Kit Review: Dragon Models Limited 1/35 Scale =9139-=9145 Series Kit No.6332; M3A1 Half-Track 3 in 1 - Smart Kit; 496 parts (420 in grey styrene, 64 etched brass, 10 clear styrene, 1 brass chain, 1 nylon string); estimated price US$49.95
Advantages: first new kit of this specific vehicle in 30 years; provides details for early or late model vehicles, as well as for choice of M3, M3A1, or M3A2 variants; different armament options; brilliantly designed track and bogie assembly captures look of the original
Disadvantages: Apparently repeats some of the errors or odd choices of the M2 kit; no non-slip diamonds in crew compartment floor
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: for all American WWII armored infantry fans
In 2005 the US was caught off guard by the lack of reaction by local and national authorities to Hurricane Katrina, which caused a lot of problems. During the cleanup the general in charge of the military and National Guard effort, LTG Russel L. Honore, gave a presentation to the press but warned them not to jump to conclusions or report incomplete information which admonished them with the great line, =93Don=92t get stuck on stupid.=94 Right away the reporters did and were thus told they were =93stuck on stupid=94. They got the message.
This can happen in the modeling world as well, as Academy found out when they produced a long-awaited M3 Lee kit with badly researched and incorrect bogie assemblies. They then followed this kit with another much anticipated model, the M7 Priest, with correctly sized bogies. But then they followed that kit with an M3 Grant with the original poor bogies =96 =93stuck on stupid=94 =96 and modelers were not happy. (To their credit, Academy offered corrected bogie sprues to those who purchased those kits.)17 months after releasing a brand-new kit of the M2 series halftracks (the short-bodied model) DML has now released its kit of the M3 series halftrack proper with the full long hull bodies. The kit adds more than 100 parts to the first kit and borrows on the interim releases of the M16 MGMC, M4 Mortar Carrier, and M3 75mm GMC versions for some of the new parts.
The kit offers a number of versions and while it is labeled as a =933- in-1" would be more like a =935-in-1" when modifications, upgrades and rebuilds are considered. It offers sufficient parts for the M3 version, the M3A1 with M49 machine gun mount, and the stillborn M3A2 final variant. I say stillborn as 12,391 M3 versions were produced (and upgraded to M3A1 later on), 4,222 M3A1 new build versions, but only 1 production M3A2 =93universal=94 halftrack was completed. Many of the features tested on the M3A2 appear to have been retrofitted to M2 and M3 series halftracks, such as the folding luggage racks at the rear of the hull and the equipment attachment racks =96 often misidentified as =93ladders=94 including here by DML =96 on the sides of th= e rear hull.
But letting the molds for this kit sit on the sidelines for 17 months and not checking them for upgrades and changes has caused a few problems. While there are two kinds of complaints modelers file =96 those from the =93boo birds=94 and those from the average modeling community =96 both have some validity and apply to this kit. First off, it uses the original DML M2 armored cab moldings with rivets vice screws and fixed =93jerry=94 can holders. While the rivet complaint is one pretty much from the =93boo birds=94 (e.g. nitpickers) as it is hard to tell without a good magnifying glass, the other makes it more difficult to make the early model 3 halftracks without a lot of shaving and patching. It still uses the controversial slightly flattened tires but the versions with the =93bulges=94 from the first issue have been minimized, so this is again a matter of taste, and if placed on a base with ground work is easily concealed.
The suspension remains the same and the later model bogie mounts with the openings in them are also not present. But the biggest goof in the kit is that for some reason the floor of the rear compartment is smooth =96 the original used a standard steel treadplate design with zig- zag or diamond pattern =93non-slip=94 raised cleats. (Anyone who has ever tried to walk or stand on smooth steel when coated with mud knows why they do this!) Since the floor is at the bottom of the rear body base (F6) it is virtually impossible to correct without a lot of problems, even if one has such things as the Old On The Mark non-slip plate metal sheets. Plan on a good layer of mud or sandbags to hide if you are concerned about this goof.
As for the rest of the kit, again DML provides a complete drive train including a complete White engine and transmission. While the hood is molded in one piece, DML has notched the back side as well as the insides of the =93cab=94 sides to permit easy cutting to open them up for display. The steering does not operate (no big loss of oversized parts) but is very petite and neatly detailed. This kit offers a choice between the spring compensated idlers and non-compensated idlers with a set of parts included on an =93addendum=94 tree.
