The Pz. Kpfw. IV, or Sdkfz 161 as it's official designation by the Waffenambt was, may not have the mythical status of the Panther or Tiger tanks, but it was without a doubt the most important tank to be produced by the Germans. No other German Tank was produced in the numerical quality as the Pz. Kpfw. IV, nor was any other design as versatile and reliable as the humble IV. Design had started as early as 1934, and 11 years later, at the end of the war, when the last factory was finally over run by the advancing Allied Forces, over 8.800 tanks had been built, making it by far the largest production run and also the only AFV to have been produced throughout the war. Whilst the external appearance remained virtually unchanged, during it's production it saw a steady increase in Armour thickness, and several automotive improvements. The chassis was used for numerous other AFV designs, from simple ammunition carriers to heavy mortar carriers and Tank Destroyers.
The original specification for the Pz. Kpfw. IV was for a 'support vehicle' which was to provide heavy howitzer support for the lighter Pz. Kpfw. III, which was armed with a 50mm gun with Anti-Tank capabilities. The Pz.Kpfw. IV was to be armed with a 75mm short calibre howitzer, firing high explosive shells to deal with infantry and fixed defensive positions. Whilst this was a satisfactory tactical doctrine during the invasions of Poland in 1939, and the invasion of The Low Countries and France in 1940, the increased fire power and armour protection of Allied and Russian opposition soon meant that the German Armour was in need of improvement, both in armour and fire power. As the Pz. Kpfw. III was not suitable for increasing it's hitting power with a bigger armament, the Pz. Kpfw. IV was to change role, and with the addition of a longer calibre gun with Armour piercing capabilities, became the principal battle tank of the German Armoured Divisions, until the arrival of the Heavy Tiger and Panther.
The principal change for the Pz. Kpfw. IV was the replacement of the 75mm KwK 37 (L/24) with the 75mm KwK 40 (L/43), which gave it the capability to defeat heavier armour at greater distance. This change took place during the production run of the Ausf. F, and was rushed into production because of the appearance on the Russian Front of the T-34 and KV-1, to which the German Divisions had no answer at that time. It's appearance in the North African Desert, and it's ability to knock out the Mathilda (until this time, the only real threat to the heavy armour of the Mathilda was the dreaded 88mm) from distance caused the Brits to christen it the 'Mark IV Special'. The Ausf. F which were produced prior to the fitting of the L/43 gun were designated F1 (Sdkkfz. 161), whilst those with the bigger gun were designated F2 (Sdkfz 161/1). The F2 was only an interim production of two months, until the wider improved Ausf. G production could be started.
The transition from F1 support tank to F2 main battle tank also saw a recognition of the true value of the Pz. Kpfw. IV, and production numbers increased dramatically. Until this time, only a few hundred of each Ausf. had been produced ( E 280; F1 462; F2 175), but from the Ausf. G production ran into thousands.
This Smart Kit (6315) follows hot on the heels of the Pz. Kpfw. IV Ausf. G ( Review by Bill Plunk
), and the Pz. Kpfw. IV Ausf. F2 ( Review by Ken Schwartz
), also both Smart Kits, and as the Ausf. F, F2 and G are basically identical vehicles, this kit shares the majority of its parts with these two releases. The only part that is really different in this kit is the Turret shell, to take account of the omission of various vision ports (and the signal port in the roof) that characterized the development of the Pz. Kpfw. IV.
The kit includes decals to create one of 10 different vehicles, only one of which is of an "unidentified Unit, Kusk 1943". A very nice inclusion are the decals for a captured vehicle, in use by the Russians at the Lenningrad Front in 1942. There are decals for eight vehicles at the Eastern Front, and for two vehicles in North Afrika.
