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In-Box Review
135
M4 Mortar Carrier
M4 81mm Mortar Carrier
  • DML6361

by: Gary Kato [ GARYKATO ]


Originally published on:
Armorama

Introduction
The M4 is an M2 half-track modified to mount and fire an 81 mm mortar. The mortar was meant to be fired outside of the vehicle and could only be traversed by the small amount allowed by the bi-pod. Once in the field, units found they needed to fire from the vehicle more often and this resulted in the M4A1, which allowed a wider range of traverse. As the M2 was produced in two different versions (early and late), so was the M4. No mortar vehicles were based on the M2A1 chassis. The M4 was eventually replaced by the M21 (which used the M3 chassis).

Kit Contents
In this kit, you get almost all the sprues from the M2/M2A1 kit (6329). Tree A (from the M2 kit) has the chassis and drive train parts. Tree B (M2) has the front cab parts (interior and exterior). Tree C (M2) has the front roller and winch as well as the ring mount (not used). The two D trees (M2) have the front wheels and the parts for the track gear. Tree E (M2) are the clear parts, including the windscreen, demountable lights, and headlight lenses. The two J (M2) trees have the machine guns and mounts as well as tools. Tree K (M2) has the rear body assembly. However, you only get half of the H tree from the M2 kit. There is a tree with a driver figure and tree K has the M4 specific parts for the rear body. Tree T has the non-metal parts of the mortar. The photo-etch tree has the windscreen wipers, visor armor covers, front hook mountings, headlight guard grills, radiator armor slats, and rear mud flaps. There are baggies with the idler and drive sprocket halves as well as the two part metal mortar tube. For some reason, the sprue with the mortar pieces is labeled T, but is called (Blue) S in the instructions. The sprue with the driver is labeled L but is referred to as (Blue) K in the instructions.

Markings are provided for:
- "Prowler" unidentified unit
- "4015367" unidentified unit
- "1-32" 2nd Armored Division, Belgium 1945

The problem with this last vehicle is that the 2nd Armored Division modified their M4s to fire forward. From pictures in "US Half-Tracks in Combat", it looks as if these modifications were done before D-Day, so the date for the markings may not be 100% accurate.

Review
As far as the parts themselves, they have nice sharp detail and I saw no warpage or sink holes. However the care taken to avoid visible pin marks on the M2/M2A1 parts is not seen for the M4 parts. There are pin marks you will have to deal with on the rear plate and the rear door but they are on flat pieces and easy to access. Trees A and J seem to have slight mold seams on pieces but nothing excessive.

The chassis assembly builds on a one piece frame which also has the engine sump and the lower half of the transmission molded into it. There is a complete engine, radiator, transmission, drive shafts, and differentials. Like the M2, the tracks are fixed and come in right and left halves. I was asked if this was a good thing and I really don't know. I think it makes more sense than individual links since this is a Smart Kit. The drive sprocket and idler are very nicely done. The tires are flat on the bottom to simulate a real tire with a hefty weight on it. The left side of the engine is missing details like the reserve oil tank, distributor, starter motor, thermostat, and radiator hose to the thermostat. The bogies are very nice and look quite like the real thing. The road wheels are nice, although the inner rim around the hub could be better defined, but then it's something hard to see once the kit is built.

In Step 4 of the instructions, it says you should cut a tab off the upper transmission. You should only make the cut if you intend to put a winch on your vehicle. Part C13, the power take-off for the winch, fits into the hole you make. If you don't intend to put the winch on, leave off C13. The front armor body consists of a floor and separate pieces for the sides and hood. The armored windshield cover can be positioned open or closed as can the separate photo-etch view port covers. Each door comes in separate upper and lower pieces so they can be positioned open or closed with the upper flap open or closed. They also have separate photo-etch view port covers. The detail on the inside of them is very nice.

The armored radiator cover comes in a closed version and an open version which uses photo-etch pieces for the open armor flaps. The engine access hatches are scored on the inside so cutting them to show the engine should be easy. If you do this, there will be some ejection pin marks to fix up on the inside of the hatches and side panels. The front section is only missing the driver's stowage box (which you would add to the side ammunition bin that ends up behind him) and windshield wiper motors. One problem with all the armor panels is that they are held on by screws on the real thing, not bolts or rivets as in both the M2/M2A1 and M4 kits. There are no instructions on how to paint the instrument panel. I would suggest getting Squadron's Walk-Around to see color photos of that.

