by: Russ Amott [ ]
The rocket launcher T34, often referred to as the "Calliope" because of its resemblance to the pipe organ, was a multiple tube rocket launcher developed towards the end of WWII, and designed to be fitted to an M4 medium tank frame. The system consisted of 60 4.5" rocket tubes fitted in rows on a rack that could be aimed to a degree by affixing the elevation rod to a collar around the gun barrel, with the framework attached to the turret sides. As the main gun was elevated, it would elevate the rocket tubes. The downside was that the gun could not be fired with the collar in place. A way around this was to mount the collar to the rotor shield, freeing the barrel to fire.
The idea behind the system was to put a maximum of firepower on a target in as short a time as possible. The T34 system fired all 60 rockets in 30 seconds out to a range of approximately 4000 yards, with each rocket having the explosive effect of a 105mm artillery shell. The downside was that it was tall, highly visible and impeded the tank's effectiveness as a tank. Tank commanders disliked being given what they thought was an artillery role. It also impeded egress from the turret and as stated above, if the collar was fitted to the main gun it could not be used with the launcher in place, although there was an emergency jettison capability that could dump the launcher in seconds.
Academy has offered a boxing of the T34 launcher using their own parts mixed with the launcher from the old Italeri kit.
The kit comes in a large, sturdy box with artwork based on a well documented photo of a tank from the 12th Armored division, "Cold Storage" firing the launcher.
The kit parts are well protected inside the box, being packaged separately in individual plastic pouches. The contents consist of parts from almost every variant of the M4 that Academy has manufactured, along with their new accessory sprue. The Academy plastic is a greenish gray, while the separate Italeri T34 rocket launcher is in light gray.
The parts appear to be well molded, with good details visible. There are a few minor sink marks but no parts that were unusable. There were no molding issues that I could see aside from the standard seam lines that are the nature of injection molding.
Based on the kit contents and information at the Sherman Minutia website, the kit should represent a Fisher produced M4A3(W) 75mm tank.
Starting from the ground up, the kit includes two sets of VVSS suspension, one with the straight return roller arms and a newer set with raised return roller arms. Both sets have casting numbers molded on. Two choices of road wheel and idlers are included; one with the open spoke wheels and one with the pressed wheels. There are also two types of drive sprocket, the simple plate and fancy plate bevelled between the teeth, which is normally associated with Chrysler built tanks. The later style skids lack bolt head detail but these can be obtained from the unused early skids. The final drive covers have good detail and are the correct size. The tracks are the T48 rubber chevron with extended end connectors. They are made from a soft and very pliable vinyl that should fit easily around the suspension but are connected at the end by either melting the tabs with a hot screwdriver or with some superglue. These would look great but for several prominent molding tabs on the track face. They may be hidden from view on the assembled kit.
The mounting plates for the VVSS are molded to the sides of the hull. This is the same hull used in the M4A3 HVSS and has raised circular marks for mounting the HVSS suspension visible on the sides that will need to be carefully removed. There is a square cut out in the hull bottom that I understand is a part of the molding process. An insert is included to plug this. The cast transmission cover includes casting numbers and texture, though the texture diminishes around where the seam lines would be. The idler arms and mounting plate are molded in place with the back adjustment portion a separate part. The rear plate and engine access door are separate parts. The exhausts are recessed on the ends but this will be hidden behind the exhaust deflector. There is no exhaust for the auxiliary turret motor. There are sponson floors.
The upper hull as has texture on the forward hatch section but no casting numbers. The hinge point on the hatch openings appears to me to be off, with the hinge lip looking too high and ending too abruptly compared to photos. The weld beads are recessed around the hull, except for at the rear by the filler caps. The two periscopes at the front of the hull can be positioned open or closed. The bullet splash along the hull front extends all the way across in front of the periscopes. The hull lifting rings are positioned inboard. The forward cable clamp is located farther back on the hull rather than towards the front left corner. The turret ring has a squared off lip towards the front behind the hatches that should not be there. The engine deck and access doors are molded separately, and the fuel filler caps are also separate. The mounting strip for the sand shields is molded as a simple lip on the lower edge of the hull.
The turret is the high bustle type with pistol port and loaders hatch. The gunner's sight has the fixed armored cover with a separate periscope. You have a choice of the split hatch or vision cupola for the commander. The split hatch has the equilabrator springs and the cupola has screw head detail around the edges. The turret lacks the thickened cheek armor and casting marks but does have nice cast texture. The loader's hatch has separate springs for enhanced detail. The gun mount and rotor shield have nice detail and the rotor shield has casting marks. The main gun is a single piece with a separate end with hollowed out muzzle. The coaxial MG is a full gun that slips in at the side but there is no breech for the main gun. The hatches all have inside detail if you wish to pose them open but there is no interior detail at all. The 2" mortar is represented by an oval recess. The antenna bracket appears to be the Chrysler type with the plate on top rather than the Fisher type with the raised sides. Two different antenna bases are provided, one straight standing and one bent at a 45 degree angle.
