Wednesday, June 23

Build Review Pt I: 1/35th scale T-34/85 Korean War from Italeri

The use of the T-34/85 in the Korean conflict upped the ante in tank warfare in that theatre, and so these are popular subjects with modellers. Italeri's new version of the Korean war theatre T-34/85 is with Andy King. He has built it and paused to show us the process in Pt I of his review...

Build Review Pt I: T-34/85 Korean War
From Italeri
Kit No #6585
1/35th scale
Model Dim.: 23,5 cm
- Metal Gun Barrel
- Canvas Towing Rope
- Gluable Rubber Or Link-and-length Tracks
- Photo Etched Fret included
- Decals For 4 Versions
- Colored Instruction Sheet
The Subject: The T-34/85 in Korean service...
The history of the T-34/85 during WW2 has been pretty well covered over the years but it's role in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953 maybe less so. Basically the North Koreans received a mix of different T-34's from the Soviet Union, these being second hand ones that had seen service during WW2 so were in less than pristine condition.

The T-34/85 was one of the North Korean and Chinese' main tank of the Korean conflict.
Initially the North Korean crews put up a good fight as the Americans were using the M-24 Chaffee at the start of the war and its 75mm ammo was no match for the armour of the T-34/85 plus the North Koreans could engage from a longer range than the Chaffee's. 

NKPA T-34/85 tanks on parade.
The balance soon changed however with the introduction of the M4A3E8 Sherman, the heavier M-26 Pershing, M-46 Pattons plus Allied air superiority which forced the North Koreans to only drive at night. North Korean armoured units also had no dedicated recovery vehicles so as well as losing tanks in action, T-34's were lost to inexperienced crews getting stuck while driving at night, mechanical breakdown or lack of fuel.
The KPA (Korean People's Army) received over 550 ex-Soviet T-34/85's before the conflict started but most were lost by the end as the Americans fielded over 1200 tanks plus whatever the British and Australian units had. 
Italeri 1/35th scale T-34/85 'Korean War'. Kit Number #6585.
I was initially sceptical about this kit as I thought it was the T-34/85 that Italeri had had in their catalogue for decades and although it could be made into a decent model (with a lot of work and aftermarket goodies), it has been surpassed in recent years by releases from Miniart, AFV Club, Bronco and Zvezda to name a few. This particular kit though is a new-tool that appeared around the end of 2019 and Clayton Ockerby built the initial release for The Modelling News last year; This time around the kit is billed as a ' Korean War' T-34/85;
The main differences between this kit and the original release are that smoke dischargers on the rear hull are included, early wheels with rubber tyres and an early production turret. Just five sprues are in the box along with a fret of etched metal, a decal sheet, a length of nylon thread and rubber band tracks although there are the link-and-length type on the sprues as well.

Strangely, interior detail is confined to the firewall and ammo boxes on the hull floor and turret only and does not feature the engine and drivers' position that were included in the original release, the commander's cupola is completely bare on the inside so all the hatches on this model will have to be glued shut unfortunately and the periscopes are solid plastic rather than being separate clear parts.

All parts are well moulded but there is a little flash here and there, mould pin-marks are present but in hard to see areas with minor sink marks on some parts. The turret and hull have a weird texture on them that is supposed to represent the look of cast metal as pointed out in Clayton's build and ideally need covering with Mr. Surfacer or similar;
Looking at both sets of tracks in the kit, the rubber band ones have numerous mould-pin marks on the inside surfaces. The link-and-length tracks have these too, not as many as the rubber ones but the good news is they are mostly raised and will be easier to get rid of.

The rubber band tracks both back and face sides.
As Clayton had shown the interior in his build and the fact that only half of it is included in this particular kit, I decided to skip that part of the instructions and close the hatches with the exception of the drivers one. I also wanted to show how to improve this kit using just basic modelling skills, materials and tools the average modeller should have in their possession plus the only etch that is included.

With all that out of the way I made a start on the lower hull and being typical Italeri I had this done in just a couple of hours;
The fit of the swing arms is pretty good but I made sure they were all level by using a straight edge on all five each side.

