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T-80 Soviet Light Tank

MiniArt 1/35 T-80 Soviet Light Tank w/Crew Kit First Look

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review September 2007 Manufacturer MiniArt
Subject T-80 Soviet Light Tank w/Crew Scale 1/35
Kit Number 35038 Primary Media 390 parts (386 in grey styrene, 4 in clear styrene)
Pros Only kit of this Soviet tank in this scale; based on very good T-70M kit by MiniArt; figures a nice complement with wide application Cons Suspension a cross between T-70 and T-70M parts
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $37.95

First Look

The Soviets practiced the concept of "learn through experience" during the Great Patriotic War (WWII) and one thing they learned the hard way was that tanks with a two-man crew are difficult to fight and unlikely to survive in anything other than scouting missions. The T-70 and T-70M light tanks suffered from this, as the commander had to both service the gun and command the tank. As a result, and based on better combat success (e.g. survival from the point of view of command functions) with the T-26 light tanks, the Soviets began to work on what was dubbed the "big turret" or "two-man turret" version of the T-70M.

Few people today realize how important the T-70s were in the early days of the war, and even at the famous battle of Prokhorovka in 1943 nearly one-third of the Soviet tanks engaged were T-70 and T-70M types. As a result, getting a tank that was likely to be more survivable was an important factor.

The Astrov design bureau at Factory No. 40 in Gor'kiy began serious work on this problem in October 1942, and eventually the prototype designs emerged as "Article 080" which eventually became the T-80 light tank. It took the proven T-70 chassis and added more powerful engines, increased side armor to 25mm, and added a totally new design of two man turret. This turret required increasing the diameter of the turret race from 966mm to 1112 mm, which was the same used by the old cylindrical turrets on the T-26 and BT series tanks. Due to the increased size and weight, the new turret race was firmly attached to the framework over the engine and formed one unit; this meant that the turret had to be removed to access the engines for more than routine servicing.

The turret used a cylindrical base and six-sided welded turret, fitted with an extended mantelet that gave the gun an elevation arc from -6 to +65 degrees (somebody decided it should be able to engage aerial targets along the way.) Each crew member (commander on the right, gunner on the left) had his own access hatch. The tank now had a rate of fire of 8-9 rounds per minute or twice that of the T-70M. Accepted for service in December 1942, the tank ran into immediate problems when the GAZ Factory (No. 40) refused to put it in production as it was strained to the limit with T-70M, BA-64, and trucks and engines. Eventually it was decided the new tank would be built by Factory No. 592 in Mytishchi near Moscow. Production would use parts from Factory No. 40 and hulls and turrets from Factory No. 176 in Kulebaki. By July 1943 the rate of production was expected to reach 150 tanks per month.

As with many Soviet tanks, not so fast. Due to problems the tank did not enter production in those time frames or rates. Even though Factory No. 176 had created 334 tank hull and turret sets for the T-80, production swung back to Factory No. 40 in April 1943. Problems then cropped with an old Soviet problem: "Better is the enemy of good enough." Searches for new hyper-velocity 45mm guns resulted in halts while new long-barreled 45mm guns were tested, as well as plans to use the GMC engines received via Lend-Lease to power the tank. But by that time, the day of the Soviet light tank was over, and in the fall of 1943 production was cancelled. Only 77 series production T-80 tanks were built, all by Factory No. 40. (Production then turned exclusively to the handy and effective SU-76 series SP guns on a modified T-70M chassis.)

The T-80 was arguably the best of the Soviet light tanks, but as with many "bests" it was too little and too late. MiniArt has now followed on the heels of their very nice T-70M kits with one of the T-80 and this is an even better effort. As with all of the previous MiniArt kits, it also comes with a set of five figures as a bonus, which also makes the pricetag more realistic when viewed in that light.

The T-70M kits suffered from the fact that their turret did not replicate the offcenter gun mantelet used by that tank, but instead used the "official" blueprints which show it to be centered. (Modelers should note that contrary to many claims on the internet this can be fixed within acceptable limits in less than 15 minutes, and I have an article in preparation which shows how to do that. But I digress.) This kit does not have those problems as it has a totally new turret for the T-80 and this one matches the set of plans in the Svirin/Kolomiyets book on the T-70 series tanks perfectly. The three hatches on the turret are all separate parts, as are all of the railings and other details. The gun barrel seems a bit undernourished, but the photos show that the guns used in the T-70s used thinner barrels than the older Model 1932/38 series 20-K guns so this may be correct.

The T-70M tanks (and by default the T-80) increased the size of the track links from 260 mm wide and 97 mm in pitch to 300 mm in width and 111mm in pitch, thus reducing the number of links needed from 91 to 80. The road wheels were beefed up in width from 104 mm to 130 mm, and the torsion bars changed from 34 mm to 36 mm diameter. Brake straps (the Soviets preferred ribbon brakes wrapped around a drum) were widened from 90 mm to 124 mm, and the result was that the tank carried more weight (from 9.2 metric tons to 10 metric tons) and while its mobility went up, its range went down to 250 km on highways. The other visible changes were made during the T-70's production run.

Checking the basic parameters of the kit, the hull has the correct width and the fenders are those for the wider M tracks. Track width is about 8.5mm or 300mm in scale and pitch is about 3.3mm or 115mm, but the wheels are 3 mm wide which is 105mm or in other words the basic T-70 wheel. That's a shame, but on the other hand for most modelers the difference will not be noticeable.

The hull is a one-piece unit with what appears to be what DML calls "slide molding" and is very nicely detailed; the belly has some discrepancies (there is an access panel which is square on the kit and rectangular in the Svirin/Kolomiyets book, for example) but overall detail is good. All screens are molded parts, but MiniArt has wisely designed the kit so that they may easily be replaced with etched brass or scratchbuilt parts and they will fit into the model. It also comes with the correct twin muffler arrangement; the armored shrouds over the exhaust pipes are included but the finicky will want to replace them from sheet styrene.

The crew figures with this kit are new, and consist of five figures that correspond to early DML figures with each one consisting of about eight parts (head, torso, two legs and two arms plus cover and pistol holster) plus accessories. One figure is in coveralls and the other four in the standard Soviet uniform of 1942 onward. Two figures (the coverall one with tanker's helmet and one figure in a leather jacket carrying his helmet) are in "mannequin" poses, but the other three would make a good vignette: two officers checking mays and one checking his watch Six color maps are included with the directions for these figures.

There are no decals provided and the only finishing instructions are for a plain 4BO (FS 34102) green tank; this is based on available photos, as while the T-80s did see service there are few if any photos of them in action, as they were parsed out as command vehicles for SU-76 battalions and other staff functions which generally do not rate "in action" photos.

Overall, this kit is a great effort and permits a modeler to build ALL of the Soviet light tanks from the MS-1 to the T-80. (Some from other companies will take more work, however...!)

(NOTE: The best single reference for this vehicle and the T-70 series at the moment is "Frontovaya Illyustratsiya (Frontal Illustrated) T-70 Legkiy Tank," FI No. 5-2006, by Mikhail Sviring and Maksim Kolomiyets, "Strategiya KM" Publishing, Moscow; ISBN 5-901266-01-3.)

Sprue Breakdown:

  • A 41 T-70 hull and turret sprue less turret shell
  • B 37 T-80 two-man turret and parts
  • C 42x2 T-70 road suspension parts
  • D 44x4 T-70M cast track links
  • E 4 Clear styrene
  • F 48 Soviet Tank Crew figure set