ARM: Review - Miniart 1/35 Scale T-80 Soviet Light Tank w/Crew

Kit Review: Miniart 1/35 Scale Kit No. 35038; T-80 Soviet Light Tank w/
Crew; 390 parts (386 in grey styrene, 4 in clear styrene); price US
$37.95
Advantages: Only kit of this Soviet tank in this scale; based on very
good T-70M kit by Miniart; figures a nice complement with wide
application
Disadvantages:
Early Production Soviet Light Tank w/Crew; 360 parts (356 in medium
grey styrene, 4 clear styrene); retail price US $29.95
Advantages: best kit of this Soviet light tank to date; nicely done
features and generally correct proportions; crew in winter gear a
bonus
Disadvantages: suspension a cross between T-70 and T-70M parts
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: for all Soviet and light tank fans
The Soviets practiced the concept of "learn through experience"
during the Great Patriotic War (WWII) and one thing they learned the
hard way was that tanks with a two-man crew are difficult to fight and
unlikely to survive in anything other than scouting missions. The T-70
and T-70M light tanks suffered from this, as the commander had to both
service the gun and command the tank. As a result, and based on better
combat success (e.g. survival from the point of view of command
functions) with the T-26 light tanks, the Soviets began to work on
what was dubbed the "big turret" or "two-man turret" version of the
T-70M.
Few people today realize how important the T-70s were in the early
days of the war, and even at the famous battle of Prokhorovka in 1943
nearly one-third of the Soviet tanks engaged were T-70 and T-70M
types. As a result, getting a tank that was likely to be more
survivable was an important factor.
The Astrov design bureau at Factory No. 40 in Gor'kiy began serious
work on this problem in October 1942, and eventually the prototype
designs emerged as "Article 080" which eventually became the T-80
light tank. It took the proven T-70 chassis and added more powerful
engines, increased side armor to 25mm, and added a totally new design
of two man turret. This turret required increasing the diameter of the
turret race from 966mm to 1112 mm, which was the same used by the old
cylindrical turrets on the T-26 and BT series tanks. Due to the
increased size and weight, the new turret race was firmly attached to
the framework over the engine and formed one unit; this meant that the
turret had to be removed to access the engines for more than routine
servicing.
The turret used a cylindrical base and six-sided welded turret,
fitted with an extended mantelet that gave the gun an elevation arc
from -6 to +65 degrees (somebody decided it should be able to engage
aerial targets along the way.) Each crew member (commander on the
right, gunner on the left) had his own access hatch. The tank now had
a rate of fire of 8-9 rounds per minute or twice that of the T-70M.
Accepted for service in December 1942, the tank ran into immediate
problems when the GAZ Factory (No. 40) refused to put it in production
as it was strained to the limit with T-70M, BA-64, and trucks and
engines. Eventually it was decided the new tank would be built by
Factory No. 592 in Mytishchi near Moscow. Production would use parts
from Factory No. 40 and hulls and turrets from Factory No. 176 in
Kulebaki. By July 1943 the rate of production was expected to reach
150 tanks per month.
As with many Soviet tanks, not so fast. Due to problems the tank did
not enter production in those time frames or rates. Even though
Factory No. 176 had created 334 tank hull and turret sets for the
T-80, production swung back to Factory No. 40 in April 1943. Problems
then cropped with an old Soviet problem: "Better is the enemy of good
enough." Searches for new hyper-velocity 45mm guns resulted in halts
while new long-barreled 45mm guns were tested, as well as plans to use
the GMC engines received via Lend-Lease to power the tank. But by that
time, the day of the Soviet light tank was over, and in the fall of
1943 production was cancelled. Only 77 series production T-80 tanks
were built, all by Factory No. 40. (Production then turned exclusively
to the handy and effective SU-76 series SP guns on a modified T-70M
chassis.)
