Book Review: Canadian Armour Series Volume 1: The Serious Modeler's Guide to: Canadian Centurion Gun Tanks by Barry Beldam; Quartermaster's Depot, Ottawa, Ontario, 2003; 181 pp. with two in color; price US $35.00 (ISBN 0-9734277-0-1); available direct from Quartermaster's Depot, 1111-1071 Ambleside Drive, Ottawa, ONT K2B 6V4, CanadaAdvantages: Good, crisp and clear book on many of the details rarely provided in other books for modeling any vehicle; gives the experienced intermediate modeler and the advanced modeler a great source to "do it right"
Disadvantages: no plan views of the vehicle, which may cause some confusion (see text)
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: to anyone doing any (Commonwealth, export, Israeli) Centurions ? a "Must Have" work!
Without any argument, the least well served major armored vehicle ? from the point of view of the modeling community ? is the British Centurion tank. With prototypes first fielded in 1945, and many of them still in service in much reworked condition in many third world armies today, it is one of the most significant vehicles to see service in the 20th Century. Flexible beyond its designers' dreams, it was fitted with three major caliber guns (76.2mm, 83.4mm, and 105mm) and several different engines, went from gasoline to diesel, and was one of the first vehicles in the world fitted with reactive armor ("Blazer"). They fought in many of the major conflicts in the Middle East, the wars between India and Pakistan, with the Australians in Viet Nam, and with the South Africans against the threats along their northern borders.
Alas, the modeling manufacturing community has only seen fit to provide us with a sum total of five major kits in six different scales: a Mark 3 from ROCO in 1/87, a Mark 5 in 1/76 scale from Airfix, a nondescript rubber-band powered one from Lindberg in 1/60, a Mark 2 from Aurora in 1/48, a motorized Mark 3 from Tamiya in 1/35, and a larger version of that kit with an interior in 1/25. (I don't count "clones" of these kits, nor resin ones.) None of them are newer than 1972, and not one of them is worth beans in relation to the actual vehicle in regard to accuracy.
The most popular one is the Tamiya kit, which while frequently re-released, is unchanged other than decals from its original 1972 release and comes with a "dwarf" figure (e.g. 5'2") and a motorization pack. The need to fit that motorization pack and two "C" cells totally distorted the hull of the tank, which Tamiya was able to hide due to the wide fenders and deep side skirts of the model; underneath, it is around 5 mm too short and the sides of the hull are very poorly done, even being set at the wrong angles. Its tracks are unique, which is a shame as the ones provided in the kit are Tamiya's "first generation" silver vinyl ones; there is no detailing on the inside face of the track except for guide teeth. Even many of the "correction" and "conversion" sets out there for this model are also wrong, as they are designed to fit the kit's parts and not correct its massive errors.
The result: if you want a good model of a Centurion ? no matter in whose service ? you are going to have to have some scratchbuilding skills and fix the problems yourself.
About nine years ago I was working on some Korean War armored vehicles and decided to do one of the more interesting but less well covered vehicles, British Centurion III tanks in Korea. While I did have the lame Tamiya kit as a basis from which to start, I did not have any decent references at the time and therefore asked old friend and fellow modeler Barry Beldam for assistance. He sent me large chunks of the manual and a great deal of aid, plus a guided tour of the Centurion on display at CFB Borden in central Ontario. I found I had a lot of work to do, and did manage to get about 80 hours worth of work into the model before being deflected by work and AMPS business to other projects. That left me with the bare bones hull of the Cent, its running gear installed with the lousy kit tracks (it takes two sets to make them fit on an accurate hull, as the kit ones are about 7-10 links too short for the correct layout) and the roughouts of the interior and engine bay. (I will get back to it, too!)
Barry is not what one could call a man who suffers fools easily, and thus rarely shares his information with "gimme data" types that are not serious about either modeling or subjects within his bailiwick of interest. This book, therefore, is a major event from him, as well as a very handy and useful aid for anyone who is, as the book's title says, is serious about modeling the Centurion in general and the Canadian ones in specific.
Modelers who are interested in other Centurions from other countries should not be put off by the focus on Canadian use of the tanks; for the most part, the Canadian versions of the tanks were little more than identical versions to their British counterparts. The sections from the manuals cover a wide variety of tanks from Mark I to Mark 5 (he notes someplace along the line between Mark II and Mark III the numbers reverted from Roman to Arabic ones).
This book is quite different from others for one basic reason: it does not use a tape or perfect binding construction, but a spiral coil that permits the book to be opened to any page and stay flat when folded back unto itself; this is perfect for modeling details, and having broken the spines of many cheap books or been forced to xerox key pages for use in detailing, I find that one of the great "by modelers for modelers" touches provided.
The book is divided up into sections covering major groups of the vehicle: general data, armament (mostly focused on the 83.4mm 20-lber gun), turret details, hull details, fighting compartment (below the turret and the driver's compartment), main engine/auxiliary generator and transmission detail, suspension and track details, stowage diagrams, and 24 pages of Canadian Centurions in detail (three preserved vehicles) and in action during training operations. The last section is a two-page pullout of Canadian camouflage schemes used during the lifetime of the tanks in Canadian service.
There are some items missing that would have helped clarify some of the details and factors needed to make a good Centurion model. One of the main problems that I found, especially with the "motoritis" afflicted Tamiya kit, is that the hull on the Centurion is a very bizarrely shaped object, narrower at the floor and wider at the top with a "ring" around the turret race, multiple angles and different levels ? not just a "box" shape! A good three-view of just the "naked" hull structure would have really helped both show the structure as well as helped modelers to "get it right." While many of the views are there showing the angles and places to change directions, they are alas isometric drawings and not much help to the modeler trying to get the hull correct. (I want to say the sides can outward at an angle of 8 degress, but can't find my original notes. This is significant and not portrayed on the Tamiya kit.)
Barry claims there are only two kinds of models: insufficiently detailed and sufficiently detailed. This book will give the modeler who wants to produce the latter model a good leg up on getting the job done. But as he notes, you can't get some details, some etched brass, a new gun barrel, new tracks, and slap it on a Tamiya kit and say "job done." You have to actually build a model the hard way ? fixing the errors or missing components by ingenuity and initiative, and this book is a great way to learn how to do that by using the information provided to do it yourself.
Thanks to Dana Nield of Quartermaster's Depot for the review copy.
Cookie Sewell AMPS