M4A1(76)W Medium Tank
"D-32" SSGT Reese Graham
Task Force MacDonald, December 1944

Dragon Models Limited #6083 M4A1(76)W Operation Cobra Sherman Model Kit
with Great Appreciation to Kurt Laughlin for technical assistance

Copyright 2007, Jim Lewis/GunTruck Studios
All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Page One

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Awards & Honors

Of all the M4 Medium Tank types deployed during WWII, I am most attracted to the cast-hull (curvy) Sherman variants. Visually, I find them the most interesting. Anytime kits or conversions come out in 1:35th scale for modeling these variants, I'm drawn to them. Naturally, when Dragon Models released their Operation Cobra Sherman - I ordered two, sight unseen, in eager anticipation of a wonderful update to replace the venerable Italeri offering of many, many years ago. I'm not unlike the myriad Sherman modeling fans out there...

As with such a popular subject, with many restored and preserved examples around the world, one could assume a very high-quality product from Dragon Models - with modern research and production techniques to draw upon. The model kit has found detractors and supporters - like in every release - but I found the overall experience one of joy. Putting a little more effort into the basic model kit pays off in the end, and the forethought put into it by Dragon Models' engineers presents the modeler a kit that can really be a centerpiece of a collection of 1:35th scale Shermans, without busting the bank account to fashion a miniature up to today's high-standard.

I ran into a few kinks along the way, but in the end was so satisfied with the product that I bought another to keep in my collection for future builds. This is my best endorsement of a model kit or conversion.

M4A1(76)W Medium Combat Tank - Task Force Kane

I set out to model a representation of one of the first 102 M4A1(76)W Sherman Tanks sent to the ETO in 1944, one assembled by Pressed Steel Car Company. Unsure of finer details, I consulted Kurt Laughlin for further information. Kurt has done extensive research on the M4 series of Medium Tanks, and provided me photos of details I wanted to add to the Dragon Models kit. Pressed Steel Car Company did not have its own foundry for casting components, as far as Kurt has uncovered, and there were not casting or foundry symbols to add to the exterior of my miniature's Hull. Union Steel provided the 76mm Gun Turrets to Pressed Steel Car Company for adding to the Hulls - which are noteworthy for their relatively huge casting numbers on the sides of the Turret.

This is a feature that is not widely known amongst Sherman Tank modelers, and a risky thing to add for a typical model contest. This time out, I was definitely in the mindset to model the tank for myself and go against the ridiculously over-weathered, drybrushed, filtered and highlighted miniatures that are popular eye-catchers in contests & magazines - to model an example of a Pressed Steel Car Company assembled M4A1(76)W as it would have appeared in 1944. The oversized casting numbers had to stay. In Steven Zaloga's Osprey Modelling book covering the M4 76mm Sherman Tank, there is a photo of this turret type with the large casting numbers on the flanks on Page 78 to help ease a worried mind about this incorporating detail feature. It sure made me feel better.

Having recently purchased George Winter's book covering the Battle for Frieneux (Frieneux and La Mormenil - The Ardennes, JJ Fedorowicz Publishing, ISBN: 0921991207), I was greatly impressed at the quality and effort to recount this battle in December 1944. He brings information and thoughts from participants on both the American and German sides of the battlefield to provide an overview that the reader can almost visualize in their minds.

I settled on wanting to model three M4A1(76)W tanks that fought in the Battle for Frieneux - two of them were Panther killers, each knocking out two Panthers a piece. I chose to give D-32, SSGT Reese Graham's tank a go for this project. Unfortunately, Graham's tank is the not included in the photographs inside George Winter's book, but others are, and helped to get an idea of what his might have looked like. I would have loved to add a "nickname" to Graham's tank - but I could find no reference to one in the historical text.

I also chose Graham's tank because I found it interesting that his crew was short a member (more so than "normal" for short-manned Sherman crews) - Graham doubled as both Tank Commander and Driver in the battle. For those who are familiar with the design and cramped interior of the M4 Medium Tank, one can't help being quite impressed that SSGT Graham could actually sight a tank in the Commander's Cupola and then snake down through the interior to get to the driver's position, more than once, during the engagement, and score two Panther tank kills.