The rear armor body is built around a one piece floor with the fuel tanks molded in. The front and rear ends for the fuel tanks are molded on the inside of the side armor plates. There are separate pieces for the commander, gunner, and loader seats, open-top ammunition bins, radios, mortar base mount, hatch for the floor storage bin, and mortar pieces. There are also inserts for the side ammunition bins to show them full of ammo but you'd have to cut the side doors from the side armor plate yourself to position them open. These doors are scored to allow for just that however there is no scoring to allow easy cutting of the top side bin doors. If you did, then you would have to do this as well for the top door of the bins but you would also have to add your own mortar round tray inside. Of course to top it all off, there is the skate rail for the machine guns. The M4 instructions only show the late style .30cal skate mount but you can substitute parts J2/3/8 for parts J7/20/25/26 to do the early mount (which I think look better). For the .50cal, use the late mount but stick parts J17/23/4 in place of part J21.

There is an error in the instructions regarding the mounting of the mortar. It shows that a part of the mortar bi-pod fits into a hole in the floor stowage bin lid, but this is impossible. The bi-pod feet go into the angled blocks at the rear end of the floor. Although you could cut the floor stowage bin doors in two and show them open, the bin molded into the floor doesn't span the entire width of the opening. Evidently, the aisle on the M4 floor part is wider than the M2 floor part. I don't think this is true on the real thing. From looking at photos of the interior of an M2 and an M4A1, I'd say the M4 aisle is the correct size as the aisle between the rear seats should be wider than the aisle by the commander's seat. To top things off, these doors don't have the anti-slip pattern that they should have and the pattern is also missing from the area around the commander's seat.

Just What Is It?
As to what the kit represents, it is unfortunately a mix of the early and late production versions. Depending on what version you are trying to replicate, different parts are called for.

[For all versions]
Note that part T3 (labeled blue S3 in the instructions) is NOT an alternate vehicle base plate as implied in Step 14. It is the base plate used for firing the mortar from outside the vehicle. As far as I can see, this base plate was stored vertically in front of the commander (under his legs between the seat and mortar). Detailers might want to add a chain that connects the mortar bi-pod legs just above the feet.

[To make an early production M4]
Don't use the idler springs (A21/22) and fill in/sand off the idler spring mounts. Ideally, you'd have to modify the idler mount to eliminate the pivot but I don't have any good pictures of that. Another option is to depict the field modification that used the pivot but the idler spring was thinner. If you leave the idler springs off, leave off the tension adjusters (A15/16).

Leave off the jerry cans in front of the driver's compartment. Unfortunately, you will also have to cut off the angled block that serves as the mount and block the holes with sheet styrene. On the actual vehicle, this was a bracket, not a block.

[To make a late production M4]
Leave out the 8 open top ammo boxes in the rear (Part S7) and sand off the placement marks. Don't use the fender headlights. Use the demountable ones (E3/4, E5, and D10). Unfortunately, Dragon left out the late model engine compartment front to use with these parts so you will either have to get some from someone who made an M2 or scratch-build the headlight mounts. Sand off the placement markings for the fender headlights. Add the external mine racks (K29/30). Suitable options include mounting the included winch in the front instead of the roller. and replacing the triangular blocks in front of the driver's compartment which serve as jerry can mounts. Use sheet styrene or some scrap PE to fashion brackets to replace them.

[To make the modified M4 ("1-32" of 2nd Armored Division)]
Do the modifications for an M4 (late). Scratch-build stowage boxes above the rear fenders. Add a small box (open on front and rear) at the rear of the floor then put the mortar base mount on it so the tube will face forward. You want to raise the mortar so the bottoms of the bi-pod legs are at the same height as the box that the gunner and loader seats are. Remove the angled mortar bi-pod mounts on the floor. Remove the old mortar mount from the floor. Modify the 20 round open top ammunition racks to 4x4 16 round racks. Mount one in place of the commander's seat. Mount the other at the right rear. From a top view drawing in the Hunnicutt book, it looks as if the bi-pod feet were attached to modified skate gun mounts. To provide more of a traversing arc, it looks like they used the rear part of a skate track mounted at the same level of the gunner and loader seats. You could scratch your own or beg a skate ring from someone who made an M2A1.

