Finally the building blog for this Takom
T-54B “Late”review sample has ended and I can share this article. Please note photos of the finished kit are showing at the bottom of the page.
First an introduction on the real vehicle and some kit features will follow. It is important to note that what I sum up below is based on Russian sites, pictures, discussions and forums and some advice from knowledgeable friends and while I did my best to give an accurate overview soon you will see that it is not easy to gain 100% accurate information on this vehicle.
The development of the T-54 battle tank – culminating in the production of the T-54B that lasted only a few short years – paved the way to the introduction of the iconic T-55 tank. Before digging deeper into the features of the T-54, one question should be addressed – why is it sometimes more difficult to model (for manufacturers and kit builders alike) early Soviet armor? The key lies in continuous upgrades and rebuilds... Series produced T-54s and T-55s were changing as time went by and more recent technologies were developed and then incorporated into production. This would not be an issue as it's normal to any vehicle that is mass produced for longer period. However the Soviet Union was upgrading and/or rebuilding their already existing tanks from time to time to level them up using some of the latest technologies that were available that time. They had a network of factories specialized to such upgrades/rebuilds.
As a result, surviving factory original vehicles are very rare since most T-54s were upgraded/rebuilt with later technologies to meet the standards of a T-55. Archive pictures are available, but normally these do not cover all the details of a specific vehicle in a walkaround style. The tanks seen at exhibitions were most probably upgraded, but not all of them necessarily to the same extent. Also we need to keep in mind that museum vehicles may have inaccurate features just to make a tank look more convincing or complete.
To add more to the (potential) confusion, the T-54s were manufactured in three different plants in the Soviet Union, and also in Poland and Czechoslovakia, and we should never forget about on-the-field modifications (like replacing a damaged roadwheel with an early style “spiderweb” design if there is no other option at hand).
The T-54A tank was developed in 1952-53 and with its production some important new features were added, such as the STP-1 "Horizon" vertical stabilizer, the D-10TG gun with bore evacuator and also night sights for the driver (TVN-1).
The T-54B that was mass produced in the Soviet Union from September 1956 until the beginning of 1959, packed more new technology: the STP-2 "Cyclone" stabilizer (both vertical and horizontal) and full night vision capability, consisting of:
- TVN-2 system for the driver (used with the IR headlight on the front)
- TPKUB (day) and TKN-1 (night) sights (these were interchangeable) for the commander with OU-3 IR searchlight mounted on the commander’s cupola
- TPN-1 gunner’s sight coupled with the Luna-2 infrared illuminator attached directly to the gun mantlet.
The T-54B was the first tank ever to be series produced with wading equipment (OVPT-54).
The T-54 Version in the Box
Now let’s see, what can be built out from the box – what is almost sure, not a factory original tank, but one that was upgraded at some point in the 60’s. Let’s see some of the kit’s details that suggest this.
The new mount used for the L-2 (attached directly to the turret and not to the mantlet) IR searchlight was introduced around April 1959 for both T-54s and -55s. By then, T-54Bs were not mass produced anymore (at least as per my source), so the new mount must have been added as an upgrade later. Probably most tanks were upgraded pretty soon as the old fashioned mount attached to the mantlet made the water proofing of the tank more difficult in case of wading.
The two 200 l fuel drums that we have in the kit were also added later (introduced end of 1959). Before that, two BDSH-5 smoke canisters were located at the rear end of the tank. With the introduction of the new fuel drums, the smoke canisters were stowed on brackets on the rear fenders, and moved back to their original position when in use. The canisters and their brackets are not present in the kit, but they are visible on some pictures (mostly the brackets only, which can be scratched from PE strips if you wish). However the fuel injection smoke screen generation of the T-55 tank was most probably added to upgraded T-54s later. Still, the inclusion of the canisters would have been a nice feature.
In 1960 an additional TNP-165 periscope was added, on the right side of the gunner’s sight (just like on T-55s and -62s). This is not present in the kit, but it should not be an issue as most pictures I have seen do not seem to have this periscope at all.
In the Takom
kit, the area around the driver’s hatch is reinforced with metal strips. On T-55s this was introduced only in 1963. Unfortunately I could not check how this was on early T-54Bs as all the archive photos I have either do not have this part visible, or already have this reinforced.
