Kit Review: Dragon Models Limited 1/35 scale Black Label Kit No. 6789; M6A1 Heavy Tank - Smart Kit; 294 parts (289 in grey styrene, 4 DS Plastic track runs, 1 twisted steel wire); pre-order price US$69.99 via Dragon USA Onlin e
Advantages: first kit of this vehicle in plastic
Disadvantages: incorporates a number of dimensional and detail errors from Commander Models resin kit
Rating: Recommended with Reservations
Recommendation: for all US WWII armor buffs
In May 1940 the US Army contracted with Baldwin Locomotive Company to buil d the first US heavy tank since the Mark VIII International of 20 years ear lier. The new tank was based on WWI thinking with only a few changes, and a s such had a large and bulky hull design with a turret mounting both a 3" m ain gun and a 37mm antitank gun along with a .50 caliber machine gun at the rear and one on a flexible mounting. Two more moveable .50 caliber machine guns were mounted in the bow to the left of the driver and the driver hims elf had a pair of semi-fixed .30 caliber machine guns pointed forward (late r reduced to one on the right).
The tank was powered by a downrated Wright R-1820 Cyclone, called the G-200 in its ground version, and due to the power and torque of the engine it w as fitted with a two-speed Hydramatic transmission (similar to the one used in busses). Three versions of four planned were built: T1E1, with a cast h ull and Hydramatic and which later unofficially standardized as the M6A2 He avy Tank (20 built); T1E2, with a cast hull and twin disk torque converter, standardized as the M6 Heavy Tank (8 built); and the T1E3, similar to the T1E2 but with a welded upper hull as the M6A1 Heavy Tank (12 built).
Even before the tanks were built it was quickly recognized from reports of combat experience in Europe that the new heavy tank was woefully obsolete, overweight and insufficiently armored where it needed to be. As a result, all 40 tanks became "orphans" and either spent their time performing at war bond rallies or as test "mules" at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. Aft er the war all save one M6 were scrapped, and that tank is currently no lon ger on display.
At the AMPS 2012 show I noted that Commander Models had a new kit of the M6A1 on sale, so I picked it up and built it. It was a "craftsman" kit which means you have to supply a number of the parts yourself and also need to f ill in the "blank spots" on the kit. It took me about 150 hours but I compl eted the model, warts and all. Needless to say when DML announced a new mol d kit in styrene, I was ecstatic.
Sadly, that seems to have been premature as the DML kit has retained a num ber of the flaws from the Commander kit. First and foremost is that the tra cks are too wide. The actual tank had tracks listed as 25.75" wide or 18.7m m in 1/35 scale. The ones on the Commander kit worked out to 30" as per the instructions using two sets of after-market T49 tracks or 21.7 mm. The tra cks on this kit - while newly molded as noted - are also 21.7mm. This is a shame, as the kit DOES have the proper road wheel design and very nice bogi es; why DML would get that right and then get the tracks over four inches t oo wide is beyond me.
Most of the rest of the features of the kit are not too bad, and they fixe d a number of the errors in the resin kit. It does come with an inner mantl et for the combination gun mount (which had to be scratchbuild with bent st yrene and other annoying detail work on the Commander one). However, the M6 37mm gun is way too fine and is close to a 20mm gun in size which is a sha me. The front hull glacis mantlet is nicely done and the driver's viewer is included. But the machine guns are a bit anemic and do not look the part o f proper "Ma Deuces".
Oddly the CAD drawings show the rear access hatches as separate parts but the hull top is molded with them closed. Likewise the hull grating, which t he manual shows was not given a protective liner (like later ones based on combat in Europe) and the engine could be seen through the grill; no interi or other than the main gun assembly is provided.
It took me about two weeks of looking and checking and finally using a hig h grade image run through Photoshop Elements to see how the exhausts were m ounted in the tank. The upper bar on the outside cells of the grill was rem oved and two trumpet-shaped exhaust horns projected down into the exhaust b ay. The kit provides the complete grill and no exhaust tips.
Much of the kit's breakdown mirrors the resin kit. Each bogie consists of seven parts and also needs a mount to the hull. But here DML has four bogie s attached to the hull and four to the outer skirting rather than each othe r (they were connected in real life). The turret at least is more conventio nal with a shell connecting to the base; the other one had the roof connect ing to the shell which was a problematic fit.
It does come with the HF antenna mount for command tanks properly molded a nd this attaches to the upper forward section of the hull. Commander used t he preserved M6 which had this assembly welded up and sealed off. However, the .30 caliber tripod on the front right fender is missing. Also while the port is provided for the single .30 caliber gun remaining after testing (o n the right front of the bow plate) no barrel is provided.
The model comes with a small sheet of decals from Cartograf but these are basically "number jungle" types for the serial numbers. The one on the mode l - USA 3014361 - is that for the first production prototype; note that it was separated by commas in the peculiar style seen on some early war tanks (e.g. 3,014,361). This vehicle appears to have used white, but the others s eem to have used blue drab.
Overall, this is a bit of a disappointment as DML did good things like fix the suspension problems and then provided the kit with oversized tracks. B ut if you want one, this is the place to start as it is a much easier build and being styrene easier to correct.
Thanks to Freddie Leung for the review sample.