As the war situation deteriorated and the Luftwaffe lost air superiority, interest in armored mobile anti-aircraft Flakpanzers intensified. The Flakpanzer Wirbelwind, along with its cousin the Ostwind, represented the culmination of innovation in this department using existing available designs with some modifications as opposed to designing specific vehicles from the ground-up. Unlike other adapted/hybrid designs however, the Wirbelwind was not a factory-produced vehicle but was instead assembled at essentially a field-workshop set up at Sagan in Silesia. The workshop, staffed by 80 men and referred to as Ostbau-Sagan, made modifications to existing Pzkpfw IV hulls (Ausf G, H, and a few Js) that had been sent back for factory-level repairs and fitted them with modified 2.0cm Flakvierling 38s mounted in an armored open-topped turret. The modified Flakvierlings were produced by one manufacturer while the turrets were produced by another at different locations and shipped separately to Sagan where the Ostbau-Sagan team did the final assembly and installation, creating the Wirbelwind as the end result. Official production reports note that 122 Wirbelwinds were produced between July 1944 and March 1945 and that the same design was used throughout the production span.
The kit is packaged in the standard slip top cardboard box with the sprues packaged in clear bags, some of which contain multiple sprues per bag, so care is needed when removing them to avoid damaging some of the more delicate parts. The standard “Dragon card” is also included which has the separate bags of Magic Tracks, PE fret, decals, clear parts sprue, and braided wire taped to it and resting on top of the bagged sprues. The kit consists of over 680 parts with a great many of these marked as “Not for Use” arranged in the following:
• 17 sprues of light gray styrene
• 1 sprue of clear styrene
• 1 light gray styrene hull tub
• 2 separately molded turret halves in a protective plastic mount
• 1 PE brass fret
• 1 300mm length of braided wire
• 2 bags of 108 each of handed Magic Tracks links
• 1 decal sheet
• Instruction booklet
This kit carries the “Smart Kit” designation and as such many of the sprues have a heritage reaching back to other earlier “Smart Kit” releases by DML including specifically the Pzkpw IV Ausf G (kit #6363), Sdkfz 7/1 (kit #6525), and the previous Wirbelwind (kit #6540) released in 2009 as well as some parts from the Pzkpfw IV Ausf H (kit #6300) with a very small number of all-new parts provided for the bolt-on hull armor option to round out things. This of course produces some duplication in the sprue lettering and a very large number of “Not for Use” parts that will find their way into the spares bin.
DML has chosen to designate this kit as an “Early Production” vehicle on the box top but this is somewhat misleading given the unorthodox production history of the Wirbelwind. DML’s previous Wirbelwind on a Pzkpfw IV-H hull didn’t carry any specific designation beyond the Sdkfz 161/4 description (used for all Wirbelwinds regardless of hull type), so the application of the “early” label in this case is done primarily to distinguish this as a new/different kit, which in many ways it is, as opposed to an “actual” designation used for Wirbelwind production. Put simply, what makes this truly different from the prior release is the base Pzkpfw IV chassis that is provided in the form of an Ausf G hull and features vs. that of an Ausf H in kit #6540. Everything else remains exactly the same and overall the quality of the molding on the kit is of the standard we’ve come to expect from DML with no flash present and mold seams kept to a minimum. Some parts do have numerous small “node” attachments that will require careful cleanup but isn’t something that an experienced modeler can’t handle.
Suspension and Tracks:
The hull tub and suspension are all lifted straight from the Pzkpfw IV Ausf G kit # 6363, also previously reviewed on Armorama
and this in turn provides its own set of options depending on whether you want to build a very specific Wirbelwind or just one that was built on a “generic” IV-G hull. The Magic Tracks provided are the standard open horn 40cm track type with 108 right light gray and 108 left dark gray handed individual links provided, insuring that you have plenty of extras of both types left over. The links have two ejector marks, usually raised, on each link that will require a little cleanup to use but otherwise are molded cleanly. The Magic Track links are designed to also do double-duty for the spare track runs on the hull nose and glacis with additional special tracks inserted for the glacis run that include the retaining pins as a nice added detail. Options are also provided on the glacis spare track run for the use of either styrene or PE parts to replicate the holders and the PE holders have the added bonus of allowing the holders to be shown empty.
Hull and Fenders:
The standard IV-G hull features are provided in the kit with the usual provisions made for the armored final drive housings and suspension bogey covers. The kit includes a plug on the rear hull plate since the auxiliary turret traverse motor on the standard Pzkpfw IV was removed in favor of a manual turret traverse for the Flakvierling that was linked to the standard hand-wheel traverse mechanism used by the gunner. There are specific parts provided to also accurately replicate the bracing and mount hardware for the hull interior as well as an interior floor insert and revised turret ring base that are highly detailed since a good deal of this is visible through the open floor of the Flakvierling turret and/or if you opted to display the turret separate from the vehicle for diorama or other purposes. The IV-G superstructure side panels also provide for the option to pose the side vision ports in the open or closed position and clear parts are provided to accurately replicate the armored glass portions of the ports. The antenna is also accurately relocated to the rear of the hull and a small armored plug provided for the hull side where the antenna was normally mounted on the IV-G.
