by: Andras [ ]
Originally published on:
The Panzer IV (Sd.Kf.z 161/2) was the backbone of the German armed forces throughout the war. Even though the design was quite obsolete by the end of the conflict, it was kept in service for the lack of a viable alternative. More modern tanks, such as the Panther, were never produced in large enough quantities to replace the Panzer IV, so we can see the tank evolving from an infantry support role to an up-armored and up-gunned tank-killer. Originally the Ausf H. version was planned as a stop-gap measure in 1943 until the Panther production ramps up; as mentioned the number of Panthers produced remained relatively low, so the Panzer IV was kept in service and in development. The Ausf H was probably the high water mark for the type; subsequent versions were not as sophisticated as the ausf H. About 3000 were produced, mostly as tanks. Some chasses were diverted to more specialized roles, and formed the basis of assault guns, StuGs and other vehicles.
The Ausf Hís chassis was almost unchanged from the previous version. The drive wheels and the idlers were slightly modified during the course of production, and the turret vision ports/turret access hatch vision ports were eliminated since the side-skirts obstructed the view anyway. The commanderís cupola had a single, round hatch. The some of the return rollers in later production variants were changed into all-metal rollers; since this particular kitís rollers are still all rubber, it is probably a relatively early production variant from October-November 1943.
The front armor was 80mm, the tankís weight remained about 25 tons, which already overburdened the front suspension units. (Later versions used all-steel roadwheels on the front as the rubber rims kept peeling off due to the extra weight of the added frontal armor.) The tank received a new six-speed transmission, but the increased weight meant it still had a relatively low top speed on most terrain compared to the early versions of the Panzer IV. The main armament was a 7.5cm KwK40 L/48 tank gun making it an effective tank-killer.
To increase armor protection, the tank received the characteristic side-skirts (Schurzen). They were 8mm thick, and provided an effective protection against shaped charge ammunition and smaller caliber projectiles. Later they were changed to wire mesh to save weight. The toothed rail attachment depicted on this model was also a later modification to avoid damage to the tank in case these panes detached. (They were quite prone to damage, and tore off easily as the tank moved around.) Some vehicles received Zimmerit coating against magnetic mines, and smoke candle launchers for the turret.
Zvezdaís offering is a bit strange in this respect: the side skirts have very nicely textured Zimmerit, however the hull lacks it completely. This leaves the model builder with two choices: either apply Zimmerit to the whole of the tank, or buy/fabricate new side-skirts without the coating.
The box has a typical Zvezda artwork of the tank (with the port for the gunnerís sight on the gun mantlet open, even though it is only a moulded-on detail on the actual model), depicting Zimmerit on the whole of the hull. On the back thereís a photo of the model, and some information about the tank; the side of the box shows the artwork for the other iconic WWII tanks Zvezda is producing (T-34, Tiger, Panther). Once the envelope-type outer cover is removed, there is an unmarked, sturdy cardboard box inside, protecting the model. The whole packaging is very professional and it does a good job making sure rough handling will not cause damage to the delicate parts.
The model lacks any PE or metal gun barrel; itís an old-school, all plastic tank model. There are 9 sprues with 545 parts. The instructions come on a large, foldout sheet, printed black-and-white. They are easy to follow, but not always clear on the options. Thereís a choice between types of muzzle breaks, but no information on what they are, or how to choose between them; historical references on the different muzzle breaks for the 7.5cm gun will be necessary.
They follow an interesting approach: the assembly is broken down to 27 main steps showing the assembly of main units, and ďsub-stepsĒ which detail the assembly of these units. These sub-assemblies are usually detailed on the side-bar of the instruction manual, and the step numbers have designated letters attached to them (for example the assembly of the road wheels are detailed in steps 6-a and 6-b, while step 6 shows the attachment of the finished road wheels to the hull.
Step 1-3: back and front of hull
Step 4-6: running gear, tracks
Step 8-9: mudguards
Step 10-12 upper chassis
Step 16: assembly of chassis, tools, details
Step 17 side-skirt mounts
Step 18-26: turret interior and exterior
Step 27: final assembly
There are only two paint schemes offered: a winter whitewash from 24th panzer division, 1943, Eastern Front; and a summer camouflage from 12th panzer division on the Western Front, 1944. Since the tank was so ubiquitous anywhere German armor was present, there are much, much more options available.
