The Airfix M4 Sherman Tank - By José Ventura - (original article formerly on the miniaturezone.co.uk website)
The part will deal with the fabled Airfix model. This is an old model, my very first was in a plastic bag, after that it appears in clear perspex/cardboard to end in a card-box. It ranged from Airfix, Humbrol to Heller labels, but under the skin it's always the same model, with their strong parts and weakness. An interesting trivia, is that this model was cloned (this is the modern terminology to indicate a copy) by MIDORI, for their sadly death Armour Series, making it their only WW2 US AFV entry.
By now most models presents a lot of flash and some noticeable sink marks in some parts, needing some careful cleaning and some liberal use of putty. The model is at 1:76, all-round - with the exception of the turret - perhaps a little short in terms of hull length (around 1mm shorter), but this is hardly perceptible, after putting some stowage on the rear, as appears in most British and Commonwealth versions.
The positive side is that this is a Sherman (always a positive one :-)), it's a 57º hull rolled steel/welded version (the only other one, in 1:76, is the now sadly missing Matchbox Firefly). And the last but not the least, this model have a lot of conversion potential, and, I almost forget, it's a cheap model.
I will deal mostly with the NW and Italian ETO versions. I will leave PTO and post-WW2 for others, as my knowledge in these areas is very thin. As always the bibliography I presented previously is of interested here, and if one as the possibility to look at the Militaria Hors-Serie, on the Great Battles of WW2 (sorry only in French, but a good source for some rare photos) you will not regret...
I will ask that you should excuse me, first for my bad English and second for the loose organisation of these lines, but this is not a lovely kit as Fujimi's M4, meaning a lot of work/corrections to be done.
I organised this text with an analysis of the basic kit, as you get it from the box, followed by advice - my own opinion - how to improve, correct and/or modifying it, so lets start with the work.
Starting with the wheels/track arrangement, while the wheels/bogie arrangement is correct they are a little simplistic, but they will do (if one could afford, replacing them with the Matchbox ones will be great). They represent a normal horizontal return roller arms version, but the way the later were made, is imperative that some care is need when glue them, so not to twist them to much on the vertical plan to made them as the upswept return rollers version.
The tracks could range for bad, to awful bad. While some of them with time will turn in a blob of rubber, others will dry out, shrink and turn into dust. The later ones, from Heller - in a light grey/metallic finish - seem to be better, but only time will say that. Again, an alternative, especially to a Sherman in 1944/45, you could use the proposal from Matchbox Firefly, or even the ones from the M7 Priest, from the same company, or even adapting the ones from ESCI/Italeri, after trimmed to the correct scale.
The first proposal of modification, is to made one, using the M3 suspension units, borrowed from an Airfix Grant/Lee (due to be re-release this year) or from a Matchbox M7 Priest. This way you could made a very early version as used by the US Army in the Tunisian Front, in 1943, and also during the Sicilian/Italian operations, some ones soldiering well into 1945, even without being rebuild / remanufactured.
Some detailing of the sprocket wheels is needed, using real ones photos or replacing it for another more detailed one, especially if a very early (M3 suspension) was made. In my opinion, the sprocket seems to be a little advanced, giving a disproportionate look to the chassis/tracks, mostly due to the shorter length of the hull, so perhaps relocating it a 1mm shorter will help.
Now the hull, as represented is a 57º rolled / welded version, with cast bow MG, narrow hoods for the driver and co-driver, as presented in the 1942-43 production series, which is a good thing, but.
Starting with the nose / transmission cover (tranny), these versions could appear with 3 different types: The early 3 piece bolted one, the rounded cast one piece, and the later cast sharp one, as it appears on the Fujimi's M4, ESCI/Italeri M4A1 just to name a few well know model. The kit represents. all of them in one. So if the shape is very near the late sharp tranny, the presence of the bolted parts, seems to indicate an early one.
So the modeller have 3 alternatives:
# Leaving the kit like that, Who Worries! Keep on smiling :-)
# Cover it, with a lot of sandbags/paraphernalia/stowage, so no one should notice. And if anyone even attempts to look carefully, just give him/her that look :-(!
