by: Andras [ ]
The development of the T-54 was done by the Kharkiv Morozov Machine Building Design Bureau under the designation of Object 137 based on the T-44 design. The prototypes underwent extensive tests in 1946, and the tank was accepted for the Red Army in the same year. The mass production of the tank started in 1947. The first production version of the T-54 was the T-54-1 which was a very different tank from the T-54 that was used as the basis of the legendary T-55. The large scale production of the T-54 ended in 1955; the tank underwent two major upgrades: one in 1949 (T-54-2), and the other is in 1951 (not surprisingly labelled T-54-3).
The T-54-1 was in production between July 1947 to January 1949, and was not exactly well-received by the crews due to quality control issues during construction. The tank had a classic four-crew layout with the engine in the back and the turret in the middle, with a very similar hull to the T-44. It retained the basic internal layout, the transverse engine placement, and the torsion bar suspension of the T-44, but upgraded the engine, the gun, the turret, and improved the armor protection without increasing the size of the vehicle significantly. The turret had a distinct curved, contoured shape with a wide gun mantlet, and the vehicle used a narrower set of tracks than later versions.
The main armament was a non-stabilized D-10T 100-mm rifled gun, a coaxial 7.62-mm machine SH-43, there were to SG-43 machine guns mounted on the fenders, and the turret had a 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine gun DShK. (The gun in the T-54-1 was the same as gun used in the SU-100 -this certainly makes an SU-100 full interior kit quite possible from MiniArt.) The main gun fired armor-piercing ammunition (BR-412) and high-explosive shells (OF-412), and carried a combination 34 of these shells in both the hull and the turret. The fender machine guns were omitted from the T-54-2, and later several T-54-1 were upgraded to -2/-3 specifications. (Causing considerable headaches for the author of this review trying to assess the accuracy of this model. Cylindrical fuel drums or stapled fuel cells, machine guns, the number of headlights are just the most visible differences between surviving T-54-1 examples, and they tend to come in all possible variation.) The tank also carried a flair gun and twenty F-1 hand grenades.
MiniArt has issued the T-54-1 in plastic as a logical evolution of their T-44 models, and it is the subject of this review.
The model comes in a large box that has the distinctive MiniArt design: a large orange cardboard box with a painting of the tank on the top. The box art shows the vehicle on a training ground, blazing away with all of its fender mounted machine guns.
Opening the box we are faced with a bewildering number of small sprues. They are designed quite smartly; a sort of modular design philosophy. The sprues are coded, and not model-specific; MiniArt has developed a sort of mix-and-match approach to creating models. Depending on the sprues included in the box, MiniArt can produce a T-54-1 with interior, T-54-1 without interior, T-54-2 with interior, T-54-2 without interior, and quite possibly a T-54-3, too with minimal amount of extra parts left over. (I have not seen the latter yet, so itís only a guess.) Add to this the tendency of having to use several sprues during sub-assemblies, searching for sprues will be a constant activity during the build. There is also a small decal sheet, and two sheets of PE included.
The instructions are the typical MiniArt colored A4 booklet. The first and last pages are colored, showing the different painting options and giving all the necessary paints using Ammo Mig color codes, the rest is in monochrome. The instructions are relatively easy to follow, but it would be a great help if some of the assemblies were shown finished. Sometimes it was difficult to determine the exact placement of parts based on the instructions alone. (I admit: I checked othersí builds online a couple of times to make sure I was not making a mistake.)
Fortunately there are only few of the notoriously thin plastic parts that are impossible to cut off the sprue without breaking. One of the handholds for the turret was already broken in my sample, but I normally replace them with wire anyhow; much easier than trying to clean up these extremely fragile and thin plastic parts. (I just use these parts as template for making the wire replacements.) MiniArt has issued the T-54-1 in plastic as a logical evolution of their T-44 models, and it is the subject of this review.
The placement of the gates is sometimes a bit unfortunate: instead of having to clean only one edge off, the attachment points sometime overhang, and this necessitate cleaning (cutting or sanding) two or three surfaces. This is especially notable in the case of the individual track links, where you will need to clean multiple sprue attachments from three faces (bottom, top, side) on all the track links. (I really, really like magic tracks, to be honest; they come pre-cut, ready to assemble. I have to confess: the assembly of tracks and the painting for ammunition are the two least favourite parts of model building for me.) The plastic is nice quality; soft enough and easy to work with.
