Kit Review: HO Scale Diecast Armor From China Number (unknown); British Chieftain Mk. 5 Number Z-000028008; US M3 Lee Medium Tank Number Z-0000280011; Soviet T-62 Medium Tank Number Z-0000280012; Swedish Strv.103 S-Tank Prices unknown; available from Libreria La Idea, Apartado de Correos, PO Box 341, 46080 Valencia, Spain or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Advantages: Nicely done finished models with markings and camouflage in place; perfect for wargaming
Disadvantages: diecast metal makes corrections or modifications difficult; some shortcuts taken in production (see text)
Recommendation: for wargamers and anyone wanting a "bookshelf" collection of armored vehicles
As many modelers lose time due to a busy life and schedule, in some cases modeling has become a pastime that may take up too much time for the results. Some argue that may be due to the "instant gratification" society most of us live in today, but in other cases it's just the problem of our desires and our skills do not match up well.
As a result, there is now a growing market for pre-finished models. Both Tamiya in 1/35 scale and DML in 1/72 offer first-class replicas, but the former are abysmally high in price for the average collector. DML's efforts are very close to the cost of their kits, but for anyone wanting to use them for miniatures wargaming they are a bit large. As a result, most wargamers turn to HO scale (1/87, based on the model railroading scale and its wealth of accessories.)
In wargaming this is generally considered to be 20mm scale (e.g. a 6' tall man is 20mm high in this scale) and as such is quite popular. It's easy to put a reasonably sized force of a full company on a tabletop, and still have combat ranges to conduct combat. (A 5' x 9' ping-pong table gives a battlefield of 135 meters by 240 meters before taking foreshortening and compression into effect.)
Jose Luis Castillo of Libreria La Idea (The Idea Bookstore) is now preparing to offer a range of over 50 different HO scale diecast armored vehicles from China, and these are perfect for wargaming. Diecast in this scale results in a more durable model than plastic (ROCO models are now nearly perfect replicas, but a bit light for heavy handling as they would receive in a wargame environment) and unlike most resin models come fully assembled and painted. He sent me four of the offerings for review, and for that I extend him my thanks.
All four models are heavyweights, cast in five or fewer parts, so the running gear is more a case of embossed than freestanding. Still, each model replicates its prototype, and the correct pattern and wheel styles are visible. At wargame distances, all four are very nicely done and quite attractive, but purists will balk at some of the features.
The M3 is a replica of one of the 1st Armored Division tanks with tactical signs, and is finished in olive drab. It is a pretty good likeness of a mid-production M3 with square air cleaners and skirts, but has two errors: the 37mm gun is installed upside down (counterweight on top) and the tracks are T48 rubber chevrons, but installed backwards. Due to its apparent wargame purpose, the turret sits high with a bearing to ease traverse.
The S-Tank is an early model, either an A or B, as it has no spare fuel cans for protection along the sides. It has some annoying conventions, such as all of the viewports being painted sky blue, but that can be easily remedied. This tank is in solid green, and not the "splinter" scheme more recently used on these vehicles.
The Chieftain is a much better effort than the prototype one offered by ROCO and has all of the accouterments of the Mk. 5 in place. Markings are suspect and it is only painted bronze green, but the barrel thermal cover is painted khaki and other bits are picked out on the model. Again, like the M3, the turret is very "stalky" as is has a bearing underneath it to permit it to traverse. The front of the hull is also somewhat crudely fastened together, and a bit of work with a file and some repainting should clean that up.
The T-62 is a Model 1972 with the DShK machine gun but surprisingly comes without the "drop tanks" which were organic to every T-62 tank. Due to the fact this tank has no skirts it was the only one of the four showing "daylight" under the fenders and over the top of the lower hull pan. The turret has a much better shape than the plastic Armourtec/Boley one now on the market, but again suffers from the "stalky" turret syndrome. The hull and fender overhang at the front is a bit too long, but it is clearly a T-62. Markings (as far as I recall) are for a district training center in the Leningrad Military District (three-digit numbers prefaced by L).
All four were nicely packed but showed up with bent barrels and machine guns. Thanks to the fact that they are cast metal, all four were fixed up with some very gentle finger pressure on the errant parts. None of the gun barrels are drilled out, and the T-62 barrel is somewhat thick for the scale.
Overall, however, they can be used to quickly "gen up" a wargame army or simply provide a collection for a shelf. While not perfect, they are solid, durable and more than up to the purpose of most wargamers and more than a few modelers.