Early Production s.Pz.Abt.504 Tunisia
Since I first became interested in reading about and modelling AFVs in the early '70's, there are two Tiger I's that have really captivated me. Michel Wittmann's Tiger '007', knocked out by elements of 'A' Squadron, the Sherbrooke Fusilier Regiment in Normandy in 1944, and Tiger '131' captured by the British in North Africa in 1943. Tiger '131' was the first of the two to capture my interest and I was pleased to see that Dragon have seen fit to release a kit of this iconic tank.
Tiger '131' was built in January or February 1943, bearing chassis number 250122. It was shipped to Tunisia in March or April 1943 and assigned as the first tank in the 3rd Platoon, 1st Company, schwere Panzer-Abteilung 504. On the night of April 20/21, 1943, while British forces advanced on a pass on the north side of a hill known as Djebel Djaffa, it was hit by three 6-pdr projectiles fired by Churchills of 'A' Squadron, 48th Royal Tank Regiment. The crew abandoned the Tiger and it was captured relatively intact. Tiger '131' was removed to Britain where it underwent extensive trials. Following the war, it was placed on display at the Tank Museum. In 1990, it began to undergo a lengthy restoration to full running condition, a process finally completed in 2003. Tiger '131' is the only operative Tiger I in the world today and it draws large crowds whenever it's trundled out to do circuits at the Tank Museum.
What's In The Box? Well, There's A Lot!
Sprue 'C' (A second one)
Sprue 'G' (Four more)
Lower Hull, and Turret Wall and Base with Parts '15' and '23' inside.
Sprue 'V' (A second one)
Sprues 'Y' and 'W'
Photo Etch Fret
Dragon Styrene (DS) Single Length Tracks
Sprue 'C9' (Unusual To Say The Least!)
Tiger '131' Identifying Features
I've only ever built two Tiger I kits; a Tamiya one and the other an Italeri, but I know that Dragon have listened to modellers over the years and taken great pains to successively improve their Tiger I releases, to the point that they're widely considered to be the best on the market.
I make no claim to be a Tiger I expert but there are several distinctive features that identify Tiger '131'. When looking at the front of the tank, there was a grab handle welded to the glacis plate in front of the driver's station, a step welded to the bracket holding the spare track, and the mantlet is the very early style without the reinforcement that would appear later. The top most smoke candle discharger on the left side of the turret was also missing. These features are evident in the first photo below, taken after '131' was captured. The second photo is purported to have been taken prior to the action at Djebel Djaffa and shows that the smoke candle discharger was missing at that point too.
Another identifying feature are the two brackets for 'S' mine dischargers on each of the rear corners of the hull. In the following photo, they can be seen on the left rear corner in the 'stowed' position. Also visible here is the left side 12 sided Feifel air duct. In the last of the historical photos presented here, the outermost road wheels on the first station on both sides of the tank had been removed prior to the action at Djebel Djaffa.
As is usual for me, to ease the construction process, I jump back and forth in the assembly sequence to build a basic hull and turret before adding the small details to each. In this case, I began with the hull and installed the interior components first. The kit boasts torsion bar suspension components which look good, and while there was some minor sloppiness noted when fitting them, it was nothing to worry about. Rather than having been molded directly onto the lower hull tub, the swing arms are separate parts and once installed, they're easily made level by adding just a bit of weight in the hull tub while the glue dries.
The hull MG is a complex assembly and the assembly instructions are a bit vague and could be improved upon. However, when it's finished, I think it's the best hull MG I've seen to date and it's a pity that it's all but hidden from view.
Dragon have included fuel tank and radiator cooling fan modules which are nicely detailed and fill the yawning gap under the armoured grilles in the engine deck. The cooling fan grilles can be positioned open if there is no Feifel air cleaning ductwork interfering with them, but for review purposes, I built '131' with the Feifel apparatus fully installed.
With the fuel tank/radiator fan modules in place, I began construction of the fuel tank armoured covers which also served as ducts for the radiator fans. These are installed on the underside of the engine deck and fit like a glove over the fuel tank modules.
Tiger '131' had brackets for 'S' mine dischargers (but not the dischargers themselves) at all four corners of the hull. The front ones are molded in place while the rear ones need to be installed. Basically, there were two brackets on each corner and they should be shown in the stowed configuration where the bracket from the hull side plate was bolted to the bracket on the rear plate. This was done to comply with transportation width restrictions. The instructions leave a lot to be desired in how the brackets are assembled and configured on the model. I chose to show one set stowed and the other one bolted in place. Pay particular attention to the angle of the rear plate bracket to ensure that there's room for the Feifel canisters, and when mounting the stowed set, to permit the radiator fan grilles to open.
The Feifel air cleaning system has the correct, early style, two canister configuration for the filters themselves, along with the correct 12 sided ducts. The ducts and fittings are all molded in plastic and are a bit finicky to route correctly, but it's well worth the effort as they look very good when finally in place. The photoetch screens fit perfectly and look superb.