The mine plough/dozer blade attachment points can have a factory original and upgraded/rebuilt configuration as well. The early one consists of 8 lines of bolts on the lower front plate and two short “arms” on the upper. Luckily both are in the box, however the instructions mention the early one only (with some errors – but more on this later). Upgraded versions are the same as T-55s.
The kit has two sets of roadwheels, the “spiderweb” (early) and the “starfish” (later) ones. Most T-54Bs (especially after the upgrades) have the starfish wheels, however I have seen some (undated but probably quite early) photos with spiderweb wheels too. Damaged starfish wheels sometimes were replaced by spiderweb ones if no other option was available.
Two more observations – mainly for the river counters.
The commander’s IR searchlight is from the Takom
T-55 kit. This is an OU-3G which is a bit different compared to the OU-3 that was on factory original T-54Bs. The difference is not too big. I was told that it was adopted in 1964 but could not verify this date.
Also the driver’s headlights are newer type (FG-125 and -127) in the kit, however as per the references available to me, these were not always updated on T-54s. The difference is not very noticeable but it’s still there. Again, I was told that this was adopted in 1964 but could not verify this date.
All in all at first inspection I would say that the T-54B we can build out of box (not necessarily by following all the instructions) possibly existed out there…however chances are high that you won’t find pictures that show all the details of the exact vehicle you wish to build…unless you opt for a museum one. Again, this is an upgraded vehicle, so factory original drawings are useful, but not entirely accurate.
- early L-2 mount, source unknown (internet)
- reinforced driver’s hatch area: Dishmodels.ru
- early mine plough attachment points: ser-sarajkin.narod2.ru
- late mine plough attachment points: Primeportal.net
- T-54 or -55 with both types of road wheels: Facebook (The T-54 and T-55 Research Group)
- OU-3 searchlight: T-54 instruction manual
- driver’s early headlights: Dishmodels.ru
The kit arrives in a box that is of decent size, so there is enough space for the contents which are 3 large, 3 medium and 14 small sprues, a turret shell and a lower hull tub, 2 poly caps, 184 individual track links (mine had 193 pieces), a soft vinyl dust cover for the mantlet, a photo-etched fret, a metal tow cable, a decal sheet, instructions and a painting/marking guide.
Everything is bagged properly and some of these are resalable, a feature that some might find handy, while others find annoying – I had to cut them as they were always sticking to the sprues when I was putting back the contents. However the most fragile parts would benefit from some foam wrapping (like in the Trumpeter kits) as in my box a few were broken (including two of the fuel lines). The quality of the parts is superb, there were no real issues other than a bit of flesh and some molding lines which is pretty normal to me with most kits. The plastic is on the soft side and the Tamiya Extra Thin Cement works pretty quickly on it. Unfortunately many of the sprue gates are quite big and located somewhat oddly (e.g. both on the edge and the face of a flat part) so removal has to be done carefully and requires more work. When removing the parts, I’d suggest cutting as far as you can from them as in the first few instances cutting off the big sprue gates resulted in small chunks of plastic being torn out from the actual part (roadwheels are a good example for this).
The instruction sheet is easy to follow except for a few cases: the bracket of the commander’s IR searchlight, some details on the AA gun, and combining the pioneer tools with a short metal cable (made from plastic) are not pictured too well and require some reference pictures. Also it is important to note that the direction of the tracks is not correct (including the box art). On the plus side the errors present in the instructions of the early releases of the T-55AM/AMV are corrected, so no need to search the box for an extra addendum here.
The full color painting and marking guide provides 9 options, these are either green, sand or sand based camo vehicles from: Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, the former Soviet Union and Vietnam. Only Ammo of Mig Jimenez colors are provided which is a bit biased, however on the plus side you won’t need to mix colors if you are using this acrylic brand. The decals have sharp prints and good colors, however most of them are plain white anyway. I have tried to look these vehicles up on the internet, but I could not find many photos from that era. Based on this limited search the Vietnamese version is the one that most likely existed out there with the features that are present on this kit. Even though Operation Danube from 1968 is well documented, I was unable to find matching photos.
Construction – as usual – starts with the lower hull tub which in my set was from the other Takom
T-55 kits and thus needed some filling and surgery as per the instructions. This part is not correct for a T-54 though, but the company acted quickly and in the subsequent batches you shall find the correct tub. Those who purchased the version that still came with the T-55 tub can ask for a free replacement which is a very much rewarded move from Takom
The idler adjuster (that tube shape part behind the idler wheel) is also from the T-55 kits and should be different on a T-54 (unless this area of the vehicle was also upgraded/reworked later – but I have no feedback on this) as on this tank there should be one idler adjuster in front of and one more behind the idler wheel. Luckily this is not too visible unless you leave the front mudguards off.
