(Thanks to Peter Brown for his assistance with the historical info)
Most British Cruiser tanks from WW2 used the suspension system designed by J Walter Christie with its large road wheels without return rollers as were a number of Russian tank designs the most famous being the BT and T-34 series.
The designations of the early cruiser tanks was rather confusing and changed a number of times within a short period of time with the A13 Mk.I becoming the Cruiser Tank Mk.III, followed by the A13 Mk II Cruiser Mk IV which differed from the Mk.III in having spaced armour fitted to the turret giving a very different look and the final A13 Mk III Cruiser Mk V which was given the name "Covenanter".
A small batch of 65 A13 Mk I Cruiser Tank Mk III tanks was built in 1939 and used by units of 1st Armoured Division in France in 1940 where over half the production run was lost there. The remaining tanks appear to have disappeared from available records although a handful were in use in the UK at the end of 1940 but no more were sent overseas.
The A13 Mk II Cruiser Mk IV with turret spaced armour was more widely used in France and later sent to the Middle East where it took part in some of the important desert battles before being replaced with the later Crusader Cruiser tank designs.
Bronco Models have released after much anticipation this early war model of the A13 Mk I Cruiser Tank Mk III and despite its limited service life is a very innovative release indeed.
The kit consists of 218 parts in olive drab plastic, 18 small wing nuts in light grey plastic, 6 parts in clear plastic, 85 etched parts, a set of full length vinyl tracks plus the decal and instruction sheets.
Quality of the plastic moulding is excellent overall with clean crisp details and a minimum of pin marks or flash and any that are present easy to remove or in the case of pin marks mostly hidden after assembly.
Many of the sprue attachments overlap the parts which make them easier to remove and many of the separate hull and turret panels have quite large locating notches and corresponding recesses instead of the conventional locating pins. This results in precise location of the parts but occasionally these notches get in the way and its better to cut them off but in the main they work well.
You should also note the plastic used is quite soft and while still allowing good detail definition it is easy to remove too much material during cleanup so take care while trimming the sprue attachment burs.
I don’t have any reliable 1:35 plans for the A13 and information on this vehicle is very thin on the ground at this point and so apologise I can’t give any indication to the dimensional accuracy but it certainly looks well in perspective to those photos that are available. I will hopefully be able to update this aspect when more info is available. As such the review will concentrate on the kit contents and how it goes together.
The etched frets have fine protective film on both sides which has to be peeled off before use. The etched parts still have the conventional attachment points to the fret frames and so I am not sure what the film is actually for other than to make damaging the parts during removal of the film very easy.
Many of the etched parts are very fine and some quite thin and extreme care is needed while removing the film to avoid damage. Removing the first or “top” film is easy enough as the other film holds the parts in place and I found it best to slowly peel the second film away from all four directions converging in the middle but you will still have to hold down the smaller parts with the tip of a #11 blade otherwise they will pull against the attachment fret and be damaged.
I will mention these first as the assembly sequences are all over the place and you have to flip through the instruction booklet before commencing any assembly to familiarise yourself where the appropriate steps are.
The various steps are also not numbered only the part numbers and an example of the confusion that can arise is on page 4 with the assembly of the rear exhausts that sees the hull diagram showing all the running gear, drive sprockets, glacis details, air filters and fender storage boxes already in place. But on turning to page 5 is the assembly of the said air filters and storage boxes and on page 6 the assembly of the drive sprockets and glacis parts while the road wheel assembly is not until page 7.
This can cause problems if you assembly some parts before others so it may pay to go through the entire instructions and number the assembly steps in a more logical sequence based on other similar kits to avoid potential problems.
This is a conventional tub with separate side suspension components and a separate outer hull panel that sandwiches the suspension parts between the two, you get the full spring/shock absorbers even though you only see the axles after assembly.
The rear idler and fourth road wheel station axle are attached to the outer hull panel and not the main hull with the alignment not being as precise as the hull mounted axles so ensure the fourth road wheel station axle aligns level with the first three axles.
