M4A1 75mm Gun Combat Tank with Applique Armor

Formations Models #F015 M4A1 (75) Sherman with Applique Armor
and Italeri #225 M4A1 (76) Sherman model kits

(C) 2004 & 2012 Jim Lewis/GunTruck Studios
All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Page One

Awards & Honors

Attending the 2004 IPMS/USA National Convention in Phoenix, I admit not having much interest in the Vending Room until I thought I might run into Rob Ervin from Formations Models. In a short period of time, I found Formations' booth and proceeded to purchase several resin conversion and detail sets without hesitation. Formations' products are what finally hooked me on the US M4 Medium Tank.

These are high-quality and wonderfully detailed parts that strike an excellent balance between exacting fidelity to details found on the full-sized prototype and desire to make these fit within the parameters of popular 1:35th scale model kits on the market. It is difficult to produce parts that both fit kits with existing dimensional challenges and still make them accurate. Compromises are often called for, and many modelers voice up when the parts fall short of expectations. Formations Models' delivers in this area with fit and detail going hand-in-hand.

This conversion set is actually a bundle of separately available sub-assemblies designed to both dress up and backdate the venerable Italeri model kit to an earlier variant of the M4A1 75mm dry stowage medium tank that saw service early in the Italian Campaign and featured in early Pacific tank battles. One of Italeri's all-time best models, the M4A1 Sherman #225 remains popular amongst fans of US Allied WW II AFV's, and likely will for the foreseeable future. This conversion can also be used with Italeri's Marine Sherman (Kit #6389) and other Italeri Sherman based kits. Formations Models doesn't recommend using Italeri's M7 Priest as a donor for this conversion set, however.

The castings and moldings in the Formations conversion are clean, free from warpage, and call for a modicum of cleanup in the example I purchased. There were three tiny air bubbles and no short-casts present in any of my parts, and separation points from the pour gates proved easy enough for experienced resin modelers to handle. Though many modelers intimately familiar with the US M4 Medium Tank will eschew the Formations assembly instructions, I opted to follow them and not get too far ahead of myself. The instructions proved easy to understand. I say this because this is only the second Sherman kit I've built and I don't consider myself an "expert" on the subject matter by any stretch of the imagination. If I can get it - then I figure you can too!

To construct this conversion and the accompanying Italeri model parts (surprisingly few I might add - this is an extensive conversion) I only used a handful of tools. I also purchased a kit of Apoxie Sculpt from CRM Models while at the IPMS/USA National Convention because I've read good things about this product. I also made good use of Liquetex's High-Viscosity Acrylic light modeling paste. This texture gel medium came in handy for both replicating small welds and light texture after fitting parts to the upper hull and for mimicking mud and dirt buildup underneath the sponsons and between the Bogie Trucks on the lower hull. If you've never used texture gel mediums before I highly recommend you give them a try.

Lastly, not all the parts provided in this conversion set ultimately are used in the modeling effort - providing food for the spare parts bin. Keep feeding your spare parts bin and it will always take care of you.

For references, I turned to Ampersand's Modelers' Guide to the Sherman, R.P. Hunnicutt's Sherman reference book, and the set of Squadron Signal and Concord books covering the Sherman. I have them all, but admit it really helps to keep focus by only selecting a couple. It is easy to get distracted in the diverse world of the US M4 Medium Tank.

Formations M4 Low Bustle Turret Sub-assembly

I began my modeling efforts with the Turret. Before I continue, I must caution you that there are a fair number of parts in this conversion set. The resin pour gates are marked with part number callouts - and it is advisable you have room to spread some out as you go to make sure you've got all the parts in the right place for the step you're working on at that time. I found it helpful to actually cleanup my workbench and remove other in-progress models to make room for this one. I also did not wash any of the Formations Models resin parts prior to assembly, nor afterwards. I found them to be quite clean and free from resin mold release.
There is a small pour plug to remove from the hollow turret shell and the opening for the Mantlet is easy to cut away with a sharp X-Acto blade. Working with resin, it is advisable to keep a supply of new blades handy - they make the cleanup work easier. To remove the resin pour plug located underneath the front lip of the turret casting, I recommend flush sawing with your 1" saw blade. Several times I caught myself wanting to snip this away with a pair of Xuron Cutters, but I was afraid I'd damage or split the thin casting here. Flush sawing was definitely the way to proceed here.

