Since 2009 AFV Club have released a sequence of kits of the Russian T-34 tank featuring fully detailed interiors. I believe this is the seventh release in the series, and while most parts originate from earlier releases, it includes a number of new parts. Most of the new components are for the specific version being represented, but some are to address shortcomings in the previous kits. Armorama has featured reviews of several of the earlier releases in this AFV Club T-34 series, some of which generated a fair amount of interesting discussion regarding the accuracy of the subject kits.
Considering the very large numbers of this tank that were built, detailed references in English are not as easy to come by as we might wish, with some of the more comprehensive being out of print or in other languages. Although not a specialist subject of mine, I believe I’ve done a reasonable amount of research into both tank and kit, and I will attempt to draw out positive and negative aspects as best I can. I hope that the review will prove useful both to those who just like the sound of the kit, as well as to those who in some sense have a specialised interest in the subject. I suggest reading the reviews and discussions of the other kits in the series on this site, for which I have provided links at the end. Observations, corrections and questions on this review are obviously welcome.
This kit represents a T-34-85 built in 1944 at Factory 183. It comes with full interior detail, covering the fighting compartment, internal suspension, the turret and the engine and transmission. The main upper hull and the turret are moulded in clear plastic in order to display the interior detail. If the past releases are anything to go by, this clear hull and turret version may well be followed up by the same kit but with normal opaque hull and turret.
The parts list in the instructions helpfully provides the AFV Club kit number for which each sprue was created; the kit numbers themselves are slightly confusing as the clear kits use a different number series from the opaque kits, but nevertheless I think we can usefully identify the origins of each set of components. Below I give the kit number / the year of release and the subject, followed by the list of sprues.
From AF35143 / 2010 T-34/76 1942 Factory 112 Full Interior kit:
- A – engine
- B x 2 – idlers, sprockets, suspension arms
- C – upper hull detail components
- L – tracks, vinyl
- M – lower hull tub
- S – metal springs.
From AF35145 / 2013 T-34/85 Model 1944 Factory No.174 Full Interior kit:
The following are the new parts in the kit that is our subject in this review:
- D – interior details
- E – ammunition, mantlet, external fuel tanks etc.
- H – clear vision blocks
- I – tyres, black hard plastic
- N – upper hull in clear plastic
- U – gun barrel in metal
- O – main etched metal detail sheet.
- F – turret and hull rear plate in clear plastic
- G – road wheels
- GA – etched metal details for internal fuel / oil tanks
- J – decals
- K – internal fuel and oil tanks.
It is obvious that there is a lot packed in to this kit, and in fact the box is barely big enough to contain all of it. Unlike previous AFV Club T-34s with clear parts, the box top art is an illustration of a tank painted overall green, with a number of photos of the actual model showing it with clear parts on the box sides. In the box is also an A4 poster featuring the tank behind a fantasy female soldier.
Six finishing options are provided:
- 4th Guards Tank Brigade, 2nd Guards Tank Corps, July 1944. Overall green with large white recognition stripe and white turret numerals.
- 1st Baltic Front, July 1944. Overall green with yellow numerals and slogan “давид сасунский” – David of Sasun, an Armenian hero who drove out Arab invaders.
- Unspecified unit (perhaps a printing error, or just unidentified). Overall green with slogan “вперед на берлин” – Onward to Berlin!
- 26th Guards Tank Brigade, 2nd Guards Tank Corps, Eastern Prussia, November 1944. Overall green with white numerals. An error has the rear profile shown in brown, as are all of the “Russian Green” keys.
- 3rd Byelorussian Front, Vistula-Oder Offensive, January 1945. Overall green with white turret identification.
- Finnish Army, July 1944. Finally one that isn’t overall green, but instead a three colour camouflage of green, dark yellow and brown, with Finnish style swastikas and yellow turret numerals.
Construction starts with perhaps the biggest change, the new sprue K, the internal fuel and oil tanks. This is to eliminate the “empty” one sided fuel tanks of the previous kits in which the exterior facing sides of the tanks were open and visible through the transparent hull, so it was a pretty big shortcoming. Previously the tanks and suspension spring shafts were moulded in simplified block units, two per side, while now each spring shaft is a separate component, with each tank made up of multiple parts, in some cases with etched metal weld seams sandwiched in between the two plastic halves of the fronts and backs of the tanks. There is also an improvement in the tank shapes, with rounded corners, as well as more details on the top surfaces. Needless to say this all adds complexity to the build and accounts for the additional four build steps over and above the 30 steps of the previous T34-85 kit.
Bear in mind that in the instructions AFV Club have used or adapted drawings from previous kits, so while in step 6 the new rounded shapes of the tanks can be seen as they hover over the hull tub, in step 7 the tops appear squared again, even though the backs of the tanks have now been added to the drawing. The old tank components are still in the box, on sprues C and E, so make sure you don’t mess up and use them!
