by: Sean Langley [ ]
The M2 0.50Ē machine-gun scarcely needs an introduction. Nearly a hundred years since it was designed, itís still being manufactured and has only just officially become the M2A1 variant. The vast majority of M2s are the M2HB (heavy barrel) version, air-cooled with - in most applications - a characteristic short perforated sleeve at the breech end and a carrying handle slung underneath. Theyíve appeared everywhere: in aircraft wings and turrets, on the roofs of almost every US military vehicle (and a fair few others too), and in many ground-firing and anti-aircraft set-ups. Over 3 million have been made and production shows no sign of stopping.
The M2ís ubiquity means that it appears in large numbers of armour and infantry kits. Usually you get a fairly basic pintle and a gun that might comprise five or six parts. Some are better than others, but moulding limitations have usually meant that they lack finesse. Most importantly, the barrel and sleeve (short or long) will generally be in one piece and the perforations just indentations. There are ways round this. Brass replacement barrels are one; another is to buy a resin-and-photo etched kit that will drive you mad with how fiddly they are but should come out absolutely cracking. AFV Club has slipped into the market with a slightly different approach for some of the M2ís WW2 uses.
The first difference between this set and many others is that you can build two quite different guns from it. In fact, there are more options than that, although only two can come out of the available parts. Those options are -
short sleeve with plain muzzle
short sleeve with flash suppressor
long sleeve with plain muzzle
Vehicle pintle (two types)
M63 AA mount
The reason this translates into two complete guns is that the long-sleeved version is moulded with the barrel and half the breech in one piece, while the short-sleeved version is a single breech-plus-sleeve with a choice of barrels.
Almost all of this new set is injection-moulded polystyrene, with only two tiny PE frets for the finer details. There are 80 plastic and 14 photo etched brass parts. The sprue that carries the gun barrels uses multi-part moulds to give open muzzles and a very fine rendition of the short sleeve, on which all four rows of perforations go all the way through. The long sleeve, being solid, relies on dimples for its perforations, and some of them are deeper than others. In this respect itís still a little way short of some of the brass barrels on the market.
The gun breeches both come in three parts - although, while the top covers are separate, the insides donít have the detail to allow you to depict a gun being loaded. There are two pairs of firing handles for the different breeches, a cocking handle for one (the otherís is moulded into it), and a choice of sights that are assembled out of the PE brass. Itís a little confusing but there seems to be one large ring-and-bead for AA work and either a smaller ring or a pair of beads for other work. The AA bead sits on a complicated mount thatís folded out of a single piece of PE with three PE nuts added; thereís also some microscopic rolling of parts for other features. So if you like eye-watering and fiddly, this set wonít disappoint! Thereís also a choice of ammunition boxes, with two styles of feed, and matching holders. The instructions donít say how these attach but if you know your way round the M2 you can probably spot it with no trouble.
The M3 tripod comes either folded or deployed (using alternative trailing legs) and has two rear feet and a different front foot, all separate. Thereís also a rear stay for the underside of the breech that you use only in this application.
The M63 mount has seven parts for the central post and three for each of the four legs, plus twelve for the trigger group (you use only ten, the choice depending whether you want them stowed or deployed). Another PE part goes with the deployed triggers, though the instructions say nothing about it when theyíre folded away. You canít assemble the triggers so that they remain moveable, and the same applies to the legs, although with surgery it might at least be possible to fix them folded away for carriage.
One feature is hard to explain. If you use the long-sleeved gun on the M63, the instructions tell you to omit a group of parts that connects the trigger group to the back of the pintle. These parts are, so far as I can tell, always featured on the M63 installation, as an integral part of linking the triggers to the mount, so itís not obvious why only one style of gun is meant to have them. In addition, where the instructions show this group assembled, they feature a small stay linking this group to the pivot for the triggers, which doesnít seem to be included in the assembly. One of the PE parts is absent from the instructions, but this doesnít appear to be it. However, Iím not familiar enough with this set-up to know for certain; if anyone wants to chip in, youíll be more than welcome. Iím also not completely happy about the order of assembly here - it seems to have you inserting one small, delicate group between two others and hooking one end over something else. Dry-fitting would be a wise move.
The standard of moulding is very high. All parts are crisp with few ejector pin marks, and most of those can probably be ignored as theyíll be hidden. The finer parts make good use of extensions for the pins to keep the parts clean. Thereís a little bit of flash, and youíll want to watch that some of the location pinsí holes might need opening out. Unfortunately there are also fine mould seams on all the sprues. These should scrape away easily enough, but with so many round parts there will be a lot of scraping to do, and even the flat-section parts have been cut into both sides of the mould so that they have their share of seams too. One other small niggle is that one boxís exposed ammunition has links while the other doesnít. The brass is fine and clean, and the ring sights are a joy to behold. In fact the main problem will probably be keeping them flat.
Itís tempting to see this set as slightly over-engineered. Five parts for a single ammunition box is a lot compared with the more basic items that tend to be provided with armour kits. But thatís pretty much inevitable to reach this degree of detail.