Joined: 17 Sep 2006
|Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 4:16 pm Post subject: DML #6463 Pzkpfw III Ausf J Initial Production Smart Kit
The Pzkpfw III Ausf J production run spanned the period of March 1941 to March 1942 and included vehicles armed with both the short barrel 5.0cm L/42 and the long barrel L/60 weapons. L/60 armed vehicle production began in December 1941 but did not stop continued production of the L/42 armed vehicles. Total production of the Ausf J reached approximately 823 vehicles, making it one of the largest batches of Pzkpfw IIIs produced during the war with many changes occurring during that production period. It is important to note that the official German documents do not make distinctions during the production run of “early”, “mid” or “late” type features, those are modeler-introduced terms used to try to categorize things after the fact. DML (Dragon) kit #6463 carries the full title of Pzkpfw III Ausf J Initial Production Smart Kit and attempts to provide the builder with the ability to build a short barrel L/42-armed vehicle with features commonly seen at the beginning of Ausf J production.
The kit is packaged in the standard slip top cardboard box with the sprues packaged in clear bags with multiple sprues per bag so care is needed to avoid damaging some of the more delicate parts when removing them. The standard “Dragon card” is also included which has the separate bags of Magic Tracks, PE fret, decals, and two clear parts sprues attached. The kit consists of over 690 parts with some of these marked as “Not for Use” arranged in the following:
• 14 sprues of light gray styrene
• 2 sprues of clear styrene
• 1 light gray styrene hull tub
• 1 turret top half
• 1 PE brass fret (28 parts)
• 2 bags each of 108 Magic Tracks links
• 1 decal sheet
• Instruction booklet
• 1 errata instruction insert
The “initial” production label placed on the kit is designed to distinguish a set of Ausf J features that were present early in the production run but which were later changed or dropped. There are significant distinctions between the features in this kit and DML’s earlier kit of the Ausf J, kit #6394, and the production timeline fences for this “initial” kit are features present from March-July 1941. If you are interested in building a short barrel L/42 or long barrel L/60 Ausf J produced later in the production run (December 1941-March 1942), please see my review of DML kit #6394.
Suspension and Tracks:
The kit suspension follows the now-familiar DML Pz III family approach of using the sprues originally created for the StuG III G and includes torsion bars connected to the swing arms. The road wheels include excellent hub, rubber rim, and lettering detail. PE parts are included for the idler wheels to accurately represent their inner rim details. The idler mounts are of the fixed type design and are not adjustable for track tensioning or sag purposes.
The tracks provided are of the static Magic Track individual link variety and are handed and molded in different shades of grey to distinguish one side from the other. The 40cm tracks include the design changes introduced in 1941 to allow ice sprags to be fitted and have hollow guide horns. While the instructions call for 98 links per side, the standard for Pz IIIs is 93 links per side and with 216 links provided, the kit has plenty of spares left over. While the instructions call for spare track runs to be mounted to the vehicle front, these were not added until November 1941 as a production feature so check your references as units in the field may have added them on their own initiative depending. Each link has small ejector pin marks on either side of the guide horn that will need to be dealt with and individual links may also have small amounts of flash requiring clean-up.
Hull and Fenders:
The hull consists of a large single piece tub with excellent molded detail on the exterior and interior portions including hull bottom detail for various access hatches and ports. The rear hull underside includes the option to fit or not fit the air exhaust deflector ordered as a production add-on in August 1941 as a three part styrene assembly and PE screens for the vents. The hull also features the front extension towing eyes introduced on the Ausf J as separate parts that are integrated into the final drive housing mount bases.
The fender layout is correct for a factory-standard Ausf J prior to when the layout was changed to accommodate mounting two spare road wheels as a standard feature in August 1941 at the same time as the exhaust deflectors were added. Since the two go together, it would make sense not to fit the deflector to retain accuracy consistency. The kit left out the spare wheels and mounts that were included in the earlier Ausf J kit as part of the StuG III G suspension sprues, so this is the prime timeline accuracy limitation of what’s in the box as it relates to the “initial” label.
