Sunday, July 17

Build guide: 1/35th scale "Ersatz" M7 from Takom

The "Ersatz" M7. A vehicle with an interesting history as part of the deception plan by Skorzeny's commandos in the Ardennes offensive in late WWII. Paul Lee has taken on Takom's new version, building & painting it in on part in today's guide.

Build guide: "Ersatz" M7
From Takom
1/35th scale
Kit No # 8007
four marking choices are included in the box
Link & length tracks included
Price: $30 USD from Hobbylink Japan  
Product Link on the Takom Website
The Subject: The "Ersatz" M7 and Skorzeny's commandos
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and towards the end of 1944, things were definitely getting desperate for the Germans, and so Hitler decided on a great offensive to try to split British and American forces on the Western Front. One of the stranger elements of this offensive was the use of German troops wearing American uniforms to try and sneak behind allied lines to create chaos and confusion. 
In preparation for the Ardennes offensive, Hitler had given Otto Skorzeny and his commandos the task of infiltrating American positions to create as much general havoc behind enemy lines as possible and capture key bridges. Skorzeny, who had shot to fame due to the successful rescue of Benito Mussolini in September 1943, conceived a daring two-part plan. The first part required special English-speaking troops to infiltrate enemy lines and create chaos, while the second required Panzer Brigade 150 to capture and hold the critical bridges that were so vital to the success of the offensive.

Five StuGs were used in the markings of "C" Company 81st tank Battalion. This one was left in a field between Germont & Baugnez after it ran out of fuel.
The plan also called for the use of captured American vehicles to further enhance the confusion, although a shortage of workable vehicles resulted in the Germans modifying the appearance of their own vehicles to try to look like American vehicles. 

The US 291st Combat Engineers removing the booby-trap from this abandoned "ersatz" M7 near Germont.
A handful of Panther tanks were modified to look like the M10 Tank Destroyer, and a similar number of Stugs were also modified in an attempt to look like American AFVs. While there is some conjecture as to what that vehicle was actually supposed to be, Takom have gone with the M7 Priest, which is the subject of their latest release. There are not a lot of photos of these modified Stugs, although there appears to be two versions that were made, so Takom has provided this as a 2 in 1 kit with both versions being buildable out of the box. 
The kit from Takom: 1/35th scale "Ersatz" M7
Using the hull of their earlier Panzer III/ Stug III releases, construction starts with the lower hull, although the new E sprue gives you some larger all steel return rollers for the later version Stug III, although I’ve only glued on the inner face of the return rollers so far to make installation of the tracks easier later on. However, they will be completely hidden later by the side skirts. 
The tracks are the length and link type and went together without a problem using the keyed drive sprockets to help align the sprocket teeth to the tracks and then dry fit around the suspension unit. 

Speaking of the drive sprockets, the aforementioned E sprue also gives you the later type with the bolts around the central hub. In my haste, I used the older type instead of the newer ones, but as mentioned earlier, they will be hidden by the side skirts. 
Construction of the upper hull comes next, and the fit of the superstructure to the upper hull was the only time in the kit that had some fit issues and just didn’t quite sit flush. Although this was very minor and easily remedied with a bit of filler. This kit allows you to build one of two versions, although if you want to build the second version with the enclosed rear deck, then do not install the circular plate in the middle of the rear superstructure plate, as it will interfere with the rear deck piece provided. The instructions do not mention this. 
However, if you are like me and do stick the piece on, then all is not lost, and the remedy is quite simple, and all you need to do is cut out a section where the plate sits. Or you can just pull the circular plate off….
Probably the two most significant pieces in this kit, since the suspension pieces can be hidden behind the Schürzen, are the two later type Pig’s Head (Saukopf) mantlets which allow you to build the later StuG IIIG instead of the early ones with the box mantlet. The only difference between the two mantlets is the hole drilled into one, although both versions use the mantlet with the drilled hole. 
I have decided to go with the first option, so more on that later, but the only differences between the two versions is that the second has an enclosed rear deck and the muzzle brake for the gun. Please note that this is a dry fit, and that you have to follow the instructions to install the entire gun before enclosing it with the superstructure roof, since the mantlet slides downwards into the recess and will not be able to slide over the breech if the roof is already attached. 
I liked the look of the open rear deck which is why I chose this option for my build. Take note of the ejector pin marks on the inside of the open rear decking, which will need to be filled.  The instructions don’t mention it, but the hatches can be posed open, which I will be doing, and add pair of figures later on. 
With the large side skirts, I made my life a bit easier and started painting the lower hull first. It’s a fairly simple scheme being Olive Drab all over, although I used a bit of artistic license and decided to paint the underside and inside faces of the wheels in dark yellow because I can’t see why the Germans would have bothered painting these sections since they are pretty much invisible and almost impossible to access. The tracks were painted with a track primer, and then the cleats were dry brushed with steel. 
The fit of the upper hull to the lower hull is absolutely perfect, but make sure the alignment tabs are lined up properly and it will go together with a bit of pressure and a satisfying snap. While the fit is tight, I’m not confident enough to say that it will hold in place dry, so I used some glue, but any potential glue marks are pretty much hidden if you are a bit sloppy. As above, I didn’t think the Germans would bother re-painting interior sections of an existing vehicle, so I painted the inside of the hatches in dark yellow. 
All I needed now was just a little bit of masking over the tracks, and I was able to spray the rest of the vehicle in olive drab with just a little modulation on the upper surfaces. The decals are limited to just six white stars, so that was easily done in one sitting. 
These vehicles were specifically re-painted for the Ardennes Offensive so I have chosen to leave it pretty much factory fresh since the opportunity to weather in real life just wasn’t there, although the photos above show quite a rough finish on the captured vehicles, which seems even more ridiculous if this is how they were trying to pass off these vehicles as American. I applied a pin wash to bring out some of the details and that is all that was needed to finish this kit. 

A walk around the completed kit...
Obviously, there will be a late Stug IIIG coming soon from Takom, but this kit was a joy to build and did go together very quickly, as suggested by being part of the Takom Blitz range. The tracks may have made construction even quicker if they were in one piece vinyl, but length and link is a fine compromise for mine. It definitely looks like a Stug to me, but as an M7 Priest?
 I think this is best summed up by Otto Skorzeny, the Commander of Panzer Brigade 150 that was supposed to employ these vehicles. He remarked that the vehicles would be sufficient only to deceive "very young American troops seeing them at night from very far away.” 

Highly recommended. 

Paul Lee

Thanks to Takom for sending this kit to build and review