Dragon 1/35 Sd.Kfz 184 'Ferdinand'

KIT #: 6133
PRICE: 32.80 from HLJ
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Pierre-André Boillat
NOTES: nice kit, but Dragon has done better since.

HISTORY

 Based on a project by Ferdinand Porsche (hence its original name), the Sd. Kfz. 184 was an improvisation. After the Henschel Tiger I prototype had been chosen, Hitler ordered to use the 91 already completed  Porsche Tiger hulls as a base for a new heavy tank hunter. The vehicle should be armed with the new 88mm L/71 Pak anti-tank gun.

 The Ferdinand was developed in a hurry from February 1943 on, entering service in June and going to battle in July, just in time for Operation “Zitadelle” – the attack on Kursk, this over-rushed engineering job being due to the Führer’s impatience to see the new material in action for the great offensive that should turn the tide on the Eastern Front.

 Of course, though extremely well armed and armoured, the Ferdinand was still full of unsolved teething problems (as it was the case with the also brand-new Panther tank), and the two Panzerjäger bataillons sent to Kursk (the 653. and 654.) lost 38 of the 90 engaged vehicles, mostly due to mechanical breakdowns and antitank mines (the statements that most were blown up in daring close-quarters infantry attacks is rather a exaggeration of the Soviet propaganda – only a few were lost to direct enemy action).

 Of course, the Ferdinand’s poor mobility and lack of defensive MG were a problem, but the most important cause for losses was that a disabled Ferdinand had to be towed away by three un-armoured FAMO heavy half-tracks, an almost impossible task under battlefield conditions that forced almost all damaged vehicles to be abandoned or self-destroyed.

 However, when functioning correctly and used under the conditions it had been designed for, the Ferdinand proved a formidable weapon, able to punch holes through most anything within a range of 1’500 meters with tremendous accuracy. Further, its thick armour provided the crew with an excellent protection, human losses in Ferdinand units being rather low. At the end of the day, this much-maligned vehicle stands out as one of the war’s best tank hunters, with a kill/loss ratio of 10.5 to 1. At Kursk alone, in spite of all their mechanical and tactical problems, the 653. and 654. Abteilungen managed to destroy 500 tanks, 20 antitank guns and 100 field artillery pieces.

 After Kursk, the remaining Ferdinands went through a general overhaul and improvement programme (the most noticeable differences being a defensive MG and a Panzer IV commander’s cupola), were coated with Zimmerit, re-named Elefant” and used on the Russian and Italian fronts until none were left.

THE KIT

Having built the Italeri Elefant several years ago (and sold it in-between), I was looking forward to replace this classic with a more recent, up-to-date kit. As I’m far from enthusiastic about single-link tracks (240 of the kit’s 430 parts), I had postponed the build for a long time until I decided to give it a go,  especially after a friend told me that such tracks are not as awful as one could think they are. As it turned out, he was quite right, but I still prefer one-piece vinyl ones (especially the later type that can be glued instead of welded), or, as Trumpeter and lately Tamiya have started providing us with – segmented elements with in-built “sagging” which IMO are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

A good thing about building an early Ferdinand at the Battle of Kursk is that these vehicles didn’t have a Zimmerit coating, which was introduced shortly after. I had done one on my Italeri Elefant (using Tamiya putty and a discarded lighter’s wheel as an improvised “Zimmerit tool” – to good effect – but I was nonetheless glad to spare myself the extra work).

Due to the Ferdinand’s rather simple shape, the kit does not have as many exterior details as your regular battle tank (for example, most tools were carried in a box on the vehicle’s side), so getting the main body together isn’t a very difficult task. However, the kit lacks any towing cables, and I can’t understand this obvious omission. 

The gun’s barrel is made of plastic and requires some filling. Decals (of rather poor quality) are provided for three vehicles of the same unit. The painting instructions don’t match the box art, I couldn’t find any photographic evidence for the provided schemes – and I noticed (too late) that this particular Panzerjäger-Abteilung carried its tool boxes on the rear exhaust cover, so I chose another option, which I’ll explain in the painting section.