# Rebuild it!
I took the later approach, so I removed the lines representing the bolted joints, and sanded/carved it until I get the correct shape, for a late sharp tranny - the easiest of them all. With some more shaping, the middle one was made, very like the one presented - wrongly - in the M36 from Nitto/Fujimi. To make the early 3 parts bolted nose, you should reinforced the interior, with plastic card (also some on the exterior would help) and/or epoxy glue (5minute Araldite, for example), so that you could carve it, with their distinct shape. As an alternative you could use one from a Matchbox M7 Priest, a Nitto/Fujimi's M12 or M30 (or perhaps a Airfix M3 ?), as Dugz made in his M4A2 version (using the Matchbox M7), cutting the original, and inserting the new one.
By now, you could have 2 different wheels/bogie arrangements, the M3 and the M4 one that comes with the kit, and also three different noses/trannies. The M3 suspension should only go with the early 3 parts bolted one. This 3 early nose together with the other two were also present in vehicles with the normal M4 suspension.
Continuing with original kit, now going to another area with some problems, the drivers positions or hoods (the protuberances in the frontal plate, and were the hull hatches are).
The ones in the kit are hybrid ones, as while they are of the cast narrow type, which are the correct ones for a M4 and of the short type, typical of the early hulls, with direct vision devices. Unfortunately these are not modelled. Another drawback is that they are more like of the angular welded type, which to my knowledge were never used on a M4, only M4A2.
But this "error" could be a blessing, as with it we could modelled all the different narrow hood types. Simply by rounding the front and edges of the kit's hood, we could modelled a early direct vision one, to go with a early 3 pieces tranny, with M3 suspension, typical of a Tunisian M4. One could modelled easily the vision slips, using the In Action sketch on page 6, as a guide to all this "conversion" carving a small "lip" and inserting a small rectangle of plastic (most of them were welded shut later on 1944). The same hull with 3-piece nose, direct vision narrow hoods, and M4 suspension will made a typical Sicilian/Italian M4, as used by the US Army (the only users of the M4 on Italian Campaign). These direct vision narrow hoods, could also use the later 1 piece cast round tranny, on the Italian battlefields.
Now if one wants a later long narrow hood, with additional periscopes, you should simply glue a piece of plasticard 1,5mm thick (naturally with the same width and height as the front of the hood) in front of it. After that, just use some putty to hide some gaps and round their corners, and add a small rectangle of plastic on the top of the roof, just in front of the driver's hatches, to simulate the added periscopes. A 0,6mm high rectangle will mean an open periscope, and a flat one the retracted one, and voilá a late M4 (some good info on In Action Page 7).
Tanks with long narrow hood could use any type of trannies, but only M4 suspensions. These are also used in the Italy, but not in Tunisia.
Continuing with the hull, one major flaw was the top of it, mostly due to the under sized turret (attention! not on height but on diameter). If one wants to correct it this is a major work, as it will need to clean all detail, use a new turret, the most useful for this version will be the one from Nitto/Fujimi's M4A1, or adding plasticard to the original's sides to correct it. After this, remade, from scratch all the detail, using the plans from In Action. Wonderful, but. In the end, unless you are a "expert" in this kit, and if this area is not clutter with extra stowage, this is hardly noticeable.
And also I'm a modeller and a wargamer, and I game with 1:1 ratio, which is the same to say that one tank in TOE represents 1 tank on the table. My skirmishes are large, as I use entire units/platoons, so I need to model some numbers of vehicles, normally 2 to 3 troops, in the case of the British or 2 platoons in the case of US or German (around 9 to 10 tanks). This means that I always dispense these improvement, leaving the original turret and hull disposition.
The rest of the Hull is correct, needing only to:
# Add a pair of rear Air Cleaner (I cheat always here, using the ones from ESCI/Italeri M4A1 which are the same, but a suitable round (early) square (late) plastic piece will do);
# Adding the front mudguards/sandshields, missing in the original, and a item that normally is present, contrary to the side sandshields which get loose very quickly;
# I also added a little strip of plastic, on the base of the side sponson to replicate the attachment points to these missing side sandshields.
