U.S. Medium Tank M3 Lee
Academy 1:35th Scale Kit #13206
Review by Terry Ashley

This kit has been a long time coming being first announce well over a year ago but now it has hit the shops we can see if the wait has been worth it?

The kit represents an early production Lee without the two hull top and one turret top ventilators added from early 1942 as well as the early type bogie units.

The two sprues A are borrowed from the earlier M4/M10/M12 Academy kits to provide the open spoked road wheels, idlers, return rollers and volute springs plus the final drive housings with everything else on the sprues consigned to the spares box, but don’t be tempted to use the later trailing arm bogies as they were from information I have never fitted to the early hull included in the kit.

The kit: Lower Hull:
The lower hull tub includes the upper sponson fillers with nice rivet head details on the underside although these are only partially depicted with the central run of rivets included between the rear and central bogie positions but missing from between the central and front bogie positions. This may be due to the large oval cut-out in this position for the locating lug on the bottom of the inside floor, but the oval lug on the floor doesn’t completely fill the hull opening and so a bit of filler will needed if you want to bother as this really won’t be seen unless you have the stature of an ant to crawl under the finished model.
There is also additional detail that can be added to the underside of the sponson if you wish with a row of rivets along the outer edge and a drain plug located at the back of each sponson.

The inside floor section includes the escape hatch but there is no corresponding hatch on the bottom hull making this a hatch to nowhere?

The drive sprockets are the fancy smooth type with rounded inner tips on the sprocket disc and have very nice details including extremely fine casting numbers on the inner hub and better defined hub bolt heads than on the sprockets in the earlier Sherman kits.

As mentioned the open spoked road wheels and idlers are from the earlier M4/M10 kits and are nice representations of these wheels and the bogies are early VVSS type without the raised return roller but the units use the same heavy duty springs from the later M4/M10/M36 kits meaning the bogie units are slightly too tall too accommodate these.
The data used here is taken directly from measurements of the fully restored M3 Grant at the Army Museum of Western Australia which uses the same lower hull and early bogie units as M3 Lee in the kit.

The first thing that was apparent was that the six bogie units on the vehicle came up with four different widths of the main bogie housing ranging from 306mm to 310mm wide but this 4mm in real scale means we are talking about 0.1mm in 1:35 and obviously not worth bothering with but does show that things don’t always correspond to drawings or plans exactly.

The width (averaged) was 308mm which equals 8.7mm in 1:35 and the kit bogies are well within acceptable tolerances for this while the depth of the bogie is 13.34mm in 1:35 and the kit bogies again matched this almost perfectly.

The width from mid axle to mid axle is 24mm in 1:35 with the kit parts measuring out at 23.5mm and the width of the road wheel rubber section is 6.2mm in 1:35 with the kit wheels being about 5.8mm and the width of the two drive sprockets 0.6mm narrower than the measurements taken give or take a fraction of a millimetre.  

The bogie housing height is just over 2mm too high with the measured height equalling 10.7mm and the kit bogie being 13mm and the return roller as a consequence sits too low and should be higher off the housing if this was the correct height. This discrepancy is also confirmed in the Ordnance Drawings kindly supplied by Roy Chow and will require some effort to correct.

Assembly of the bogies is straightforward with the only thing to watch is the orientation of the bogie arms (parts E18, E40) as the locating hole for the pivot pin is a different size in each and the small top ribs (parts E7) have small pin marks on one side but if these are positioned inward are very had to see after assembly.

The front transmission cover includes fine casting numbers on the right side and has separate bolted retaining flanges but remember the “seam” line down the middle of these flanges should be there as the flanges are actually two parts bolted together but the seams on the kit parts are just the moulding seam and you have a bit of a quandary wether to leave or remove as the mould seam is uneven and not actually the engraved seam as it should be and there are also five pin ejector marks between the inside bolts to be dealt with. A separate upper bolted strip is added after the transmission cover is fitted to the hull.

The final drive covers include the inner drain plugs and small casting numbers on the left cover plus the two towing shackles and final drive covers on the outside hull with the fit of all these parts being very good.