CONSTRUCTION

The kit goes together fairly well, with no fitting problems. A typical Dragon gimmick is  a tendency for “over-engineering”, which for example appears in the mobile suspension arms… something that’s of little use with single-link tracks that  allow no movement once glued together, and may cause alignment problems (I had to pay extra attention so all road wheels would touch the ground). This feature could be useful when placing the model on a diorama, but it will require a careful placement of the model on its base prior to final assembly.

The instruction manual says that the road wheels have black rims. This is of course incorrect, as they were all-steel types with no rubber belts. After painting them in sand yellow, I polished the rims with Rub-and-Buff (the fastest and easiest way to avoid brushing mishaps).

Another tricky part is the correct placement of the front sprocket wheels so there’s enough room for the tracks between them and the mud guards. Even if I paid attention to this, I had to break the mud guards and bend them upwards to allow access to the upper part of the sprocket wheels, something I could have avoided by assembling the kit in the typical upper / lower hull fashion.

Speaking of the tracks, these come in grey plastic and will have to be painted “on sprue” before assembly. Cutting them out and cleaning them with a cutter was (as I told my wife) the modelling equivalent of removing the stones from 10 pounds of cherries, but it was done in an hour or so. Assembling the tracks (in segments that were attached to the tank before the glue was completely dry and still allowed to force them into shape) went surprisingly well thanks to the magical Tamiya extra-thin cement.

To sum it up, here’s the assembly / painting sequence I chose for this model:

  1. Main body (without the small parts) sprocket wheels and suspension.
  2. Road wheels, gun barrel (filled and sanded).
  3. First coat of sand yellow on these elements. Road wheels assembly.
  4. Painting, assembly and fitting of the tracks (as said above).
  5. Adding the small details (commander’s hatch, hand railings etc).
  6. Camouflage painting, sealing with gloss coat and applying the decals.
  7. First weathering (with oil paint).
  8. Adding the tools and spare tracks, matte coat.
  9. Final weathering (post-shading, pigments, thinned enamels and drybrushed metal on the tracks).
  10. Painting and adding the figure.
    COLORS & MARKINGS

As said above, I wasn’t fond of the kit’s proposed painting options (not forgetting the unit-specific tool box issue which proved that Dragon hadn’t done its research too well), and wanted to make the more typical “loose grid” pattern found on many early Ferdinands. On most pictures available to me, the vehicles carried just a pair of tactical numbers on the combat compartment’s sides and the German crosses. I couldn’t see any unit markings. Not being able to find enough documents for a particular tank, I went for the “plausible if not accurate” option and eventually grabbed white German numerals from the decal dungeon. 90 Ferdinands at Kursk is a large number and each one was field-painted by its crew – at least one had to look like this.

FINAL CONSTRUCTION

 Lastly, the few visible tools, an antenna and a figure (I always like to add this little “human touch” to my armour models, and it gives a better impression of the vehicle’s size). As the kit not only lacks the aforementioned towing cables, but also any figure, I borrowed this guy from a Tamiya Jagdpanzer IV 70 / Lang.

CONCLUSIONS

This kit carries a 2001 copyright, and is quite typical of older Dragon products. With good detail, nice fit and a large-yet-bearable number of parts, it perfectly recaptures the real Ferdinand’s both massive and aggressive shape. In spite of a few shortcomings (lack of towing cables and figures, partly unclear instructions and a historical research job that leaves several questions open, I’d say it’s a pretty good kit (that’s currently out of stock, according to HLJ).

 Dragon’s latest effort on the theme has just been released, apparently addressing all of the older kit’s issues: metal gun barrel and towing cables, some photo-etched detail, one-piece, high-tech rubber tracks, molded-on Zimmerit coating (it’s a late-type Elefant), with 5 different painting options (but still no figure). If you want one of those Porsche Heavies regardless of the type, I’d rather recommend this one.

REFERENCES

 Allied-Axis # 8 – Kursk : Porsche heavyweight in action

Militaria Magazine – la bataille de Koursk 1+2

Batailles & Blindés Hors Série # 10 – Koursk  tome 2 / la pince nord

Concord publications – Armor at war series # 7015 – Panzers in the East

Various internet research.


Pierre-André Boillat

January 2009

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