The fenders require several holes to be opened up to install the tools and include tread pattern detail on both top and bottom surfaces. Options are provided for the small width indicator lights of styrene lights with blackout covers or clear lights without the covers fitted. The tools include molded-on clamps with hollow handles although the handles are not in-scale thickness on some tools and could use a little thinning for a better appearance. The kit-supplied fender fire extinguisher is the correct earlier type design and replaces the later Tetra type included in kit #6394. Options are also provided for the rear fender flaps that include use of PE parts as the mini fender extensions when the flaps were raised.
The upper hull assembles in a modular fashion with the fighting compartment composed of a base frame and panels added to the sides and front. The driver’s front plate includes clear parts for the armored glass insert and the hull MG34 provided has the armored sleeve feature and hollow muzzle. The kit includes two different styles of round kugelblende 50 MG mounts, B3 (plain) and G31 (dust cover ring included), and either can be used since the dust cover ring is a standard feature that was added in June 1941. The side vision ports can be posed open or closed and also include clear armored glass parts for the driver’s side port.
The front access single piece hatches that first appeared with the Ausf J variant have excellent detail on both top and bottom surfaces, a nice touch if you decide to add an interior and want to show it off through the hatches. The front headlights include the option of adding clear styrene lenses or standard blackout covers. The rear deck features are different in this version with two-piece access hatches without the armored vent covers and represents the key area of new parts for this kit. A new dedicated sprue for the hatches is provided that also includes some of the other minor “initial” differences for parts like the fire extinguisher and wire cutters. PE grills for the side air intakes are provided and the option included to install the tow cable holders empty as separate parts or integrated with the cables as a single piece.
The turret comes as a one-piece half with a separate base and front plate. The 5.0cm gun assembly includes a detailed breech, recoil guards, and spent shell basket to fill up the turret interior. No other interior detail is provided aside from the commander’s seat. Clear parts are also provided for the mantlet vision ports but test fitting first is recommended if you decide to attempt posing one or both of those ports open to be sure they won’t interfere with the port hinge mechanism. The option is also provided to mount the coaxial MG sleeve with the MG included or empty.
The commander’s cupola is very nicely detailed and includes interior and exterior details. Options are provided to pose the armored shutters in either open or closed positions and clear glass inserts provided for added detail. The turret side vision ports also include clear parts and may be posed open or closed. Last but not least, the turret side hatches include clear parts for the armored view ports and may also be posed open or closed. A rear turret stowage bin is included in the kit and is very finely detailed, however these were not added until May 1941 as a standard feature, so check references again to see if the bin should be present. The kit does not provide any parts for the lifting eyes without the bin mounts included, so leaving the bin off will require some small modifications in that department and filling in the mount points on the turret rear. The kit provides the option of surgically removing the wood rubbing strips (added to prevent shorting out the radio antenna when the turret traversed) since those weren’t added until July 1941.
Instructions and Finishing Guide
The kit instructions follow the standard DML mode of fold-out black and white exploded diagrams and sub-diagrams and consists of 21 steps for full assembly. The decal markings are printed by Cartograf and are clear and in-register. The Painting and Markings guide provides for the following 3 possibilities:
• #631, 2 PzDiv, Russia 1941 overall panzer gray
• #624, 2 PzDiv, Russia 1941 overall panzer gray
• 11 PzDiv, Eastern Front 1941 overall panzer gray
Note: The markings options are all for the Russian front due to the fact that the Tropen engine deck modifications including the armored vent covers aren’t present in this kit. Those were only added to vehicles designated for Tropen service starting in February 1941 and weren’t standardized on all vehicles until December 1941. DML recently produced kit #6642 as an Ausf H that does have the Tropen deck included so there’s a chance a kit will be available in the future that allows for this option.
Overall the kit is very nicely detailed and features production design changes appropriate for Ausf Js produced initially between the March-July 1941 timeframe depending on which options you elect to add or not add. The kit does not quite fill the gap left by the earlier #6394 kit, leaving the July-Dec 1941 production features period semi-open at the time of this writing, but does provide more variety for the builder looking for different features seen in the Ausf J production run that weren’t present in the prior kit. Since the Tropen engine deck modifications aren’t included as an option, the kit’s potential applications are limited to Russian Front vehicles only and that will ultimately limit its appeal as well. Recommended for the Pz III enthusiast who has that need to build all the possible variants that ever were!