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Kit, Fine Molds F25LM, IJA Type 97 Medium Tank (Chi-Ha) Early Production Hull

November 21 2010 at 11:32 AM
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FINE MOLDS

Product Specifications.

F25LM, IJA Type 97 Medium Tank (Chi-Ha) Early Production Hull. 1/35th-scale styrene/multimedia kit. Contains: 286 styrene parts (including 14 clear), two lengths of soft styrene tracks, one etched brass fret, a four-page historic notes/colors and markings booklet (in Japanese), four water-slide decal markings schemes and eight pages of instructions in 25 steps.

Introduction.

In the minds of most modelers, Fine Molds is the Alpha and Omega when it comes to providing 1/35th-scale renditions of Japanese WW2 AFVs in styrene form. They have covered nearly every main version of war-time Japanese tanks and tankettes, with variations based on some of them. This Limited Edition release represents the Type 97 with the original superstructure/engine compartment configuration, and with the original turret, armed with a short Type 90 or 97 57mm main gun. This medium tank took part in Japans early victories in the Philippines and Malaysia and served through the end of the war, fighting against the Soviets in Manchuria in 1945.

Tracks.

These come in one length for each side and are made of soft styrene material. This means that the tracks can be fixed together with standard styrene cement. Detail is crisp overall, but the characteristic holes seen in the guide horns are not represented.

Suspension System.

This is quite intricate overall, with a parts break-down that helps maximize detail. Virtually every suspension-related part is separate for maximum detail definition. These include mounts for the return rollers, swing-arms, final drive housing and multi-part idler wheel axle housing. Two-part coil spring bundles are complimented by separate armored housings. The four central bogie units each mount four road-wheels, all of which have separate inner and outer hub-caps. The drive sprockets are two-part assemblies, as are the idler wheels. Care in assembly will leave some parts movable, such as the bogie units and road-wheels.

Hull.

The hull is made up of a single slide-molded pan, which includes the belly and side plates. Each side plate has the openings for various suspension components, as well as panel lines and rivets, molded in place. The belly plate also has similar details and includes various circular access plates. Two separate parts are provided to enclose the superstructure sponsons. The front plate receives a three-part two shackle assembly, while the rear plate mounts a pair of two-part tow points, two different tail-lamp assemblies (in clear styrene) and a registration plate.

Superstructure.

The main superstructure part consists of molded-on track-guards, most of the engine deck, side walls and glacis plate. Separate access hatch lids, with separate handles are fitted on the glacis plate, along with a separate (optional) part for the IJA five-pointed star. A three-part head-lamp assembly can be fitted, to include a clear part for the lens. The central access lid on the engine deck is also separate, featuring open grill slats. Beneath it is a nicely-detailed one-piece radiator, which can be seen beneath the slats. There are also open slats on each lower side of the engine deck, beneath which are mounted inserts that provide for engine details that would be seen through the slats. Separate armored covers and their support struts finish the area. The rear deck features separate grab handles, a separate access hatch lid with separate handle and optional parts for a stowed or un-stowed tow cable.

The separate forward superstructure plate features separate drivers view-port with clear styrene for the internal glass block. A two-part Type 97 7.7mm machine gun completes the assembly. The roof plate is separate and features a separate hatch lid, with separate handle, over the machine-gunners compartment.

The integrally-molded track-guards are topped at the rear by a seven-part exhaust muffler assembly on each side, towards the rear. Unfortunately, the exhaust pipe end, in the so-called fish-tail style, is molded solidly. This is rather curious since the parts position in the mold could easily have included this feature; it will take some careful, tedious work to get them to look right. These also feature a separate mounted forward of them, as well as perforated etched brass heat shields. A separate styrene part is provided to shape the etched brass parts. The port-side track-guard gets a two-part stowage locker, while the starboard side gets a two-part vehicle jack, complimented by a three-part mounting bracket. A shovel, pick and pry-bar are also mounted next to the jack.

Turret.

The upper shell comes from a slide-mold, which facilitates the placement of various details. The separate base contains the turret ring with the usual bayonet mount to help keep the turret attached to the superstructure roof plate. The turret shell features rivet and panel line details as well as a weld seam along the rim of the roof plate. The gun mantlet comes as a three-part assembly so the main gun can be elevated. Internally, the gun is complimented by a 12-part breech assembly, while externally the Type 90/97 57mm gun tube is split in two parts lengthwise. A two part recoil cylinder assembly is fitted beneath the gun tube. In typical Japanese fashion, a second Type 97 7.7mm machine-gun is mounted on the rear face of the turret; it is a three-part assembly.