Desiring to generally model the engagement, but not one particular moment in time, I opted to position my figure representing SSGT Graham depressed in the Commander's Cupola - to let the observer decide whether or not Graham is ducking down to bark firing orders, coming back up to sight a Panther or heading down to the driver's position to move the tank for a better shot. Of course, those not familiar with the combat action will not understand why the Tank Commander figure is depressed in the Cupola - and this detail tends to work against a modeler in a typical contest.

Like the Union Steel casting numbers on the Turret sides, contest be damned! This was becoming a fun project. To model the Tank Commander/Driver and Loader, I used Dragon Models Figures. I thought I'd try my best to keep this project "all-Dragon" as much as I could because I have never really given a Dragon model subject full attention like that before. In the end, I really liked the way it all worked out, and discovered I probably had been missing some fun before doing so.

The engagement occurred on 24 December 1944. The field in which the Panthers approached the village of Frieneux was snow-covered, and the night before was bitterly cold - but none of the vehicles appeared to be covered with snow. So, again risking the ire of judges (which was becoming fun at this point) I only hinted at some snow and mud accumulation on the track end connectors. Not putting this miniature on a scenic display base to convey the detail is not a wise thing to do for a contest. I eventually opted to stop being so stubborn (stubbornly, I might add) and chose a scenic base for it. Shown in the final photos is a really nice resin base I purchased from Masterpiece Models at the 2007 IPMS/USA National Convention in Anaheim, California. It proved a great deal, and simple but effective way to display a little bit of that time period for the model. I recommend checking out Masterpiece Models' items for your work too.

Graham's tank began the engagement between two houses facing the field through which four Panthers were crossing to attack Frieneux. Due to some low depressions in the field, Graham's tank was not able to depress their 76 low enough to get a decent shot, however. A short distance away, another Sherman tank near a woodpile and house was also drawing a bead on the approaching Panthers - but - its tracks were frozen solid into the ground and it could not move. Graham left his position to attempt to tow that tank out of its precarious position. Unsuccessful at the attempt, with Graham's tank still attached, one of the approaching Panthers scored a killing shot of the stuck Sherman. It took a bit of effort before Graham's crew could disengage themselves from the knocked-out Sherman. When they did so, they returned to their previous position between the houses. From here, still unable to get a good shot at the approaching Panthers, Graham spotted a column of Panthers on advancing down a road behind this group, some 2000+ yards out. They got off two rounds, which both knocked-out each Panther they fired upon.

On my model, I opted to leave the Tow Cable in stowed position. Time isn't indicated in the historical coverage of the battle, but I question whether or not Graham's crew had the opportunity, or really would have attempted, to stow the Tow Cable after disengaging from the destroyed M4A1(76). I probably limited myself in representing a particular episode during the battle to a time before trying to break the fellow Sherman out of frozen ground. In retrospect, this wasn't a major concern on my part at the time. Still isn't - though I wonder if they left the Tow Cable attached to the knocked-out Sherman...

Lastly, consulting the photos of this unit's Sherman tanks, I did not place a lot of markings on my miniature - they were a minimum of them. Same for external stowage - they were not overloaded for a road march. I added the Air Recognition Panel, going with yellow for the time period, and using the older 12-foot panel instead of the newer short version.

All told, and extended due to illness in 2006, it took me over a year to build and finish this miniature. Sticking with it and finding the joy of constructing and detailing it for that long is probably a good indicator of how I feel overall about the Dragon Models product. I recommend it for Sherman fans out there - both for one looking to add a nicely detailed model to their collection and for the modeler wanting to work it into a hyper-accurate replica. It is a good foundation for both approaches and accepts your efforts well.

Building Dragon Models #6083 Operation Cobra Sherman

Though I was quite taken when the impending release of Dragon Models kit was first announced, I have to admit some perplexing feelings during the construction phase. Of course, no model kit is perfect, and I guess I wasn't expecting perfection as much as I was expecting to be blown away - due to all the pre-release hype. I tried to ignore any and all reviews of the kit too, to avoid being prejudiced pro or con before my examples arrived. So, while I recount my experience building the kit, forgive me if I state something that has already been commented on in prior reviews or discussions.

