by: Bill Plunk [ ]
Tamiya continues to release interesting subjects in 1/35th scale and their recent release of the SU-76M Russian Self-Propelled Gun is a welcome addition. The vehicle itself featured a modified and stretched T-70M chassis married with the ZiS-3Sh 76.2mm gun to provide self-propelled artillery (both traditional and anti-tank) capabilities to the Red Army. The design entered production in June 1943 and nearly 12,000 vehicles were produced by June 1945, making it 2nd only to the T-34 as the most produced vehicle of the war. This kit is a 100% Tamiya new-tooled kit and isnít a re-boxing or update of other kits by other manufacturers already out on the market. This build review will focus on building up the kit as an OOB (out of the box) effort to evaluate how it all comes together.
As an open-topped vehicle, more care and attention is needed in terms of studying the instructions thoroughly to determine the best build and paint order. Tamiyaís instructions do a good job of thinking ahead for the most part but there are a couple of spots along the way where altering the order a bit makes life easier. Those will be called out where appropriate. The main parts are provided on 5 sprues of dark green styrene, 1 small clear sprue, and 1 grey sprue for the crew figures. While not a huge fan of the green styrene as a personal taste preference, the parts are finely molded with no flash and excellent detail throughout.
The Build Review
Work begins in Steps 1-3 with getting the hull and main fighting compartment bulkhead together. The hull comes as separate flat panels vs. a one-piece hull tub and there are some small ejector marks present that need to be dealt with as a result. Most will disappear behind the road wheels or behind other parts but some remain visible. The marks are small and shallow and were easily removed with some careful sanding and/or trimming with a sharp #11 blade. The hull comes together beautifully without any issues provided that you follow the order called out in the instructions for bringing the components together so donít ignore that part in the diagrams. I also found it a good idea to skip ahead a little bit to Step 15 and add in the glacis and engine deck plates to ensure the hull set up square in all respects.
The next area dealt with in the instructions involves all the different detail components of the fighting compartment. Itís worth noting at this point that Tamiya made some decisions aimed squarely at accommodating the kitís three crew figures in relation to the ready ammunition racks. The different racks are assembled in Steps 4 and 12 and spaces left empty in the racks are necessary to allow both the loader and commander figures to occupy their respective places in the compartment. The kit also does not include enough rounds to fully populate the racks on their own but there are 4 Ďcleaní rounds of both the AP and HE variety on the sprues with complete shell casing bases as well as 4 Ďspentí casings, with solid necks that would need drilling out, should you want them for a diorama or similar use. Itís best to partially assemble the racks without the dividing rack to make it easier to paint them, detail the rounds separately, then populate the back rows and add the dividing rack before adding the front rounds. The rounds themselves are nicely detailed with only a very fine mold seam needing clean-up on each one.
The fighting compartmentís upper sides have a lot of gear that install there including the radio and PPsH magazine racks in Step 7. The racks are molded as single pieces with separate end caps to create their detail and the radio follows the same model. Both of the compartment sides are dealt with in Steps 8-10 and have small ejector marks on the inside faces that need trimming and sanding to remove them. The rear plate is dealt with in Step 11 and has its share of ejector marks as well. The step also adds the bench seat and its supports. I also added the tow hook components from Step 16 to fill the opening there with a putty and sanding needed to fully close the opening under the seat. I airbrushed all of the separate components, using them to Ďself-maskí off their contact points, as I hate to scrape paint. The fit of all the components to the hull are like a glove but the left side compartmentís contact surfaces are smaller than the right due to the nature of the vehicleís design. After hand detailing and weathering the rear plate, the details were added to the side plates, and the ammo racks added as called out in the instructions. Tamiyaís engineering and precision again pays dividends here as everything fits very close together without producing any interference issues.
The compartment comes together smoothly in all respects. I started on the right side and also added in the top support plates and commanderís optics that arenít called out until Step 34 to ensure that it all lined up square with each other. The left side came next and also received its triangular brace from Step 34. I could see no real reason for these to be left to nearly the very end of the build other than it also adds the periscopes for the compartment in the same step. Those fit into small U-shaped brackets on each part and I had no trouble detailing and adding them later on.
The next area of the kit is the suspension, covered under Steps 16-18. Itís designed as a fixed suspension using small mounting pins molded on the hull sides to secure and align the arms with each other. It does this beautifully. If youíre daring, you could achieve a poseable suspension by removing the pins but be warned that they also serve to ensure that the arms sit out at the right angle vs. flush to the hull in terms of the alignment. The idler mounts are also fixed while the sprockets are attached using a polycap arrangement inside the drive housings to allow them to rotate. The road wheels and idlers are provided with separate rear faces and require assembly to create the integrated wheels and the wheels themselves have slight mold seams on their rubber faces that are easily sanded away.
Steps 19 and 20 deal with getting the individual links and short length tracks together and the kit includes a jig to sag the top runs (34 links) effectively however it requires the fenders to be off the vehicle to allow for enough room to connect up the different run sections to each other. The bottom-most run is provided as a one-piece length that covers under the main road wheels while the rest of each track needs to be assembled in three sections using a total of 63 individual links that are meant to join up around the sprockets and idlers. Each link has 2 sprue connection points that need to be cleaned up but otherwise are molded with excellent detail. I found it best to save the track assembly and install for last to better support painting and finishing on the hull due to how the fenders install. 6 Ďnot for useí links are left over on the sprues after the tracks are done. If you wanted less (or no) sag, you could experiment by taking out 1 or 2 links from the top run and not using the jig in theory. Tamiya precisely engineered the tracks to use the count and jig called out in the instructions and I had no issues on either sideís runs in that respect.
