AFV Club 1/35 M5A1 (early production)
KIT #: AF 35105
PRICE: $35.00
DECALS: See Review
REVIEWER: Laurent Moitrot


         At the time of the outbreak of the second world war in Europe, the US Army found itself with only a few tanks available, most of them of dubious value as they were merely machine gun armed. This was the result of the isolationist politics led by the US Congress after WW I.

The success of the German blitzkrieg was a shock that led to new politics about tanks, their role and organization. Something had to be done because the machine gun armed M2 had to be up gunned. This led to the Stuart series of tanks.

The M3 was a rather good little tank, armed with a 37 mm anti tank gun and four 0,30  machine guns, one co axial, one in the hull glacis and two in the hull sponsons . A large number of these tanks were sold to the Brits and to the Russians through the lend and lease program. As good as these tanks were they very quickly proved to be obsolete, unable to fight against all but the lighter German tanks.

They still could be used with good results but not as first line tanks. Recce units or second line units still could make good use of them but still, they needed some improvements as long as the new generation of light tanks was not born.

This led to the development of the M5 series, its last incarnation being the M5A1. The hull was redesigned to give better protection to the crew, it was armed with the same 37 mm main gun and three machine guns. This tank first saw action in North Africa and by the time of the invasion of Sicily, in 1943, it was already the standard light tank of the American armored divisions. It was also widely used in the Pacific, often being the only available tank. Its successor, the excellent M24 “Chaffee” entered service in the winter of 1944 putting an end to the Stuart saga.


For ages the only kit available was the old (1974 !) Tamiya kit. It was a late production model and was wrong in size and shape. In 2001 academy came up with two Stuarts kits, much better than the Tamiya kit but they were M3s. AFV club then came with a gorgeous M3A3 in 2003, promising a “soon to come” M5A1 … which only appeared a few months ago, early 2008 !

So was it worth waiting ?

Definitely yes.


AFV Club gives us a nice rendition of the early production M5A1 which, notwithstanding  a few minor details, can be built as it comes out of the box and will allow you to build a fairly accurate tank.

What you get is nicely molded parts with crisp details, vinyl tracks, an aluminum gun barrel and  some photo etched parts. There is also a towing cable that looks very realistic once installed on the finished tank.

So where are the flaws ? There always are flaws …

The only “major” concern seems to be the rear of the tank. I mean where the engine access doors and exhausts are located. 

During the production life of the M5A1 one can find three different types of rears.

The early type with only the exhaust pipes coming out and no deflectors or screenings. Let’s call this version Mark I. Then rather quickly two exhaust deflectors were installed, they were both full width, the upper one being articulated and could be set in the “up” position. Let’s call that Mark II version and at last a towing pintle was added so the lower deflector was divided in two parts separated by the towing pintle. Let’s call this version Mark III. So where’s the point ? The Mark III is closely associated with the late type turret and of course the kit turret is an early one (lots of differences indeed between the two types !). (See picture to the right).

 Question : is it impossible to find a Mark III rear and an early turret ?

Answer : no … but the kit doesn’t provide the exhaust deflectors that should be there along with the towing pintle …

So here’s the dilemma : if you decide to build the kit from the box, without any modification, you’ll end up with a rear that never was. What to do then ? You can decide to get rid of the towing pintle (parts A25 and A25) and you’ll get a reasonably accurate very early M5A1. Note that if you do that, the decals will prove inaccurate since most of them are later versions of the tank. The C-34 “Carol” from 3rd Armored Division you can see on the box art definitely has the Mark II deflectors.

 I decided to keep the towing pintle and scratch build the deflectors. It doesn’t require extra terrestrial skills but still it ain’t that easy to do.  You’ll also notice that the superstructure and engine deck are a bit difficult to adjust because of the way the different parts are separated. No big deal but still, be very careful.

 You’ll find a small hole in the turret roof next to the search light (parts D33 and D48) that shouldn’t be there. It is a signal port but it was closed from the inside with a plug. You’ll have to either make yourself a plug (I did) or cover it with the search light in the “down” position. There is also a small “bump” on the roof which I’ve never seen on pictures of actual M5A1s, right where the big American star is supposed to be so maybe you’ll want to sand it. At last there should  be some sort of “mushroom like” search light holder to the left of the search light mast that doesn’t exist in this kit…

Talking about the searchlight, most of the tanks didn’t have it and on every M5A1 from 3rd A.D. ( C-34 again !) I’ve seen the antenna mast was moved  right where the search light should be,  on the turret roof, instead of at the rear of the turret as found on the kit (see picture to left.