I wound up spending as much time on building this kit as I would have on the older Italeri release. I'm of two minds with this statement: on one hand the Dragon Models kit offers some interesting improvements and details over Italeri #225 and is a modern tool technology wonder in some places; on the other hand I still put in as much effort to build and detail it as would be put into the Italeri kit - not to bring it up to any other standard but what I'd want in my personal collection.

So, being of two minds, I look at the experience as positive because I actually wanted to add all the effort to the basic Dragon Models kit. It was fun and I thought the kit really encourages a modeler to put the effort into it. And, though the venerable Italeri kit is the nearest contemporary to this Dragon Models release, I didn't think it useful to compare kits produced decades apart.


 

In the photos above, I am about 90% through the assembly of the Dragon Models kit, with a few minor details yet to be fitted and or changed. In BNP (bare naked plastic) the Dragon Models Operation Cobra Sherman is very attractive. A shame to put paint on it actually. After fussing and complaining about detailing efforts prior to this point, sitting it there to look it over made the work worthwhile. Personally, I need a pause in a modeling project at this phase to regroup and get energized again about finishing it. If I had written a review on the kit at this point, I might have leaned more towards complaining about the extra work called for in putting it together - and neglected pointing out what's good about it.

Above, I decided to work on the Drive Sprockets and Idler Wheels before painting. I added a ring to the outer edges of the Formations Models Idler Wheels to represent the detail on the actual items - I've not seen this detail on any other Sherman model parts before. I'm still looking though. I also added the details inside the Dragon Models Drive Sprockets - though perhaps this effort might go unnoticed in the final result. I felt it added depth to an already richly detailed model kit. Sometimes I debate the effort versus value of adding details like this, but always rationalize it as " if you are having fun - do it! "

Moving through the finishing steps, I didn't take any photos of the model during priming - I figured viewers who've been to my site before have seen me do that. After all, I have been priming my models in flat black since 1983, how interesting can that be after all this time? But, if someone is still interested in that step, I'll pay more attention to it in the future.

I used a combination of acrylic paint brands for finishing on this project. The black camouflage color is a mix of 2/3rds Tamiya XF-1 Flat Black to 1/3rd Tamiya XF-64 NATO Black. I thinned this mix 80% with Lacquer Thinner so as not to obscure the fine cast texture Dragon cast into their Hull. Some have complained about it being over done, but under thin (very thin) coats of paint - I think it captures the essence of the actual vehicle well. I like to mix Tamiya's NATO Black with Flat Black because it has a subtle greenish hue that works well with weathering out Olive Drab. Also, in 1:35th scale, Flat Black straight from the bottle is too dark for this application, the NATO Black softens it up. The camouflage pattern was done freehand with a Badger 150 set at 18psi. I was careful to get the demarcation between colors sharp, as at casual viewing angles in 1:35th scale, the feathering would be slight, appearing sharp.

Though I would not use it ultimately, this is the pallet/base I used to begin finishing/weathering on the miniature. I would take the pallet all the way through application of field grass and snow to help work out the finished model. Ultimately, I felt a little limited in the type of terrain I would display the model upon. I went with a plain display base at first - but in retrospect, it probably under emphasized the miniature more than spotlighting the work. Display Bases are a tricky thing for modelers, and though they are supposed to be ignored in a contest - they often provide tangible "presentation" points to otherwise objective judges. Choose your presentation method carefully.


As bit of a mixed bag of old features found on previous Sherman model kit releases coupled with some new details and innovations - offset by curious omissions and shortcomings, Dragon Models #6083 Operation Cobra Sherman is an impressive 1:35th scale model kit nonetheless. Even if you choose not to undertake any of the correction steps I did while building this model kit, you will end up with a pretty nice representation of the US M4A1(76) Sherman. And, though Dragon Models endeavored to cram as much detail and parts into this kit, you'll still be compelled to dive into your spare parts box for more options. As most Sherman modelers will attest to, the "scavenger hunt" for detailing parts for their Sherman Tank project is half the fun of the chase.


All content Copyright 1998 - 2017 Jim Lewis, guntruck.com, guntruck.us, guntruck.org, guntruck.net and GunTruck Studios.
All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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