To deal with the turret race (photo left), I attached sandpaper to a sheet of glass and sanded the part down for a good fit. The turret race in my kit was a little larger than the circumference of the turret opening. Flipping the part upside down to sand helped reduce the diameter of the part. I then matched the flat end of the turret race to the corresponding area of the turret bottom underneath the Mantlet - trimming the areas around the ring slowly with a sanding stick until the two parts fit flush. Patience (a part of the Formations suggested assembly instructions) pays off dividends in working with any miniature. I can't emphasize how important it is to sand slowly and test-fit frequently when building resin kits. It is eminently easier to remove small bits of resin at a time than to try and go back to fill areas where you too aggressively removed material.

All the Mantlet/Gun Mount parts fit snugly to the Turret opening. Follow Formations' suggestion to leave the flash inside the Lift Rings while you attach them to the Turret. It is easier to attach them and then clean up after the glue sets - lessening the chance of breaking the delicate parts. I chose to model my Loader's Periscope in the "up" position (actually - all of them), so I set Parts #H1 and K1 into place per the instructions. I decided to not use Part #F3 (Antenna Mount) as provided in the conversion set and instead used one of Formations' US WW II Vehicle Antenna Mounts and Masts (#F010). I just love these, they come with the antenna wire cast into the Mounts - and they are removable for painting separately. Part #G5 (MG Travel Lock) was a bit tricky to cleanup, but patience and a sharp knife helped make this a break-free step. I found myself referring back to my completed Tamiya M4 (Re-manufactured) to aid in placement. The Formations Models instructions are good, but as I'm not overly familiar with the Sherman - every additional bit helps.

Careful trimming got me the Commander Hatches clean and ready for addition of small details found in nicely cast Periscope and Latch parts. I also fitted the Searchlight provided in the conversion set. All in all, messing around and watching TV, it took me an hour to clean up and assemble the basic turret sub-assembly.

Formations Models M4A1 Hull with Applique Armor

Moving on to the Hull, I began by cleaning up all the odd bumps, sinkholes, and associated remnants of the Italeri manufacturing process. Each kit will vary in cleanup called for, but remember that this is an oldie - but a goodie. I fitted the Braces (Parts #L3 and L4) into place underneath the leading edges of the sponsons as called out in Formations' instruction sheet. I worked on the Tom Cable and set it aside as well.

In cleaning up the resin Upper Hull, I scored around the Engine and Turret opening with the sharp X-Acto Blade a few times - then punched through the center of the thinner resin flash with the blunt end of my X-Acto Knife. I braced the Upper Hull piece on my workbench before doing this. It worked like a charm - though sounding unorthodox. The remaining cleanup for the Upper Hull was easy and quick. I also sanded the bottom of the Upper Hull with sandpaper attached to a glass board for good measure - though my casting was clean and air bubble free.

In test fitting to the Italeri Lower Hull pan, I opened up the flashed-over notches in the nose of the Formations Upper Hull piece for a better fit. Skipping ahead in the assembly sequence, I attached the Sponson Plates (Italeri Parts #A17 & A18) to the Lower Hull Pan. I wanted to test-fit the joining of the two Hull halves quickly. You will have to trim back the Italeri plates a little to fit the Formations Upper Hull properly. Just work slowly and trim back a little at a time until you set the two pieces together properly. I used a Miter Cutting (Chopper) tool to trim back the Italeri parts until they fit. I glued them into place with Model Master Liquid Cement and then joined the two Hull halves so that the parts could setup in place overnight. The next day I would address the joint with Gunze Sangyo Mr. Dissolved Putty and subsequently sand the joint clean. Letting the Hull halves setup overnight is a good opportunity to cleanup the rest of the small Hull fittings. In resin, this proved considerably less of a time-intensive chore than it would have been for the corresponding plastic Italeri parts.

The next day, I proceed to trim away the flash at the rear of the Formations Upper Hull covering the characteristic "notch" present on the actual Hull casting. I went to fit the solid resin Transmission Cover and Engine Deck pieces quickly afterwards. The Formations Models instruction booklet doesn't cover fitting these parts, but I found this task virtually a no-brainer - they just slide into place. Test fitting revealed that indeed a small amount of putty is called for at the joint between the Upper Hull and Transmission Cover - as mentioned in the Formations instruction sheet. For this, I found the Apoxie Sculpt ideal to work with.