Conclusion
A nice kit on a welcome subject but I can't help concluding from the instruction sheet that this was a rushed release. The mislabeled sprues in blue show that they were put in there as easy to find place holders for when the real sprue labels became known. The mortar mounting instructions might reflect an earlier scheme. Did the person who picked "1-32" to be one of the subjects not notice that the pictures have the mortar pointing in the opposite direction or was it intended that this kit also be an M4A1 and this was nixed and they forgot to pick a new subject? As for the kit itself, I think the major flaws are the triangular blocks for the jerry can mountings and not including the late style nose armor. The parts are all fantastic with sharp detail and nary a pin mark to be seen.

References:
"Half-Track: A History of American Semi-Tracked Vehicles" by R.P.Hunnicutt (Presidio Press)
"M2/M3 Half-Track Walk Around" by Jim Mesko (Squadron/Signal)
"U.S. Half-Tracks in Combat 1941-1945" by Steve Zaloga (Concord Publications)
SUMMARY
Highs: This is a nice subject and a terrific kit. You end up with lots of high quality leftover parts!
Lows: It would have been nice if the front jerry can mounts had not been integrated into the armor so they could be left off for an early M4. The late production armor nose should have been included for a late M4. The instructions should have been better.
Verdict: This is a wonderful kit that I highly recommend. With a little work, you can make a very nice early or late production M4. It makes a good base for an M4A1 or 2nd Armored Division modified M4.
Percentage Rating
85%
  Scale: 1:35
  Mfg. ID: 6361
  Suggested Retail: $41.95 USD
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Jan 19, 2008
  NATIONALITY: United States
NETWORK-WIDE AVERAGE RATINGS
  THIS REVIEWER: 88.26%
  MAKER/PUBLISHER: 86.23%

About Gary Kato (GaryKato)
FROM: CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES

.After long thought, I am just a kit assembler, not a true modeler. I build with what the kit provides; no after market parts. I am also a builder rather than a painter. I don't bother if a color is too green or too blue. Currently, I am just trying to finish up the kits I've started, mostly ...

Copyright 2017 text by Gary Kato [ GARYKATO ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of TankRat's. All rights reserved.