As the front plate of the lower hull is added in step one, the question of the mine plough attachment points should be addressed here as this is not showing correctly in the instructions (nor on the box art). As per Takom
you will need to add the short arms to the upper front plate, and nothing to the lower but this is incorrect. I will depict with photos the three correct options out from box available to you (please note that nothing is glued and positioning is approximate only – so use your references).
- 1) no attachment points: just fill the gaps marked
- 2) ”early” configuration: add the arms as per the instructions and add 8 attachment points to the lower plate, you will have 4 separately in the box, the other 4 should be cut from the T-55 front plate which is also included in the kit (as a bonus both types are in the box: the square and rounded ones – so if not used you will have spares for two vehicles). Another alternative is using the T-55 front plate but removing the square parts add the T-54 style welding.
- 3) ”late” configuration: use the 4 separate attachment points on the upper hull and use the T-55 lower front plate – either add the special T-54 welding to this piece or remove all attachment points and add them to the T-54 front plate. Also you will need to add the two rods next to the fenders.
The roadwheel arms are a pretty tight fit, so I just placed them into the holes first until they were correctly aligned. Once done I glued them in place without the rest of the parts needed here. That was necessary for the correct positioning. Once dried I have added parts A6 and A7 and it makes more sense adding these after the roadwheel arms as A6 and A7 should be aligned correctly to the housing of each arm. The last arms on both sides were not sitting properly when placed in their holes, they were angled down a bit. Maybe this is a one-off issue as I have not seen this mentioned in other Takom
T-54/55 articles but it can be fixed by sanding down the locating pins and glue the arms with slow setting glue, while making sure of the correct alignment compared to the rest of the arms. The shock absorbers fit well.
The idler wheels and the driving sprockets should be easy bits normally, but… To have a correct fit the two halves of each (both the driving sprockets and the idlers) are keyed (which is normal) but are of the same size. Normally one of the parts is smaller in diameter and slides into the other thus creating a good fit. In the Takom
kit you need to play around so that the two halves sit on each other perfectly. No big deal but you will need a good pair of eyes, the parts can slide on each other easily. The holes on the idler wheels should be scraped a bit otherwise they won’t fit.
The roadwheels were advertised as ”can be built as damaged” (i.e. without the rubber rims) but this is not correct. Upon close inspection you will see that the separate rubber parts include the outer edge of the roadwheels in the form of a steel rim. So this does not make painting easier at all plus leaves us with a joint on the inner face of each roadwheel to be filled and sanded which is a bit uncomfortable. Even giving them as one piece would have been better in my opinion.
The details on both types of roadwheels are superb with separate hub covers so even the bearing is visible. Unfortunately the hub covers provided in the kit are not of the correct shape for the spiderweb style roadwheels. They are OK for the starfish (late type) ones, however all should be of the same size (in this case the first one on both sides have bigger covers which is normal for T-55s due to the strengthened hubs/bearings but it is uncertain whether this was applied to upgraded T-54s or not). The pattern on the rims is a bit strong in my opinion but some sanding can solve that.
The OmsH track links are of really good quality to me, adding to the overall value of the kit. It is not workable so you will need glue and wrap them around the wheels. They are pre-clipped so all you need to clean is a small molding pip on each plus 2 ejection pin marks on the inner face (luckily only a few needs filling, most of them can be just sanded off). Some of them have a bit of flesh as well. The pattern is pretty good for an in-box track, however 13 pieces were broken/deformed out of 193, and 184 are needed per side. That leaves me with -4 track links, however Takom
was quick to provide a handful of replacements. Alternatively you can use Masterclub resin ones to replace the missing bits as they fit perfectly to the Takom
offering (I do not have any extra currently).
Unfortunately I made a mistake and tried to add the tracks after the fenders thus making life more difficult – so I am not too happy with the results but I still think the default offering is very nicely detailed.
The main parts of the hull go together well, just make sure you use the correct engine deck – as you have two in the box. Fine PE mesh is also provided but you must be very careful with these as there is only a very faint lip to glue them to and it seems easy to knock them in later. Don’t forget to prime with black the engine vents and other underlying areas so untreated plastic won’t be showing later. The 4-piece wading rail is also provided on the PE sheet, you will need to carefully align them – a one piece offering would have been even better. Since it is perforated it bends very easily while handling.
