M4A3 (76) W VVSS Sherman Battle of the Bulge
Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII

Dragon Models Limited

Without a doubt one of the top U.S. commanders at brigade and below levels during World War II was Creighton Abrams. As commander of the 37th Tank Battalion of the 4th Armored Division, he established an enviable reputation as a tank battalion commander and also as a "lead by example" tank commander. He was reportedly one of the top-scoring US tankers of WWII, if not the top scorer, and the 37th was generally accepted as the top U.S. armor battalion in Europe.

Abrams named all of his tanks "Thunderbolt" and numbered them as he went through the series of tanks issued to him. Of all his tanks probably "Thunderbolt VI," an M4A3 76mm standard production Sherman with VVSS used in the fall of 1944, and "Thunderbolt VII", an M4A3E8 which he used as a combat command commander at the end of the war, are probably the best known. As with many of the 37th's tanks, the "Thunderbolts" had a large cartoon cloud with three lightning bolts painted on their sides along with the name and number in the sequence.

In keeping with their recent series of late war tanks, DML now has issued a kit that may be built up as "Thunderbolt VI" during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. It is based on their recent new molding M4A2 Russian Army kit and uses some of the same sprues from that model but with a number of changes and new parts added.

The kit includes the "B" or turret sprue from the M4A2 kit but now adds an "H" sprue that provides the oval hatch for the loader as well as a built-up version of the early M4A3 standard production radiator air deflector that goes above the engine exhausts.

While the number of parts listed may be mind-numbing, most of them relate to the tracks. 684 are the set of tracks provided with the latest version of the M4A4 /Sherman V/VC Firefly kit and come with a set of extended end connectors. Since those tracks have the incorrect (for this version) British-style steel chevron track, the kit also comes with 192 T48 rubber chevron blocks. These are the ones for use with the American tracks used on this model, and the modeler now has a choice of with or without extended end connectors.

DML's three-piece scale US medium tank tracks are not popular with many modelers, and I myself have to state up front that assembling them correctly and neatly can be an 8 to 12 hour chore. If you don't want to use them, but still want single link tracks, I suggest spending the $16-18 for a set of RHPS tracks that can be put together in less than two hours. There are few offerings of vinyl T48 track around, and most of them require buying another kit first, so they get expensive to use. I do not recommend the Fruil or Model Kasten "working" tracks as they take even longer to assemble.

I put them together as "semi-working" by cementing one end connector to one end of a link and then inserting a second link in place, and then trapping it by gluing the other end connector in place. I use a small homemade jig for this, making up sets of ten and letting them dry before joining them. If done correctly they do flex and also permit painting and installing them after the model is completed.

The model offers a choice of "mid-production" or "late-production" suspension units, the difference between them being a "straight" return roller mount with pillow blocks to lift the roller or an "upswept" mount as found on late-production VVSS tanks. It also comes with either "spoke" welded road wheels or "cast" road wheels—actually a pressed steel disk welded in place—with detail on both sides.

There are other options too—either the kit styrene gun barrel may be used or a turned aluminum substitute is provided; the kit also provides a "pre-bored" one-piece muzzle brake or a thread saver fitting for the end of the barrel from turned aluminum. Two turned brass rounds, one HE and one AP, are also included.

The kit also comes with the clear styrene components for the lights, vision ports and the commander's cupola; if you use them in that light, paint the internal (bottom) ends with a dark color (black, blue or green, based on preference) and let the normal effects of a prism take affect. Personally I have used the trick of exposed film strips glued to the lens portion since I picked it up from Ben Cliche and Steve Zaloga, as well as MV Lenses for the headlights. Still, it gives the modeler some finishing options.

Some things have not changed, such as the fact that the suspension is still based on the 30+ year old Italeri M4A1 kit, and while much better detailed and more accurate still suffers from "rocking" bogies as it is hard to solidly lock them up. Also, even after comments from myself and Steve Zaloga among others, the weld beads are still recessed, rather than flush with the top of the hull, creating an unrealistic "trench."

Since this is a "Bulge" tank, DML has also thrown in two figure set—No. 6054, the US Army Europe Tank Crew with five figures, and No. 6163, 101st Airborne at Bastogne 1944. They account for another 156 parts in the box. One of the figures can be made to approximate Abrams, as he wore an M1 helmet shell over the normal tanker helmet, and one figure that comes with that configuration (B1, B2, B3, B4, B5, B6, B7, B8, B9, B11, B13, B20) which the directions suggest should be a sergeant can get a "battlefield promotion" to lieutenant colonel!

The kit offers six different finishing options: "Thunderbolt VI" from 37th Tank Battalion, December 1944; 4th Tank Battalion, 1st Armored Division, St. Lucia, Italy 1944; 760th Tank Battalion, 5th US Army, Italy 1945; 761st Tank Battalion (The "Black Panthers"), Task Force Rhine, Germany 1945; Pzkw. M4 748(a), Aschafenberg, Germany 1945; and 714th Tank Battalion, 12th Armored Division, Germany 1945. Note that the 761st was a black unit, one of two manned by African-Americans that saw combat duty during WWII (and the subject of a recent book by Kareem Abdul-Jabar dedicated to a good friend of his father's when he was growing up.) Of these tanks, I think only "Thunderbolt VI" was fitted with the extended end connectors for its tracks; the directions do not provide any indication.

Overall, this is a nicely done kit and one with a ton of parts and possibilities. (Note that once you open the box, you can't get all the parts back in it!) Once you get into the rhythm of track assembly, the tracks aren't as much of a bugaboo either, and add to the realistic look of the finished model.

Thanks to Freddie Leung for the review sample.

-Cookie Sewell


Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII © Timothy S. Streeter