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M4 81mm Mortar Carrier

DML 1/35 M4 81mm Mortar Carrier - Smart Kit First Look

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review May 2007 Manufacturer DML
Subject M4 81mm Mortar Carrier - Smart Kit Scale 1/35
Kit Number 6361 Primary Media 377 parts (355 in grey styrene, 20 etched brass, 2 turned aluminum)
Pros A correct service mortar vehicle kit; based on great M2/M2A1 kit with all basic parts carried over, including radios and machine guns Cons Markings provided for but no comments or directions to create an accurate M4 Modified as used by 2nd Armored Division (e.g. mortar forward)
Skill Level Intermediate MSRP (USD) $35-38

First Look

As part of the new halftrack program from 1941, the US Army also had the third type produced as a mortar carrier for the 81mm battalion level mortar. Using the chassis of the M2 halftrack, the new carrier had a stiffened floor plate and racks for up to 96 rounds of 81mm mortar bombs around the interior of the hull. It kept the "skate" ring inside the hull, but also added a door similar to that used on the larger bodied M3 halftrack for either access (limited by the skate rail) or ammo resupply from the ground. Provision was made to mount an SCR-510 radio set and amplifier unit on top of the right hand forward ammo box.

572 of these vehicles were built, and after some modifications based on field experience, another 600 M4A1 vehicles with a new mounting for the mortar were also built. This required the addition of a 7 3/8" base spacer to be placed under the vehicle's mortar baseplate to provide for proper traverse when firing. The plate at the rear of the had holes spaced at 100 mil intervals (about every 5.6 degrees) for the points of the bipod to engage. From the ground the main external differences were the provision of the winch and the "combat" headlights (M4s had the roller and "highway" headlights.)

The 2nd Armored Division found that the rearward firing mortar was awkward to aim and use, so they took the components from the M4A1 and reversed them with some other modifications (one ammo rack was removed, the other mounted in the center of the vehicle, and the baseplate and traversing plate were reversed). The rear door was no longer useable, but the increase in tactical effectiveness outweighed the shortcomings. Later, a refined design on the M3 chassis designated the M21 was built with this feature, but only 110 were built and it did not see wide combat action.

Each battalion headquarters in tank and armored infantry battalions had a platoon of three mortar carriers and a command halftrack, so there were at least 18 to 27 of these vehicles in an armored division.

DML's kit is a beautifully executed early production M4 version of the mortar carrier and uses the entire M2/M2A1 verbatim with the addition of another 32 parts to cover the altered internal components of the rear body, the new rear end with door, and the mortar itself. Only the alternate radiator covers for the "combat headlights" version of the grille are missing as the M4 only used the "highway" headlights out on the fenders.

The bulk of the kit is identical to the M2/M2A1 kit. Four sprues provide the parts for the chassis and drive train, including a complete White engine and transmission. While the hood is molded in one piece, DML has notched the back side as well as the insides of the "cab" sides to permit easy cutting to open them up for display. The tires have caused a lot of controversy as DML molded them with a slight bulge to show under-inflated tires under load; this has been a love/hate feature of the kit, but personally I think it is not as bad as some of the "boo birds" have claimed. To each his own on taste.

The bogies and track runs are very impressive, as the idlers and drivers are "slide molded" with respectively thin details and openings. Each bogie assembly consists of 18 parts and is very petite; the mounting suspension provides five more with the track tension adjusters nicely portrayed. The tracks are very interesting: DML molded them in hard styrene plastic in two halves, cut in such a way that the "chain" plate drive tooth guides in the center are represented as they are found on the actual vehicle. Since the tracks were metal with rubber "endless belt" casings vulcanized onto them, this is a neat way to portray it.

The model again comes with two sets of body panels for the rear body, but as all M4s only had the skate rail the other set is not used, noir is the very nice M49 ring mount. DML again provides two beautifully done .50 caliber M2HB machine guns and four equally well done .30 caliber Brownings, all with the correct mounts.

The new rear end provides the "split" bumper needed with the new door as well. These contain the lights, which are correct for WWII. There is an oval on the left top for the taillight, a rectangle on the right top for the stop light, and two rectangles on the bottom for the combat blackout taillights. Again, as this is an early M4 no rear stowage bins are provided.

The "cab" is neatly done but with only set of grille mounts included. One is provided closed and one with the folding louvers removed (these have to be made from etched brass, as no plastic parts are provided for the louvers.) The model has the "civilian" style dashboard, so note that the instruments are a brushed aluminum color on preserved/restored vehicles and not the more common black with white numerals.

The winch and roller each come with their own bumper and accouterments, but the M4 only used the roller so the winch goes off to parts.

The new body has the ammo lockers molded in place on the floor pan, but the molding is neatly done. However, all of the racks are full so it will take some work to show an "in action" version with some of the bomb stowage tubes missing. The well for mounting the mortar is present as are the covers for the well and the extra frame braces under the floor. The mortar consists of five styrene parts and a two-piece turned aluminum barrel with the "knob" fitting for the baseplate turned on the base section.

Brass is again – as this is a Smart Kit – kept to a minimum and covers the aforementioned louvers, the headlight guards, the mud flaps, wipers and some small stiffeners.

The kit does provide a generic driver with tanker's style jacket and helmet. Note he comes with his own seat cushion, but it's not for use in this vehicle!

Markings and finishing instructions are provided for three vehicles: one unidentified labeled "Prowler" with the bumper code "SP HQ 13", USA 1944 (possibly the demonstration regiment at Fort Knox; overall OD); unidentified (no markings and just serials), USA (overall OD); and one from the 1st Battalion, probably 41st Armored Infantry, Belgium 1944 (1-32 tac number in yellow, overall OD). This last one is wrong as it is a modified M4 with the forward-firing mortar as well as fitted with the mine racks and other differences, not called out in the directions.

Overall this is another great kit from DML and a much more useful (and better executed) model than the hoary old Tamiya M21 kit. I am a bit surprised that the few parts needed to convert this to an M4A1 were not included in the kit.

Thanks to DML for the review sample.

Sprue Breakout:

  • A 40 Chassis and suspension
  • B 28 Armored cab assembly
  • C 29 M49 mount and front bumper assemblies
  • D 48x2 Bogie assembly and wheels
  • E 7 Clear styrene parts
  • H 2 Front grille (open/closed)
  • J 37x2 Machine guns and radio set
  • K 40 Rear body components
  • L 8 Driver figure
  • S 25 M4 body parts
  • T 5 81mm mortar parts
  • W 8 Slide molded drivers and idlers
  • MA 20 Etched brass
  • MB 2 Turned aluminum mortar tube