The M24 Chaffee was just about the best light tank of WW2 and one of the handiest ever made. It was among the first fruits of the extensive development that the US Army undertook to improve its armoured forces after experience early in the war. It came out with torsion-bar suspension, ballistically shaped armour, a lightweight but powerful gun the equal of the early Shermanís, and all in a package only eighteen feet long. Used correctly in the reconnaissance role, it was an extremely effective tank, and survived well past the introduction of its successor, the M41. M24s were sold all round the world and some remained in service well into the 1990s. Uruguay still has a handful with improved main guns.
France was a big user of the M24 after the war, the tank being essential to the rebuilding of its armed forces. It was especially useful in the French colonies in North Africa and South-East Asia. In 1954 ten were sent to the besieged base at Dien Bien Phu, airlifted in bits before being painstakingly re-assembled and used as semi-mobile artillery. There are still remnants to be seen in Vietnam, and a sorry sight they are too.
latest (fifth!) boxing of its M24 kit is billed as ďFrench M24 in Indochina WarĒ. It actually differs very little from earlier boxings of the WW2 versions. A few items are absent, and there are no crew figures, but otherwise the sprue map is much the same as the other versions. (This means we still have no sign of Sprue B or some sections of Sprue C, which is making me wonder what might be next.) Another small difference is that this boxing uses grey plastic. In total you get 555 styrene parts (54 unused), 125 in photo-etched brass (14 unused), 15 in clear styrene, and a further 840 for the tracks, making 1535 in all (less 68). You will genuinely not be able to get the lid back on the box!
There are two main reasons for this enormous parts count. One, as you can see, is the tracks. France used its M24s for a long time and applied many of the service upgrades, so Bronco Models
supply two full sets. There are one-piece links for the original all-metal T72 tracks, and three-piece links for the later T85. These assemble in the characteristic Bronco Models
way of trapping pins between the inner and outer faces of the links to create double-pin connections. The numbers provided are just huge. The instructions say you need 150 links in total; for the T72 you get 168 (in fact my sample had an extra sprue, so I have 180); and for the T85 you get 224. So, depending on your choice of tracks, youíll use either 1299 or 1243 parts, which Iím sure youíll agree is much more reasonable.
The other reason is that many elements of the build are either highly detailed, or very complicated, or both.
Letís look at the complicated stuff first. The entire running gear is designed to be workable. Not just the tracks - everything. So where a conventional track tensioner might have one part, this kitís has three. The combination of swing-arm and shock absorber might normally be two pieces; here, itís five, because the shock absorber has a separate piston and is pinned to the hull and the swing-arm so that both can pivot. The pins (in two sizes!) are works of art but theyíre minute, and you get only just enough of them. Inside the hull, there are ten torsion bars for the suspension and covers for them in pairs.
This sounds remarkable, but I really canít see the point. The components canít be robust enough to withstand actually being used as they seem to be intended. The T72 tracks wouldnít survive a single turn round the wheels, and the T85s probably no more than two. The swing-arms mount to the torsion bars, and the wheels to the arms, using pins that are too small to hold them properly. On top of that, the torsion bars are fixed at one end and free to turn at the other; but, being styrene, they canít be twisted as the real things are. The one advantage of this I can see is that you can set up the suspension for any terrain if youíre building a diorama. But Iíd strongly recommend that, once youíve chosen an attitude, you glue everything solid. The same applies to the main gun - the styrene spring is intriguing, but ...
Another area that seems needlessly complicated is the upper hull. The turret ring and glacis are a single part. Normally the engine deck would be another. Here, though, there are seven separate pieces. There are no frames within the hull to help you place them - they have to be balanced against each other, working back from the turret ring, with only small lips along the joints to support them. Thereís clear potential for a small error to grow as you progress. I suspect some form of internal support will be a must. And thereís no obvious reason for this. I wondered briefly if Bronco Models
might be planning derivatives (Iíd be very interested in an M41 HMC) but the differences would be far more extensive than leaving out part of the rear deck. The only explanation seems to be to allow individual engine doors to be left open. But with nothing under them, it would take a serious scratch-builder to make the most of this - and that modeller would surely slice up a single-piece deck without a pause.
In fact, the only detail inside the hull is the
torsion bar covers. This sits oddly alongside the much better detail inside the turret, where you get a full gun breech, all three seats, and a very good radio. Even then, though, thereís not a full interior - no wiring, no lighting, no ammunition stowage. This is fair enough, as many modellers prefer to put figures in hatches rather than depict the interior in full. But while all four hatches are well detailed inside and out, and can all be left open, thereís nothing at all in the forward hull.
