Hail to the Beast! Battlefront M1 Tank Review

The M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank forms the backbone of the mid-eighties US Armoured force. Coming out of the Vietnam War, the US Army found that its main opposition had not been sitting still.  The US Army needed to maintain a quality advantage over a Warsaw Pact that had introduced types like the T-64, T-72 and T-80 in significant quantities, outmatching its own M-60.

The M1 combined gas-turbine powered mobility with excellent protection in the form of British developed Cobham armour. The 105mm main gun was lacking compared to the Russian types (or even the other main NATO parties with both Germany and the UK having 120mm guns), but had new APDSFS ammunition and a Fire Control System (FCS) that took information from a Muzzle Reference System and Crosswind sensor that, along with a gunner thermal vision system, allowed an excellent first shot probability, even at night.

The 62 tonne M1 quickly impressed and earned many nicknames, the Beast being but one.  Concerns over its reliability and effectiveness would linger over it until the events of 1991 largely dispelled them.

M1-Abrams

(Not mine – Haven’t had time to paint them yet…)

So, it’s the kind of thing you want in a US force. Does the model live up to this?

Yes

Okay, not much of a review.  Best build on this…

Contents

I got my M1 as part of Mrs Brown’s Bannon’s Boys boxset.  The M1 comes on one large sprue per tank.  The first thing I noticed (when photos of the sprue appeared) was that Battlefront had pulled a sly one (in a good way).  The kit didn’t just build an M1.  It also had all the bits to build the ‘big turret’ IPM1 and the 120mm armed M1A1!  Sweet!  (A future article will explain all these variants, I promise).

The sprue also threw on a few extra MG (always handy given the life expectancy of an AA MG in a figure case is only slightly longer than that of a chocolate fire guard in winter…) plus a road wheel, 7.62 ammo can, crate and jerry can.  All handy for filling a turret bustle!  I would have loved to see some crew backpacks as they were quite a common feature hanging externally in Gulf War era photos, and some track pads but sprue space is a premium.  The roadwheel is definitely a handy inclusion.

The box also had some largely forgettable decals, resin tank commanders (replacing the lead of old and taking a leaf from the Russian staff teams in the ZIS-2 box) and the unit card.  Rare Earth Magnets are not present but the M1 copies the other BF plastic releases in allowing accommodation for one should the player source his own, or a fixed peg on the sprue.

Assembly

How does the M1 build?  Quite nicely I found, bar a few niggles that mostly relate to getting bits off the sprue.

The instructions don’t amount to much beyond an exploded diagram and only focus on the M1.  The parts for the other two variants are not even mentioned as an option.  Given I wanted to build my tanks as the IPM1 and the website had yet to release the handy expanded assembly instructions that are part of the modern format, I got a free test of how intuitive the kit was to build.

The hull goes together in five major bits (left track, right track, rear plate, hull base and hull top) with the parts largely slotting into place with little wiggle.  It’s then a case of putting the bazooka skirts on (easy – but be careful not to cut the tabs off the top of the skirts) and then a final piece of skirt that either incorporates the retaining ring (M1) or an L shape piece for the later variants (tweezers at the ready but largely simple to build).

hull

He say’s; only now noticing that the one in the photo is badly skewed…

Most of the turret is fairly simple.  The base sits within the turret top.  The mantle gets glued at the front (no real allowance for varying the pitch of the gun) and the chosen barrel slots in (fairly slackly so swappable barrels will need a pin or magnet to support).  The thicker of the two barrels is the 120mm M256A1 should you be building an M1A1.
The commander’s hatch has closed and open, with integral hatch to save losing it later, options.  The loaders hatch is forever closed as its moulded on detail which was a bit of a shame.
The blow out panels for the ammo compartment is neat but a potential liability for the unwary.  One side is the three panel configuration of the 105mm equipped models whilst the other is the dual hatch configuration used for the 120mm version.  It’s a neat bit of sprue engineering but the instructions don’t really mention this and I came within seconds of almost gluing my first one the wrong way up!  A few of the locals were not so fortunate.