The metal springs are now noted as requiring instant glue, and as before are constructed in such a way as to allow the shock absorbers to operate. For a quite in depth explanation of the building of these parts please see Ted Hayward’s build log of a T-34-76 (link at the end).
Three relatively simple steps follow, identical to those of the previous -85 kit, with ammunition, driver’s controls and the under-turret ammo boxes being assembled into the hull. I noticed that the escape hatch set into the floor in front of the machine gunner’s seat has its four latches positioned to the open position rather than as if locked closed; obviously the closed position would require the latches to overlap the edge, and as it is flanged on the outside, the open latches allow for simpler construction. It wouldn’t be too hard to remove them and fabricate new latches in the locked position, alternatively I suppose it enables the hatch to be modelled open with someone escaping. I’m not certain, but it seems to me that the machine gunner side above the line of the lower hull is a little less well detailed than the driver’s side; for example, I think there should be a lamp fitted to the wall above and to the right of this position.
The assembly of the engine is next, and it is well detailed, with 2x three part blocks, separately moulded manifolds, rocker covers, a three part alternator and individual water pump and hose on the underside. I suppose the most obvious lack is the absence of any provision for electrical cables around, for example, the distributor and alternator, or fuel lines into the cylinder heads. The twin air filters are the correct type for this version, but note as an aside that the old style single filter for the -76 is also on sprue A and it even makes an appearance in the re-used drawing in step 18, but should obviously be ignored. The engine compartment bulkhead looks correct for this version, and has some fairly basic cable details on the engine side.
The gearbox seems to most closely resemble the correct five speed box - even though it is the same as used in earlier kits, for which it may or may not have been appropriate. Compared to the photos I studied (the Mythical Weapon book) it lacks the central rear case bolt, but this may well be a legitimate detail, bearing in mind that many of the tanks in that book include features that may be post war.
The engine compartment is completed with the addition of the lower rear plate, which is the first of the clear parts to be added; though this sprue is new to this kit, I’m not sure if this is the first appearance of this particular component, but nevertheless it appears to be the correct pattern for Factory 183, with two narrow hinges linking it to the top rear plate, and with the lower plate overlapping the top plate instead of vice-versa. The top rear plate, which is added later, is also clear plastic.
The road wheels are another of the new sprues, and represent the type known as “full spider” – in other words, they have twelve identical full length radial ribs. There are 11 small inner holes, the 12th being blanked out, on the outer facing half of each wheel, with 12 fully open equivalent holes on the inner half wheel. The radial ribs have a good profile, if possibly a little over scale width. This type would seem to be appropriate for a 1944 produced tank from 183. The tyres, as before, are separate parts moulded in hard black plastic, and feature some patterning – small lines, not holes or perforations – which may only be visible on brand new tyres as it is very hard to see in photos of the real thing; in any case, it would be easy to remove or reduce some or all of the small raised lines by abrading.
The sprue includes three variants of sprocket, and again, note that although the instructions have re-used a drawing of part 16 being used (12 centre bolts, no ribs), it correctly labels the part to be used as 13 (no centre bolts, six ribs) to be paired with part 9. The numbered parts produce a sprocket which I believe to be of the correct pattern. Three idler types are also included, but this time the correct drawing is shown in the instructions: 10 round holes separated by full length radial ribs. The accuracy of the detailing of these two wheels has been questioned before, though, I believe, not the version
being represented, and these are the same items that appeared in the previous -85 kit.
As with all of this series, the tracks are soft single length bands of 72 links, around 14.25mm wide, so representing 500mm tracks, with the holes cast through the narrow edged plates. They have a relatively well detailed pattern, and are flexible enough at the link joints to reduce, if not entirely eliminate, the tendency of the links themselves to bend as they curve around the sprocket and idler, something that can be especially noticeable on T-34 models with their long track links. There are of course a good number of decent aftermarket replacement track alternatives.
The main plate over the engine deck is on sprue C, so is the same item used since the 1942 Factory 112 -76 kit, while the side and rear ventilator covers are from the 1944 Factory 174 -85 kit; Ihad difficulty attempting to check if the deck appears accurate, but couldn’t find any good reasons to doubt its accuracy in terms of what it attempts to represent. Note that although the big mesh at the rear of the engine is an etched metal part, the side covers are moulded as two single components: while the air intake louvres on the top are open, they are perhaps not as fine as they could be, and the louvres on the side are not open at all.
