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M2A1

Commander Models 1/35 M2 Combat Car Kit First Look

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review June 2011 Manufacturer Commander Models
Subject M2 Combat Car Scale 1/35
Kit Number 1025 Primary Media 137 parts (108 in cream resin, 29 etched brass)
Pros First kit of this vehicle in resin; very nicely cast parts; nearly complete interior really a nice option Cons No tracks (see text); hatch cover cast in one piece vice three
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $79.95

First Look

For anyone following American armored vehicle development, it suffices to say the 1930s were both a time of advancement and coalescing of ideas as well as extreme branch entrenchment and silliness. The “Combat Cars” of that time are an example of how dumb things could be.

The Army had three major boards which determined its force structure, equipment, and allocations of equipment per unit sets: Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery. As such, each had some say in what the others did or began to work on in regard to future weapons systems. All of them had a say with the Ordnance Board as to what was approved and for whom. When the subject of new tanks came up in the early 1930s, needless to say each wanted to get its own views to take priority.

The Infantry Board argued that it should have all tanks as tanks were considered an infantry support weapon, and therefore the Artillery and Cavalry should have no say in the matter. The Cavalry Board balked as they realized they would need fast, light armored vehicles to be relevant in any future conflict against a modern power. The Infantry view was Cavalry Tanks – no way. After much squabbling, the compromise was that the Cavalry would be permitted “Combat Cars” – basically light tanks but under another name. However, neither one would carry a cannon as – of course – that was the purview of the Artillery.

The first solid prototypes of these new vehicles began to show up in 1936, with production in limited numbers coming in 1938. The early vehicles – M1 Combat Cars – used a short-wheelbase suspension of two vertical volute twin bogie units which would basically continue in use with only minor changes until the end of M5A1 production in the 1943-1944 time frame. But they suffered from extreme pitching due to the short wheelbase, and therefore some changes were made. As a result, an improved model, the M1A1, was introduced in 1939; this had a longer wheelbase that lessened pitching.

The M1 Combat Car series evolved into the M2, which instead of the longer wheelbase used a sprung trailing idler to extend the track on the ground and provide the same level of ride improvement. This also translated into better obstacle crossing capability and stability. It also added a Guiberson R-1020 nine-cylinder diesel engine for better performance and mileage. This provided 36 mph with the new suspension and with a full tank of fuel could cover up to 200 miles on highways, which was better than any of the other tanks of its day in US service. It also had a taller and improved turret design.

All of these vehicles were armed with one M2 .50 caliber machine gun and two or three .30 caliber Browning M1919A4 machine guns: the .50 and one .30 in the turret, one .30 in a 3" ball mount in the glacis for the assistant driver, and another .30 on a semi-retractable mount on the rear of the turret for antiaircraft protection. Armor protection was only 5/8" of an inch at best.

Thirty-four of these machines were built in 1940, with serials running from W-40226 to W-40260. Note that all combat cars were 40xxx serials and all competing light tanks were W-30xxx, which makes them easier to separate if you can see the serials! But just to confuse things, when the Armor Board was formed in August 1940 all M1/M1A1 Combat Cars were redesignated M1 Light Tanks and all M2 Combat Cars M1A1 Light Tanks, with serials remaining the same.

Probably the best known M1A1 Light Tank was the one used by then Major General George S. Patton during the 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers, where he commanded the 2nd Armored Division. His command vehicle was originally M2 Combat Car serial number W-40256, painted with four color bands around the turret (red/white/blue/yellow to show the fact that the mission of the Armored Force comprised all of the functions of the Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery – as manifested in the new Armor patch of the time. White was apparently just for balance and the national colors.)

Commander has now released their promised kit of the M2 and it is a gem. Hollow cast in light cream resin, it comes with a basic interior to include the front half of the radial engine (once in place you can’t see the back, so not a problem) as well as the turret and drivers’ compartment. Oddly enough, with all this in play the hatch cover – in reality three parts with only the front flap welded to the turret – is molded solid. But as it is thin sheet armor it can be replaced by 0.020" sheet plastic for those who wish it open.

The suspension follows the mold of the Tamiya-Academy-AFV Club kits: two road wheels, a bogie carrier and backing, spring fork, front, top and skid. Ditto the trailing idler and the drivers.

Tracks are not included as the recommended set for this vehicle is the AFV Club T16 rubber pad track set (kit number AF35019). Ted Paris stated at the AMPS 2011 International Show that he was not going to include tracks from resin as most modelers don’t like them and this way they can choose their favorite set.

The rest of the kit is easy to assemble and comes with large sections assembled for you in casting, such as the floor, firewall, and driveshaft cover which are part of the lower hull.

The interior includes seats, control levers, a fire extinguisher and instrument panel. No radio is provided.

The etched brass is part of the shared M2 Combat Car/M2A1 Medium Tank fret but here only four parts are used – headlight guards, front and rear air grilles for the engine deck.

No finishing instructions are included but the overall vehicle was painted dark olive drab with blue-drab serials as noted running from USA W-40226 to USA W-40260. A search on the internet will find Patton’s photos from LIFE magazine in full color for painting the bands.

Overall this is a truly nice kit of this predecessor tank and one any American light tank fan will want in his collection.

Thanks to Ted Paris for the review sample.

Parts Makeup

  • 3 Hull, hull top, glacis
  • 4 Fenders
  • 3 Engine-transmission assemblies
  • 2 Turret base and shell
  • 5 Hatches and flaps
  • 6 Drivers’ seats and controls
  • 12 Details
  • 2 Machine gun mounts
  • 3 Protectoscopes
  • 4 Mufflers and air cleaners
  • 1 Step
  • 14 Wheels, drivers, idlers
  • 26 Suspension units, idlers
  • 6 Sprung unit suspension
  • 10 Machine guns and mounts
  • 7 OVM
  • 29 Etched brass

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