Miniature Ordnance Review looks at the world of historical and fantasy miniatures wargaming and model building. From 15mm Flames of War, to Warhammer 40K, to 1/35th scale tanks, with some potential surprises on the horizon - you'll find them here!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pimp My Emcha - Kitbashing the M4A2 Sherman in Soviet Service

The M4A2 was the most common diesel-powered version of the ubiquitous Sherman tank. Powered by the GM 6046 engine, it gave the M4A2 a very strong power to weight ratio, though the engine experienced some initial reliability issues.  Over the course of the war, nearly 11,000 M4A2 variants were produced with roughly 8000 of those being armed with the 75mm gun (April 1942 to May 1944 production), and the remaining 3000 armed with the 76mm gun (May 1944 through May 1945 production).

While the U.S. Army decided to limit overseas deployment to gasoline powered models of the Sherman, the diesel M4A2 was still utilized in large numbers by other operators. The U.S. Marine Corps used the M4A2 during the Pacific campaign, but eventually began to transition to the M4A3 variants. The Soviet Union was ultimately largest combat user of the M4A2. During the course of the war the Soviets received roughly 4100 vehicles (50% 75mm / 50% 76mm) through Lend Lease.

As with the other Sherman models, the M4A2 underwent a variety of changes during its production run. At this point Battlefront only makes two M4A2 variants which don't fully represent the variety fielded by the Soviets during World War II. However, with a little work you can get every variant used in the European war using the two M4A2 miniatures and the new plastic M4A3 (UBX44) box. There were HVSS versions of the M4A2 provided to the Soviet Union, but these were only used in the Manchurian campaign.

The basic M4A2 Sherman (SU071) provided by Battlefront is one of the earlier small hatch variants. Production of this version began in roughly April 1943 when the direct vision slits were eliminated and replaced with periscopes. Ammunition stowage was still dry. The 75mm turret is also one of the earlier types with a pistol port, but no loader's hatch (D50878). While most of these vehicles were produced in early to mid 1943, there is at least one picture of such a vehicle in 1945 in Vienna, Austria. The drive sprocket is the earlier "open" style and comes from the original plastic Sherman track set.

The 76mm M4A2 Sherman (SU073) miniature combines the M4A2 large hatch hull with wet ammunition stowage (i.e. "protected ammo"). The turrent is an "oval hatch" variant of the 76mm Sherman turret, which appears to have been common to most of the M4A2 provided to the USSR. Versions both with and without a muzzle brake were provided to the Soviet Union, but the miniature only provides the sans muzzle brake variant. By 1945 there seemed to have been a large number fielded with the muzzle brake, especially for the final push into Germany itself. I've therefore updated the original Battlefront miniature with the M4A3 plastic gun with muzzle brake.  I've also added the plastic tracks as they have a good steel track pattern on them and the "economy" drive sprocket. These vehicles were all produced in 1944 and deliveries to the Soviets began in the fourth quarter of that year.

There is, however, a large production gap between the early style miniature (SU071) and the 76mm version (SU073). During that time the M4A2 transitioned to a large hatch variant with the 75mm gun. As at least one army I'd like to field some day uses that variant, I had to create it myself. The large hatch M4A2 was first introduced with dry ammunition stowage. To protect the vulnerable stowage bins, applique armor was applied in three locations to the outside of the tank (it's debatable as to whether or not this would count as "protected ammo"). To produce this version, I took one of the 76mm hulls, added the additional armor plates, and began casting copies of it.

I borrowed the 75mm turrets from the M4A3 plastic box as they have the right combination of commander's hatch and loader's hatch to represent this variant of the M4A2. The tracks include the correct "economy" drive sprocket and are available through Battlefront special order as USO183. As the texture of the plastic is very smooth, I used some plastic cement and a stipple brush to provide some cast texture to the sides of the turret.

While I can quibble with some of the details of the plastic M4A3 boxed set - overall I must say that Battlefront has engineered a solid and easy to construct miniature. Another plus is the pieces are generally compatible with the existing inventory of resin and metal miniatures making it easy to swap parts between the two. By way of comparison I've recently picked up a Zvezda 1/100th M4A2 late (with muzzle brake). Zvezda's kit is cheaper per vehicle, and in many ways it is more accurately detailed. However, the construction of the Zvezda kit is much more reminiscent of a larger scale model kit than a miniature with fine details that only experienced modelers will be able to take advantage of in 15mm scale. The way the pieces are broken up will also result in some very odd gaps or seams in the final figure.

In game terms, the large hatch 75mm M4A2 should probably have the Front Armor 7 of the later 76mm version, though with the applique armor, I doubt it would count as "protected ammo" in game terms - that distinction seems to come with the "wet" ammunition stowage which was introduced later. I'm simply going to run them as standard 75mm M4A2 tanks. Personally I'd like to see the option at some point for the Soviet Sherman lists, but that would require a lot more granularity than we've gotten at this point for the Inomarochnikiy Tankovy Batalon (Lend-Lease Tank Battalion).

Overall I'm happy with how I was able to take the existing Battlefront parts and generate any version of the M4A2 I needed with very little casting required.  Now I have to decide whether I'm going with an army like this for an upcoming tournament or something that has fewer moving parts.

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