Category Archives: artillery

T18 75mm Howitzer Motor Carriage (1/72 Modelltrans conversion)

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There is not much information floating around about this vehicle. It was a self-propelled gun that was designed for close infantry support in 1941 using a 75mm howitzer. The gun was built in using a gun mount adapted from the M3 Grant. Two mild steel prototypes were built on the M3 chassis, but they were not successful during their trial on the Aberdeen Proving Ground. They had a high profile, and they were nose-heavy, which meant their performance suffered considerably. These issues lead to the cancellation of the T18 project. The successor of the vehicle was the M8 where the howitzer was placed into a rotating turret.

While the SPG did fail its field tests, I think we all can agree it would have passed based on looks – it is probably one of the cutest armored vehicle I’ve seen (if you can use this word about a weapon of war). It used to be an extremely overpowered tank destroyer in World of Tanks, which was used extensively for seal-clubbing. Now they turned it into an artillery piece, with is historically more accurate.

The conversion

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The conversion set is marked as designed for the Stuart models by Mirage Hobby –but it does not specify which type of the many Stuarts from the line. I made a mistake -the first of several in the duration of this build-, and ordered the wrong one. This meant scratchbuilding the two mufflers and the boxes behind the mufflers which sit on the mudguards… not very successfully, I might add.

The kit comes in the usual Modelltrans blister pack. It consists of exactly two parts, so the conversion itself is not very difficult. We get the superstructure and the gun itself. The details are very nice on the parts, but the attachment point to the casting block on the main superstructure is at a very delicate place. The problem is that it’s very thick, and it’s right at the very delicate and fragile mudguards; extreme care needs to be taken when sawing it off. (And as usual: be very careful when working with resin. It’s best using a wet-sawing, wet-sanding technique to minimalize dust production, as the fine resin dust is quite bad for health.) There were some casting issues on the superstructure: at places the resin was flaking off, or were downright cracked. You can also see how the superstructure was cast: as if Modeltrans had used a strip of plastic to make the armor thicker, but did not bother enough to hide the outlines of this plastic strip. This can be easily dealt with some filling and sanding, though, unless you forget about it until you put on the camo already, at which point you decide to just ignore the issue. (As I did. As I said: long line of mistakes during the build of this small tank.)

 

 

 

 

building

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The assembly is dead easy: the superstructure needs to be mated with the plastic lower hull, the gun needs to be attached, and various kit parts glued to the superstructure.

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The superstructure’s fit onto the hull of a Mirage Hobby Stuart is not perfect; I needed to doctor the base kit a bit with a scalpel.

I could not find good scale drawings about the vehicle, so I used World of Tanks as a reference. It helped me to decide where to place the fuel tank caps onto the model, and it was useful for determining where to put the tools and other plastic parts coming from the Mirage Hobby kit. The machine guns barrels for the side-mounts can be adapted from the kit machine guns.
As I said I have chosen the “wrong” Stuart version: the M5A1 has the whole back of the chassis covered with armor plates, while the T18 was based on an earlier M3 chassis. The main difference for us is the mufflers were exposed, and there were two storage boxes mounted on the mudguards behind them. I’ve cobbled together some sort of replacement for these, but they are far from satisfactory.

The painting was quick. I wanted to replicate a camo scheme from World of Tanks: a very light green/grey base with darker green areas. I applied black primer, then covered it with neutral grey. I figured the green hue will be added by the subsequent filters. The green patches were added using an airbrush: with the paint flowing, I simply moved the parts of the model I wanted to paint into the way of the pait spray…

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The details were painted with a thin brush and using Citadel’s paintsl; I’ve also glued the tracks on. As you can see they’re not the best fit; I find these rubber band tracks hard to install, unless I can hide the ends under a mudguard, where they cannot be seen.

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I always liked the rubbed-off paint on metal effect on models (and real vehicles). Since I was less and less inspired to finish the model, I was ready to experiment. I simply -and carefully- rubbed the edges of the superstructure against a piece of cloth, until the black primer was exposed. This really made the tank look like it’s been through some tough times.

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The next steps were the filters: green filters did make the grey look greenish… (No big surprise, but still: big relief here.)
Some light brown and blue filters further modified the colors, and I had to use some yellow as well, as the blue made everything look very cold.
Pin washes were used on the recessed details.

