by: Matthew Lenton [ ]
The Panther was developed with the intent that it should become the standard German medium tank, and further to that purpose, that it should also form the basis of a range of specialised armoured vehicles. Jagdpanthers, Befehlswagens and Bergepanthers were produced, but in the field of heavy self-propelled artillery and flakpanzers, none made it beyond the drawing boards and model shops of Germany’s contractors.
The 5.5cm twin flak concept grew out of the estimation that the 3.7cm twin flak design (the one commonly known as Coelian) would provide an inadequate fire power to weight and cost ratio. The Rheinmetall-Borsig subsidiary, Vereinigte Apparetebau, worked on the 5.5cm design during November and December 1944, but before they could work the drawings and scale models up to a full size mock-up, it was decided in the following February that any further development of the concept would cease.
What you get
Box art, by Auletta, shows our Flakpanzer in a very late war scheme of dark yellow stripes and patches with red brown patches on top of an overall olive green. It’s a strikingly modern and new looking vehicle amid the ruins. Instructions are of a kind I hadn’t seen before, with what appear to be coloured 3D CAD renderings that look very much like painted kit parts. Both suggested finishes are naturally for “unidentified unit”: the overall green with stripes and patches labelled “Germany 1945”, with a more familiar “ambush” style finish labelled as “Western Front 1945”. As noted in another recent Flak Panther review, Dragon have listed paint numbers purporting to be from the new Italeri range, but the quoted numbers actually refer to Model Master paints. Decals are three large and three small crosses.
As with other recent Panther flak kits, sprues A (wheels) and C (hull details) from the Panther G kit form the basis of the model; sprue B is the one moulding unique to this kit with its turret, gun mount and twin barrels; the hull top and bottom plus the DS tracks make up the other parts in the box. While on first opening the box, it seems quite a busy kit, only two thirds of the parts will be utilised, and apart from the many wheels, this is a pretty straightforward kit to build straight from the box. Sadly, once again, there is no etched metal in the kit, a regrettable omission in that the modeller is denied decent looking screens for the engine deck, such as those Dragon had provided in earlier Panther G kits.
Although the basis of this kit is well known, stay with me while I build most of it and we’ll see what comes out. The strict instruction sequence goes out the window to enable glued parts to set fully before continuing with an assembly. In any case, let’s start with the new bit, the turret. An impressive slide moulding forms the entire visible surface, making a big contribution to the simplicity of this kit. Of course, that has a downside: the late style hatch with its all round vision ports is moulded resolutely shut, as are the double doors on the turret rear and another smaller hatch on the roof. Otherwise the turret is nicely formed, apart from the lifting rings that are simply tabs, though these are fairly easy to drill out (obviously best done now, before fitting the gun barrels). Both turret top and bottom have big chunks of excess plastic that need to be cut from within the moulding, but nothing too difficult.
The two halves of the gun breech housing now need to be prepared for assembly; note that some images used in the instructions are a little “weird” in that they don’t closely resemble the actual parts (photo 30). Photo 31 shows this part ready to receive the gun mounting block and the shield that protects the mantlet; I think however the instructions are wrong here: the shield (B7) cannot be attached to the breech housing (B3 4) before the assembly is inserted into the turret. It can be seen that the shield sits very close to the turret when complete, and to ease its attachment I held the breech housing forward in the turret with a blob of blue tac to provide more space to work on the shield. The fit of the shield isn’t great, and some work was required to get good welded look around the join - I used CA glue and a fair bit of sanding.
With this all set, the turret base was attached; again, not a great fit, but it doesn’t show too much when mounted on the vehicle, and the main thing is to make sure it at least sits straight. I suggest assembling the gun mount, turret top and bottom into a single unit before attaching the two gun barrels as they are long and delicate, and indeed one of them in my kit was a bit bent at the muzzle end, so some gentle straightening was needed. It would be all too easy to snap or bend one or both of them if you were to try constructing them in Dragon’s suggested sequence. The mounting of the barrels is OK in terms of being a fairly definite fit, but with the parts being so long and needing to be exactly parallel, real care is needed to get them lined up. In photo 40 you can see the use of a steel rule held against the breech housing to check that they are fixed at the right angle.
The completed turret is impressively big and tall and the guns look huge; they also elevate easily and stay put at any angle. A slight downside is that I found the mounting not to be absolutely dead centre when looked at front on (photo 42) and I have reservations about the appearance of the area revealed at the base of the turret when the guns are fully elevated (photo 43) - it doesn’t look right, but I’m not too sure what it should look like…
So with the turret put away to completely set, I start hacking all the wheels off the sprue. All the road wheels come off easily enough, just watch out for the fact that the wheels that make up the centre row are made of parts A18 and A1 - but the parts diagram labels them all as 18, while the sprue has them all as 1. A lazy tip: there’s no need to clean all of the sprue scraps off all of the wheels on the inner and centre rows - just one side of those at the front and rear ends - as you can line them up so they’re hidden by the next wheel on top. Brilliant!
