by: Jolyon Ralph [ ]
IntroductionThe Panzer III tank was Germany's primary medium tank at the start of World War II, armed initially with a 37mm gun with later models carrying 50mm guns. The Panzer III was designed by DaimlerBenz and was manufactured in various versions from 1937 until 1943.
Although later in the war the Panzer III was increasingly outgunned by allied armour it became the basis for the very successful StuG III line of assault guns, and these continued in production until the end of the war.
Dragon Models have now produced several latewar Panzer III kits, including the L, M and N in various versions with or without schurzen. This kit covers the very last Panzer III gun tank produced by Germany, the Pz.Kpfw.III Ausf. M, introduced in September 1942, and including the characteristic schurzen spaced armour often seen on this variant.
Dragon Models is not the only contender in producing a Panzer III M in this scale, in fact the first was the ESCI kit of the Panzer III M (Kit number 8001), ESCI's first ever 1:72 armour kit launched in 1974. Although the detail on the ESCI kit is not up to modern standards it is reasonably accurate in scale and still builds up to a decent replica even including a commander figure.
Slightly updated over the years the moulds have since been taken on by Italeri who also have this Panzer III M in their range (kit 7041).
Revell released their own Panzer III M kit in 2001 (this was rereleased with new decals and box artwork in 2010), a kit which at the time was regarded by many modellers as one of the finest 1:72 armour kits produced. With good detail and hard link and length tracks it was very well received and, alongside the excellent Cromwell IV kit from Revell, raised the bar for quality of modern 1:72 kits. Soon after this Dragon Models entered the 1:72 armour market with some kits (such as their Sherman range) of excellent quality and others (such as their earlier Panther G offerings) being not quite as good.
As such, there was great anticipation in the community about the release of another Panzer III kit, what could it bring to the table that could improve on the Revell kit, or would it be another of the less inspiring offerings from Dragon Models?
The KitAnd so, with this in mind, I opened the box. Inside we find five sprues of grey plastic, a separate hull top and lower hull, tracks in DS100 styrene, two small brass etch frets and a small decal sheet.
First impressions are positive. There are multiple parts to make up the hull top (presumably so other Panzer III versions can be produced), details on the wheels are good and everything seems crisp and well moulded.
But my enthusiasm is soon dampened when I look at the details on the hull. The pioneer tools are moulded on which is disappointing but no different to either the Revell or the ESCI/Italeri kits, and at least they are depicted well. Slightly more disappointing is the mouldedon tow cable on the rear engine deck which is flat, uninspiring and will prove difficult to replace.
Smoke grenade projectors are crisply detailed but moulded all pointing in exactly the same angle, which of course is wrong. The box artwork shows two lengths of spare track fitted to the front of the tank that are not provided in the kit.
All of these flaws are forgivable but there is one that I find hard to forgive the armoured covers on rear engine deck are molded into the rear deck part with no undercut, so they are flat and lacking in detail (much as they are on the 1974 ESCI kit). The Revell kits has these as separate parts which looks much nicer, but more frustratingly the earlier Dragon Models StuG III kit also has these as separate parts. Why did Dragon Models choose to simplify their model in this respect? I would have expected more from something in the 'Armor Pro' range.
Tracks are in DS100 styrene, which you either love or hate depending on your preferences. The earlier Revell kit comes with hard plastic link & length tracks, so at least by opting for the onepiece band tracks Dragon Models have ensured that any modeller will be able to pick up a Panzer III kit with their preferred track solution. Personally I prefer link and length in most cases, but I haven't had many problems with Dragon DS100 tracks although the modelling forums are full of horror stories of people with tracks that are too long, too short or go hard and crack up after some time. Maybe I've just been lucky. The instructions say the tracks should be exactly 158mm long in order to fit correctly around the suspension and advise either stretching or trimming the tracks to adjust for manufacturing problems. Of course cutting the tracks makes it very difficult to use the slot and tab to join the ends together neatly fortunately the tracks in my review sample were exactly 158mm long.
After complaining it's only fair to mention some of the better points of this kit. The detail on the turret, including bolts on the turret roof, are rendered beautifully. The suspension looks very good with separate parts for the springs (unlike the other two kits). The gun barrel is molded using slide molds so the muzzle hole is accurately portrayed this needs to be drilled on the Revell kit which is a tricky undertaking on such a thin barrel.
I was initially a little concerned that metal etch was provided for the schurzen around the turret but the hull schurzen plates are plastic but other than the added complication of bonding metal to plastic it seems like a very good solution as the flat plastic plates for the hull are thin (from memory the same plates in the Revell kit are not as thin) and the etch plates easily bent to fit around the turret and turret bin.
ConclusionsThis is a mixed kit. In some ways it's not as good as the earlier (and cheaper) Revell kit of the Panzer III M, but it does improve on this kit in other ways. I don't think there is a great deal to choose between the two kits however and your choice may simply be dictated by price, by which kit is easier to get hold of in your region or your preference for link and length v 'rubber band' tracks.
The problems are not terrible, but they are disappointing, especially when the earlier StuG III kits from Dragon Models depicted the very same engine deck with far more detail, but it will build into a nice replica of this important tank and with a little bit of extra work can be made into a very accurate model.