M3A1 Stuart
Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII

Academy Hobby Model Kits

I was really excited when the first new kit of a favorite American tank, the M3 and M5 light tank series, came out in 2002 from Academy. Upon opening the box, the changes from the quarter-century-old Tamiya kits appeared to be tremendous.

To begin with, as with the M3 kit, this one literally drops over the Ordnance Museum 1/35 scale set of blueprints (alas, no longer available) for the M3 Light Tank and has a SCALE turret. The hull also has sponson floors under the sponsons. Length and shape issues have been resolved as well. While the rear air intake vent is solid (no nylon screen is included) it is easy to fix, and since it is a separate part there is also some wiggle room to put an engine in view.

The kit comes with the modified armament for the M3, consisting of the bow, coaxial, and AA .30 caliber machine guns, and the M6 37mm cannon. This gun is slightly longer than the earlier M5, which was still quite common in most M3 variants, but those who wish to externally modify the gun should have no problems. It will be tough to fit the model with an aluminum barrel, however, as the gun is presented in full and mounts to the turret race and not to a set of model-type swivels inside the turret. The new turret sprue also provides the "wing" guns. This kit also has detail inside the turret hatches, but as it retains the other kit's hull fittings there are no details inside the driver's lower entrance hatch flap.

The kit comes with a gorgeous interior and if you build a "real" M3A1 version with the turret basket will work very nicely.

The model comes with a choice of either CORRECT vinyl tracks (e.g. the teeth join the links together, not fit at the end of each link as with the Tamiya M3 Stuart and M3 Lee/Grant kits) or three-piece styrene links, joined in the same manner as AFV Club and RHPS kits (note that the pins are shorter and you will need cement to get them to stay on.) One nice touch: the kit provides 138 track pads but sufficient end connectors for 144, so there are 12 extra connectors for those of us getting fat of fingers in our old age.

The model again provides a choice of wheels. (I'm not omniscient, the sprues are marked "M3/M5" so it's sort of simplified...) Two different drive wheels (solid disk or sculpted), two idlers (open welded spoke or spoke with pie-shaped fillets in them for late-war tanks) and spoke or pressed steel road wheels. The wheels have a thicker tread which more approximates the actual vehicles, and are superior to the skinny Tamiya ones.

But that is it for the good news.

While it does come with two sets of wheels, and the road wheels are wider, they turn out to lack some of the subtle details found on the Tamiya ones such as the weld beads. Also, the belly pan of the vehicle was apparently copied from the Tamiya kit and is thus about 1-1.5mm too shallow. Since Academy did do its homework on the numbers, but did not correctly identify the culprit, they instead changed the angle of the bogie arms downward to a very awkward angle and thus achieved the correct height for the vehicle, albeit at the expense of its normal appearance. (Also note that since they didn't do this for the idler assemblies, they now sit about 1mm off the ground!)

Steve Zaloga has suggested that you may want to use the Tamiya bogies on this kit with some minor modifications (such as drilling out the axle holes) and perhaps the Tamiya idler wheels in the Academy mounts. (This is if you have some spare Tamiya kits around; the prices for them have dived since the Academy kits came out, so you can pick them up for around $5-10 in many shows and flea markets.) At least the result will sit flat!

There are some shape differences and some minor problems here and there on the hull (I personally like this one better than Tamiya's) but there is one major error to this kit. The production model of the M3A1 was oriented on an improved tank that required less time and labor to build, and as such employed welding to replace most of the riveted construction of the M3. As it went down the line, more and more components were switched over to welding. Since this kit uses the M3's riveted hull, a lot of work is going to be required to remove the rivets—and the later model you want, the more rivets will have to come off. The very late models even used a one-piece rolled rear plate, and that means major filling and filing of the rear of the hull top to get a good appearance.

Most modelers will probably settle for the early model M3A1. To get this model to appear correctly, all rivets must be removed from the side panels of the hull top, the upper perimeter and side edges (but not the bottom fastening strip or around the viewports) of parts B1 and B54; the late model will necessitate removing all of the rivets on the rear of the hull and sternplate part B37, cement it to the hull, and then round off the edges to create the appearance of a single bent steel plate. This isn't a earthshattering change to make, but it is tedious and if not careful other details will be nicked up.

Decals are provided for five different vehicles: an M3A1 in Tunisia, 1943 with the yellow stars and US flag markings; two USMC tanks on Bouganville in November 1943; and two Soviet tanks from 1943 (one should be located in Voronezh, not Woronez, which is a German spelling.) The Soviet stars were off but a correction was included; alas, the blue drab on my sample's decal sheet came out bright aqua and it was not corrected. Archer Fine Transfers makes some excellent dry transfer blue drab markings which can be used for the US ones; but the Soviet ones have their markings applied over the blue drab ones and as a result nearly render the decals useless.

Overall, this is a nice little kit with a lot of possibilities, but Academy took some unhappy shortcuts with it and as a result it is not as much of a quantum change from the Tamiya kits as first thought. Hopefully they do not scrimp in this manner on their M5 series light tanks and use the same too-short Tamiya hull as a reference.

Advantages: Follows on heels of "Honey" kit; offers vinyl or 3-piece single-link track; literally a "drop fit" over Ordnance blueprints!

Disadvantages: Some odd shortcuts hurt the overall effect of the kit; needs work to be a true M3A1 tank.

-Cookie Sewell

Visit this page for photos of the M3A1 at Brainerd, MN.


Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII © 2002—2009 Timothy S. Streeter