|KIT:||LCM (3) Comparison|
|KIT #:||See review|
In the early stages of World War II, the UK had little in the way of amphibious landing capability, despite the importance of such assaults during wars since the 18th Century. After World War I some impetus had come from the tragic Dardanelles campaign – so well known to those of us ‘down under’ as the birthplace of the ANZAC legend. However, it wasn’t until 1929 that the first assault vessel capable of landing a tank was launched, with several developments leading to the Mechanised Landing Craft Mark 1 – MLC(1) – in February 1940.
While 600 of this design were built (with some employed in the 1942 Dieppe raid), they could carry a vehicle of only 16 tons and became top-heavy if swamped. Nevertheless, the MLC(1) design spurred the Royal and US Navies on to better things, and by late 1941 both showed great interest in a design developed by the Higgins boatyard in New Orleans. Suitably modified, these ‘Higgins boats’ became the standard tank landing craft for both navies – beating a design by the USN’s Bureau of Ships. In the standardised nomenclature of 1942 onwards, this vessel became the Landing Craft Mechanised Mark 3, or LCM(3).
These craft were normally carried to the assault area on the davits of a larger vessel, where they were lowered into the water before their load was hoisted in by the ship’s derricks. During the D-Day landings, many LCM(3)s crossed the English Channel, but none were carrying tanks – the seas would simply be too rough for a safe passage, even for this short crossing. However, many did deliver troops, small vehicles and supplies. The LCM(3) could carry an M3 Grant tank, but at 34 tons the M4 Sherman was beyond its capacity (the later LCM(6) had an additional 2 metre/6 foot hull section and could comfortably carry a Sherman). LCM(3)s were converted to many uses, including flak ships and cargo ferries, and were employed in a multitude of campaigns, including the 1945 crossing of the Rhine and the Inchon landings that turned around the Korean War in 1950.
For almost 40 years, the Airfix kit of the LCM(3) was the only mainstream option available to modellers, albeit in 1:76 scale. Released in 1965, this model was quite well detailed and engineered for its day, and was always in hot demand whenever it was out of production. It rather erroneously came with Airfix’s notoriously ill-proportioned Sherman – as noted above, an LCM(3) would probably have sunk with an M4 aboard! Then in 2004 the rising stars of the model world – Trumpeter and Dragon – both released new-tool 1:72 LCM(3)s. After all this time, we are suddenly spoiled for choice – but which is the best kit?
The comparison is obviously unfair in several ways. The Airfix moulding has now passed its 40th birthday and – although not a bad model – is unsurprisingly not up to today’s standards. It is also the ‘wrong’ scale for many modellers; in fact, it actually fits inside the hull of the new Trumpeter kit! Its appeal is somewhat limited in that it represents a British version, lacking the 50 calibre machine guns mounted on many US LCM(3)s, and the only decal option is for an RN vessel that took part in the D-Day landings. Nevertheless, with a grand total of 47 parts, it is an easy build and remains a decent model for wargamers who want a sturdy but simple depiction. I’ve built two – one as part of a diorama, and the other with my 3-year-old son for bathtime – yes, it really floats! (It can even carry a Matchbox car without sinking.) We knocked it together in about an hour; even with little fingers ‘helping’, the only real engineering problem was the placement of the well deck and sides, which are a pretty loose fit.
So, on to the real comparison – Trumpeter versus Dragon.
The Trumpeter kit includes 138 plastic pieces, 26 photoetched, a reel of twine and a small but neat decal sheet allowing the modeller to build a large range of USN LCMs. All of the sprues are individually wrapped in plastic, with the two sprues containing fine pieces like bollards, railings and machine guns additionally swaddled in bubble wrap – a first for mainstream kits? The photoetch was also packaged with a piece of card to stop it bending. The photoetch is all optional: the parts duplicate plastic pieces, leaving it to the modeller to decide what elements, if any, would work better in brass. The hull is full, and includes a nice depiction of weld seams along the sides, plus internal rib detail (although this disappears once the well deck is assembled).