Overall the model is quite accurate as far as I could determine (Iíve used Ospreyís, Squadronís and Fighting Armour of WWII for this review). There is little flash on the parts (the only case I found was on the drive wheel), and the detail is quite good. The weld seams are reproduced very well, the lettering on the rubber rims of the road wheels is visible (although not as sharp as on the DML and newer Trumpeter models), and the no-slip surface of the mudguards is very well done. The Zimmerit pattern on the side skirts is reproduced very well; but as I mentioned it presents the issue of having to apply Zimmerit to the hull if you plan to use it. Another issue is not specific to the Zvezda model: the side skirts are given as one unit, all the armour plates moulded as one part. If you wish to depict them in a more realistic position, you will have to separate the different plates (shouldnít be a problem). The thickness is quite out-of-scale, too, but once assembled it should not really be that apparent. (Iím opting for an aftermarket version, but it should be quite easy simply to use the kitís parts as templates, and fabricate new ones from sheet styrene. (The artwork on the box correctly shows the tank with missing panels.)
The model is supplied with a one-piece gun barrel; no need for trying to fit two halves together. Those ďold-schoolĒ gun barrels essentially meant an automatic purchase of a metal replacement; fortunately itís not necessary in this case.
The tracks are link-and-length, accurate in size and very well detailed; assembly should be pretty straightforward. The suspension bogies are static; they cannot be positioned. This is less of a problem if you use the kitís tracks, but if you plan to display the model in a difficult, uneven terrain with individual tracks, it will be somewhat problematic to depict the suspension units realistically.
The turret has a partial interior which will dress it up quite nicely if you want to leave the hatches open.
Even though the model is really good in detail (especially considering its price), here are some short-cuts made by Zvezda. Some Iíve already mentioned (fixed suspension, closed gunner optics hatch on the gun mantlet), front access hatches cannot be opened; the turret box on the back is closed as well. Lots of assemblies require several sprues; it would have been a bit more comfortable to group these parts together. In general, though, the sprue layout is quite good. Since there are no interior details provided for the hull, itís not really a problem if you canít open the front hatches; however I would like to add an interior to the model, so it does make a difference for me.
One thing I could not determine was the accuracy of the tool layout. Tools on mudguards are slightly differently arranged than on the reference photos I had. This could be just a difference in production version; most photos Iíve seen had extra track links mounted individually on the mudguard, and the tools placed in slightly different configuration.
Overall, the model has very good detail, relatively low parts count, itís easy to assemble, cheap, for the price of making some compromises in complexity, and opportunities for customization. You CAN buy aftermarket PE, metal and resin replacement parts and individual tracks should you wish to ďkit outĒ the model, but then getting the DML models would be a cheaper alternative. The model will look very good without the extras, so they are unnecessary for the most part. The only thing I can think of that is absolutely necessary is the replacement side-skirts -or AM Zimmerit. (Alternatively you can use putty if you have time/inclination to do so.)
I have built Dragonís offering of the Pnz. IV., so I can compare the two offerings. They come from two very different philosophies: DML crams in as much detail as they can with PE, individual links, metal barrels, and the whole nine yard in a highly complex, high-tech kit. This comes with a higher price tag and a much higher part count. Zvezda, on the other hand, goes for a more budget option for both time and money with their newer kits. They provide good detail for a much lower part number and much lower price. The build is much faster and simpler; the price you pay is the compromised detailed above. In short: this is a perfect model if you donít want to spend too much money or too much time on a build, or if you are only getting into ďseriousĒ building and donít want to bother with PE and individual tracks yet -if they are willing to overlook some issues (such as the Zimmerit-dilemma). They made a very good move; they spotted a gap in the present market: good quality, cheap and easy to build models. Thereís another angle on this, too. With the present trend of expensive, highly complex kits, newcomers to the hobby (who are usually young and have no income on their own) are usually left out of the equation; it seems like Zvezdaís offerings might make it easier for them to stay in the hobby.