Dragon have released the second of their 1/72 scale Ka-Mi kits, their first version without
the flotation pontoons having come out in February 2012; that kit is the subject of this review
by Matt Flegal. Here we will look at how the floating pontoon version goes together.
The Imperial Japanese Navy wanted something more than a tank that could just wade ashore, instead the requirement handed to Mitsubishi was for a vehicle that could operate more like a boat in relatively rough open water. The resulting tank was capable of sailing at 6.5mph (10.5km/h) in the ocean, driven by twin propellers powered by a 240hp diesel engine which was aspirated via a demountable snorkel fitted over the grille on the rear deck. The turret was also fitted with what was essentially a tall detachable cupola, or perhaps conning tower, with vision blocks, that sat over the normal two part hatch to prevent the turret top from being submerged or washed over by waves. Flotation was provided by large pontoons fitted to front and rear which could be discarded by the crew from within the tank once it had landed on the beach. Surprisingly, perhaps, for a small looking hull, seven men could be accommodated.
what you get
Packed in a small box, the top has an awesome looking scene as this unusual craft crawls ashore from some pretty big breakers crashing on to the beach; all in grey and with the snorkels and pontoons fitted, itís an off the wall looking tank, truly something different. Thanks in part to the sophisticated hull top and bottom mouldings, the original pontoonless kit had only one main sprue of styrene parts; this time we get an additional sprue to cover the pontoons and snorkel devices. Oddly, itís also called sprue A, an unfixable error once it was moulded on to the sprue I suppose, the work around in the instructions being that these parts are labelled in blue numbers and letters rather than black. Just as before, thereís a set of DS tracks, an etched exhaust cover grille and a small decal sheet. Three suggested colour schemes are all in Navy grey.
I start with building the wheels, as per the instructions; the bogies come in two halves with the wheels already mounted, so producing all eight road wheels doesnít take too long. Thereís a small amount of mould seam around the wheels and some cleaning up of the angle of the bogie between them, then some care is needed to get the wheels glued together straight as the contact points between them are quite fine and potentially a little wobbly. Use care and patience to ensure that the road wheels are aligned with the hull (photo 34) as the attachment points are fairly indefinite, and also set them at the angle you want Ė i.e. flat on the ground, or perhaps youíd want them angled if youíre intending to mount it on rough ground. Building the idlers and sprockets is straightforward.
While that sets, I move to step two for the turret which does have a certain amount of interior detail, for example the toothed base ring, and the machine gun is a complete item, although thereís no breech detail on the main gun, which does however have a slide moulded muzzle aperture. Thereís a very little fine flash on the otherwise impressively moulded turret. The turret hatch is in two pieces and has hinge detail on both sides, so itís possible to fix it open, but testing it out with the additional conning tower on top showed that the thickness of the tower doesnít allow enough room for the hatch to be open at any useful angle Ė i.e. not enough for a crewman to poke through.
Back to the wheels: with the road wheels firmly set in place the idlers are lined up with them; for the sprockets itís necessary to remove most of the mounting pin so that they can sit close enough to the hull in order to make them line up with the road wheels, and so hopefully avoid kinky tracks later. Letís take a moment to look at the sprockets in place in photo 39, and to admire the towing shackles which are moulded in place on the hull bottom, as well as the sockets into which the front pontoon docks; remarkable moulding, is it not? Propeller shafts, but not the props themselves, are also now added; oddly, these also feature some internal detail (photo 41) - I wonder if that is due to their being from the same CAD model as those in the 1/35 version?
The glacis plate fits nicely into its space on the upper hull, then while thatís setting, back to the turret detail: some of this detail is very delicate
, for example the top of A11 may easily be bent, and the turret rail, A16, needs careful handling to ensure it remains in one piece when being removed from the sprue. Hull top and bottom fit together really perfectly with a nice locating slot on either side for absolute precision (photo 45). Now we see the exhaust pipe and its etched metal cover go on; the instructions show the etched piece needs to be bent in a slightly asymmetric curve, but you might want to refer to photos to check this detail out.
Here in step 3 we are asked to add some hull details that cannot be used with the pontoons in place, and which clearly originate from the first iteration of the kit; as we have seen before, Dragon havenít troubled themselves to update this part of the instructions for this particular version: the lamp, A19, and the cover plate, A17 should be omitted as they will obstruct the attachment of the front pontoon (see photo 57). The machine gun, A29, again, is fully detailed, though to simplify mounting it, I remove the back end leaving just the barrel to be attached.
