Certain weapons become iconic for a nation or war, and for me, one of the real icons of World War Two is the British 25 pounder field gun. Manufactured by Royal Ordnance, a concern that began back in the 16th Century, it served the armies of the mother country, and the Commonwealth, and soldiers-on into the present with Pakistan's army.
But if you want to evoke the British Eighth Army in the deserts of North Africa, think of the squared-off snout of a 4x4 Field Artillery Tractor (known as a "Quad") pulling a QF 25 pounder and you're there.
The 25 pounder (also known as the 25-pdr) gun was developed prior to WW2 as a single replacement for the First World War's 18 pounder and 4.5" howitzers, combining direct and indirect fire capabilities in a platform that could be towed easily, and yet deliver a knockout punch. That punch came from variable-charge ammunition with separate shell and cartridge propellant charges, giving gunners a range of HE, AP, smoke and other options.
So it's not surprising that Allied modelers have been excited about both Dragon and Bronco releasing versions of the 25 pounder. One difference in the Dragon kit is the inclusion of a six-man crew, with the anticipation of having a British Eighth Army diorama-in-a-box ready to go. It doesn't quite work out that way....
Inside the usual Dragon box with an excellent Ron Volstad cover illustration are:
5 sprues of light gray plastic
four DS tires
1 small fret of PE
a tiny sheet of decals
4 page instruction & painting guide
The kit depicts the Mark II variant, which was the standard throughout the war and for years afterwards in places like India and Pakistan. This is the Early War version without the muzzle brake added in 1942 for greater precision and stability. It's an unfortunate decision by Dragon, as it would have been preferable to offer the brake as an option (as Bronco does) as part of a 2-in-1 kit. Modelers are limited to North Africa or India and perhaps Malaya; you can't really model this gun post-Normandy without a brake (and a counterweight that was placed on the trail).
Dragon probably figured that most consumers who buy this kit with its shirtless crew will be planning on a Western Desert scenario. If you want a later time frame, you'll have to pick the Bronco kit, which will be joined shortly by a beret-wearing crew in non-tropical uniforms. Perhaps someone will offer the brake and counterweight as an after-market option at some point?
AM companies will have many options for improving this kit. The slide molding on the barrel has eliminated any need for gluing halves together (there is a tiny seam mark that should clean up with minimal risk of spoiling the shape), and the splinter shield and many of the smaller parts are crisply-molded with no flash detected. They're also thin enough they don't call out for a PE replacement as in many gun kits.
But Darren Baker will address some serious shortcomings, mistakes and simplifications in a build feature of the two guns.
Dragon could have given us a fully-opening limber chest, which held 32 rounds and had brakes for towing (the gun only had a hand brake). While it's nicely-rendered with the option of its doors open for firing or closed for transit, only two of the trays can be shown in the open position, and the only ammunition option is HE. The DS tires are a welcome relief from trying to coax styrene 2-piece wheels into acceptable shape, and the tread is accurate, though I don't know if accurate for the time period or perhaps later (the guns are still used by the Pakistani Army).
But even though the gun and limber are better than the ancient Tamiya version, they're not sufficiently better to justify a price almost 2x higher. The breech can be shown in the open or closed position, for example, but there is no opening to show a shell going into the breech (the barrel part blocks it). There are small, but annoying omissions, too, such as missing hooks on the ground plate that were used to lift it into the stowed position for transit (lifted by a chain that's missing, too). You can see the hooks on the photo at right from Darren's fine walkaround for the Keren Gun
I detest artillery kits without crews, since there are too few stand-alone figure sets devoted to the Queen of the Battlefield. The crew set provided for this gun is 2/3 shirtless, as befits men working in the desert heat, and are a huge improvement over the Tamiya set from 30 years ago. Unfortunately, their helmets are incorrect for North African service, and are more like the wide-brimmed Home Guard lids, and even then are too wide. The molding on the body parts is sharp, if not particularly detailed. Adding some Hornet heads with the right "lids" should solve the helmet problem, unless you're up for refashioning the kit's tin hats to make them smaller in circumference.
painting & decals
The painting guide gives two options:
The famous "Unidentified Unit" (this time from the Eighth Army, North Africa 1941-1943) in dark yellow
Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (England 1940) in olive drab
The latter was the first unit to receive the Mark II. The decals are all for shell markings.
The old Tamiya 25 pounder is long overdue for retirement, so this kit is a welcome upgrade. Unfortunately, I can't rave about its accuracy or completeness. The problems aren't severe, and can be remedied. But with a premium price tag, it's disappointing you can't build this gun OOB and end up with a totally accurate version. I don't want to be forced to add details or things like a length of chain. If you don't mind those challenges or can pick up this kit for less than full price, then it will be an improvement over the old Tamiya version.