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Sherman M4 Early Conversion

Legend Productions 1/35 Sherman M4 Early Conversion Set First Look

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review May 2005 Manufacturer Legend Productions
Subject Sherman M4 Early Conversion Set Scale 1/35
Kit Number LF1101 Media 84 parts (83 in cream resin, 1 turned aluminum gun barrel)
Pros 'Drop-fit' parts will convert the Italeri M4A1 to a very early production M4 suitable for North Africa Cons Relatively high cost; somewhat odd finish on hull parts, mediocre directions
Skill Level Intermediate MSRP (USD) $72.95

First Look

While most manufacturers of late have fought over the later models of the Sherman tank – the 76mm armed wet stowage models with either VVSS or HVSS suspensions – there are still very few models of the early Shermans around. The only ones which can be found with some regularity are: the Tamiya M4 Early (a standard production dry stowage vehicle, not a really early production one); the DML M4A1 Early (a relatively early M4A1 with 75mm turret without loader's hatch – the so-called "low bustle" model – but later model suspension); and the DML M4A4 kits (as there was no "late model" M4A4, this is pretty much all there was.) The result is that the market is still wide open for the after-market boys to fill in a LOT of gaps.

The result is that there are a lot of kits that have been produced over the last 30 years to use the two most common and accepted Sherman kits as a basis – the 24-year-old Tamiya M4A3 (which is a standard production wet stowage version) and the 31-year-old Italeri M4A1 76mm wet stowage kit.

The latter is a true classic model, as it was the first really good Sherman kit when it came out in 1974. But over the years, most modelers found it to be wanting in a lot of areas: the turret had some shape problems and fit problems, the gun had a bogus "step" in the barrel (caused because the kit's designers mistook an unpainted section of the barrel as a sleeve and not an unpainted section of the barrel), rocking bogies that could not be firmly locked down, relatively inflexible tracks, and truly wimpy tools. But it was pretty accurate in scale, looked better than either the 1956 Revell kit or the Nichimo or Tamiya kits of its day, and has survived to this day.

The upshot was that this kit turned out to be the basis for most of the conversion kits, even after the Tamiya M4A3 kit showed up seven years later. Both companies have made a number of conversions of their own kits, with Italeri offering this kit with different parts as an "M4A2 Jumbo" (actually an early M4A3 76mm), an M4A3 with T34 Calliope, an M32B1 tank recovery vehicle, an M36B1 90mm GMC, and lately an M4A2 USMC version. But under it all are the same basic detail and running gear parts that came out in 1974.

Legend Productions of Korea now offers two conversion kits for creating the very early model M4 tank – "direct vision" viewers in the glacis, flat-back welded hull, three-piece bolted transmission housing, M3 Medium type bogie assemblies, "low-bustle" turret with M34 narrow mantlet gun mount, and a turned aluminum 75mm M3 gun barrel. The first kit, LF1100, is designed to go on the Tamiya M4 Early kit and as such uses many parts from it such as the kit's turret and transmission cover. This kit, LF1101, is a complete kit for converting the Italeri M4A1 to the earliest M4 variant.

The kit provides many of the parts that have to be replaced in the Italeri kit to do just that: new hull with specific details such as hatches and viewers, new transmission cover and bow section, new M2/M3 style bogie units with the return rollers mounted on top, and a complete resin turret assembly with all major components included.

I have seen some comments on the internet that show some reviewers can't read: the directions show two sponson inserts for the LF1100 kit, which is the Tamiya one and as most of us "old hands" know Tamiya rarely includes sponson floors with any kit. Italeri and DML do, and as such the 1101 kit only needs a replacement for the front section once the lower hull is modified to accept the new bow section and rear sections to meet the rectangular hull corners at the rear. On the other hand, at least one reviewer of an LF1100 claimed the kit came without them, so I have no idea if that was a goof or someone at the factory mixed up the 1100 and 1101 kits.

Most of the parts are a good fit, once cleaned up and removed from their casting plugs. The bogies seem a bit soft on detail, which is odd considering resin is usually better at capturing sharp details.

The turret is complete and comes with everything but hand grabs, for which the directions recommend "0.3mm brass wire" (e.g. 0.010-0.015" wire) but which is not provided.

The hull surface has an odd somewhat uneven finish to it as if the master modeler who created the original thought it should be textured. It should be dead smooth, as this hull was welded together from cold rolled steel armor plate and not cast. One suggestion made by Peter Brown and Steve Zaloga, and to which I agree, is that the researchers may have used a museum example with several heavy coats of paint and weathering, which creates the impression of dips or ripples in the surface. They are not there on the original unless it has suffered heavy rusting, such as 50 years in warm salt water. The turret shows a cast surface a bit rougher than what is apparent on most clean examples or from factory photos, so it probably suffered the same fate of multiple paint coats.

One thing I wish Legend had included was a better set of tools for the Sherman as well as some wire and even minor photo etched sheet, as some of the details on the original Italeri kit are poor and need to be replaced with better items. For $73 one would have hoped they had included it, but no such luck.

The directions are where this kit is let down, as they are rather perfunctory and present color photos with a "stick here" type of arrow and number presentation. While they are better than nothing, and at least show where the bits go and have photos of how to recognize them on the casting plugs, for the amount of money charged for this kit they are inexcusable.

There are many other companies that do it better, and Legend should buy some of its competitors' products to see how to do this better. A good case in point is Chesapeake Model Designs, who is probably the best overall at the kits, their presentation, and their directions. Their directions explain what the kit provides and the history of the actual vehicle, suggested kits and parts needed to build an accurate replica, and photos showing how their product goes together. A bit more on the Legend directions and skipping the adverts for two Churchill conversion sets would have been more useful.

As it is, some quick research shows that only a handful of tanks were built to this configuration, and from some comments in the historical texts may have been part of the 2nd Armored Division when it went to North Africa . 20 of them were transferred to the 1st Armored Division, which otherwise seems to have been equipped with either M3 mediums or early model M4A1 tanks. Steve Zaloga in his book on "The M4 Sherman at War" from Concord (#7001) has a photo of two M4 Early Models from F Company, 2nd Battalion 1st Armored Regiment, Combat Command C, 1st Armored Division, matching the version which this kit provides knocked out near Sidi Salem , Tunisia .

To create a model of these tanks you need the Italeri kit, the Legend kit, a set of T51 irreversible rubber block track (such as RHPS ) and a set of yellow stars and stripes for marking the vehicles. Steve provides a color broadside of one of these tanks on page 33 of that book, but coming up with the weathered "mud and clay" over olive drab camouflage coloring will be interesting at best!

Overall this is a pretty good and thorough kit, but the manufacturer needs to take into consideration not everyone who buys it has a vast library or is a Sherman fan with a wide variety of parts to pick and choose from to complete the kit.