by: Pat McGrath [ ]
IntroductionInitially known by the awkward title of M4A3 (76mm gun) with 23 inch tracks the M4A3E8 began production in August 1944 with the first combat deployment in Late December of the same year with the 3rd Army during the Battle of the Bulge around Bastogne.
While the newly fitted HVSS suspension overcame some of the Shermans poor cross country performance during bad weather, nothing had been done to improve its armour which was vulnerable frontally to the guns of the Panther and Panzer IV at up to 1000 yards and against the Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck at much closer range.
Almost since its first deployment Sherman crews had been piling sandbags on the glacis front to improve their chances but the ordnance officers of the 3rd Army convinced Patton that this practice was of little use and in fact decreased the tankís mobility. Instead they came up with the idea of fitting armour recovered from knocked out Shermans and Panthers to the glacis and turret of the M4A3E8.
The armour was fitted to tanks of the 4th, 6th and 11th Armoured Divisions in the 3rd Army from February 1945 onwards. The project was soon deemed a success and other units also began to fit their Shermans out with the add on armour.
the kitAlthough it can be built into a generic M4A3E8 the kit is boxed as Thunderbolt VII the command tank of Colonel Creighton Abrams (After whom the M1 Abrams tank is named) the CO of the 37th tank battalion, 4th Armored Division.
This kit is not the same as Dragonís 6283 1/35 Sherman M4A3E8 W/HVSS - Albin F. Irzyk, which was a boxing together of their Battle of the Bulge M4A3 76mm with the HVSS suspension from their old M4A3E8.
This kit is an upgrading of their M4A3 sprues with a brand new HVSS suspension plus additional hull and turret armour.
The box contains:
8 sprues of crisply moulded grey plastic
A separate lower hull tub.
A card holding 5 separate bags with
A photo etch fret with eleven parts
A clear sprue with vision blocks, head and tail lights and periscopes
A bag containing tires for the road wheels
A bag of tires for the idlers
A decal sheet
A separate box contains; an aluminium gun tube, 6 tubes and 12 springs for the suspension.
The tracks are Dragon magic tracks and come in a separate bag.
Unusually for a Dragon kit the contents all fit neatly back into the box.
No tow cable or brass rounds are included in the kit.
instructionsThese come as an eight page fold out leaflet and show; a layout of the kit contents, 12 steps to build the kit and 4 examples of painting and marking.
There are 71 parts highlighted in blue as ďnot to be usedĒ and so destined for the spares box. The instructions are clearly set out but need close attention especially section one Ė for the suspension, which can be articulated, which has symbols marking where to use CA glue, where not to use any glue and where to ďBe careful!Ē
The instructions show optional parts which are included but donít tell you which ones are suitable if youíre building Thunderbolt VII.
The upper hull need several parts cut away if adding the supplemental armour and these are marked in the instructions. Not having built the kit I canít say if there are gaps in the instructions but a close reading revealed no obvious ones.
Iíve always thought Dragon should include a bit of information about the kit subject in the instructions and it would be good to have some information about Creighton Abramís included.
suspensionThe brand new tooling bears no relation to Dragonís previous HVSS suspension. It may be a bit fiddly for those of us with thick fingers as there are 28 separate parts to each of the 6 suspension units. The assembly looks complicated, with brass tubing, steel springs and plastic parts, and shouldnít be rushed. (Have a magnet handy to help find those springs!)
There is a faint seam in the centre of the road wheel and idler tires, which can be seen on the real tires when new. For a beat up look this can be easily removed as each tire comes attached to a T shaped piece of sprue which can be used to roll the tire against a sanding stick. The tires have the makerís name ďUS TiresĒ and their size very neatly embossed on them. The rear idler mounts are the correct type and are adjustable. The kit offers two alternatives for the front sprocket Ė for Thunderbolt VII use the fancy sprocket. (As opposed to the plain - Sherman builders will know what I mean).
the tracksThese are Dragonís ďMagic TracksĒ and are the T66 single pin type with hollow guide horns. They do click together but are quite loose and will need to be glued but they are a big improvement on the tedium of assembling Dragonís single link VVSS Sherman tracks (Iíd like to see a Magic Track version of them!) There are small ejection marks on each piece but these are proud, not recessed and are quickly removed with one pass of a sanding stick.
lower hullThe lower hull tub is a brand new piece with the mounting points for the return rollers moulded on and the correct details on the bottom plate for those who want to model their Sherman upside down!
upper hullThis comes with the announced raised weld seams Ėhooray! A first in plastic Shermans (Not counting the old MP models) and very nicely done they are too.
There is a slight mould line on the rear of my kit just inward of the upper back plate but this was easily removed. There are two unfortunate errors in the upper hull. The first is that the grouser box plates from the M4A2 hull are still there although the instructions do say to remove them. The second is that the attachment points for the spare VVSS track holders are still there and need to be filled.
upper hull detailsFor the most part these are the same as for the BOB M4A3 76, although for the first time on a plastic M4A3 we do get the engine door stops. (It doesnít take much to make a Shermanaholic happy!)