The turret bustle adds some complexity depending on version.  The original M1 just has a part that is glued to either side of the turret, the greatest issue being that there is no location feature to make it easy to position right.  I’ve already seen a fair few with the bustles far forward on the turret.
The longer bustle for the IPM1 and M1A1 is made up of three parts (left side, right side and rear) and is even trickier.  I lucked out and made the bustle ‘off turret’ first and then mounted it.  By doing so it pretty much set all the distances correctly.  If you are not careful, it’s possible to get it in the wrong position and have the bustle jam on the engine deck when you turn the turret – as one of the locals here found out.  Again, the lack of a decent locating feature hurts the build here.
On the bright side the smoke dispensers are integral to the bustle parts which saves a job having to glue them in place.

The turret is finished off with M2 “ma deuce” .50 cal AA MG, M240 7.62 AA MG, the crosswind mast (not a radio aerial!) and an optional peg if you happen to have no rare earth magnets.  The M240 needs to be treated warily as it can snap on the sprue if you are not careful.

All in all, once I spotted the trick with the bustle, the tanks went together quickly.  Twelve tanks took a long evening although I was filling the hulls and turrets with sprue offcuts to bulk out the model which adds minutes to each tank.

lots of tanks

You know, should you have gone ball’s deep and bought more tanks than you can actually realistically field in 100pts…

Appearance

The M1 is a tricky beast to model as aesthetically it’s fairly plain – a by-product of its design to remove clutter and shot traps.  Compared to, say, a Chieftain it’s a fairly slab sided clean lined beast which makes it hard on the sculptor!  The front half of the tank suffers for this, although the sculptor has added what detail there is (the driver’s hatch and vision blocks.  Driving lamps, filer caps – I think? Not sure for what.  They didn’t put fuel tanks next to the driver did they??) but then gets to stretch his legs with the tracks (nice and clean like all the modern plastic tracks BF have done so far – love the depth of the wheels and the torsion bar arm detail), engine deck (plenty of grill detail, especially on the intake) and rear turret.  Small details like the Muzzle Reference System are present on the barrel and the rear turret has both aerial mounts and the mast for the crosswind gauge.

frontrear

It’s hard not to make tank noises.  If I could make the noise of a gas turbine…  

The mast in the rear centre of the turret is not an aerial but actually the crosswind sensor used by the FCS 

 

Just about the only things I can draw fault with are:

  • the M240 which looks a little squared off (it has more of a hump for the ammo feed)
  • the L-shaped skirt guard for the alter marks has a tooling indent in it which looks ugly

but I’m really scraping the barrel here.

The important thing is the tank fundamentally looks like an M1 and is certainly not under-detailed like a certain Russian manufacturer’s example.  The tank also conveys the size of the M1 well.
Next to a Panzer IV or an M3 Grant it looks like the 60 tonne beast that it is (although still sitting lower than a Grant – a fairly low -or high?- bar I admit!).

size

tanksgot big

US tank development has come along way.  Just ignore the British Armour, British/German main gun, Belgian co-axial/pintle gun…

I think it’s going to be a kit that deserves the time take on adding stowage in and on the bustle racks.

The extra parts that BF added, although not explained, do a very good job in allowing for the kit to be built as an M1, IPM1 or M1A1.  Small details like the covering plate for the hole in the turret where the Commander’s Thermal Independent Viewer (CITV) goes on an M1A1 and the change in rear skirt for the M1A1 and IPM1 are good bits of attention to detail.  The pedantic may sniff at the fact that BF had ignored the change in turret length between the M1 and the subsequent variants but as it only translates into 2mm of length at 15mm it strikes me as a sensible prioritisation on sprue space.

Conclusions

Overall, BF needed to make an early case for their presence in the Cold War market and the M1 certainly helps that case be made.  The kit is well detailed and mostly easy to assemble, although there are some aspects that really do need the expanded assembly instructions or tutorial videos the web provides (although the official BF one is hidden on the Bannon’s Boys webpage article and still doesn’t explain the three part bustle!).

