I am a huge fan of Battlefront Miniatures and Flames of War. It's a game that lets me get my model building fix, miniature painting fix, and wargaming fix all in one. Throw in the fact that they let me actually write, proofread and playtest for them, and you've got a winning combination. Generally Battlefront's miniatures are some of the most accurate and highest quality you can get in 15mm scale, which is the main reason why their Panzer IV Ausf J (GBX68) is so disappointing. I picked up a box a while back planning on using the Ausf J for several Very Late War armies. With the release of Desperate Measures covering the Soviet Vistula-Oder offensive, I was finally ready to pull the trigger on these little beauties.
I'd always had a love/hate relationship with Battlefront's metal Panzer IV tracks. Overall they look great when painted up, but they frequently require quite a bit of clean up, especially on the top of the fender. I was looking forward to the new Panzer IV's because they came with the updated plastic tracks. As with the earlier Panther tracks, you sacrifice a bit of track detail, but the wheel detail and fenders promised to be excellent.
I got the first five together, and as expected, the assembly was much easier and there was a lot of really fine detail on the tracks and fenders that was frequently lost or not present on their metal equivalents. However, as I built them I had a nagging feeling that there was just something not quite "right" about them...
While letting some of the last details on the Ausf J's dry, I decided to pull out a couple of Ostwind to provide some much needed air support for my poor Germans (and to maybe keep those pesky AOPs out of the way). The Ostwind includes the older metal tracks with the reversible first two roadwheel positions (so you can run steel wheeled or regular rubber tired wheels). I looked at the tracks, and the metal version of the running gear looked "right." So I tried to figure out the difference between the two...
Then it hit me. The idler (the wheel at the back) on the plastic tracks is wrong. It is supposed to have seven spokes, and it has eight. The asymmetry of the idler is one of the characteristic features of this design, and Battlefront had botched it on the plastic tracks. Unfortunately it is likely to be a very costly fix as the problem is in the injection mold itself. As Battlefront has announced an all plastic Panzer IV Ausf H in the coming year, I hope they double check the molds for it.
So where does that leave me? I'm a chronic rivet counter, and having the wrong wheels on an iconic tank like the final Panzer IV just doesn't sit well. So I've developed a work around until Battlefront gets the mold fixed (IF they ever get the mold fixed). First you have to remove the offending idler:
I have a dremel bit that is roughly the same size as the idler, so it's fairly easy to set the stylus tool for low speed, carve out the idler, and then hit the area with some liquid cement to smooth out the burrs. I've cast up a bunch of idler wheels from the metal version that I use as replacements:
I left a little extra material on the "as cast" idlers so I can custom fit each one to the tracks. Once the dry fitting is complete you simply pop in the replacement idler and you've got a corrected Panzer IV Ausf J:
As Battlefront has designed their plastic parts to be drop in replacements for the white metal, the fit is excellent.
Unfortunately this is a major screw-up for Battlefront. Now that I have a reasonable work-around, I'll still buy some of the Panzer IV Ausf J's to round out the various armies, but a quick fix from the company (that doesn't involve going back to metal tracks) would be very welcome.