ARM: Review - Commander 1/35 scale M2A1 Medium Tank

Kit Review: Commander Models Inc. 1/35 scale Kit No. 1-020; M2A1
Medium Tank; 164 parts (135 in resin, 29 etched brass); retail price US
$120.00
Advantages: clean, ground-up new kit of this seminal American tank;
possibility of adding an interior and partial interior provided with
the kit
Disadvantages: buyer must provide his own track set (see text)
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: for the true hard-core US medium tank fans and
interwar armor buffs
In the mid 1930s the US created a light tank family which proved to
be robust, easy to maintain, and able to meet their then-established
tactical needs. These light tanks were produced in the M1 and M2
series of light tanks (for cavalry) and =93combat cars=94 (for infantry).
As the evolving series of M2 tanks were seen as just the ticket,
orders were given to produce an enlarged version of the tank in the 25
ton class for use as a medium tank.
The designers enlarged the M2 design and added a large number of
weapons stations and weapons to it: it went from two .30 caliber and
one .50 caliber machine guns to a total of up to 10 .30 caliber
machine guns and one M5 37mm cannon. The cannon was mounted in a
revolving turret with a coaxial .30 and the rest of the machine guns
were located in four corner barbettes in the main casemate, two fixed
bow guns, and up to three flexible machine guns at the top hatches for
engaging aircraft.
The T5 prototypes showed the design was mechanically in need of
development, and eventually 21 M2 tanks and 94 improved M2A1 tanks -
mostly with better mechanicals and a new slab-sided turret - were
produced between 1938 and 1941.
But in the meantime events in Spain demonstrated that light tanks
with only bulletproof armor and machine gun armament could not provide
effective infantry support, and firepower even with light cannon was
distinctly lacking. As a result, the M2 series underwent a redesign to
mount a 75mm gun in a sponson on the right side, and its machine gun
armament was reduced to only two fixed guns, a coaxial .30 with a 37mm
in a new cast turret, and a .30 in a commander=92s cupola. The evolved
T5 version was accepted for service in 1941 as the M3 Medium Tank, but
until new factories and facilities could be ready the M2A1 remained in
production for use in training.
Elements of the 1st and 2nd Armored Division were briefly issued with
the M2 and M2A1 in early 1941, with two battalions of the 69th Armored
Regiment (Medium ) of the 1st Armored Division equipped with these
tanks, but September 1941 all of them were out of divisional service
as they had been replaced by the M3. They spent their lives as
trainers and mechanic=92s training equipment as the driveline =96 the R975
aircooled engine and transmission =96 were the same as the M3 and early
M4 series tanks. Only one T5 prototype with twin 37mm guns and one
M2A1 remain on display in museums today.
If you are a =93Shermaholic=94 as many of us are, an M2 or M2A1 is a
necessary part of your collection. But as the tanks never saw any
combat service, they have generally been ignored for many years. More
than 10 years back, Commander Models released a kit of an M2A1 which I
snapped up the first time I saw it. But it was state-of-the-art at
that time, which means it was what is usually derisively referred to
as =93cheeseblock=94 construction: the entire hull and turret were cast in
single units, which meant that they were likely to shrink and warp =96
and they did. After attempting to fix its problems several times, I
reluctantly gave up on it.
At this year=92s AMPS International Show in Fredericksburg, Ted Paris
of Commander Models appeared with a new line of kits. Ted is based out
of Rochester, NY, but has now allied himself with Iron Shipwright from
Oak Ridge, TN, who does the actual casting and modeling. This is a
wholly new effort and while many subjects are ones Ted covered years
ago, these are reengined, remastered and totally new efforts from the
ground up.
The first one which caught my eye was a GOER =96 a Le Tourneau
earthmover modified as a cargo carrier for the Army =96 but right beside
it was a new kit of the M2A1. Always a sucker for this tank, I picked
it up. Ted warned me that these were the first run of kits =96 and
unfortunately they were missing their etched brass frets which had not
arrived prior to the show. Ted sold them with the understanding that
the frets would follow as soon as they were available. (Also shown but
only getting ready for release later this summer were an M2 Combat
Car, T5 Combat Car, T3 Christie conversion (1/35), M103 Heavy Tank,
Char D2, M7 Medium Tank, T7 Scout Car, and a T3 Christie (120mm
scale). These will be announced when ready for formal release, but the
GOER and M2A1 will be released this month - June 2011.)
The frets and directions have now arrived, and as noted above
complete kits are now offered from Commanders. First off, note that
other than its subject this kit bears no relation to the older M2A1
kit. The hull comes in two parts and is hollow, with the essential
elements of an interior in place and fittings to install an interior
when one becomes available. The parts were clean, warp-free and neatly
done with minimal pour overage (no =93pour blocks=94 to whack off in a
cloud of obnoxious resin dust!) The top hatches are separate parts, as
are the fenders and sponson floors with large openings in the engine
deck for the open gratings.