I then proceeded to fit the Formations parts found underneath the Real Hull overhang. I held off on permanently joining the Upper and Lower Hull halves until I got these pieces into place properly, taping them together instead.

Formations indicates that you may find that you have to trim down the tops of the Air Cleaners (Parts #D4 & D5) to get the Upper Hull and Lower Hull to fit correctly. I adjusted the height of fitting the Exhausts (Parts #D6) to the Italeri Rear Hull Panel because I felt they sat too low - sticking out too far below the Formations Upper Hull Notch - during test fitting. Then, I set the two "wings" (Parts #J3 & J4) into place, mounting to the left and right sides of the Rear Hull, and used them to line up the Air Cleaners (Parts #D1, D4, & D5). The fit is so tight that there was no need to glue the "wings" into place as I eyeballed the Air Cleaners into their spaces.

I did trim away the innermost nubs on the Italeri Rear Hull panel to better accept the Formations resin Air Cleaners - their mount stubs are slightly wider than the corresponding gaps on the Italeri part. Formations instruction sheet shows the "wings" as notched at the bottom to clear the mount for the Idler Wheel - but my parts were not. Simple to perform, I just cut quick notches with my X-Acto Knife and moved on. Lastly, in this area, I fashioned the Screen that the Exhausts pass through underneath the Rear Hull overhang using scrap photoetch parts.

With all the major sub-assemblies completed, I proceeded join the Hull halves. They fit so well together that I felt comfortable using 5-minute epoxy for the bond. This provides both strength and some setting time to get the two halves together and adjust if necessary. Don't you hate it when you've test fitted two parts together several times, only to then "go to the super glue" and not get that perfect alignment? Murphy's Law in action. The 5-minute epoxy gives you some time to make sure things line up. Before proceeding, I allowed the model to setup overnight.

Joining the Hull halves was uneventful the following day. The 5-minute epoxy went on first for strength and some gap filling around the sponson joints - leaving little to fill in the end. This proved to be a plus. Next, I applied the Apoxie Sculpt as a filler to eliminate the left over seams between the Italeri and formations Models Hull halves. I found the Apoxie Sculpt the best 2-part putty I've work with in modeling to date. It is simple to work with, soft and won't cramp your fingers like Milliput can while mixing and working. Wearing gloves is optional - and I tested that with this model. I worked it with no skin irritation and kept a little water on hand to prevent it from sticking to my palms and fingers. I only used a pinch of each tin and rolled them together. Apoxie Sculpt gives you from 1 to 3 hours working time - but I puttied the joint between the Transmission Cover and the Upper Hull as well as both sides underneath the sponsons in about 15 minutes.

Turret Race

Turret Left Front

I noticed a slight bend in my 75mm Gun Barrel, but it wound up being not that noticeable in the end assembly. I trimmed it away from its pour gate and cleaned up the end with a few swipes of the sanding stick. Then, I heated the part in hot water (not boiling) and rolled it on a glass sheet to take out the slight bend. It fit into its rotor (Part #N2) without any problems, and there is a little slack to allow you to adjust the barrel's fit.

Lower Hull

Air Cleaners

More Air Cleaners

Gap Filling

Trans Gap

Tranny Underside

The only tools I used were the simplest - wet fingers, a scrap rag to wipe refuse on, a stainless steel dental spatula, and a stiff bristle brush for clean up and texturing the putty. It was easy to texture the putty after being put in place. Mine setup with no shrinkage, and I painted over it in 24 hours. Needless to say, I like this stuff and will be using it more in future projects.

I filled my under sponson gaps but wasn't overly concerned with "neatness" because I'd be covering the area with some texture to represent mud and dirt. It was more important to basically close up the gaps so as not to have one "pop out" later on in the end assembly.

Filling the gaps at the transmission wasn't a problem with the Apoxie Sculpt either. It must have been made for a modeler like me, in that it was so simple it was difficult to mess up. I applied it with a toothpick into the gap to fill it up and then was able to go right in and texture it to match the surrounding Formations detail. Other modelers using the same Formations conversion relate that they did not experience the same problem gap at the transmission cover, so my experience might not be typical. Nonetheless, it was easy to address.

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All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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