That turret! As I already stated is a little on the small size, in terms of diameter. It represents a typical low bustle turret, with M34 combination gun rotor, so early small frontal shield, without side protectors. In some kit batches, the left-hand side pistol/ejection port is a little malformed, almost passing for the cast bulge on some late low bustle turret. After this, I must only stress that the turret needs only a few improvements, like extra detailing, with the periscopes guards, lifting eyes made from copper wire (also the same on the hull, and the frontal lights and respective guards, altogether missing).
If one wants an early low bustle, some detailing of the pistol port is needed, I have used a replication of a Nitto/Fujimi's M4A1 one, using the plasticine/Araldite technique, on mine. If the choice is a late low bustle you simply remove it. For a early late low bustle, you could simply leave like the original, perhaps doing only some sanding to represent a welded/sealed/cast pistol port.
As mandatory on late low bustle turrets, is the cast in side armour reinforcement, on the side front cheek.
The only other area of major variation, on the turret is the mantlet arrangement. For these, I only have 3 major variations
# The original one from the kit for an Tunisian or early Italian M4;
# Adding side guards (small rectangular plastic pieces) and/or adding an external shield for the CoaxMG, to make another type of early M4 as used on the Italian Theatre;
# 3rd alternative, replace all the shield arrangements by an M34A1 one, the large one. For these, you could "borrow" one from the ESCI/Italeri M4A1 and trimmed it to 1:76, or simple using plasticard. To bend it permanently I moulded around a suitable round surface, like the handle of a large brush, fixing it with some office fixing tape, and emerging it (but not the hand/fingers) on a recipient with boiling water, for some 5 seconds, this will fix the shape of it for good. After this you just added another plastic piece, for the central part, added the side protectors, do the holes for the rivets, sight and CoaxMG and it is finish.
The rest is only a question of improving details all around the model, with perhaps new tools, extra stowage, improved rivets (particularly on the join between the nose and the glacis) and so on.
Before we continue, lets make a state of situation, before speaking of the remanufactured versions:
# A typical Tunisian M4, should use a M3 suspension, with 3-piece bolted nose, direct vision hoods and early low bustle turret with simple M34 mantlet (as on the kit)
# The same version, but with the normal M4 suspension made it debut during the Tunisian Campaign, so this could still be used.
# During the Sicilian/Italian operations, while numbers of the already mentioned versions were still in use until 1945, you could made a M4 with M4 suspension, 3-piece tranny, but with long narrow hood, and the same turret as previously.
# Another variation will be replacing the 3-piece tranny, by an early rounded cast one. These later two are the more typical appearance for a late 1943 or early 1944 M4 in this theatre of operations, with the original M34 mantlet turret or with the variation of the added CoaxMG shield and/or side flanks for the gun.
# The later versions have 1 piece cast tranny, mostly round (as the sharp version seems to appear only in versions with appliqué armour), long narrow hood, and low bustle turret with M34A1 mantlet, most of them, but not all, with appliqué armour on the right hand cheek of the turret.
# Some interesting variations also appear, on the Italian front, with early turrets with appliqué armour. Low bustle turrets, with appliqué armour and M34A1 mantlet or versions with low bustle turrets with cast in side armour reinforcement and M34A1 mantlet, could be found in early hulls, mostly with 3-piece tranny and long narrow hood, so for these just get a picture and .start modelling.
# The very late version, most of them issue during 1944, with 1-piece sharp nose, long narrow hood, with travel lock on the hull glacis (take the one from Fujimi's M4 105mm), late low bustle turret, with cast in side reinforcing, and most of them, if not all, with hull appliqué armour, so we need to look at those remanufactured versions.
MAKING A REMANUFACTURED M4 (not the exact term, but useful for modelling)
The next step, in terms of M4 evolution, was the remanufactured versions. It all started, with the planning of the Overlord operation, and the equipment of the US units, leading to the stocking of vast numbers of AFV and other military equipment. On the case of the M4, this means that a lot of all versions - but not the very early ones with M3 suspension, limited to the Italian front - were stocked in England. At the same time, reports from the front were referring to some problems on the basic design: the famous incendiary feature of the Sherman, and lack of protection when confronted with long barrel German AFVs. At the same time the shot traps presented by the exposed frontal hoods here also studied.
