Joined: 17 Sep 2006
|Posted: Sun Apr 15, 2012 9:54 am Post subject: DML #6556 Pz.Kpfw. IV Ausf. J Mid Production (Aug-Sep 1944)
The Pzkpfw IV carries the distinction of being one of the few vehicles to serve the entire duration of WW2 in the German army. It underwent several modifications as the war progressed and by 1944 the limits of the design were being reached. Beginning in March 1944 the Ausf J, the last official type, began production and approximately 3,150 would be built by war’s end. During that production run modifications continued to be made, most of which were aimed at simplifying production and not actually improving the vehicle due to the worsening German strategic position. DML (Dragon) kit #6556 Pzkpfw. IV Ausf. J Mid Production (August-September 1944) seeks to represent a vehicle with some, but not all, of those simplifications present prior to October 1944.
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 when removing them to avoid damaging some of the more delicate parts. The standard “Dragon card” is also included which has the separate bags of Magic Tracks, PE fret, decals, Schurzen metal plates, clear sprues, weapons sprues, and the braided steel wire secured to it. The kit consists of over 780 parts with a large number of these marked as “Not for Use” arranged in the following:
• 26 sprues of light gray styrene
• 1 sprue of clear styrene
• 1 light gray styrene hull tub
• 1 styrene turret half
• 2 styrene recoil housing barrel sleeves
• 1 braided steel wire
• 1 PE brass fret of 58 parts
• 2 aluminum sheets with 5 Schurzen plates each
• 2 bags each of handed Magic Tracks links
• 1 decal sheet
• Instruction booklet
• Bonus instruction insert
The interesting thing about this kit is that it bears a very specific time frame designation (August-Sept 1944) to go with the “Mid Production” label that Dragon assigned as part of the usual “modeler’s convention” of trying to distinguish different variations in a vehicle’s production run via terms like “early”, “mid”, or “late”. The biggest defining element of course that places it in this time frame is the fact that it does not have zimmerit (dropped in Aug ’44) but does not yet have any features that started showing up consistently in October production. The kit features four return rollers (reduced to three in Dec ’44), the standard solid plate schurzen (Thoma mesh schurzen first appear in Sept ’44), and the vertical exhaust pipes (introduced in Aug ’44). All the other features that you would expect of an Ausf J introduced before Aug ’44 are also present to define the two month window of features this kit seeks to replicate.
Suspension and Tracks:
The kit suspension uses the now-common non-working simplified suspension of all the Pz IV Smart Kit family of kits. The road wheels provided have excellent rim and hub detail with lettering molded in and the correct later-style simplified hubs appropriate for the Ausf J. Options are provided for two different types of steel return rollers, both of which are correct depending on your choice as some mix-and-match did occur between the types in J production. The cast sprockets are combined with the option of either the earlier-style tubular idler or the later-style cast idler. Given the time frame the kit represents, the cast idler is your best bet and PE parts are provided for added detail for the inner rims. Take care when assembling the road wheels and suspension elements to use the correct parts as entire sprues with additional sets of wheels and suspension elements for later-style production features are included but should not necessarily be used with this kit and are marked as “not for use” on the parts layout diagrams. The idler mount can be positioned to aid with determining track sag within reason, providing some flexibility with either the kit-supplied Magic tracks or AM sets.
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 and feature solid guide horns and the chevron ice cleats on their faces. 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 depending. 99 links are called for per side and there are additional links provided to create the necessary spare track runs for the hull front and glacis, but not enough of either left or right to do all the spare tracks so some mixing and matching is called for.
Hull and Fenders:
The hull consists of a large single piece tub with excellent molded detail on the exterior including hull bottom detail for various access hatches and ports. The rear hull plate is a separate assembly that calls for 4 holes to be opened up but this is not required for the J and is a hold-over from the same diagrams used in kits that had the long cylindrical exhaust mounts, so skip this.
The fender layout is correct for a factory-standard Ausf J for this production time period and includes tools with molded-on clamps with hollow handles. The handles are a little thick in terms of in-scale appearance due to the limitations of styrene molding. The fenders have excellent tread pattern detail on both the upper and lower surfaces and PE or styrene options are provided for the air intake vent covers. PE or styrene options are also provided for the C-hook holders, the axe holder, mounts for the idler tensioning wrenches, and the front and rear fender braces, and two types of starter crank are included as well although only E4 is appropriate for use. The instructions incorrectly suggest options for the rear Notek light in terms of either the rectangular or tubular style of light, only the tubular style is correct for this vehicle’s production time period.
The upper hull assembles as a single module with a base frame for the superstructure and the side plates added as individual elements to create the overall “box” module for installation. If fitting the Schurzen, the side panels require sets of holes to be opened up to fit the rail support braces and the option is provided to mount the spare track rods with or without links in place on the right side. The hull MG comes fully detailed with inner and outer detail that includes the sighting scope and ammo bag and a clear armored glass insert is provided for the driver’s visor. The hull glacis plate requires 5 holes to be opened up to fit the spare track run for that location and the option of either PE or styrene track mounts provided.