At the back is a separate rear hull panel that fits well to the hull and has separate engine bay doors and four part early cylindrical engine mufflers which were soon replaced with square profile air cleaners and lower fishtail exhausts further indicating the early nature of the kit. There are parts for the idler axle mountings, towing shackles and rear mud guard extensions to finish of the rear end.

The tracks are the wider T51 type in full length vinyl the same as included in the Academy M4/M10/M36 kits but do have a fair bit of flash around the end connectors which will take a bit of work to remove.


Upper Hull
The upper hull is broken down with the top plate and engine deck in one piece with all the side, front and rear panels as separate parts which will require careful assembly.

The many rivets and bolt heads (on engine deck) are well done overall but there are some minor issues with the number of rivets, the positions of others and a few misshapen, if you want to know more about these I will refer you to Rivet Counters Anonymous, otherwise read on.

Overall the hull dimensions are good and match the measurements are taken direct from of the Army Museum of Western Australia Grant hull with one small exception.

The depth of the forward engine bay hatch (part B18) is short by about 1.5mm, it should be 21mm in 1:35 scale but is only 19.5mm (give or take a fraction of mm) but the width is correct, there is also a small discrepancy in the size of the mesh opening but this is under 1mm and so not really worth bothering with.

All other hull dimensions are within a fraction of a millimetre or spot on and therefore well within accepted tolerances so apart from the left side panel angle it shapes up well overall.

The only locating pin on any of the hull parts are at the rear of the two side panels to ensure these are located correctly to start with and all other plates butt joining to the top and side plates. You have to ensure the side plates are glued evenly along the hull top line as this governs how the rest of the panels will fit.

The right side gun housing has a locating ridge inside the top hull to help position this correctly but the angled left and front panels are a bit tricky due to the lack of locating stubs and some careful aligning before gluing is needed.

The fit of these main hull panels is quite good but depending on how well you line these up before gluing will determine the amount of trimming needed afterwards.

The fit of the rear superstructure wall (part B32) is not good at all unfortunately and a fairly large gap is left between the panel and the hull top to be filled. Also the side rivet heads are elongated and not round due to the limitations of injection moulding.

At the back the large sponson mounted storage boxes are in two parts each but are not the type fitted to US vehicles being the smaller boxes used on Canadian Lees and Australian and British Grants which don’t go all the way to the edges of the hull but are located inside the rows of hull rivets and are also held in place with small tabs. The US box type are larger and overlap the rivets going right to the edge of the side and rear hull and as such the kit boxes are not really applicable for the vehicles included on the decal sheet which are all US M3s.

The hull side doors are separate and have excellent internal details as well as nicely defined outer hinge detail and separate visor flaps while the top crew hatch is a simple moulding with no internal detail, not that there was much anyway with just three small rivets for each hinge and single latch.
The two side doors are just under 1mm too narrow but again this is not at all noticeable especially if the doors are shown open and not really worth bothering with.

The front plate has a separate driver’s visor that can be positioned open or closed but no inside glass window with wiper is provided that was often fitted in place when the port was open.

The five fuel filler caps around the forward engine deck are separate parts for good definition as is the aerial mount and ribs on the hull top plus separate pioneer tools with moulded on tool mountings.

The main gun gives you a choice of the early longer M3 75mm gun which has the flair at the tip but this appears slightly too flared but it is the correct length based on the excellent research feature by Kurt Laughlin on Track Link and scaled up 1:48 plans in the Hunnicut Sherman book which show the length of the barrel is 49.1millimeters in 1:35 scale. The other option of the early M2 75mm gun has the flair at the tip but is without the muzzle counter weights and based on the same data is too long by about 4mm while both barrels are single piece moulds hollowed out to a depth of 3mm using slide moulds for a good appearance and just a very small moulding seam to be cleaned up.
On the inside is a full gun breech with separate breech block, crew seats, traverse wheels and gunner shield with the gun mounting allowing both elevation and traverse. The upper gun sight is also designed in such a way so it will move in unison with the gun traverse.

