by: Gary Kato [ ]
IntroductionThe M4 is an M2 half-track modified to mount and fire an 81 mm mortar. The mortar was meant to be fired outside of the vehicle and could only be traversed by the small amount allowed by the bi-pod. Once in the field, units found they needed to fire from the vehicle more often and this resulted in the M4A1, which allowed a wider range of traverse. As the M2 was produced in two different versions (early and late), so was the M4. No mortar vehicles were based on the M2A1 chassis. The M4 was eventually replaced by the M21 (which used the M3 chassis).
Kit ContentsIn this kit, you get almost all the sprues from the M2/M2A1 kit (6329). Tree A (from the M2 kit) has the chassis and drive train parts. Tree B (M2) has the front cab parts (interior and exterior). Tree C (M2) has the front roller and winch as well as the ring mount (not used). The two D trees (M2) have the front wheels and the parts for the track gear. Tree E (M2) are the clear parts, including the windscreen, demountable lights, and headlight lenses. The two J (M2) trees have the machine guns and mounts as well as tools. Tree K (M2) has the rear body assembly. However, you only get half of the H tree from the M2 kit. There is a tree with a driver figure and tree K has the M4 specific parts for the rear body. Tree T has the non-metal parts of the mortar. The photo-etch tree has the windscreen wipers, visor armor covers, front hook mountings, headlight guard grills, radiator armor slats, and rear mud flaps. There are baggies with the idler and drive sprocket halves as well as the two part metal mortar tube. For some reason, the sprue with the mortar pieces is labeled T, but is called (Blue) S in the instructions. The sprue with the driver is labeled L but is referred to as (Blue) K in the instructions.
Markings are provided for:
- "Prowler" unidentified unit
- "4015367" unidentified unit
- "1-32" 2nd Armored Division, Belgium 1945
The problem with this last vehicle is that the 2nd Armored Division modified their M4s to fire forward. From pictures in "US Half-Tracks in Combat", it looks as if these modifications were done before D-Day, so the date for the markings may not be 100% accurate.
ReviewAs far as the parts themselves, they have nice sharp detail and I saw no warpage or sink holes. However the care taken to avoid visible pin marks on the M2/M2A1 parts is not seen for the M4 parts. There are pin marks you will have to deal with on the rear plate and the rear door but they are on flat pieces and easy to access. Trees A and J seem to have slight mold seams on pieces but nothing excessive.
The chassis assembly builds on a one piece frame which also has the engine sump and the lower half of the transmission molded into it. There is a complete engine, radiator, transmission, drive shafts, and differentials. Like the M2, the tracks are fixed and come in right and left halves. I was asked if this was a good thing and I really don't know. I think it makes more sense than individual links since this is a Smart Kit. The drive sprocket and idler are very nicely done. The tires are flat on the bottom to simulate a real tire with a hefty weight on it. The left side of the engine is missing details like the reserve oil tank, distributor, starter motor, thermostat, and radiator hose to the thermostat. The bogies are very nice and look quite like the real thing. The road wheels are nice, although the inner rim around the hub could be better defined, but then it's something hard to see once the kit is built.
In Step 4 of the instructions, it says you should cut a tab off the upper transmission. You should only make the cut if you intend to put a winch on your vehicle. Part C13, the power take-off for the winch, fits into the hole you make. If you don't intend to put the winch on, leave off C13. The front armor body consists of a floor and separate pieces for the sides and hood. The armored windshield cover can be positioned open or closed as can the separate photo-etch view port covers. Each door comes in separate upper and lower pieces so they can be positioned open or closed with the upper flap open or closed. They also have separate photo-etch view port covers. The detail on the inside of them is very nice.
The armored radiator cover comes in a closed version and an open version which uses photo-etch pieces for the open armor flaps. The engine access hatches are scored on the inside so cutting them to show the engine should be easy. If you do this, there will be some ejection pin marks to fix up on the inside of the hatches and side panels. The front section is only missing the driver's stowage box (which you would add to the side ammunition bin that ends up behind him) and windshield wiper motors. One problem with all the armor panels is that they are held on by screws on the real thing, not bolts or rivets as in both the M2/M2A1 and M4 kits. There are no instructions on how to paint the instrument panel. I would suggest getting Squadron's Walk-Around to see color photos of that.