The braided wire provided for the tow cables is made of steel and comes twisted into a tight circle on the Dragon card. This means the wire is not straight to begin with and by its nature is very stiff, making it difficult to bend/shape as needed. In my build experience, the styrene mount hooks often prove too weak to handle the tension in the steel wire and you may find that replacing the wire with copper or string or using brass rod to replace the hooks provides a better and sturdier option. PE inserts are provided for the rear engine deck plate to allow for the cooling slats to be posed in a varied position and/or to provide detail to the underside of the access hatches if an engine were added and the hatches posed in the open position. The kit also includes options for either bolted-on (provided as all-new parts) or welded-on additional armor plates for the superstructure front and hull nose, a nice touch as it allows for a wider spectrum of G-hull variations seen in different photos of Wirbelwinds in the field.
The fenders are molded with excellent tread plate and bolt detail on both their upper and lower surfaces and have some of the mount brackets molded in place with most of the tools featuring molded-on clamps. An option is provided for the front headlight as either a Notek or Bosch light for the left fender with different mount holes needing to be opened depending on your choice, again allowing for individual variation depending on the Wirbelwind you wish to replicate. The side air intake covers are also provided with the option of using either styrene or PE parts and some mount holes on the tops of the intakes originally designed for the cleaning rod mounts for the IV-G 7.5cm gun will need to be filled with putty.
Flakvierling and Turret:
The Flakvierling and turret assembly take up a lion’s share of the kit as you might expect with 8 construction steps devoted to this area. The Flakvierling is taken straight from the Sdkfz 7/1 as indicated on the sprue labels and does require some small modifications in the form of surgical adjustment to some of the base mount ammunition rack parts to fit inside the confines of the Wirbelwind turret. These modifications are clearly called out in the instructions and should not present a major challenge to the builder. PE parts are provided for the gun-sight as well as for the spent casing bin.
The gun muzzles on the four 2.0cm guns are molded hollow via slide-molding technology but the flash suppressors do not have the open perforations or slots on the necks, only dimples as representations of the openings, requiring either delicate work with a pin vise to open them up and/or replacement with after-market barrels to get a truly accurate look. An option is provided in the angle/pose of the gunner’s seat and two posing angles are offered for the guns and sight in the instruction diagrams, so choose carefully as it doesn’t appear that the guns are designed to be fully movable after assembly. Two spare barrel boxes are provided which can be posed open or closed with inserts representing the spare barrel and equipment details and are mounted on the exterior hull over the air intakes.
The turret itself has excellent weld detail included to accurately recreate the custom-built turrets for the Wirbelwind with weld detail on both the exterior and interior surfaces. The turret comes in two parts and is molded very thin to replicate the scale thickness of the 16mm plates on the actual vehicle and DML made an excellent decision in how they packaged these delicate parts inside the kit box. Rather than have them as their own sprue in a bag, the turret halves are mounted on a specially molded clear plastic support to insure that they hold their shape and don’t warp over time in the box. The turret interior includes the ready ammo racks holding 8 clips in total as well as the crew seats to round things out in that department.
Instructions and Finishing Guide:
The kit instructions follow the standard DML mode of fold-out black and white exploded diagrams and sub-diagrams and consists of 21 steps for full assembly. The decal markings are minimal as was the norm for Wirbelwinds and printed by Cartograf and are clear and in-register. The Painting and Markings guide provides for the following possibilities:
• sPzAbt 509, near Darmstadt, 1945 in three tone
• Kampfgruppe Peiper, Ardennes, 1944 in three tone
• Unidentified Unit, France, 1944 in three tone
While the standard timeline for Pzkpfw IV-G production falls outside the time window of when zimmerit was applied as a standard feature at the factories when the hulls were produced as gun-tanks, photos do exist of multiple G-hull Wirbelwinds with zimmerit applied with the standard assumption being that the zimmerit was added when the hulls were sent in for repairs since the Sagan facility didn’t apply zimmerit as part of the assembly process. This of course opens up quite a few possibilities for the modeler depending on whether or not you are modeling a specific vehicle vs. a “generic” G-hull Wirbelwind. The photographic record supports either option and DML has wisely chosen to not include molded-on zimmerit in this particular kit, leaving it up to the builder to customize as they see fit in terms of to zim or not to zim. Who knows…we may yet see a “pre-zimmed” kit offered by DML at some point in the future, adding to the stable of options if/when that occurs.
Setting aside the artificial “early production” designation, DML has greatly expanded the possibilities open to builders looking to create a IV-G hull Wirbelwind with this kit release. By swapping out the H hull in kit #6540 for the G hull details as the only major modification, all of the key features from the earlier release are preserved while granting maximum flexibility to the builder in regards to how specific they wish to go on their individual project. While the argument could be made that DML should have released this one first in 2009 vs. the H-hull kit, the fact that it’s now available is all that truly matters for those interested in this vehicle series.
• Nuts & Bolts Volume 25 Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwind (Sdkfz 161/4), Ostwind and Kugelblitz
by Detlev Terlisten & Heiner Duske
• Panzer IV and Its Variants
by Walter J. Spielberger, Schiffer, ISBN 0-88740-515-0