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M4A1 (76) W

DML 1/35 M4A1 (76) W Kit First Look

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review January 2006 Manufacturer DML
Subject M4A1 (76) W Scale 1/35
Kit Number 6083 Primary Media 1,337 parts (1,285 in grey styrene, 31 etched brass, 18 in clear styrene, 2 turned brass rounds, 1 turned aluminum barrel)
Pros Nice, correct early model M4A1 "big hatch" tank with 76mm M1 gun finally replaces old standard Italeri kit; nice if subtle touches abound on this model Cons Some odd things still carried over from the Italeri kit; many modelers were hoping for DS tracks vice the three-piece single link track
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $41.50

First Look

Occasionally as modelers we tend to fixate on one single tank of one type of one production series or run. The early model M4A1 "Wet Stowage" with 76mm gun and the new T23-based turret as used by the 3rd Armored Division's 32nd Armored Regiment is one of those vehicles.

I got interested in it while researching the top scoring tanker of 3AD, SSG Lafayette G. Pool. He originally deployed to France with an M4 or M4A1, which was knocked out during his first day in combat by five hits from Panzerfausts, one of which proved fatal to the tank. Due to the surprising failure of the US 75mm guns to penetrate German tanks, a call was made to send over the new 76mm armed tanks as replacements. Pool received one of the first 102 tanks sned over in July 1944 as a replacement. Being in Item Company, 3rd Battalion, 32nd Armor, he gave the tank an I name – "In the Mood."

Pool's crew included: CPL Willis Oller, gunner; T/5 Delbert Boggs, loader; T/5 Wilbert "Bunny" Richards, driver; and PFC Bertrand Close, assistant driver. This crew served together from early July 1944 until 19 September 1944, when Boggs was pulled out of the crew and sent home as his brother had become missing in action (think of "Saving Private Ryan.") His replacement, PFC Paul King, was killed later that same day in a firefight with either a Panther or an antitank gun that knocked out "In the Mood" and wounded both Oller and Pool, with the latter eventually losing his right leg due to injuries.

But during their 84 days in combat, Pool's "In the Mood" and its crew knocked out 258 enemy vehicles, including at least four Panther tanks, an entire company of SS Panzergrenadiers mounted in Sd.Kfz. 251 halftracks, as well as capturing 250 Germans and killing 1,200. His tank was responsible for the near total destruction of the German LXXIV Corps headquarters during its attempt to escape encirclement, fighting a running gun battle with the Germans while chasing them along a road for more than 15 kilometers. "In the Mood" was the "point" or lead tank 21 times during its short combat career.

After years of searching and some good luck, Steve Zaloga, Kurt Laughlin, Charles Lemons and I managed to isolate three photos of the actual "In the Mood" in action during 1944 in France and Belgium. "In the Mood" was an early 76mm M4A1 with the M1 gun (e.g. no muzzle brake or threading), the T48 rubber chevron tracks common to all 3AD medium tank based vehicles, the "solid" driver tooth ring, the "solid" road wheels, straight-topped suspension bogies with riser blocks for the return rollers, the "spoked" idler, the rear engine exhaust deflector grille, and the use of both the vision cupola for the commander and the older "split hatch" ring mount for the loader/antiaircraft machine gunner. There are no remaining skirt mountings on the sides of the hull. The tank also had the left side of its travel lock shot away and a scar left across the front of the driver's position by an unlucky Pak 40 (Oller didn't miss with the return shot!)

"In the Mood" was painted olive drab with black disruptive stripes per the 1st Army standardized camouflage recommendations. It had no frontal bumper codes nor the previously used yellow turret codes (as it was a replacement it does not appear to have ever carried them), the name in white centered under the turret on each side, and the serial number USA 3070713-S (for radio suppressed ignition harness) on the rear sides. The tank did carry the "circled star" marking on top of the front of the turret. It is assumed that the tank, as with most other 3AD tanks, did carry bumper codes on the rear, which as the platoon sergeant for 3rd platoon Item Company would have been 3 32  and I-34.