This may sound as though Iím not impressed. Actually, itís quite the opposite. Iím very impressed with what there is. Itís just that Bronco Models
choices about where to apply all this artistry are a bit of a mystery. The rest of the kit is a marvel of high-fidelity detail. Many components that are commonly moulded as single parts are broken down Dragon-style to ensure that the detail is as fine as possible. This is sometimes at the expense of extreme fiddliness, but with a steady hand a great result should be possible. Highlights include:
- one-piece idlers that include the lightening holes around the rim, and similar sprocket cores to which you attach the tooth rings
- a beautiful fifty-cal with the main gun body moulded in one piece and a slide-moulded barrel to slot into it
- cracking weld seams around the turret and upper hull, plus casting numbers moulded on the mantlet
- tiny photo-etched casting numbers for the transmission covers - one for gloss varnish, I suspect
- very tidy wheel hubs, with four long bolts giving just the right impression of a slightly square mounting
- fully legible ďFirestoneĒ branding on the tyres
- a choice of polystyrene or photo-etched headlight brush guards, with formers for the latter
- excellent clear polystyrene episcopes and headlight lenses
- a glass windscreen (no, really!) with a lovely wiper integral with the frame.
Iíve a couple of small final moans. One concerns the tow cable. The length of nylon thread is nicely smooth. Unfortunately, the eyes at either end have no slots to fit it into - youíre expected to butt-join the two, and drilling is unlikely to work. This is an odd omission, considering how easy it would have been with slide-moulding, and how well thatís been used elsewhere. Itís also a shame that the ends of the pins on the T85 tracks werenít placed round the edges of the sprues and slide-moulded. The T72s show how much better it could have been.
One thing to watch for. The kit has two options for the sprocket teeth (they differ in the depth of the gap between the teeth) but the instructions say only to use one. That one applies to the T85 tracks; if youíre using the T72s, you should use the other sprockets, according to other boxings with those tracks. Itís possible that the French Army didnít change sprockets when it changed tracks, so get the best references you can.
The quality of the moulding is uniformly high. Thereís a small amount of flash but no warping. I can find no sink marks and no ejector pins in places that matter, partly thanks to the widespread use of separate pips (I wish more manufacturers would do this). A few on the backs of the wheels might be a little tall, but thatís easily solved. Mould seams are very fine and thereís no slippage - a mercy with the one-piece main gun barrel.
Because this boxing includes a largely standardised set of sprues, there are a few alternative parts that youíre not meant to use for this version. But if youíre careful with your references, and can get decals, it should be possible to build a number of other versions from whatís provided. For instance, the build has you use the track guards with their separate edges, but not the side skirts. (In fact, even French M24s used the skirts at times, so itís not essential to leave them off.) There are also some parts that might have been discarded in other boxes but are options in this one, such as a choice of lamps on the cupola.
A small, well-printed decal sheet gives eight marking options. Despite the box title, one option is for an infantry regiment in Morocco, while the rest are for service in Indochina. The marking diagrams are careful to show which tracks and other options to use. The lettering looks pretty correct for the characteristic French number plates, although for some reason one of the tanks used at Dien Bien Phu is spelled ďSMQLENSKĒ.
Six of the options are plain olive drab - weather, fade, stain etc at your leisure. The other two are covered in an intricate pattern of what Bronco Models
calls yellow and red-brown. I have some doubts about this. A club-mate has been researching the Dien Bien Phu M24s in the hope of making one out of Italeriís old kit (heís gutted!), and he tells me that the finish was actually a makeshift camouflage made by smearing mud over the surface. The instructions give the impression that it was paint, airbrushed on, and while ďred-brownĒ might be used to describe the local soil, Iím not at all sure about yellow. Ochre, perhaps, if it was two tones, though the photographic evidence is little help. Another fishy feature is that on each of these options, the left side diagram is a mirror-image of the right. Pictures of the remaining tanks show no disruptive pattern, so my guess it was mud thatís since washed off, and you shouldnít bother too much about layout and adjust colours to taste.
Finally, the instructions are good. Iíve found only two mistakes, both of them trivial. Assembly is clear; the detail diagram showing how the tool clips go together is especially welcome. A slight mystery is that youíre told how to assemble ammunition boxes and jerry cans but not told what to do with them, apart from ďAttach to sendĒ. The kit bags and satchels arenít mentioned at all, not even in the sprue map, but there are ample tie-down points to give their placement some variety.