by: Matthew Lenton [ ]
Not too long ago I condemned Dragon’s Panther Ausf.A Early Production release (item 7499) as pointless because the tiny modifications made to the base Ausf.D kit were inadequate to accurately represent an Ausf.A, and in that review I suggested waiting for the release of kit number 7505, the Late Production variant. Well here it is, so let’s see if the contents of this box will add up to an accurate rendition of an Ausf.A.
Firstly a brief history reminder that for some obscure reason, the first production model was the Ausf.D (Jan – Sep 1943), followed by the Ausf.A (from Sep 1943). As with all WWII German tanks in series production, there were frequent design changes which may not have appeared simultaneously on all new vehicles, Panther production being by four separate companies. This apparent evolution of specifications and manufacture can make the distinct separation of marques quite difficult, but I have Thomas Jentz’s “Germany’s Panther Tank: The Quest for Combat Supremacy” to hand to help unpick it.
The difference from the Early kit is that instead of four main sprues there are now five, with sprue F this time holding 11 parts instead of two. As before, sprues A, B, C and D are identical to the Ausf.D Late Production kit, and indeed all have “Panther D” written on them, but sprue F now renders many parts on A and C unused, as marked in the photos.
Sprue A: Upper hull and turret parts
Sprue B: Lower hull
Sprue C: Side skirts, rear plate, track guards, etc.
Sprue D: Wheels, including 24 bolt road wheels with modular construction
E: DS tracks
Sprue F: Inner mantlet side plate, loader’s turret periscope as before, with new cast cupola, optional close defence weapon mount, exhausts, machine gun and ball mount, turret superstructure and main gun mantlet.
Decal sheet: Four crosses with numbers in red and white: “326” (three colour scheme, 130 Panzer Lehr Regiment) and “234” (dark yellow and brown, 12 Panzer Regiment), both Normandy, June 1944.
Something new for 1/72 Dragon kits is that the box is now an end-opener instead of a two part tray and lid. This tends to be less convenient for the modeller, but the positive here is that, with Dragon’s move to monotone instruction sheets, the back of the carton gets the same finishing process as the front, which means we now get a colour image for the paint scheme. It also enables the construction steps to spread across three pages rather than being crowded on to two. I suppose they’ve found a way to cut costs without sacrificing colour, so that seems good. One surprising apparent side effect was that on cutting the sealing tape and opening the side flap, the DS tracks seemed to have been tucked in last and were crumpled up instead of lying flat in the box as one would expect. I don’t know if Jim opened and repacked it, or if that’s how it came from the factory.
If you are interested in the general construction in terms of parts fit, flash and any build issues, I would refer you to Jan Etal’s very good review and build log. As with the review of the Early Production kit, in this review I’ll mostly just look at the changes that have been implemented for this release.
The first new component to be installed is the new exhaust pipe arrangement in step 3. The left hand exhaust pipe is flanked on either side by two additional parallel tubes which attach at their base to the armoured cowl covering the exhaust pipe egress through the hull rear plate. The reason for this modification related to heat from the left hand engine radiator being used to heat the crew compartment in cold weather, which had the effect of reducing the amount of cooling of the left exhaust manifold. The additional tubes provided an outlet to allow cooling air to flow over the exhaust header.
The instructions show the jack being mounted horizontally under the exhausts in the same way as the D and A Early kits; according to Jentz, the addition of the double cooling pipes to the left exhaust occurred around the same time (Jan / Feb 1944) that the jack was relocated to be stowed vertically between the exhausts, although text, drawings and photos indicate that the vertical jack stowage predated the addition of the cooling pipes. Sprue C contains two jacks, but this kit, like the D and A Early, indicates using part C11 rather than part C18; however jack C11 has two mounting points that fit into indentations just under the exhaust cowls that attach it with the handle facing up. Jack C18 on the other hand has mounting points that attach it sideways, which I think means that it can be stowed vertically, as suggested in photo 35. The indents on the rear plate for the horizontal mounting would need to be filled in. A change implemented after April 1944 was the addition of a towing coupling to the rear engine access hatch, but this is not represented in this kit.
