Dragon 1/35 Panzer III ausf H
|PRICE:||$60 or so|
|NOTES:||Africa 1941 diorama|
The conquest of France in June 1940 left Germany the supreme ruler of Europe. With Britain in no position to strike back and the Soviet Union still a non-combatant, Hitler had the luxury of deciding where to strike next – until his hand was forced by one of his allies.
Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy, had been harboring illusions of creating a second Roman Empire. Entering the war during the summer of 1940, Mussolini first struck into Greece from Italian-held Albania in the fall of 1940. Thoroughly repulsed there, he decided to invade Egypt from his colony in Libya. In December 1940 weak, poorly led Italian forces met British forces on the Egyptian border and were quickly routed. Major-General Richard O’Connor not only destroyed the Italian Army but rolled some 480 miles west through Libya almost to Tripoli. By January 1941 the Axis situation there had become so dire, Hitler had to act. One of the few quality ports in North Africa, Tripoli had to remain in Axis hands if any victory in North Africa was to be had. The Wehrmacht drew up Operation Sonnenblume (Sunflower); the landing of two German divisions in Tripoli to assist the remaining Italian forces and maintain a solid footing in the region. On February 6 Lieutenant-General Erwin Rommel, one of the heroes of the French Campaign, was called to Berlin and informed that he would lead the operation and the brand new Afrika Korps force.
Theoretically under the command of Italian Commander-in-Chief General Italo Gariboldi, Rommel’s orders were basically to defend Tripoli and recapture Cyrenaica, the eastern coastal region of Libya. He arrived in Tripoli on February 12th while his forces began arriving a few days later. Reconnoitering the situation from the air, he immediately disagreed with Gariboldi as to how to proceed; Gariboldi wanted to defend Tripoli while Rommel, characteristically, wanted to go on the attack. Letting his feelings known in both Rome and Berlin, Rommel got his way, and with his forces positioned near the front line at Sirte, he immediately began preparations to attack the British. His immediate goal was to retake Benghazi, a small but important port east of Tripoli and the center of Cyrenaica.
The first action came on February 24th as recce troops from both sides clashed with minor casualties. Rommel soon realized that the British were not as strong in the theater as was once thought; in fact Churchill was removing manpower and equipment from the area in preparation for action in Greece. Still, Rommel’s constant pleas to Berlin for more men and supplies fell on deaf ears. Hitler and his war machine were busy planning the invasion of the Soviet Union and were not willing to spare much of anything for what they considered to be a minor sideshow (side note: the idea that a strongly equipped Rommel could have rolled through North Africa and secured the Middle Eastern oil fields and thus all the oil the Nazis would have needed for years to come, for a tiny fraction of the price Hitler paid to invade Russia, has been a hot debate since the war ended). Told to basically do nothing until May, Rommel was disappointed but in typical fashion, he launched his own attack. On March 24th the 5th Light Division rolled into El Agheila and captured the town with very little effort. One week later Rommel took Mersa el Brega, the next large town to the east. On April 3rd he commanded a three-pronged attack into Cyrenaica and chased the retreating British out of the region, often observing them from his Fiesler Storch airplane. On April 8th Mechili, in the heart of Cyrenaica, fell, forcing the British to withdraw back to the Egyptian border. After a trio of attacks failed to dislodge the Australians at Tobruk, Rommel decided to lay siege to the port and continue on to the Libyan - Egyptian border. Before long he was in possession of the critical Halfaya Pass; perched on the dividing line between the two ancient lands.
On May 15 Britain launched “Operation Brevity” with the goal of retaking Halfaya Pass and then pushing on to relieve the embattled forces at Tobruk. While they achieved the first of those goals, their success was short-lived. By the end of May Rommel was back in control of Halfaya. June saw Britain try again to repulse Rommel and relieve Tobruk with “Operation Battleaxe”. Despite being supplied with new tanks from home, the results were largely the same. The Brits made some early headway only to be turned back, suffering heavy losses in the process. “Battleaxe” was over on June 17 and no British forces were in Libya. Both sides settled in for a period of rest and refitting, and the first phase of the Desert War was over. Erwin Rommel had established himself as the preeminent master of mobile warfare, and the legend of the Desert Fox was born.