The rear armor body is built around a one piece floor with the fuel tanks molded in. The front and rear ends for the fuel tanks are molded on the inside of the side armor plates. There are separate pieces for the commander, gunner, and loader seats, open-top ammunition bins, radios, mortar base mount, hatch for the floor storage bin, and mortar pieces. There are also inserts for the side ammunition bins to show them full of ammo but you'd have to cut the side doors from the side armor plate yourself to position them open. These doors are scored to allow for just that however there is no scoring to allow easy cutting of the top side bin doors. If you did, then you would have to do this as well for the top door of the bins but you would also have to add your own mortar round tray inside. Of course to top it all off, there is the skate rail for the machine guns. The M4 instructions only show the late style .30cal skate mount but you can substitute parts J2/3/8 for parts J7/20/25/26 to do the early mount (which I think look better). For the .50cal, use the late mount but stick parts J17/23/4 in place of part J21.
There is an error in the instructions regarding the mounting of the mortar. It shows that a part of the mortar bi-pod fits into a hole in the floor stowage bin lid, but this is impossible. The bi-pod feet go into the angled blocks at the rear end of the floor. Although you could cut the floor stowage bin doors in two and show them open, the bin molded into the floor doesn't span the entire width of the opening. Evidently, the aisle on the M4 floor part is wider than the M2 floor part. I don't think this is true on the real thing. From looking at photos of the interior of an M2 and an M4A1, I'd say the M4 aisle is the correct size as the aisle between the rear seats should be wider than the aisle by the commander's seat. To top things off, these doors don't have the anti-slip pattern that they should have and the pattern is also missing from the area around the commander's seat.
Just What Is It?As to what the kit represents, it is unfortunately a mix of the early and late production versions. Depending on what version you are trying to replicate, different parts are called for.
[For all versions]
Note that part T3 (labeled blue S3 in the instructions) is NOT an alternate vehicle base plate as implied in Step 14. It is the base plate used for firing the mortar from outside the vehicle. As far as I can see, this base plate was stored vertically in front of the commander (under his legs between the seat and mortar). Detailers might want to add a chain that connects the mortar bi-pod legs just above the feet.
[To make an early production M4]
Don't use the idler springs (A21/22) and fill in/sand off the idler spring mounts. Ideally, you'd have to modify the idler mount to eliminate the pivot but I don't have any good pictures of that. Another option is to depict the field modification that used the pivot but the idler spring was thinner. If you leave the idler springs off, leave off the tension adjusters (A15/16).
Leave off the jerry cans in front of the driver's compartment. Unfortunately, you will also have to cut off the angled block that serves as the mount and block the holes with sheet styrene. On the actual vehicle, this was a bracket, not a block.
[To make a late production M4]
Leave out the 8 open top ammo boxes in the rear (Part S7) and sand off the placement marks. Don't use the fender headlights. Use the demountable ones (E3/4, E5, and D10). Unfortunately, Dragon left out the late model engine compartment front to use with these parts so you will either have to get some from someone who made an M2 or scratch-build the headlight mounts. Sand off the placement markings for the fender headlights. Add the external mine racks (K29/30). Suitable options include mounting the included winch in the front instead of the roller. and replacing the triangular blocks in front of the driver's compartment which serve as jerry can mounts. Use sheet styrene or some scrap PE to fashion brackets to replace them.
[To make the modified M4 ("1-32" of 2nd Armored Division)]
Do the modifications for an M4 (late). Scratch-build stowage boxes above the rear fenders. Add a small box (open on front and rear) at the rear of the floor then put the mortar base mount on it so the tube will face forward. You want to raise the mortar so the bottoms of the bi-pod legs are at the same height as the box that the gunner and loader seats are. Remove the angled mortar bi-pod mounts on the floor. Remove the old mortar mount from the floor. Modify the 20 round open top ammunition racks to 4x4 16 round racks. Mount one in place of the commander's seat. Mount the other at the right rear. From a top view drawing in the Hunnicutt book, it looks as if the bi-pod feet were attached to modified skate gun mounts. To provide more of a traversing arc, it looks like they used the rear part of a skate track mounted at the same level of the gunner and loader seats. You could scratch your own or beg a skate ring from someone who made an M2A1.
ConclusionA nice kit on a welcome subject but I can't help concluding from the instruction sheet that this was a rushed release. The mislabeled sprues in blue show that they were put in there as easy to find place holders for when the real sprue labels became known. The mortar mounting instructions might reflect an earlier scheme. Did the person who picked "1-32" to be one of the subjects not notice that the pictures have the mortar pointing in the opposite direction or was it intended that this kit also be an M4A1 and this was nixed and they forgot to pick a new subject? As for the kit itself, I think the major flaws are the triangular blocks for the jerry can mountings and not including the late style nose armor. The parts are all fantastic with sharp detail and nary a pin mark to be seen.
"Half-Track: A History of American Semi-Tracked Vehicles" by R.P.Hunnicutt (Presidio Press)
"M2/M3 Half-Track Walk Around" by Jim Mesko (Squadron/Signal)
"U.S. Half-Tracks in Combat 1941-1945" by Steve Zaloga (Concord Publications)