Step 4 mounts the turret and the tracks, and if you stop here, youíll have a model as per the first iteration of Dragonís Ka-Mi, but as we want the fully amphibious additions, we can ignore this step for now and just move to step 5, a big step in which the front and rear pontoons, the conning tower, and the engine breathing snorkel are all assembled. Note that from here we are into the blue A
numbers. The pontoon parts all fit precisely together without fuss, no fillers being required, just a little cement to ensure the seams all look tight. I did wonder if the prow of the front pontoon looked as pointy as the real thing does in photos, but find it hard to be sure. I think itís correct not to clean the front vertical join up too much, as the real thing does seem to have a join line here.
The conning tower is the only part of the kit that produces any issues for me. Firstly, the instruction drawing doesnít obviously show the vision blocks A3 and the tower body A4 as separate components, and it would be easy to incorrectly attach the tower top A14 straight on to A4, leaving A3 out altogether Ė so donít! Secondly, the plastic strip that joins all the vision blocks together on part A3 is very thin, so care is needed, and some of the blocks have slight indentations which I fill so as to get a flat surface (photo 54). Thirdly, I slightly enlarge the diameter of the ring into which A14 fits so that it makes a nice tight fit. The final issue here is the fit of the conning tower on to the tank turret: itís an indefinite and wobbly fit at first. I find I have to a) ream out the internal base of the conning tower (A4), b) slightly enlarge the cut out that fits around the turret periscope and c) remove some of the detail from the turret roof: the hatch handle, the ends of the hatch splash strip (?) and a couple of rivets Ė see photo 55 for details. With all that, the conning tower now sits true on top of the turret (photo 56). The hatch on the conning tower could be fixed in the open position, but unless you find a way to get a crew man in there, all youíll be seeing is the closed turret hatch beneath it. Note that the vision blocks are not clear plastic.
The final tricky point is the rail that fits across the top of the front pontoon; again, it requires very delicate handling during clean up and I also found I had to increase the depth of one or two of the nine mounting holes that it fits into so that it made a nice even curve. Thereís a few more delicate details to go on the body, and having made sure that the snorkel top is on the right way round, all that is left to do is to add the turret assembly to the tank, and try out the pontoons. The pontoons really do attach to the tank without cement, as in the photos, so itís easy enough to keep them separate for painting purposes, and of course some may wish to represent the tank in the process of discarding them on the beach, so I suppose thereís no need to decide on attaching them permanently straight away. The only thing not done in these photos is the tracks.
In my opinion this is a pretty neat kit with some marvellous moulding especially on the hull top and bottom. Fit of parts is very good with the exception of the way that the conning tower attached to the turret top, which was not at all straightforward; obviously the turret was originally detailed for the non-pontoon version, and has been left exactly the same for this kit, when I suppose a new turret moulding could have been provided so as to make this assembly simpler. Alternatively the instructions could have given some direction as to the turret parts needing removal, but once again, the instructions are simply carried over from the first kit, so no help is provided. This of course is what also creates the problem regarding the head lamp and glacis socket cover plate, which are actually shown in the final drawing as the front pontoon is about to be attached Ė you would in fact simply slice the headlamp off if you were to do what it shows, and the attachment peg on the inside of the pontoon wonít be able to engage if the cover plate is there.
Matt Flegal mentioned that the plastic on his pontoonless review kit seemed a bit soft, rubbery even; while the plastic in this kit did seem softish, in that a few hairy bits kicked up when scraping or rough sanding, it seemed nothing out of the ordinary, so no problems there, providing you have some fine sand paper in your tool box.
Matt also described the first kit as tiny, and decried the absence of the pontoons, so now both of those things are put right Ė the pontoons are here and the kit is of course no longer so tiny! See the bonus photos below where it is compared to another recent 1/72 Dragon tracked amphibian, the Panzerfahre; that is based on a PzKpfw IV and as can be seen, the Ka-Me with pontoons is almost as long. With the price tag being the same for this new version as for the original non-pontoon version, itís hard to think of any reason for buying that first version in preference to this one Ė and I suppose it rather begs the question as to why it was ever produced like that in the first placeÖ
So, another super small scale kit from Dragon, if with the usual few instruction foibles and the awkwardness affecting the conning tower. With fairly little effort, it produces a very unusual and attractive looking model of a quite remarkable vehicle, and I think it is likely to be popular Ė although it now seems that dedicated 1/35 fans wonít have to wait too long for the same thing to appear in that scale.