Airfix 1/76 M4A3 Sherman

KIT #: ?
DECALS: Oneptions
NOTES: Now it’s a primitive kit and I LOVED to butcher it.


I am an Australian soldier, so I appreciate the vital role that camouflage and deception play for an Army deployed in the field.  And I am a modeller who enjoys building WWII and thinking outside the square.

 Many years ago, I was doing some private research (= reading books) on camouflaging.  I was absorbed by the extent to which the Allies laboured prior to D-Day, to convince the Germans that General Patton was in command of the very large First US Army Group (FUSAG) hiding to the north of London.  FUSAG was to spearhead the Allied landing near the Pas-de-Calais after they’d moved their forces to attack the diversion that was Normandy.  FUSAG was manifested as thousands of mundane routine signal messages between Units, the building of hundreds of ammo dumps, fuel dumps & supply dumps, and the appearance of hundreds of landing craft, ships, tanks & other vehicles.  But FUSAG numbered only a few hundred soldiers, the dumps were empty, and the equipment wasn’t real.  They were decoys or dummies.  Only the anti-aircraft guns ‘protecting’ them from the prying cameras of Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft were real, and they fired live ammunition.  The gun-crews were under strict orders to ‘scare the pilots, but do not destroy the aircraft’.  And they had to endure in silence, the jibes of locals who derided their ineffectiveness.  

Among the dummy vehicles were Sherman tanks build by the Dunlop Tyre & Rubber Company.  Each of these was a single, shaped-bag of rubber-impregnated canvas, imprinted with external images.  Inflated by a blower fan much like a current-day children’s jumping castle, it expanded into the tank-shape, correct in all dimensions.  The printing gave the shape its wheels, hatches, tools and the like.  Naturally, the inflated tank had to be staked down to the ground, and its air-cells regularly topped-up with air.  Poor camouflage, a few boxes and similar Military impedimenta scattered around the ‘tank’ completed the illusion.  Special vehicles delivered the deflated tank (they were still quite heavy) and produced the required tank tracks.  Inflatable vehicles would not have passed a close inspection, but they were very convincing when seen from a distance or height - by enemy photographic reconnaissance, for example.          

 Despite being present in England in their hundreds, there are no models of one of these (or any other) inflatable tanks in any scale – probably because, as a model kit, it would be a poor seller.  So I resolved to build one.  I intended to complete it in time for a National model competition – not for trophies, but to have fun and shake-up the serious modellers (of which I am not). 


The Airfix 76-scale Sherman tank has been around for at least 35 years, and it has been superseded by later moulding by other kit manufacturers.  It has about 45 parts, including a one-piece cast turret, all moulded in a green, and two vinyl tracks that are impervious to most modelling glues. 


 Last Christmas (2010), I was presented with an Airfix 76-scale Sherman tank by my children.  Wanting to appear delighted in their eyes, I immediately started construction with this idea in mind.  In order to build a dummy Sherman tank, correct in all dimensions, it is logical to start with a Sherman tank.  And this cheap Airfix 76-scale tank was ideal.  As the dummies were externally smooth, all of the external details of the kit tank would have to be removed. 

 I had the kit hull and turret 85% complete all within a week (we were on a travelling holiday).  Forewarned from when I’d built this kit as a boy, I attached the sides under the hull, rather than to the belly plate.  In another week, I had erased all of the raised external details with sidecutters and had the hull sanded to a smooth surface (while I watched TV) using cheap cardboard nail/emery boards (my Dremmel was packed away).  I shoulda glued-in the front hull hatches and the turret hatch before I started the sanding.  Instead, I had to place a strip under the holes, then fill them with discs of card.  The back of the turret was smoothed by wrapping a strip of plastic card around it and blending it in with putty.

 In lieu of the tracks and running gear, I extended the four sides of the hull downwards with more plastic card.  The bow was a little difficult because of its shape and because of the projecting tracks.  Extensive internal bracing with sprue was required for structural strength.  This was harder than it sounds because of the rigidity of the plastic.  It needed to be glued in sections, and clamped while it dried.  Other areas with more complex contours were filled with Milliput.  All join seams were filled with Mr. Surfacer, and while I was smoothing them, I rounded-off all of the sharp angles of the hull.  Finally, the ‘main armament’ was attached to the ‘turret’. 


 Initial painting was easy.  The whole was covered with an overall coat of Olive Drab.  Now came the hard part – brush-painting all of the details using only two colours – black and grey.  Black paint was used to indicate cavities (like under the overhangs of the sponsons where the running gear and tracks should be) and shadows.  Grey was used to simulate raised surfaces that would catch the light – like the running gear.  In order to get the wheels roughly correct, I made a primitive stamp out of a kit wheel.         

 Logically, I used the kit decals to replicate the printed-on national markings on the decoy.  These were kept a nice clean white because the decoy was supposed to be seen (but not look like it was supposed to be seen).  No individual markings were used, though I would have, if I could have discovered which fictitious armoured Units were part of FUSAG.  As the ‘tank’ was painted in a matt colour, I put the decals down onto a splash of Future, to avoid the dreaded silvering effect.

  was compelled to use a base because the decoys were staked to the ground so that they didn’t give the game away by being blown over in a strong wind.  I used a cheap wooden picture-frame ($3) onto which I placed an underlay of six sheets of newspaper, then an overlay of short ‘grass’.  This consisted of an A4 sheet of paper coated with the ‘grass’, which I purchased from a model railway shop for less than $4.  A few bits of green material were scattered around to break the plainness of the ‘grass’.  For visual accuracy, I cut two sections from the ground-work, and covered it with spare ‘grass’ to produce disturbed depressions apparently left by the tank’s tracks.    


 I stuck my ‘tank’ onto the ‘grass’ and attached pieces to replicate the anchor pegs.  Pieces of bandage, dyed green, were placed over the tank, but they leave the turret completely exposed and the markings still visible.  To explain why a tank is out in the open, I placed a piece of ‘board’ made from a piece of plastic card, in front of it.  Hopefully, it looks like the tank has shed a track, and that the crew has tried to camouflage it (and done a poor job) while they wait for a recovery vehicle.  I didn’t use a piece of kit track because I gave them to a junior modeller who had lost his.  A logical observer will object to the inflated ‘tank barrel’ being able to support the cam-net without drooping.  If you look at the ground at the bow of the ‘tank’ you’ll see a supporting pole.  And you will note that the tank went a little off-course when its track broke.  It is details like this that make the diorama believable.      


 While there is a kit of an Ersatz Panzer (a 1944 Panther made-up to resemble an M.10 Tank Destroyer), I’ve never seen a kit of a decoy tank, and I probably never will.  That makes my model pretty unique.  It was pretty easy to build, but hard to paint.  No surprises, but I predict that my inflatable tank (with poor cam), will hardly rated a mention at Model Expo 12.  My camouflaged Crusader is in the same boat.  DILLIGAFF!!  I built it because I wanted-to. 

“What did you do in the War, Daddy?”  “I blew-up 200 tanks, Honey!!”     


the kit instructions, internet photos and historical research.

PS – my wife extracted this model from my stash BEFORE Christmas, and had our children gift-wrap it. 

George Oh

April 2012

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