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Tristar 1/35 Pz.Kpfw.38(t) Ausf.E/F Kit First Look

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review May 2006 Manufacturer Tristar
Subject Pz.Kpfw.38(t) Ausf.E/F Scale 1/35
Kit Number 35020 Primary Media 543 parts (484 parts in tan styrene, 51 etched brass, 8 clear styrene)
Pros Nicely engineered kit Cons Tracks are not particularly fun to assemble (see text)
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $42.00

First Look


Imagine the surprise the German army felt when they "merged" with Czechoslovakia in 1939 and found that the Czechs had a better tank industry than they did, and better light tanks! The Czech Army was equipped with two well-thought-out light tanks, the LT vz 35 (S-II) and the LT vz 38 (TNHP-S). Both were products of the famous Skoda factory and were superior to their German equivalents of the time, the Pz.Kpfw.I and Pz.Kpfw.II. As a point of fact, both were as powerful as the German Pz.Kpfw.III variants of the time but weighed less.

Needless to say, the Germans knew a good thing when they saw it and took both of them into service as the Pz.Kpfw.35(t) and the Pz.Kpfw.38(t). The latter had such a reliable and flexible chassis that it also served to provide the Germans with a large number of self-propelled guns, the most well known being the Marder III and Hetzer self-propelled antitank guns.

Over 1,300 Pz.Kpfw.38(t) tanks in seven production series served in the Wehrmacht and fought in Poland, France and Russia. The largest group were the Ausf.E and similar Ausf.F, with over 525 being built for the Germans by Skoda. The tanks were armed with a good 37mm gun and two Czech 7.92mm machine guns, possessed 30mm armor protection (two layers of 15mm plate) and 50mm glacis protection (two layers of 25mm plate). It could do more than 40 kph and had a range of 230 km with a full fueling.

While the small the tanks gave a good account of themselves until they ran up against the Soviet T-34 and KV tanks, and as attrition (and conversion to SP guns) took its toll they slowly left the German inventory.

The TNHP-S has always been one of the more popular "small army" tank designs, and a bit over 30 years ago Italeri (back when it was still Italieri) came out with a nice kit of what was reportedly an Ausf.G. It was a very nice kit for the time, but over the years it was found to contain a lot of flaws or (no driver's hatch!) areas that Italeri had overlooked (wheels with no backs to them.) It could be made into a nice model, but it took a lot of work and a lot of after-market bits to make it so.

There is evidence that one of the Eastern European companies came out with a kit – Alan I think – but it was given very short shrift and rarely shows up in commentary.

Now Tristar has released a brand new kit, and just before the Memorial Day Weekend in the US I received a "Beta" version of the kit – complete less decals, etched brass and the figure. Having nothing else to do (I am awaiting materials for two projects which are on order) and having seen the sneers of the "experten" on the Internet that one has to build models to review them, in spite of any other relevant skills or experience, I put this one together to see what it was like.

The model has at least twice as many parts as the old Italeri kit, and even thought it uses a similar parts breakdown that is about all the kits have in common. Nearly everything I recall as having been left off the Italeri kit is now present, and to top it off, the kit provides very clean single link tracks. It took me only 10 hours flat to assemble the kit, and that includes the tracks; this speaks volumes about them, for many other kits require at least that amount of time in cleaning them up, fitting them, assembling them and then attaching them to the model.

This is a very precisely engineered kit, and as noted above if parts don't fit then it is YOUR fault and not Tristar's! I had some fit problems which soon turned out to be "operator error" on my part and not theirs.

Assembly starts with the wheels, which are very delicate and require a great deal of care in assembly. Tires for the road wheels and return rollers are separate parts, nice if you want to paint them before installation, and since the last step is installing the tracks you may prefer that. Like nearly all "flat kits" (belly, sides, and rear plate as separate parts) the hull is next, and you will have to take care to find the detail parts on the very compact and busy sprues.

In Step 4 you begin using the clear parts; note that part G-3 is mounted as far to the right in the glacis opening as possible in order to clear handle C-19 if the visor C-18 is left in the open position. There are two visors for the right side, G-1 and G-2, but I have no idea what the difference is and simply used the G-2 one. Mounting the bow machine gun is tricky as the handles are difficult to get through the opening in the glacis and take some finesse. They are parallel to the ground whereas the shots I have of the Czech machine guns show them slanted downward like "cadillacs" but I have no idea if this is correct or now.

Step 5 – tools and stowage – would have been easier with the etched brass straps! I cannot comment on the etched as it did not come with the kit.

Step 6 covers the upper hull and again note that all parts are a snug – but correct – fit. I suggest mount the rear deck frame (A-4) first as it has to have its rear edge butted against the rear plate and not on top of it. The driver's hatch is nicely done – padding is molded on the inside and no ejection pin marks. (There are some on the inside of the hull and under the fenders, but none in any place of importance.)

What I think is the smoke candle box in Step 7D is somewhat tricky for the slotted section (part D-45) is the only one that did not seem to self-align. Once assembled the box fits well on the stern plate. The only problem I found in the entire kit worth mentioned took place here. The kit offers you the adjustment splines for the track tensioning devices (parts E-33) or covers for them (E-34) but suggests that the covers go over the splines. That flat out will not work, as the covers are supposed to fit flush and if assembled per kit instructions there is a good 2 mm of daylight under them. I left the covers off, but I think the right choice would be to install the covers and skip the splines.

Step 8 is the initial turret assembly and it requires care. If you do it right, the gunner's telescopic sight (B-26) rotates with the gun and this is visible from the front of the turret. Step 8-3 covers the commander's cupola and if you take your time and care the entire assembly literally goes together without any seams that should not be there.

In Step 8-4 – turret body – I cemented one side in place, then the back, then the other side, and finally the roof and front skirt. This way I was able to align all the parts and again, no gaps. The turret front is a dead-on fit and the side plates (C-14 and 15) also snug up without seams.

Step 9 is the track installation; I did one their way and one my way. Their way is simply snapping the links together and installing them, but most of the pins are too weak to hold so it was more than a bit frustrating. I did make a small jig for assembly out of a section of 0.080" square (2mm) strip glued to a section of 0.040" sheet (1mm) to assist in alignment. "My way" was to use Tamiya "Orange" cement and make sections of ten with the pins filled off the end sections, and then assemble them on the model. It was faster and a LOT less frustrating!

Overall, while I cannot comment on the quality of the etched brass and the figure, or the decals (the directions show six different finishing options from 1941-1942) the kit is one of the neatest assembly jobs that I have found in some time, rivaling some kits with fewer parts. The tracks are fussy but nothing you can't survive, and only take about an hour to clean up – that's over 200 links which only need a couple of quick passes with a sanding stick over the hinges if you use a sprue nipper. A fun build – and quick!

Thanks to MRC for the review sample.