by: Jan Etal [ ]
The LVT(A)-4 (Landing Vehicle Tracked (Armored)) was an amphibious assault vehicle and was a direct development of the LVT(A)-1 designed to correct several shortcomings in the latter. The most significant of these was the small 37 mm gun which was found to be less than adequate against heavily fortified bunkers which were a trademark of Japanese defenses.
Military officers felt that the ideal vehicle should incorporate a larger gun which offered a higher explosive charge and traveled in a high trajectory. As a result it was decided to fit the turret from an M8 Motor Gun Carriage to an AMTRAK. The turret was fitted with a 75 mm howitzer firing a high explosive shell that had a much better chance of destroying Japanese fortifications with its blast effects.
Production of the LVT(A)-4 began in 1944 and during that year 1489 vehicles were produced. An additional 401 were manufactured in 1945 before production shifted to a newer version, the LVT(A)-5.
The subject of this review is the 1/72 Armor Pro LVT(A)-4, kit #7388. Several sources suggest that two versions of this vehicle existed, an early and a late (or “Marianas Model”) version. The vehicle in this kit represents a modified early version.
In the box we find one large and one medium sized sprue, along with a lower hull body in typical Dragon light grey styrene. All these are bagged separately. The typical Dragon accessory card is present and contains one bag of two sprues of Dragon DS plastic with four track lengths. Another bag on the sprue contains a single sheet of Cartograph water-slide decals for two vehicles. Total part count for the kit is 71 styrene and 4 DS styrene.
A single page, six sided instruction card with parts plan, three and a half pages of build diagrams and one page of paint/decal instructions is also included. The build diagrams are standard Dragon exploded view drawings broken into seven construction steps.
In examining things during this review a rather disturbing anomaly raised itself. The kit parts diagram references the sprues as ‘A’ being primarily the lower hull pieces and sprue ‘C’ being the turret and remaining detail pieces. The ‘B’ letter is promoted as referring to the one piece hull tub. Throughout the instructions this convention continues through the assembly diagrams. It is obvious that with my sample that this would lead to initial problems as my supposed ‘C’ sprue had ‘B’ stamped/molded on its identifier tab.
At first I thought that this was just a transposition error in the instructions. After further examination I found that some part reference numbers in the instructions did not correspond to the correct part. The upper hull superstructure to which the turret is mounted is referenced as part ‘C17’ while the part that matches the drawing will be found on the sprue as ‘B16’. The .50 cal machine gun is listed as being part ‘C16’ but the part is marked on the ‘B’ sprue as 17. Looking even further, the upper turret piece is noted as being ‘C19’ but in reality part ‘B23’ is the correct part. These and a few other discrepancies all involve the same sprue that mainly carries the bulk of the turret pieces. I therefore must strongly suggest that the builder take their time and not rely on the numbering sequence in the instructions.
Standard molding flaws are about the level of what many have come to expect from Dragon. Flash is insignificant to nonexistent and mold seem lines are quite light and are likely to be removable with a light scrape using a sharp hobby knife. Ejector pin marks are present on some larger pieces but should for the most part be hidden after assembly. The one exception is with the lower turret half (B18), which has four marks that might be seen from the opening of the open topped turret.
The size of sprue gates (attachment points) has been an issue with Dragon kits in the past. In some cases the attachment point was so large as to make part removal without damaging the part quite difficult. I am happy to report that with this kit we continue to see improvement in this area. Considering the minuscule size of some parts (grab handles, lifting rings) the gates to them are definitely much better. As with any kit, it will be up to the modeller to exercise proper care when dealing with the more delicate items.
Overall the molding in this kit is superb. Be it the tread pattern of the turret floor or the coverings on the turret seats, the builder will not be disappointed. However, all the superstructure hatches are molded in place and a minimal body interior would have been a nice extra.
Painting and decal options are provided for one of two vehicles. The first choice is for an overall olive drab vehicle of the 3rd Armored Amphibian Battalion on Peleliu in 1944. The second option is for a three color camouflaged, 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion vehicle that was used on Iwo Jima. The only paints referenced on the paint guide in the instructions are for those by GSI Creos Mr. Color.
