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 Two


Awards & Honors

Setting the Stage for Construction & Detailing

When I opened the model kit box - I had no clue to as how I wanted to finish it, other than wanting to model an accurate Operation Cobra era M4A1(76)W Medium Tank. I read through George Winter's book a couple of times and dug up as much information as I could on that Sherman tank variant. I asked for some information/advice from noted Sherman tank researcher Kurt Laughlin to fill in some unanswered holes too.

My recipe for modeling Graham's "D-32" M4A1(76)W was based on all the information I gleaned from above:

Registration Number: None, as these appear to have been painted out/over in photos of this unit's tanks at that time.

Camouflage Pattern: Black over Olive Drab. I did not put the chrome yellow Invasion Codes on the turret sides, as they were generally painted-out by this time of the war. I also didn't "fresh-patch" the paint over where they might have been placed either. This was a coin toss decision, on one hand the "fresh-patch" of paint is quite reasonable and a common occurrence. On the other hand, I thought that by December 24th, the crew might have touched up the turret a little finer than that, and went with this option.

National Symbols: I went with US National Symbols on the engine deck and turret roof, unbroken rings.

Organizational Codes: I placed these in their common locations on the Hull, though they are obscured by accumulated mud/dirt in the end finish - the same as the photographed tanks appear in the book.

Gun Barrel: I surmised that "D-32" was one of the initial batch of 102 M4A1(76)W delivered to the 2nd and 3rd Armored Divisions in the ETO, I went with M1A1 76mm Gun fit without muzzle brake or thread protector.

Turret and Hull: In keeping with the above thought, consulting with Kurt Laughlin about these vehicles, I chose to model a vehicle coming from Pressed Steel Car Company - as they produced this batch of Shermans delivered to the ETO.

Pressed Steel Car Company was an assembler of components, not appearing to have their own foundry for large casting of Sherman parts. Continental Foundry produced the cast hull, with no currently known external casting or foundry markings. The Dragon Models kit doesn't have any either - making this a fortuitous choice.

Though the Dragon Models kit turret has casting markings present on their part, accurate for an example on display in Bastogne, it is not accurate for the turret casting used by Pressed Steel Car Company. They were provided turrets by Union Steel Company - with uncharacteristically large casting numbers on the turret flanks, and more traditional ordnance numbers on the turret roof ahead of the crew hatches. Kurt provided me with photos of these numbers, and I need them to get the courage to put them on my kit part - they are so unusual I felt no one but Kurt or Rob Ervin of Formations Models would even know what they represented if I took the model to a show.

Tracks: I selected the T-48 Rubber Chevron Tracks seen to be worn by the unit's tanks in photos, but didn't chose the shorter extended end connectors seen on other tanks. Since "D-32" isn't capture in photos, I surmised it could have worn the longer ones I eventually went with.

Running Gear: Solid Drive Sprocket Plates and Solid-Spoke Road Wheels/Idler Wheels, would be my choice - though it could have been a combination of types. Since Dragon Models did not include an option for backside inserts on their Solid-Spoke Idler Wheels in this model kit release, I used a resin set from Formations Models.

Construction & Detailing

I wanted to follow Dragon Models' recommended assembly sequence as closely as possible along the way for detailing and corrections. I started out wanting to build the kit as a review subject, goal being to use as many, if not all, the kit-provided parts during construction. I did stick to this goal for the most part, but couldn't help violating it in a few instances.

Step One: The first pieces trimmed from the sprue trees were parts to make up the simple-plate Drive Sprockets. There were shallow, and easy to remove, ejector pin marks on the inside faces of these parts (D15). There is no positive mating between the Sprocket Plates and the Drum, prompting me to use several track links to line up the Sprocket Teeth properly while the parts set. There were some minor gaps that needed to be filled with putty afterwards.

On the backsides, the Dragon Models parts are not detailed, missing plate screws and support ribbing that I added using scrap styrene rod and strip.

