Hotchkiss began the production of light tanks in 1935, when the H35 was built to the same specification as the Renault R35. The H35 was faster than its rival and was considered all-around a better tank. In 1938, the design was improved by thicker armour and a more powerful 120hp engine, which necessitated changes to the rear hull and engine compartment. This model being designated the H38 by Hotchkiss, but was often known in service as the H39. Armour on the H38/39 was up to 40mm thick and the tank was initially armed with a 37mm short barrel gun. A longer barrelled SA38 gun was mounted a to later production tanks. Like all French tanks of the period, the H39 was hampered by a lack of communications, and also by having only a 2-man crew. The German army salvaged 821 Hotchkiss tanks in 1940 after France capitulated. Some tanks were sent to Russia in 1941, but the majority were modified into gun tractors, ammunition or weapon carriers.
Bronco announced their first kit to the market in 2004, but after many false starts their first, the Hotchkiss H39 (kit # CB-35001), wasn’t released until early 2006. Reviews at the time gave it the edge over the new Trumpeter kit and the much older Heller kit, but it still had some teething problems. According to Steven Zaloga, the kit was based on the Y. Tomioka drawings from 1971, instead of the original Hotchkiss drawings. He said it “isn't anywhere in the ballpark to the original Hotchkiss plans” and “according to the Hotchkiss plan, the widest part of the upper hull casting should be 49mm (it's 44mm in the kit, about 10% narrow)”. It also suffered from mold shift on the road wheels, 24 teeth on the drive wheels instead of 22, 8 retaining bolts on the idler where it should have been six bolts, no heat shield for the exhausts, wrong exhaust details and no German upgrade parts even though several of the options in the markings would demand these.
Over the last two years, Bronco has become more established and has several nice kits under its belt since. It appears that they have decided to go back and attend to some of the shortcomings of the original release. If S. Zaloga is right (has he ever been wrong?) the kit is still undersized. I measured the widest part of the upper hull and its still 44mm, but I suppose to change this, the whole kit would have needed an overhaul. I’m guessing no other dimension issues have been attended to either at this time. The drive wheels now have the correct quantity of 22 teeth, and the idlers have the correct amount of 6 retaining bolts. A small fret of etch is also included and contains the missing heat shield, as well as the exhaust being corrected and there is also an extra sprue H, that contains a German cut-down cupola.
I haven’t seen the original kit, so I made some comparisons with Terry Ashley’s review
and construction notes on PMMS of the initial release. Several other small changes are also noticed.
This covers the running gear and interior and the layout is very similar but there are some changes. The final drives have now 2 parts each, which will probably allow for better definition. The problem that caused most upset in the initial release, the mold shift on the road wheels, has also been addressed. There is a whole new attachment system and apart from one very fine attachment point per wheel, no other clean up will be necessary.
This addresses the upper hull, fittings and turret and again the layout is similar. Terry mentioned in his construction notes that the fender-mounted exhaust was shaped wrong and the rear pipe should be offset. These have now been altered to correctly show this.
Sprue C: Nose section and fenders
There are no changes to the parts on this sprue that I can see.
Extra filling gates, or attachment points, are present on quite a few of the parts on all 3 of these aforementioned sprues. This extra effort has meant that there is literally no flash and no knock out parts visible on outer surfaces and should ensure a better overall quality. Where there are ejection marks on the backsides, they are protruding and should be easily cleaned off; the worst of these being on the under-side of the fenders. The parts look generally tidy and clean up should be minimal.
Sprue C (tracks)
There doesn’t appear to be any changes here either. The tracks are well moulded and tidy, with 2 attachment points each that should be easy to clean. The downside to this is that the attachment points are at the track pins, so this detail will be compromised.
The hull tub with no apparent changes from the initial kit.
This is a totally new sprue. This includes a new French-type cupola with slightly better definition than the original and 3 small lifting hooks, a new breech for the H38 gun (earlier modification), and a cut-down German cupola. Other common German modifications like the addition of radio antenna/mount and modifying the tail-skid to a stowage bin or adding a stowage bin instead of the tarp tray, are missed and would have been nice extras.
Etch fret P
This is another new addition. This set contains both French and German type tool clamps … the German type being in 3 parts as commonly seen by most etch producers. The plastic pioneer tools have French type clamps moulded in place and these will need to be cleaned off before using the etched alternatives. It also contains 2 x rear view mirrors, 3 x small chains, 2 x straps for the tarp-tray located on the tail-skid, 4 x fixing points for the fenders, heat shield for the exhaust and 2 x details for a German convoy light, although there is none in the kit, nor indications on where to use them.
Brass Barrel (M)/springs (G)/chain (N)
These were also present in the original kit, and will add better definition and finesse to the kit.
. A highlight of the kit, and something other manufacturers should take note of, the instructions come in a 14-page booklet of high quality paper, with special call-outs/alternative part markers in colour. Front page and camouflage suggestions in full colour, plus each step given the space it deserves, makes for very clear instruction and helps avoid any confusion.
Having had the chance to inspect this kit pretty thoroughly, I know if I hadn’t gotten it for review purposes, I would be buying it. I missed the whole French wave of armour recently, but have been tempted several times and this fits that bill nicely. I believe it’s very positive that Bronco have listened to feedback and went back and addressed most of the issues that were discussed after the original release. Considering it was given the edge initially, this new version really lifts it well above the competition now, in my opinion. A full Build Log
is available via the forums to evaluate the parts fit and assembly.