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AFV Club 1/35 scale M3A3 Stuart light tank

Kit: No. 35053
Scale: 1/35
Manufacturer: AFV Club, imported by Merit International, 911 Canada Court Building B, City of Industry, CA 91748, 626-912-2212, www.merit-intl.com
Price: $39.98
Comments: Injection-molded, 400 parts (2 turned aluminum, 3 photoetched metal, 4 vinyl, 1 string), decals
Pros: Excellent detail, good fit, fine aluminum gun
Cons: No hull interior, some parts incorrectly labeled on instructions

When I was growing up, a local construction company owned an M3A3 Stuart, and I got to play on it as much as I wanted. If somebody had told me back in 1967 that I'd have to wait until 2003 to build a stock kit of my favorite tank, I probably would have cried. But AFV Club's offering was well worth the wait.

The M3A3 (British Stuart V) represents the ultimate development of the M3 series. Sloped armor and a rearranged crew compartment made it the best in the series, but since the U.S. Army favored the M5, most of the 3,427 M3A3s went to allied armies.

Looking over the instructions and parts made me aware of several features of AFV Club's kit that aren't present in any other Stuart offering. For example, the fuel-tank drain and air-cleaner covers are included under the sponsons. Also furnished are smoke dischargers, fire bottles, spare glacis-plate-mounted grousers and brackets for the British and Yugoslavian versions. A complete 37mm gun/breech/ guard assembly is also included, as are details above the turret basket. However, except for the turret traversing gear, there is no interior detail in the hull.

AFV Club's suspension is the most accurate to date. The lightening holes in the bogie wheels are contoured correctly, and AFV produces the proper interleaving of the bogie arms. For the first time, the tops of the volute spring housings show the mounts for the track return guides and holes for spring retraction tools. Keep an eye on placement of the guides (C18 and C19); both they and the volute spring housings (C9 and C10) are different and have to be mated correctly. It took 50 minutes to finish step one, and I dry-fitted each bogie assembly to the hull to let it set correctly.

The trailing idlers have track guides (C52) on the spring housings. Although I've never seen the guides fitted to either of the two M3A3s I've been in, both could have carried them.

With the initial assembly done, I installed the suspension on the lower hull tub, which includes accurate belly details. The return roller mounts have the correct "half-axle" look. On the actual vehicle, this is necessary to allow the end connectors to clear the axle. Do not paint the return rollers black as indicated. They do not have tires, and except for the recessed hubs, they should be painted as worn steel. I left the drive sprockets off the model until after the fenders were attached.

Separate periscopes, covers, and mounts can installed raised or lowered. I painted the periscope sleeves steel, since they were often left unpainted from the factory. The instructions indicate "bright blue" for the periscope lenses, but I painted them dark gray with black detailing.

No latch pins were provided for the driver and bow gunner's hatches, so I scratchbuilt them. The hatch hinges for the driver and bow gunner are reversed on the instructions.
Three .30-caliber machine guns are included, complete with receivers and mounting details for the bow. A coaxial mount and a flexible antiaircraft mount are included. I left the guard (E2) off the bow gun until after painting. In step nine, the handles for the air intake grille (A21) are listed as B5, but they were already used for the engine compartment door handles. I used C42 for the grille handles.

I've scratchbuilt several Stuart interiors, so it was sure nice to get an accurate 37mm gun with a mount and guard in a kit! The kit also includes a radio, traverse control handle (which can be cut off and repositioned in the proper vertical position), smoke grenade box and spare periscope box - pretty much all you need for the interior above the basket. Opened and closed main gun breeches are supplied.

I installed the main gun assembly after everything else was finished, but the forward turret roof was assembled so I could mount and align it without guesswork. Afterward, I fit the mantlet (132) and had to file its openings a bit to get it to accept both the 37mm and coaxial machine-gun barrels.

At first glance, the tiny pieces for the grousers look like trouble, but after cutting and cleaning the parts, I glued the end pieces to each grouser and let them set up. When they were almost dry, I attached them to the racks on the turret. They look super.

The instructions provide color codes for Gunze, Humbrol, Revell, and Life Color, but I painted my model with Testor Model Master enamels and acrylics.

The decal sheet includes markings for seven vehicles: one Yugoslavian and two British, Chinese, and French. I chose a Chinese vehicle from 3rd Co., 3rd Battalion, 1st Chinese Provisional Tank Group. The decals went on smoothly without any special preparation. The color was translucent on one set of yellow markings, but others were backed with white, which made them look right.

I checked the finished model against various references and found that it is dimensionally on the mark.

I enjoyed the mere 12 hours I put into this little jewel. The only improvements I could make would be to add a hull interior. AFV Club sells a small photoetched set (No. 35010) with parts for empty grouser racks, a shovel loop, headlight brush guards, and various small brackets and mounts.

- Ron Poniatowski

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