As a stopgap 1" thick appliqué plates were welded over the three sponson ammo bins, two on the right hand side and one on the left. At the same time appliqué armour, mostly made of two separate plates, of the same thickness as the hull was welded on the right hand frontal side of the turret, to protect that side, as the armour there was thinner due to the M3 L/40,5 gun assembly. To negate the exposed frontal hood surface, 1 1/2" thickness armour was welded in front of the driver's hood, at an angle, providing some spaced armour protection. Later, the turret appliqué armour was replaced with the introduction of the late low bustle, with cast in side armour reinforcement, and without the pistol/ejection port on the left-hand rear side.
With time, these modifications were retrofitted on early versions on depots all-around England, with versions with the M34 gun assemblies being replaced by M34A1 one, and all receiving the appliqué armour. This means that in most, if not all, pictures, the US M4 in NW Europe, independent of the version of tranny, hood, or turret, will show a version with appliqué armour and M34A1 mantlet. I only know a picture of no-appliqué armour M4, attributed to the 7th US A.D. on the Bulge, but even so the picture is of bad quality, leaving some doubts about a no-appliqué one.
The very late middle M4 version (the one before the composite/hybrid version) could use a new type of turret, the high bustle one, with reinforced cheek, oval loaders hatch, and pistol port. But until now, only some Fireflies were ID with this combination. Another possible variation, rumoured to be made, in some rebuild workshops, was the fitting of the oval loaders hatch in some late low bustle turrets. Again only pictures of Fireflies were known.
To replicate the appliqué armour I just used 0,33mm or 0,5mm thick plasticard, cut to size, using the plans from the In Action. To simulate the weld seams, a little of liquid glue, will soften the edges, so this could be modelled with the tip of a modelling knife. In case of the welded seam presented on the frontal co-driver appliqué armour, due to the bow MG, a little of stretched sprue (made be approaching a piece of grapple sprue on a flame source and stretched to made a thin plastic rod) softened with liquid glue will due the trick. An advantage of these NW versions is that, with it you don't need to model the direct visions any more as the extra armour will hide these.
By now, you could almost double the M4 variants, simply by making the original ones and also them as remanufactured. And do not forget, that even in smaller numbers, remanufactured versions were also used in the Italian front, sometimes side-by-side with early ones.
To finish the model just (propositions):
# Drop a lot of stowage, using the spares box or using the ones from SHQ or MMS;
# Chicken wire, made it with some stretched sprue glued on the hull and Turret, and after that I glued tulle, the one with hexagonal pattern, over the sprue;
# A Culling Hedgerow/Douglas Device, better known as Rhino, made using evergreen H-beam, T-beam or some ESCI tank obstacles;
# Extra tracks for extra protection - not a typical US feature, more a British & Commonwealth one;
# Boxes, mostly from 0,50" MG ammo, welded on the rear of the turret and/or hull for extra stowage, even on late 44/early 45, one on the rear hull for a field telephone, on the rear of the M4, for fast communication with the infantry;
# Sandbags, mostly on the front, but also sometimes on the sides of the Hull and/or turret, some with complex external structures;
# Logs and/or wood planks, to be used as soft standing armour against the dreaded Panzerfaust, on the front and sides
# Paint it with OD (for the NW ETO), and perhaps also using Black as secondary camouflage colour.
WHO'S WHO ON M4
The major users of the M4 were the US Army, particularly on the Armored Divisions, and independent Tank Battalions, mostly attached to the Inf. Div., either in Tunisia, Italy and NW ETO.
The British and Commonwealth (and the Poles) do not use M4 during the Mediterranean Campaign, relying mostly on the M4A2, M4A4, with some numbers of M4A1. The only rolled armour/welded M4 in Italy were Fireflies late on the campaign.
In the beginning of the NW Campaign, all US Armoured units used M4 and M4A1, due to their identical engine, this include the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th Arm. Div. and a lot of independent Tank Battalions. In this case most, if not all, of the M4 have appliqué armour. After September 1944, some of these units, started receiving as replacements M4A3, mostly M4A3(75)W and M4A3(76)W, but the 2nd and 3rd used mostly M4 and M4A1, later with some M4A3, until the end of the hostilities.
