M4A3 (76)W HVSS Sherman WWII
Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII

Dragon Models Limited

Dragon Models Ltd. (DML) released three HVSS Shermans in 1994: a howitzer/flame thrower tank and a 76mm gun tank from the Korean War; and the "ultimate" Sherman in U.S. service in World War II, the M4A3 (76)W with HVSS suspension, also known as the M4A3E8 or Easy Eight. I'll refer to the tank as E8 for the rest of this review.


One of the main drawbacks of the M4 Sherman was its rather narrow suspension system. This meant that the M4 could travel quite well and fast at solid ground, such as roads and summer time grasslands. When the circumstances changed and the weather became worse, the fields often got muddy, and the Sherman had a hard time crossing such country. The German and Russian tanks had less problems with this due to their wider tracks. Wider tracks reduce ground pressure, thus resulting in a vehicle being less prone to sinking into the soil. The same approach is also used by humans when walking in snow with snowshoes, or when skiing.

By October 1944, the weather had changed in Europe, and crews began mounting steel tracks, as these had better grip and traction compared to the T51 and T48 rubber block tracks. To reduce the ground pressure, extended end connectors were fitted. These were often locally made, and while quite succesfull, this was by far an ideal solution. The real solution was new suspension system, called the Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS).

This new suspension appeared on the M4A3 (76)W HVVS, also known as the M4A3E8. The HVSS used six of two road wheels, mounted on three bogies. The tracks were wider than the older VVSS, so the new tanks could travel easier across soft ground. Nearly all the HVSS vehicles in the ETO were M4A3 tanks equipped with 76mm gun, as these were the preferred weapons in the U.S. Army due to their reliable engines and guns. To accommodate the wider tracks, wider fenders were installed. (The HVSS system was also fitted to 105mm howitzer tanks, and to M4A1 76mm tanks, but these didn't see action in U.S. service.)

Several VVSS vehicles were also fitted with the wider fenders, and some used a spaced out suspension, with two rows of extended end connectors.

The Kit

The DML kit, one of its early Imperial Series, comes with quite few sprues, many of them originally produced by Italeri. Sprue A holds the major hull parts and details. Several bits are not needed, but more on this later. Sprue B is the lower hull bottom. Sprue C is the HVSS system, and there are four sprues of this one for the bogies parts, and two for sprockets and idlers. Sprue D is the turret, whereas F provides the fenders and add-on armor panels. Three G sprues hold the tracks. Everything is moulded in a neutral grey colour, with the tracks in dark grey. Detail is soft and mushy in places, and the thinner parts are prone to breaking in my example.

Constructions starts with the suspension. This is quite basic, and the AFV Club HVSS suspension update set is far superior. The DML parts go together easy enough though, and when making a late war vehicle, mud would typically cover up the basic details. The lower hull is from the Italeri series, and has sponson floors, unlike the Tamiya lower hull. You need to scrape off the hull the molded mounting plates for the VVSS suspension however, and some bits from the idler mount as well. There are no mounting pins for the suspension units, but DML provide a scale plan with measurements. [Editor's Note: A corrected resin hull that was easier to work with was issued in kits designated "9010X"]

The tracks are next. These are single link T66 steel type, with two pin marks on either link. Removal is easy enough, being raised pin marks, but it's a boring affair. The top run shouldn't be visible, so it's a case of "out of sight, out of mind." The kit also comes with an optional armour plate for the front hull. The E8 was often fitted with extra armour, as most commanders used it as an assault tank. The front plate is straight off a knocked out Sherman, complete with head light guards. You need to remove the mounting pins from the original front plate yourself. Headlight guards are a bit thick, and thinning then down or replacing them with PE is advisable.

At the rear, there's an exhaust deflector. I think this is the wrong pattern for a WW2 version, but I'm not sure. Tamiya's version is better, though DML has it molded closer to scale. The rest of the hull consists of the usual work: tools, hatches, ventilators, etc. The hatches have plastic periscope guards, again a legacy from the Italeri kit. This is a good move, since they add detail, even thoug a bit thick. Some thinning with files might do the trick. Lifting eyes are separate pieces, but the mounting holes are too large. It seems the mold is getting tired. Use some filler or CA glue to put them in place. The overflow can be used to represent the weld bead. The vehicle tools are extremely basic and disappointing. Get a set from either Formations or CMD. Formations has set with molded on straps, so this might be the most convenient choice. Remember to remove the mold-on "please cement me here" guidelines from the hull. For some more detail, you could drill out the drainage holes in the splash guards around the turret ring and fuel filler caps. The rear stowage rack is extremely thick, and needs replacing. I scratchbuilt one from thin metal sheet, and used the shaved off hinges from the kit.

The welds on the hull are recessed, but DML have tried to represent them in the correct manner, being slightly raised. They have made a mess of it actually, which is a pity. It looks like someone has applied a thin stroke glue right next to the actual weld, and then sprinkled on some talcum powder.

The turret offers the basic details and some work can be added here. The gun barrel is in in plastic, and has quite a seam running along its length, which seems a bit short, so an aftermarket barrel might be useful. The kit's barrel includes the muzzle brake, though the E8 can be fitted with or without it. The turret itself goes down quite nicely, but at the front it's fiddly. There are some huge gaps at the trunnion area, and the gun barrel wobbles around. There's no casting texture. I used stippled glue to replicate this; you could also use Mr. Surfacer. The commanders cupola is molded in place, with a separate hatch and periscope. This allows you to pop the periscope out of the hatch, a nice touch. The loader's hatch is also separate, with a separate handle. The turret mounted MG is not up to date. Academy's recent U.S. machine gun set has far better detail, so replace the kit's MG.

Once the turret is in place, all you need to do is put everything together. Add upper hull to the lower hull, mount the extra bow armour and put the fenders on. The fenders are a bit thick, so you might want to replace these. ABER has a PE set of HVSS fenders, though scratching them from thin sheet is also possible. Use the kit parts as a template. Then mount the side plates, front and rear fenders. It was army policy however that the side fenders were removed to ease maintenance, so these are not necessary. Last bits to add are the turret armour plates, mounted on each side of the gun mantlet.

DML gives you two jerry cans and a moulded tarp, but these go back to the old Italeri M4A1 and are best left off.

Markings provide for one vehicle of 6th Armored Division, 15th Armored Battailion. Vehicle number is 19, painted on the hull side, and two white stars on the turret.

There are some parts for the spares box. Most of these apply to the M4/M4A1, and again stem from the Italeri connection. The instructions also tell you the smaller front and rear fenders are not needed, but these are more of an optional nature, if you don't fit the side plates.

All in all, this is a reasonable kit. The recent DML Sherman kits are far better in terms of detail, although they also have the recessed welds, and the suspension has been surpassed by AFV Club. However, it's the only complete set if you want an E8 in one box. There are other options, including a kit bash with a resin turret, Tamiya base kit and the AFV Club suspension, and DML has announced a new E8 for later in 2005. This is supposed to include markings for Thunderbolt, the tank commanded by Creighton Abrams, the top U.S. tank ace of the war. Hopefully, DML will fix the weld problem, and give us a new suspension. The M4A2 (76) and M4A3 (76) "Battle of the Bulge" kits already have new turret, superior to this one, so there sure is progress here.

As far as I know, there are no specific aftermarkets sets for this kit, apart from the mentioned ABER fenders. The Sherman detail sets should provide you most parts needed, such as light guards, straps etc. There are several resin turrets available, so a look around the shops or the Internet will be helpful.

-Martin Dogger


Modeling the U.S. Army in WWII © 2002—2007 Timothy S. Streeter