The detail is astonishing. From the texture of the turret to the casting numbers on the suspension units, everything just looks like a miniaturized version of the real thing. The torsion bar suspension is working, but Iím not sure how useful it is since the tracks will need to be glued together to make sure they are held in place. (The different panzer III variants by MiniArt had a workable track solution; it would have been nice to have this utilized on the T-54-1 as well.) Several parts -where necessary- have very nicely done cast metal surface; you will find weld lines of varying thickness, the manufacturerís name on the rubber rims of the road wheel, and casting numbers on the track links.
MiniArt really threw itself into making the model as detailed as possible, and this meant they went a bit overboard in my opinion with the number of parts each subassembly requires. In several cases I think it would have been sufficient to mould the details onto the larger parts instead of having to glue minute parts together. Regardless the results are simply amazing. I am in the process of building Tamiyaís excellent T-55, and it does look like simplified next to the T-54-1. What you pay for this is the time required for the assembly; the model has over 1000 partsÖ Itís not a weekend project, thatís for sure, and of course thereís the question of how much of this will actually be visible. One thing is certain: you can display this model in several different situation without having to use your saw and expensive aftermarket sets: depict the tank during assembly, as a wreck, during maintenance with the torsion bars being replaced, the turret being lifted while the gun is being installed (although you would need to replicate the turret ring for this scene).
The bottom is detailed enough to display the tank upturned; If you would like to present it in that position. The fender mounted machine guns are detailed, even though they are encased in a metal box. They can be displayed open as well, although I am not sure how the lid was affixed to the sides, so Iím not sure how it opened. Generally there were no corners cut -except for two areas. Starting from the T-44 models MiniArt for some reason has neglected to detail the engine compartment. We get a perfectly nice engine, but nothing else. Perhaps adapting CMKís or Verlindenís aftermarket set for the T-55 would work, since the T-55 is very similar to the T-54. (I could not find photos of the T-54-1 engine compartment, so I cannot comment on how similar it was to the final T-55ís.) The other area where the kit is lacking is the relatively low detail on the driverís compartment.
Sometimes the design choices are strange. The handle for the AA gun is made up by two pieces, while the handles for the fender and co-axial MGs are provided as one. The cylindrical fuel tanks are provided as halves, even though it would be possible to mould them as one piece -after all, the gun, the log, and even the smoke canisters are moulded as one. This necessitates the dreaded (for me) filling and sanding of seamlines, which I really could do without. Fortunately the fit is really good. A few dents would have been nice to be molded into the thin walled cylinders, too. Since we mentioned the gun barrel, it does not have rifling in it.
Some cylinders have very thin plastic straps (the three fire extinguishers in the fighting compartment); others have the strap moulded on them (the compressed gas cylinders for the engine). There are a lot of very tiny and fragile PE parts which are difficult to manipulate, and of course, we have the usual extremely thin plastic parts with several gates to make cleaning up even more difficult. Regardless of these issues the model is very well done; these are only minor complaints.
The fit is generally excellent. I somewhat deviated from the suggested order and put the basic shape of the hull together first; I found it is easier to adjust the major pieces when I donít have to worry about breaking tiny bits sticking out. I also started to work on several sub-assemblies parallel to speed up the build.
Hull and Suspension
As mentioned the suspension is very detailed and itís working. The first and fifth suspension units are connected to the shock absorbers with a lever- even this assembly is movable if you glue the parts carefully. There are several tiny parts making up the torsion bar housings and the swing arms, but the seams are placed in areas where they would be covered by other parts fortunately.
The engine powering the T-54-1 (V-54) was somewhat different (visually) from the T-44ís V-44 engine. It was overall lower, as the design of the crankcase and the water/oil pumps was different. We can see MiniArtís modular design philosophy at work here: we get a complete T-44 engine (sprue Ab) but only a few parts from this sprue are actually used; the rest are found on a different sprue. I have to admit since I closed off the engine compartment, I did not assemble the engine. Based on my experience with the T-44, T-44M and SU-122 it is an excellent -as easy to assemble- representation of the real thing. Unfortunately the painting guide does not help with the wiring and cable locations/colors; for this online sources will need to be found. (Since not much is visible apart from the ignition cables, unless you plan to display the engine outside of the tank, it is probably not worth the effort. With all other MiniArt tanks Iíve built I displayed the engine in front of the vehicle, but in this case I think Iíll just leave it.)