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The last steps were to use Tamiya’s weathering set to add yellowish hues to the superstructure (I used the light sand colors, but only in a very light layers, as in this case I wanted to show discoloration, and not dust). I have to say, this last touch bought the model alive; suddenly it became realistic-looking.

I used mud to simulate dirt on the chassis and the suspension. The obligatory soft lead pencil was used to make the edges look metallic -which looks really convincing on the worn areas, where the black shows through.

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I’ve tried AK Interactive’s fuel stains as well on the fuel caps; I’m sure you don’t get as much spilled fuel on any tank, but at least it makes it look more interesting.

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All in all, apart from the mistakes I’ve made through this project, the result looks nice. I just have to make sure it’s not displayed showing its “bad” side.

Flak 88 (DML 1/35)

This was my very first step into the world of armor modelling, back when this kit came out.
It was a revolution of some sort. DML, which was already a respected model maker, suddenly burst into the market with a stunning model of the famous Flak 8.8. You had everything in the box to build the model, AND it cost as much as the only other game in town, the Tamiya offering from the 1970s. And when I say everything, I mean everything. Previously you had to buy metal barrels, PE, figures, individual track links (well this particular model does not have one, but the upcoming models did), etc; aftermarket parts which pushed the total cost of an armor model into the stratosphere. And now DML came, and started to issue newly designed kits using a (then) new technology of slide-moulding, with all these goodies already included – all these for lower prices than the overpriced (and antiquated) Tamiya kits. (I know I’m committing sacrilege here, but seriously: most Tamiya kits were/are reissues from the ’70s, and still show signs of motorization…)

So this was the first shot fired by DML, which was followed by their incredible Tiger series.

As I said, the model was a joy to assemble, even though it was by far the most complex I’ve ever built at that point. DML has found the perfect balance between detail, complexity and ease of build; the model does not feel overengineered or unnecessarily complex. Even the carriage worked the same way as it did in real life – you can actually put the gun into travel position once built. (The gun also has a recoil feature, which I do not understand the need for, but there it is.) I have built two of these kits: one with gun shields and unlimbered, and one on the carriage, without shield, ready to use. (These guns were designed to be used before unlimbering them; it took 8 minutes to do so, and sometimes it was not an option. So you just dropped the supports, and started shooting while still attached to the carriage.)

 

Well, this was the first of those boxes which were so full you could not closet them again upon opening…

 

You can’t help but admire the presentation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30th Post: a Teaser – Flyhawk Panzer II.J., Panzer I. F., Armory MS-1 (T-18) and the Tankom 1/144 Landkreuzer Ratte

This is the 30th post of this blog, and since I’d like to have regular readers, feedback, comments, and all that jazz, it is also an unashamed attempt for getting people to visit… There are several new and old builds waiting to be published in the draft section, but here are four amazing models I am reviewing for Armorama this month… and these three will also be featured in this blog. So… subscribe and keep coming back here already!

(If this does not work, I’ll be posting the third page from The Sun from now on.)

Sd.Kfz.251 bonanza part 2. The AAA section

Just to recap from part one – I developed an immense (or unhealthy, depending on your point of view) fascination with the different versions and variations of the sd.kfz. 251 halftrack series at one point in my life. (Others do coke; I think I was still better off, although the costs were probably the same.)

I realized a lot of these models were available as conversions in 1/72, and the scale also offered one thing the 1/35 scale can never do: a reasonable time-frame of building. Imagine completing 10-13 models of the same type, putting together the same modules, gluing the same individual tracks, and you’ll have a decent image of a scale modeller’s hell. (At least my hell.) A disclaimer (again): unfortunately I had no airbrush at the time; and my skills with brushes are not as good as the airbrushing skills (which are, in turn, not very high either). So view the results with this in mind, please. (I also need to mention -again- that I used DML’s 1/72 251 model – I can only recommend this kit to anyone. It’s accurate, easy to build, the details are perfect, and it’s ideal for conversions.)

So to today’s topic: AAA vehicles. Funnily enough the Germans did not manage to stick an 8.8 onto this platform; the chassis was simply not strong enough. (I did build a lot of 8.8 based vehicles; most of them are on this blog, and some will be featured as soon as they are finished.)