The engine deck includes PE or styrene options for the sliding cooling covers depending on your preference and two holes need to be opened up on the right cover to fit the extra grab handle that was common by this point in the Ausf J production run. The kit provides options for the right cover with or without the grab handle but it’s something you should add for accuracy sake. The option is also provided for the front crew hatches of two different styles of hatch, the correct style for this time period are parts E22/E24. The kit also includes braided steel wire and styrene ends to construct the tow cables for the rear with the option of fitting one or two cables with a called out length of 150mm. Be aware that this length includes the styrene ends and test fit before committing or you will end up with too-short cables.
The turret is provided as a multi-part assembly consisting of the top half, base, and front plate that includes the main gun mantlet. The main gun can remain movable and the barrel is provided as a single piece with separate muzzle brake assembly. The instructions provide for four different options of muzzle brake but only two are correct for the Ausf J time period for this vehicle. These are the R2/R6 or the R2/R5 combinations and the first of these is your best bet as the second was more commonly seen on later Js. The gun includes a detailed breech assembly with recoil guards but does not include a spent shell catcher basket. Options are provided for the coaxial MG mount with the MG in place or empty if you prefer to mount your own MG barrel. The turret front plate has the slanted rain shield over the gunner’s sight molded on but a PE option is provided to replace it if you prefer it for scale-thickness. A clear armored glass block is provided for the front armored view port and the option of posing it in either the open or closed position.
The commander’s cupola is highly detailed with both interior and exterior detail on the one-piece hatch and the armored glass viewing ports. Clear parts are provided for the glass blocks and the shutters can be posed in either the open or closed positions individually just like on the actual vehicle. Separate latch handles are provided for the inside of the hatch for added detail if you display it open. The turret roof has the option of fitting the close-in defense weapon or a simple plate cover for its opening depending on your choice but either one will require opening up the necessary circular opening in the roof and this is called out in the instructions. These weapons were in short-supply and weren’t consistently fitted until October ’44 but vehicles do appear with them prior to that so you can go either way. Depending on your choice, you also select a matching ventilator cover and two different types are provided with the type that is notched as the match to the defense weapon.
Last but not least, the option is also provided to fit side hatches with or without the pistol ports and side view ports present. Side hatches with the ports present were used up but the ports themselves welded shut starting in May ’44 so the likelihood is higher that by Aug-Sep ’44 the simplified hatches without the ports were the norm however it’s nice that DML provides the option in the event you’re looking for a specific vehicle feature set that doesn’t quite follow all the “rules” when it comes to German vehicle production. If you do fit the hatches with the ports, you should avoid installing the armored glass blocks especially if displaying the hatches open. A finely detailed multi-part rear turret bin is provided that includes detail on the lid underside should you choose to display it open and stuffed with crew gear.
The kit includes a nice little “bonus” that’s pointed out via a small instructional slip at the bottom of the box. A WC sprue is provided that includes an MG34 and an anti-aircraft mount for mounting to the cupola rim. The mount is highly detailed and the MG34 has a molded hollow muzzle. Tanks were not equipped with a third MG for this purpose, the crews used either the hull MG or the turret coaxial MG with this mount, so if you do install the MG (versus say just the mount itself) in the AA mount, be sure you take advantage of the option to install the hollow coaxial sleeve without the MG or leave the hull MG un-installed for the best accuracy.
The Schurzen provided in the kit are the solid plate design that had been fitted to Pz IVs starting in 1943 and DML provides the side plates themselves as metal parts to accurately reflect the 5mm thickness in-scale while the turret plates and side plate front extensions are in styrene with beveled edges. Two different styles of support rails are provided with one style having all triangular teeth and the other with the first two teeth with the points squared off. The first type is the more common but check your references if looking to build a specific vehicle. The kit also includes optional parts to mount only the base bolt plates for the side plates to the side hull as a nice added bonus since many crews didn’t fit the side plates later in the war due to their tendency to easily snag on obstacles or brush. Those base plates are provided in both styrene and PE options for even more variety.
The fenders have the lowest support braces molded on to avoid problems with lining up the plates correctly and the metal plates have locater marks etched into them for the styrene u-shaped brackets to insure they too are in the right places. The brackets represent only the standard width and do not include the wider option to space the plates to clear the wider Ostketten-type tracks as seen on the real vehicles, so be aware of that if you decide to use that type of AM track. Finally, the turret schurzen rear areas include PE mesh parts that allowed the crew to store additional gear in that space behind the bin. The turret side plates also have optional parts to show the side hatch access doors in either the open or closed positions.
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 20 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 4 possibilities:
• PzAbt 115, 15 PzGrenDiv, Champs, Belgium, 1944, three tone scheme
• PzAbt 2111, 111 PzBrig, Eastern France, 1944, brown camo over dunkelgelb
• Unidentified Unit, Western Front 1944, three tone scheme
• French 1er Groupe Mobile de Reconnaissance FFI, St. Nazaire 1945, three tone scheme with French markings
As you can probably tell from the length of this review, the kit is packed full of options and details. Dragon’s Pz IV line of Smart Kits is one of their best in my opinion and this Ausf J kit does not disappoint. Highly recommended for someone looking to model a mid-production J commonly seen in the later half of 1944 and beyond.