Bearing in mind that the T-34's supplied to North Korea were not exactly in showroom condition, I decided to inflict some wear and tear on the road wheels using files, a chisel and modelling knife until I was satisfied they looked pretty hammered. After this the wheels, idlers and drive sprockets were fitted to the hull (NOT glued!) prior to putting the tracks on.
You have a few options regarding tracks as there are metal and plastic aftermarket items available, however for the purposes of this build review I chose the link-and-length ones supplied in the kit. The first job was to get rid of the mould-pin marks on the inner faces and I found it easier to do it while the links were still on the sprue. 
For this I used a modelling knife to just scrape the tracks until the pin marks disappeared, following up with a quick rub down with 320 grade wet and dry paper and although it all sounds rather tedious, in reality the whole job took about an hour from start to finish. After removing the track parts from the sprue all the edges had to be cleaned up which resulted in the loss of some of the track pin detail and really I should have replaced them using fine plastic rod but decided against it due to time constraints.
Fitting the track was easy enough and my method was to glue the top run (part B51) to the wheels first, making sure the moulded in sag was in the right places. I then glued ten of the individual links together and left them for about 15 minutes or so, these were then glued to the top track piece, wrapped around the front idler wheel and then glued to the underside of the first road wheel.
The shorter lengths of track (parts B47 and B50) were then fixed in place and the other ten individual links were glued together and again left for about 15 minutes before gluing them to the other end of the top run and fitting them around the rear drive sprocket before joining them to the shorter lengths underneath, the process being repeated for the opposite side.
Once the tracks had completely set they were able to be removed as sub-assemblies which would make painting easier later on.
I was quite impressed with the fit of the tracks as the link-and-length type can sometimes be hit or miss. My only nitpick would be that the look is maybe too slack especially between the rear wheels and drive sprockets, something that can only really be rectified by either cutting a couple of the flat links in half to take up the slack or repositioning the drive sprocket housing, however for my purposes of depicting a road-worn tank it worked out pretty well and I have to say they look pretty good.

The upper hull was next on the bench and the various holes indicated in step 8 of the instructions were opened up for the fuel tanks and various other bits. The grills (parts 34B and 35B) were glued in a 'half-open' position and the engine hatch (part 34C) glued shut. It's worth noting that the hatch doesn't quite fit properly as it sits a little bit high and something I only noticed at the end of the build.

The air intakes on the upper engine deck are quite chunky and need thinning down;
I was going to replace these with some from an Eduard etch set for the Dragon T-34/85 that I had in the stash but after measuring them against the Italeri ones they wouldn't have fitted without some surgery and at the time of writing no dedicated etch existed for this kit. In the end I thinned them down using a scalpel inside and out until they looked more in scale, cleaning the swarf off by brushing on some liquid glue.

 The bottom grill shows what they looked like before I thinned them down.
The side grills were a bit more problematic as they are moulded solid so I sanded the backs of them until they were virtually transparent then VERY carefully cut out the sections between the vertical bars. Using heat-stretched sprue (every modeller should know this technique by the way), three horizontal stripes were glued to the back of each grill which produced a more pleasing look than the original solid ones.
You don't have to really worry about getting them neat either as various walk-around pictures of T-34's show these to be bent and generally abused with the crew and any infantry hitching a ride walking all over them.

Before gluing any parts to the upper hull I improved the cast texture on it (as well as the lower hull) by brushing on Mr. Surfacer 500 and stippling it in places. You can also do this by using liquid glue if you don't have any Mr. Surfacer or any cast texture in a jar available from other manufacturers;
With that done and looking better I jumped ahead in the instructions and glued the upper and lower hulls together as I had a feeling the joints underneath the fenders would not be a stellar fit;
Annnnd I was correct! To be fair you can argue that with the tracks in place you wouldn't see the joins but me being me I had to fill them, especially the pin-marks that were present too so this was done using Revell Plasto filler and left to set before clean up. Once done and happier with the result I began sticking the various bits to the upper hull and apart from adding new handles made from sheet brass to the fuel tanks this was pretty straight forward apart from the fit of upper plate (part 1C) where the turret attaches to the hull. The gaps between this, the front plate (part 10c) and the hull sides are pretty bad for a new tool kit however it suited my purposes quite nicely as on the real tank they are all welded together and the gaps provided a handy recess for the weld beads that I needed to add.