Before starting on to the build impressions of each step, I would like to warn the reader about part referencing in this section. Due to the discrepancies with the sprue labeling and part numbering in my kit, I will be referencing the parts I used based on my experience with the kit that was provided to me.
Step 1 of the instructions focused on adding a few detail parts to the side of each sponsoon that carries the running gear. It was a quick and simple process but might hamper some by the diminutive size of the parts involved. The only issue with this step was the exact positioning of part A2 on the left sponsoon. There are no locating features for the part and the illustrations did not help in determining its placement position. After studying various pictures of the vehicle it became evident that it should be placed above and to the left of the first vertical rib of the left sponsoon.
Step 2 is again a simple step with a minimum of parts. It encompasses adding a front drive sprocket half to the one piece hull tub on each side. During this step the two complete sponsoon pieces are attached to the hull.
Step 3 was the first more busy step and focused on adding detail pieces to the hull top. It took far longer than might be expected due to the very small size of some parts. Engine compartment vents, the headlights, tie-down cleats and grab handles will be added during construction. In my case I found that the small locating depressions or dimples for the cleats and grab handles were a bit too shallow. I used a pin vice and an appropriately sized drill bit to increase their depth slightly. One troubling spot was the removal of the headlights (A4) from the sprue. Their attachment point on the top of each was quite thick and I used a razor saw to remove them.
The final pieces to add are what I presume are water deflectors and also ‘guards’ that appear above them. The instructions list the deflector parts as C21 and C22. With my kit the parts were B20 and B21 respectively and their placement is side specific.
In Step 4 we see seven parts added to the upper top part of the hull superstructure (B16). The largest were the bow machine gun (B15) and two side pieces that have a lifting ring on them (B1, B7). The rest of this step saw the placement of grab handles. In this case the handles locating feature were holes in the sides of the piece so no drilling as in step three was required.
At this stage I dry fitted the upper hull pieces (A6, B16) to the hull tub and inserted the lower turret piece in its opening. I wanted to determine how much of the interior would be visible from the open topped turret. It was at this point that I decided to slightly embellish the interior with an engine firewall and a drive shaft. With those modification done I sprayed the interior with a suitable flat white color. In Step 5 the turret and its details are put together. Construction is fairly straight forward but requires care with the removal and handling of the smaller parts. The radio (B19), gunsight (B3) and another gun component (B8) are attached to the turret upper part (B23). As with the hull deck grab handles I increased the depth of the locating dimples for the lifting rings (A10) on the turret sides. I found the fit of the combined mantlet and gun muzzle part (B25) to be rather poor. It required sanding down of the attachment pin and some enlarging of the hole in the mantlet. Sanding was required on the pins that attach the bustle rack (B22) so that they would fit into their respective openings in the turret rear plate (B24).
Fit of most of the other parts was acceptable and no major issues arose other than a few incorrectly referenced parts in the instructions. The only anomaly that might cause an issue is the separate ammunition box for the .50 cal. machine gun. The bottom of the box is hollow and as the gun sits at an angle facing upward, the void could be seen.
The second to last step, #6, is to fit the upper hull superstructure onto the upper hull deck. The only other thing in this step is to mount the turret.
Step 7 concludes assembly and comprises gluing a towing pintle to the hull rear and then completing and attaching the tracks. Each track is a two piece affair and the builder should be aware that the profiles of the outer track faces match properly. Being made of DS material, the tracks can be assembled with regular model adhesive. The joints were very good and the pieces fit without difficulty. It was also pleasant to see that each completed track fit near perfectly.
It is my intention to finish this vehicle in the three color camouflage scheme. For the purpose of this review, I chose to at least coat it with Model Master Acryl #4842, Olive Drab ANA, a Pacific specific color.
Be it the intricate and phenomenally detailed running gear or the turret interior wall detail, the molding of this kit is nothing short of amazing. Dragon is using the slide-molding technology to achieve detail in this scale that has only been seen in larger scales.
Even with the faulty instructions this kit will build into a great representation of this unique vehicle. Highly recommended for all skill levels.