Even without the casting holes, the bogies and track runs remain impressive, as the idlers and drivers are =93slide molded=94 with respectively thin details and openings. Each bogie assembly consists of 18 parts and is very petite; the mounting suspension provides five more with the track tension adjusters nicely portrayed. The tracks are the same with DML having them in hard styrene plastic in two halves, cut in such a way that the =93chain=94 plate drive tooth guides in the center are represented as they are found on the actual vehicle. Since the tracks were metal with rubber =93endless belt=94 casings vulcanized onto them, this is a neat way to portray it.
The model comes with three sets of body panels for the rear body =96 one set for an M3 or modified M3A1, one for an M3A1, and one for the M3A2. Ditto rear panels, but if you wish to do an upgraded vehicle with the rear luggage racks you will need the M3A2 rear panel with mounts for them. The kit also comes with a pylon mount for the M2HB .50 caliber or the original (M3A1) or modified (M3A2) M49 ring mount. DML provides two beautifully done .50 caliber M2HB machine guns and four equally well done .30 caliber Brownings, all with the correct mounts (the .30s come with one =93rocker=94 mount and one similar to that used by the .50 for each one, so a maximum of three .30s can be fitted to the model.)
The model comes with two sets of mine racks: one single-piece type with the mines in place and one open one with 12 individual mines per side, enhanced by etched brass.
All plates include the correct WWII taillight configuration: an oval on the left top for the taillight, a rectangle on the right top for the stop light, and two rectangles on the bottom for the combat blackout taillights.
Minus the previously noted nips on the rivets versus screws and =93jerry=94 can mounts, the =93cab=94 is neatly done, and two sets of grill= e mounts are included. One is for use with the =93Combat=94 light and the other with the =93Automotive=94 headlights. One of each is provided closed and one with the folding louvers removed (these have to be made from etched brass, as no plastic parts are provided for the louvers.) As noted in other reviews the model has the =93civilian=94 style dashboard, so note that the instruments are a brushed aluminum color on preserved/ restored vehicles and not the more common black with white numerals. (Archer Fine Transfers has a great set for these gauges.)
The winch and roller each come with their own bumper and accouterments. The winch has a length of nylon string for the cable and a chain for the final hook arrangement, which matches photos of wartime models in service. Note that the driveshaft for the winch needs to be installed in Step 4 at the bottom.
The etched brass, as with other =93Smart Kits,=94 is more extensive and provides the pressure plates and handles for the individual mines as well as headlight guards for the =93automotive=94 version, mud flaps, the aforementioned engine air louvers, windshield wipers, and the sliding covers for the view slits.
Other bits include the fact it comes with the so-called =93potable=94 water carrier versions of the =93jerry cans=94 with flip-up lids (the gas cans normally had screw-type caps with better seals). It also comes with two different types of radio sets and antenna mounts: either the SCR-508/608 type of armored troops radio set (one on each machine gun sprue) or the more common SCR-510/610 type, racked up side-by-side rather than tuner on top of power supply. A nice cabinet abd antenna base masts are provided for the SCR-508/608 set.
The model comes with two Cartograf decal sheets =96 a targeted set of stars and tactical markings and bumper code =93jungles,=94 oddly it does not come with blue drab serials. Five suggested finishing options are provided: one for an M3 =96 2nd Armored Division, Morocco 1942 (ABABA, stars and 48-star flags); three for M3A1 vehicles =96 4th Armored Division, Germany 1945 (24th Engineers); 1st Armored Division, France1944 (actually 1st Division Blindee, Free French Army, with French markings); 3rd Armored Division, France 1944 (M-11, probably with a maintenance company from one of the armor regiments); and one for the sole production model of the M3A2 (white stars only).
I strongly suggest getting David Haugh=92s =93U.S. Half-Tracks=94, Steve Zaloga=92s =93US Halftracks in Action=94 from Concord or Jim Mesko=92s =93M=3 Halftrack in Action=94 from Squadron/Signal as they both provide a lot of photos and good information for finishing, but there are a lot of other good books on the market covering these popular vehicles.
Overall, while there are some spots where DML appears to have been =93stuck on stupid=94 and ignored comments from modelers, overall this kit is really decent and the average modeler can built one of the many options and be pleased with the result.
Thanks to Freddie Leung for the review sample.