Ditto for the turret, hollow with a separate base and hatch. The
machine gun barbettes are four separate parts for installation in the
casemate once the openings are cleared out, and the machine guns and
sight blocks are both separate parts. The antiaircraft machine are
also separate with two-piece cradles and separate mounts.
The suspension follows the DML mold with front and rear halves to the
bogies, two-part bogie cradles, return rollers, VVSS springs and five-
spoke welded wheels. Six-spoke idlers and machined drivers complete
the suspension.
The tracks are not included as many modelers do not like hassling
with resin tracks, and to hold down the price and not provide an
unwanted product Commander Models left them out on purpose. The proper
set for this vehicle is the T41 irreversible rubber pad type, which
means the outer face is thicker than the inner one. DML makes a DS
Plastic set of these which is included with their early M4 suspension
set (No. 3870); however, the bogies are not correct for this tank as
the M2 series used bogie carriers with a number of cast in
strengthening fillets (present on the Commander suspension) so if you
get that one you at least wind up with a set to correct an early
Academy M3 kit. In a pinch you could use any T51 reversible pad track
(which is thicker) to complete the model, but the thinner T41s are
correct.
Note that the DS Plastic tracks are usually about 2-3 links too long,
but cutting and splicing them to fit is simple. Once the proper lenght
is established, cut out the overage (trimming so one end has the end
connects on it and one does not), use a small two-link long section
of .020" sheet cemented to the inside face of the track on top of one
link, and then cement the other one to the other end. If placed on the
underside of the top run the splice is nearly invisible.
The directions are, surprisingly, spartan at best and maddening at
worst. They comprise but three pages, one of which is a general
=93boilerplate=94 one (e.g. you can=92t put resin together with tube cement=
,
make sure to clean up the parts, etc.) Ted sent along a letter noting
that due to some shared bits the same brass fret serves for the M2A1
Medium and will also be for the M2 Combat Car. As such not all parts
are used.
Page 2 covers the parts - all parts are cited but the callouts are
not fully complete. For example, etched parts =93G=94 are the front fender
braces; a line shows them in the overhead drawing but the actual
circle G flag is missing (it=92s under the circled H for the brace
base). For the rest of the etch: A is the air exhaust grille at the
rear of the hull; B the air intake at the front of the engine deck; C
machine gun deflector guides to prevent shooting into the engine
compartment (mirror images, not shown on the directions!); D and E the
parts for the curious bullet deflector plates at the rear of the hull;
F the headlight guards; G and H, the front fender braces.
For the resin, parts 1-7 are the suspension bogies: inside and
outside frames, spring sections, five-spoke welded wheels, bogie
carrier front and rear, and return roller. Also drivers (two parts)
and a six-spoke idler wheel are provided. 8-9 are the idler support
arms, 10 the stern plate, 11 the drive shaft tunnel, 12 the turret
base, 13 the turret shell, 14 the firewall, 15 and 16 sponson floors,
17 the gearbox, 18 the mufflers, 19 the air cleaners, 20 and 21 the
idler adjustment mechanisms, 22 and 23 headlights, 24 the machine
guns, 25 left engine compartment door, 26 the commander=92s hatch, 27
and 28 the top hatches, 29 right engine compartment door, 30 M5 37mm
gun, 31 mantlet, 32 and 33 shackle mounts. Missing from the directions
are keys for the shackles (U shaped objects), the machine gun mantlets
(shown next to the machine guns, but nearly impossible to see on the
directions) and the two halves of the bogie and bogie carrier. The
four sponson rotors are not given parts numbers but are flagged 1 to
4: 1 left front, 2 right rear, 3 right front, 4 left rear.
If you have ever built a DML, Italeri or Academy M3 or M4 suspension,
it=92s the same basic work. If not, you first assemble the bogie with
the wheels trapped between the halves. Slide them on the back half of
the bogie carrier, insert the spring section and return roller, and
then attach the front half. Done.
No painting or finishing instructions are included, but the tanks
were delivered in a gloss dark olive drab (which dulled quickly but
stayed dark). Serial numbers were among the first to transfer to blue
drab, and from what I can determine ran from U.S.A. W30472 to U.S. A.
W30566. I have seen one photo of U.S.A. W30496 on exercise with 69th
Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division, in mid 1941. These tank
additionally had a 1st Armored Division patch painted on the glacis
between the 1st and 2nd bullet splash rails and an 8" white letter and
number (e.g. B-4, E-10) between the 2nd and 3rd splash rails; the
number was repeated on the engine access doors.
Overall this is really a nicely done kit and has the basics provided
for installing an engine (I have an old Legend Wright R975 suitable
for the task) in the bay as it can be seen. But the directions need
work and hopefully Ted & Co. fix them; too many good products are let
down by bad directions. (Note that I will be building this for an
article in Military Modelling.)
Cookie Sewell
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AMPSOne
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