Following on from part 1’s article on painting tanks, this week Lee looks at adding more detail to them.
EDIT – For unknown reasons some of the photos don’t show in Internet Explorer or edge. Chrome and Firefox seem to show them all.
In this article we’ll look at one of the truly optional parts of building an army – adding additional detail to tanks. If assembling and painting the models are mandatory (even if some seem to perennially play with grey hordes… myself included alas) then everything in this article is very much “above and beyond the call of duty”! But it does make for a better looking tank.
Thanks to Mike South for letting me use that one!
The article focuses on the T-72 kit but some of the tips here can be applied to other Soviet (and some NATO) kit.
The tools required are fairly standard:
- A heavy duty modelling knife such as a Stanley knife, plus spare blades
- A lighter precision scalpel, plus spare blades
- A pair of sprue clippers/side cutters
- A square section and a round section file
- A set of tweezers
- A good quality polystyrene cement with a precision applicator such as Revell Professional
The materials required are generally readily available from a decent model or craft store and consists of three sizes of polystyrene rod:
- 0.5mm for conduits
- 1mm for smoke launchers
- 1.5mm for auxiliary search lights
The Battlefront T-72 kit is, in general, a very good kit (although it has annoyingly chunky component to sprue connections) but it has a few flaws – mostly concentrated around the commander’s cupola. The most prominent one is the odd positioning of the AA MG. On the kit, the mount for the AA gun is 90° to the front of the cupola.
However, in reality, the mount is 180° to the front i.e. mounted to the rear. This is because the commander’s hatch opens forward, like a lot of soviet hatches, to provide a measure of unbuttoned protection (snigger). The commander has to rotate the whole cupola to use the AAMG which couldn’t be remotely fired (unlike on the T-64). This is even frequently mentioned in recognition guides as a recognition feature for the tank.
Small gun to the rear, big gun to the front. I’m assured that’s the technical term.
Thankfully this is relatively quick and easy to fix, so long as you have a thin, sharp blade. I found that I could rest the blade under the “ring” of the mount, then rock the blade back and forth to sever the “legs” of the mount where they met the cupola with a fairly clean an unobtrusive cut. It was then just a case of gluing the mount at the rear of the cupola. It’s the work of seconds and doing it to the 19 T-72M in my East German force took no time.
The other issue with the commander cupola is the unbuttoned version is, well, not very representative of an open T-72 hatch. This is the model’s unbuttoned hatch:
This is the real world example:
Note the rearward facing MG mount as mentioned earlier
As we can see, the model’s hatch appears to largely disappear (I wonder if it’s a known mis-mould but it’s pretty consistent). Fixing this is relatively simple, but more involved. I do think it’s worth the effort though.
We’ll need both the unbuttoned and buttoned hatch that comes with each tank for this. Firstly, remove the AA MG mount, as above, from both (handy to have a spare) but leave off re-attaching for the moment.
Next, we need a new hatch and the buttoned hatch is going to provide it. We want the bit painted red below:
I use clippers to trim away as much of the rest of the cupola as possible, firstly from around the edge….
…then, from the lip on the bottom…
…then sever it from the front.
Then I use a modelling scalpel (again, with a fresh sharp blade) and file to clean it up to leave us with the opening part of the hatch.
Note, I initially preserved the hinge but I late cut this off too as it made the hatch sit too high.
Now we need to remove the search light and open “hatch” from the “Open” Cupola piece – the red painted components shown below.
In real life the search light articulates forward with the commander hatch open, unlike the fixed one on the model.
A decent pair of clippers makes short work of removing both the hatch and the search light.
Now we can glue on the open hatch, leaning slightly forward.
I then cut a length of Ø1.5mm rod to make a new searchlight which I glue between the cupola and the front vision block. We can then glue on the AA mount (facing rearwards) and its all ready to accept a suitable command figure!
Note, the new T-64 kit has a better version of the open hatch but its still not quite correct. The above process is just as applicable for that kit, albeit without needing the MG to be remounted. My only concern was trying to fit the open hatch, as the MG does get in the way, but it seems to work.
Certainly an improvement, don’t get me wrong
But a little hard work is its own reward – note that I snapped the commander’s search light off so that need’s fixing!