Tracks and Running Gear
The tracks come on a series of small sprues. They are held in place by five gates, and will need to be cleaned off individually; I spent two hours sanding off the attachment points. (Just pop in your favourite movie, and get it over withÖ) Since these tracks are narrower than the tracks on later T-54 versions you cannot use an aftermarket set; itís probably that in a matter of time AM products will appear. The original track links were 500mm wide, which is 14.3mm in 1/35. The kit tracks are about the right size (14 mm using my ruler), so they seem to be accurate; the T-54-2 kit indeed has wider links.
According to my sources (there is a great facebook research group on the T-54, T-55), each side were made up of 91 links; the instructions suggest using 90 per side. Interestingly it was possible to mount cleats on these tracks, similar to WWII era tanks. The instructions offer an alternative setup of every twenty track links being a ďsmoothĒ track link, but it does not specify the reason. Well, the reason is to be able to install the cleats.
The drive wheels have the correct number of 13 teeth. The road wheels are the ďold schoolĒ, spider types, and are made out of several parts. They are supposed to be rotatable, but the fit is so tight it is not a very good idea to actually try to turn them. (Tamiyaís polycap solution is not taken up by MiniArt, but even then it would be a moot point once you glue the tracks in place.) I just glued everything fixed, since it is a static model after all.
In general the interior is very detailed, but it would have been great to have decals included with the kit for the different labels found all over in these vehicles.
The interior of the vehicle is very similar to the T-44ís layout. The ammunition stowage -for obvious reasons- is different and there are other minor changes, but in general youíll find it closer to the T-44 layout than to a T-55ís. There is still no rotating floor under the turret for example. There is some improvement made in this model, though. The ammo stowage in the hull has the securing bars now as separate parts, unlike in the T-44, where the ammo, the stowage and the bars were molded as one. This allows you to have different number of projectiles loaded up, plus it also looks more realistic. It means cleaning up very thin parts, though, so a sharp scalpel will be needed. (As an advice: if you break something, donít panic; I found that it was surprisingly easy to glue hair-thin plastic parts back togetherÖ) Make sure you pushed the ammunition deep enough into the slots before gluing them, because if they stick out more than they should be the securing bars will be too short. One thing I noticed about the ammunition is that the bottom is completely featureless. Normally this part of the casing has a small indent in the middle where the firing pin goes, and itís usually a slightly wider disk than diameter of the casing itself. Aftermarket ammunition usually have small PE disks that can be used to replicate this look; MiniArtís 100mm ammunition does not have this feature. It would have been nice to have decals to replicate the labels printed on the ammunition itself. (I think MiniArt even have the decals available for their separate ammunition set.)
For painting the ammunition I found these websites very helpful:
To save some time and effort I did not paint the tops of the ammunition placed into the hull rack, since they will not be visible; the casings were primed black and painted using Vallejoís acrylic gold color.
The driverís station is relatively well detailed -relatively to the T-44 model that is, which lacked all details. The prismatic periscope is really nice, and we get two optional rain-covers for the hatch opening -one installed, one in stowage. (The instructions do not specify what they were; it took me a while to find out their purpose.) The transparent plastic parts are way too thick; perhaps using custom-made ones from clear film would be a better alternative. (When gluing the PE wiper in place, be sure to use a lot of ventilation so that the cyanoacrylate does not fog the window.) The fit is very tight, as the hatch gets in the way, and the rain cover is too high for the gun to pass over it; if you install it, donít turn the gun to the left...
The driverís compartment is strangely empty, though. The sidewall has a first aid box fixed to it (but no Red Cross decal was provided), and the top should have the instrument panel and communication equipment. This really is a shame. Although the argument can be made that not a lot of it will be visible after assembly, in comparison the SU-122 and SU-85 kits from MiniArt have all the tiniest details provided. (At least it wonít be much of a dilemma to use the protective rain cover over the hatch. The roof of the vehicle is very thin; probably true to scale.
The turret interior is pretty busy; itís actually not as tall as the T-44 turret, and have a lot of things crammed into it -a massive 100mm gun, for example. The turret originally was cast as a two-part hemispherical shape with welded roof consisting of two rolled armor plates 30 mm thick. The modelís turret is designed the same way: itís built up from two parts (top and bottom), and the roof plates are added separately. The roof plates are considerably thinner than the sides; I suspect they are all scale thickness. The instructions suggest gluing the two halves of the top before attaching them to the turret, but I think itís safer to glue all three parts together at the same time.