Overall, the level of detail in the mouldings is first-rate, including tread patterns on the deck, a pair of beautiful 50 cals, and instrument dials in the wheelhouse. While I think it looks a bit delicate for repeated deployment, the hinge section for the bow ramp is also very nicely done. Ejector pin marks are exceedingly carefully laid out to minimise visibility – the only ones that are likely to cause problems are those on the inside walls of the wheelhouse. There was a tiny fuzz of flash around a few pieces – especially those with a tread pattern – but otherwise the mouldings are crisp and detailed. Although the decals only cater for USN vessels, the kit contains pieces suitable to make either RN or USN boats (and the different construction steps are carefully noted in the instructions). A brief test-fit shows that the deck sits perfectly on the hull (a potential problem area with the Airfix kit), although the resultant join line will probably take some filling and sanding. It’s difficult to judge the length without the bow ramp installed, but it comes out at roughly 48.6 scale feet in length, whereas the original was exactly 50 feet (15.2 metres) long.
Happily, the Dragon kit isn’t simply more of the same. This one scales out just a whisker smaller than the Trumpeter, about 48.2 scale feet (again only a rough estimate). The LCM itself comprises 67 pieces of injection-moulded plastic with two optional photoetched gun shields and a small length of twine. All of the plastic sprues are bagged; the photoetch and the decals both come attached to a solid piece of card to prevent damage – again, a nice touch. The vessel itself is well moulded, although the plastic features the slightly ‘pebbly’ texture I’ve noticed on Dragon’s their other kits.
Overall, the level of detail is fine but not as good as the Trumpeter kit – you can see it in areas such as the deck tread, machine guns and weld seams. The engineering of the main and well deck attachments is more solid than the Trumpeter release, and again ejector pin mark problems are limited to the inside of the wheelhouse. Where this kit really differs from both the Trumpeter and Airfix offerings, however, is that it’s not a full-hull depiction. The hull is truncated at what appears to be approximately the unladen waterline – just deep enough to site the well deck at the correct depth. This would of course sit too high in the water if the LCM was loaded. One of the reasons that it is manufactured this way is that the Dragon kit also comes with a vacformed diorama base of a beach landing, approximately 13.5 x 8.5 inches (34.5 x 22 cm). The hull fits snugly – but not faultlessly – into a cavity in the base. By giving it a shallow draft for beaching, the waterline issue becomes somewhat irrelevant.
But wait – there’s more! You also receive a dozen highly detailed US troops (each comprising 5 parts, excluding packs and weapons) and three USN crewmen in slightly flexible vinyl (which apparently takes normal cement quite well). A range of 20 beautifully detailed firearms are supplied for the troops, plus each also has a separate bayonet and up to three items of personal equipment (packs, and canteens). Suggestions are given as to how to assemble the troops, but they are in essence multipose figures allowing the limbs, weapons and personal equipment to be mixed and matched. According to www.plasticsoldierreview.com, these are very accurate depictions of the US troops who landed on the D-Day beaches. Finally, six beach obstacles are also included – suitable for European if not Pacific campaigns. This kit only offers USN options, including two copies of the stars and stripes, but again the decals provide a range of numbers to allow many different vessels to be modelled. You certainly get a lot for your money with this kit, which (at least in Australia) is about 30% more expensive than the Trumpeter offering).
So – which kit is best? The Airfix model is now superseded, although it still makes a fun bathtime toy! The Trumpeter kit is better detailed – both in terms of numbers of parts and fineness of the mouldings – and also caters for both RN and USN options (albeit with US decals only). The Dragon kit is not quite as detailed, but comes with some fantastic goodies like the troops and the diorama base (in fact, Dragon also sell pre-assembled and pre-painted LCMs, plus troops and the base, at about twice the price of the kit). The only shortcoming I detected on all of the models was that the original LCM(3)s showed some characteristic bowing of the hull plates along the rib lines, and it would have been nice to have seen this effect moulded. However, this issue can be addressed with careful painting.
So – which one is my choice? I want to build an LCM in an interesting RN camouflage scheme (I rescued the British crew figures and decals from the Airfix kit – sorry son!). The fact that the Trumpeter kit is full-hull and contains RN fixtures – in addition to the superior level of detailing – pushed this model over the line for me. This is not to say there’s anything wrong with the Dragon kit, although it’s a shame one of the manufacturers didn’t mould the slightly longer LCM(6) which could then be used to carry a Sherman. Unlike a number of other duplications in the small-scale world, at least in this case the choice between the two new releases isn’t just a toss of the coin. If you want detail – go Trumpeter; if you want a diorama – go Dragon. And if your rubber ducky needs a companion – pick up a bargain-priced Airfix LCM!
Martin Brice. WW2 Landing Craft. London: ISO Publications, 1985.
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