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Comments

Gary, the photo is in Squadron/Signal publications M3 Half Track in action, number 34. The photo can be found on the top left of page 20. One mistake in my statement is a forward firing mortar, which was incorrect. It is however an M4A1 with added boxes on the rear bumper shelf and the mortar is clearly on a raised I-beam pedestal judging by how much of it shows protruding from the crew compartment, versus how little protrudes on a standard M4 The caption below the picture says nothing regarding the unit but does explain what makes it an M4A1 and why. So without some major scratch building, the kit decals are fairly useless. I missed your edit when posting that, so I will address your points. Well, not quite true, the 2nd armored may be famous for the forward facing mortars and use of the skate rail, but the 3rd armored actually had their own style. They removed the sides, fuel tanks etc. switched them around and faced the mortar forward by leaving the I-beam raised platform in the middle of the crew compartment and placing the bipod directly behind the driver/gunner seats, this allowed the use of the rear door, while the 2nd armored's version did not. This can be found in two publications as well, Tankograds manual has an interior shot on page 22 which explains in detail what was done and the Zaloga book, " in combat " has a picture of one on page 47 showing the reversed side panels, with the access doors to the rear. Yes, exactly. I have an extensive collection of photos of this. The flat steel plate with holes in it was used by the 3rd armored behind the driver/gunner seats, unlike the 2nd armored who used a skate rail piece instead. Perhaps I will post some photos. Yes it is, I believe it's the pilot version or the next in line. It can be found in the Hunnicutt book, several photos actually. The numbers ARE a different color, as I stated, it is light blue, which would fade into the olive drab at a distance so as not to stand out. This was a pre D-Day thing which was later changed to white, but those markings on the decal sheet should be light blue.
JAN 20, 2008 - 03:36 PM
I remember seeing the reversed access door picture in Zaloga's book, but he didn't mention the reason. I also could not see the mortar in that M4. I'll have to look again. None of the references I used mentioned the 3AD mod. When did they do this?
JAN 20, 2008 - 09:30 PM
While I have the utmost respect for Mr. Zaloga, that is an older book and is not without it's mistakes. Look on page 69, the caption under the top photo says it's an M3, well, the M3 had the pedestal mounted .50 cal in the front of the crew compartment and no "ladder" like racks on the sides. The picture is clearly that of an M21 mortar carrier, which did have those newer style racks as well as the pedestal mount to the rear of the crew compartment to allow for the forward facing mortar. You can't see the mortar because it's most likely stowed for transport, considering it is a photo of a column of vehicles moving through town, that would make sense. Fact is though, with the large stowage bins moved to the rear of the crew compartment, the bipod couldn't fit in between them. So that is of no consequence really. According to the descriptive text under the interior photo in Tankograds Tech Manual no 6010, it says England May '44, so it's around the same exact time that the 2nd armored did it as well, prior to D-Day, which makes sense.
JAN 21, 2008 - 10:45 AM
Voyager has two PE sets which has fixes for some of the things I complained about. One set is for the M4 and the other is for M4 ammunition storage. Since Lucky and Mission Models uses the same picture (which shows the sets combined), I don't know which set comes with what. They have jerry can mounts for the late M4 which have the correct bracket. They have top and side doors for the side ammo bins as well as the top ammo rack if you have the top door open. They also have the bipod chain.
JAN 26, 2008 - 11:27 AM
Hi Gary, I have both of those sets, I bought them for fairly cheap money on ebay. The M4 detail set is almost identical to Voyagers M2 set, the main difference being the rear bumper/stowage shelf assembly, it has the narrower shelf found on the M4 etc. It also contains the chain as you mentioned and it lacks the mine racks. This set comes in the typical Voyager 'box' The M4 ammo set contains the four internal boxes and dividers, plus several plastic tubes to fashion the ammo tubes from. I would have preferred it to all be in one set but others may be happy with just the ammo bins. This set comes on a 'card' Those all inclusive photos are annoying, I think manufacturers and suppliers could better inform us of just what is in each set, but that's just an opinion.
JAN 27, 2008 - 05:36 PM
Thanks for clearing that up! I was thinking I might have to buy them myself just to figure it out. I'm undecided about whether I want to go whole hog with the M4. I'm more of a OOTB builder.
JAN 27, 2008 - 07:13 PM
Gary, if you normally build OOB then by all means do. It is a sweet kit as is and a good portion of the stuff in these sets are un-warranted IMO. The best thing about the ammo bins is that you can portray some empty as opposed to the completely full kit parts. I bet you could just as easily scratch build your own bins though. The things like the doors and hood panels in the Voyager set fall short of being useful IMO considering the screw head detail is flush instead of 'proud', which will only stand out like a sore thumb next to the kit parts. If all one wants to do is fix the jerry can holders and brackets, Eduard make a set of four I believe, which would work just as well and save a few bucks at the same time.
JAN 27, 2008 - 07:53 PM
I already have an Eduard Jerry Can set here (Great Minds...). I bought a few months ago to see if they would really add to a kit and to practice with folding PE.
JAN 27, 2008 - 09:14 PM
Gary, That's the route I would go if extreme detailing wasn't a big concern. The four pack Eduard set is the easiest I've ever used because if I remember correctly, the holder ( not including the mounting bracket ) is one piece while the Voyager is a multi part affair making it a bit more tedious. The large square hub ( a-la 70's era Tamiya ) on the cab side is by far, my biggest gripe with both half track offerings from Dragon. Other than that, the kit almost falls together and is a great build OOB ( any small inaccuracies aside of course ). The only other thing I think worth mentioning is after market tires/rims, NOT solely because of that whole bulged tire issue, which I wouldn't want to get started up again but because you may have noticed on pre D-Day vehicles, a directional chevron tread and/or early 'standard' style rims. ( this all depends on theater and time frame of your build of course ) One brand is Trakz, found on the Perth site here: http://www.perthmilitarymodelling.com/reviews/vehicles/trakz/tx0127.htm Perhaps even look into the Archer fine transfer 'Surface Details' to fix the missing tread plate pattern on some of the floor plates in the crew compartment. http://www.archertransfers.com/AR88008.html Again, this all depends on how far you want to take it.
JAN 27, 2008 - 11:27 PM
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