At the back are separate final drive hull covers and separate final drive housings with additional etched strips that fit over the cover and the rear section of the hull to add additional surface details than included on the plastic parts. Note these etched strips are very thin and care is needed while removing from the frets and in fitting to not damage these.
The lower rear hull panels are a good fit with the upper plate (part D13) having notches at the side that fit into corresponding notches in the final drive covers to ensure precise location. Added to these panels are fittings to the final drive covers and tow shackles and as mentioned you should watch the instruction assembly sequences as the hull assembly is on page 1 while the lower rear hull plates not until page 6.
Moving to the road wheels these are moulded as one piece each with a separate hub cap and have nice perforated rubber and centre hub plate details, the insides are hollow but this is completely hidden after assembly and of no consequence.
The idlers also have separate inner and outer wheel with nice rim detail and these trap a small plastic cap between them for attaching the separate hull idler mounting presumably to allow the idler to rotate but you would have to extremely careful with the glue and it is easier to just glue the idler to the axle.
The drive sprockets are made up of 5 parts each with the inner and outer toothed sprocket discs, inner retaining cap like the idlers and two etched inner sprocket discs that fit over the insides of each sprocket wheel. These etched discs are supplied flat on the fret and you have to bend to a shallow cone shape and join to two ends together, best done by soldering for greater strength as you form the cone shape required. I did this by basically kneading the parts with the fingers to get the cone shape formed.
When fitting the etched discs to the back of the sprockets you have to ensure they are level with the inner face of the sprocket to allow them to fit together and some light filing may be needed for this but it is only minor if needed.
There is a small issue with the sprockets as the fit of the track is very tight and this result in the tracks flexing inward for a concave profile around the sprockets and either added a thin shim of plastic card between the sprockets or thinning the sprocket teeth slightly with widen the space for the tracks to sit evenly around the sprocket but again this is only a fraction of a millimetre adjustment.
These are in full length vinyl with the track pad detail nicely done for the medium with no cleanup needed but you will have to heat weld the join pins as normal model glue has no effect. The track lays across the top of the road wheels but there is little or no sag between the road wheels so these should be perfectly adequate when fitted.
This is a large single piece with numerous cut-outs for the engine bay doors, turret ring and the front driver’s compartment sub-assembly; it also includes the full side fenders that have the correct kink at the hull midsection as it should as well as the indented strengthening ridges lengthwise on the upper surface only.
The instructions show to fit the upper and lower hulls together before proceeding and this is the best option to as there is no other interior and to allow the upper rear hull plates to be fitted.
All the additional hull plates have bevelled edges that make for very clean joins without the need for any filler or trimming in the most part due to the excellent overall fit of the panels.
Due to the large cut-outs at the front for the driver’s compartment assembly there is some warping of the hull front section that looks quite dramatic when dry fitting the hull. But you should firstly securely glue the rear hull section together ensuring the upper hull sits as far back as the lower hull side contours will allow and then glue the front sections together and the warped upper hull pulls down snugly against the lower hull with just some very minor trimming needed along the upper nose join (see images).
The upper rear hull panels can now be fitted and these also have locating notches along the edges to ensued precise location and these work well with the fit of the panels to the hull being very good, just watch the position of the rear plate (part D12) as this overlaps the lower plate added earlier but the instructions are not that clear on this.
Added to the rear panels are the rear exhaust muffler made up of 17 plastic and etched parts including the fishtail exhaust outlets and build into a very nice sub-assembly especially with the etched parts adding excellent definition. The muffler assembly is trapped between the upper rear hull panels which see the top cover panel having the six ventilation louvers fully opened out for an excellent appearance. This exhaust sub-assembly is also a very good fit to the main hull without any trimming or filling needed.
Moving to the fenders there is the two air filters fitted on both sides and again these are made up of 6 plastic and 1 etched parts for good definition with the filters housed inside the fender mounting box with separate open ends that allow the air filters to be seen after assembly. You should note when painting that these air filters do not rust as does the exhaust muffler and this is a common mistake made when painting models with both air filters and exhaust mufflers.
