Some years ago, I picked dup Wolfe's Excellent resin figure of a Belgian Chasseurs Ardennais tank officer from the 1940 campaign, so I needed an armoured vehicle for him to crew! I finally settled on ADV/Azimut's Vickers Utility B tractor, based on the reports that another resin manufacturer was planning to release the associated 47mm anti-tank gun that this vehicle towed. In the event, the 47mm gun never appeared, so I recently set about to scratch-build one. It was an enjoyable project, but I must say that the tiny size of the models reminded me of my modelling from 20 years ago when I was still building 1:76 armour.
The Belgian army began looking for an infantry gun in the 1920's, examining weapons in various calibres including small 76mm and 37mm weapons. In the early 1930's the Fonderie Royale des Canon (FRC) in Liege built some prototypes and the Belgian army finally settled on a 47mm option, the feeling at the time being that such a calibre could fire both a useful high-explosive round for general purpose targets in addition to an effective anti-tank round. This resulted in the Mi
Production started shortly thereafter, amounting to over 1,000 guns by the time of the 1940 campaign. The 47mm gun was deployed on a scale of 60 per infantry division with 12 in the anti-tank companies of each of the three regiments and the remaining 24 deployed in two divisional companies.
Although the gun was small enough to be moved around for short distances by its crew of six to seven men, it was intended from the outset to mechanise a portion of the force and the decision was made to mount some of them on the Vickers Carden Loyd Light Dragon, resulting in the T-13 tank destroyer, and to deploy others towed by the tractor.
The towing vehicle finally selected was the Vickers Utility B tractor, a very small commercial design, of which at least three versions were prepared for the Belgian army; the Cavalry model, sometime called Model 1 or Type A; the Infantry model called the Model 2 or Type B; and an unarmoured type.
An order was placed in 1935 for 262 tractors including 85 Cavalry versions, 177 infantry, plus 15 more of an unarmoured configuration. The Cavalry version had provisions to seat two crewmen at the rear of the vehicle, while on the infantry version; this area was used for ammunition bins.
The Vickers manufactured tractors were delivered by 1936, at which time Belgium obtained licence production rights. These were manufactured by SA des Ateliers de Construction de et a Familleureux (ACF). The Belgian army ordered 553 of these in 1936 and 1937, and placed another order in September 1939 when the war in Europe broke out. Besides the Belgian order, the army of the Dutch East Indies (KNIL) also ordered a different version for service in the Pacific region.
Modellers interested in details of the other variants should consult the excellent MAFVA Tankette magazine article by John Baumann cited below, which contains many useful drawings of these vehicles and which explains the numerous detail differences. With nearly a thousand manufactured, the Belgian Utility B was one of the more numerous armoured vehicles of the 1940 campaign, though not as well known as its French counterpart, the Renault UE tractor.
The 47mm gun proves to be quite effective. In one instance, in a confrontation with a scout group from 5 Panzer Division, one gun put a round through both sides of a Sd.Kfz.231 armoured car and into the Pz.Kpfw.IV tank behind it! After the 1940 campaign, the Germans made use of Belgian and Dutch tractors they had captured, and the Muller book listed has some photos, which are useful, both to those modelling the Belgian vehicle or a captured German example. The German option may prove more interesting to some modellers, as the tractor could tow a variety of German anti-tank guns that are available in plastic.
Building the Tractor
The ADV/Azimut kit depicts the ACF type of tractor, which had some detail differences from the earlier infantry models, built in the UK. The model is quite tiny, and is the smallest 1:35 scale armoured vehicle I have ever built! It's a very fine kit, with nice, subtle detail. The kit, like the original, is very elementary, with basic hull being a one-piece casting with the engine compartment, hull roof and ammunition panniers as separate pieces. Other than that, there are only a handful of other pieces, including the headlights, armoured shields for the driver, seat, and towing hook. The casting throughout is excellent with hardly any air bubbles or other defects, and minimal pouring sprues attached to the parts. I cleaned up the hull and its various components in about an hour.
The suspension is a mixed media affair. The wheels and bogie springs are in resin, the suspension bogie and transmission in white metal, and the tracks in plastic. The tracks, in fact, are Model Kasten Pz.Kpfw.I tracks, which are a reasonably good choice for the later ACF vehicles. The earlier version used a track more similar to that on the Bren Carrier with a narrower pitch.
I started on the suspension. The Model Kasten tracks are the old non-working style, but in fact snap together without too much fuss. The suspension is very elementary. This proved to be the trickiest part on the whole model as the white metal suspension bogie and the roadwheel bogie spring assembly both articulate, so it's a bit tricky to get everything lined up properly. I used 5-minute epoxy as the setting time was sufficiently slow to let me get all the components lined up properly before they fried. I found that it helped to 'paint' the Model Kasten track with some liquid glue before attaching them, as when attached dry, they tend to separate at the least opportune moment.
The ADV kit provides no interior detail for the driver's compartment. Not much can be seen if the driver's armoured shields are shown in the upright position, but I decided to put in some elementary detail a anyway.