The purpose of this diorama is to depict the crew of a Panzer III Ausf. H of Panzer-Regiment 8 of the 15th Panzer Division sharing a light moment while their commander talks with a motorcycle courier. The crew is watching two scorpions battle in a makeshift pit they dug. The time is right after the British were repulsed from Halfaya by Operation Scorpion in late May 1941. The area is around Sollum, Libya, on the Mediterranean coast.
The commander’s cupola is fully detailed inside and out, and the turret interior features a nicely detailed main gun breech as well as other interior details. Billed as a “Late Production” Ausf. H, parts are included for the vehicles that were first sent over to North Africa in the spring of 1941 when Rommel arrived. Such goodies as the storage bin on the rear of the turret and the armored cowlings that were attached to the engine hatches on the rear deck are in the box are included. Definitely a tropical themed kit, decals are provided for five different tanks; three of which served in the desert with Panzer-Regiment 8 of the 15th Panzer Division, one which served in Greece with the 2nd Panzer Division, and a final tank which served in the Eastern Front with the 1st Panzer Division. Another detail worthy of note is a fully detailed suspension that includes the torsion rods and fittings on the inside of the tank. With so much in the box my usual need for further indulgences was all but extinguished; I only replaced the kit’s main gun barrel with a resin barrel from Tank Workshop that featured the canvas gaiter commonly seen in photos of Panzer IIIs in the desert.
Just as aircraft models always seem to start with the cockpit, tank models always seem to start with the suspension, chiefly the wheels. To me assembling twelve or more wheels right off the bat always seems a bit monotonous so I put those off and went straight to the suspension (as we’ll see later, it’s important NOT to glue them on until the very end anyway). The Panzer III was rather “busy down there” and there are shocks, tensioners, brackets and bump stops to attach to the hull even before you get to the suspension arms. Once that is accomplished you add plates to the front and rear of the hull, and then busy up the rear plate with mufflers and other associated parts. Dragon’s kit engineering is excellent and nowhere did I use any filler or encounter any issues.
Moving onto the upper hull, I next built the two fender assemblies which are covered in tools. Next you assemble the superstructure’s front and side plates. I left the various periscopes and ports posed in their open positions thinking the crew would want to keep their tank aired out in the desert. Dragon includes the arms that the ports swing back and forth on – very nice. The Ausf. H featured separate armor plates bolted onto the front of the tank so these were added next, and then it was on to the turret.
The turret interior contains a nicely detailed main gun breech as well as transparent periscopes for the turret sides, doors, and cupola. I left all the doors open to show the tank being “lived in”.
To complete the tank’s assembly I attached a spare road wheel to the rear fender and then scratch built a fuel/water can rack on the other fender. I used needle nose pliers to add some subtle twists to the fenders to replicate damage, and at that point declared it ready for paint.
|COLORS & MARKINGS|
All German vehicles initially shipped to the desert in 1941 arrived in their traditional dark Panzer Gray colors, but they were soon over-sprayed with a sand-colored paint from whatever supplies were on hand (so the sources say…). The sand-colored paint weathered quickly once exposed to the sun, wind, combat, and the usual day-to-day activities of the crew. Therefore, as better armor modelers than I have known for a long time, North African-theater vehicles represent great opportunities for advanced weathering techniques, especially the hairspray technique.
The hairspray technique essentially consists of 4 steps: 1) Spray a basecoat of color onto the primered model, 2) Spray hairspray all over the model, 3) Spray the top coat of color all over the model, and 4) Use water and a slightly stiff brush to scrape away the top coat, leaving behind a very realistically chipped paint surface.
