Tuesday, January 23

In-Boxed: Adny starts off with his review of the 1/35th scale M31 US Tank Recovery Vehicle from Takom

Last year Andy Moore made the 35th scale kit of Takom's version of the M3 Lee here on TMN - he showed us pretty much all you needed to know about that model. The subsequent release of the heavy duty recovery version of the Lee - the M31 is now with us - & again Andy is already building his. He has paused to show off the kit's contents here in today's "in-boxed" section.

In-Boxed: M31 US Tank Recovery Vehicle
Manufacturer – Takom
Kit Number #2088
Scale - 1/35th
Price -  ¥4,880 • $46 • £32 • €37 from Hobbylink Japan

Late last year, Takom released a much needed new tooling of the M3 medium tank, the predecessor of the Sherman, and we built both of the initial releases, the Lee and the Grant, here on TMN. Now Takom has brought out a new addition to the range in the shape of the M31 recovery vehicle. 
In today's review we'll have a look through the box and see what's new, and what's a carry-over from the previous releases, but before that a quick history of the real thing.
The development of the M31 (or T2 as it was officially designated) stemmed from an early attempt to develop an artillery prime mover from the M3 Lee chassis. The M3 was found to be unsuitable in that role, but a decision was made to change the direction of the development to a recovery vehicle. One of the early prototypes can be seen below, on the back of a Dragon Wagon which was also undergoing testing at the same time.
As a result of the testing, the decision was made to put the M31 into production, and in mid-1942 100 newly built M3's together with 100 used vehicles were delivered to the Baldwin Loco Works for conversion. The main aspect of this conversion work was the removal of the main armament, and the installation of a Gar Wood winch with a 30,000lb lifting capacity, which was mounted in the centre of the hull directly below the turret. The cable from the winch could either be fed upwards, through the turret and onto the main crane arm, or through rollers in the floor of the hull to either the front or rear of the vehicle, where it could be used for direct towing or winching operations.
By the end of 1943, Baldwin had completed the production run, with a total of 805 vehicles converted from new or used M3's. They were initially deployed towards the very end of the North African campaign, and were subsequently used during the invasions of Sicily and Italy and later in France after D-Day. Some were also sent to Russia under the lend-lease scheme.
The Kit
The kit arrives in the same small, squat box that was used for the Lee and Grant releases, although you'll find a few extra sprues inside. In total there are 11 sprues in Takom's familiar medium grey styrene, plus a tiny clear sprue for the headlights. This last one is packaged in the same bag as the decals and being so small it would be easy to accidentally throw it away. Make sure you find it and put it somewhere safe. In addition to the sprues, there are separate mouldings for the lower hull and turret, a small photo-etch fret, a length of copper wire for the crane, a large decal sheet and finally, the instruction manual. It's worth pointing out that, unsurprisingly, much of this kit is identical to the earlier Lee release that I reviewed here late last year on The Modelling News.
Sprue A x2
The first two sprues hold the road wheels and the parts for the VVS suspension units. These sprues are essentially the same as the two sprue A's that came with the Lee boxing, although a few parts that had been deleted from the Lee sprues, as they were not required for that build,  have been reinstated here.
Sprue B x2
More VVS suspension parts here and, again, these are identical to the sprues from the Grant/Lee kits.
Sprue D
This one holds the upper hull parts and some of the pioneer tools. You also get a few extra track links here, which proved invaluable on the Lee built as I was a link short on each track run when using the number of links indicated in the instructions. I'm willing to bet that the same thing is likely to happen with the M31, since it uses the same link and length tracks.
Sprue E
More hull panels and other details. The main gun barrel is here, but you won't need that for the M31, which replaced the Lee's 75mm gun with a fake barrel.
Interestingly, Takom has slightly re-tooled some areas of the kit for this release, above and beyond the extra parts required for the M31. The transmission cover (part 38) has been modified by filling in the cut-outs where the final drive covers attach. This should provide slightly more gluing surface, and assembly a little easier.
Sprue H
This one's new to the M31, but should also be included with the new M3 Late release (kit 2087). This includes the revised hull side panels which omit the large hatches that featured on the earlier versions of the Lee. The version of the M31 that can be built from this kit actually has the side doors fitted, although they were welded closed on the real vehicle. Takom supply the doors as separate parts which simply glue to the new side panels. It should be possible, by omitting those parts, to build one of the non-doored M31's, although you'd need to check references for the particular vehicle you were modelling.
Sprue H2
This one's specific to the M31 release, and includes parts for the crane supports and the various stowage boxes that cover the upper hull. You also get the crew entry door, which replaced the M3's gun mantlet and had the aforementioned fake barrel welded to the front. It's not designed to be posed open, but it wouldn't be hard to modify it to do so. If you did though, you'd need to disguise the empty interior with a figure or something else to block the view inside.
Sprue J
Just a small sprue holding the vision hatch and the base for the turret.
Sprue J2
The second of the M31 specific sprues, J2 holds the parts for the crane itself. This looks to be a nicely detailed structure, with all the brackets, cross braces and rollers included. Good thing too, as this is going to be the main focus of the finished model.
Sprue L
Last of the main sprues, this one supplies the link and length tracks, and is identical to the one included with the Lee. As mentioned above, I had to scrounge a couple of the extra links on sprue D during my Lee build. We'll see if the same thing happens with this one.
In addition to the sprues, there are also two separate mouldings for the lower hull and turret. The turret part looks to be identical to the Lee release, but the hull is another part that's seen some re-tooling. Takom have added some strengthening ribs between the floor and sides, and they've definitely been effective. The hull moulding from my Lee build was slightly warped, although it wasn't an issue on the final build. The one here though is much more rigid and perfectly square. It's great to see a manufacturer who takes the time to assess a kit after release, and then make modifications or improvements if necessary. Hats of to Takom for doing this.
In addition to the strengthening ribs, Takom has also added two vertical plates that act as supports for the hull plate that sits ahead of the main gun. That should make the construction of the upper hull a little easier. Again, a nice move by Takom.
The final few components include that tiny clear sprue for the headlights, the PE fret (same one that came with the Lee) and a length of braided copper wire. There are a few kinks in the cable, but they should straighten out okay. There's also the decal sheet here, which looks to be well printed. I did have a few issues with the decals on the Lee build, which were down their thickness. These seem a little thick too, but we'll see how well they go down on the final build.
Rounding out the box contents are the instruction manual and a small addendum sheet, which essentially tells you to slice off a single screw head on one of the hull panels. Best to do that straight away before you start the kit. That way you won't forget later on. The build is fairly routine, covering 29 steps, although the last few simply show you the various ways the crane can be positioned.
These machines weren't particularly varied when it came to marking schemes, being mainly olive drab with US stars. Despite that, Takom has managed to find five fairly varied marking options which give a surprising amount of choice for the finished build. The only downside is, like the Lee and Grant releases, Takom has printed the marking guides on the back pages of the instruction manual which makes them very small and hard to read. The real world versions of a couple of those schemes can be seen near the top of the page.
I was really glad when I heard Takom would be releasing the M31 as a follow up to the Lee and Grant. While tanks tend to get all the glory, I think vehicles like this one often make far more interesting models. It's also a subject that's tailor-made for dioramas, as can be seen from the shots of M31s hauling M10s and Dingo scout cars above. I really enjoyed putting the Lee together, and I've no doubt this one will be equally fun to do, so stay tuned to TMN to see how it goes.

Andy Moore

Thanks to Takom for sending us this kit for Andy to review and build - expect his to submit a build report of this kit over the next few weeks