The fit of the upper and lower hulls wasn’t the best with the rear end not matching up well leaving quite a few gaps and upper hull overhang that will need a little bit of work to rectify.

The kit comes with an extensive fighting compartment interior that is easy to see if the large side doors are left open and this starts with the full length floor and rear compartment bulkhead that has nice details included such as the inside vision port detail, the two oil radiators and most of the panel fasteners and rivet detail plus the 37mm ammo racks.

The floor has the lower oval plug as mentioned previously that fits into the hole in the hull bottom leaving a bit of filling if you want to clean up the undersides and there is a multi-part front transmission and gearbox assembly with very nice details for plastic parts with the steering levers and foot pedals as well as the driver’s seat plus raised floor plates and the large central drive shaft cover. On the sponsons are the radio and ammo boxes plus the lower turret ring for a nice interior layout.

Added inside the upper hull front is the driver’s instrument panel with engraved details and the full twin .30 hull machines guns that protrude through the openings in the front hull plate. There are some large pin ejector marks on the insides of the two hull side panels (parts F6, F7) that will need filling if you plan to have the doors open.

The small 37mm turret has a single moulding for the shell with a separate lower turret ring that has the inside bolted rim included and a separate front gun mounting plate.

The size of the turret is good with a separate rear quarter vision port but there is a large raised contour section on the left side, the real turret has a very small contour at this location that is so subtle it can’t be seen from some angles and the kit representation is way over sized and should be reduced which is easy to do with light sanding.

The Commander’s cupola is in two halves with the separate hatch ring and two part hatch but no detail on the inside of the hatches except for one grab handle and some pin marks to be removed. A full .30 cal MG is added that gives a good impression of the very cramped confines inside with this fitted.

A full turret basket is included with tread plate pattern on the floor plate and four sections for the basket walls including the open entry hatch and the floor plate has the wall part numbers engraved underneath so you know which part goes where, a nice little touch.

The wall panels include the many 37mm ammo racks with separate 37mm rounds plus the crew seats and traverse motors and again the cramped spaces are portrayed well when all is assembled.

The one piece M6 37mm gun is the early type without the underside counter weight with the barrel of the correct length and the muzzle hollowed out using slide moulds for a good appearance, the gun also includes the inner breech and mounting. A separate full .30 cal co-ax MG is included with these fitting through the separate gun mantlet and sighting aperture which in turn fits inside the front gun mounting plate that fits snugly to the turret opening.

The instructions are the usual exploded view drawings that are easy to follow without ant real traps other than those mentioned above.

The Decals::
The decal sheet has nice thin carrier film cropped close to the printed image and has markings for two M3 Lees from the Tunisian campaign.

Overall this is a fast improvement on previous M3 Lee kits available and despite some dimensional, detail and fit issues will build into a nice model of the early Lee. The full interior is a nice bonus with the large hull hatches allowing most of this to be seen.

The major issue though is the suspension bogies which will require quite a bit of work to fix or by replacment from the bogie sets now available.


The Sprues:

Sprue Images
Click on thumbnails for larger view

Detail Images

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SHERMAN A History of the
American Medium Tank

R.P.Hunnicutt. Presidio Books
ISBN 0-89141-080-5
M3 Lee/Grant
Medium Tank 1941-45

Osprey New Vanguard
ISBN 1 84176 889 8
Medium Tank M3 to M3A5
General Lee/Grant

Tanks in Detail 4
by Terry J Gander.
AFVisual M3 Lee
Letterman Publications
By David Doyle
M3 Lee/Grant
in action
Squadron Signal Publicatrions
Armour series #2033
Classic AFV's No.2
Lee & Grant

An AIRFIX book
Allied & Axis No.10
M3 Lee Pt.1
Ampersand Publishing
Allied & Axis No.13
M3 Lee Pt.2
Ampersand Publishing
Allied & Axis No.14
M3 Lee Pt.3
Ampersand Publishing
Thanks to my Credit Card and the prompt service from Lucky for the review kit.

Page created May 27, 2006

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