I recently picked up a few Zvesda models on a whim with the attention of writing up some reviews. The M3 Lee is a fairly recent addition to the Zvesda range and one that could be of use with the updating of Mid-War as it appears in the army lists for all three major allied combatants.
The M3 Lee was the first true medium tank used by the western allies in WWII. Based on the earlier M2 Medium Tank, the M3 was designed as a quick answer to the US observations on the Battle of France on the inadequacy of the small calibre guns used by the French and British and similar to the US 37mm used a main armament for the M2 Medium Tank.
To minimise development time, a 75mm gun (derived from the excellent French 1875 field gun) was mounted in the modified hull of an M2 tank. The turret mounted 37mm was retained given a tank of roughly similar capability to French Char B albeit with more mobility and a better turret arrangement.
The British were the first to put the M3 into service. Initially the British used a derivative of the M3 with an improved turret arrangement of lower profile, dubbed the M3 Grant.
The original turret configuration, dubbed the M3 Lee in British parlance, was retained on US tanks, first seeing action in Operation Torch. Lend Lease supplied examples to British and Russian forces were also of the M3 Lee type. It was not uncommon for British forces to have a mix of UK purchased Grants and lend-Lease purchased Lees and the name Grant appears to have been applied to both types equally in some war records.
The Russians appear to have been relatively dismissive of the M3 Lee in comparison to the excellent T-34, but with factories unable to meet the Red Army requirements the Lee was adopted as a “better than nothing” solution. The Russians also received later versions of the M3 with the longer MX 75mm gun, also used on the M4 Sherman, increasing the velocity of the AT shell.
The initial Zvezda kits established the Russian manufacturer as a source of cheap (beating both Battlefront and Plastic Soldier Company on £/tank), no frills, plastic models for 15mm Wargaming. When they first appeared I picked up some Zis and Opel Blitz trucks and found them…frustrating.
Zvesda models seem to prioritise the detail in odd place. The Opel Blitz had a highly detailed chassis but no panel detail on the sides of the hull. The push-fit assembly made for a fiddly assembly whilst the surprisingly accurate chassis was a bit too flimsy for my liking. Later purchases of the Matilda and SdKfz 222 continued that pattern but did show an ever increasing level of detail. The SdKfz222 is a bitch to assemble, with wheels that snap off of you look at them, but it did look pretty nice!
So, with the mechanical oddity that is the M3 Lee, how have Zvesda fared?
Compared to previous Zvesda purchases, the box is surprisingly packed. The M3 Lee is split over two relatively full sprues and also includes an instruction sheet, such is the relative complexity of the model! The sprues are a tan colour which matches the Matilda I already have and largely irrelevant by the time primer is applied anyway.
The double sided instruction sheet splits the build into four stages; Upper Hull, Lower Hull, Turret and final assembly. The Zvesda no-glue push-fit philosophy really drives the design and necessitates an absolutely bonkers looking upper hull chassis mount. But, unlike the SdKfz 222 it seems to work surprisingly well.
First I assembled the upper hull.
- The Hull Gun is pushed into a pincer that allows it to elevate. The engine deck then gets pushed on.
- Next, the hull sides get pushed on. I added some like Poly-Cement to the edges to avoid any gaps at the joins. The joins are chamfered rather than just abutting which also helps gives a relatively seamless look.
- Finally, the hull top gets pushed in, again assisted with some Poly-Cement at the edges.
The Lower Hull is relatively straight forward. A chassis piece is pushed into the lower hull then the track guards and tracks get pushed onto it.
We then push the upper and lower hulls together and add the transmission cover to the nose.
The Turret is relatively simple, although the side hatch and surrounding hull is a separate part that leaves a small but noticeable edge where a smooth cast turret should not have such a feature. I suspect this is due to the Zvesda WWII rang using very simplistic moulds with no moving inserts.
All in all, although looking complex, it was actually rather easy and building took less than 15 minutes (including taking photos). I only used glue at the places mentioned, the rest is just the “push-fit” interference fit. It was actually quite fun seeing the Lee emerge from the random bits.
15 minutes to assemble, less than that to be a firey wreck the first time it sees a PzIV Special
At a table top distance, the M3 looks decent enough. The profile looks about right with all the principle features present and correct. Give it a coat of Brown Violet and some attention and it’d look fine.
Tabletope visuals are fine then. It’s when you pick it up and really look at the tank that the issues emerge.
Firstly, although it doesn’t mention it anywhere on the box or instructions, there are a number of features that suggest the model is actually a Diesel powered M3A3 Lee IV (322 built according to Wiki), rather than a far more common petrol powered M3 (4000+ built). Reasons for thinking this is the case:
- Design of the engine deck rear. Unlike the Battelfront model, the Zvesda has no engine access hatch and has a large boxy butt. Photos of the M3A3 based M31B1 recovery vehicle have a similar look.
- The left hand escape hatch has little detail. At first, I thought this was a fault of the model, but it looks like the M3A3 has a simplified and permanently shut left access panel that matches the model.
- Rivets are absent from the hull sides. It may be a fault of the model (they are present on the hull front and top), but it again matchs illustrations of the welded hull M3A3.
Bizarrely, the hull front twin MG, that were ditched early on a being useless, are present.
The detail that is present on the engine deck looks good but is very shallow. Painting it will be a bit of a chore. Similarly, some of the hatches are also very shallow in terms of detail.
The relatively common rear hull stowage boxes are not present. It’s not technically incorrect but they tend to appear fairly regularly in the photo archives.
That said, its not all negative:
- The close-up detail on the tracks is excellent, far outstripping the metal tracks of the Battlefront equivalent.
- The Turret is also well detailed with the cupola having a visible MG barrel; again lacking on the BF version.
Comparing to the Battlefront M3 Lee, the Zvesda tank is shorter in height and length but not hugely so. You couldn’t mix the two in a Troop but you *may* get away with it in different troops in the same army if you’re not too fussy.
The inclusion of the quickly removed Hull MG, and a pair of hull roof entilation discs that don’t appear in any phtos I have found, is curious
Following the Zvesda format, there are no options. No open commander hatches, no alternative main guns (you just get the counterweighted short gun), no sand skirts and hull stowage boxes.
It’s my regular complaint with Zvesda kits, the lack of options really hurts them in my opinion. I like having the unit commander unbuttoned and I like having my tanks look roughly the part which means sand skirts present. A Grant turret option would also have been nice!
Some of the missing options can be resolved relatively easily (long gun could just be added using tube, though replicating the taper would be tricky), but it wouldn’t hurt to have them as Plastic Soldier Company and Battlefront tend to do.
So, is the Zvesda kit worth your money?
If you accept the above limitations, I’d say that it’s certainly useful and not a bad looking kit at tabletop levels. In lieu of a comparable Battlefront or Plastic Soldier Company kit it will likely do.
If I was doing a Russian Lend Lease force I’d use these with no real reservations. I might use them for a US armour force too. However, I’d be less inclined to use them for a British tank squadron due to the lack of sand skirts and stowage boxes and the presence of the counterweights on the gun. It’s nit-picky but I’d need them to look roughly the same as my Grants.
Ultimately, I’m a painter/modeller first and foremost so I tend to be fussy on my models. That said, the Zvesda M3 Lee did impress me with its general look and ease of assembly. It’s by no means a bad model!
If you value cost over looks then you certainly don’t have to sacrifice much on the latter to save considerably on the former.
Coming soon – a review of the Zvesda A13 Cruiser