by: Tom Cromwell [ ]
Development of the Leopard 2 tank began after the West Germans withdrew from the MBT 70 joint US-FRG project over spiraling costs in 1969. The new tank that emerged was lower and more angular than its Leopard 1 predecessor, capturing the now-familiar “turret on a raft” look of most late-20th century MBT’s like the Abrams or the Challenger 2. The hull had vertical sides on the much lower sponsons, and the turret was a big flat vertical-sided affair sporting a 120mm smooth-bore L44 Rheinmetall gun and a huge integral bustle that housed an ammo magazine designed with a blow-off roof panel to protect the crew from accidental blasts.
It was issued to troops in 1979, and soon there were (mostly internal) upgrades that took it from the 2A1 to 2A4 models. In 1998 the 2A5 model was issued, incorporating new spaced add-on armour panels to the turret front that radically altered its boxy appearance to something far more angular and aggressive. This new version eliminated the wedge-shaped aperture in the turret front plate for the gunner’s sight in favour of a periscope device, removing a weak point in the turret armour. It also included new side skirts that incorporated extra armour for the front portion of the hull. In 2007 the Leopard was up-gunned by installing the longer L55 120mm gun and the new combination became the 2A6.
Both Tamiya and Italeri have offered kits of the 2A5. The Italeri kit, number 365, has been around a number of years now. Connoisseurs will no doubt buy the Tamiya model, but I found the subject of this review going for a song in a second-hand stall at a model show so I thought it was worth a shot.
On opening the box, I found 4 sprues holding 268 parts moulded in a hard dark green plastic, along with 4 lengths of vinyl track, a decal sheet, a square of mesh, and the usual instructions. Quality of the mouldings is surprisingly good, with only a few ejector pin marks to contend with, and sink holes on only a few parts. Unfortunately this includes all of the separate suspension arms, so these will need to be filled & sanded.
Of rather more concern is the choice of moulding a number of details onto the kit rather than provide separate parts. In particular, the driver’s hatch and periscopes are part of the hull, as are the various vent covers and such on the engine deck. The two large fans on the rear deck are moulded on, but in fairness to Italeri they have done a great job capturing the 3-D effect of the fans below screen covers, so a little TLC with paint, washes and dry-brushing should bring these up a treat.
The lower hull consists of a massive tub with the dampers and suspension-arm mountings slide-moulded on, so there is a faint seam to remove where the sides meet the floor. Separate snubbers are provided for the arms, as well as separate mountings for the return rollers. The arms themselves are keyed to get positive alignment of the suspension on level ground, but a bit of simple surgery would allow them to be rotated for a more dynamic pose on a diorama. All the wheels and sprockets mount with plastic caps that must be glued in place, so once mounted they cannot be removed.
The tracks themselves are made up of two lengths of vinyl per side, with pins heat-welded together in the old-fashioned way. Each link has a shallow ejector mark on one of the inner-face pads that shouldn’t be too noticeable once mounted as long as care is taken not to highlight them too much with weathering. (Bronco and AFV Club both make aftermarket individual-link “workable” replacement track sets for the Leopard 2.) If using the Italeri tracks I’d recommend “training” them into curves for the sprockets and idler by folding them into loops at the appropriate places and wrapping a rubber band around to hold the fold for a week or two to set in the curve before building. (This helps reduce stress on the idler and sprocket axles.)
The upper hull is an equally massive slab that includes the sponson sides and the track guards at the front. Detail is fairly crisp and the anti-slip coatings are very subtle, but the effect is let down by the incorporation of too many moulded-on details where separate parts could have allowed for undercuts and pose-able display options. Chief among these is the driver’s sliding hatch, which is moulded closed. The sides suffer from another oddity first seen in Italeri’s earlier kit of the first Leopard 2 (kit 243) – the side skirts include panels of details that make up part of the hull sides. This means the upper hull has holes in its sides, and the whole thing cannot be finished ready for painting until the skirts are attached. That means the track and wheels must be in place too, so there will be some careful assembly and masking required, when if the skirts could be left off until last the track could be left off too. (I intend to cut these panels off and install them in the hull so the skirts can be added later…) On the rear the whole plate is a single piece, so details like the tail lights and convoy plate do not have the necessary undercuts. Fortunately this will not be visible except from directly underneath the tank.
The turret is impressive both for the sheer size and the amount of details that are added to it. On the real thing the boxy turret from earlier versions is simply encased in new add-on armour at the front, but Italeri chose to make the turret top with the spaced armour moulded on. This is adequate, but means the panels don’t quite “float” off of the main structure as they should, and of course cannot be removed. (The real things are, I believe, hinged for maintenance.) The second issue is that the gun mantlet is fixed in place and cannot elevate, so the gun is forever at horizontal. On the plus side the two-piece L44 barrel is quite reasonable including the semi-octagonal shape of the muzzle. And better still, the kit also includes the longer L55 barrel needed to upgrade the tank to 2A6 standards. The moulded-in “stowage” in the rear turret bin is best covered over with closed hatches.
At this point I should say that the kit includes optional parts and decals for the Netherlands version of the 2A5. On the turret this includes a different smoke launcher array and a new FN MAG machine-gun to replace the MG3 on the loader’s hatch. However, the Dutch tanks use slightly different side skirts, which are not provided. The two turret hatches can be posed open or closed, but of course there is no interior detail to see, and no crew to block the view. There is however an optional deep-wading “conning tower” to fit the commander’s hatch. There are two external stowage bins on the rear turret sides made up of a plastic “pipe” frame covered in mesh. Previous experience with this mesh leaves me worried about this assembly, and I may look for aftermarket etch to replace it.
These take Italeri’s usual form of a long thin booklet folded from a single piece of paper. A potted history in several languages is followed by useful drawings of the parts sprues, and then the isometric assembly drawings. Parts for the Dutch alternative are called out, and the painting instructions likewise show the two different markings, but suspiciously the base drawing of the camouflage is exactly the same!
The sheet covers two vehicles with rather Spartan markings – one from the Bundeswehr and one from the Dutch forces.
While this kit is a little dated and has been overshadowed by the more detailed Tamiya version, it still has potential to build up into a very nice model of either the 2A5 or 2A6 version. Better still, it can be found at roughly half the price of its rival. The only issues I have are the non-elevating gun and the tracks, but both can be sorted with a little effort. For the dedicated Bundeswehr modeller on a budget this is a good way to add the latest generation of Leopard to the collection without breaking the bank.