The Russian B-4 203mm howitzer was the heaviest field piece used by the Red Army during WW II. Although it had a slow rate of fire, the B-4 was capable of lobbing a 220 pound shell nearly 11 miles and it was utilized to attack fortifications and bunkers. It played a pivotal role during the Russian siege of Berlin in 1945.
The B-4 utilized caterpillar tracks during short moves and when crossing soft ground and snow, however it was normally disassembled when being moved great distances due to its immense weight.
Kit: Upon opening the box, one finds 354 parts, including 84 individual tracks, on 10 sprues, molded in light grey plastic. Additionally, there are two rubber tires for the limber, a piece of string, (listed as a tow cable in the kit instructions), a decal sheet, and a 9-piece photo etch brass sheet. Close observation of the parts shows occasional mold shift lines, minimal flash on some of the smaller parts, and large sprue attachments which requiring careful removal of the small pieces.
Build: The first thing that one notices when scanning the parts is the large, heavily riveted gun. Assembly was carried out following the prescribed steps. The completed gun gives the builder a sense of the eventual size of this behemoth.
Moving on to the chassis, which is a three section build, overall fit is okay, however there are minor issues at the butt ends which aren’t squared off. Unfortunately this results in a noticeable opening which isn’t hidden in later assembly. Also, the carriage arms should be held together with a clamp while gluing to eliminate the center seem. The small end of part A13 should be shaved prior to gluing in order to prevent it from popping out.
The limber wheels went together quickly. Upon closer examination, the limber axle has a huge seam on both the upper and lower axle beam halves that will require filling. Next, I ran into a problem mounting the tires which may have been self induced. I glued the wheels together then I added the tires which would not set down properly in the slot. If I had glued them all together at the same time, perhaps the resulting fit would have been correct. In the end I used a Dremel with a thin cutter to open the slot, and the tire fit perfectly.
Next comes the gun barrel and the breech assembly. OUCH!!! Parts F14 and F16 are a horrible fit at the muzzle. Aftermarket folks, we need you!!! Actual assembly of the barrel is pretty straight forward; however the muzzle will require a great deal of filler and reshaping. The breech also suffers from the same seam problem described above and will result in a visible gap requiring work to make it presentable. One touch I liked here was the use of an etched brass rifling insert which gives the barrel a realistic appearance. Be sure to anneal the brass before inserting and it will fit very well.
The trunnion is assembled in steps 6 and 7. Parts D32/D31 and D17/D16 will require clamping as did the carriage arms. There is a visible seam located between the rows of rivets which can be hidden by using liquid glue and clamps.
OK, I have an issue and this one, in my opinion, is quite important as it concerns the lower trunnion/winch/gear wheel area. According to my references, the spools (E43/E44) are too deep. They appear to be wire type spools and should be shallow as the actual cables only wrapped across one course. I filled these to replicate the reference photos. Also, as cast, part D26 does not represent the actual component. A slip over insert would have easily corrected this problem. While I am at it, the front reinforcements on each side that drop down over the lower hull are too long causing them to brush against the rivet detail which prevents a flush fit. Some trimming and an.015 shim were used to fill the resulting gap. Fit was perfect after that. Finally, there should be a shaft that runs from the lower trunnion to the top sight mount. The top bolt is molded in however it was necessary to scratch build the shaft since this is clearly visible on the actual gun.
The kit instructions would have you wrap a certain amount of string onto the spools. Unfortunately, there is no indication in the instructions where to attach the string to the gun. In reality, the cable actually goes under the barrel, over what appears to be a wear bar/pad on its way to the bottom of the breach (part F20). The missing part I mentioned above also supports the lower gear wheel and has the wear pad used when the gun is elevated. I decided to scratch build this in order to demonstrate the proper arrangement. This may sound petty, but I feel that this is an important part of the gun and that it should be represented properly. A friend of mine thought that the cables may be part of the guns recoil system. I’d appreciate any information that the readers may have on this.
The sponsons and tracks went together rather quickly. The instructions indicate that there should be 38 links per side however I used 39 as I had constructed them fairly tight together. I opted to keep them that way after checking the reference photos. The mounting holes for the etch step plates are a little over sized and photos show the edges to be rounder than the squared ones supplied on the fret. The sponsons mounted easily but I think that the axle should have been made to go all the way through to the outside. The axles are hollow and a little tricky to align properly. The outer axle cover (molded on) should be a separate piece and it would work well with the axle attached to it.
Two shell carts are supplied and are straight forward builds. I only used one as seen in my reference photos.
The two seats were made up of a bunch of tiny parts and were a bit awkward to assemble. There were two attaching holes located at the top rear of each seat which I filled with superglue and sanded smooth. I shaved off the molded in rivets which allowed me room to work, then I reattached them when finished.
Finishing: I used Testors Modelmaster and Humbrol enamel paints along with Mig pigments and an oil pin wash.
Comments: Although it sounds like I am complaining a lot about the kit, there were only a couple of problem areas to be aware of which I feel could have been solved by the manufacturer. Overall, I think that the level of detail was very good. The instructions were generally good except for the previously mentioned cable concern. I will stand by my comments about the trunnion area based on my reference photos and a couple of web sites I used for additional information.
I am glad to see this kit offered by a major manufacturer. The completed gun is huge!!! Will I build another? YES, in fact I already have another project in mind. I hope that the aftermarket folks will soon produce something in the way of a barrel and some additional etch. As is, the kit could use it, but what a super model it would be!
Thanks go to Stevens and Trumpeter for supplying the review sample.