The fender storage boxes also have additional etched parts that include the box faces, securing brackets and lid securing latches for more good detail definition and the boxes fit easily to the fenders, you should also note there are no pioneer tools provided as these are carried inside the fender boxes and not attached to the hull as with many other AFV’s.
This is a major sub-assembly made up of 5 main parts that you should fit together and let the glue dry completely before attempting to fit to the main hull and you should also ensure the 5 separate plates are set perfectly at right angles to each other while the glues dries, there are two visor parts also added to the front of the assembly.
Fitting the assembled driver’s compartment to the hull was a little tricky due the angles and shape of the hull cut-outs but after opening out the hull locating notches and some very minor trimming at the front of the compartment (see images) the assembly fitted well to the hull without the need for any filler. But you will have take care here and test fit often to manoeuvre the parts about a bit to get them in position before gluing and this area does have to potential for problems if not careful with the initial compartment assembly and during fitting. But as the assembly images show the whole assembly goes together well if this care is taken.
There are four separate hull inspection hatches with separate small grab handles and these fit very well to the hull openings as does the separate front section of the driver’s hatch. The rear section of the hatch is moulded with the main compartment and can’t really be shown open but there is nothing inside to see anyway.
Also added to the hull front is the large head light box which has the box itself with separate headlight inside with a clear plastic lens and also the front of the box is in clear plastic to allow the central round section to remain clear after painting, some careful masking will be in order here.
Finally at the front there are the tow shackles and small lights on the fenders as well as two rather basic fire extinguishers added to the hull as well as some additional etched parts for the fenders and hull sides but as mentioned the assembly sequences are all over the place as you have to be careful to add all these smaller parts.
Added to the engine deck are the two engine access hatches and these fit snugly in place and there are fine etched mesh screens for the four intake grills either side of the engine deck. These are in very thin etched brass and very fragile due to the fine mesh and extreme care is needed with these both in removing from the frets and in fitting to avoid damaging the parts.
There are separate covers for the rear most suspension springs and additional small etched and plastic parts for around the hull including some small bolt heads found on the sprue B runners but are not numbered and just appear in the hull illustration on page 8 of the instructions.
The side fenders have the front and rear sections that fit neatly to the upper fenders as well as separate rounded fender sections front and back if you attach the side fenders as some photos show these side fenders not fitted but all decal illustrations show them in place.
The turret is made up of 6 main parts, the upper shell, lower plate with turret ring, front plate with gun mounting and three for the rear turret bustle, all these panels again have the 3 locating notches with corresponding recesses for precise location and these worked well with most of the assembly except for the underside join of parts H9/H12 and I cut away the notches completely from part H9 to allow these to fit properly.
All the turret panels again have bevelled edges that make for an excellent appearance after assembly with no join seams or trimming needed and where possible I always glue these joins from the inside using liquid cement to keep the outside join as clean as possible.
Assembling the main turret shell was trouble free apart from the minor alteration mentioned above and the fitting of the gun mantlet needs a little care if you want it to elevate after assembly.
The mantlet has the outer gun mounting and co-axial Vickers MG included with very small attachment brackets on the inside to hold the mounting in place and I found it easier to firstly glue the right mounting (part H34) in place and let the glue dry completely so you don’t have to worry about this side moving about as you attach the other mounting bracket.
You then slip the mounting pin into part H34 and carefully attach the left bracket (part H33) ensuring you don’t get any glue onto the mounting pin if you want the gun to elevate later, if you do get glue on the pin just move the gun mounting up and down until the glue has lost it “bite” and it will be fine.
The fit of the front panel to the turret shell was especially good leaving virtually invisible joins around the edges and the two parts (H10 & H20) can be added to below the gun mounting. There is no locating marks for the outer bin (part H20) but this attaches to the front of part H10 with the recess lined up directly below the gun barrel.