The T-80 was arguably the best of the Soviet light tanks, but as with
many "bests" it was too little and too late. Miniart has now followed
on the heels of their very nice T-70M kits with one of the T-80 and
this is an even better effort. As with all of the previous Miniart
kits, it also comes with a set of five figures as a bonus, which also
makes the pricetag more realistic when viewed in that light.
The T-70M kits suffered from the fact that their turret did not
replicate the offcenter gun mantelet used by that tank, but instead
used the "official" blueprints which show it to be centered. (Modelers
should note that contrary to many claims on the internet this can be
fixed within acceptable limits in less than 15 minutes, and I have an
article in preparation which shows how to do that. But I digress.)
This kit does not have those problems as it has a totally new turret
for the T-80 and this one matches the set of plans in the Svirin/
Kolomiyets book on the T-70 series tanks perfectly. The three hatches
on the turret are all separate parts, as are all of the railings and
other details. The gun barrel seems a bit undernourished, but the
photos show that the guns used in the T-70s used thinner barrels than
the older Model 1932/38 series 20-K guns so this may be correct.
The T-70M tanks (and by default the T-80) increased the size of the
track links from 260 mm wide and 97 mm in pitch to 300 mm in width and
111mm in pitch, thus reducing the number of links needed from 91 to
80. The road wheels were beefed up in width from 104 mm to 130 mm, and
the torsion bars changed from 34 mm to 36 mm diameter. Brake straps
(the Soviets preferred ribbon brakes wrapped around a drum) were
widened from 90 mm to 124 mm, and the result was that the tank carried
more weight (from 9.2 metric tons to 10 metric tons) and while its
mobility went up, its range went down to 250 km on highways. The other
visible changes were made during the T-70's production run.
Checking the basic parameters of the kit, the hull has the correct
width and the fenders are those for the wider M tracks. Track width is
about 8.5mm or 300mm in scale and pitch is about 3.3mm or 115mm, but
the wheels are 3 mm wide which is 105mm or in other words the basic
T-70 wheel. That's a shame, but on the other hand for most modelers
the difference will not be noticeable.
The hull is a one-piece unit with what appears to be what DML calls
"slide molding" and is very nicely detailed; the belly has some
discrepancies (there is an access panel which is square on the kit and
rectangular in the Svirin/Kolomiyets book, for example) but overall
detail is good. All screens are molded parts, but Miniart has wisely
designed the kit so that they may easily be replaced with etched brass
or scratchbuilt parts and they will fit into the model. It also comes
with the correct twin muffler arrangement; the armored shrouds over
the exhaust pipes are included but the finicky will want to replace
them from sheet styrene.
The crew figures with this kit are new, and consist of five figures
that correspond to early DML figures with each one consisting of about
eight parts (head, torso, two legs and two arms plus cover and pistol
holster) plus accessories. One figure is in coveralls and the other
four in the standard Soviet uniform of 1942 onward. Two figures (the
coverall one with tanker's helmet and one figure in a leather jacket
carrying his helmet) are in "mannequin" poses, but the other three
would make a good vignette: two officers checking mays and one
checking his watch Six color maps are included with the directions for
these figures.
There are no decals provided and the only finishing instructions are
for a plain 4BO (FS 34102) green tank; this is based on available
photos, as while the T-80s did see service there are few if any photos
of them in action, as they were parsed out as command vehicles for
SU-76 battalions and other staff functions which generally do not rate
"in action" photos.
Overall, this kit is a great effort and permits a modeler to build
ALL of the Soviet light tanks from the MS-1 to the T-80. (Some from
other companies will take more work, however...!)
Cookie Sewell
(NOTE: The best single reference for this vehicle and the T-70 series
at the moment is "Frontovaya Illyustratsiya (Frontal Illustrated) T-70
Legkiy Tank," FI No. 5-2006, by Mikhail Sviring and Maksim Kolomiyets,
"Strategiya KM" Publishing, Moscow; ISBN 5-901266-01-3.)
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