated wheel / track units. The problem here is the amount of work needed to fit almost every section and link, and I think what I mentioned about the gap between the track and sprocket / idler on the CAD image suggests that something is not quite right with the CAD model. Notice also in photo 88 how despite a lot of effort, including trying to straighten it all out with a hairdryer, the track on the right is not quite parallel to the hull or the other track. I think that is partly the result of it being quite difficult to ensure that everything, from the bogies to the road wheels, to the skirts, to the sprockets and finally the track, as each builds upon the foundation of the previous assembly, remains perfectly aligned.
Possibly part of the issue then is the way in which the model has been broken down into component parts. The concept seems to be that the tank has eighteen road wheels, so we get eighteen separate road wheels (in two parts each). It would make the construction much simpler and probably not compromise the appearance (possibly improve it) if they were attached together as a module, with the track to be added.
It is great to see a 1/72 scale kit with an optionally open hatch, and with figures, and I know have complained about lack of these things in the past, so I don’t want to be too negative, but perhaps an alternative part or some piece of photo etch could have been provided to give some detail to the open hatch surface.
Some aspects of this kit are very decent, and up to modern standards (particularly the big slide moulded components, the photo etch exhaust guard) but other parts were painful to deal with, and sometimes (thinking of the box on the back, the detail on the figure) almost like something from one of Airfix’s kits of the 1960s. Still, in the end, with some effort, quite a nice model of this iconic tank can be finished, and it certainly isn’t expensive for a kit with some photoetch.