One part still included, but probably shouldn’t be, is C14, the rear lamp which mounts under the left track guard; this part was deleted during Ausf.A production, a small round lamp being attached, with electric cable, to the left of the rear plate, between the cowling at the base of the exhaust and the stowage bin. Another small change on this rear plate, not reflected in the kit, but which could reasonably be added, is the starter crank guide bolted to the bottom of the right hand exhaust cowl and extending to the cover plate below. Photo 36 shows the position of the rear lamp (in the red rectangle) and the crank guide (red circle).
As with the D and A Early, some modifications need to be made by the modeller in the course of construction. As before, step 3 asks for the removal of two [ [ shapes at the bottom of the back plate, being the location points for a towing bracket on a possible future Bergepanther kit. Then with step 4 the right hand location hole for the headlamp is to be filled.
More significantly, the vertical letterbox type hull machine gun flap has to be removed so that it can be replaced, in step 5, by the new machine gun ball mount (Kugelblende, part F11). Although care will be needed to remove the vertical flap cleanly from such a prominent area of the hull, any scar should be covered over by the new part. There is a small inset diagram at this point showing something is to be removed from the left side of the hull front plate, but it doesn’t obviously resemble anything in that location, so I’m not sure what it is meant to indicate. The new ball mount for the hull is then added, noting that the instructions have transposed the numbers for the mount and the gun barrel.
As the Kugelblende incorporated a sighting device (you can see the gun is off-set slightly to the left when viewed head on, the sight being a tiny circle to the right) the forward facing periscope directly in front of the machine gunner / radio operator’s hatch was deleted. This means that part A1 should not be fitted and the indentations for it should be filled in (in the red rectangle, photo 21).
Step 6 includes an instruction to remove the rain guard over the pistol port in the rear turret plate, just as with the A Early, however according to Jentz, the pistol ports were eliminated completely during December 1943, which is convenient, since removing the entire pistol port moulding is probably simpler (ringed, photo 38). A seeming error with the new turret superstructure (F8) is the retention of the pips on to which the turret side pistol ports (parts A42 and 43) attach; these shouldn’t be fitted, and instead, the pips on the turret side should be removed (ringed, photo 37). The modeller is however now spared the necessity of removing the mounts for the smoke candle dischargers on the sides of the new turret, and the locating holes for the loader’s periscope are now moulded in, so do not need to be drilled as was the case with the Early A.
The new detail of the close defence weapon on the turret roof is presented as an option between two parts on sprue F: F5 which features a small covered oval aperture, and F6 which just has four bolts (photo 19). Jentz explains that the close defence weapon (Nahverteidigungswaffe) was planned to be introduced from January 1944, but that shortages meant that the device itself (represented by F5) was not available until March, so in the interim a blanking plate (F6) was fitted instead. I think that if you choose to fit F5 then it can face in any direction as the device could rotate through 360 degrees.
Another detail change made to the new turret is the elimination of the interlocking welds between the side plates and the front and rear plates, but I am not too sure if this is an accurate change: photos of Panthers all appear to show these interlocks, that is, when not obscured by Zimmerit. As noted in the review of the Ausf.A Early, the straight cut interlock with the front turret plate is correct for all Ausf.As, while the D should have been dovetailed. A change that was made in relation to armour plate interlocking, between December 1944 and June 1945, and affecting some, but not all, Ausf.As, was that the hull roof plate no longer interlocked with the hull sides. The visual effect of this change was that the welds were a straight line on the roof plate, with the side plates overlapping the roof, and no longer staggered between roof and sides (see photo 21). Representing this change would have required a new hull moulding, but it is probably not strictly necessary; if the modeller particularly wanted it, it might be possible with some careful scribing and filling.