Small details are well done. The periscopes are molded in gray plastic but are very well represented. The periscopes are position able. The periscope guards are molded fairly thin and I think look good for the scale. The light and horn brush guards are provided as thick styrene with flash or optional photoetch. The pioneer tools are part of the earliest releases and look a little dated. You also get the old .50 cal or the newest slide molded gun with separate barrel. My sample was cleanly molded.
The T34 rocket system looks nicely molded but there is a lot of fine flash on the ends of the launch tubes. The base of the tube has the rocket motors visible. The system is position able and includes the option of mounting the launcher to the gun or above it.
The instructions are provided as simple line drawings and are clear and easy to follow. They include an extension for the extra assembly of the T34 system.
A painting guide is included, with color callout by number for Humbrol enamel, GSI CReos Aqueous hobby color and Mr. Color brands, Lifecolor, Testors/Model Master enamel and acrylic, Revell enamel and acrylic, and Vallejo model colr and model air. Painting is fairly simple as the tank is overall olive drab. Decals are thin and well printed. Basic markings are provided for three vehicles.
1-US 12th Armored Division, Fletrange, France, March 1945. "Cold Storage". This is the vehicle on the box art. It is taken from the photo seen here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T34_Calliope A rear view is visible here: http://www.pwm.org.pl/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=11577 It shows a large stowage box that will need to be scratch built.
2-US 14th Armored Division, Germany, early 1945. The only vehicles from the 14th AD that I could find all had sandbag armor on the sides but my available references are limited.
3-standard M4A3 without the T34 system, US 95th infantry division, Germany, January 1945, "Ask Mae"
I wanted to see how the various new parts would go together and settled in for what I expected would be a simple build. I started with the suspension. The stamped road wheels have back inserts that fit tightly but still have a small gap around the edge. They fit fine on the lower arms but fitting this to the bogie was excessively tight and it required a little work with the file to open the hole. Careful gluing leaves the assembly workable but it should be fixed when the kit is complete to prevent the tracks from pulling the road wheels up. I put the bolts on the skids and went to put them in place but they seemed just a bit short. They also didn't fit cleanly to the hull. I had to trim off the upper placement pin on the front sets on both sides to get them on. There is a noticeable gap on the bottom that won't be seen unless you place the kit upside down.
I added the final drive and transmission cover. Again it took some dry fitting and a bit of trimming on the bottom to get things to fit cleanly. The rear plate went on with no issue but the idler base didn't line up and there was a gap. I had to remove the mounting tab so that I could position the part in alignment and eliminate the gap. The idler wheels were too far out on the axles and I had to open up the hole on the wheel a bit to get it to fit and align with the road wheels. I opted to place the upper hull to see how things lined up and because I didn't want to fiddle with it after all the details were added. The upper hull has a small gap along the top of the bolt strip at the transmission cover.
I used Perfect Plastic Putty and their syringe applicator to fill in the trench weld along the hull edge. This putty can be treated with water to smooth it out, even after it has been dry for some time. It took some trial fitting to get the engine deck doors in place, which I have heard other modellers comment on as well. The handles are molded in place as solid blobs and need to be replaced with wire. The hull hatches seem to sit awkwardly on the hull at the hinge point. I left some of the details off as I normally knock those parts off while handling the model during construction.
The turret base has tabs that need to be removed and replaced with an alternate kit part. The turret also needed the thickened cheek armor added, which I did with some stock styrene and green squadron putty. The gun mount is also a very tight fit and needed some sanding to help it fit better so that it would move. I will need to add the casting numbers to the turret and hull.
I assembled the T34 launcher, opting to clean up the parts once it was assembled as I hoped it would be more stable and easier to work on. The parts are thin and quite flexible. It is a little tricky getting the tubes to line up properly and eliminate any seams. I had to work around the outside and then get each tube one at a time. I attached the tube sets to the frame, but managed to get the two frame sections reversed so the mounting bracket is at the rear. I will need to scratch a plate for the mounting point.
To place the rocket launcher on the turret, two rectangular holes need to be opened up on the sides at precise locations. There is no pre-marked area. Judging from the completed launcher, if it is off it will sit very crooked. One of the holes needs to be opened up in the area where the thickened cheek is added. To properly represent the launcher a lot of wiring will need to be added, and the straps will need some fixing or replacing. The tubes were wired in groups of six and the wires run through the antenna port or from one photo what looks like the periscope.
My dilemma right now is whether to build the kit with the T34 or as a normal M4A3, which I have wanted for some time. There are a few fixes to take care of, but I think I can get them. Academy includes a set of numbers, letters and basic foundry marks on one of the sprues, along with some extra bolt heads and buckles. I like the detail of the kit overall. I will have to fit the tracks to see how much the molding marks will show. This isn't as trouble free a build as other Academy kits have been with the fit issues I have encountered, but all have been correctable. I think the kit is worth it just for the M4A3, and the T34 launcher is a bonus.
The list price is $59.00 US, but it can be found for much less so always shop carefully for the best price.
Sherman Minutia http://the.shadock.free.fr/sherman_minutia/
Information on the T34 launcher