 For years I have been dreaming of making a model of a M5A1 during operation Cobra, Normandy, July 1944. Lots of Stuarts from the 3rd A.D. were seen there with these beautiful yellow codes on the sides. I also thought it’d give a more aggressive look to my model if it were to be equipped with sand bags and the Cullin hedge cutter in front. Most of the pictures also show the Stuarts covered with a lot of tarpaulins and bags. This meant I’d have to add a few goodies to this excellent kit. The sand bags are home made with bi-components epoxy putty, and I’m afraid I made them a bit too big, specially since they get in the way of the second driver’s episcopes. I was too slow to realize that and as this putty becomes as hard as concrete within a minute or two,  and sticks to the model like super glue, it was too late to fix the problem so I have to live with it now. The Cullin device is made from styrene sheet. Once bitten, twice shy, I avoided using the putty to make the tarpaulins on the rear deck, using self hardening artist’s clay which takes more time to harden and gives you the time to fix the mistakes. The stowage on the turret comes from and old model built something like 15-20 years ago so I do not remember who made it. I guess it’s Verlinden but I’m not so sure. The air recognition panel on the rear deck seemed like a good idea to break the monotony of this olive drab model. It comes from Archer transfers (AR 35169). Next time I’ll make it myself, using car modeler’s  fluo paint.

I also scratch built the spare track links racks on the rear as I thought the ones found in the box were not realistic at all and I scratch built the various tools straps and buckles using thin lead foil and copper wire. No extra PE set was used. Last but not least, I scratch built the small deflector that seems to be on every Stuart from the 3rd A.D. on the front hull right corner. Some say it is a bullet deflector, some say it is a wire cutter of some sort but even if its exact role is now forgotten, pictures prove it was there.


The kits provides decals for 6 different tanks including a very colorful “loup” from the Free French 1st A.D.

The instructions claim the British Stuart should be painted Khaki green. Well, this is not true. Unless they were rebuilt (the Sherman Firefly being an example) they were left by the Brits in their factory color so it’ll be Olive Drab for each tank.

Please try to modify the deflectors  or antenna mast according to the tank you want to build. You won’t find it on the instruction but they also allow us to build “Hothead”. Hothead is a tank from the Pacific theatre of operations, interesting because it has a three tone camo but unfortunately, being a Marine Corps tank I was equipped with the rear wading trunk used for landing (or river crossing) you won’t find it inside the box.

 As none of these tanks had the Cullin device on, I had to go back to my library and try to find a picture of a Stuart “wearing” this outfit. I found it. It is tank number B-21 from the 3rd Armored Division, seen around Saint Fromond, Normandy, 10-11 July 1944. Each of these tanks had a name that began with A or B or C according to the company  it belonged to. The actual picture of B-21 doesn’t show the name or the serial number. All we can guess from the pic is that the name is short. Bob, Bill, Bert …. I decided it’d be Bob. The serial number is a guess. The code numbers also come from Archer transfer. They have two sheets dedicated to the 2nd and 3rd AD (AR 35049 & AR 35050)

 My M5A1 was painted with a mix of  75% Humbrol olive drab (155) and 25% sand (94) as the original olive drab is much too dark for a kit this size. I then used my usual weathering technique. First a heavy wash of Burnt Umber that I let dry and then rub off. Then I used the dry-brush technique to lighten up the upper surfaces. Tonal variations were added using very small spots of burnt umber or Payne’s grey on the vertical surfaces and I finished the model using pastels to create the dust on the tank. The summer of 1944 in Normandy was very dusty !


This kit is so good I decided to go and buy AFV club previous Stuart, the M3A3 and will build it pretty soon. You can decide to build it from the box, you’ll end up with a very good looking kit. Highly recommended ! 


“Stuart US light tanks in action” by Steve Zaloga (Osprey)

Modelling the M3/M5” by Steve Zaloga (Osprey)

“STUART a history of the American light tank” by R.P.Hunnicut.

 Laurent Moitrot

April 2008

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