The 10RT radio and the TPU-4-bis-O-26 telecom systems are placed on the commanderís side, and there is a ready rack on the back of the turret.
The gunnerís MK-4 periscopes and the low profile commanderís cupola with three observation TPC-1 prisms are replicated very well. Iíve left out the cables because of the time constraints of this review; using online references it should not be difficult to recreate them.
The gun is a very delicate assembly, so once its finished care needs to be taken not to break the thin plastic parts off. The gun breech has a seam in the middle, which needs to be filled in; to be honest it will be very difficult to see in the model. The gunnerís sight and the coaxial machine guns are complex little models of their own; once they are glued on, they tend to break off easily; an important point for further handling.
The turret ammo rack is a delicate assembly; if you are not careful pushing the ammunition in, the thin plastic parts (Gb13-14) can easily snap. An additional problem is that you have to keep two free-standing thin plastic parts in alignment while you fill it up with ammunition.
I have primed the interior using a primer red/brown color, sealed it with varnish, and used the hairspray chipping method on the top color (blue grey on the bottom of the hull and white everywhere else). To make the vehicle look used, and to decrease the contrast of the pure white with the chips, I mixed up a burnt umber filter, and applied it unevenly to create patches of darker and lighter discolorations, and some dark, almost black brown washes to bring out the finer details. Finally I used different shades of rust brown oil paints to create some discreet streaks. Some rust and dust colored pigments were used to add a little more depth to the weathering, and I used a silver pencil on the edges to make them look metallic.
The gun got a similar treatment, only the cover color was green, rather than white, and for obvious reasons I did not add any streaks to it. In general I tried to keep the tank relatively pristine since it was not in service for long.
The engine deck consists of several subassemblies that form a somewhat complex set of hatches. The cooling flaps in the air intakes can be positioned open or closed, and they are protected by a very set of nice PE grilles.
I did not even bother to try to clean up the thin plastic rods (c1, c2) required for the engine deck; I simply used them as a template to fashion replacements from wire. The protectors for the headlights (C27-28) simply snapped when I tried to cut them off the sprue; since they are optional, I just left them off. If you want them installed just fashion wire replacements using the plastic parts as templates.
Smoke canisters are installed similarly to how the real thing was: the PE straps hold the tiny plastic rods that are fixing them to the back of the hull, along with the mechanism that allows to them to be released. Altogether itís a pretty impressive construction.
The un-ditching log looks pretty convincing; normally I replace them with an actual wooden stick, but in this case I kept it. I primed it black, and then spent some time dry brushing Tamiya Tan on top. The whole thing was then painted with Agrax Earthsade by Citadel.
As mentioned the external fuel tanks are provided as two halves. They are typical cylindrical WWII type ones, although they are somewhat narrower than the ones used on wartime tanks. They are held down by PE strips - when building make sure you do the fuel tanks first, and add the storage boxes after, because in several cases they obstruct the tie-down points for the straps. Another important piece of advice: do not install the fuel tank on the left back mudguard. The flap (C9) protecting the exhaust port should be fitted first.
The towing lines were provided as plastic parts; MiniArt is being very optimistic about the chances of being able to bend and fit them into their places. Better get some picture hanging wire, and use the plastic eyes of the cables only. Make sure you cut a wire half a centimetre longer than the plastic part; itís too short otherwise.
The AA machine gun is a complex multimedia assembly of plastic and PE parts; normally I buy aftermarket barrels (or even resin guns) to replace this part, but in this case itís perfectly suitable; the gun might need to be bored out with a fine drill.
I planned to display the turret disassembled, but they needed to be temporarily glued together for the painting stage; I used white glue so I could pry them apart later. The masking was done using silly putty, and I used Tamiya paints lightened with tan for the camo.
There came a series of dark brown filters to blend the tones together, some oil dot filters, and applying pigments for dust. I wanted to depict the tank in a relatively pristine condition, since I liked the cover art showing it on the proving grounds.
Overall the build went fine; Iíve not encountered any real challenges working on this model. It is very complex, full of tiny parts (both plastic and PE), but itís not a difficult model to build for an average modeller like myself; in fact I had a great time building it, even with the time constraints involved in producing this review. And if you leave some of the tiniest PE off, whoís going to notice?
This model was provided direct by MiniArt to the reviewer and has no connection with Armorama.