The main upper hull is on the new clear sprue. Laying it over a 1/35 scale plan in the Mythical Weapon book, the dimensions appear to match closely, including the location of the driver hatch. I tried, but couldn’t find a decent photo of the equivalent part from the 1944 Factory 174 -85 kit (AF35145) so can’t say how it differs, if at all, though it is certainly different from 2009’s 1944/45 Factory 174 kit number AF35S56, most noticeably with differences to the cover plates around the turret ring. Of note is that the driver’s hatch comprises of 13 components, including clear vision blocks, and latches that can be positioned open or closed. There’s a mix up with the numbering of the small vertical brackets which attach just above and outside the tow hooks, clear parts numbered F7; this is again numbering from the previous kit, and the correct number is F5 (F7 now being the turret base).
When it comes to fitting the sloped upper rear plate, the instructions again show the old part with the wide bottom hinges, but there’s no danger in getting the wrong part as only the new plate is on the sprue, with the narrow hinges, as noted when discussing the lower rear plate above.
Moving up to the turret, the gun mechanism and other interior details are repeated from the 2013 AF35145 kit, but the turret itself is new for this kit. It features the quite subtle vertical ribbing along the side mating edges of both halves, and the small bulge on the left forward side which was introduced to accommodate a change in the rotation mechanism; this bulge is also topped by small ribs. That bulge does raise the question as to whether any of the interior details in the kit were revised to represent that mechanism change, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of that. The pistol port is correctly flush to the side with no bulge. Note that different types of ammunition are included, and that it is possible to model the racks empty if so desired, as the rounds are all individual components.
The cupola is part of the new clear sprue and is now in two parts instead of the previous kit’s three, having only a single part hatch opening. According to the Mythical Weapon book, this type was introduced from January 1945; I notice that Dragon’s kit of the 1944 Factory 183 also features this type of cupola, so it seems the timing of this is another area of uncertainty. The periscopes on the roof appear to be in the correct positions for late 1944/45, with the commander’s periscope being right up close to the cupola, as is the aerial pot. The twin ventilator covers have the subtlest of flattened tops and are joined by a thick weld seam, which seems acceptable for this version.
The turret then, seems good, apart, that is, from the limitation that it is in clear plastic. Despite the fact that the Factory 183 turrets from this era are relatively smooth, there is absolutely no texture of any kind on the clear plastic, probably for the simple reason that it would end up something like a bathroom window, i.e. translucent but not transparent. There are also no weld seams on any of the clear components. Those modellers who opt to paint the clear parts will therefore be faced with the task of applying some casting and welding textures, something that is perhaps not too difficult for the experienced modeller.
Another drawback to the clear parts is that ejector marks are impossible to keep to the unexposed surface, and there are several such circles, particularly noticeable on the turret top plate and the rear hull plates. There isn’t much that can be done other than to ignore them, as obviously sanding and filling will only make things much worse. There are also moulded on location marks for some internal components. That does lead me on to other issues around clear parts, such as having little room for error in construction and painting: misplaced glue or paint will be impossible to remove, as indeed will scratches, and those wanting to keep the clear parts clear will need to be fastidious in the way they handle them. I suppose specialised glue should be used and perhaps a few tricks learnt from aircraft modellers used to dealing with cockpit glazing. The clear parts are also of course not scale thickness, and it wouldn’t be possible to build them up to be so.
That lack of casting texture on the turret is in contrast to the mantlet which is quite heavily textured, and seems to be of the correct type, featuring the four recessed cut outs that give access to the bolts and the two horizontal lines just within them. The only thing possibly missing is the quite prominent screw head that should perhaps be on the top left of the mantlet tube, again, not too hard to add if the modeller wishes to include it.
Having attached the metal gun barrel with its rifled open aperture, construction is complete, it just remaining to assemble the turret to the upper hull, then that on to the lower hull. The final step is to add the aerial which is to be formed from stretched sprue.
Whatever your opinion is of tank kits with clear parts, they are obviously popular enough that AFV Club have seen fit to release this fourth clear bodied T-34 variant. It certainly makes sense if you wish to display the internal detail in its entirety, rather than the usual very limited views through open hatches. On the other hand there are various problems with the clear parts, as discussed above, and then of course it is fundamentally not authentic. I guess it’s that just a model vs. scale replica debate over again. The clear parts could obviously be slightly remodelled and painted, and the interior details may be of great use for the modeller wishing to build a destroyed example, perhaps with the turret separated from the rest of the tank.
AFV Club appear to have made a decent effort of researching and creating the parts for this specific variant, down to some quite subtle details, and although labelled as a 1944 production tank, it seems that July 1944 to ‘45 might be more accurate. They should also be applauded for the significant improvement to the internal fuel tanks, something which shows that they may well have taken on board the feedback on earlier kits in the series.
Steve Zaloga and Jim Kinnear T-34-85 Medium Tank
Robert Michulec and Mroslaw Zientarzewski T-34 Mythical Weapon
T-34/85 with Interior AF 35S56
T-34/76 Model 42 Special Kit AF35S57
T-34/76 1942 Factory 112 AF35143
T-34/76 1942 Factory 112 AF35143 Build Log