T-55 Auxiliary Searchlights
The Plastic Soldier Company T-55 is a well realised kit, given how many variants it builds. But it has two odd omissions:
- No driver vision blocks (I ignored this as I didn’t have any square section rod to make new ones)
- No auxiliary searchlights. In addition to the main armament search light, the commander has an independent search light and there is often an auxiliary search light mounted on the spaced armour of the T-55AM2
East German T-55AM2 with small searchlight on spaced armour
T-55 showing commander searchlight in front of cupola
I added both searchlights to my T-55Am2, all twenty of them. The commander searchlight just copied what I did with the T-72 and used a small length of the Ø1.5mm rod in a similar fashion.
The auxiliary searchlight was taken from the unused early searchlight from the kit which has a small searchlight below the main one. I clipped off the small searchlight and carefully glued it in roughly the right place on the armour. Simples!
Still need to fix all twenty of those searchlight dimples…sigh
Most Soviet Tanks are fitted with external fuel tanks to boost their range (important as they got further away from friendly supply lines behind the Iron Curtain). These tanks were designed to be shed before engaging the enemy, thus removing a potential fire hazard from the engine deck.
So far, all the major Cold War 15mm manufacturers have modelled the external tanks integral to the frames that hold them in place. This is understandable from a build point of view (less fiddly bits most won’t care about) but makes a battle ready tank need a bit of work to create. The easiest way is to exploit the fact that the arms are present, albeit integral to the tank.
The fuel tank is made up of two parts (with two tanks per…erm…tank) but only the lower half has the arms (painted red below) present. We clip that half off the sprue and ignore the top half.
Next we use a set of clippers and a Stanley knife to remove as much of the fuel tank (the bit not painted) as possible from the two arms. I used the Stanley knife to cut the ends of the tank away from the outer part of each arm…
Then the clippers to remove the top part of the tanks…
Then back to the knife to cut away the fuel tanks between the two inner faces.
That should leave two arms per drop tank, for a total of four per AFV. Technically there is still some fuel tank left (the inner diameter that makes contact with the arms) but it helps give some figure case friendly thickness to the arms so I left it in place. I did use a finer scalpel to clean the arms up further but all that is really left is to glue the arms to the rear hull.
If you are really keen you could add all the pipe work that would be left behind but I figured this was good enough for 19 tanks!
Roughed up wood
Soviet tanks (and other AFV) often carry “unditching beams”. These “devices” almost as old as the tank itself, are basically substantial logs that, in the event of the tank bogging down, can be quickly lashed to the rear of the tracks whereupon, on reversing, the tracks will carry the log into the mud where it will, hopefully, bite into the mud and provide some traction for the tank to back up to sounder ground. This saves the embarrassment of having to get a recovery vehicle at the expense of getting very muddy doing it yourself. Soviet tanks generally lashed the log on the rear of the engine deck allowing for a quick deployment.
The logs themselves are generally straight but can be quite nobbly and will get fairy chewed up with use. The ones that come with the T-64 and T-72 kits are serviceable but a bit too smooth and clean for my liking.
That said, there are limits to how chewed up it can be and still be useful!
Thanks to the wonders of plastic models this can be easily rectified. The sides of the log can be made knobbly simply by using a Stanley knife to cut slivers off. The end of the beams can then have little wedges cut out to chew the end s up. Simple but effective!
“It’s big, it’s heavy, it’s wood.
It’s log, it’s log, it’s better than bad, it’s good. “
Popping Smoke – Grenade Launchers
This really only applies to the T-72 kit as the T-64 is pretty much accurate.
As with most post war designs, the T-72 (eventually) incorporated smoke grenade dispensers into its forward turret. These were close to WWII designs being arrays of single tubes rather than the single piece clusters seen on the Chieftain or Abrams. The smoke dispensers on the T-72 are arrayed into two unsymmetrical groups; five on the right in a 2+3 configuration and seven on the left in a single row bar one that sits on top of the left most launcher.
All of which is easier to show than describe
The Battlefront examples, for reasons of part simplification necessary for a 15mm scale plastic kit simplify this down to a right cluster of four tubes in a line and a left cluster of six tubes in a line.
