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Thursday, November 15, 2007

You Can't Always Get What You Want

I saw her today at the reception
In her glass was a bleeding man
She was practiced at the art of deception
Well I could tell by her blood-stained hands. . . .

- M. Jagger/K. Richards

It took me a while to come up with a title for this article. After all, how do you introduce what was, by most military measures, a rotten piece of military hardware? Luckily for me, I have an extensive knowledge of popular tunage to suit just about any occasion. Still, this one took me awhile. :)

Once again, this is an article about one of the kits that I built. As I've written before, this is part of my fascination with world war 2 - and especially with the ground-based equipment used in that war. The subject of this article is an Italian-produced tank, called the M13/40.

Italy's military was not as well-prepared for war as Nazi Germany. Still, Mussolini was no slouch in the political sphere of things; and, like many politicians before and since, he knew enough to take advantage of opportunity when he saw it. What that means is that when Italy entered the war they did so without the same level of tank technology and/or doctrine as Germany. Mussolini, more often than not, picked/advanced military leaders based on loyalty versus military prowess. As a result, the Italian army's leadership (to put it bluntly) did not have the competency needed to fight a winning war in the modern age. These reasons go a long way in explaining the derivation and use of the M13/40.

The tank itself evolved from the M13/39 design of prewar Italy with only minor changes. It had a 2 man turret that housed a 47 mm antitank gun for a main weapon along with an 8 mm coaxial machine gun. The hull also had a double 8 mm machine gun arrangement to round out the tank's armament. It was powered by a 125 hp Fiat liquid-cooled 8 cylinder V8 diesel engine. The hull was of riveted construction of soft steel (read: CHEAP) that was, even by prewar standards, of fairly poor design. The vehicle carried a crew of four relatively unhappy individuals.

Performance of the M13/40 in the war was not impressive, unless you like losing wars. There were reliability issues in the north African campaign. Going head-to-head versus comparable British or U.S. forces more often than not resulted in the M13/40 getting the short end of the stick. The 47 mm main armament was not necessarily a bad weapon, but it's layout in the turret of the tank (and it's short-handed crew) removed any advantages the weapon itself had. The vehicle itself was often uncomfortable for the crews, besides being known as "death traps". I have read in reliable sources that the Italian crews of the M13/40 called them, "rolling coffins."

All of that having been written, I built one anyway. :)

Back when 1/35 scale tanks first started getting good (circa late 1970s) one company led the way - showing that plastic kits in that scale could actually attain a good level of historical accuracy regarding their subject. That company is Tamiya. They're still around, still doing what they've done well since that time. The M13/40 kit that I built is one of theirs originally produced back in the late '70s/early '80s. The cost is about $15.00, pretty inexpensive by today's standards. There aren't a lot of "frills", but the actual vehicle didn't have any either.

For my build, I only added a couple of items to the original. One was a turned-aluminum barrel for the 47 mm main weapon (there's no work with those and they're dead-on accurate - far better than plastic) and a set of metal individual track links (as opposed to the rubber tracks provided by the original). I also added a piece of wire for the radio antenna. All totaled, I spent more money on the add-ons than the original kit - but that's only because the metal track links are $40.00 a set. The aluminum barrel was $5 or $7, not that much. Wire, I have.

Most plastic kits this old have a nasty habit of "showing their age" by not fitting well in large assemblies and/or having overcast parts that need to be trimmed/fixed. Not so, here. Fit of the plastic was excellent throughout, and everything built up well. Even the add-ons went on easily and looked good. Overall, I would rate this kit as easy and would recommend it to any builder who wanted a nice example of a not-so-good and semi-obscure vehicle from WW2. Straight from the box, it's a good value. I think this one would be a good starter kit for someone interested in the era. I did like my result (with only a few small exceptions) and had fun building the kit.

The Italians did have some modicum of success with the M13/40 using them against partisans in the Balkans. The color and markings that I used are based on one of those particular vehicles. I just happened to have a green paint around that I had no other use for. This paint (kinda) came close to the color I wanted, based on my reference source. The green seemed a little on the light side, at first, but it turned out OK in the end. It was also a semi-gloss, but I always use a final overcoat of clear flat to seal everything on well. The markings are actually the original decals and not special items.

I'll call this one a "cute 'lil thing" for now. Below are captioned photos for all of you to see. Like my previous entries on kitbuilding, I think it turned out pretty good, but I could have done better (mostly with painting highlights and/or bringing out more of the rivet detail). Please, by all means, let me know what you think!

These first two photos show the completed build, just before applying the base coat of paint. Note that I painted the suspension items separately, as it is easier to paint the rubber of the road wheels as individual units and then assemble the suspension after that. Also not present are a few doo-dads that get painted separately and added at the end. These two shots also show the turned aluminum main armament barrel.

This is the view after the initial base-paint showing some of the separate suspension items. Note that I already added the also-separately-painted exhausts at this point.

Photo of the M13/40 after building the suspension and adding the decals.

The rest are photos of the completed kit. I wanted to show a very dirty vehicle, and I think I was pretty successful there. Like my previously-described builds, I applied an oil-based wash over the main color, then applied pastel chalks, (both rubbing on and applying them as powder) followed by a clear flat overcoat to seal everything. This not only darkened the green but added to the realism of the kit. The last things that I did were add the doo-dads, then the tracks, and finally apply a wire for the antenna.

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