- Pz.Rgt.31, 5.Pz.Div.,Russia 1942
- 3./Pz.Rgt.35, 4.Pz.Div.,Russia 1942
- 4./Pz.Rgt.31, 5.Pz.Div.,Eastern Front 1942
- 8./Pz.Rgt.36, 14.Pz.Div.,Eastern Front 1942
- 3./Pz.Rgt.21, 20.Pz.Div.,Eastern Front 1942
- Unidentified Unit, Kursk 1943
- Pz.Gren.Div. "Grosdeutschland", Voronezh 1942
- Major Szalimov's Battalion, Lenningrad Front 1942
- 4./Pz.Rgt.5, 21.Pz.Div., Libya 1942
- 8./Pz.Rgt.8, 15.Pz.Div., Libya 1942
As is usual with the painting instructions of Dragon, the colours that are called out need to be checked for accuracy, as some are questionable to say the least (Field Grey as a principal single colour is a new one to me), or no colour is indicated at all (as for both the Afrika Front vehicles).
The decals are by Cartograf, and previous experience indicates that there should be no problem applying them to the the model. I undercoat with future (Klear), apply the decal(s), and cover with two coats of Future (Klear), which eliminates any 'silvering' that might otherwise occur. A final coat of Vallejo Matt Varnish ties everything together. The decals are a mixed bunch, the numbers are fine, with good colour definition and register, but the 4.Division Bear symbol looks nothing like the emblem on contemporary photographs, and whilst the Devils head of the Pz.Rgt.31, 5.Pz.Div. looks O.K., the single white shape of the mouth should in fact be four small dots. The DAK symbol of the Swastika over a palm tree has, to comply with regulations in some countries, the Swastika cut up, and you need to apply three pieces to create the complete symbol.
The instructions consists of 17 steps, of exploded view style drawings, with arrows showing the (approximate) position of the various numbered parts. The drawings are very busy, and need to be studied carefully to avoid confusion and mistakes. Another, recurrent, problem with the Dragon instructions is that where there are multiple options, these are not always clearly defined, and never explained.
The various hatches and armoured vision shutters are detailed on the inside, and can be positioned opened or closed ( the instructions only indicate the closed positions), but unless you are adding crew figures, the lack of further interior detail may not make opening up the hatches a choice option. In fact the only interior detail included in the kit are the Radio-Operator's hull MG, the main gun breech (with spent case basket) and the commander's seat.
The quality of the plastic parts is to the usual high standard of Dragon kits. There are no knock-out marks or flash to be cleaned up, and the few, light seams that are present on some parts are easily cleaned away with a hobby knife. Remember, the seam on the tyres is deliberate, as this seam was present on the real tyres. For more detailed information on the plastic parts, I refer you to the excellent reviews by Bill Plunk and Ken Schwartz, as linked above.
Being a SmartKit, there is very little in Photo-etch included, the small fret just includes
- side air intake covers
- engine deck air intake inserts
- mudguard support brackets (two)
- hinged cover for the rear convoy light
- sighting vane (to go in front of the commanders cupola)
A small metal cable is included to create the tow cables, but it is rather stiff, and will be difficult to attach otherwise than wound around the hooks on the rear hull.
When Dragon first released their new Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf. E, it caused a bit of a storm, with it's insane parts count, and comprehensive inclusion of detail and parts which were previously limited to Aftermarket. Smart Kits are without doubt one of Dragon's finer efforts, and bridge the gap between 'basic' but less accurate kits, and the full on 'super kits' with Photoetch, aluminium and resin added. Smart Kits are great fun for the accomplished modeller who wants a break from AMS building, as well as for the less experienced modeller who wants to expand his skill and experience.
The Ausf. F has previously been offered in plastic kit form by Italeri, as part of a now long out of production 'three in one' kit, which suffers from a lack of detail, whilst another option is the resin MIG conversion for the Tamiya Ausf H kit. Neither of these options include the level of fine detail that the Dragon kit offers, and Dragons 'Magic Tracks' are far superior to the rubber band style tracks in these two offerings. If you want to add an Pz.Kpfw.IV Ausf.F to your collection, this kit is the most accurate option available. Highly recommended.