The sprockets are a bit trickier of course, and to get the right angle to be able to carefully clean the sprue attachments from the teeth, I cut the wheels off with some small lengths of sprue to begin with (photo 45), and could then tidy up without the rest of the runner being in the way. As noted in another recent Flakpanzer review, the idler halves are a bit of a clunky fit. For reasons I haven’t quite worked out, there’s actually two pairs of sprockets and idlers in the kit, so if you accidentally knock some teeth out, you get another go.
While the wheels are setting I turned to the engine deck plate which, as can be seen from the photos, had a few issues: lots of excess plastic (photo 49) and warping (photo 50). After bending it back into something like flat, I made it fit by cementing the left hand and front edge first, then when that had set, attached the right hand edge, with some folded paper packing underneath it to hold it flat while that side set.
Back to the wheels and the first row goes on: this is the wobbliest row, so keep checking they’re straight and aligned while the glue sets, and I would definitely let that set overnight before trying to add the next row. I might sound like I think I know what I’m on about, but I fitted these on the wrong way round at first - maybe something about the way the instructions don’t actually show any intermediate step with the wheels, just a picture of all three interleaved rows in place. So make sure you’re paying attention…
Returning to the rear deck, there is this nice feature of the plate that carries under-deck detail, so engine, pipes, fans and so on (photo 52 etc.) The deck plate has a separate hatch which could be fixed open to reveal at least some of that engine detail - a nice touch that could be exploited with a figure or two peering in. On the other hand, it did occur to me that might look a bit strange to have that hatch open when all the other hatches on the tank are closed - and I think photos tend to suggest that such a scenario would be unlikely.
Probably the worst part of this kit is the hull machine gun mount - what this is about I have no idea - but clearly the domed armour plate for the ball mount just doesn’t fit into the circular recess which is just too big. On top of that the domed part has a big blob of plastic moulded on to the front of it, which is not at all easy to remove without some damage to the component (photos 55 and 56).
The centre row of wheels go on with a much more definite feel than the inner row. When it comes to the next row (the next evening, of course) it seems that the wheel hubs are designed to fit inside the hubs of the inner row wheels; maybe it’s my fault for getting too much glue in the joins, but I couldn’t force them in easily and didn’t want to bend or break anything, so, as in photo 58, I trimmed the ends of the hubs by about 1mm. My guide was how far that would position them from the edge of the tracks, which I checked against several photos. The steel rule was employed once more to ensure that this last row was well aligned and parallel to the hull sides.
Moving to the rear plate, the exhausts come in two parts for this late version Panther, the pipe and the Flammvernichter which goes on top and was intended to hide the red hot glow of the pipes at night. I chose to attach the pipes to the plate first, gluing from the inside of the plate, then put them aside to set, ensuring they were nice and straight (photo 62).
On trying to dry-fit the tracks I noticed that there were the remnants of the moulding gates in the centre of the interior surface (photo 63), which make things a little lumpy if they sit underneath one of the wheels, so these were cleaned away. The tracks were then cemented in place, ensuring good attachment to the wheels, including the one that was sitting up slightly (from where I had carelessly bodged it after my earlier mistake with the inner run of wheels).
Back with the exhausts, the Flammvernichters were thinned down at their bottom edge to more closely resemble thin steel plate (photo 65) and then added to the exhaust pipes. While waiting for that to set, the track sag was created by cementing the DS plastic tracks to the wheel tops; depending on the track tension, it seems normal for the third road wheel from the front to be the first point of contact for the track as it comes off the sprocket. With this all set, the rear plate / exhaust assembly was cemented into the hull bottom, with a fair amount of liquid cement being introduced to the joins to make sure it looked welded in place.
That was my gluing done, and from this point the hull top is just sitting on the bottom, but as can be seen, with just a little finger pressure, the two halves fit together quite well at both back and front (photos 70 and 71) . I’ve left the two parts loose so that I can paint the wheels and tracks, then mask those off while I fit the top and bottom together, make good these major joins and then paint them to the same level as the wheels and tracks. The turret slotted easily into place and rotates with just the right amount of ease to allow this little Flakpanzer to turn and point its twin 5.5cm guns at any angle you want it to.
Well, a perfectly easy kit to build that gives quite a decent result of an interesting looking vehicle, but - and you knew there’d be some buts - there are several shortcomings that frankly don’t seem to justify the price tag, and forgive me if these gripes have already come up elsewhere. Dragon’s original Panther G came with etched engine screens, and even quite recent kits, PzKpfw III variants for example, where actually they are a less prominent feature, have come with etched screens, so why not this kit? It’s a shame too, that the only hatch that can be opened is the one on the engine deck, the least likely to be opened on its own. Then there’s the strange Kugelblende hull machine gun mount which seems like it would have been better moulded integrally with the hull, rather than being a separate item. I just checked the sprues of the prehistoric Airfix Panther kit, and oddly it has the Kugelblende moulded in place, though somewhat too big, and this same type of commander’s cupola with the hatch provided as a separate part…
So, this is another of Dragon’s of not so good braille kits that have been appearing recently, at the same time as they do continue to produce some really very nice kits in their Armor Pro range. This is just about as obscure a subject as you could hope for, and is really quite similar in appearance to the FlakPanzer V Coelian kit that was released a little while ago. Having said that, now they have started mining this vein, I’d say there’s a good ten or so further kits that could be still to come based on this same Panther chassis.