Fitting into the now plain circular aperture in the new turret roof is the commander’s cast cupola (F4, photos 17, 18) with seven periscopes, which I thought should have been included in the A Early kit. A separate machine gun mounting ring (F2) fits on top. The cupola is quite a nice moulding representing a very distinctive and complex shape, but note that it is in one piece, so there is no means of opening the hatch and the point of closure is therefore not as definite as it would be were the parts separate. Note also that the openings for the periscopes are holes that go all the way through, so I’m not sure what the final appearance will be like, or if anything could or should be done to fill the holes with something to simulate lenses. While on the turret roof, note that there are no Pilze sockets for mounting a lifting device; these would have been fitted from June 1944.
The mantlet is another new part (F10), with the differences shown clearly in photo 20. Under the rain guard on the right is the monocular gun site which replaced the binocular item at some point near the end of November 1943. For some reason the coaxial machine gun to the left is now represented as closed with an armoured plug (while the CAD image on the box side appears to show the exposed gun barrel instead).
As with the Early A kit, we have the special right hand side casting of the turret front on to which the mantlet attaches, replacing part A2, highlighted on the box side as “Unique fillet molded onto right side of mantlet base”. As noted previously, this is a very subtle change indeed for which I can find no clear photographic references, mainly because virtually all Ausf.As have zimmerit in this area.
Compared to the Early A kit, then, we are furnished with a good number of changes in order to represent this later Ausf.A; by cross-referencing them with the time line provided in the Jentz book we can narrow down the probable production period as being March / April 1944. Because the same turret front plate is still used, the new and old mantlets must also be interchangeable, which means that by using the old mantlet (binocular gun sight), retaining the letter box machine gun flap, ignoring both the close defence weapon / blanking plate, and the new exhaust component, the version represented could be back dated to September / October 1943, in other words, an early Ausf.A. Alternatively, include just the new mantlet and the Kugelblende for a late November / December 1944 model.
There is the now standard non-appearance of any mesh grilles for the engine deck, although the statement on the box side about a “Highly detailed engine deck accurately represents…” has been dropped. There is also the usual lack of Zimmerit, even though this was applied to virtually every Panther manufactured between September 1943 and September 1944, and is shown on the box top art work. Finally, still no spare track links despite the vast majority of operational Panthers sporting them.
We have noted a few apparent inaccuracies, perhaps the main ones being the continued inclusion of the turret pistol ports and the radio operator periscope, but both are relatively easy to rectify. The jack stowage position is also fixable with the alternative part provided, and the rear lamp is also easy enough to omit, although adding the relocated rear lamp and the starter crank guide to the rear plate are both small and fiddly details, and possibly ignorable. The weld interlocks disappearing from the turret, but remaining on the hull, is a bit of a strange one, almost as if the designer confused them. In the case of the turret, if you have no Zimmerit, then the weld marks should probably be there; in the case of the hull roof, it seems that not all factories applied this change, so it is not strictly necessary from the point of view of accuracy. What is really needed of course is a new hull with the straight welds and Zimmerit…
So this kit is considerably less disappointing than the Early A kit in that a reasonably accurate version of a Panther that rolled out of a factory in Spring 1944 can be produced. With a little work the modeller could introduce one or two other changes in order to create an even later version, or as noted above, an earlier version, so this is a much more flexible kit than 7499. It is therefore much better from this point of view, although the now standard disappointments of no Zimmerit or mesh grilles remain.
Therefore if you want a Dragon Panther Ausf.A, buy this Late Production kit, not the Early version.
Thomas L Jentz Germany’s Panther Tank: The Quest for Combat Supremacy (Schiffer, 1995)
Bruce Culver Panther In Action (Squadron/Signal, 1975)
Panther Ausf.A Early Production no. 7499Panther Ausf.D Late Production no. 7506
Panther Ausf.D Early Production no. 7494