Now the mere mention of adding weld beads might have some thinking that this is a dark art reserved for master modellers but in practice it is very easy and again very doable with the most basic materials available. In this case all I did was put masking tape either side of a gap and fill it with Revell Plasto...
Using a modelling knife with a curved blade I then made a series of indents in the filler to represent weld beads, after which the tape was removed and I was left with this;
Easy! There are a couple of other methods of making weld beads such as super gluing some styrene rod in place and either running liquid glue over it and using a knife as described or getting a pyrogravure (a finer low heat type of soldering iron) which is what I used for the hull mounted machine gun cover and commanders cupola.

For the rear hull I left out the supplied etched part (part 6PE) as there was no point due to the lack of an engine bay so the access doors were glued shut. The fit of the large access panel (part 4A) wasn't the best but the join on the real vehicle was pretty much the same so I left it as is. The bolt head detail on the exhaust covers is a bit nondescript so I removed them and added new ones using an hexagonal punch and die set;
Punch and die sets are not exactly cheap but if you are going to take armour modelling more seriously then it's worth getting one as most tank kits need tweaking at some point with bolt heads being a good part of it. While on the subject of the exhausts, the pipes were glued together and when set drilled out to a better depth as the kit ones are too shallow;
The fit of the rear mudguards was pretty poor until I removed the lumps of plastic on the hull either side, after which the fit was much better. I managed to break the conduit for the smoke dischargers (part 53D) when removing it from the sprue so this was replaced with copper wire.

Moving onto to the turret and as I wasn't going to bother with the interior detail this was just glued together and when set I added some styrene rod around the lower half to represent the cast line. In hindsight I probably should have used slightly thinner rod but after liberally applying Mr. Surfacer 500 to the turret sides it sort of blended in better.
The antenna base (part 55D) was replaced by wrapping fine 5amp fuse wire around some styrene rod then a new antenna added using heat stretched sprue.
The final parts were added such as all the grab handles on the hull and turret and these were done with 15 amp fuse wire rather than trying to cut off and clean up the kit supplied ones as I usually break them. The retaining straps and anchor points for the fuel tanks were added using 1mm wide strip cut from sheet brass for the straps and copper wire for the triangular anchor points;
Before I glued the fuel tanks into place I put some dents into them as pictures show these to get pretty beaten up and I also re-scribed the moulded on retaining straps using a sewing needle in a pin vice to improve the look of them, finishing the tanks off by adding fine weld beads top and bottom.
The headlight needs something doing to it as instead of a clear lens being supplied Italeri have moulded it solid but I'll figure that one out later with either getting an aftermarket lens or having it shot out.
With that the build part was finished!
I have to say I quite enjoyed that! The kit is typical Italeri with some good and bad points but as I always say, Italeri kits make a good starting point and with some extra work and aftermarket items they do scrub up quite nicely. Also as their kits don't have a huge parts count they go together fairly quickly and make a good introduction for people new to the hobby. 
I was impressed with the link-and-length tracks as they went together pretty well and although the inner faces featured mould-pin marks they were quickly dealt with. Some areas such as the grills on the engine deck are pretty chunky but as I've shown in the text above they can be improved upon rather easily and they do make the model look that bit more refined, it's also worth noting that most T-34/85 kits are pretty similar regarding these grills anyway. The cast texture is another area that needs improving as it doesn't look that good but giving it a going over with any of the available products for cast textures (or as mentioned just liquid glue) goes a long way to make it look better.
I guess the biggest issue (for some anyway) would be the interior as half of it is not included compared to the initial release (and even that isn't a full interior) so you may want to look elsewhere if interiors are your thing, at the least I would have liked to have seen some detail for the interior of the commander's cupola as even with a figure in it you would still see the vision ports. 
The inclusion of a metal barrel was a nice addition seeing that other mainstream manufacturers have stopped doing it and as for the overall accuracy of the kit I think it's pretty good but researching T-34's is a minefield so I'll leave that for others to decide but to me it looks OK. 
Hopefully in this article I've shown that with minimal tools and material (apart from the hexagonal punch and die set, sorry about that) it is possible to improve the look of the kit and in part II where I'll be covering the painting and weathering of the model.
So far - Recommended!

The history at the beginning of the article was from this website; "Warspot" - It is well worth a read!

Andy King

Find out more about This kit and Italeri's other models on their website....
Find out more about Andy's Modelling on Andy King's Model Blog...