The weld detail on the hull roof is exceptionally well rendered and pops to life with a dark wash and dry brushing.The tools, tow cables, brackets, jack, and other assorted external items all exhibit fine detail but care must be taken when removing them from the sprues as many are quite delicate and small in size. The step on the bracket that holds the spare track in place on the nose of '131' was originally made from channel steel and this has been faithfully replicated by Dragon. In the reference photos I've consulted, the antenna on the rear deck is plainly visible but it doesn't appear in the instructions. I cut a length of plastic rod to length, tapered it slightly, and installed it on the deck.
The road wheels, and there a lot of them in an interleaved suspension, are exquisitely detailed with superb weld beads, raised lettering on the rubber tires, and very fine nut and bolt detail. The outermost road wheels on the front stations on each side of the hull had been removed from Tiger '131' before Djebel Djaffa, and Dragon has enabled this feature to be shown by including the inner hubs to which they mounted. Also included are PE retaining rings to fit on these hubs, with locking tabs that fit in a molded recess in the hubs. This is really excellent attention to detail on Dragon's part.
The sprockets and idlers are also well detailed and the idlers are adjustable to enable the modeller to take up the slack in the tracks. The tracks themselves are single length DS plastic and exhibit good detail with little to no cleanup required. If there can be any complaint about the kit, it would have to be in the substitution of DS tracks for the individual links that have been included in earlier Dragon Tiger I releases. Whether it was done for economic reasons or because their marketing analysis indicated modellers prefer DS tracks, I don't presume to know. However, when dealing with suspensions that require a subtle draping of the tracks across the road wheels as in the Tiger I, this is difficult to depict with single length tracks. Individual link tracks are much more appropriate in this regard and I'd have preferred to see them in this kit.
The turret is a straightforward assembly and went together without any problems at all. The turret roof fit snuggly into the side piece without any gaps at all. The weld detail here is exceptionally good also. The kit includes the correct, very early mantlet that doesn't have the reinforcement that appeared later. The 88 mm main gun is made up of its component parts and the barrel itself is a single piece molding which makes it a breeze to clean up. Dragon provides a basic breech assembly and recoil guard which fills the interior should you decide to leave the commander's or loader's hatch open. Something I found odd was that when the gun is fully assembled, the barrel can be slid back as if it was in full recoil. All of the hatches in both the hull and turret are well detailed on the interior surfaces, as is the pistol port.
As mentioned earlier, there were only two smoke candle dischargers on the left side of '131's turret so I left the top one off. I added smoke candles in the remaining two, while I left the three on the right side of the turret empty, for interest sake. Kudos to Dragon for giving us the option.
Finishing and Markings
My Tiger '131' was given a coat of Tamiya NATO Black to start with, followed by a coat of Tamiya Desert Yellow XF-59. The camouflage is a 1:1 mixture of Desert Yellow XF-59 and Khaki XF-49. A Vallejo gloss coat was then airbrushed on and the decals were applied. As usual with Cartograf decals, they're excellent and went on without issue. After applying a Vallejo matte coat, the model received oil washes and filters. As a final step, it was dry brushed with Humbrol enamels. The tracks were painted with Tamiya Metallic Grey XF-56 followed by a dark brown oil wash. They were installed with super glue in an effort to replicate the distinctive drape of Tiger I tracks.
In conclusion, Dragon have done an exceptionally good job with Tiger '131'. It's a winner right out of the box and well within the capabilities of most modellers. Dragon have certainly done their research and it shows to good advantage. With the large number of sprues in the box, the modeller is kept busy sorting through them searching for parts, and there are a great many extras to add to your spares box at the end of the build. Photoetch has been kept to a minimum, parts fit is nigh on perfect, and attention to detail has been religiously adhered to. While the DS tracks are well done and perfectly adequate for an out of box build, I suspect that many modellers will prefer to replace them with individual links. The instructions are adequate but they're very busy in places, and could stand some clarification to make assembly a bit more straightforward. All in all though, this was a thoroughly enjoyable project and I'm keen to build Dragon's '007' next.
Tiger! The Tiger Tank: A British View
, edited by David Fletcher
Tiger Tank: Owners' Workshop Manual
, David Fletcher, David Willey and Mike Hayton
Germany's Tiger Tanks
, Thomas Jentz and Hilary Doyle
Panzer Tracts No.6 Schwere Panzerkampfwagen D.W. to E-100
, Thomas Jentz and Hilary Doyle
Tiger I and Sturmtiger in Detail
, Bruce Culver and Uwe Feist
Achtung Panzer No.6
: Panzerkampfwagen Tiger, Mitsuru Bitoh
A Modeler's Guide To The Tiger Tank
, Patrick Stansell
My thanks go out to
for this review sample, and to AMPS for affording me the opportunity to review it.
Reviewed by: Chris Johnson
AMPS Canada Region
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