Over the past 18 months, we’ve been treated to the “Half-Track Wars” between Dragon and Trumpeter as each company released multiple versions of the German Sd.Kfz.7 Prime Mover and its two major gun platform variants, the Sd.Kfz.7/1 and 7/2. For those of us who love soft skins, it’s a great time to be a modeler: after decades making do with the inaccurate Tamiya kit (with the cost and hassle of multiple after-market fixes), it has been a revelation to have splendid kits you can build right out-of-the-box. And now, with the exception of the Sd.Kfz.8 12 ton Prime Mover, all the major German half-tracks are available in styrene kits.
The importance of this effusion of plastic Sd.Kfz.7s can’t be overemphasized. Designed to cover the eight ton load-weight class, the vehicle went into production at several different manufacturers in 1940 after a series of earlier prototypes designed and produced by the Munich firm of Kraus-Maffei (hence its occasional designation as the KM-11). The concept proved so successful that over 12,000 were produced through 1944. It filled a variety of roles, including pulling artillery, carrying Panzergrenadiers into battle, and recovering tanks, as well as mounting two major anti-aircraft weapons: the 2cm Flakvierling
38 (“quad”) and two versions of the 3.7cm single barrel AA gun. As for the Prime Mover, no build of any variant of the 88mm FlaK 18/36/37 or sFH 18 150mm howitzer is complete without one to pull them.
As with most of Germany’s armor, the Sd.Kfz.7 was beautifully-designed, yet unnecessarily-complex to produce and to maintain. The initial production version had graceful fenders and coachwork that would make Mercedes-Benz green with envy, yet by the end of the war, the Sd.Kfz.7 had been pared down to simple, angular mud guards and wooden cargo beds (see the Late War version reviewed by Shaun Keenan here
for the contrasts). Trumpeter was the first to release the early war version in 2008 (reviewed by me here
). Now, Dragon has its “initial production” model out after much anticipation, controversy and speculation.
The kit comes in the usual attractive Dragon box with cover art from the talented Ron Volstad, and contains:
5 sprues of Dragon’s usual light gray styrene
Rear fender assembly
3 Dragon Styrene tires
1 fret of PE brass
Twin-bagged set of Magic Tracks
Wire for tow cable
The design appears to be excellent, and, based on the Sd.Kfz.7/1 build I have underway (click here
), should be a pleasure building it. I'm relieved Dragon opted for working Magic Tracks in this series instead of the DS Styrene “rubber band” tracks that are turning up with annoying frequency in some of its other German armor models. The real tracks employed a system of wet pin/lubricated links that would last almost indefinitely if a somewhat intensive maintenance protocol was followed. Like other German tracks, they “sagged,” and it’s challenging to replicate that sag with rubber bands. These Magic Tracks recreate the Sd.Kfz.7's two-part metal track "foot" and rubber wear pad quite well, and unlike most other Magic Tracks, they actually are moveable.
Note: when painting or weathering, be sure NOT to paint the wear pads a metal or rusted color.
The one major “minus” to the tracks is the prominence of “knockout holes” paired on either side of the gear teeth (located on the "inside" surface). These may not be prominent enough to attract attention during assembly, but will jump out at you after painting, so take care to clean up the links beforehand.
DML has used its Dragon Styrene much better in the the three tires (including one spare) which take paint better than vinyl “tires” used by many other armor manufacturers. The tread pattern is good, and you won't need to purchase AM resin upgraded tires. The PE is poor in my estimation: four anti-skid plates, the step-up rings on the drive sprockets that allow occupants to reach the rear seats, the support for the front-mounted Notek blackout light, and the windshield wipers (better rendered in brass than in styrene). PE is realtively inexpensive to provide, yet upgrading even a few details like the rifle racks means buying expensive upgrade sets (Eduard or Aber should release a "rifle rack upgrade" set for $5-$8 and it would sell-out).
As stated, this is the "early war" version of the Sd.Kfz.7 with distinctive rounded mud guards (introduced during the prototype process by the firm of Büssing-NAG prior to the war). Unlike the Trumpeter kit, Dragon has avoided a complex, multiple-part chassis in favor of a single piece, expertly-rendered thanks to the company’s slide molding technology. The review sample showed no warpage, though other modelers have found some in Sd.Kfz.7 variant kits released previously. A single-piece chassis is much easier to build, even if it lacks some of the detail on the inner framework (detail that doesn’t show after the kit is assembled). The gear box and winch assemblies are much-simplified in comparison to the Trumpeter kit, but again, the final results are not really seen, so this will only matter if you plan on showing the vehicle being repaired or want accuracy even if only you know it's there.