That leaves us with the smaller caliber guns. Since Allied air superiority was an issue at later stages of the war, many different vehicles were converted into anti-aircraft gun platform. Some of these vehicles were purpose built, based on a chassis of an usually outdated vehicle, and a lot of them were converted ad hoc. There were even kits delivered to divisions which helped the workshops to do the conversion in the field. The success rate of these vehicles are dubious – for obvious reasons they quickly became the targets of ground attack aircraft, and they were not as heavily armored as the tanks they were protecting.

Sd.Kfz. 251/17

This version was equipped with a pretty cool looking gun with a small, triangular gunshield, which can be used against low flying airplanes or infantry for that matter. ModellTrans offers a neat little conversion set with turned barrel, and I have to admit it’s pretty nice. The attachment of the shield is a bit difficult, and you’ll have to add some styrene rods to the build yourself, but that’s just part of the world of resin conversions. (The moulding is pretty impressive; they managed to mould the handgrabs onto the shield.) More important issue, though, is that only one ammo storage rack is provided. I wrote a review about this conversion on armorama, so if you want to know more about the kit itself, you can read more about it.

There are instructions provided, which was a welcome change.

You literally just drop the gun into the hull, and you’re done with the conversion. No surgery, no major modification required.

Painted and weathered… (It was a learning curve how to weather 1/72 kits. Funnily enough it looks pretty good by eye; the camera has this tendency to expose the problems in a very brutally honest manner.)

Next stop: the Sd.Kfz.251/21 Drilling


To introduce this version I’d like to quote the review of this conversion.

As war progressed, aircraft needed a bigger punch. The Luftwaffe adopted heavier 3 cm cannons instead of the various 1.5-2 cm guns they have been using before, so there was a large surplus of the excellent Mauser MG151/15 and 20 cannons (15 and 20 mm respectively). Not to let the guns go to waste, the Kriegsmarine constructed a simple triple gun mount called Flak Drilling Sockellafette. This gun mount was adapted for the Sd.Kfz.251 to provide an anti-aircraft platform. They were available as kits for the troops to make this conversion possible on the field as I mentioned in the introduction. All benches were removed from the vehicle, and additional armor plates were installed around the sides. The mount itself was simply bolted onto the floor of the passenger compartment. Two ammo chests were placed in the back with a total capacity of 3000 rounds/vehicle.

The gun mount was a full rotating pedestal with a cradle assembly which housed three MG151s. They were mounted slightly offset to the right side to allow clearance for the ammunition belts and feed chutes. The shells and belt links were collected inside the pedestal. The guns were fed from three ammunition boxes attached to the pedestal itself. The center box was larger than the two others, containing 400 rounds in mixed HE, AP and tracer rounds. The two side boxes contained 250 rounds each. This arrangement was necessary as the middle gun was considerably more difficult to reload.

The gunner was sitting on a metal seat suspended at the rear of the gun, and operated the whole mount manually. The triggers were placed on the two handgrips. Early versions had reflector type gun sights, while the late ones used speed ring sights. (The armor shield and cradle assembly was different as well in these versions.)

The CMK conversion set is typical of the company: it’s professional, well designed, easy to assemble, but somewhat sparse on the details, and contains inaccuracies. (The review lists the issues I could find with the set.) The most important issue concerns the gun barrels. They are made of resin, and quite chunky. I’ve seen amazingly accurate resin barrels for the Modelltrans Luchs, so convincing 2cm guns can be produced using resin, but these ones really look like a couple of broom handles. This is when you buy an aftermarket set for your aftermarket set -a couple of metal barrels. The other problem is that the gun sits too low on its pedestal; the whole assembly should be much more higher to clear the sides of the vehicle. I’ve lifted it up considerably once I realized that it would sink under the sides. (The shields are way too wide as well, but this is not as noticeable.)