The 2pdr gun barrel is moulded in one piece with slightly hollowed out muzzle although you may want to drill this out a little further for a better appearance and the gun itself is the flared 2pdr Mk.IX gun applicable to the A13 Mk.III even though the box art shows the stepped muzzle of the Mk.X barrel usually seen on the later A13 Mk.IV. There is a small mould seam to be removed from the barrel tube and if you wanted to replace this with a metal barrel the recent 2pdr Mk.IX barrel from Lionmarc/Passion Models (LM50003) would be just the ticket although a bit a modification will be needed to the kit gun mounting to fit the metal barrel.
The muzzle cap for the co-axial Vickers is a small separate part that required the locating hole be drilled out to fit but is no big deal.
The Commander’s cupola has a base plate and 7 separate side plates that have small notches at the bottom to fit into the base plate but you should take care as the instructions are very confusing as to the correct location of the plates. Marking each part with a fine felt pen as you remove them from the sprues would be advisable and very careful study of the instructions and part location is needed.
The main problem with the illustrations is the parts are transposed from their actual location around the base plate for example part H29 is shown to the right of part H22 in the illustration when it actually fits to the left of part H29 when attached to the base plate, very confusing. But the arrows point to the right location so check this thoroughly before gluing anything.
Despite this the fit of the panels around the base plate was very good again not leaving any gaps to be filled or trimming needed and there are separate visor covers for the front and rear vision ports that can be attached raised or lowered as you wish.
The top hatches are free of any pin marks and can be fitted open or closed if you want to add a Commander figure and the search light on the left has separate clear lens for a good appearance with the fit of the cupola to the turret roof being very good.
The Loader’s hatches are in four parts with additional etched detail and have excellent detail definition and can also be fitted opened or closed as you wish with other detail including the forward vane sight in fine etched parts, fine plastic lifting hooks at the four corners and the smoke grenade launchers on the right turret wall are made up of 6 parts with the tubes nicely hollowed out and excellent detail on the “gun” and you really only need add the wiring to finish off nicely.
The rear mounted aerial mounting is also in multiple etched and fine plastic parts and builds into a very delicate but finely detailed mounting with the aerial wire made from stretched sprue or similar.
Fitting the turret to the hull turret ring is quite precise with four small notches on the bottom of the turret that clip over the hull turret ring as this doesn’t have the usual cut-outs in the hull turret ring as do many kits and once clipped into place the turret rotates freely without any excess movement. Once you have fitted the turret it can be taken off again but this requires a little effort due to the clips and it would be advisable not to fit the turret to the hull until late in the assembly and probably after painting.
(Thanks to Peter Brown for his input on the decal markings)
The decal sheet has markings for three A13s with the decals nicely printed with good colour register.
There are four view colour illustrations of the three vehicles in the instruction sheet giving paint schemes along with the decal locations.The three schemes provided are:
In all this is a superbly done kit of the early A13 Mk I Cruiser Tank Mk III with clean crisp details and good fit of the parts a standout, the engineering and fit would not go astray in a Tamiya kit and the bevelled panel joins and notched joins working very well apart from the one instance on the turret as mentioned above.
The breakdown of some assemblies could lead to problems for less experienced modellers or if not careful in aligning the parts before gluing but as the assembly image show the overall fit is excellent if due care is taken.
The many etched parts provided add considerable detail definition to the kit and it will build into a very attractive model from the box without any real problems and should appear to Allied modellers as well as anyone wanting something different from the usual later war kits that seem to dominate.
Probably the biggest problem is the instructions with the assembly sequences all over the place as mentioned above and careful study of these will be needed before assembly to work out the best sequence to avoid problems.
Bronco are to be commended for taking this plunge into early war British Armour and hopefully this is just the start of a series of early cruiser tanks and as there are a few parts not used here it is quite easy to provide a new turret for the later A13 Mk.IV.
Highly recommended 8.5/10
Apart from some brief mentions in a few publications there is not a lot about on the Opel at this time and hopefully with the release of this kit that situation will be rectified.
Thanks to Bronco Models for the review kit.