The iconic American tank of World War II, the M4 Sherman was a successful but not particularly innovative or powerful design. Best known for its mechanical reliability and ease of operation, it was a solid, incremental improvement over the M3 Lee/Grant series tanks it replaced. Designed in 1940, the Sherman still compared favorably with most of its German rivals when first deployed in 1942, but the tank was to become badly outclassed as more advanced types entered the battlefield. Nicknamed “Ronsons” (after the cigarette lighter) for their tendency to burn after a single hit, the medium Shermans were distinctly inferior to the heavier German Panthers and Tigers they faced in Europe after 1944. Nevertheless, Allied forces built around the Sherman eventually overwhelmed the panzers with a combination of carefully planned tactics, air support, and most of all by sheer numbers; while total Panther/Tiger production amounted to about 2,100 units, the Sherman reached a total production of over 50,000 vehicles. Obsolescent by the beginning of the Korean War in 1950, later models of the tank saw service with the U.S. Army in that conflict as well.
The tank depicted here is one of the well-known "tiger face” painted machines of the 89th Tank Battalion, U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, Korea, during Operation Ripper in 1951. Ripper was a massive United Nations offensive launched on March 6, 1951 intended to destroy the Communist Chinese and North Korean armies around Seoul, Hongchon, and Chunchon. It followed up on Operation Killer, which had pushed Communist forces north of the Han River, and sought to bring UN troops up to the 38th parallel. The offensive opened with the largest artillery bombardment of the Korean War. U.S. forces crossed the Han and, along with South Korean units, advanced quickly to liberate Seoul just over a week later, with Hongchon and Chunchon falling soon thereafter. Although again outclassed, this time by Communist T-34 (85mm) tanks, the 76mm gun armed Shermans performed well. By the time Operation Ripper concluded on April 4 UN forces had succeeded in taking all of their main geographic objectives, although most of the Chinese and Korean forces had escaped to fight another day.
Hasegawa's 1/72nd scale Sherman (kit number 31115) was one of their earlier releases, dating back at least to the early 1970s (when I built my first one). It is an inexpensive, easy to assemble kit with good detail and sharp moldings, although its single piece rubber band style tracks and mediocre crew figures are definite weaknesses. The model represents a M4A3E8 (“Easy Eight”) Sherman with the Ford GAA V-8 gasoline engine, welded hull, with widetrack Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS) and fitted with the 76mm M1 gun in an early T23 turret. Until Trumpeter's M4A3E8 release in 2007, it was the only Sherman of this variant available in 1/72 scale.
The problem is, it’s not really 1/72 scale. To start with, the turret is a little big, scaling out to 1/71. The hull is about a millimeter too wide, also scaling to about 1/71. This doesn’t sound like much, but the Hasegawa designers, apparently noticing the discrepancy, narrowed the horizontal upper side fenders to try to compensate for the too wide hull, so while the overall width is approximately correct, the hull is still too wide and the fenders are noticeably too slender. The overall length of the hull is off as well, being about 1/68 scale. The running gear comes in at approximately 1/70, making the model stand about a scale foot too high. These scale issues, because they also involve proportion problems, are basically unfixable... but if you can live with the inaccuracies, the completed model does look like a Sherman!
Construction of Hasegawa’s little M4 is conventional, starting with the lower hull and bogey wheel assemblies followed by the upper hull and turret. Despite the scale issues, everything fits together nicely. Parts are sharply cast and well-appointed with mostly accurate details. The .50 cal machine gun for the turret is quite nice (although I ended up not using it), and the delicately cast vent screen on the engine deck is a thing of beauty. There are simplifications such as the exhaust pipes, pioneer tools, and lifting points molded directly to the hull and turret parts, but the overall effect is good.
I decided to make some improvements, but first the old stuff had to be cleared away. The exhaust pipes were left unchanged due to their inconspicuous location, but those molded tools on the hull just had to go. I also scraped away the solid-molded lifting points on the hull as well as the inaccurate little nubs for mounting the headlights. The tow mounts on the final drive housing (kit part No. 16) were cut away too. On the turret, I removed the solid-molded lifting rings as well as the oversized mounting points for the .50 cal machine gun and the spotlight.