Sd.Kfz.251/17 mit 2 cm Flak 38 Luftwaffe Ausführung


This was a purpose-built anti-aircraft platform for the Luftwaffe’s armored forces. (I know. Why they needed tanks is everyone’s guess. Goering wanted some cool stuff, too, and that was the end of the story. I think the world can thank a lot to the ineptitude and stupidity of the leaders of the Third Reich… looking at the success of the Mongols it’s a scary thought what would have happened if the German war machine was lead by competent leaders.) Anyway, back to the model. The whole crew compartment was radically altered to accomodate the 2cm Flak gun and the fold-down sides. All in all, it looks quite wicked I think.
ModellTrans offers a full kit of this vehicle. There are some issues with the kit: some moulding imperfection (which are to be expected), some accuracy issues (please read the review for more information), but the main problem is with the chassis itself: it’s different from the basic model. The bottom of the chassis is much more narrow than the original 251’s. I think it’s safe to say that it’s a problem with the model, and not a design feature in the original half-track, however it is an issue which you will not notice once the model is complete. The shields are very thin, and quite delicate -a very impressive feat in resin-making. As usual, instructions are somewhat sparse- they only cover the gun’s assembly. Using photos, however, it should not be a problem to build the rest of the model. (Of all the missing details I really think they should have included the rifle-rack on the mudguards, though. I’m planning to add it at a later time.)

So here they go. The three AAA vehicles in the display case. Since I’m moving about a lot, and don’t have a stable base of operation, I’m fixing my models in display cases -easy to store, easy to transport. It also protects them from accidental damage and dust.

DML 1/144 Leopold Railway Gun

This one is a very old build. I bought it at least ten years ago; it seemed like a saner option than buying the 1/35 version made by Dragon. (Not to mention a cheaper one.) The subject is one of those atavistic, yet mind-blowing things of the Second World War: a gigantic gun that is mounted onto a railway carriage. Tactical and operational mobility is almost zero; and good luck if you want to turn the gun 20 degrees. It’s useful if you want to lob shell after shell on a faraway target, if your target is large enough, and stationary enough. (They had to build the railroad tracks usually before the deployment of the gun, and it does take time. The rate of fire was also somewhat low; a couple of shells every day. Additionally, you have to factor in the wear and tear on the gun; the lining had to be changed quite frequently, which also lowered the strategic value of these weapons.) But to be fair if you want to cause damage and kill, you just use bombers. It’s cheaper and more flexible. (If you really must cause damage and kill, of course. For one, I prefer these things in 1/144 scale.) The non-plus ultra of this insanity was the Dora railway gun; a the largest gun ever built, with an average rate of fire of two shells per day. I do have it somewhere in 1/144, waiting to be built. It’s a huge model even in this scale, by the way. The 1/35 scale model of this thing is over two meters long by the way…

Back to the 1/144 Panzer Korps. As I said before, these kits are amazing; small gems in fact. I should have bought all I could when they were still in production, and were readily available. This is the gun in all its glory. The detail is astonishingly sharp and very, very good; some 1/72 models could hang their heads in shame looking at this level of detail. And you get photoetched parts, of course. And a metal barrel. Everything nicely pre-packaged, waiting for you to start. The build was amazing. (As a personal note: I still remember watching the Wedding crashers with my girlfriend while I was building it. It’s strange how things like this associate themselves with the model…) The build was a joy. The only challenging part was to glue together the railway sections, and fill in the seams so that they don’t stand out. (The surface is really rough, so I had to try to make the surface of the filler look similarly rough. In other words: it was not a difficult build.) The PE really does enhance this little gun. There is a crew provided, but I decided very early on not to include the little dudes. I usually don’t add figures to my models, because no matter how well they are done (and I cannot paint them well enough) they look artificial, and ruin the illusion of the model for me. We are getting into philosophy here, but let me explain it quickly. I think we all accept that a scale model is a representative 3D image of the real thing, and only that. It does not try to be the tank in a smaller scale. This is why we accept heavier weathering on models than on the real tanks; we accept that it is not a direct, smaller copy, but only the representation of the real vehicle. Kind of like a technical drawing, or a painting, and as such it overemphasizes certain things. By adding a lot of scratches, dust and dirt we show that this tank had a story, it was used. Adding a crew changes the model; it makes it a bit toy-like for me. (We’re not discussing dioramas, of course. Dioramas tell a story, which is a different matter altogether.) So, back to the model at hand. In the background you can see a 1/72 DML T-34/76, and a 1/72 DML Mi-28 Havoc… The first layer of paint was black, of course, and then successive layers of lighter and lighter German gray. Because the scale is so small, the final color should be really light. The Leopold only looks dark on these photos because of the gloss coat applied.   A flat coat makes it look much lighter. It also seals the decals. Filters applied using oil paints. Mostly white, burnt umber and blue, applied using the dot method. I did not want to overdo the weathering (after all, you would not be seeing any scratches and rust from a distance that corresponds this scale), but a little fading, some discoloration due to rain does make the model feel more “real”.     A little size comparison: 1/35 Stug IV, 1/144 Leopold, Thor, JgdPanther and some Hetzer-based howitzer whose name I forgot. (Apologies for that.)  

