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Sd.Kfz.138 Marder III

Unimodel 1/72 Sd.Kfz.138 Marder III Build Review

By Llarry Amrose

Date of Review February 2009 Manufacturer Unimodel
Subject Sd.Kfz.138 Marder III Scale 1/72
Kit Number 0343 Primary Media Styrene, Photo-Etch
Pros Nice detailing Cons Poor directions, vague decal placement
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $13.20

Background

When Nazi Germany annexed Czechoslovakia in the late 1930’s one of the prizes was the Skoda tank works, maker of the fine LT35 and LT38 light tanks. Production was continued, and these designs entered Wehrmacht service as the PzKfw 35(t) and 38(t) (“(t)” standing for Tschechoslowakei, the German spelling). They served well through the beginning of the war, filling a need between the Panzer II and III. Eventually, Allied armor and armament improved, and the tanks were withdrawn from frontline units.

However, the chassis was seen to still have value, so a number of other vehicles were designed based on it. This included self-propelled artillery and tank destroyers. The “Marder” (Marten) series of tank hunters were built on different older chassis designs, the Marder IIIs using the 38(t). There were three versions of the Marder III, the Ausf. H (Heckmotor – rear engine) was the middle design, and, while not actually the most produced, it is probably the most recognized. The Marders worked well enough, but eventually showed three areas which could be improved: they had a fairly tall silhouette, an open crew compartment, and a better 75mm gun became available. The JagdPanzer 38(t) “Hetzer” was the result.

The Kit

Marder Many years ago, I built the old ESCI Marder III, a fine kit, especially for its time, but which has not yet been reissued by Italeri. The directions were vague in places and I recall the upper hull structure was fairly fiddly, especially with my much more limited skills at the time, so I was looking forward to a fully modern kit.

 Inside the standard blue end-opening UM box are four sprues: two copies of A, which contain the wheels and tracks, and B and C which contain all the rest of the vehicle. UM has kitted all three versions of the Marder III, though the others must use different sprues. The decal sheet also seems to contain the markings for the other variants, as well as for the four schemes in this kit. Finally there is a small fret of photoetched brass, providing a selection of brackets and a intake cover box.

Construction

MarderThe lower hull went together easily, along with the rear idler and the main suspension springs. At this point I needed to paint the road wheels and their rubber tires, as well as the hull that would end up behind the road wheels. The road wheels went on next, but the drive sprockets needed to wait until they could be properly lined up while the tracks were being assembled.

I have to admit, I really like link-and-length track, yes, even in 1/72, so I’ve become a big fan of these UM kits. This is the third 38(t) variant I’ve built, but the first time I’ve run into an issue with the spacing of the idlers and sprockets. The idlers ended up too narrow for the tracks, but by cutting off the guide teeth on one side, I could make them fit satisfactorily. If you watch for this ahead of time, it will be easy to avoid. I discovered the front sprocket spacing while mounting the tracks, so I could use the track links to set the spacing just fine.

There is a simple interior, two seats and a nicely textured floor, but that’s okay since not much will be visible through the fighting compartment past the gun. German tank interiors were generally in an off-white color called Elfenbein (RAL1001). Open topped vehicles tended to have the interior done in the exterior color. I used an off-white for the interior of the hull, reasoning that it was far enough inside, but did the inside of the superstructure with the exterior panzer dark yellow.

Marder Next came the fenders and the rear crew deck on top of the engine compartment. This was the first place that the one real weakness of the kit, the instructions, came into play. The parts diagrams do not properly identify the few plastic parts that are not to be used (9, 35, 51, 77, 78, 83). Also, the photoetch fret contains six fender brackets, the instructions call for five, but the illustrations show seven. Part 55 (two of them) is clearly for the front bracket on each side, and 58 (2) for the last bracket, though only one is clearly identified. Part 56 is identified on the left side and pictured on the right, and there is no part 57.

Marder The gun and gun compartment come down to three distinct steps. First, the 75mm gun must be assembled, which makes up all of step 7 in the directions. Mounting the gun to the hull is contained in step 8, but I recommend treating it as a separate task. The shape of the bottoms of the main brackets leaves two possible ways to attach it to the hull – look at the diagrams for steps 9 and 10 to see what is correct, with the front tips actually on top of the gunshield guide. If the gun is not perfectly centered, you will not be able to use the travel lock for the barrel in the up position, but will need to fold it down, as I did.

The gunshield comes next. The inset shows that it must be turned 90 degrees to get the muzzle brake through the opening, but I found I needed to enlarge the opening just a bit to accommodate the lower portions of the gun mounting. The shield will flex some, so be careful fitting it tightly around the guide ridge.

Marder This brings us to the rest of the superstructure. The directions seem to show starting with the front portion of each side (parts 80-81) attaching to the gunshield, and I just can’t see how that could work. The sides can be built up, the join is beveled to give the right angle, and the positioning can be quickly reinforced by adding the bottom braces (71-72). After they have fully cured, they can be added to the sides of the upper hull, and the roof added between them. You’ll want to do that while you still have some flexibility in the lower connections in order to get everything lined up right.

HOWEVER, before you can do that, there’s one bit of clean up that’s needed. There’s a vision port on the right side of the upper hull, and the upper portion of it will interfere with the placement of that side of the superstructure. Looking at pictures of the real thing, the structure on that side is altered to accommodate the viewport, but the kit doesn’t include this detail. You’ll see this during test fitting, but it will be easier to keep it neat if you can do it early, before assembly and painting. The easiest solution is to remove every bit of the frame above the vision slot – the slot itself, and the lower frame will remain visible afterwards. More accurately, the viewport should stay and part of the bottom of the superstructure should be carved away to make room for it, but at this scale I’m not sure it matters.

Painting and Detailing

MarderThere are four schemes to choose from – sort of. The front cover of the box has a machine in overall Dunkelgelb (Panzer dark yellow) marked with a white number 32. This scheme appears nowhere in the instructions and the decal sheet contains two yellow 32s, not white. The back of the box has a two tone scheme of dark green over dark yellow, which turns out to be the scheme of a Marder on display at the museum in Sinisheim, Germany. Unfortunately, the red 322 numbers do not appear on the decal sheet.

The instruction sheet has three more schemes, for which the decals actually contain the right markings. Two are in overall dark yellow, 9th Panzer at Kursk, July 1943 and 23rd Panzer on the Eastern Front in 1943. The third is given as overall white, which I expect is a white wash over panzer yellow or grey, 1st SS Panzer at Kharkov, also in 1943.

I chose the 23rd Panzer machine, its side markings include a name, “Paula”, a crew affectation I’m not used to seeing too often on German vehicles. I used PollyScale paints, and Tamiya Weathering Masters pastels.

MarderThe decals are exceptionally matte, and handle well. The exact positioning of the markings is an estimate, as UM’s instructions are not particularly precise.

Conclusions

While I won’t claim to be an expert on the Marder, comparing the finished product to photos, it looks every bit the part. Comparing it to measurements from various sources, it does seem to be about 5-10cm (scale) too small in each dimension, but that’s not too bad. The fit and detailing is good, and even sprue A, which is used in every 38(t) variant kit seems to still be in good shape. The directions are the weak spot, and the engineering and fit of the gun compartment is a little dodgy.

I love UM kits, I really do, I’ve built a number of them and have more in the stash. Still, I cannot unconditionally recommend this one, at least not over others in their catalog. If you really want a Marder, this kit is probably a better choice than the old ESCI, even before you consider availability. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a good armor build, I’d choose a different UM kit.

My sincere thanks to Squadron Mail Order for this review sample!

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