The turret is topped by a multi-part commanders cupola that features clear parts for the glass blocks behind the view-ports. The cupola is topped by a five-part hatch lid with some internal detail. Naturally, the lids can be posed opened or closed. The roof plate receives an anti-aircraft machine-gun post, a clear station-keeping lamp and a nicely-detailed rail antenna.

Molding, Fit and Engineering.

Overall, molding is up to a high standard. Fit of the major parts were checked, and found to be generally quite good. No visible surface shows any ejector pin marks, including the inside faces of all hatch lids. There was some warping of the hull pan as well as the main superstructure part. The former will become square as the front and rear panels are attached and by the addition of the superstructure assembly, while the latter will require a bit of fiddling to become square around its upper edge, especially as the roof and front plates are attached. The two-piece gun tube, which is split along its axis, will require care in clean-up for proper appearance. I have already mentioned the issue regarding the exhaust pipe fish-tails.

Accuracy and Details.

In comparing the kit parts to the drawings seen in the Tank Power books, often there are differences either in angles or shapes (or both). However, I am unsure if the Tank Power drawings are based upon actual measurements taken by the draughtsman, or on other means. In reading over a PMMS review of the later Type 97 Shinhoto Chi-Ha, Terry Ashley makes the point that his sample kit matched well with plans seen in Japanese publications such as the Ground Power series, but not so well with Tank Powers plans. Essentially, this means that I cant say whether the kit or the scale drawings I have access to are correct or not. Also of note is that some details on the kit do not match photographs (particularly the superstructure roof plate), and the rivets in many cases seem to be too small.

Instructions.

The instructions consist of conventional line drawings, with all-Japanese text. In some cases the names of parts are given in English as well. Since there is a dedicated etched brass upgrade set, as well as a turned brass gun tube available separately from Fine Molds, notes are interspersed throughout the instructions showing where they are to be added. This is quite convenient for those modelers who choose to avail themselves of these additions. The painting and markings information are contained on a separate four-page leaflet; this also includes what I presume is a historic account, written in Japanese.

Decals and Markings Information.

The water-slide decal sheet is printed by Fine Molds and is in perfect register. Color saturation is fine, while the carrier film is matte and cut close to the edge of each individual design. Markings for four Type 97s are included, as follows:

1st Tank Regiment, 4th Company, Malay Peninsula 1942.
7th Tank Regiment, The Philippines 1942.
34th Tank Regiment, 4th Company, Manchuria 1945.
35th Tank Regiment, Manchuria 1945.

Within the cited references, I could only confirm the accuracy of the markings provided for the Type 97 from the 34th Tank regiment.

Conclusion.

This is a sound kit, which will build up easily enough into a relatively well-detailed and accurate early Type 97. The inclusion of etched brass screens for the exhaust mufflers places it above other manufacturers renditions in this scale, making this the kit of choice for the more discerning modeler, despite some of its shortcomings

Frank V. De Sisto

References consulted for this report included:

1. Japonska Bron Pancerna, Japanese Armor Vol.2, Tank Power 10, AJ Press, by A. Tomczyk.
2. Japonska Bron Pancerna, Japanese Armor Vol.3, Tank Power 11, AJ Press, by A. Tomczyk.
3. Japonska Bron Pancerna, Japanese Armor Vol.4, Tank Power 12, AJ Press, by A. Tomczyk.
4. Japonska Bron Pancerna, Japanese Armor Vol.5, Tank Power 25, AJ Press, by A. Tomczyk.
5. Japanese Medium Tanks; AFV Weapons Profile 49, Profile Publications, by Lt.Gen. T. Hara.
6. Axis Combat Tanks; WW2 Fact Files, by P. Chamberlain & C. Ellis.
7. Type 97 Chi-Ha Medium Tank; Allied-Axis Vol.9, Ampersand Publications, article by J. Hensley.
8. Type 97 Chi-Ha Medium Tank; Military Modelling magazine, Volume 29, issue 9, article by S. Zaloga.
9. Tank Battles of the Pacific War 1941-1945; Concord 7004, by S. Zaloga.
10. Japanese Tanks, 1939-45; Osprey New Vanguard 137, by S. Zaloga & P. Bull.
11. Armour of the Pacific War; Osprey Vanguard 35, by S. Zaloga.

Note: Since May of 2005, I have been working on books for Concord Publications, a sister company to DragonUSA, current North American distributor of Fine Molds kits. The reader may wish to take this into consideration. For my part, I will attempt to maintain an objective viewpoint when writing these reports.

Fine Molds kits are available in North America from DragonUSA. For details see their web site at: www.dragonusaonline.com.

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