Hasegawa Karl-Gerät

The Germans had an obsession with enormous guns. Sturmtiger, Karl-Gerat, rail guns of all sorts – Dora especially, it seems like whomever was in charge for projects, he was overcompensating for something. They look awesome, they make for nice scale models, but that’s mostly it. Somehow the designers of these enormous weapons forgot one important thing the 20th century already taught by the time they were conceived: if you really need to kill a lot of people, it’s cheaper to do it using the air force. The sheer logistics required to set up and operate these weapons severely limited their usefulness in a fluid, dynamic battlefield. They were designed for a static siege warfare, and that was mostly a thing of the past. The Karl mortars saw service at Sevastopol, at Warsaw, and at the Battle of the Bulge, but in general, their impact was not exactly strategic.

The Karl line of self-propelled mortars were designed as siege weapons for the Maginot line. They were supposed to lob enormous projectiles onto the walls until they cracked, from a relatively safe distance. Because of the enormous recoil generated, these monsters actually had to be lowered to the ground, otherwise their torsion bars would have broken the first time they fired. They were also very, very, very slow. Slow to move, slow to fire. This is not really surprising, considering the projectile weighted as much as a small car. This meant they could not store their ammunition (or the separate propellants) on board. There were dedicated ammunition carriers converted from panzer IV’s, which were ferrying ammo from the supply dumps to these guns. There were seven of these guns built, and six of them had their own names. (Adam, Eva, Thor, Odin, Loki, Ziu: because nothing’s better than naming a tool of destruction after Adam and Eve; Thor and the other Norse gods at least are fitting.)

Hasegawa came out with two kits long, long time ago, depicting these weapons: one showing the mortar on a rail carriage (actually, hung up between the two dedicated carriages), and one in deployment with a carrier provided. Since the vehicle would be enormous in 1/35, I’ve chosen to do the 1/72 version. (Hobby Boss came out with its own Karls; they probably are really nice kits, but I have not had a chance to take a look at them.)

The Hasegawa offering is surprisingly good considering its age. You can choose between the original 60cm or the later long-barreled 54cm variants. As you can see, I’ve chosen the late-war 54cm mortar, since I’ve already built the DML 1/144 version of the same vehicle with the 60cm gun. You essentially get two models -the mortar and the ammo carrier-, and they both are very nice kits on their own right. It really was a joy to build them.

This was the first ever time I tried my airbrush. I used a dark brown primer (simple spray can), and as the first color of the 3 colored camouflage I layered sand on top.

The brown-green camo was done using silly putty as masking.

Once all the colors were on, I used brown filters to turn the sand color more like the German Dunkelgelb, and to blend the different colors together. Once all the camo colors were done, I installed the ammunition into the carrier. I used thread to simulate the metal cables for the winch, but I ran into some difficulties: the projectile carried in the arm of the winch was simply too light, so the thread was not stretched. It looked like it was holding a projectile-shaped balloon, and not a 2000kg projectile. I cut away the bottom of the projectile, and stuffed as much fishing lead into the cavity as I could. I also pulled the thread tight, and applied glue to it to make it still. These two solutions together made a realistic-looking winch.

I used some heavily diluted burnt sienna as a pin-wash to bring out the small details, and some rust-colored scratches here and there. I did not want to take the weathering too far, as these guns were always very much maintained by their crew. The models were sprayed with some semi-matt varnish to protect the pain, and to give it a metallic shine. (After all we kind of expect painted metallic surfaces not to be completely dull, even though -in reality they mostly are.)

And there they are: a mixture of gray and brown pain oversprayed lightly onto the running gear and the lower chassis of the two vehicles to simulate dust, some use of a soft lead pencil to simulate worn metal, and I declared the models finished. (I don’t always use dry-brushing; sometimes you don’t need a stark contrast on the surface of a model.)

