I always liked halftracks -especially the Germans built ones. They look angular, somewhat futuristic, and they have been built in an incredible number of versions. (Especially the 251 series; more on that in a later post…)
Anyhow, the Sd.kfz. 4.1 is essentially a modified Mercedes-Benz truck that has been armored, and fitted with a 15 cm Panzerwerfer 42 rocket launcher by Opel. The armor was enough to protect the crew from small-arms fire, and the halftrack gave mobility to the rocket-launcher platform. The issue with rocket launchers was that they were relatively short-ranged area saturation weapons, that leave tell-tale trails, so counter-battery is relatively easy. So after you fired, you’d better get out of dodge FAST, because you can bet that the enemy will throw everything at you the second they recover from your rockets. This is the reason for mounting the Katyusha rockets onto trucks, by the way. Nobody wanted to stick around after the first salvo, so due to its low mobility the German version was not the most effective.
The problem of mobility lead to the Germans creating their own mobile rocket launcher platforms. They used the Sd.kfz 251 halftrack to mount the Wurfrahmen 40 rocket system. This was known as the badassly named Stuka-zu-Fuss (Stuka on foot), and also as the less-than-flatteringly named Bellowing Cow… In any way, the problem with this weapon system was that you could not stay in the vehicle while firing for obvious reasons. (Just imagine what the blast of 6 successive rocket launches would cause less than a meter from you, and you’ll see why.) They also used captured tanks and tracked vehicles to stick rocket launching platforms onto them, but these were mostly ad-hoc, field modified solutions to the problem.
The Sd.Kfz 4.1 on the other hand had no such issues. It stored the rockets in the crew compartment, so reloading was fast; and it was protected enough so the crew did not have to disembark from the vehicle before launch. All in all, it was a relatively successful weapon platform.
Roden has issued an excellent 1/72 scale version of this vehicle, but to be absolutely honest, the kit will only shine, if you invest in the Armory PE sets as well. You will absolutely need the exterior detail set, the tracks, and if you feel adventurous, the interior as well. (This is not strictly necessary, as most of it will be hidden, anyway.)
There are some issues with the base kit: the tracks are short (kind of a big problem), and they don’t look very nice, either. The details are soft: the edges of the vehicle are not sharp enough. When you compare the razor-sharp edges of the PE replacements for the fenders, the armored plates in front of the radiator, the storage boxes, etc, with the plastic parts, you’ll be happy you got the extra metal. Other than that the running gear is a bit finiky, and VERY easy to break the delicate parts.
So to the build.
Interior: really cool. I did not use many of the PE parts, simply because you will not be able to see them. There’s no point in adding the pedals, the excellent instrument panel, and the mechanisms lifting the armored panels covering the viewing slots. (OK, these come very handy if you depict the vehicle with open viewing slots, and if -unlike me- you don’t mess them up.) I installed the back of the seats, the no-slip flooring, and some smaller titbits in the engine compartment. (You get a really detailed engine, which you can superdetail as much as your little heart desires; I did not go crazy with it, though. I added some wires to the engine compartment’s firewall, and that’s about it; most of it will not be visible even if you open the engine hatches, anyway. I forgot to take photos of the finished engine compartment before closing it up, unfortunately.)
You have to admit, it looks cool with all the shiny brass.
Once I have finished with the interior (painting and weathering included), it was time to close it up, and move onto the exterior.
This is where the PE additions shine best (weak pun intended). The storage boxes, fenders, mudguards, steps; they all enhance the model significantly.
After fitting, and sanding, and fitting and sanding, the model has gotten it’s first layer of paint: black. I’ve used Citadel’s black primer spray can.
The second layer was the German Dunkelgelb. This is where the purists will crucify me, but the fact is I don’t adhere to the “sacred color charts”. While the paint was relatively standardized, true, there are many factors that would influence the final color of the vehicle. The Sun will fade it, the scale effect will make it appear lighter, and somewhat bluer; not to mention dust, wear and tear will all modify the original color. Having said that, since I planned to add a worn whitewash, it does not really make any difference, anyway.
After the yellow base color, I wanted to try something. The most popular method of simulating worn whitewash, is to use the hairspray technique: put a player of hairspray between the base color and the white, and once the white paint is dry, you can use a wet swab or brush to dissolve the hairspray. This way you can remove parts of the white paint, as if it was worn off.
Whitewash originally was either white paint (surprisingly), or more often than not, lime smeared onto the vehicle using mops and rags -so the coverage was not perfect to begin with. The whitewash was further worn off by the crew climbing all over the vehicle, by the elements (wind, snow, meltwater), etc; so by the end of Winter, if the vehicle survived that long, the white layer was usually all but worn off.
I wanted to try something other than hairspray as I did not have any of the stuff around. I did, however, had a water soluble varnish for oil paintings by Windsor. This is a thick solution, drys relatively fast, and can be redissolved with water -just the thing you need. I covered the model with the varnish, and after drying I painted Vajello’s white primer on with a flat brush. (Quickly, and using a relatively thick paint, so that the water in the paint does not dissolve the varnish.) Surprisingly it worked. Using wet swabs I was able to create the worn, washed off look I was looking for.
thinly diluted white pigments were used to “tie” the surfaces together; this takes the contrast of the yellow and white away, and blends everything together.
Different colored pigments were applied to the lower chassis and the mudguards using a wet brush both by dabbing and by flicking (simulating the mud-spatters) -and the weathering was essentially done.
And finally, the tracks.
The rubber bands you get from Roden are not very good. They are short, for one. The running gear, as I mentioned, is very delicate; any kind of tension would break the plastic parts. This means you need the PE set. Any PnzI tracks would do, actually, as this vehicle used the same tracks as the Panzer I, but I stuck with Armory’s set. (This is a rare case of common sense in the German armed forces, looking at the incredible number of different vehicles they have been using. Support must have been a true logistical nightmare.)
Armory’s tracks are brilliant. They have two parts; all you need to do is to fold up the interior part (the guide teeth), and carefully glue it to the track’s exterior part. A PE folding tool comes handy (as with the other parts of the assembly), but the folding can be done using two razor blades as well: one holds down the part, the other is used to fold it carefully.
It is made of metal, so it was easy to position it, and to simulate the typical “drop” non-live tracks have on the top of the road wheels. Even without the issues of length, the rubber bands given as tracks will never be able to give convincing results like these. This was my first experience with PE tracks; I think I’m sold on the idea.
(I have to take some photos of the vehicle with the tracks on… keep tuned.)
So there it is. A brilliant little kit, made even better by aftermarket PE. I have to say considering my skills in photoetched parts, these can be recommended to people who are not professionals. With some basic skills and patience, it it possible to achieve decent results.