The technique, when combined with more traditional weathering techniques, allows modelers to achieve extraordinary weathering effects. It simply blows away all other ways to create a paint-chipped surface. If you’ve ever seen a tank model of a badly weathered winter white-wash finish or desert sand finish and wondered “how did he do that?”, there’s a good chance the hairspray technique was involved. I’ve wanted to try the technique for a while, and this project seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Beginning my odyssey into weathering madness, I first applied a primer coat using Mr. Surfacer 1000. That was followed by a basecoat of Testors Gunship Gray. I then picked out the various tools by hand, and sprayed a lightened mix of Tamiya Buff inside the turret to replicate the tank’s interior color. From this point on I relied heavily on a new reference book I picked up, “Tankart 1” by Michael Rinaldi. In this book the author builds several different Axis vehicles and then gives very thorough step-by-step instructions detailing the various weathering effects he applies to the models, including the hairspray technique. (The book is excellent and I highly recommend it to all modelers interested in weathering – you will marvel at how good his models look. Just as importantly, the author explains the techniques and material in such a way that it inspires you to try them yourself). One of his builds was a heavily weathered Panzer IV in North Africa; thus it was a perfect reference for what I was doing.
Armed with a couple of old, stiff brushes and a cup of water, I began by wetting an area I want chipped and then gently rubbing it with the brush. The process worked like magic; soon very small but definite chips and scrapes begin to appear. Like any technique practice is necessary. The more water you apply and the harder you rub the bigger the chips appear, but overall the process is very “controllable”, i.e. the chips appear in a gradual way and not all of a sudden. I continued working all over the tank, concentrating on areas that would see heavy use by the crew. It took a few nights but I was very pleased with the effects.
When I was happy with the paint chipping I tried my hand at another technique from the Rinaldi reference he calls Lacquer Thinner Removal. This is a technique used to simulate more of a general wearing of a paint surface as opposed specific paint chips. By gently rubbing lacquer thinner onto the paint surface with another old brush you can “wear” away some of the top coat, creating a very realistic looking worn surface. I applied this technique around crew hatches and edges of the vehicle to create even more wear and tear.
At this point my tank was looking nicely weathered, but there were more steps to take. Up next I applied a pin wash I made of medium brown artist’s oil paint into all of the cracks, seams, and crevices. After that I applied two filters randomly onto the tank; one shade I made was a heavily diluted mix of the wash I had previously mixed up while the other shade was AK Interactive’ s Afrika Korps Filter that I toned down with a little light brown (it’s a little too orange right out of the jar).
Dragon’s Magic Tracks unfortunately do not click together, so NOT gluing all of the wheels in place until the end becomes a necessity. This is because the best way to assemble the tracks is to fit the links together in straight lines of about 30 links each (there are 89 links per side per the instructions) and apply some liquid cement to the links and let them sit for about 15 minutes. At that time fit the wheels and return rollers to the hull, but don’t glue them. Now drape the track sections over the wheels and mold any sagging or other shapes you want into the still-flexible sections. I found that small balls of rolled up Kleenex stuffed between the top of the tracks and the undersides of the fenders created the right amount of track “sag” that I was looking for. Now walk away and let the sections harden completely. The next day you can remove them along with the still-removable wheels and then paint and weather the tracks.
Once set I painted the tracks Tamiya XF-10 Flat Brown, and then weathered them and the wheels with some dark washes and MIG pigments. I then glued everything to the hull. I scrubbed some more pigments here and there, sprayed on some Testors Flat, and the Panzer was done.
|THE BASE & FIGURES|
As usually happens I used a mixture of figures from different kits, in this case Dragon’s #6063 “Deutsche Afrika Korps” and Verlinden. I made some minor adaptations to them so they would fit the scene, and then painted them with Vallejo Acrylics. The DKW motorcycle is a Tamiya kit that used to live in an old, now defunct diorama of mine. I applied the hairspray technique to it and gave it a weathered desert coat similar to the Panzer. Finally the tiny scorpions were sourced from an Eduard photoetch set that features rats, snakes, spiders – all sorts of creepy crawlies. Perfect for a haunted house diorama! Some day…
Well it took me about three months to build this diorama, but that seems to be about my usual pace for a project this size. Dragon’s newest armor kits are awesome; tremendously detailed and fun to build. With great references and new weathering products coming out all the time, we truly live in a golden age of modeling.
- Panzer Tracts #3-2, “Panzerkampfwagen III, Ausf. E, F, G, and H”
- Rinaldi Press Studio, “Tankart Vol. 1”
- Wikipedia, the Online Encyclopedia
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