There is a useful sketch of the compartment in the Tankette article. I added a few other details including the small folding stowage rack at the front and rear of the vehicle, and the stowage frame over the rear engine compartment. I replaced the armoured panels around the driver's area as the resin pieces were slightly warped. I was easier to replace them with .10 thou sheet plastic than straighten them. All in all, this is a very simple model, which is not surprising, given its tiny size.
Building the Gun
I started on this project with the assumption that the gun would be a fairly simple scratch-build project! Most small anti-tank guns from this period, like the German Rheinetall, Swedish Bofors, or US 37mm gun are all fairly rudimentary. There is a good set of scale plans in an old issue of Tankette mentioned in below, and Jeff McKaughan was kind enough to photograph the surviving example at the Tank Museum in Brussels. Incidentally, if you are in Brussels, the Tank Museum is definitely worth a visit. There are a lot of interesting armoured vehicles on display, and the uniform exhibits are also very good, especially if you are interested in World War I.
On looking over Jeff's photos, I suddenly realised that I had misjudged the complexity of the Belgian 47mm gun. It is one of those sort of over-engineered designs so common in the 1930s. While this made it more complicated to build, it also made it more interesting as there are lots of little bits hanging about all over the place. I am not going to go into a lot of detail about the scratch-building as I suspect that there are very few modellers out there all that interested in scratch-building a Belgian anti-tank gun!
Basically, the gun can be broken down into several major components and assembled in pieces. The only fancy equipment I used was a lathe to turn the wheels. For modellers without access to a lathe, I suspect that these could be done by using convex wheels from other sources. (Pz.Kpfw.38(t) wheels come to mind). Once I had the wheels in hand, I then worked on the trails. The trails are a bit complex as they have very unusual entrenching spades at the rear that rotate. The entrenching spades were some of the most difficult parts on the gun due to their small size and complicated detail. The other area that proved quite tricky was the axle and suspension. Like some other guns of the period, the Belgian 47mm was designed so that the gun could be cranked down to sit flush with the ground for greater stability and a lower silhouette, so the area behind the wheels is surprisingly busy.
While letting various components of the trails dry, I turned my attention to the gun and shield. The shield is complicated due to its curved shape and the tunnel behind the opening in the shield. I built this out of .10 thou plastic card. The trunnions of this gun are also surprisingly complicated as there is an inner cradle and an outer trunnions assembly. While working on this, I kept getting the feeling I was working on a 1:76 scale field gun given its tiny size and complexity. There are a surprising number of rivets on the model, and I made these in the usual fashion with a punch and die set. I had to use the smallest diameter available, as the rivets on this gun are quite small. I spent a couple of weeks on this project, and was quite happy with the results.
Painting and Finishing
Belgian equipment in 1940 was painted in 'Belgian Khaki', which is somewhat similar to US Olive Drab but a bit browner. I mixed mine using Tamiya acrylics using Dark Yellow XF60, Olive Drab XF62, and a bit of Hull Red XF9 thrown in. The paint scheme on both vehicles is quite simple. The Brussels museum example shows some parts of the gun painted black, and I followed suit if only for a little variety.
The markings on the tractor are very simple, consisting of the Belgian roundel repeated in a small size on either side of the vehicle, and a registration plate in black with white numbers preceded by the Belgian tricolour of black/yellow/red. I made both of these on my ink-jet printer using white decal sheet, but the markings are simple enough that they could be cobbled together using dry transfers or bits of decal sheet. Once I had applied the decals, I gave the model a coat of acrylic semi-gloss to seal them in. Then I applied a wash of mineral spirits and oil paint, using Winsor & Newton Raw Umber and Indigo. I used a bit more indigo in the mix on the upper surfaces of the tractor and very little on the suspension.
The figure comes with fairly comprehensive painting instructions, which I followed after crosschecking them with various Belgian sources.
Overall, this is an entertaining little project. The results are a model that would not look out of place on a shelf of 1:76 scale tank models as both pieces are very small. Maybe we will eventually get a cast resin kit of the Belgian 47mm gun, but until then, scratch-building seems the only way to model this interesting little weapon. Thanks go to Jeff McKaughan for photographing the Brussels' Tank Museum gun, and to George Mazy of the Museum for permission to use the photographs in this article.
Vickers-Carden-Loyd Utility Tractors, by John Baumann, Tankette Vol. 17 No.5 (includes many useful photos as well as a comprehensive range of scale plans of the different versions in 1:76 scale.)
Canon de 47 antichars SA-FRC by M.C.Bell, Tankette, Vol.19, No.1 (1:76 scale plan of a very good quality which holds up well even when enlarged to 1:35 scale.)
For information on back issues of Tankette, or to join the Miniature Armoured Fighting Vehicle Association (MAFVA), contact Gary Williams, 45 Balmoral Drive, Holmes Chapel, Cheshire CW4 7JQ. Or see the MAFVA website.
Captured Tanks in German Service: Small Tanks and Armoured Tractors 1939-45 by Werner Muller (Schiffer Publishing 1998). This is an English translation of one of the German Podzun-Pallus books and contains some excellent shots of the Utility B in German service.
First published in Military Modelling Vol . 31 No. 7 2001
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