The cage for the headlights is definitely one of the weakest points of the Takom
offerings but honestly I can’t really imagine how this ever could be nicely done in plastic. This one is made up from two chunky parts which do not fit together well. Wire replacement is highly advised if you have the patience for it.
As per the instructions you should be adding all the details to the fenders first and then glue them to the hull, to me it made more sense to add the fenders first, and then the details can follow. The triangular fender support brackets are a really nice feature of the kit, just make sure you double check the part numbers as they are quite similar to each other.
Luckily the fuel cells are on a new sprue and are of better quality than the ones included for the T-55 kits (these have a mold line running across one end). The sprue gates are still located on the edges but they are much smaller so removal is easy. As for the fuel lines…while this is a great idea to include them in the box, I must say these are real pain to assemble… They are very fragile and have seam lines to remove – usually the worst combination plus two were already snapped on the spure during postage.
Unfortunately there is an issue with the fuel lines. The section on the fender running from the front towards the rear is molded on – this is not a problem however there should be another one right next to it and it is completely missing from the kit. The cells and the pipes all together are forming a big circle, so on the first fuel cell there are two outgoing pipes: one (the outer one) into the second cell, the other (the inner one) also towards the rear but it goes into the body of the tank but it is missing from the fender. It is not very visible under the turret and behind the boxes though.
In the end I managed to save one pipe from the broken ones. The other was not really a waste since it is the end of the missing fuel line mentioned before that needs to be added to the fender, which is actually thinner than the others, so I would have replaced those parts anyway. Most of it will not be visible after adding the turret and the toolboxes and other items though.
The different boxes have good quality with molded locking mechanisms and attachment points which do not look bad in plastic. I really appreciated that the fuel tanks are properly attached to the fender support brackets, even though it requires a few tries to position them correctly. These are also made from plastic, and as a result are a bit simplified – but it is there and looks good all together. Plus constructing these from PE would be extremely tedious.
provides a braided tow cable (apparently from steel) which looks good but too hard to bend into shape (just look at my photos…). I’d suggest replacing them by copper tow cables which are softer.
The brackets for the tow cable are molded as one with the cable eyes, I’d suggest scraping these off and replace with an angular u-shaped bar with a retaining pin. It’s an easy fix if you have some leftover PE strips and adds to the overall look of the finished kit.
The molded on retaining bar for the front mudguard was sanded smooth and replaced from wire (looking at the photos now, these are too thick so I will replace them again when continuing with the blog).
There is a confusing part also to be added to the fenders, there is a plastic ”cable” which is looped in a weird way. If you follow the sections from end to end it just does not make sense to me. The instructions confuse things further as it marks two points with the icon „to be removed”, however it looks like it should be cut into pieces in order to fit properly over, around, and partially under the pioneer tools and their brackets. I just decided to leave this cable off.
The cover over the exhaust is pretty much oversized as it should be a metal sheet however Takom
provides a 1mm thick plastic part. I think I will replace it with a thin foil after finishing the OOB part.
The fuel drums are well constructed, the middle part is two halves, and we have two pieces for each end. They go together nicely with a minimal filling/sanding. The locking mechanism of the straps is there – detailed as much as it is possible in plastic. Note if you decide to leave the fuel tanks off, you will need to do more than just not adding them – the mounting consoles need to be trimmed also.
The log usual with Soviet/Russian tanks is by far the best ever seen in plastic kits, with good painting it will definitely look the part. Should you opt for replacing it, you will need to scratch the brackets as those are molded on the log.
The turret has a nice rugged surface and also added weld beads, its shape seems pretty spot on. Construction is easy and straightforward, however for many parts you will need some filling due to the curved surface of the turret shell. The locations of the tiedown points are marked by faintly molded lines that should be carefully cut first.
I had to relocate a bit the lifting hook under the IR searchlight according to photo references. Some minor filling was needed around the MG port and the optics' port as well. In my opinion these are located too close to the mantlet on the Takom
kit. The coaxial MG goes pretty deep into the turret and it is easy to position, the barrel needs some careful drilling though.
To my surprise the barrel is movable, and after finishing the construction of the IR light I can confirm that if you glue carefully all this can also move. This is not mentioned in the instructions and in the end does not really work since the dust cover for the mantlet is not that flexible.