(The Patton Museum has a broadside photo of this tank, which clearly shows the above mentioned details; the other clear photo of the tank is on the top of page 30 of Steve Zaloga's Concord book "The Sherman at War (2): The US Army in the European Theater 1944-1945" [#7036.] Here one can clearly see Pool and Oller as well as Bert Close and just the top of Richards' head, as well as the missing left "hook" of the travel lock.)

DML has now released the latest member of their Sherman family, and one of the options in this kit is Pool's "In the Mood." Before going any farther, note that fully half of the parts in the box are not used with this kit! This is due to the use of a number of sprues from the previous Sherman releases by DML.

The kit still shares some of its architecture with the 31-year-old Italeri kit, but it also corrects or replaces most of the obsolete or wrong parts of that kit. The most obviously egregious one, the "stepped" barrel, has been replaced by an aluminum one or a styrene one with muzzle brake. The turret is based on the molds used for the new M4A3 kits from last year but with even further refinement and the casting number. The hull is a totally new molding, and comes with the early control compartment vent (a U-shaped trench between the front hatches vice the cover of the later models). There is a texturing to both the hull and turret which is a bit exaggerated, but nothing objectionable for most people.

The new suspension is much better than the previous VVSS efforts and is dead on for this particular series of tanks – straight return roller mount with "pillow" block for raising it. The road wheels are the newer "two-piece" ones with fronts and backs, but curiously the idlers are the "solid" type but with no backing. (Note as listed above for "In the Mood" they will have to be replaced with "spoked" idlers from the parts box.) The track guards (parts V6) are a bit on the heavy side – considering how much DML uses preformed brass parts, I'm surprised they don't make these out of brass as well rather than the heavy plastic ones. (For later models, the older VVSS suspension with the upswept return roller mounts are included.

Most of the rest of the parts, less the tools which still show a case of Italeri "anemia", are well done and of recent vintage, and the machine guns are all "slide molded" with hollow bores. There are a number of optional bits too, such as different engine deck covers – with or without a filler port. Since most of the ones that are in photos are covered with canvas, kit or just plain junk, I do not know which is correct and which is not for "In the Mood." The engine exhaust deflector grille (part J1) is solid, unlike its Italeri predecessor; but it is closer to scale thickness, and the former one had ejection pin marks in it that were virtually impossible to remove.

Other standard bits include clear plastic for all of the periscopes and vision blocks, a choice of etched brass or styrene guards and details, and two turned brass 76mm rounds for the model. The engine compartment deck may be displayed open or closed, but as there is no engine (!) I guess it is only for the advanced modeler so that he does not have to cut and replace parts.

One thing I know many modelers were hoping was that DML would break down and provide a set of DS plastic single-piece tracks for this kit. No such luck: it comes with the British steel chevron tracks with replacement T48 rubber chevron links and optional extended end connectors. These are very accurate, but have turned out to be the single most hated part of the DML Sherman kits by many people as it can take up to 15 hours to prepare, assemble and install them.

A total of five different marking options are included: an all olive drab Polish1st Armoured Division tank, Holland 1944; and four different black and OD tanks – unknown, 2AD, France 1944; F Company 33rd Armored Regiment, 3AD, Belgium 1944; D Company 66th Armored Regiment, 2AD, France 1944; and of course, "In the Mood," I Company 32nd Armored Regiment 3AD France 1944. (It's sort of a shame that the kit did not come with a Culin device for the 2AD tanks, to provide different options.)

The one thing I must caution buyers of this kit is that, like many of its fellow DML kits, once you take the parts sprues out of the box it is nearly impossible to get them all back in!

Overall this is a super effort, and contrary to some of the "experten" on various web sites it really captures the feel of the prototype.

Thanks to Freddie Leung of Dragon Models USA for the review sample.