One of the things you have to love about Tamiya is how they sometimes produce a kit you never thought they would ever make. In the 70s, I remember being amazed when the SAS "Pink Panther" Land Rover came out. At the time of Iraqi Freedom, Tamiya was updating their modern MBT series. The usual suspects were there: M1A2 Abrams, Leopard 2A6, Challenger II (Desertized). Then out of the blue, there was the Leclerc Series 2. Whoever the Francophile at Tamiya was, they decided to indulge him and came out with the Char B1bis and then this kit: The French Armored Carrier UE. Note that the Renault is not mentioned, probably for trademark/royalty reasons.
What makes it really odd is that the Renault UE is not a tank or even armed. The UE was a tracked armored supply vehicle developed to bring supplies and the 25mm anti-tank gun to units at the front lines. I know many were disappointed that they hadn't come out with a Somua S35 after the Char B, but I am among those grateful for any WW2 non-German/Soviet/US subject. There was an armed variant built for China (10 made) and possibly built in haste after the invasion by Germany. The Germans also used the UE in France for utility duties. The French decided that something larger and more powerful than the UE was necessary and began building the Lorraine Schlepper as its replacement.
The kit represents a UE of the 3rd or 4th batch or a UE2. The kit overall seems to match the scale drawings in my primary reference. Tamiya has modeled the difference between versions correctly.
The kit consists of olive-drab trees. There are two of tree A with the UE suspension, one tree B with the rest of the UE, two of tree C for the trailer suspension, one tree D for the rest of the trailer, two of tree Y with the crew half figures and some cargo, one tree Z for the two standing figures, and a small tree of vinyl polycaps. There are the usual Tamiya multi-lingual instructions (including one small page of errata for the trailer), a small sheet of decals, and uh, tweezers? This does not bode well for my bad eyes and shaky hands. Perhaps this is for mollifying "She Who Must Be Obeyed" for yet another kit purchase. If she just gives you a questioning look, resist the urge to suggest areas of her face that could profit from their application.
There is no interior but it's not like one could see much, especially so with the half-figures in place. The rear cargo bin is tilt able and a tracked cargo trailer is provided. The domes covering the crew can be posed open. Unusually for a Tamiya kit, the tracks are of the "Link and length" type where individual links are used for the curved areas around wheels and lengths are used for the straight portions.
The molding is typical modern Tamiya quality - No flash or sink holes and with details that are sharp and crisp. Most mold ejection pin marks are on surfaces that won't be seen. Exceptions will be noted below. The instructions are typical multi-language Tamiya. The markings are all for unknown units in June 1940, one for each UE version modeled.
Castle Nuts - A Brief Digression
Castle nuts do not look like regular nuts. The UE and trailer uses these in the suspension, however Tamiya chose to represent them as regular nuts. I will leave it to the reader to decide if it is worth the trouble to correct this. Castle nuts are called this as they look like the top of a castle. Imagine a 6-sided nut with slits cut down into each flat side. The bolt that comes through the nut has a hole drilled through it. Once the nut is screwed into place, it is turned until the hole lines up with a slit. A cotter pin is then inserted to lock the nut and bolt in place. You can probably use a nice sharp blade to make the slits to turn a regular nut into a castle nut. Just don't cut all the way through as there will be a bolt sticking up through the nut.
I was quite worried for a while. The suspension did not match the scale profile in the reference. Correcting the problems would require a lot of surgery. Fortunately, the reference has several nice profile photos of the UE and they seem to side with Tamiya. One nice thing about the link and length tracks are that the top lengths have some sag cast into them. The idler and drive sprocket nuts should be castle nuts.Hull
Tamiya made the unfortunate decision to mold part B24 (tilt bin bottom) with the most detailed side facing the mold ejection pins. Mind you, I can see their logic. The inside of the tilt bin is the most visible however since there is no detail there, it would have been an easy matter to clean up the pin marks. The marks on the outer face will only be seen when the bin was tilted back. Cleaning up them up will take a little care to avoid the bracing. When building a UE2, be sure to sand off the attachment marks for the unused angle brackets on the bin's rear plate (B19).
There are missing rivets from the side of the distributer access hatch as well as from the front upper lip of the engine intake grill. The gear train for the tilting bin is very simply represented which can present a problem if the bin is posed in the tilted position. A minor error is that the rear tow hook should be curved down, not up. Detail fanatics will also probably want to replace the muffler shield with a nice photo-etch part to do the louvers on the side justice, but the plastic part is fine enough for the rest of us. There are some missing rivets on the top of the shield. You might want to remove the pin marks on the inboard side of the muffler mounting plate (B34) since they might be visible after attaching to the hull. Part B44 (socket wrench? Starter crank?) is fragile so watch your fingers (guess how I found that out). If it is a socket wrench, you might want to drill a hole for the socket. There is an elliptical badge which should say "Renault" but instead has square blocks for the letters. Trailer
The most obvious mistake on the trailer is that the lower fork (D15) is molded as a simple square cross-section when it is more like a C (facing outboard). You could add the upper and lower lip with thin styrene using the fork as a starting pattern. There are missing bolt heads all along the side of the fork, especially at the connector. The cable to connect the trailer tail lights to the UE is also missing from the right side of the fork. This cable would be attached to part B10 on the UE. There are brackets on the lower edge of the sides that connect the braces on the side to the braces on the bottom. These brackets are solid on the kit when they should be square U-shaped. There are ejection pin marks on the inside of the trailer sides but they should be easy to get rid of. Most others are in places you won't see. All three nuts on the outer suspension arm should be castle nuts. Like the UE, the Renault badge on the trailer uses square blocks for letters.Figures
There are two half-figures for the UE crew and two full infantry figures, all appropriate for the German invasion of France. The crews are identical half-figures with separate head, tanker's helmet, and goggles. The crew have no arms but you won't see them even if you pose the domes open. The two infantrymen have a one piece body, separate head, arms, helmet, MAS 36 rifles, packs, and water bottles. These figures have the wrap-around puttees (instead of the later lace-up leggings) and the 1916 ammunition pouches. According to Osprey's book, the rifles and ammunition pouches were not issued at the same time, so some units had the older rifles with 1935 pouches and some had the MAS with 1916 pouches. I'm not an expert at figures so I won't comment on how natural their pose or faces look. The standing figures have a rather major seam that will need cleaning up.Decals
The decals seem fine with no registration problems.Instructions
The instructions are typical multi-language Tamiya type. The instructions are pretty clear with no typos.
I am always very happy to see Tamiya venture into areas where few other major manufacturers have tread. Despite the flaws, this makes a nice kit out of the box for us simple builders and a good base for those who prize accuracy. For the latter, Voyager makes a PE set for this kit which should fix some of the problems I've noted (I have not received mine yet).References
Editions du Barbotin Focus #1: Renault UE (also Reviewed Here
Osprey Men at Arms #315: The French Army 1939-45 (1)