Moving on, I really appreciated Dragon Models inclusion of backside inserts for the Solid-Spoke Road Wheels in this model kit. They fit together tightly, but do result in a small gap to fill around the circumference. In working on this step, I borrowed a tip from fellow Sherman modeler Laramie Wright and trimmed back the mounting axles on the Suspension Arms (Parts V1 and V2) for the Road Wheels. This allows you to put the Road Wheels in place after assembling the Bogie Units, and keep them separate for painting - while being able to deal with that annoying seam to deal with while putting the Bogie Units together. If you are into chunking-up the rubber on your Road Wheels, his idea makes it easier to accomplish and add to your Bogie Units later.

For all the effort put into detailing the Dragon Models kit, there is still missing detail on the Solid-Spoke Road Wheels - principally 288 missing rivet heads around the circumference front and back. If Dragon Models would have included this detail on their parts, I think I might have raved on half a webpage about how great that was.

Is this detail omission noticeable in the end product? Yes. I would have gladly traded some of the kit-provided optional photoetch, plastic spares or brass 76mm rounds to have gotten this detail. I wound up devoting about three and a half hours adding these rivet heads to my Road Wheels using Grandt Line #153 items.

Step Two: The Bogie Units come together in this assembly sequence, with Dragon Models' parts decently rendered in scale and some nifty casting numbers in place. I would have really liked to see the Suspension Arms and Levers cast independently in this kit release, though. The kit parts as presented allow for some articulation, a "rocker" motion, but not truly faithful to the actual Road Wheel travel in the real Sherman. Coupled with Dragon Models' individual track links, the modeler could convincingly model their kit over uneven terrain easier.

To be fair, I did take advantage of the "rocker" motion offered in the Dragon Models kit when it came to assembling the individual track link runs. I was able to set the track runs in place on the model to dry overnight, and remove them for separate painting and weathering, by just being able to move the #1 Road Wheel up and out of the way while working with them.

I assembled the Bogie Units, trimmed back the axles for the Road Wheels and then putting the resulting seams before drilling and adding missing bolt details. I'm often left wondering if a manufacturer will ever present modelers with a Bogie Unit that is cast with the entire front as a single-piece and a simple backside insert, to eliminate that annoying seam to remove in present kit parts.

Bogie Units used on the M4 series of Medium Tanks are symmetrical, with Skids and Return Roller Supports capable of being mounted on either end - to make the suspension assembly usable on either side of the tank. Sherman modelers commonly have to drill out the bolt holes opposite the Return Roller Mounts whenever they put a Sherman kit together. Nothing different in this kit release. I also drilled out the corresponding holes on top of the housing, opposite the front of the Skids. I added two Grandt Line bolt heads to represent the anchors for the Vertical Springs, found underneath the Skids. This detail should be countersunk, however, I made mine raised in haste to move forward in construction.

I felt no need to replace Dragon Models Skids (Parts V6), though there are thinner aftermarket replacement available. I just thinned the outer edges with the back of an #11 X-Acto Knife Blade to reduce the visible thickness. When done, I added four bolt heads to them and glued them on the housing. I mentioned above that I added two more bolts on the Mounting Plate (Part V5) missed by Dragon Models, but admit I probably did so because I got so giddy in adding all the extra stuff. I heartily doubt anyone would notice them in the end product. I wound up adding 108 more bolts and rivet heads than another, perhaps sane, modeler would - likely for nothing other than personal satisfaction .

But - that is what modeling is all about after all. Don't let past experiences with AMS psyche you out of going nuts on your modeling project. If you are having fun, then go for it! As long as it is kept in perspective, you'll be fine.

Steps Three, Four and Five: As called out on the Instruction Sheet, I drilled out the locating holes in the Rear Panel (Part H6) with a 1.5mm drill bit. In my kit, the fit between the Rear Panel and the lower Hull Pan (Part Z) called for some filler putty above and below the locations for Parts D26 & D27, and some to clean up the bottom joint. Heck, simply thankful to have sponson floors included in my kit from Dragon Models, I didn't blink twice when it came to a little trimming and seam puttying. When it came to attaching Parts H8 and H9 to the sponson floors, I must have misunderstood the Instruction Sheet., and put the large locating tabs on the outside of the Hull. This called for later cutting away and puttying to eliminate the joint.