The handles on the engine access doors still have the simplified moulded on handles as do the front hatch covers. The location holes for the tools are hidden on the inside of the hull and need to be drilled which is a nice touch as many modellers, me included, donít like them. The tools come with clamps moulded on with no strap or buckle detail. Some of the details on the glacis plate need to be shaved off if building Thunderbolt VII and the instructions show which ones. The fenders come as etched brass pieces, four to each side, and will need to be carefully folded. The fender braces are plastic and there are no attachment points for these. However their placement can be worked out by referring to their position relative to the fenderís bolt holes on the instruction sheet.
the turretThe kit includes both the upper turret part with the split cupola loaderís hatch and the upper turret with the oval loaderís hatch. The split cupola loaderís hatch is the correct choice for ďThunderbolt VIIĒ although this isnít clear from the instructions. AS well as the turret mounted .50 calibre MG many Shermans including ďThunderbolt VIIĒ had a .30 calibre MG attached to a mount welded onto the gunnerís armoured periscope cover and this is very nicely rendered in the kit in plastic and etched brass. Thunderbolt VII had also upgraded to a .50 calibre co axial MG instead of the usual .30 calibre and this is not included in the kit.
No etched parts are included for the light guards, periscope covers or anything else other than the fenders and the turret mounted .30 calibre MG. This suits me as I prefer to sand the kit parts down anyway but Iím sure other modellerís would prefer to have an option of Dragonís Sherman etched fret from their previous kits.
supplemental ArmourThe armour for the glacis plate is textured to represent the original torch cut edges. The kit piece is a nice rectangle which is correct for the pictures I have of Thunderbolt VII and by my callipers at just over 1.5 mm the scale thickness is correct. Contemporary photos of other up armoured M4A3E8s show that sometimes the torch cutting was a little rushed and the edges were not so straight. The lower armour on the glacis plate was bolted on and comes with comes with separate tiny bolt heads in the kit. It is depicted as one sheet but all the photos I have show this as two separate pieces. The only photo I have of the glacis plate of Thunderbolt VII shows boxes stowed on it so I canít say if one or two pieces here are correct. (I know what Iíll do, - Iíll stow boxes on the model too.)
The spaced armour on the hull sides is correct for Thunderbolt VII but not for Flat Foot Floosie. The kit shows the fender braces attaching to the hull under this side armour but photos of Thunderbolt VII Iíve seen seem to show the braces attached to the armour itself. Iíll have to work out this discrepancy before I start building.
The turret armour is shown as optional but is correct for Thunderbolt VII. In fact this arrangement was particular to Thunderbolt VII, with other M4A3E8s generally having less turret armour. The kit armour would need to be cut down if building a different M4A3E8.
decals & PaintingThe painting instructions show all four tanks as Olive Drab. The decals give four options;
1. Thunderbolt VII Creighton Abramís tank of the 37th tank battalion, 4th Armored Division Germany 1945. This consists of the thunderbolt and cloud insignia in red and white and a white turret star for the add on armour.
2. A generic M4A3E8 from the 4th Armored Division Germany 1945 which is just white stars for the hull sides
3. A tank from the 35th tank battalion, 4th Armored Division, Bastogne 1945 which is two white stars for the hull and two blacked out stars for the turret.
4. The last option is for Flat Foot Floosie from the 41st tank battalion of the 11th Armored Division, Germany 1945. This has white stars for the hull with red stripes painted on one of the stars points, and Flat Foot Floogie in white paint for the hull side. The red stripes were tactical markings in the 11th Armored and indicated which battalion the tank belonged to.
There has always been some confusion about the name of this tank whether it was Floogie or Floosie. Itís named after a song; Flat Foot Floogie which was a Swing standard at the time. Floogie is pronounced with a soft G and online dictionaries give it the same meaning as Floozie (You look it up!) and in the photos it looks like a g and not an s.
No bumper codes are offered on the decal sheet.
(One other note if you want to build Flat Foot Floogie is that its gun had no muzzle brake.)
conclusionThis is a great kit and I highly recommend it whether you want to build Thunderbolt VII or any other M4A3E8. I havenít checked but there may even be enough spare parts from the M4A2 in the kit to build a Canadian post-war or a Soviet M4A2E8 instead. Sure it would be nice to have more etched brass parts included but with minimal clean up of parts and no major flaws apparent from a first look review (apart from the moulded on grouser box covers) this may be the best Sherman in a box to date. If this is an indication of where Dragon are going with their Sherman line then roll on Dragon.
Recommended readingFor those interested in Creighton Abrams and the 37th Tank Battalion - US Army Tank Crewman 1941Ė45 (Warrior 78) Steven J Zaloga, Osprey publishing.