For most, this gives a “close enough” solution that is quick and simple to assemble. For those of us who enjoy inflicting a certain degree of unintentional finger modification with sharp blades in the pursuit of pedantry then something more is needed. Whilst a little fiddly, the solution is relatively straight forward. First we glue the six tube left cluster in place. We then need to take the right cluster of four tubes and cut off the one that would be closest to the barrel.
Whilst its off, we can mark its length on a piece of Ømm plastic rod. Then we can glue the remaining three tubes in their normal location whilst the separate tube is glued above its previous location, as it a tube was still there like so:
All this is easier without the barrel/searchlight present but can be done with the assembly in place.
Now we take the rod we marked and cut the two pieces off. We glue one above the outermost tube of the original four tubes…
I adjusted the position after I took this photo as it had slid a little whilst drying.
…and the other goes on the right cluster, above the outer most tube.
Job done! Or is it? Well, there’s one more smoke launcher related task left…
Having stuck on our smoke launchers its time to wire them up to the mains! The smoke launchers mounted to the outside of the tank need a firing line to be able to fire them remotely. As its generally advisable to have as few as possible holes in the front of the tank as possible (lest a fin round decide to go through it!), tank designers will generally drill a hole on the side or top of the tank and run a firing line down to the launchers from there (or even better, mount said launchers on the side and do away with long wires…). Sadly, the front of a tank is also going to receive a fair amount of hits so the firing lines need to be armoured less the bang button do nothing. So we end up with armoured conduits over the wires.
Reusing a photo – but as can be seen here, emerging from the ceiling in front of the commander hatch then running down and around the base of the right cluster
Now, this only applies to the T-72 kit as the T-64 has nicely realised conduits from the get-go (‘premium model’ vs ‘cheap model’ indeed!) but the T-72 (perhaps covering off export models without launchers) has no conduits. Its a minor thing but it adds some nice texture to the smooth lines of the turret.
“Check out the conduits of this sexy little T-64” – The Sport, maybe
This is easier than it seems, so long as you are patient and don’t mind waiting the short time it takes for the poly cement to do its job. We need some 0.50mm styrene rod. Small enough not to stick out too much but big enough that the cement won’t just dissolve it.
Lets start with the smaller right cluster. I find it easier to start at the top and work down on this one. I run a line of poly-cement (the narrow tip of Revell pro is a god send for this) from just in front of the cupola down to start of the curve down to the front – immediately above and to the inner side (i.e. close to the main gun) of the first smoke dispenser. We then let the glue dry for a few minutes.
Then we set down some more cement under the tubes and sweep the rod down and round, hugging the tubes. Once dry, we trim the rod back so that it finishes under the rear most tube.
Onto the left cluster. here I find it easier to work bottom to top. First we set down some cement under the tubes and lay the rod down into it. Due to the sweep of the turret I found I had to hold the rod in place more than on the right cluster.
Once dry, we sweep the rod upwards at about a 60-45° angle. We then leave it to set again.
Finally we run the rod so that it terminates in front of the gunner sight and inline with the laser range finder. We can then cut the rod off there.
And that’s it. Its not particularly difficult; just a little time consuming but working on multiple tanks helps with that as one can be drying whilst the next few are done to the same stage.
Astute readers may notice that my first batch in the group shot at the start of the article had the conduits shorter – that came down to a bad angle on the photo I used and I since find a better one. Similarly, as I had already glued the tanks together before coming up with adding the extra detail, the right cluster of grenade launchers has the original four tubes all still ina line. It’ll make telling apart the companies easier at least…
There is other stuff we could do. “Miniature Ordnance Review” has looked at adding photo-etched detail to the lower hull and fixing the rear stowage bins (both worth a look!). We could add the missing pipe work used to connect the (now ditched) auxiliary tanks. Likewise we could use a small amount of heat and some pliers and distort the rubber skirts to look a little less regular. But I was happy not to push my luck more than what is already covered and call it there.
I hope you found that interesting and that it provides some inspiration when constructing your own tanks.
Part 3 will be along in a Battlefront “soon” and will look at painting East German infantry.
Once I actually paint some…