KIT: Tamiya 1/48 Panzer IV ausf J
KIT #: ?
PRICE: 1700 yen at www.hlj.com
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES:  

HISTORY

      Numerically, the Pzkw IV series of medium tanks were the most important German tanks of the Second World War, remaining in mass production from 1937 to 1945, and appearing in ten different tank versions as well as providing the basis for several other armored vehicles.

      The concept of a tank with all of the characteristics later incorporated in the Panzerkampfwagen IV was originally laid down in early 1930 by Heinz Guderian. In 1934, Krupp, Rheinmetall-Borsig, and MAN were ordered to develop a Begleitwagen vehicle with an overall weight of  18 tons, top speed of 35 km/h and a 75 mm gun as the main armament. In 1935, Krupp was ready to start the production of the Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf A, featuring a suspension system composed of drive sprocket, idler and 8 road-wheels on each side of the hull, paired in 4 assemblies on each side and attached to longitudinal twin quarter-elliptic leaf springs bolted to the hull. The vehicle was operated by a 5-man crew - commander, gunner and loader in the turret, with driver and machine gunner/radio-operator in the forward hull.

      The invasion of the Soviet Union brought the Pzkw IV Ausf D up against the T-35/76, and the German tank was found wanting, since it was primarily designed to support infantry and not for tank-vs.-tank fighting.  Most particularly, its low-velocity 75mm KwK L/24 75mm gun was no match for the high-velocity 76mm weapon used by the T-34. 

      The answer was the Pzkw Ausf F.  The first 462 Ausf Fs had slightly wider tracks to improve maneuverability on the soft ground of the Russian steppes.  At first, these tanks were still armed with the low-velocity 75mm KwK L/24 75mm gun to support infantry. Production was postponed for a month so that changes could be made to allow operation of the accommodate the hard-hitting high-velocity 75 mm L/43 cannon. The Ausf Fs with the short gun were renamed Ausf F1, while the following 175 with the long gun were designated the Ausf F2. This improvement in armament was the critical turning point for the Pzkw IV, which could now engage the T-34, and many earlier models were retrofitted with the L/43.

      The most-produced version was the Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf H, which entered production in April 1943 as the Sd.Kfz.161/2. Production continued until July 1944, with a production total of 3,774.  This version was basically a late model Ausf G with six-speed ZF SSG76 transmission. A double-baffle muzzle brake was installed to allow use of the even more powerful 75mm KwK L/48 and two MG 34 machine guns were mounted.  The power plant was the 12-cylinder water-cooled Maybach HL 120 TRM gasoline engine, producing 265hp at 2600rpm. In June 1943, an addition 30mm plate of front armor was added to the standard 50mm structural plate to provide 80mm on the front hull and superstructure. The weight of Ausf H was 25 tons, and maximum road speed was 38km/h, with average road speed of 25km/h.  The Ausf H tanks were issued to Panzer Regiments in Panzer Divisions and were used in that role to the end of the war. The majority of Panzerkampfwagen IV tanks used in France after the invasion were Ausf H.

      The final variant of Panzerkampfwagen IV tank family, the Ausf J, Sd.Kfz.161/2, entered production in July 1944, and continued until March 1945, with 2,970 produced solely by the Nibelungenwerke.  The Ausf J simplified the Ausf H. The main change was the deletion of the electric turret drive with auxiliary generator set, which meant the turret had to be traversed manually, with the space formerly used by the generator taken by 200-liter fuel tank, which increased combat range to over 300km. Crews disliked the change, which made fighting other tanks more difficult, while the panzers in general now faced serious fuel shortage problems. As production continued, modifications included deletion of the turret visor and pistol ports, installation of Pilze 2-ton crane mount sockets, introduction of Flammentoeter mufflers, conversion from plate skirts to wire-mesh type, and a reduction to 3 return rollers per side from 4,and cessation of applying Zimmerit paste.

     In spite of its high, boxy appearance with many shot traps, the Pzkw IV was the only German tank in production throughout the war, a clear testimony to what was definitely a sound design for its time. Its hull and chassis were also used for assault guns and self-propelled artillery pieces. It had a spacious interior and was generally liked by its crews because of its reliability.

