|The M4A3 Sherman in 1/72 Scale||by Albert Boone|
|11 August 2003|
|The M4A3 Sherman was
the favorite Sherman variant of the US Army in World War
II. While some question the choice of a gas engine tank
over diesel, the US Army realized that most catastrophic
battle damage was due to ammo explosions rather than fuel
fires. The M4A3 gas engine was a very reliable unit and
combined with its transmission was very easy to maintain,
while using the most common supply train fuel.
Three kits of the M4A3 have been released in 1/72 scale. Esci released a 47° hull version with a 75 mm, low bustle, M34A1 mantlet, late 2 hatch turret many years ago. Since then AL-BY has released a slightly "fine tuned" version of the Esci kit with a 76 mm T23 turret. The Esci release has been out of production for a long time and is a collector's favorite (e.g. rare and costly). AL-BY kits are very difficult to find since their production has been very slow lately. Recently, MR Modelbau has released three versions of the late M4A3 with a choice of either the 75 mm or 105 mm regular turret, or the 76 mm T23 turret. I will attempt to compare the three manufacturer's kits.
Referring to the above photo, with Esci, AL-BY and MR hulls shown left to right, an immediate difference is apparent. The MR hull is noticeably longer. After examining drawings and the Tamiya 1/35 scale M4A3 hull, measurements confirm the past claim that the Esci/AL-BY hulls measure between 1/75-1/76 scales in length, with the MR hull length to exact 1/72 scale. Width of all 3 hulls is within 1% of 1/72 scale.
Relative to surface detail, it is no contest. The MR hull detail is much better and includes more details than either the Esci or AL-BY hulls. The fuel filler caps on the Esci/AL-BY hulls are very undersized and poorly proportioned. The engine deck grates are defined significantly better on the MR hull. The front hull top cast armor effect around the MR hull is also much better. Some MR tools are cast separately. There is absolutely no comparison, even to casual views. Even the tow hooks on the MR hull show the reinforcement plates. The MR hull even adds detail omitted from the 1/35 Tamiya M4A3 hull, such as prongs for support of the opened engine covers. The MR hull corrects the most obvious Tamiya error of recessed weld seams (Esci/AL-BY missed this). Even though in 1/72 scale, the MR hull is better than the Tamiya 1/35 scale hull!
This photo shows the contents of the MR Modelbau MR7252 M4A3 76 mm kit. The largest casting blocks have been partially removed, but no attempt has been made to clean up the parts, except for the rear of the hull for measurement purposes. The white metal parts and turned metal gun barrel are very good. Included log appliqué hull side armor is shown at the top. The resin dish type roadwheels even have grease nipples! The resin idler wheel supports are lovely. The rear engine exhaust stacks are molded separately, but the exhaust grill is the very late type (see below). Parts from an Esci/Italeri Sherman kit are required for completion of this kit, including bogey frames, gun travel lock, lower hull and other small details. This a shame, since MR Modelbau only needs a few more parts to produce complete kits, since they have released separate kits of tracks, sprockets and roadwheels.
This photo shows the contents of the AL-BY #893 M4A3 76 mm kit. It includes considerably less than the MR kit. It has the muzzle brake equipped resin gun barrel, which was later and less common than the thread capped MR barrel. It does have a very nice 50-caliber machine gun, but other details are less sharp than the MR kit. The Al-BY kit simplifies the rear engine deck exhaust stacks, but incorporates the early exhaust grill, which was more common in World War II. (This is no problem for MR Modelbau M4A3 builders, because the other 2 MR Modelbau M4A3 variant kits include the early exhaust grill amazing!). The MR hull hatches are much better than the AL-BY hull hatches. A major problem occurs because the AL-BY kit requires the Esci roadwheels. These wheels are poor representation of pressed spoke roadwheels. The Al-BY kit also uses the bogus Esci idler wheel support. In addition, the incorrect Esci 12 spoke drive sprocket will be needed by the Al-BY conversion. The MR drive sprocket is the correct late "simplified" 13-spoke drive sprocket (they also include the more common "busier" 13-spoke drive sprocket in other kits). After Doug Chaltry reviewed my first draft of this article, he noticed a significant difference between his AL-BY hull castings, which came with an AL-BY Combikit, compared to my AL-BY hull photos, which must represent an earlier AL-BY effort. His hull casting has much sharper and more intricate detail. The fuel cap detail is much better, but the air intake grate still looks inferior to the MR grate. You can see his review here. Unfortunately this newer AL-BY hull still has the length problem of the old casting.
These two photos show the appropriate Chesapeake Model Design 1/35 scale T23 turret above (left to right) the AL-BY and MR T23 turret. The CMD 1/35 scale T23 turrets are considered to be very accurate. The Al-BY turret has the late loader hatch. The MR turret has a separate pistol port hatch (shell ejection hatch). The obvious correction needed with the AL-BY turret is to taper the turret front sides significantly from bottom to the top and move the commanders separate periscope forward. The Al-BY turret is noticeably too wide at the top front break behind the mantlet. The Al-BY turret has an advantage because it has the molded machine gun storage hardware on the rear. The MR turret has a better casting effect and sharper details, which more closely match the relative CMD turret. The Al-BY rear bustle detail is slightly too far from the side edges. The MR turret has a slight horizontal blemish on its top right front cheek, which is easily repaired with sanding and MR Surfacer 1000 to restore the cast effect. Overall, the MR turret is a much better representation of its appropriate T23 turret. MR also makes an excellent Late hatch T23 turret like the AL-BY version tries to simulate and includes it with its MR-7251 M4A2 late production 76 mm. I did not include the Revell and Hasegawa T23 turrets because I think that they do not measure up to the AL-BY and MR efforts.
Overall, there is no question that the MR kits greatly surpass any other M4A3 Sherman kit in 1/72 scale, in both accuracy and detail. The last photo is of the MR late 75 mm, 105 mm, and late T23 turret next to the MR-7251 late M4A2 hull. MR Modelbau has now produced 13 different Sherman variants in 1/72 scale, with several such as the M36B1, M4A1 early and intermediate, M4 early and M4A3 initial planned. Their current production includes the Sherman IC and VC Fireflies, M4 Hybrid, M4 late, M4A1 late, M4A2 Intermediate, M4A2 late, M4A3 late, M4A4 and M4A6. These current kits have 8+ turret versions, 4+ final drive variants, two different drive sprockets, two different idlers, turned gun barrels, unique separate stowage items and three different road wheel sets. Available separately are WE210, T49, T51 and T54E1 resin track sets with drive sprockets and two idler variants, as well as an excellent Sherman stowage set and tow cable set. Every one of these MR Modelbau Sherman products is excellent. The only caveat to the MR Modelbau kits is that they each require an Esci/Italeri Sherman kit for parts such as bogey frames, in some cases lower hulls and other small parts. MR Modelbau kits can be purchased direct or from retailers. I purchased my kits from Tracks 'n Troops in Belgium who offers excellent service from their website.