More disappointing is the lesser detailing for the engine: 16 parts to build the Maybach HL62 6-cylinder engine vs. Trumpeter’s 27, almost half as many. The detailing is generally good, and Griffon Model has released two engine update sets, one with a resin open-work grill (L25A052, reviewed by me here
), and another that adds brass vented louvers to the bonnet and enormous interior engine details (L35A053, reviewed by me here
). Perfectionists will want to add additional wires and levers to the detailed firewall, and perhaps upgrade the styrene support rods between the cab and the radiator housing to brass. On the other side of the firewall, the instrument panel has no decals and will require purchasing the fine Archer set currently available. This is a major shortcoming for the OOB modeler that will add another $10 or more to the cost of the build.
Other areas where the kit falls down include the detailing for the rifle racks. Even artillery units needed small arms for the crews to defend themselves, and the Sd.Kfz.7 had an elegant solution: individual metal bases to steady the rifle’s stock, with clips on the back of the seats to hold the rifle’s upper portion. Trumpeter gives modelers the option of PE or styrene bases and clasps, while DML only does plastic. The scale rendering isn’t horrible, but it’s definitely a knock on the kit’s overall accuracy. The shovels mounted to the seat bases could use some PE clasps to upgrade them, too.
The detailing of the cab and seating is quite good, including the foot pedals and side-mounted lights, with only a few minor parts not present (e.g., the front seat cushion dividers). The storage lockers at the rear of the vehicle look accurately ornate, and since the latching mechanisms are present, can be modeled with the doors closed or in the open position. The road wheels are well-done, too. German armor used a “box chassis” (Schachtelfahrgestell
) design that in the Sd.Kfz.7's case interleaved seven pairs of road wheels on either side, creating an extremely stable ride intended to reduce crew fatigue. In reality, however, the arrays were complicated to maintain, and tended to suck-up muck when driven off-road. On the Eastern Front especially, this sometimes meant the muck froze in place overnight, rendering the vehicle immobile. The wheels had rubber rims, and I definitely recommend Quickwheels’ Sd.Kfz.7 mask set (reviewed by me here
) to capture the proper delicacy and dimensions.
Finally, the kit lacks a canvas top, either stowed or deployed. Rendering canvas in styrene is very tricky, and Trumpeter's efforts in this area aren't anything to write home about. But at least provide the top in its retracted position at the rear of the stowage platform. Scratch-building one will be a major hassle for many modelers, especially without the metal frame.
Instructions, Decals & Painting
Thankfully the instructions are line drawings instead of photographs; it seems that phase has passed with Dragon and we’re back to something that doesn’t require a library of research materials when applying the small parts. The painting options are better, too:
128th Artillery Regiment, 23rd Panzer Div. Russia 1942
Das Reich, Russia 1941-2
24th Panzer Div. Russia 1941 (all three “Panzer” gray)
Unidentified unit, Eastern Front (tricolor)
Unidentified unit, North Africa 1942 (incorrect montone yellow instead of correct two-tone camo scheme)
The decals include blank license plates and generous digits, allowing for almost unlimited Heer
(army) vehicles, but as was pointed out already, no instrument panel dials. SS license plates can be fabricated, too, though european Hate Laws forbid outright SS symbols, so they're handled in two pieces, much like swastikas on aircraft kit decals. The instructions show white broken lines where the SS license plates should go to alert modelers that something is missing without spelling out what it is.
The Dragon Sd.Kfz.7s are expensive, but require little or no AM upgrades, nor do they have the accuracy issues that have plagued Trumpeter’s kits, including the configuration of the front mud guards, overall length, etc. Despite its relatively high cost, the kit is an outstanding rendition of a storied vehicle that has been a staple of modeling for decades in the ancient Tamiya version. I will soon be building this kit here on Armorama as I'm doing with the Sd.Kfz.7/1s (click here
to follow that dueling build). Though Dragon USA provided the review sample, I intend to purchase several of these kits for my own usage. You can't get better praise than that.