It’s a great start and one I hope continues onto a Chieftain or Challenger kit this year!

A future article will cover building the differences between the three variants of the M1 Abrams that the kit will build and how to construct them.  Hopefully I’ll have some painted and fully stowaged up photos by then!

Category: Flames of WarReviewsTeam YankeeUSA

12 comments

  1. Excellent review, especially covering the different types of M1 you get. I have a pedantic gripe that they are antenna not aerial bases. But that is because I am sad. Are there any plans for mine rollers on the M1 kit (were they an option back in the mid 80s?)

    1. Out of all the things I thought you’d pick me up on…

      Mine Rollers (ploughs?) are not present on the model but IIRC are not an option in TY which may explain their absence. Interestingly the T-72 does come with mine ploughs.

  2. Yo dude,
    If you are modeling the M1s from Team Yankee your model is incorrect. For reference it should have the 105mm gun not the 120mm. Also the “M1” Abrams didn’t have the turret bustle rack. That appeared with the M1A1. Additionally the M1 had the “training wheel” on the drive sprocket which appears to be missing on yours. You should also open the ballistic doors for the gunner’s sight. And for future reference the Commander’s Weapon Station (cupola) is missing the right side support for the 50cal mount. This support provided the periscope for aiming the 50cal from inside the vehicle. It is funny that the FOW sculptors missed this important item.

    1. You are quite correct that I have not built the tanks as the M1 version from the novel. As I mentioned “Given I wanted to build my tanks as the IPM1…” I figured I had covered myself.

      You are correct an M1 did not have the big bustle and did have the retainer ring and full rear skirt. The IPM1 however, did introduce the bigger bustle (and longer turret), ditched the ring but still retained the 105mm. I assure you that all the models in the photo all have the 105mm gun (all 12 120mm guns are accounted for in the bit box.

      I plan on writing an article on building the kit as the three variants possible (m1, IPM1 and M1A1), as well as some ideas on how to scratch build an M1A2 and a USMC M1A1. Should be in the next month.

      Opening the gunner’s sight was briefly considered but ditched as just another thing to break off in the case and something only I’d notice (not to put down my local opponents). I hadn’t noticed the .50 mount issue. Good spot.

  3. Regarding positioning of the turret racks: The upper turret part has small ridges at the upper edges whereas the turret boxes lids have a grove there…

    1. I was looking at the short bustle racks (for a stock M1) and I see what you mean. I think the longer Bustle didn’t feel like it was picking up on this (plus the fact I built the three parts together off tank so the rear of the turret was setting the position more) so I largely forgot the existence of the tabs. I’ll edit the article accordingly.

      It does make me wonder why I keep seeing people get the short bustles in the wrong place though…

  4. What a pleasure to find the great Trooper Parnell still active in the hobby! Enjoyable review; glad to have found the site, my friend.

    1. Hey! Now there’s a blast from the past! How are you my friend?

      Yeah, I got out of 40K pretty much within a few months of really getting into Flames of War. Still keep an eye on the 40K game at the club but it seems a very different beat to the game of old.

    1. Small magnet in the turret then find a paperclip that sticks to the magnet (adding that caveat because I once said this and someone used plastic paper clips…) and “pin the barrel” so that the magnet can interact with the metal pin, as well as locate in a receiving hole.

      Not done it myself, but its how I did the swappable barrels on my IS-85/2

  5. Hey this is great, I need some help, I’m looking for Jack Brendle that was on the team that designed and built the M1. He graduated for Wyandotte HS in 1966 in KCK. If this is the right guy, call me or email me. Thanks Steve Morrison 816-589-5708

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Article by: Lee

Wargaming since Rogue Trader in 1990; I made the move to Flames in 2006 and have been with it ever since! I play at the Brighton Warlords most weeks.