      Prior to the invasion of Normandy, the Pzkw IV in its various variants was the biggest German tank the western allied armies had fought in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.  While the Panther and the Tiger tanks that were first met in the post-invasion battles during the summer of 1944 proved a nasty surprise to Allied armored units equipped with the Sherman tank - which became even more widely known as the “Ronson” (for the ad back then - “lights first time every time”) when they were knocked out in large numbers by Panthers and Tigers - the Pzkw IVs, which usually equipped at least two-thirds of a Panzer division, also proved themselves a dangerous opponent in the tight battles fought in the Normandy hedgerows, with their cannon also outranging that of most Shermans.  They were, however, the only German tank that could still be knocked out with the 2.36-inch Bazooka, which at least gave infantrymen a fighting chance when they came up against an ambush.  

     Interestingly, the Pzkw IV was also the last German tank of the Second World War to see post-war combat, fighting its last battles in the Six Day War of 1967, when it was used in fairly large numbers by the Syrian Army during the fighting in the Golan Heights.  While it was superior to the standard Sherman, the modifications made by the Israeli Army to allow the Sherman to use an 85mm gun meant the Syrian Pzkw IVs were outgunned as well as outfought.

THE KIT

     As with all the other new Tamiya 1/48 armor, this kit uses a diecast lower hull attached to the rest of the model with screws, which adds “heft” to an otherwise-small and lightweight model.  As with the Jagdpanther, all the parts are crisply molded in tan plastic.  The kit does not include the Schurzen, though the the Ausf J had largely dropped use of these.  Decals are provided for three different tanks, one with three-color camouflage, and two with two-color camouflage of red-brown blotches or a red-brown “wave-mirror” pattern over the overall “Panzer yellow” color.  Two of the markings are for Pzkw IVs used in France in August 1944.

COLORS & MARKINGS

     As I have said before, for me, construction of these tank models begins with the lower hull, chassis, and treads, and it begins with painting. 

      I painted all the plastic parts and the diecast lower hull Panzer dark yellow, mixing this from Tamiya paints to match the color profile on the boxtop, and then lightening it with white and going back over the parts to give a “multi-hue” finish to this color as “weathering.” 

      I then painted the treads with Tamiya Flat Aluminum, mixed with Semi-gloss Black to create a “steel” color. Next I hand painted the rubber on the road wheels, which is tedious and the lest-enjoyable part of building one of these armored vehicles. When this was done, it was time to weather things.

      I gave all the parts a coat of Future mixed with Tamiya “Smoke” to “pop out” detail.  Then I drybrushed the parts with Flat Aluminum.  This was followed by applying a second coat of Future mixed with Tamiya Brown to make a “mud wash” for the lower hull and the track wheels, as well as the tracks themselves. I finished off with a wash of Future and thinned black paint to bring up the final detail. When all this was dry, I gave all the parts a coat of Xtracrylix Flat varnish.

CONSTRUCTION

      Construction could now begin.  I attached all the wheels to the diecast lower hull with Cyanoacrylate glue, and then attached the treads with Tenax. I followed that with a drop of cyanoacrylate to each wheel to attach it to the tread, since these treads can come loose from handling during construction. I particularly liked the way the large upper part to allow “droop” between the return rollers.

      With the lower hull and treads finished, it was time to move on to the upper hull. I assembled the turret as a sub assembly, and attached most of the small parts to the hull other than the tools and such that are carried on the side.  When that was complete, I camouflaged the upper hull with Tamiya Red Brown and Gunze-Sangyo Medium Green in a “wave-mirror pattern,” in accordance with the pattern shown in the boxtop profile.

      The decals for a Pzkw IV participating in the Battle of Normandy were applied.  When that was dry, the model was given two coats of Xtracrylix Flat varnish over the decals.

CONCLUSIONS

      From what I can determine as a non-expert regarding armor, this makes up into an accurate model of the final version of this famous tank, which is fully deserving of a prominent place in any collection of important armored vehicles of the Second World War.

February 1, 2006

 Review kit courtesy of HobbyLink Japan - get yours at “Japanese prices” at www.hlj.com

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