The design of Takom
is rather strange here. We have a gun breech that is movable up and down and we also have a soft vinyl dust cover which is not flexible enough to make the barrel movable, but does not hold it in place properly either. If we add the dust cover we can see that the hole on it and the one on the cradle are located a bit apart, so in theory the barrel is fixed by these two holes, but the fit is not good enough. Also mine was leaning to the left as well (but maybe that was my mistake). So for a proper positioning I glued the turret to a plastic sheet and with some dry fitting and eyeballing cut a smaller sheet to hold the barrel in place. Then I glued the barrel in place with Revell plastic cement I left it to dry overnight.
The cupolas and hatches are from a separate sprue designed for this kit and feature very nice and sharp bolt and other details. The hatches can be left open and you get a few bits for the inner sides and also for the commander's periscope but that's it. All periscopes are provided as clear parts.
The assembly of the bracket holding the commander's IR searchlight is a bit tricky as the instructions do not show this from a good angle. The PE part has a flat arm, this should be slightly bent and attached the small plastic arm which was glued on the cupola in earlier steps - the two together will form the arm that moves the IR searchlight. If you check the line drawing on the front of the instructions sheet that will help. Nevertheless, gluing these all together is quite tedious.
The anti-aircraft machine gun is nicely detailed but also a little difficult to clean up. Firstly, it has relatively big sprue gates making the removal a bit challenging without bending the actual part, but honestly mine seemed a bit bent already on the sprue. Secondly, as it sometimes happens with small but long parts, the two "halves" (longitudinally) of it are slightly off. So a lot of sanding and scraping is needed on this otherwise delicate MG. The rest of the parts gets added easily, however I started first with the u-shaped mount so it could be sanded smooth easily plus the gun can be removed later for painting. Once all finished it looks very detailed, I'd say it is a bit better then Tamiya.
The barrel is made up from two halves as usual, cleanup is quick given the simple surface. The business end of the barrel is a separate piece which could have been a good opportunity to add some rifling (as the D-10 gun family was still rifled), but unfortunately Takom
missed this. This end part has a small lip for positioning that should slide into the main part of the gun, to me it did not really fit so I just cut this lid and eyeballed the assembly.
While the dust cover for the mantlet has good details, unfortunately the strips of plastic around it, and also the ring on the front (these are thin metal strips in the real life, fixing the dust cover) are way too thick in plastic. I would have preferred having these included on the PE fret. Also the upper edge of it will require some filling as a small gap is visible there - but maybe this was just my mistake.
All in all I have to say that really like this kit. Firstly, it is the first mass produced quality T-54 kit (even if it is late version and has a lot in common with the T-55 kits) and secondly, it has great value for money. For a few exceptions it has excellent quality and fit, with nice details, and comes with a few extras: PE fender support brackets, fuel lines, individual track links. I am not a rivet counter, but I have found that there are many areas on this kit with very exquisite details for modelers, however quality wise refining a few parts would add to the overall look of the tank (missing section of the fuel lines, cage of the headlights, attachment points of the towing eyes, exhaust cover).
It is a real pity that the otherwise nicely detailed early spiderweb wheels have no correct wheel hub covers and need to be left off due to that. Also the separate "rubber" rim of the roadwheels has no point since it is not split correctly and as a result can't be build damaged as advertised (i.e. only the bare metal part of the wheels visible) and does not make painting easier either. The construction of the gun breech and mantlet is too complicated and all together pointless to me as in the end the barrel is not movable.
I think this kit makes Tamiya a definite second (unless your priority is the ease of build) now, with a good detail/buildability ratio. MiniArt's future release with full interior appears to be more detailed but it will have more than 1000 parts. Panda Hobby is also expected to release a T-55 so there is a potential for another T-54 there, and honestly I am expecting Trumpeter also to jump the train.
It should be noted that there is a good number of parts (engine deck, driving sprocket for RmsH tracks, cupolas, fuel cells, etc.) that will go to the spares box and will be handy for other future T-55 family builds. Or if you are up to some scratch building/modification, this could be built into a decent T-55 or T-55A as many of the parts needed are in the box. However it's better to keep waiting as Takom
has recently announced their T-55A kit and another AM version too.
So hats off to Takom
, and keep them coming! I can only recommend this kit, and I hope we will see an early version soon.
Many thanks to Takom
for providing the sample kit and to Armorama for the opportunity to build and review it.
The build blog will continue soon with a few small tweaks and painting: here