Skipping briefly to Step 21, this assembles the large rectangular air exhaust box on the left hull side. Getting the box together is a little tricky as Tamiya didnít provide any solid alignment guides for the largest of the three parts involved there, the Ďfinnedí side. Adding the top part of the box to the hull side first and then adding the rest of the box around it proved easier than the kitís suggested order of assembling the box whole first and then installing it. I also found it possible to add the covers for the twin exhaust pipes without having the pipes actually installed, so those were added from Step 24. The pipes can still slide into place, making it a lot easier to paint and detail them separately. The pipes themselves, however, do not have the asbestos-tape wrappings included on them as seen on some vehicles, so check your references to add that if youíre so inclined.
The biggest potential headache/problem area in the kit pops up in Steps 22-24 as it relates to the fenders and their supports. The supports are designed to fit into open slots on both the hull and fender surfaces and raises the question of when and how to attach them vs. when the fenders are actually installed to the hull, keeping in mind that you canít add the fenders permanently until after the tracks are on. The fenders themselves are assembled in Step 22 and I deviated slightly by opting to glue the braces to the fenders but not to the hull at the same time. This allows the fenders to still slide out of position for painting and detailing while also integrating the braces into the fenders themselves. For the left side fender, itís a good idea to attach the two large stowage boxes called out in Step 36 now for easier painting. The instructions make a special note to take care not to glue them up against the side of the hull, a nice touch to ensure accurate placement along with the small locator tabs molded on the fender tops.
The 76.2mm gun and mantlet arrangement is dealt with in Steps 26-31 and involves almost an entire sprue of parts all by itself. The main barrel is provided as a one-piece affair with only a very slight mold seam top and bottom to take care of. The breach is a multi-part assembly as well including a separate breech block that can be added later after detailing for easier painting. The base of the gun mount assembles cleanly and includes a polycap to ensure the gun will hold its elevation predictably in the mount. The rest of the gun includes a nice level of detail on the gunnerís sight, control wheels, and recoil guard. Be advised that youíre better off leaving the elevation wheel, C77, if you intend to use the supplied gunner figure as his hand needs to line up with it and itís virtually impossible to get him into position if the wheel is installed beforehand.
The design of how the gun builds up around the mantlet is also well done and very stable. Two small support tabs support the curved sides and holds them square while the top connects the two sides together with just a slight bit of finger pressure needed to get it to line up. The external cover for the recoil mechanism assembles as two halves and attaches to the curved base to create a single element that slides over the gun tightly. Small amounts of putty were needed to close up small gaps with the molded on weld seam detail but nothing major. The muzzle brake is added last after the cover is fitted and is a two-piece assembly. Liquid glue and light sanding easily removes the join seam if youíre careful. The full gun installs into the base with another polycap arrangement, making it easy to pull the entire gun assembly in and out of the hull if you donít install the top mantlet armor assembled in Step 35 permanently until youíre ready to lock it all down.
When it comes to the hull details and tools, the kitís parts are provided with all their clamps molded on. The toughest to detail is the combined jack block and spare track link arrangement. It will test your Optivisor endurance but it is possible to do with some patience. The right side of the hull has the air intake screen molded solid but does include nicely molded mesh pattern detail that can be picked out with a little creativity in the finishing department. The mufflers on the exhaust system are provided as separate halves with solid end pipes, so drilling them out for added detail is necessary. For the tow cable, the kit provides separate styrene ends and a substantial length of braided string for the cable itself. Only 100 mm of the string is needed and that includes the amount that fits under the cable ends. It assembles easily with some CA to secure the string and took paint without Ďfuzzingí.
The kit includes a set of three crew figures to populate the fighting compartment. The kit doesnít include any details for the driverís area, so heís also AWOL from the figure set. The three crewmen are molded with some very nice detail in both their uniforms and faces. The heads have three different shapes/types and expressions and the commander bears a striking resemblance to Vladimir Putin. The figures build up easily with excellent fit, the only modification necessary is to open up the solid sleeves on the commanderís greatcoat for better detail. Comrade ĎPutiní has a wool ushanka flapped hat for his head while the other two get padded tankerís helmets. The tankerís helmets assemble out of three separate pieces around the heads and are highly detailed as a result. Putinís head is a little softer as a result but still well done. The precision of how the three crew figures fit into the compartment is impressive as well, all three fit exactly where they are supposed to go but with just enough room to move them in and out without great difficulty. Getting the gunner and the C77 control wheel to line up together is the most challenging aspect but can be accomplished with a little patience and persistence, especially if you install him first to maximize the amount of room you have to work with in the cramped compartment.
Overall the build is typical Tamiya. The kit assembles smoothly without any major fit issues or problems to deal with along the way. While the kit does make some compromises in certain areas, those compromises are aimed at making the build easier in most respects as opposed to remaining 100% faithful to detail accuracy. The kit only includes 2 markings options and the decals applied easily and responded favorably to setting solutions (Solvaset in my particular case) to snug down tight without silvering. If youíre looking for a fun SPG project for the bench, this one will definitely fit the bill.