The British and Commonwealth, use some numbers of rolled armour/welded hulls M4s, almost exclusively on the British 33rd Armoured Brigade. When the rolled armour/welded M4 Fireflies started to appear, they were release to all units, side by side with 75mm M4A4 and M4A2, and similar armed M4A4, while independent Brig./Bat., as the Poles and Czech use mostly the M4A2 with M4A4.In Free French units (particularly interesting due to their colourful markings) a miscellany of versions were used, mostly M4A2, M4A4, M4A3 and even some very few M4A1 (including at least a very early with direct visions and M3 bogies in 1945!) but no M4 (indeed only a M4 Composite.
NOW HOW TO MODEL A BRITISH/COMMONWEALTH M4?
The British units only used M4 with appliqué armour, using any combination, as on the case of US units. The only variation has to do with stowage. Almost all M4, if not all Shermans, in British/Commonwealth service receive:
# On versions without the 2" smoke mortar, two British standard smoke discharges were welded, on the turret right hand side, as is visible on the M4c sketch posted on the files section;
# An extra box, on the rear of the turret, welded or fixed on the rear bustle. In the Mediterranean (only M4A2 & M4A4), most of these "boxes" seems to be old Crusader stowage boxes, with their distinct oval section shape, reused by the crews. So just get a Airfix Crusader, and copy the stwage box, or look at some pictures - this is the part were the Militaria Hors-Serie is useful. On NW Europe, these are of a different pattern, almost similar to the radio box on the back of the Firefly. To replicate this one I made a box, rectangular in section, with the same width and some 1mm higher as the rear bustle, from plasticard, using real ones as inspiration and guide. In some cases I have made, with plastic strip, the supports while in others I simply glue it to the bustle, simulating a welded one.
#In the case of a Canadian unit, another variation was present in some Shermans (but not the M4.) were this box is a little less higher on the rear, creating a small inclination on the horizontal top deck, but while I remember it well, I did get any picture to show it.
AND WHAT ABOUT A M4C OR FIREFLY?
For this I only made a few extra modifications, beyond those already stated for a Commonwealth M4:
# I just use a gun and mantlet from a Matchbox Firefly, if this is not available you must scratch-build it;
# I replace the original gun rotor - the one were the gun with short shield will be inserted on the kit - by a new one, in my case, as on the picture posted some time ago on this group, using a Airfix T34 external fuel tank, cut in half and adapted;
# Made the adaptations to a early low bustle turret, with appliqué armour, or a late low bustle, without pistol/ejection port and cast in reinforced cheek;
# In case of an early version, I replicate in Araldite (but any epoxy resin/glue will do) the loaders hatch from the Matchbox one, and glue it on this kit. On a late version, one could convert this low bustle into a high bustle..???? Or just simply convert it into a rebuild version with an oval loaders hatch, taken from the Fujimi's M4 105:
# The last, but most important item, the rear radio box, was replicated, in plasticard using the Matchbox as pattern, but with the size/width adapted to the Airfix (the problems of that undersize turret.), and doing all the top detail.
# The M4c Firefly, also use a new box on the right rear, as presented in the sketch posted in the files section.
Now, as usual, only some extra detail and your on.
One of the characteristics of British & Commonwealth M4, and Shermans on general, was the large amount of stowage on the tanks, making them a lot more "sexy" than US ones. So: extra ammo boxes, for the MG, fixed or welded on the turret rear and/or hull; bedrolls, blankets & backpacks; Extra tracks (in some cases, a lot of tracks.), extra wheels, on the front to work a extra armour; Hessian camouflage (I use used dry tea leaves, from some tea bags to do the trick), and so on.
I hope this could help you into modelling some extra M4, perhaps now someone could drop a line about painting, colours, and some extra shading techniques on these lovely AFV.
Have fun modelling. and my next "reincarnation" will be converting the Airfix M4 into a 57º M4A2 (lot of users, variations.and headaches) and into a M4A3 (OK, I know that the Matchbox M4A4 is the perfect beginning, but, with the lack of this.)
© José Ventura, Portugal