Though I commended Dragon Models for their inclusion of backside inserts for the Solid-Spoke Road Wheels in this kit, I was mystified as to why there were no corresponding inserts for the open backs of their Solid Spoke Idler Wheels. I used a replacement set from Formations Models. The only detail I added to them was a set of .005-inch styrene rings to the front and backs of both Idler Wheels, the detail easily seen on the real examples, but I've never seen included on kit parts before. Probably would be a bear to attempt to cast. Anyway, after going overboard with bolts and rivet heads, four rings seemed to be an understatement.

I experienced difficulty when attempting to attach the Idler Wheel Mounts (Parts D26 & D27) in proper position - mine wanted to set skewed out of alignment. I wound up cutting the locating pins away to do so. I do not know if this is a known problem with the kit parts in this area. Everything else in the assembly step fell into place without fuss.

I spent a little more than 14 hours putting together the Dragon Models tracks included in the kit. It took a long time and a lot of coaxing and gently play to get them together. I fussed all the way too, admittedly. This was the first time I've ever given them a go, and didn't want to give up on them. I found that patience does pay off, and I could actually fit them onto my model tank's suspension to setup overnight. In the photos shown above and below, I left off the end connectors where the Tamiya Masking Tape holds the ends of the track run together. At this brake in the track runs, I was able to slip them on and off the model tank suspension easily, and could paint and finish them separately until it came time to join them permanently in the end assembly stage. Pretty good for never having worked with Dragon Models individual link tracks before...

Above and below, forgive the contrasty images, I wanted to add some more detail to Dragon Models' Drive Sprockets that isn't easily seen otherwise. the stiffeners and bolt heads are just scrap styrene stock - time-consuming to put in place, but I wasn't in a hurry to finish the model miniature anyway. It adds depth of detail to match the rest of the nice detail already present on the model kit - and does go a bit unnoticed in the end. I figured if someone took the time to look, I might be served well to give them something to look at.

Typical Bogie Unit with additional bolt and rivet head details all around. Dressed up, the Dragon Models parts look handsome. Below, a couple of Road Wheels with rivet heads in place front and back sides. Also, Formations Models Idler Wheels with added Rings front and back sides trimmed out from .005-inch styrene stock.

The joint between upper and lower hulls in my kit example called for some putty, in this case the annoyingly-shrinkable Squadron Green stuff. Since it is underneath the sponson floors, and not easily seen, it works. Above, I added a couple of missing bolts to the mounting plates for the Bogie Units. This detail, too, goes virtually unnoticed in the final miniature - unless you know what and where you are looking. Lower photo, I added the Drainage Plates and tried out the brass etch weld beads from Aber for the first time. I am not sure what I think of the final result of using them, but underneath the sponson floors, they don't get noticed anyway. Same goes for the brass mesh screen at the exhausts, which will go unnoticed once the deflector is in place. The rest of the detail bolts on the Bogie Units and Transmission Cover are standard for Sherman modeling, surprising that they still aren't there in a kit as advanced as the Dragon Models effort.

The Fenders included in the Dragon Model kit were incorrect for the variant I wanted to model. So, instead of buying an aftermarket set, I just glued the kit parts in place, sanded away all the detail and trimmed out the right shapes. I thinned the underside edges with a sharp #11 X-Acto Blade to reduce the visible thickness and replaced the proper details by scribing and adding scrap styrene braces and Grandt Line rivet heads. Traditional modeling techniques still come in quite handy, no matter how sophisticated the kit manufacturing process becomes.

When it came to attaching the Transmission Cover, I wound up filling the joint all around. It seems cast too short to reach the upper Hull properly, though it was not difficult to fill. I think in the future I'd probably lengthen the part a little - and figure out how to match the cast texture rendered by Dragon Models.

Speaking of that, I appreciated the texture cast by Dragon Models. I thought it would look nice under thin coats of paint, and wasn't disappointed in the end. But, such a detail is something that one modeler will like, and another won't. To each his own. I added Drain Plugs to my Transmission Cover, as well as a Comb Device and two tie-downs. I did not add foundry or casting numbers to my kit part, however, because I didn't feel comfortable with the type used by that batch of 76's sent to the ETO. I settled on a thin coat of accumulated dirt/mud in that area - reasonable for 24 December, 1944.

All content Copyright 1998 - 2018 Jim Lewis, guntruck.com, guntruck.us, guntruck.org, guntruck.net and GunTruck Studios.
All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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