 

 

10.5 cm ls.F.H auf Geschützwagen Char B-1(f) by ModellTrans and Trumpeter

Let’s start with this conversion.

The vehicle was built using the captured Char B1 tanks by the Germans; they did away with the turret, and put in a 10.5cm light field howitzer. The results are interesting-looking even by the standards of hastily converted self-propelled guns.

Both Modelltrans and Armory has a conversion for this vehicle; both use the excellent Trumpeter B1 as a base. (There is no other plastic model available, anyway.) I only have built the ModellTrans conversion, so I cannot give an accurate comparison between the two kits; the Armory version seems more detailed, it makes use of PE better (gun shields are more to scale thickness), and it’s also more expensive.

The ModellTrans version is entirely resin, and it’s probably an easier build, too.

ModellTrans conversion

 

As with all ModellTrans kits I’ve built so far, there are some quality issues with the parts: the gun shields on both sides are nicked (they are very thin, delicate parts), and there were some casting imperfections/bubbles which needed to be corrected. After carefully applying putty and VERY delicate sanding I ended up leaving the gun shields alone as I could not figure out how to fix the problem completely. The nicks are not as visible as before, but they still can be seen. Write it up for battle damage.

There is some surgery necessary on the base kit, but it’s not very difficult. I could not find photo/drawing of the actual vehicle, so I have no idea how the base looked like in real life; in this version it is a flat metal plate. In Armory’s version it’s a more elaborate contraption, and in some scratch-built models I saw online, the inside of the tank is accessible from the gun platform. I think it’s a safe bet to say that this last version is the most likely one. (Makes sense not to isolate the vehicle from the gun; after all there’s additional ammo storage in the inside of the tank, and the gun crew must also have a relatively safe way to get to their gun.)

The gun’s base

The gun shields were relatively easy to install; they fit onto the base well. A black base-coat was applied to the model. The gun cradle, the optics and the operating wheels were installed without glue at this stage as I needed them to make sure all the parts were lined up correctly.

 

Superstructure
Superstructure

Once everything was aligned, I glued the cradle in. I suspect the crew compartment is lacking a radio (at least), but the room was so tight I could not fit in a leftover FuG from an Sd.Kfz.251 kit. There was some issues with the molding of one of the ammo racks: two of the shells had casting errors (their top was missing), so they were cut off, and I drilled a hole in their place.

There were a couple of gray layers sprayed onto the model; each layer was successively lighter than the previous one. To break up the monotony of the gray I applied brown/blue/yellow filters using oil paints. (I used the dot-method: first let the paint sit on a piece of cardboard to get rid of the linseed oil, then dot them onto the model, and wash them off with a clean and wet brush.) I applied burned sienna onto the sides in patches this way as well. The contrast is really high on these photos, but in normal light they do blend in nicely. With a toothpick I carefully rubbed/scratched the topmost paint layer off at some places to reveal the darker gray underneath. This was done to create further signs of wear and tear, as I wanted the tank to look worn and used.

Painted and weathered
Gun installed

The crew compartment was weathered quite heavily: scratches, rust, and dust was freely applied.

Before painting the gun had to undergo some minor surgery (although aftermarket gun barrels are available, I did not feel like buying an aftermarket gun for my aftermarket conversion). The main problem was the muzzle break: there was some resin blocking the side-openings. This chunk had to be carefully cut away, and the muzzle break had to be opened up. I drilled it through both from the front and from the sides, and then used a thin blade to make the side holes square. Another issue was the mating of the gun’s tube to the muzzle break; the diameters of the two parts were slightly off, and the joint is quite visible. I thought about trying to sand the difference off, but decided not to exacerbate the problem with unskilled meddling.

After installing the gun I pained the exhaust pipes in rust colors, added the tracks, and added streaking to the sides using both oils and pigments dissolved in water.

The horizontal surfaces were lightly dusted with light gray colored pigments, and the tracks and lower chassis had some earth-shaded pigments applied to simulate dried mud. All the edges and rivets were lightly traced with a soft graphite pencil to simulate worn metal.

 

Finished model
Finished model

 

All in all, the Trumpeter B1 Bis is a joy to build, and the ModellTrans conversion makes a convincing SPG in this scale. Based on this experience and what I saw online, if you don’t mind the extra costs, and can work with PE, I’d go with the Armory set.